Holtville City Council candidates sound off during the first and only candidate forum of the election season on Thursday, Oct. 29, in the Holtville Civic Center/City Hall. From left are Mayor James Predmore, incumbent council member Virginia "Ginger" Ward, challenger Murray Anderson, and incumbent council appointee Mike Pacheco. | VIDEO SCREEN CAPTURE COLLAGE
HOLTVILLE — The four Holtville City Council candidates vying for three seats for the Nov. 3 election assured voters they all had the best interests of the city in mind on Thursday, Oct. 29, during a virtual town hall forum.
Yet, the four candidates, which includes three incumbents, offered slightly different takes on how best to move the city forward on behalf of its citizenry.
All four were given the opportunity to make their platforms known during the hour-long candidate forum that was hosted at the Civic Center by the Holtville Chamber of Commerce.
(To see profiles from two of the four candidates, click here.)
The virtual forum was significant in that the Nov. 3 election marks the first time in eight years that any City Council incumbents have faced a challenger.
That challenger, Murray Anderson, also sought to present himself as a potential counter voice to the prevailing opinions and courses of actions that the voting public has come to know from the incumbents over the past eight years.
“I’m just a believer in change,” Anderson said during his closing statement. “Maybe we need to question the city manager sometimes.”
The forum’s format allowed each candidate to provide an opening and closing statement, as well as two minutes to respond to six pre-determined questions by moderator and chamber member Katie Turner.
One of those questions asked was about the candidates’ plans to help improve the look of the city’s downtown area, streets, grassy areas, and parks.
Eight-year incumbent Virginia “Ginger” Ward said that Holtville has some of the best parks in the Valley, and that she would continue to advocate to have the city apply for grants, which at times can be challenging to obtain.
Her particular focus would be to have the city continue to work collaboratively with businesses on Fifth Street to further help beautify the downtown area.
“We have to work with the owners to try to get them to make this happen,” Ward said.
Mayor James Predmore agreed with Ward about the excellence of the city’s parks, calling Holt Park the “gem of Imperial County.” Yet he said he would improve on its popularity and attractiveness by adding more amenities.
“It would be beautiful to have a walking area all around the square,” the eight-year incumbent said. “That’s something we can look into.”
He also highlighted his and the rest of the council’s past efforts to secure grants and expand the city’s recreational infrastructure, such as the Pete Mellinger Alamo River Trail and nearby wetlands.
For his part, incumbent appointee Mike Pacheco said it was heartening to see that a second Little League field was in the process of being developed for the city’s youths, and that city personnel have been properly maintaining the city’s frequently patronized parks.
Pacheco, who was appointed to the council about a year and a half ago to fill a vacancy, also highlighted the use of grant funds to install trees along the Alamo River trail and the fact that about 90 percent of the city’s streets had been resurfaced in recent times.
Anderson said he would like to see the city focus more on cleaning its streets and that it continue to maintain its parks. Later, during his closing statement, he said the city’s alleys should be targeted for cleanup efforts as well.
“If we could look into something like that, I think it could go a long way,” said Anderson, a home health coordinator for El Centro-based AccentCare Home Health.
Housing and commercial development was another topic where the candidates appeared to agree to a large extent. All were in favor of finding ways to expand the city’s housing stock and attract additional businesses.
Anderson said he was in favor of strategic growth to help maintain the city’s family-oriented atmosphere and that he did not want to see Holtville become “the apartment capital” of the county.
Pacheco said housing was his No. 1 priority and that Holtville could benefit from additional single-family homes and affordable housing. During his time on the council he has worked with his colleagues and City Manager Nick Wells to address the issue.
Ward said that current residents have showed no signs of wanting to leave behind the city’s small-town charm, while the attraction of additional residents has proven challenging without added housing and commercial development.
Predmore said that Holtville’s growth and development were some of his topmost concerns and the focus of his and the city’s efforts as of late.
He credited the past reduction of developer fees with having stimulated some housing development, but that more was needed to help the city’s population grow to the point where it would become more attractive to franchise retailers.
“We need to reach out to developers for them to see the need for homes in Holtville,” he said.
The candidates also fielded questions that asked how the city could best serve residents and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether the city should evaluate how it has been awarding contracts for work done on behalf of the city.
Pacheco said the city has benefitted greatly from its past collaboration with The Holt Group, an El Centro-based engineering company, and that city officials have practiced due diligence with an eye toward cost effectiveness when reviewing bid proposals and awarding contracts.
He also said that the city continues to seek out emergency financial assistance to help residents with utility assistance amid the pandemic and acknowledged the city’s efforts could be better communicated to the citizenry.
Ward said the city continues to work with business owners to help them reopen amid the pandemic, and that her work with the county Area Agency on Aging has helped ensure that the region’s senior citizens are receiving meals during these trying times.
She, too, had praise for The Holt Group, and assured the public that the city was soliciting bids before awarding contracts for services, as required.
Anderson said his knowledge of the city’s awarding of past contracts was limited, but that nothing suggested they did not comply with established regulations. Aside from indicating that a contract’s lowest bidder should be given prioritization, Anderson further stated that a company’s past work history should be considered as well.
He also supported increased communication and outreach with businesses and residents impacted by the pandemic, and which could potentially benefit from existing assistance programs.
“They are just in the dark right now,” Anderson said.
Predmore characterized the emergency pandemic assistance that has been made available to date as “limited” and expressed a desire to see more become available through the federal government.
He also reminded those watching the virtual town hall that the city had already adopted a moratorium against the shutting off city utilities for residents’ failure to pay.
Predmore further credited The Holt Group with providing the city with quality management services and helping secure $30 million in grants during his time on the council. “We have gone out and used other management companies and the result were bad,” he said.