I asked Jeff Starsky questions about his candidacy for Folsom City Council. Questions are shown in bold typeface.
How Long have you lived in Folsom?
How are you involved in the Folsom Community?
I serve on the City Council and have for the last eight years, serving as the Mayor for Folsom in 2001-2002. I am the City’s representative on the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District Board of Directors and served as Chairman of that agency in 2006 and 2007. Prior to that I served on the Folsom Planning Commission, the Folsom Historic District Commission, the Folsom Economic Development Corporation, the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, the Board of the Directors for the California International Marathon.
In my non-public life, I am an attorney that has been practicing law for 19 years and currently provide legal and business counsel for individuals and corporations. In that capacity I have served on the Boards of Directors for numerous companies. I have also represented large groups of companies before the California legislature as well as other regulatory agencies.
Why are you running for this office?
Because I love the City I have lived in for the past 23 years. I originally ran for office to clean up many of the problems facing Folsom and over my eight years on the Council I feel like I have done that. My primary goal for the City when I was first elected was to improve the quality and level of service of public safety in the City.
When I started eight years ago, both the police and fire departments were severely under funded and service to the residents was sub-par. During my term, I was involved in hiring the first professional police chief, Sam Spiegel, and devoted significant time and resources to nearly double the size of the Folsom Police Department, adding 57 police officers and support personnel. The Folsom Police Department is probably now one of the best departments in Northern California, if not the entire state. I remain committed to maintain Folsom PD as a very high priority.
Likewise, Folsom’s fire department lacked adequate resources when I arrived on the scene in 2000. Through my efforts, the Department has added 26 fire personnel and improved response times to serve Folsom residents much more effectively. The Folsom Fire Department is now a top notch professional fire service which is regarded very highly by the residents of the City.
I’ve changed the philosophy of our City government to devote significantly more resources to improving the infrastructure of the City and have eliminated the sewer problems that plagued us for so many years. I am working hard to continue to find additional water supplies to protect the City from drought in the coming years.
I also worked very hard to improve the success of the City of Folsom from an economic development standpoint. Along with the City Manager, I created a long-term strategic plan for the City in 2002. I have been personally involved in bringing several businesses to Folsom, including Trader Joes, Mervyn’s, Circuit City, Costco, In-N-Out Burger and numerous other businesses. I was also able to convince the organizers of the only California full distance triathlon, the “CaliforniaMan”, to hold their event in Folsom resulting in significant revenues to local businesses.
I believe that a strong business base in the community provides the revenues for cities to fund the public benefits such as parks as well as keeping the public safe by maintaining a strong police and fire presence. I also worked diligently to secure the commitment of Kaiser Permanente to build a hospital facility in Folsom in the coming years, resulting in the addition of some 1500 jobs.
Finally, although unexpected, when the Federal government closed the Dam Road right before I became Mayor, I worked feverishly to secure funding for the new bridge below the dam. While serving as Mayor, I testified before the United States Congress twice on behalf of the residents of Folsom in support of the federal legislation authorizing the construction of a new bridge below the Folsom Dam.
The legislation was approved by the Congress and signed by the President and the new bridge construction should be complete by Spring of next year. I also represented the City of Folsom before many regional elected officials in Washington D.C. in an effort to secure federal funding for projects in Folsom. During my eight year term, I have helped to secure over $90 million in federal funding for the City of Folsom.
I am running for office so I can complete projects I started to benefit our City and to assure that it remains a fiscally viable city in the future and to protect the quality of life we all love.
What qualifies you to run for this office?
My experiences as a lawyer and legislative advocate and my experiences as a Councilman make me particularly qualified to serve the people of Folsom for another term on the Council. I have built the regional and national relationships necessary to secure funding and support for Folsom and its residents. I know the processes and continue to work to improve efficiencies in the systems to deliver cost-effective services that our residents expect.
I feel I have been effective at my job, as Folsom has been named as one of the top 50 cities to raise a family by Money magazine, the top 25 most affordable suburbs by Business Week for two consecutive years, and again this year as one of the top 100 cities to live and start a business by Money magazine. We are respected statewide for the quality of life and livability of our great City. We have beautiful amenities and over 26 miles of trails for our residents to enjoy. I feel that I have helped to make Folsom a great place to live, work and play during my eight years on the Council.
How will Folsom benefit if you are elected?
I will continue to serve the needs of the people as I have for eight years. I will continue to assure that Folsom will remain financially solid and protect the property values of our residents. I have been extremely careful with the public’s money and have reduced expenses by $6 million while at the same time increasing reserves by over $4 million during my eight years.
By locating the City’s library to its current site, we were able to utilize public lands already owned by the City and saved $4 million. We have one of the best libraries in the region. We were able to save millions of dollars in prevailing wages by buying the existing Sports Complex from its private owner rather than building one as our general plan had set out. The same is true of the Arts & Senior Center.
Instead of buying expensive land and building from the ground up, we saved millions of dollars by converting our old fire station into a beautiful Arts & Senior Center. If elected, I will continue to bring this fiscally-conservative private sector approach to city government. I will continue to evaluate the needs of our residents and maximize our City’s limited resources to meet the needs of our residents.
What are the major issues facing Folsom over the next four years?
There are two primary issues facing Folsom that need attention immediately. First, we must complete the construction of the Folsom Lake Crossing. According to the last survey of Folsom residents, traffic is their number one concern. The closure of the Dam Road has added as many as 22,000 vehicles to our City streets and the effect has been devastating. We must make sure that the bridge construction is completed by Spring of 2009 as it is planned.
We are still approximately $6 million short of federal funding to complete the project. I have been working with our congressional delegation in Washington DC for many years and continue to do so to this day to assure that the final appropriation for the bridge is completed. It is estimated that by the time the bridge is open, 26,000 vehicles a day will use that bridge, providing substantial relief to our City.
