FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — OCT 31, 2012 –
EDITOR’S NOTE: This News-Ledger has interviewed each of the candidates running for city council and school board in West Sacramento this fall. Below is the article resulting from our chat with Oscar Villegas, the city councilman seeking another term. We hope these interviews help you make an informed choice at the polls.
By Steve Marschke
Oscar Villegas is pleased with what he and the rest of the city government have accomplished since he was first elected to the West Sacramento City Council in 2000.
“In 2000, I ran for several reasons,” he told the News-Ledger. “I felt there was no voice for families on the council at that time. There was not a lot of affordable, quality child care (in the city), and not a lot of programs for kids, or a lot of libraries. And I thought there should be more emphasis on public safety. And I had just served two years on the planning commission, and I knew there were some decisions coming up that were going to affect the city forever.”
So what kind of progress does he feel there’s been since 2000?
“I feel so good about it,” said Villegas. “I’d point to the new library first of all. I was on the library committee even before I was on the city council or planning commission. As for the expansion of preschool and afterschool programs, these didn’t exist before I was elected. We’ve also placed a lot of emphasis on public safety, and our neighborhoods are safer because of this.”
How is public safety – police and fire protection – doing?
“Pretty good,” he answered, “despite all the cuts and the fiscal situation we’re in.”
Villegas, 46, is married to Katie Villegas (now a school board candidate) and the couples live in Southport with their two kids. His day job for the state of California is related to law enforcement, which he believes gives him a window into crime and public safety.
“I administer state and federal juvenile and adult reentry dollars,” Villegas said.
“Reentry” refers to programs that try to transition inmates from jails and prisons back into society, without creating too much new crime. There’s a lot of “reentry” going on as California and its local jurisdictions try to trim prison populations to save money in these tough times.
“Every day, a huge number of people are released from the prisons into our communities,” Villegas commented.
The three-term council veteran agrees with his colleagues’ consensus that flood protection is West Sacramento’s top priority.
“If we’re all underwater, nothing else matters,” he opined. “This is our number-one challenge. It will continue to be our number-one challenge for a long time, although we’ve been progressing very nicely (on the levees).”
How well have the mayor and council been working together to lead the city?
“It’s been pretty functional,” Villegas answered. “I talk to a lot of elected officials throughout the state. (West Sacramento’s council is) pretty fortunate – we see eye-to-eye on a lot of the big policy issues. How we may get there is different, but, as far as getting to an end result, we’re pretty well aligned. We’re not engaged in a lot of bickering and arguing.”
Villegas is proud of the town’s emerging downtown, on display near city hall, the community center, city college branch and library – all near the 1000-block of West Capitol Avenue.
“We committed to creating a downtown in West Sacramento,” he said. “Who knew we would be walking around our downtown enjoying ourselves on West Capitol? I sure as heck wouldn’t have have wanted my daughter taking classes at the city college site and crossing the street at night (in the past). Now, I encourage it.”
And he’s happy with the city’s progress in bringing new retail here – for example, the Ikea center near I-80 and Reed Avenue.
“The retail centers off the freeway have attracted the kind of retail everybody wanted,” he said. “Before that, it was a standing joke that you couldn’t buy a pair of underwear in West Sacramento.”
But the council said no to other proposals for the land – including an Indian gaming casino – while holding out for retail.
“We knew beyond a doubt that if we could land Ikea, we would be in the driver’s seat. We could go out and recruit (more) retail.”
There are a lot of empty storefronts in West Sacramento. Is that the fault of city leaders?
“It’s largely driven by ‘rooftops,’” he answered. “There’s a threshold that retail needs to reach in terms of sheer numbers of people in order to be able to fill those storefronts with retail. Some of those storefronts were build in anticipation of continuing the growth pattern we were having, and the growth slowed down. But it will come back.”
What sort of the fiscal shape is the City of West Sacramento in? Pretty good, thinks Villegas.
“We didn’t take the approach that many cities did when things were falling apart in 2008 and 2009, saying ‘oh my God, let’s just make some one time cuts and hope things get better.’”
Instead, said Villegas, West Sacramento’s leaders made structural cuts and opted for the “fiscal discipline” of planning a two-year budget.
“We’ve reduced out (city) workforce by just under 30 percent between 2008 and 2012,” he commented. “Those were well-paid management positions that we just couldn’t afford.”
How’s the climate for business in the city?
“I think it’s good,” he said. “We’re constantly being approached by people who want to do business in West Sacramento.”
Villegas supports Measure G, the city council’s advisory measure that acts residents for permission to use some of their local tax money to pursue infrastructure projects that might earlier have been helped along by the city’s redevelopment agency. The agency no longer exists, thanks to state law.
He’s a Democrat. Is that important in this race?
“I don’t think so,” answered Villegas. “(At first), I thought that it did. I have moved toward the center more than I thought I would. Although my values haven’t changed, my understanding of the need to ensure fiscal integrity has grown exponentially. If you’re not fiscally sound, you’re not going to be able to do anything.”
Has the city made any big policy mistakes since Villegas has been involved?
“I’m sure there are some, but none come to mind,” he answered.
Villegas said he expects to mount a serious political campaign to retain his city council seat, although he believes the candidates will spend less this year on their campaigns than in more “flush” years. He and fellow incumbent Bill Kristoff are joined by challenger Oleg Maskaev in a bid for two seats on the city council.
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