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 and LaWanna Montgomery, and check back to hear from the remaining candidate.
It's not a stretch to say two officials have been involved in nearly every milestone reached by the city of Elk Grove: Jim Cooper and Sophia Scherman, the sole two sitting city council members who were elected in the 2000 election that saw the incorporation of Elk Grove.
Now one is at a critical turning point: Scherman is one of six candidates running for the seat of directly elected mayor, and if she fails she will lose her spot on the council. Her current city council district is being eliminated by redistricting, being split between two districts that aren't up for reelection until 2014.
Scherman sat down with Elk Grove Patch recently to discuss some of the milestones she's been a part of on the council, what she wants to bring back from the pre-incorporation days and how she wants to move the city forward.
This interview has been edited for length.
A few months ago you were running for a different office. So why did you decide to run for mayor?
Right after the primary, which everyone expected me to be one of the top two–it didn’t happen–the following day I had a group of people, they got together and they came to my house and talked to me about running for mayor. We Q&A’d each other; they said they were sorry that I had not won the primary, but they were really excited now I could run for mayor.
So they were asking you if you were interested in running?
No, they told me to run.
What do you think you bring that’s different from what other candidates are bringing?
Well first of all I bring experience. I say that all the time. And experience means a lot because I carry the history of how Elk Grove was before incorporation and what has happened since incorporation.
What are some of the things you’re most proud of having done on the city council?
Kept my promise: No new taxes, local control and more police protection. That’s a promise I made 12 years ago.
Any other specific issues that you’ve worked on?
There are so many in 12 years, my gosh. I mean, from being a strong advocate as I am for the disabled to forming our own police department, our own transportation department, waste department, building our corporation yard–soon to be finishing up our waste [transfer station]. There are so many things, because to me one isn’t greater than the other. To me it’s accomplishing a need for the citizens that makes life better for them. Not only for them, but for myself as well. I live here–this is my city as well.
Are there any issues that you look back on and realize now you that you may have made the wrong decision or wished you had voted a different way?
… Every vote I make I’m positive that is the correct decision on my part. Down the road things happen – maybe we should have thought about doing it this way. But it’s like anything else. … I stand by my votes and if it’s something really drastic I will come out and say so, but there really hasn’t been anything. I’m black and white, very little in the gray area.
What are some of the things you would want to focus on as mayor?
Well, talking to people new to the area that have moved into the city, their question is about crime–that’s their first question. I advise them to look at the police log, go online and look at the police log or read it in the paper it’ll tell you what type of crimes are being committed. … Our police department is so up-to-date and still they’re always looking at ways to improve the safety of our citizens. Crime is one, the other is they don’t like the traffic. But with growth comes traffic and we’re pretty much on target as for what we need to do. … The third thing is … the red light cameras. That’s another issue that people do not like them, but I can’t comment on it. And I wish I could, but I can’t because I got a ticket myself. (laughs)
As for some more specific issues, I remember you saying you think the Sphere of Influence (SOI) application is too large. When did you come to that conclusion and what made you decide that?
Well a little while ago you asked me, ‘Have you ever voted for something you were sorry about?’ Well I hadn’t voted on it, what I voted on–and we still are there–was to study the SOI. It wasn’t to say, 'OK this is it, we’re done.' As I start thinking about it and start reading and receiving comments and listening to people’s comments, and the issue with LAFCO, what’s been happening, I started looking at it a little bit deeper. And I’ve always been one of, ‘Let’s not concrete everything just because it’s an open space.’ … And I agree that we need to study and look at things down the road but this I can’t support it in its present form.
Was there one moment that was the tipping point for you or made you realize that was the reason why it shouldn’t be as large as it is?
… The more I thought about it the more I leaned to, ‘This is too big.’ There’s no way we are going to accomplish everything we need with it being this size. We’re just taking too much.
What are your thoughts on giving incentives to state agencies that relocate to Elk Grove?
I don’t support that–not as large as it was. … We did it once and I won’t do it again. Not that size. We have incentives that we can give to our smaller businesses. It hurt a lot of people. I supported it at the time. You asked me the question, is there something I regret, and you know what, I think this is one of them. This was a mistake in giving such a large incentive … On one hand it was a good idea because we were getting a large corporation, or a large agency. But on the other hand we were taking away from the incentives that we could’ve been providing to the smaller businesses that needed help. Yet they didn’t qualify for the same type of incentives.
