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By Cesar Lara
Salinas is still mourning the tragic passing of our late mayor, Joe Gunter, which sent a shock through our community. Mayor Gunter stood by his word. After years of public service he understood that fairness is not the absence of violence but the presence of health, jobs and opportunity by giving Salinas residents a fair and racially equitable governing body. He will be sorely missed.
As we move forward we look to November’s approaching election cycle, as our region and city are at a pivot point. It’s time for us to focus on electing a new leader who can drive the city and region towards a local vision that is mindful of the digital divide, our economic viability and is serious about the investments that are needed for a healthy Salinas.
In recent months there has been significant conflict, with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the racist murders of Black people. Whoever is anointed as the new mayor must set the tone for both our future prosperity and securing our regional influence. With the recent retirement announcement of City Manager Ray Corpuz, times are going to change, as this will mark a moment in history where we will no longer be under the leadership of baby boomers.
Our new leadership must carry the torch not just for racial justice but for economic development, and embrace not just the haves, but the have-nots, as we consider what Salinas could be. We need a transparent and open leader who can speak to all of Salinas and deliver better services across the racial, digital and economic divide.
Salinas must center all of our working families in our future. Sixty-five percent of our city’s jobs pay less than $30,000 a year, and the working families supported by those wages deserve leadership that addresses our vast socio-economic and racial inequalities. It’s time to involve our agricultural, hospitality and government employers in a real conversation about how to bring their salaries up for the long term.
Our people need good pensions so that they can live long and fruitful lives, and we also need to invest in young people to ensure they have access to the safe, educational, wrap-around child care they need, and the meaningful enrichment opportunities to help them thrive as healthy young adults.
There are many community programs the city can support, including those outlined in the Alisal Vibrancy Plan and the Parks, Recreation & Libraries Master Plan. Under Gunter’s leadership, the plans were written. His successor should honor that work by funding those plans, as we believe that is what he would have wanted.
Rather than draw new lines in the culture wars, we encourage the new mayor to draw inspiration from both youth and past elders, such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led South Africa out of apartheid.
Our new mayor must invest in real public safety, not an outdated and authoritarian model that simply shuffles our young people into the school-to-prison pipeline. Let’s invest in data-backed solutions that reflect the community’s priorities. Let’s reimagine what a healthy community looks like, free from police brutality, inflated city police budgets, and structural inequity rooted in racism, with good, well-paying jobs for all and economic opportunity across the board.
Our measure of public safety must be the well-being of our community. It’s a massive undertaking, one of the hardest policy challenges ever, and it calls for bold and visionary leadership. But we can do it, and we must, under our city’s new leadership.
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