Oakdale City Council candidates got the chance to share their positions on key issues facing the city at a forum hosted by the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Sept. 25.
Incumbent Cherilyn Bairos is facing off against council hopefuls Teresa Kinney and Christopher Smith in the Nov. 6 election. Two seats will be available; the top two vote getters will win election to the posts.
Each candidate was given a set time limit for their answers to each question, giving each an equal opportunity to make their point.
All of the questions asked involve issues that are of great concern to the community.
The first question, how to attract more business to Oakdale, showed an immediate divergent set of opinions. While Bairos talked about more collaboration with local business and Kinney talked about combining the Oakdale Tourism and Visitor Bureau with the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce to streamline services, Smith took an opposite approach saying it was time to make Oakdale a destination, rather than a pit-stop on the way to Yosemite.
“Stop the drive-thru traffic and use marketing and media to make Oakdale a destination,” Smith said. “Sconza does what they can to boost the economy but we need more.”
The growing transient situation facing Oakdale was the next big topic as many business owners and community members have voiced their displeasure with the homeless crisis and resultant issues of trash and unsanitary sewage in the alleys.
Smith advocated more programs aimed at helping the homeless.
Bairos believed the problem was bigger than Oakdale’s ability to solve.
“The issue is bigger than us,” she said. “Oakdale can’t solve this problem on our own.”
Kinney shared a personal story about the homeless situation and how it has affected her family, saying solutions are needed but the problem is complex.
Measure Y was broached and all three candidates expressed unwavering support for the continuation of the half-cent sales tax, which helps provide for public safety.
Smith said, “Taxes suck but Measure Y is necessary. It’s a painless, invisible increase.”
The North County Corridor came up next and once again, the candidates branched off with differing opinions.
Kinney was in favor of the bypass, saying, “It will benefit Oakdale and bring in more business, such as big-box and industrial. We will draw more people downtown.”
Kinney added, “We can take a page from Sonora. They’ve done a great job.”
However, Smith disagreed, countering with, “Towns with a bypass have evaporated. I’ve been through this twice. The Sonora downtown took a huge hit. It’s a bad thing to allow people to bypass our merchants.”
Bairos was quick to remind people that talk of the North County Corridor has been happening for a long time and it is always changing.
“This has been an issue for decades,” she said, adding that she felt the bypass, should it actually happen, will revitalize the west end of Oakdale as will the infrastructure that will come with it.
In conclusion, candidates were invited to share what they felt was the biggest issue facing Oakdale today.
Smith stated he felt the lack of sustainable industry and career-type employment for the next generation was a big concern.
“There’s no industry here. We need to offer career opportunities for our next generation. Losing Con Agra or the Oak Valley Hospital would be catastrophic.”
He also believed the lack of affordable housing for low-income families was a deterrent to remaining in Oakdale. Smith reminded the forum that he’s not a politician by nature. He’s the “normal guy” out there and said he wants what’s best for the average family.
Kinney expressed concern for the ongoing issues with public safety, road repairs and water.
Bairos expressed her love for the community, saying, “I’m fighting to keep the charm of Oakdale.”
In other news, Ericka Chiara was recently appointed to the empty Oakdale City Council seat vacated by former council member Tom Dunlop.
Chiara has been a resident of Oakdale since 2005. She is the mother of three boys and one of the owners of Last Call Brewing Company.