Editor's Note: Elk Grove Patch is interviewing candidates running for mayor in 2012. Click here to read interviews with Jerry Braxmeyer, Gary Davis, Greg Higley, Sophia Scherman and LaWanna Montgomery.
Anyone who’s attended more than one city council meeting in Elk Grove will likely recognize Lynn Wheat. The local activist and part-time nurse with the Sacramento County Office of Education can usually be found at the podium during public comment time, sounding off on the latest neighborhood issue. When the builder of a new housing development off Laguna Boulevard changed the building’s façade design at the last minute, deviating from plans approved by city officials, it was Wheat who noticed. As a mayoral candidate, Wheat has run a grassroots campaign, pledging not to take donations and to cap her spending at $1,000. Patch caught up with her recently to see how that was working out.
You’ve been a community activist for years, but never held elected office. What made you decide now is the time?
If I felt like our leaders had become more transparent, like what was promised and there were better decisions being made, I wouldn’t feel the need to run. What’s come before us is the Sphere of Influence application. That is an important issue facing our city. I believe the empty homes are an important issue, and what is going to drive our city? And what has been driving our city? We need a solid foundation for our city and the General Plan was that. But our leaders haven’t really abided by the General Plan. General Plan amendments have given uncertainty to homeowners and they’ve also given uncertainty to businesses.
Look at [the Walmart store being built at Whitelock and Bruceville]: The residents had to sue [to get changes to the project]. If you have a General Plan and you really are a reflection what the residents want for a particular area you wouldn’t have had the lawsuits we’ve experienced.
How do you respond to charges that you don’t have enough experience?
I believe I do have the experience. I have the knowledge base for what’s going on in this city by participating in all these meetings. As a nurse, I’ve been in a lead role of starting committees and getting things done that needed to be done and collaborating with individuals across all different populations.
Sometimes experience in a position for a long time gets us stuck in one way of thinking; it doesn’t broaden our horizons.
You oppose expanding Elk Grove’s Sphere of Influence. Why?
Even the city’s own market studies didn’t say we needed 8,000 [more] acres. The yearly birth rate has stabilized. We have that jobs/housing imbalance. Is that 8,000 acres really what we need for jobs? We have 3,000 undeveloped acres within our current city boundaries. There’s way too much empty here to think about expanding outward.
It doesn’t build a good city to do it that way. You look at blight issues. The neighbors I’ve talked to say we’re becoming South Sacramento. Twenty years ago, Florin Road and Mack Road were in much better shape. What created the decline…was extending suburbia southward. We don’t need to be sprawling anymore and we need to work with the rest of the region.
The other thing that’s not being mentioned is who’s going to pay for the infrastructure. Our police services are currently 65 percent of the general fund budget. Where will the revenue come from to [provide] police services at the current level? Water is [also] an issue.
You said you’d spend less than $1,000 on your campaign. Have you been able to stick to that?
I have stuck to it. I’ve spent just under $1,000.
Do you think not accepting donations has hurt or helped your campaign?
I think it’s helped it. Because there is becoming this awareness of how much it costs to run a local campaign. There are people who would like to serve their community and the cost is a barrier. They begin to look at where the contributions are coming from for the other candidates. How better to have that happen than to say I’m not accepting other contributions? I can really then sit there as mayor and be able to look at each and every project with a vision representing all of the community and all of the interests and not one particular interest.
Change needs to happen. The money being spent at the local level, the national level is very concerning to me. I certainly had people…there was a willingness to contribute. But I need to make this statement.
Should Elk Grove pass a campaign finance reform measure?
Yes. West Sacramento has it; we don’t have to recreate the wheel. It would give others an opportunity that may have considered running and wanting to serve but have been overwhelmed by thought of having to raise so much money.
What are the first three things you’d do as mayor?
One of the first things I would do is agendize the SOI application to have a discussion and get the council to withdraw that application. If that didn’t seem like an option the other councilmembers were willing to do I’d look at getting it as a ballot measure and taking that to the people.
The second thing I’d do is they have a business incentive plan. I’d like to have that reevaluated and work with the economic development director. There’s all these kinks in the system and it doesn’t seem to be working out well. We need those small businesses and I want to have those attracted to our city. I want to streamline it. It needs to be a fair process so everybody goes through it equally.
[Third], we need to look at how these general plan amendments keep occurring.
How do you think they’re occurring?
Just look at the campaign finance statements of the candidates that are running.
When [developers] get to have private meetings with the city, the residents aren’t included in those meetings. They’ll ask the developers to meet with the residents but it’s so far along in the planning process, how helpful is it?
I can work with developers. I don’t want you to hear my saying I’m against developers. But when we have a general plan, it’s to even the playing field. [We have to say] this is the zoning for these areas, this is what we envision it looking like.
How would you revitalize Old Town?
We’ve got to think about this in new way. We’ve got a youth commission and not enough activities for youth to do here in town. How about we have themed First Saturdays and let the youth commission come here and plan one? They can get together and have poetry readings, other kinds of activities.
Sacramento does theirs around art. We’ve got to have ours around something that other areas aren’t doing. There’s a lot of nail salons. Maybe have a beauty day or something. Maybe the old brewery could be set up as a little playhouse.
But whatever’s done it has to be a public-private partnership and not that the city’s upfront funding everything. There has to be some buy-in from businesses because that’s how you get some accountability and get it working.
What’s your biggest weakness as a candidate?
Probably the biggest weakness is not having a lot of signs.
So you meet people and they say, ‘Who is this? I didn’t know you were running.’
Right. But then they get the information and it’s, “I’m going to vote for you.”
You did a YouTube voter chat earlier this week. What was that like?
I did some practice sessions because I wasn’t used to the technology. People could send questions in or I had it set up so they could email questions. My friend would read the email questions to me and take the YouTube questions when they came in. I wanted it limited to 30 minutes and we went over the timeline and I didn’t get all the questions answered.
Were there any questions you didn’t expect?
I had a picture my daughter had done behind me so we didn’t have a blank wall, so there was a question about that. So that surprised me.
What’s something about you that would surprise Patch readers?
I had a pot-bellied pig. I lost him, he passed away at 15. His name was Chester. They’re pretty independent and they’re very smart and clean animals. George Clooney had one too and he lost his the same year.
Just about every city council meeting I’ve covered as a Patch reporter, I’ve seen you in the audience, and usually heard you speak during public comment time. What keeps you going?
My passion for the community. We deserved a quality of life that can support and sustain us all. I think about that small-town feel when I came to Elk Grove. It wasn’t that when I moved here I thought there should be no growth at all, but we needed to do it smart. But it hasn’t been smart. I believe there’s still a chance to make smarter decisions. And that’s why I’m running.