Grass Valley Council candidates talk budget, priorities |

Grass Valley Council candidates talk budget, priorities

Lisa Swathout
John Hart | The Union

With six candidates appearing on the ballot, Grass Valley voters have no shortage of choices for representation on the city council.

Two incumbents, Mayor Jan Arbuckle and Councilwoman Lisa Swarthout, are defending their seats from challengers Jim Firth, Justin Gross, Howard Levine and Patricia Tureaud.

The pack is vying for three open seats, as Councilwoman Yolanda Cookson is not seeking re-election. The top three vote-getters will secure the open council seats, taking office at the governing body’s first meeting in December.

Since 2007, Grass Valley’s general fund budget has declined from $12.5 million to approximately $10 million today, resulting in the equivalent of reducing 39 full-time city employees, including nine police staff and 2.5 firefighters.

“The challenge with all those cuts is what do we do next,” said City Manager Dan Holler.

Jan Arbuckle

As a retired Sacramento County deputy sheriff, Arbuckle, 61, was appointed to the council in January 2007 to replace Dean Williams, who resigned a month prior, citing professional and personal reasons right after the 2006 election.

After validating her appointment in the 2008 election, Arbuckle began to serve as mayor in 2010 and has implemented “Monday with the Mayor,” where her office is open to residents.

“Our role on the council is to act as a sounding board to the people we are elected to serve,” Arbuckle said.

With the ongoing process of development of the Dorsey Drive interchange, consolidation of police dispatch services and talks of having a joint chief operate Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County’s fire departments, Arbuckle said she is seeking re-election to see these issues through to their conclusion.

“I offer the leadership, independence and vision necessary for Grass Valley to achieve its greatest potential,” Arbuckle said. “I make decisions based on what is best for all residents of Grass Valley, not my personal opinion.”

Arbuckle listed public safety as her top priority if re-elected. She supports consolidating the area law enforcement’s dispatch services and suggested further savings could possibly be reached by sharing maintenance costs on municipal agencies’ vehicles.

“I believe cooperation with Nevada County, Nevada City and Truckee is the only way to make things happen and create the Grass Valley we all want,” she said.

Jim Firth

A chairman of the Nevada County Democratic Central Committee with three decades of experience as a union negotiator, Firth listed jobs and economic development as his priorities, although he is fond of saying the city needs to prioritize public safety and roads and sidewalks.

“We need to have handicapped accessible streets and sidewalks,” Firth told The Union in an interview.

Firth has not served on an elected board.

“I’m not part of the old establishment,” Firth said.

In addition to setting policy, Firth sees the role of a council member as a facilitator, bringing business interests together to find compromises that also would benefit the residents.

“I believe it is the council’s responsibility to make sure the staff that are here are producing quality work through encouragement, a fair compensation package,” Firth said.

“What I think the council’s responsibility is is giving direction so the staff knows what they are tasked to do and following up.”

But the council should not turn to staff, asking what to do, he said.

Justin Gross

At 40 years old, Gross, a voice actor, is the youngest candidate on ballot.

His top priorities are law enforcement, roads and parks, which he said he would aim to keep funded by trimming costs on city salaries.

In the present economic climate, Gross sees the role of a councilmember as putting a microscope on the city’s budget.

“Go through every item in there and see what should be trimmed,” Gross said. “That’s what I would do, and I think that is what needs to (be done).”

Given that most of the city’s general fund goes toward personnel costs, Gross said he would look to trim some of the highest salaries by as much as 20 percent, if that is what it takes to keep the budget balanced.

Gross has no experience in an elected position.

He favors local businesses, supporting the prospect of
mining as a local jobs generator that he said would provide trickle-down economic benefits to shops.

He said he would be reluctant to have a big box store come to Grass Valley.

“There is nothing Roseville has that I would like to bring up here,” Gross said. “I wouldn’t discourage it, but I would prefer a more local flair.”

Howard Levine

After more than three decades in the area, Levine is a well known local name, especially among the business community.

Just before filing his candidacy, Levine stepped down in March as executive director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association, which he led for many years.

But that is only the tip of iceberg for his local involvement. Levine has operated the Swan Levine House bed-and-breakfast with his wife, Peggy.

He is also an instructor at Sierra College’s local campus, which he said he helped bring to Grass Valley during his decade on the Grass Valley Planning Commission.

