With the Elk Grove City Council District 1 election two months away, incumbent Darren Suen and his challenger Ali Moua last week spoke with the Citizen about local issues that matter to them.

Elk Grove City Council District 1 covers the central Laguna, Stonelake, Laguna West, and Lakeside areas

Darren Suen

Suen, who is running for his second term as the District 1 representative, named his vision for “Elk Grove for all,” the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery, and maintaining public safety as his top three issues.

He spoke about his vision for an “Elk Grove for all.”

“You want to have an environment where everyone feels they have an opportunity here to be successful, to begin to feel safe, to prosper,” Suen said. “We want to provide those opportunities.”

Part of that vision, Suen noted, is to provide better economic opportunities for people.

On how the city is helping to boost Elk Grove’s economy during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Suen mentioned that the city recently allocated $750,000 in (federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) funding for the small business grant program, and $200,000 for nonprofits.

Suen noted that the city also established a policy to allow restaurants to use their parking areas for outside dining.

“Whatever we can do to be flexible and help our small businesses and restaurants survive the pandemic until we have a vaccine, I think that’s priority number one for us right now: just making sure our community can weather the storm,” he said.

Suen addressed the issue of public safety.

“This (issue) gets back to an ‘Elk Grove for all,’ and includes the community,” he said. “You should feel safe knowing that you can call the police, you should feel safe from the police.

“Look, if you’re doing something wrong, you’re going to invoke law enforcement, but nor should you be a victim of law enforcement for abuse.

“So, maintaining that accountability within our police force and a community policing mantra that ensures that our officers see our residents as members of the community and human beings. I think as a city, we do a good job of that. I think there’s always room for continuous improvement.”

Suen addressed California Northstate University’s proposed plan to build a $750 million to $800 million, 12-story teaching hospital in the Stonelake neighborhood by 2022. He noted that he understands that the hospital needs state approvals that generally take seven to 10 years to obtain.

“I am not the hospital builder; I just have some knowledge of the process,” he said. “So, I would have to ask why would the applicant think that they could build it (by) 2022. Maybe they’ve got something figured out. I don’t know.”

Reflecting on some community members’ desire that the hospital not be built at that site, Suen noted that any conflicts regarding the hospital would need to be evaluated by the city’s Planning Commission and the City Council.

“It would be premature for us to make any kind of decision before that time,” he said. “The average resident can say anything they want, but when you’re in our role, and as part of that judicial role, we have to give due process. So, in my opinion, you’ve got to let all the facts come in before you make a decision.”

Suen added that he believes that he is the best candidate to make a decision on the hospital proposal, based on his experience in land use and planning and his time as a council member.

As for traffic, Suen is in favor of maintaining good traffic flow through timed signal lights at intersections, finding ways to have less cars on the road to create more traffic flow, and encouraging cycling and other alternative transportation modes.

“I know that my experience in transportation, in that world, is directly applied to what we need here in the city,” he said.

Regarding red light cameras, Suen said that although he does not have any data that supports the need for more of them, he supports their use.

“It does cause you to stop and pay attention,” Suen said. “My wife has gotten tickets from there before, so our family knows firsthand you need to stop.”

Suen explained why he believes he is the best candidate for District 1.

“Certainly, my education and experience as a civil engineer, working in the business activities that cities deal in, in terms of infrastructure and land use, transportation and water resources,” he said. “(During) my time on the council, I’ve demonstrated my ability to use that knowledge in a meaningful way.

“I’m vested in the community. I’ve lived here for 20 years and my family has been in this region for nearly 100 (years). My opponent hasn’t been here at all; I don’t think even one year. I absolutely believe I’m the best candidate for this role.”

Ali Moua

Ali Moua, an attorney who moved to Elk Grove from Rancho Cordova about a year ago, said that one of the most important issues to him is “bringing good jobs to Elk Grove.”

“That (issue) is very, very important, especially with the COVID-19 hitting,” he said. “We’ve got about a 13% unemployment rate. And when I say good jobs, I’m talking about jobs that pay livable wages.

“Elk Grove is one of the most expensive cities to live in. The average, median home price is $375,000. About a quarter of the residents in Elk Grove make less than $50,000 a year in a household and about 40% make less than $75,000.  That’s tough to have any kind of home ownership, live in Elk Grove.”

Moua added that it is important for the city to have programs that provide training for higher paying jobs.

Also important to him is public safety for the residents of Elk Grove.

“I’m very concerned about the safety of our neighborhoods for our children,” he said. “I grew up playing outside, being able to walk down the street, walking through parks. Nowadays, I’m just afraid to allow my kids to walk on the streets, because people are driving so fast, and so much traffic.”

Moua also identified a need for better community engagement and transparency with the residents as one of the issues that are most important to him.

“Right now, the environment, at least the way I see it in our district, there’s not much trust with our leadership,” he said. “Projects or whatever it may be (that is) going on, it’s not being communicated or vetted with the community before they’re put out there to the public.”

Moua additionally commented on the topic of having a hospital built in Elk Grove.

“I think Elk Grove is ready for a hospital, actually both hospitals – the Dignity and the CNU,” he said. “We have a population that demands high-quality health care, especially with the COVID-19 going on. Having high-quality health care is a must.

“What we need is leadership that is going to be able to deal with this proposed (CNU) project, which residents can trust. That’s the key thing here. The biggest issue that I have (with that project) is that their voices and concerns have not been heard. They have not been brought to attention by the leadership in the community, especially in our district.”

Regarding traffic, Moua, called for better infrastructure.

“Elk Grove has been going on for 20 years and we need to have better infrastructure,” he said. “For example, the light rail. We need to have a light rail to expand from Elk Grove to its neighboring cities. But this light rail should be incorporated with green energy type of development.

“Elk Grove only has two main roads that travel from east and west, from I-5 to (Highway) 99, and we have soon to be 180,000 population. We need to have more access for our city residents to be able to move about, not only in our city, but our bordering cities, as well.”

On the topic of red-light cameras, Moua mentioned that concerns on this issue remain.

“There are some concerns about it,” he said. “One: It does help decrease angle collisions or side collisions, because people run the red light. What that does in turn, it increases rear end collisions.

“There are also some concerns about privacy issues, concerns about how these red lights are contracted out. I’m still researching and investigating.”

Moua mentioned that he believes the city can do more to boost Elk Grove’s economy.

“The city can do more, especially in this COVID-19 (situation), with such a high unemployment and the small businesses suffering,” he said. “They haven’t done enough.”

Moua believes he is the best candidate for District 1.

“I’m a father, parent of four, community volunteer,” he said. “What I do every day (as a personal injury attorney) is I fight for families and individuals against large corporations. I fight for their values and rights.

“I will bring those same values to the City Council. We need some change in our City Council, change that will uphold our rights and values of Elk Grove residents against anyone in any organization. That is really the key thing.”