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Elk Grove Mayoral Town Hall

Elk Grove Mayoral Town Hall

Community Activist Tracie Stafford, Mayor Steve Ly, & Vice-Mayor Darren Suen
Photography Credit: Jackson Phan

The Elk Grove Mayoral Town Hall was held on Saturday September 8 at California Northstate University School of Medicine. The event was hosted by the Asian Pacific Islander Public Affairs Association Greater Sacramento Chapter and the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County. Around 200 people attended with the Mayoral Town Hall which began at 10 AM.

Opening Statements

Darren Suen

“Good morning everybody! It’s really great to see you all. I’m Darren Suen, Vice-Mayor of the City of Elk Grove. You know my wife and I have lived in Elk Grove now for just about eighteen years now. We’ve raised three beautiful, great kids. So we definitely made the right decision Babe (talking to his wife) to come back to Elk Grove, to get away from the long commute to the Bay Area, find affordable, or in our case, more valuable housing option, being in a safe neighborhood and having good schools. Before that as high school sweet hearts we grew up in South Sacramento, where we attended public schools. (Darren Suen grew up in Greenhaven and attended John F. Kennedy High School). I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve ever achieved in school, in sports, in life. I got into Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, back then, because I couldn’t get in today. Trust me. I earned a degree in civil engineering and I spend lifetime working as a licensed civil engineer, in land use, transportation, and water resources. Many of the decisions that we make on the dais pertain to transportation and land use. We have an ongoing traffic issue. We need a job center to balance out our jobs imbalance and traffic. I have a plan. I have the right experience. But I can’t do it alone. I don’t have all the answers. So I am looking for you to help me here as we go down the path to solve these issues. At the end of the day, I’m the most qualified candidate to serve as your mayor. I’m endorsed by the Elk Grove Police Officer’s Association, the Sacramento Firefighters, the rest of the City Council, all five Planning Commissioners, the Elk Grove School Board President Nancy Espinoza, the Elk Grove School Board Members Bobbie Singh-Allen, thank you for being here, and Chet Madison, CSD Board President Rich Lozano, CSD Board Members Gil Albiani and Jim Luttrell, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, Senator Richard Pan, State Controller Betty Yee, State Treasurer John Chiang, Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce. I look forward to earning your support. Thank you!”

Steve Ly

“Good morning everyone! How are you all doing? Well, first I want to thank each and everyone of you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here. My name is Steve Ly. I’m your elected mayor. I was your elected City Council member before. I came to this great country as a four year old refugee. I earned amnesty, my family earned amnesty into the United States because my father’s job was to rescue American pilots that had been shot down into Laos. Many of you may not have heard that because it was a secret of Laos. It was a secret. Because of the work that my father did rescuing American pilots, scraping the brain matter, body parts and brains, making sure they were brought home to America, that’s the bond, that’s the hard work I learned from my father. That’s the reason why I’m standing in front of you today. I truly believe in Elk Grove. My wife and I picked Elk Grove because we wanted a community in which we could raise our two boys. I’m very fortunate that my two boys are teenagers and are working very hard to make sure they get into a decent college. I’m no different than each and every one of you. I’m a hardworking person. I make sure that every dollar that is earned goes to the right thing. That’s the reason why my commitment to kids, and to the youth development of Elk Grove is so important. Day to day, I go to juvenile hall where I work as a juvenile hall counselor. City Hall has a lot of issues we can work out. But most importantly, it’s about the people, it’s about the future. That’s why I feel that I am the best qualified candidate. I’ve been sitting here, I have the most public service experience, and I’m glad to be having this conversation today. Thank you very much.”

