Candidates criticize COVID-19 response in Stanislaus County

Eufemia Didonato

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Voters have a choice between youth and experience in the contest for the District 5 seat on Stanislaus County’s board of supervisors.

Ceres Councilman Channce Condit says he will bring a fresh perspective and ideas to county government if he’s victorious in the Nov. 3 election.

Tom Hallinan, the city attorney for Ceres, declares that he’s the one with experience for the job, including his 24 years as a legal adviser for local governments and 20 years on a community college district board.

Hallinan also is city attorney for Patterson, deputy attorney for Newman and the general counsel for community services districts in Crows Landing, Grayson and Westley.

The Nov. 3 election will determine if Condit or Hallinan follows county Supervisor Jim DeMartini in representing Ceres, Patterson, Newman and part of south Modesto. DeMartini’s 16-year stint on the board sunsets in early January.

Condit, 31, finished first in the March primary with 40 percent of the votes, followed by Hallinan with 33 percent. Ceres Councilman Michael Kline was third with 27 percent.

Condit has endorsements from the Stanislaus County Sheriff Supervisors Association, firefighter unions in Ceres, Modesto and Patterson, former state senator Anthony Cannella and other dignitaries.

About 1,100 votes separated the top two in March. But Hallinan hopes he can make up ground in November with the help of Kline’s supporters. Kline, who garnered 3,910 votes, is endorsing Hallinan, who also has endorsements from Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, the mayors of Ceres, Patterson and Newman, the Stanislaus Sworn Deputies Association and the local and state Peace Officers Research Association.

Hallinan, 59, stressed that he helped with bringing distribution centers and warehouses that made Patterson a jobs generator during the economic slump, handling legal work and assisting with negotiations.

He served on the Yosemite Community College District board that developed a $326 million bond program creating facilities for students at Modesto Junior College and Columbia College near Sonora.

Condit led the charge to form a beautification committee for Ceres. For the first time, the city is not raising Mello-Roos taxes for homeowners this year, he said.

Hallinan, Condit discuss COVID-19 outbreak

In a Zoom forum held by The Modesto Bee, the two finalists were asked to critique the state and county’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which surfaced in the county eight days after the primary in March.

Hallinan said it’s easy to criticize Gov. Gavin Newsom locally but the county has needed to work cooperatively with the state’s response to COVID-19. The candidate laid some blame on county public health staff for not making sure the county had solid data on the local outbreak.

While the county was faced with a first-time event, Hallinan suggested a top-to-bottom review of what happened and the county’s effort to inform and protect the public. He did praise the county’s mental health outreach during the pandemic.

Condit gave an average score to the state’s coronavirus response, citing shortcomings in data analysis, outreach and testing. He gave the same score to the county, saying it could have done better with access to testing and turnaround time for results. Also, better outreach could have reduced the impacts on underserved populations and the vulnerable.

Condit said the county’s allocation of CARES Act funding to cities was unfair. After receiving $96 million in the federal emergency assistance to help with the pandemic, the county parceled out $15 million to its nine cities.

The largest allocations went to Modesto ($7.5 million), Turlock ($2.51 million) and Ceres ($1.64 million), based on population, while six of the cites received less than a million dollars.

“Cities rely on sales tax and they are hurting more than ever because of that (due to business closures),” Condit said. He said he favors a more equitable method of sharing CARES Act funds.

“If we can make our cities stronger individually, our county would be stronger as a whole,” Condit said.

The contestants said they don’t support levying fines against local businesses that are out of compliance with the state’s coronavirus mandates.

Hallinan said the county should not have expected cities to enforce the state’s health orders that placed limitations on businesses. The county could have handled enforcement, he said, using warnings, advice and attempts to work with business owners.

“I would be hesitant to issue any sort of fines,” Condit said, adding that outreach and warnings could bring businesses to the table.

Candidates weigh in on Del Puerto Canyon dam

The candidates are watching the early stages of development for a storage reservoir in Del Puerto Canyon. The dam impounding an 800-acre reservoir would be built near Interstate 5 just west of Patterson. The Del Puerto Water District and other districts are project partners.

Hallinan told The Bee he’s not automatically opposed to the proposed reservoir based on the concerns of residents in opposition. He came out in favor of the storage project in a League of Women Voters online forum, saying it will provide water for agriculture and also benefit the city by recharging groundwater.

Condit said he believes in being proactive about water storage projects that benefit the agriculture industry and the local economy. He said he supports more water storage in California but would “keep an open mind when it comes to the site. … Maybe Del Puerto is the best location but, at the end of the day, you have to look at all sites equally and recognize the government has oversight of the project.”

The November election could install a Condit duo on the board, which oversees a $1.5 billion budget and county departments with more than 4,500 employees. Matthew “Buck” Condit, a cousin once removed, is running for supervisor in the first District, including Riverbank and Oakdale.

It might raise questions about nepotism or the potential for one family to influence county government policy. Channce Condit said voters will decide if that’s an issue.

“We are both our own people,” Channce Condit said. “We may end up disagreeing more than we agree.”

Hallinan did not raise an objection when asked about it.

The November election will break a longstanding run of five Republican supervisors dominating county leadership. Hallinan said he may be one of the last moderate Democrats and has worked with the current supervisors on various matters.

“Party membership will have no bearing on any decisions that we will make,” Hallinan said.

Condit, a fellow Democrat, echoed that. “I will never look at myself as partisan but will look at myself as the representative for District 5.”

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Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.

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