Placerville Mayor Mark Acuna has been serving the city of Placerville for almost 20 years — as a Planning Commissioner for nine years and as a City Councilman for more than nine years. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Acuna announced his decision not to seek re-election for a third term in November, citing health issues as the reason.
Acuna, 56, moved to El Dorado County in 1975 with his wife Kandee. Her parents had moved to Diamond Springs two years earlier. In 1978, Acuna went to work for PG&E where he is currently a senior estimating engineer.
It was through following a zoning issue involving his neighborhood and participating in getting regulations for Lion’s Park near his home, that Acuna became interested in city planning. When Dan Fausel, a Placerville Planning Commissioner and a close neighbor, encouraged him to apply for a vacancy on the Planning Commission in 1992, Acuna decided to give it a try.
“I always had an interest in designing and at PG&E, we were always in ahead of construction, so it was a good fit,” said Acuna. “But, as soon as I was appointed, it seemed that Dan’s term was over and I was there on my own.” Still, Acuna said he learned a lot from his fellow Planning Commissioners Bob Salazar, Marian Washburn, Carol Patton and Robby Colvin. “They really created a dynamic Planning Commission and sometimes there was a real division between the Planning Commission and the City Council at the time.”
Common elements of planning such as Placerville’s slope ordinance and the tree canopy ordinance came out of that Planning Commission — ideas the City Council greeted skeptically and developers said were unworkable. “We had to defend every proposal,” said Acuna. “Now people can’t imagine the city without them. The way we’ve changed, as a city, in 20 years is refreshing.”
Many of Acuna’s fellow Planning Commissioners went on to serve as City Councilmembers, and in 2001, Acuna was appointed to fill Bonnie Tammi’s seat on the City Council after her passing. When her term was up in 2002, Acuna decided not to run for election as he was suffering from neck and spinal injuries suffered in two different accidents while working at PG&E.
In 2004, with his neck and spine issues more manageable, Acuna ran for election to City Council and won. “The caliber of City Council was very high,” said Acuna. “People like Kathi Lishman, Karen Tustin and Marian Washburn broke through the limited vision of the ‘good old boy’ way of thinking.”
He ran for City Council as an incumbent in 2008, garnering a good percentage of the vote. “Economic times were still good.” Projects like the Placerville Aquatic Center, new City Hall, the Hangtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Facility and the Highway 50 Operational Improvement Project were started and completed during Acuna’s terms in office.
Then the economic downslide hit Placerville. “It made the budget extremely challenging and the general unrest and mistrust of all levels of government boiled over,” said Acuna. “Suddenly we had an audience of folks challenging everything we did and reviewing our actions with suspicion. I fully support the citizens’ right to go to any meeting and ask any question, but what used to take minutes to accomplish in past meetings, now began to take hours.”
A shrinking city staff and an exploding public demand for all information made the challenges greater. Acuna said his employment has been a tremendous asset to understanding what city staff faces in trying to get projects done in the face of staff and budget reductions. “I’m totally proud of our staff — every one of them. They’ve come through four solid years of reduced wages, benefits and budgets and still managed to provide services to everyone in the city. ”
The challenges have turned into a positive thing. “Once we got used to the tough audience, we’ve become more transparent. We updated the Website, got into Facebook, have Neighborhood Chats, ” said Acuna. “And we haven’t had any issues with the general operating budget. The Council, City Managers John Driscoll and Cleve Morris and most especially Finance Director Dave Warren have been fiscally responsible. Our budget is monitored and adhered to.”
“In 2004, Placerville started to expand its presence and needs to other agencies at the state and federal level,” said Acuna. “Bob Salazar and John Driscoll organized a trip to go to Washington to look for funding and this has really paid off, literally, in millions of federal dollars of funding for the city.
“Visits to our state representatives in Sacramento, looking for support and making them aware of our needs has paid off too. They’ve helped us address the onerous state and federal water, air and wastewater regulations and fought off EPA fines.
“Since 2004, we’ve built a rapport with the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors and some of them have become good advocates for Placerville. It’s a very productive relationship that didn’t used to exist and it’s been of tremendous benefit.”
“It has been an honor to be elected to the Council. For me, it was very humbling to be elected twice … and I want to express my thanks to all the residents of Placerville for allowing me to serve them,” said Acuna. “My focus has always been on helping ‘the little guy’ and making City Hall work for them. Our police department and city staff is very responsive. All you have to do is call. Believe it or not, government can work.”
Acuna said he plans to take some time to decompress after leaving office and repay his debt to his wife Kandee for her patient advocacy and understanding support of his city service. “That will probably involve work around the house and some travel, ” said Acuna. Hobbies he hasn’t had time for in recent years like photography and railroad history might become a bigger part of his life and he still plans to look for ways to contribute to the city.
“I’ve learned so much from working in city government; it would be a shame to waste those skills and knowledge. How can I use what I’ve learned to benefit other organizations in the county? ” said Acuna. “Maybe I’ll adopt a spot down by Carrows and pull the weeds.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or email@example.com. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.