Council candidates sound off on the general plan, affordable housing, and more at forum

Council candidates Carol Scianna, Richard Casavecchia, Albert Vallecillo, Lisa Baker and Michael Olivas participated in a non-partisan, community forum on Oct. 13. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

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On Thursday, Oct. 13, the Winters Express and Democracy Winters hosted a Winters City Council Candidates Forum to provide the five candidates an opportunity to share their stances and ideas on the community’s top issues and questions.

The goal of the unbiased, community-focused forum was to bring valuable information to residents. The event was live-streamed through Zoom and both the Express and DW Facebook pages, however technical issues created audio challenges. The Forum planning committee was able to create a video of the event for the public to view. The Forum recording is now available online at YouTube via the Express channel and the DW channel.

The five City Council candidates running for three open seats in the November election to represent Winters residents include Albert Vallecillo, Lisa Baker, Carol Scianna, Michael Olivas and Richard Casavecchia.

The forum was divided into two sessions. The first session featured questions curated by the Forum’s planning committee of Winters Express Editor-in-Chief Crystal Apilado, and Democracy Winters’ Kate Laddish and Shep Harper. These questions were based on questions submitted by community members prior to the event.

Candidate responses
The General Plan has been in place since 1992. Should we redo the general plan? 

Though the plan hasn’t been stagnant with periodic smaller updates, Carol Scianna said that changes like Measure A make a look into zoning and planning necessary. She noted that, firstly, the city needs to save up some money to pay for it.

Richard Casavecchia highlighted the necessity of comprehensively updating the plan, proposing that the city council set up a workshop to determine how much changing it would actually cost, as well as what particular areas warrant an update, laying out a timeline for this process in the coming months and into next year.

Albert Vallecillo also expressed his desire to see the general plan revised, laying out a number of examples where the plan came into conflict with the town’s extant goals. 

Lisa Baker noted that while general plan revisions can be expensive, there are means of funding it and the city council should be working with the community to determine what areas need to be changed and the sources of funding to make it possible. 

Michael Olivas agrees the plan is old, and subsequent changes to the city since it was written, namely as Winters’ expanded, have made development more difficult, and expressed a desire to change the plan slowly and carefully.

What is your vision for Downtown, and how does sustainability factor into it?

This decision, Casavecchia said, ultimately is up to residents and businesses of Downtown, and the city council will just be advisory, though he expressed he personally would like to see the area be more walkable and people-centric.

Vallecillo said the area is an asset to the town that generates reliable revenue, but noted that the city council will need to work to maintain it and keep it livable. 

Baker called the area, “the jewel in the crown of Winters,” but noted that some of the older buildings in the area are in need of renovation, and the city council should work with local businesses and look for funding opportunities to improve the area. 

Olivas expressed his admiration for the past Downtown master plan, which he hopes to promote along with commercial development to create the demand for Downtown businesses. 

Scianna stressed the importance of renovating certain older parts of Downtown, as well as finding partners to help with that. Scianna also suggested working with local businesses to make their operations more sustainable, and maybe look into working with high schools to get apprentices to fill in labor gaps.

What is your vision for the aging Community Center, and what steps are needed to get there?

Vallecillo described the Community Center as a valuable asset for the community, and suggested its potential uses as a commercial center to make it more affordable for the community to use it.

Baker, too, noted the many uses of the Community Center, and proposed making a number of additions, including a parking garage, to grant the area more utility. 

The Community Center has been and, Olivas predicted, will continue to be valuable in the next five to 10 years, and that as the value increases it will create more opportunities to make more connections so it can be more profitable. 

As a centerpiece of the community, the Community Center is very important to Scianna, but she noted that a number of changes can be made to improve its usefulness, including renovating its kitchen and moving the storage shed.

Casavecchia agreed with the other candidates that the Community Center is important, but saw the question of how to increase its utility as more productive, to which he suggested a public-private partnership to allow it to be used by other groups, and that whoever uses it can help cover the renovation costs.

How to reduce vehicle miles traveled?

Baker noted her role on existing relevant boards and commissions, but also noted the difficulty of the problem. A large contributor to Winters’ emissions is residents commuting to work outside the city, and Baker said having more in-town jobs could help reduce that factor. 

Olivas again expressed his support for the Downtown master plan, as well as echoing the sentiment that reducing commuter emissions via virtual and in-town jobs.

Scianna also noted the utility of jobs in town, as well as suggesting improvements to biking transportation in the city, including more bike parking, access to e-bikes, and better bike lanes. 

Casavecchia brought to attention opposing incentives with the climate plan and the general plan, one calling for reduced emissions and the other creating more of it, and said this discrepancy needs to be reviewed. 

Vallecillo expressed support for the ideas brought up by the other candidates, and reiterated his desire to review the general plan’s current emphasis on increasing development which may create more emissions.

What are your ideas for maintaining Winters’ character and increase affordable housing?

Olivas noted the difficulty of this problem, as the process for any development is hard and expensive, citing his experience in development and construction, and said the city would need a lot of thought on how to move forward.

The most difficult part of this question, Scianna argued, is in regards to the development of the lowest cost houses, and said the city council should take an active role in helping determine where these types of housing should be built.

There are two types of affordable housing, Casavecchia said, the kind that goes through an industry that ends up costing too much, and then there are the houses that are actually more affordable, and said the council needs to work to make this latter type of housing available, suggesting 3-D printed housing as one possibility.

Vallecillo stressed the importance of Winters’ character and the history of its housing, as well as the importance of multi-family housing units.

Baker again noted her position on relevant boards and commissions as well as her career experience in affordable housing development, which she says helps her understand how difficult this problem is. Baker suggested increasing diverse housing units and more walkable neighborhoods.

How do you interact with people who disagree with you?

Scianna said that listening and respecting other people’s opinions are very important to her, and that she saw making the public feel welcome and accommodated as a key duty of the city council.

Disagreement is important, Casavecchia stated, quoting Patton that, “if everyone is thinking alike, someone’s not thinking.” Casavecchia said that discourse and discussion are how the best ideas come to the surface, so long as everyone can respect each other and focus on the issues. 

Vallecillo noted that the interplay of the communities desires and the actions of the city council are central to a thriving city, and the city council can’t let differing opinions get in the way of their work to make the city a better place.

Baker cited her experience on various commissions and with work that involves a lot of disagreeing, but that this process is necessary for the best ideas to develop. 

Olivas stated that compassion and respect are important qualities for a city council member, as well as saying he saw the city council’s job as deferring to the bureaucratic process, to the city manager, and the general plan.

Community questions
The Forum’s planning committee opted to give candidates an opportunity to show community members their ability to answer community questions without preparation in the second half of the Forum.

Winters residents were able to submit questions online and in person to ask all five candidates.

Some of the topics included relationships with the school board, how to better serve the Winters Hispanic community, and more. 

Coverage of the second session featuring the five candidates answer community submitted questions will appear in the Oct. 26 edition of the Express.

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