Should the city be giving other kinds of incentives to other kinds of businesses?
Well we can waive certain fees, we can regroup on things, but that’s something I’m going to be working on. The incentive program that we have needs to be absolutely flushed out. We need to take a stronger, deeper look into how we determine how we’re going to give incentives to businesses.
As for the civic center, how do you envision that turning out and what kind of purpose do you envision it serving?
In my mind I’m definitely thinking in phases. I’m only concentrating on phase one. And phase one would be the aquatic center, the veterans’ hall, the library and the city offices. The park nearby – I’ve been hopeful in the past having a children’s museum. If you stop and think of what I just said, we’re addressing the needs of the veterans, we’re addressing the needs of the seniors, the children, the sports group that doesn’t have a facility.
What sort of needs do the veterans in Elk Grove have?
A meeting hall. They don’t have a place to meet–a place to call home–and that means a lot to them. When they came home from the service, especially the Vietnam War, they were spit upon. My husband was in the Vietnam War as a Marine and he was told not to wear his uniform on his way home because of what the reaction was back here in the states. They were spit upon, they were taunted and they had no place to go.
If you’re elected mayor, what can you do to make sure you work well with the rest of the council?
You can’t change the individual council members’ minds on anything. But what I hope to accomplish with their help is to involve more communities–more citizens in the community in their neighborhoods. I want to bring back the CPAC [Community Planning Advisory Councils]. We used to have an Elk Grove CPAC. I sincerely believe that having a CPAC like we did before–they can come to those meetings, which is talking about their special issue, and they–the PAC–can then take it to the planning commission and let them know, 'This has been vetted already and this is how the citizens feel.' Because right now people don’t go to the planning commission [meetings] and some things get approved and it makes a lot of people angry, a lot of people happy. We need more involvement.
What are your thoughts on the freeway signage that’s come up a few times?
I don’t want them. … I travel a lot up and down the corridor. I’ve traveled a lot because that was my business [as the owner of a travel agency]. And I know when we go up I-5 or 99 or other freeways and if I need a gas station, we don’t look for the sign that says gas the next 5 miles; there could be an AM/PM store before that. … We just pull off the freeway and go up a couple blocks in either direction and if we don’t find anything, back on the freeway we go. I don’t need signs to tell me there’s gas ahead, there’s a place for me to eat, there’s a McDonald’s, there’s a Jack in the Box or a Taco Bell.
With the redistricting and your district being absorbed into the others, do you think that’ll change anything for the people who live in that area?
Yeah, because I have given my district a lot of attention. I have worked very hard in my district. I know my district very well. … Old Town will be–I really am concerned because it is Old Town. I was there from the beginning with it. There is a lot of work left to be done there, but again, with the experience I have, my leadership will keep moving it forward, and I don’t think it will continue after I’m off–if I don’t get elected as mayor. But I will be at the podium. (laughs) No, I’m not going away.
What do you think needs to be done to improve Old Town?
Well, the parking is a big problem, and I think if we had the parking instead of parallel parking we were to do the horizontal; I think the beautification process didn’t go according to the way we–the old town businesses–had envisioned. It seems like the street is narrow. … I want to make it a destination and that’s what I’m hopeful when the mall–either the mall or the outlet factory [stores], whatever they decide–that we can have people go park their car, do their shopping, get a shuttle or a little trolley car or something, and bring them over to Old Town and vice versa.
Well before you can do that, the mall has to be finished.
Yes. In some shape.
Is there something you could do as mayor to help speed that along?
Yes, as a mayor that gets elected on a rotation basis, I’ve noticed that we’re not invited to a lot of meetings where other elected mayors are. It’s just a different feeling–you’re elected by the people and that means more than being a rotating mayor. … So you know, it’s something I look forward to because we then will have a seat at the table with other elected mayors and that means a lot.
What could you do as mayor to bring more jobs to Elk Grove?
Right now, working with our economic development director, because I’ve done this all along. Business people especially: ‘I’ll say oh what business are you in?’ ‘I have a Jelly Belly store somewhere,’ and I’ll say: ‘Hm. Have you ever thought of expanding or moving to Elk Grove?’ And they’ll say, ‘Yeah, but the fees–they’re too high.’ We have a reputation for being hard to deal with, and we need to change that image. We need to look at our fee structure again. We need to make sure we are equal and compatible with the other cities.