Levine was also elected to Grass Valley School Board in the late 1970s.

In addition to leading the downtown association, Levine is a member of the statewide Downtown Association and Main Street Alliance, the Economic Resource Council and a former owner of the Holbrooke Hotel.

“Over the years, I have helped lead initiatives that have brought business to our community, and I would like to do that in a more official leadership capacity,” Levine said.

“I have long-proven experience with Grass Valley and California regarding improving downtowns and cities and would like to apply my experience to Grass Valley.”

Like the other candidates, Levine listed the city’s budget and public safety as top priorities. But in his interview with The Union, he said his main goal if elected would be to foster economic development to stop more than 50 percent of the community’s spendable income from going down the hill to Roseville and Auburn.

Levine differs with Gross on big box stores. Levine asserts that a big box store could help retain lost sales tax revenue without stifling local shops.

However, the two agree that there may be a place for mining in Grass Valley.

Lisa Swarthout

With nine years as a planning commissioner before her eight years on the council, Swarthout, 50, touts her experience as a city leader as her greatest asset.

“I think everybody who is running is committed to the city,” Swarthout said. “I have a unique perspective.”

Swarthout owns Mill Street Clothing Co., located in the city’s historic downtown.

“People think when you are downtown that is all you think about, but that is simply not true,” she said.

Swarthout’s tactic for getting things done in the city is a willingness to listen to a different perspective she might not initially agree with.

“You and I might not agree, but you have to be a problem-solver,” she said. “I have heard arguments before and changed my mind. You really can’t have an agenda.”

As for her priorities, Swarthout said she wants to maintain a balanced budget and retain core city services, even if the city’s sales tax ballot item, Measure N, fails.

Swarthout is also a supporter of the police department’s integrated approach with homeless service organizations and Measure N, saying the city needs to prioritize public safety and public works.

In a sentiment echoed by Arbuckle, Swarthout said she would not prohibit a potential mining operation from applying to the city.

But she said that without all the facts, she would be reluctant to support the prospect.

Patricia Tureaud

As a former manager at a rental car company, Tureaud, 64, moved to Grass Valley more than a decade ago from the Bay Area and volunteered at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

Tureaud said she is vying for the council seat to solve Grass Valley’s problems, highlighting public safety, alleviating the city’s economic woes and ongoing issues related to homelessness as her top priorities.

Although Tureaud lacks political experience and did not provide specific plans on achieving her goals, instead saying she wants to study the issues more if elected, her passion for her adopted home is unwavering.

Tureaud opposes big box stores taking business from local merchants and would like to see a more encouraging building permit process with fewer fees and more speed.

In her interview with The Union, Tureaud spent much of her time discussing homelessness, on which she has mixed feelings.

Tureaud thinks the city needs a zero-tolerance policy for
vagrants demonstrating a lack
of interest in seeking homeless services, instead opting to be a burden on law enforcement, she said.

At the same time, she said, she often walks among Condon Park’s darker corners where transients gather to talk to them, going so far as to provide comforts, even though she scolds herself for doing so.

This isn’t Tureaud’s first attempt to join the council. In 2010, she finished third in the race for two seats behind councilmen Dan Miller and Jayson Fouyer.

With nearly 29 percent of the votes, Tureaud garnered more support than candidate Edward Yarborough.

Tax measure

All of the candidates expressed support for Measure N, a half-percent sales tax initiative, citing the need for strong public safety. Only Gross expressed slight reservations, citing concerns of having revenue dependent on a temporary funding source.

“I support it but only lukewarmly because you can’t get used to a finite level of funding,” Gross said.

“However, you can’t run a police department on the amount of officers they have right now.
They are one incident away from not having enough officers on hand.”

Check Saturday’s edition of The Union for election coverage on Grass Valley’s and Nevada City’s sales tax measures or visit


An earlier version of this article required clarification.

In describing Candidate Jim Firth’s characterization of his not having yet been elected to a public agency as a positive, The Union was characterizing the overall tone of his interview, as well as previous statements by the candidate.

Candidate Howard Levine disagrees with Candidate Justin Gross about big box stores in Grass Valley. Levine said they could help retain lost sales tax revenue without stifling local small businesses

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call (530) 477-4236.

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