Tracie Stafford 

“I’m Tracie Stafford, and I have been in the Elk Grove community for 17 years. I’m from the Bay Area. I moved here, like most residents did, because it was affordable housing, good schools, the diversity, especially, and low crime. Where I grew up, was in San Leandro, which is right outside of Oakland. We were one of the first African American families to move into this community. And I share that, because it has a lot to do with who I am as a person. We had to  basically. It was us, representing an entire community. I was told on a regular basis that because my mother was a single Mama, because of my ethnicity, because I was a girl, because I didn’t have money. My mother was ill and ended up passing away, and we ended up being orphaned, all five of us. And because of that, I was told that I would never be anything. That I need to curb my enthusiasm about life, because the world would only allow me to go so far, and be so much in terms of what I could do for my career and what I could achieve just as an individual. And one principle in particular when she told me that story- I decided that that wasn’t going to be me. That that wasn’t going to be true. Especially as I watch so many other people, here today, that believe those stories and they live those stories. They never achieve. So from there, I became the first in my family to earn a college degree. My children are now the first to have gone off to college. My eldest is 30 years old — I’m 52 so I’m not a young thing, but I’m young enough. My was eldest is in the Navy. My other two are UC Davis and University of Long Beach. And I’m getting a little flustered I’m sorry. I am not a politician. Clearly, I am not a politician. I don’t know what you want to hear. All I know is who I am, and I’ve been an advocate for people my entire life. I’m a governor appointee, I’m a small business owner, I have traveled the world helping people, being the voice for those who cannot been heard. And I’m hoping throughout this time, you’ll be able to hear more about me. Thank you very much.”

Tracie Stafford, Mayor Steve Ly, & Vice-Mayor Darren Suen on stage
Photo Credit: Jackson Phan

The Questions

During the event Paula Lee of the League of Women Voters asked 11 questions which were submitted by the audience.

The questions were as follows (The first mayoral candidate to answer is in parentheses):

1. Elk Grove is growing very fast. What are your plans for infrastructure to accommodate this fast growth? (Suen)

2. What is your plan to cut back on crime? Do you support increasing the number of police officers in Elk Grove? Why or why not? (Ly)

3. This voter has been noticing more and more homelessness within Elk Grove. As mayor, what policies or solutions would you bring forth? And would you as mayor support inclusionary housing? How would you implement it? (Stafford)

4. How would you address the diversity issues in Elk Grove? (Ly)

5. What do you think about district seats and would this help create more representation for voters in Elk Grove? (Suen)

6. Local campaigns are out of reach for most people unless the candidate is developer funded. Would you support a campaign finance ordinance for Elk Grove? (Ly)

7. East Elk Grove is a neglected area for retail and dining options. Part of this is the “dead mall”. What can you do to bring quality dining, retail, and concert theater space to East Elk Grove? What are your feelings regarding the up and coming casino? Has your position changed on this? (Stafford)

8. As mayor, how will address traffic congestion? Is the city using smart-lights? Are expectations being met or not with E-tran? (Suen)

9. Elk Grove is $10 million in arrears for road maintenance says this voter. What are your specific ideas to solve that deficit? (Ly)

10. Does Elk Grove need rent control? And if so, do you have a plan? (Suen)

11. What are your plans for expanding youth engagement in Elk Grove? (Ly)

Community Activist Tracie Stafford, Mayor Steve Ly, & Vice-Mayor Darren Suen
Photography Credit: Jackson Phan

The Highlights

The question “what do you think about district seats and would this help create more representation for voters in Elk Grove?” drew interesting answers because Suen was on the opposite side of the argument from Stafford and Ly. Suen was in favor of keeping the from district voting, where candidates are from a defined geographic area but elected on a city-wide basis. Suen emphasized that there is no perfect way to govern but voiced that he thought our current system creates a better sense of a team environment because it takes three people to make policy decisions (which would be a majority vote in the City Council). In the current system every two years Elk Grove votes for the mayor and two City Council members. If the system is changed, Elk Grove citizens would vote for the mayor and the City Council Member in their district. Ly clearly stated that he believes in one person one vote. He believes that some people might think the current City Council member’s seats would be more vulnerable if they went to by district elections. But he pointed out that the clearest way to avoid the impending lawsuit was to go by district.  Stafford clearly stated that she was in favor of by district elections, where representatives are elected only by voters in a defined geographical area. She mentioned that a candidate can only campaign in their district and that this makes it a little more equitable for those trying to get elected by their communities. Stafford asked when was the last time anybody had a town hall just for their district. “Being good at campaigning, being good at raising money, being effective at getting endorsements, doesn’t make you the best candidate. By district voting, you are absolutely the best candidate for that community, because you’ve been elected by that community specifically.”   It’s a contentious issue because there is an impending lawsuit coming up challenging from district elections. The ACLU, American Sikh Public Affairs Association, League of United Latin American Citizens, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have all voiced their opposition to from district elections in past Elk Grove City Council meetings.