Second, the economy will continue to be a problem for Folsom. Sales tax and property tax revenues are seeing a decline in Folsom as they are throughout the country. Our city government must be vigilant in making sure expenses are kept in alignment with the shrinking revenue. My business experience will assure residents that I will keep a close eye on the City’s finances. Generating revenue for the City will be a high priority as it will take years for the revenues from property taxes to return to their normal levels. That leaves sales tax as the only other source of general fund revenue.
We must work very hard to attract other revenue producing businesses to Folsom. I was instrumental in bringing Trader Joes, Mervyn’s, Circuit City, Costco and numerous other businesses to Folsom. I have helped to assure that the Palladio Mall stays on course and will bring the new theater complex as well as Whole Foods to Folsom in additional to numerous other retailers resulting in increased sales taxes. My eight years on the Council has provided me with the experience needed to accomplish these very important tasks.
Another future issue will be water supply. I am working with City staff to secure additional water supply to deal with dry years that we are already seeing. In the future, water will be the most valuable commodity and I am working to make sure it never becomes an issue for our residents. It will require that we change our behaviors and conserve but I am confident Folsom residents will do the right things as they always have.
What issues need to be addressed immediately?
Where do you stand on expansion south of Highway 50?
The direction for expansion south of Highway 50 was settled by the voters in 2004 when they approved, by an overwhelming majority, Measure W. That measure set forth that Folsom was to be the city to control any expansion into the Folsom Planning Area. Since it was approved by the voters, I have moved to implement the people’s direction.
I have been working with the landowners group to develop a specific plan that will assure the City of Folsom will benefit from the development, that thirty percent of the project will be devoted to preserving open space including the oak woodlands, and that the traffic generated by the project will be planned to flow pursuant to the regional “Blueprint” plan and have a minimal effect on Folsom.
The annexation is critical to Folsom’s future financial viability and has great opportunities for existing residents in terms of the shopping and recreational activities that are being planned for the area. The project will provide our city with much needed revenue to continue to expand our police and fire services as well as our other public infrastructure. The landowners have purchased their own water supply so there will be no impact on the existing city water supply. The project has now been recognized in the region as one of the model projects of transit-oriented development and is being held out as an example of how projects will be developed in the future.
What is your opinion of infill?
Infill is less of a problem in Folsom as most of the city has been developed. What is probably a better question is how do I feel about redevelopment? Folsom must always be keeping a close eye on not only how it develops its new lands but how it keeps its already developed parts of the City from falling into a state of disrepair.
I have seen many examples of cities that have not paid attention to their older areas and have suffered as a result. I have always kept careful watch on the impacts of development on the older areas of town and will continue to do so if re-elected. We are redeveloping the historic district and having a major impact on the area’s revitalization. The new parking structure and office building that are either completed or under construction have already dramatically improved the feel of the downtown area. When completed, Sutter Street and the surrounding area will be alive with activity and energy.
An area I intend to address next is the central business district of Folsom. With the emergence of the east side of Folsom as the primary shopping and business district, we have to be careful to assure that the central business district does not collapse. I am looking at ideas and plans for a revitalization effort in that district. Acquiring the property the school district is selling and combining it with other parcels could allow us to create a whole new way of thinking about living and shopping in that part of Folsom. What we do need are leaders who have the long term vision to begin the process now rather than wait until the area is already depressed. I think I am that leader.
What is your opinion of commercial development?
As I have basically set forth above, I am a strong advocate of commercial development as it brings both property tax and sales revenue to Folsom and those are the life blood of our revenue.
The commercial development in Folsom is a model for other communities of how it can be done effectively. Folsom has set very high standards for its development and it has paid off in terms of the types of businesses that have chosen to locate here.
Folsom’s commercial businesses are very active in our community, contributing much to youth sports and youth development activities for our children. Intel regularly provides support to our schools and teen center. Kaiser and Mercy are actively involved in promoting the health and welfare of our residents by actively supporting sporting activities and heath expos throughout the city. Wells Fargo Bank and all of the businesses in Folsom are always helping the community with contributions of time and money.
In my eight years on the Council I have tried to create a business-friendly culture in the City to attract the best businesses in the region and I think Folsom has done that. We have the best corporate citizens of any of the neighboring cities.
What is your opinion of low income housing?
My opinion of low income housing is, unfortunately, irrelevant. State law mandates that our City, like every city in the state, provide “affordable housing” for Californians. The City had previously ignored the state’s mandates for many years until finally it was sued by the housing advocates.
While I was Mayor, I worked to bring Folsom back into compliance with state law and have successfully avoided the drastic penalties that could have been imposed on our city. I am currently working with staff on the new housing element to make sure that it is compliant with all of the legal requirements. Our Housing element will be certified by the state very soon. What I have insisted on is that our planning department considers multiple options as it relates to satisfying the state law requirements.
I have seen the inclusionary zoning process fail miserably in other jurisdictions and wish to allow the City more flexibility in dealing with the issue of providing the necessary housing that has been allocated to us by the Department of Housing and Community Development. I am working with national builders to find a more practical approach to the problem rather than just trying to attempt the same failed approach taken by other jurisdictions.
Are there underserved areas in Folsom that need attention?
As stated above, my primary action is to make sure that the Central Business District does not fall into disrepair when we open the new Palladio Mall. We must also continue our current efforts to revitalize Sutter Street. While on the Council, I have devoted significant redevelopment monies to the improvements in “Old Towne” including the parking structure and loans to small business owners to upgrade their shops. We are continuing to beautify the streetscape down there to bring new energy and vitality to the City.