Clovis' transportation and transformation issues came to District 3 Thursday, for the final forum prior to the March 6 municipal election.
"This is the fourth forum, or the 25th," joked incumbent Mayor Gayla Brumfield. "But it doesn't matter how many of these we have, because it's so important to let people know the issues."
The election is Tuesday, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with early voting ending Friday at city hall.
The forum, held at the La Casa Senior Center, was one of the best-attended forums, despite a mid-week scheduling change to accommodate for the Thursday Clovis City Commission meeting. The attendance pleased Commissioner Bobby Sandoval, running unopposed in District 3.
"I'm proud to have a constituency that helps me do this job," Sandoval said, "and that trusts me to do this job."
Seven of the nine candidates in five races attended the forum, which focused on issues with roads, housing and development on the west side of Clovis.
Candidates in attendance included Brumfield, Sandoval, District 1 candidate Jan Elliott, District 2 candidates John Jones and Sandra Taylor-Sawyer, and District 4 candidates Chris Bryant and R.L. "Rube" Render. District 1 Commissioner Randy Crowder had an out-of-town commitment. Mayoral candidate and former three-term Mayor David Lansford did not attend.
Questions at the forum included:
• How to fix the streets, and why they got so bad: Sandoval said part of the issue dealt with rising oil prices, which slashed the city's budget to fix the roads it had planned to fix. Also, capital outlay dollars have been reduced over the years.
Brumfield said the city looks at numerous funding mechanisms, including bonding. The city currently has about $987,000 to use for either bonding or as a match, and is applying for numerous grants — including $4.5 million TIGER grants.
"I have a sore spot with Martin Luther King (Boulevard) because that leads to the hospital," Taylor-Sawyer said. "I always say, 'What are we going to do with that street.'" She added that there are numerous hoops to jump through, but she didn't believe raising taxes was one of them.
Jones believed that when roads are fixed, sidewalks need to be part of the discussion, because schoolchildren either have to walk through somebody's yard or on the street.
"When it rains, if you remember what that is," Jones said, "they have to walk in the mud."
Render said every place he has lived where the gas tax doesn't go towards road improvements showed it in poor road quality, and the state needed to be pressured into making that change.
• CATS fixed route: Residents wanted to see a fixed route for the Clovis Area Transit Service, because the 24-hour advance policy for a ride sometimes doesn't work.
"I can't call 24 hours in advance," Sammy Cordova said, "and say, 'My car's not going to start tomorrow.'"
Brumfield said she would do everything in her power to get fixed routes during her next term.
Bryant said people who have used the service love the convenience, and a fixed route system would be a benefit. Render supports a fixed route system as well, but noted there would be extra costs involved.
• Encouraging development on the west side of Clovis: Elliott said it was time for development to go west and south, as it had for the north portion of Clovis.
Brumfield said north Clovis development happened largely because Wal-Mart relocated there. Businesses and residential rental units haven't gone to west Clovis, she said, because there were concerns about overloading the sewer system. She said a grant to put in a new sewer trunk line will help from Mendenhall to 21st Street along MLK, but, "we've got to get it up to Llano (Estacado Boulevard) before you really see development."
Render said drawing development requires an educated population, and the key has got to be helping children learn to read.
• Affordable flights out of Clovis: Carlos Arias asked what could be done about making travel affordable at the Clovis Municipal Airport on a walk-up basis. A trip can run an extra $400 round trip from Clovis to Albuquerque if it's not booked weeks in advance, and the system doesn't make sense to him since Essential Air Services use tax dollars to fly the planes no matter what.
"That airline works for us," Arias said. "They're federally subsidized and they're running 18 empty seats."
Bryant and Render agreed, with Render noting it makes no sense to keep a seat empty at $300 when somebody's willing to pay $100 to fill it.
Sandoval said he tried to vote for a different airline, but was in the minority. Brumfield said to get a new airline in, which could be a necessary measure if EAS is discontinued, the city might have to use economic development dollars to guarantee seats are sold and also put Transportation Security Administration at the airport.
• Assuring all people of Clovis are represented in city government: Render said if one were to take a look at the current makeup of the city commission, ethnic proportions weren't out of line. But he noted that asking people to serve on committees is sometimes tough, because you pay them nothing and they're more likely to get complaints than praise from fellow citizens.
Also, Bryant said, parks and recreation committees were recently combined because none of them reached quorums, and people don't want to volunteer their time for a committee that can't make any decisions.
Sandoval said he hears the issue all of the time, but notes that many of the people who complain about low Hispanic representation back off when he suggests they apply for a board.
"I'll do my darndest to get you on the committee," Sandoval said, "but it takes two of us."