Mayoral candidates butted heads over jobs, public safety and City Council decisions in an hour-long forum Monday at City Hall.
Councilman Joe Sousa and incumbent Mayor Mike Villalta answered questions from the audience, including a call from moderator John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist, for their vision for the future.
Sousa said he sees a prosperous city with jobs and private business, and acknowledged the impact of the housing crisis on city budgets.
"We need to do what it takes to bring those resources back," he said. "We can no longer depend on housing to be our sole source of income."
Allowing developers to build without paying for the impact would be a mistake, he said.
Villalta said his primary goal is to restore the public safety budget.
"The choices were made, public safety was the target and now we need to restore it," he said. "We have some problems in this town."
Crime is up 18 percent, mostly due to property crimes, in the first six months of the year, according to police statistics.
Villalta said the mayor's job is to make sure the city is safe and public services are functioning.
"I have no problem with spending extra money; I have problems with spending the money that's going to keep Los Banos alive," Villalta said.
In 2009, then-Councilman Villalta voted against layoffs, which included some police officers.
Sousa, who voted for the layoffs, said Villalta "took the easy way out, instead of doing what was best for the city."
"Had he had his way and had the majority, today we'd be just like our neighbor to the east, Atwater," Sousa said.
Because of its general and water fund deficits, Atwater is facing layoffs of as much as a third of city workers and possible bankruptcy.
Sousa said the search for a new city manager, which began in March with a firm charging the city at least $24,500, has been a failure. He said a city manager should have been hired to ensure a smooth transition.
"We were given more than enough time to do it," Sousa said. "Because certain councilmembers want to manipulate buttons ... we have not arrived to what I think is an adequate decision."
City Manager Steve Rath is set to retire Oct. 31.
The mayor remained mum about the hiring of a city manager.
"I don't want to jump the gun on anything," Villalta said. "We're in the process."
Sousa said misconceptions about the Los Banos Community Center, which is property of the defunct redevelopment agency, remain.
"This misconception and perpetuated lie that we're paying millions in bond monies to pay for that facility is just downright wrong," the councilman said.
Some rumors have former redevelopment property becoming the city's debt.
As property of the former redevelopment agency, payments on the center come out of the Redevelopment Property Tax Trust Fund, a pool of the defunct agency funds from across the state. The Designated Local Authority, tasked with dissolution of the redevelopment agency, oversees those payments.
Villalta said the center is not free, since it's being paid with former redevelopment money. Los Banos' redevelopment agency began in 1997.
"Please don't tell me that we're getting it for free," Villalta said. "It goes to the citizens of the state of California. You're paying."
The entire candidates forum for the mayoral race can be viewed at www.los banosenterprise.com and Comcast Channel 96.
The forums were sponsored by the Los Banos Enterprise.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Complete televised forum
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.