Photo Credit: Jackson Phan

One question clearly drew out ongoing tensions among the mayoral candidates. “Local campaigns are out of reach for most people unless the candidate is developer funded. Would you support a campaign finance ordinance for Elk Grove?” Ly stated, “Absolutely, it’s gotten out of hand.” He stated that the majority of his donations were in the amount of $20 and he is not developer funded. Ly believes that a campaign finance ordinance would force people running for office to engage with the community. Stafford also supports a campaign finance ordinance and proudly spoke of her own experiences in running for public office. She emphasized that her campaign isn’t developer funded.  “I like to say that I am unbought, meaning that all of my funds have come from individual contributors.” She encouraged everyone to take a look at where everyone’s campaign finances were coming from since it is all public record. “At the end of the day, whom you’ve taken money from is who you are beholden too, and that is whom I want to beholden to, people, that’s why I am running. I have no other reason to do this other than for the community. And for too long the community has been run by who gave the most money.” Suen encouraged people who look at records as well. Suen indicated that he is open to a conversation about campaign finance reform but stated that folks need to know that it isn’t just about restricting the limits. Moderator, Paula Lee pointed out that the League of Women Voters does take a stand on ballot issues.  “Should the city of Elk Grove ever want a campaign finance ordinance, we would be happy to help you on that,” said Lee. The audience laughed and applauded.

Tracie Stafford speaks on stage at the Elk Grove Mayoral Town Hall
Photo Credit: Tracie Stafford

The question on East Elk Grove and the casino drew lukewarm responses from the mayoral candidates. The candidates were asked what they could do to bring quality dining, retail, and concert theater space to East Elk Grove and what their feelings were on the upcoming casino. None of the candidates had a ready answer for what they would do to bring quality dining, retail, and concert theater space to East Elk Grove. Stafford stated that she had opposed the casino but that she knew it was coming and we should all be prepared for it. Suen spoke of the city’s role in the memorandum of understanding with Wilton Rancheria but didn’t state whether he supported the casino. Ly said he understood why people were against the casino but he thought that it would create more jobs for our community. He thought that more jobs was more important than the concerns brought on by bringing gaming to the community.

Mayor Steve Ly speaks on stage at the Elk Grove Mayoral Town Hall
Photo Credit: Jackson Phan

The question on rent control drew predictable answers from the candidates. The question asked if Elk Grove needs rent control and if candidates had a plan. Ly stated that he would be willing to explore the possibility of rent control. Mayor Ly often tends to say that he is willing to explore a certain solution if it is presented by key community members. Suen stated his opposition to rent control. “We don’t need rent control at this time. It hasn’t worked in San Francisco. Have any of you been to San Francisco lately?” Tracie Stafford noted that rent control is a part of a multi-faceted solution. She pointed out that she talks to millennials who can’t afford to live in the town that they grew up in. “Where is the money coming from? Where is the focus? The focus is building new $400,000 homes. Where are our children, again three of my children are gone and they are not coming back, where are our children going to live if we do not build housing that they can afford?”

Vice-Mayor Darren Suen speaks on stage at the Elk Grove Mayoral Town Hall
Photo Credit: Jackson Phan

The last question asked what their thoughts were on expanding youth engagement in Elk Grove. Ly noted his work with the County office of education and with the city’s internship program. “Once the young people sees the benefits of actually being at City Hall, being at these government institutions, and seeing what they can actually provide in terms of policy and guidance, and volunteer. That’s when they will engage a little bit more.” Stafford spoke of her own children and stated that kids have no place to hang out. “They have nothing to do. What you see is that there are events that occur once a year. Kids don’t want that. We have a phenomenal teen center with a phenomenal leader. Kids don’t want that. They want their place, a place where they can hang out, and mind their business, without programming. These kids also need jobs but as some of you already know, the jobs metric was removed from the city plan.” Suen agreed that jobs are essential and spoke about his work on a jobs program with City Council member Stephanie Nguyen. Suen stated that he was focused on the community. “We do need to provide youth with pathways to careers. I’ve worked with Council member Nguyen. Last year we provided money so employers could hire interns, so kids could go to work. They are paid for through our non-profit. “

Jacqui Nguyen, President of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association speaks on stage
Photo Credit: Jackson Phan

Closing Statements

The Elk Grove Mayoral Town Hall ended on a surprising note which brought to light on-going tensions on the Elk Grove City Council. Mayor Steve Ly made an eye-opening statement. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is real simple, if you like the way Elk Grove is going, vote for me. If you don’t, vote for the outsider, right, and that would be Tracie.” Clearly, Mayor Ly does not want Vice-Mayor Suen to win and would prefer, that if any changes are made, that Stafford be Mayor of Elk Grove over Suen. However, Ly’s words are also strategic. If Stafford wins over people who do not like Ly as Mayor of Elk Grove, then it would be less likely for Suen to get a majority.

EGUSD Board Member Bobbie Singh-Allen, City Council Member Stephanie Nguyen, Vice- Mayor Darren Suen, City Council Member Pat Hume, and Cosumnes CSD candidate Koi Rivers
Photo Credit: Jackson Phan

Stafford seized the day in her closing remarks. “Speaking for the outsiders, are there outsiders in this room? This is what I am talking about, this is exactly the challenge, is that we have a group of folks who are in office who are deciding what happens for all of us, and they have it locked down. But watching what is happening across the nation, people are tired of that and we need somebody in office that will focus on the community and not the big dollars or the endorsers.” She capitalized on Ly’s previous remarks by saying, “Vote for the outsider, because we are the ones making a difference across the nation.”

Mayoral candidate Tracie Stafford with her daughter Micaela
Photo Credit: Jackson Phan

Speaking last, Suen joked that he was the forgotten one. “You’re going to want leadership that understands the issues, that has the regional trust. It’s hard for you to get to know us in two minute answers. So I encourage you to ask any Elk Grove leader whether its elected, that’s why the rest of the City Council is supporting me for our mayor, the planning commission, any elected Elk Grove leader from education field to parks district, community leaders. I invite you to talk with them, continue to talk with us. Talk with people that you trust to know that I have the passion, I have the skill set, I have the education. I am the best qualified candidate to lead this city going forward. I would appreciate your support and I look forward to meeting you on the campaign trail. Thank you very much.”

Community Activist Tracie Stafford, Mayor Steve Ly, & Vice-Mayor Darren Suen with APAPA staff including President Jacqui Nguyen & Founder & Chair C.C. Yin
Photography Credit: Jackson Phan

Moving Forward

Clearly, there is a lot to watch in the City of Elk Grove during this next election and it will be an entertaining ride. The Elk Grove Mayoral Town Hall underscored many of our city’s issues as well as current tensions on the City Council and in our community. As we look for solutions and as the fight to lead our city progresses, the Elk Grove Tribune will keep you informed. We will see you all at the Elk Grove Mayoral Debate on September 27.


About The Author

Dr. Jacqueline "Jax" Cheung

Dr. Jacqueline "Jax" Cheung, DrPH, MBA, is the Editor-In-Chief of Elk Grove Tribune. Jax is also the owner of the awarding winning Jax Chronicles Blog & Adoption Ministry. She enjoys freelancing for Sacramento4Kids and many other publications. She was voted Sacramento Area A-List Best Local Blogger 2014, 2015, 2017 & 2018 and Best of Elk Grove Best Blogger 2016 & 2017. In 2019 and 2022 Jax was recognized for Outstanding Service & Dedication to Elk Grove with Award of Recognition from the California State Senate. Jax lives in Elk Grove with her 2 daughters. To follow Jax's journey please like her Jax Chronicles Facebook, follow her Instagram @jaxchronicles, follow her Twitter @jaxchronicles, or check out Jax Chronicles Blog & Adoption ministry.

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