By Ian Whitaker l Mid Valley Publications
City Councilman Delray Shelton is running for re-election in District 6 — an area in the northern most part of the city that roughly follows G Street north from Yosemite Avenue to Old Lake Road, and has a stretch to the east along Cardella to Gardner, and extends west all the way to Highway 59.
Shelton — a lieutenant in the Merced County Sheriff’s Department — was first elected to a four-year term in 2018.
The Times sat down with Shelton to discuss his time on the Council, and his views on top issues such as public safety, housing, and economic development.
Can you talk about your background in the community for people who might not know?
I was born and raised in Merced. There are a few generations of Sheltons here. If you ask the average Mercedian, the Shelton household name is a very common and known one. This has always been home. It will always be home right until the Lord says different. I went to the local schools here and had the ability to come all the way up and be involved in the community, from explorers programs to cadet programs and so on. And now I’ve made my career in public safety, in law enforcement coming up through the ranks. I now serve as the administrative Lieutenant for the Sheriff’s Office.
What are you proud of during your time on the Council?
We’ve done very well in public safety. We have reinstituted leadership and community based programming for clinicians and advocates to come alongside these law enforcement officials to be able to render a product of excellence and give services to the people.
One of the things I’m most proud about is how fiscally responsible we’ve been and being able to have a balanced budget. We’ve brought a lot of stability within the ranks of the city and city staff. Look at our investment in the dog park. Look at our investment in parks in general. I mean, there’s a lot more to be done, but we’ve done very well in enhancing parks.
Our economic development department has done very well. If you look in every corner of the city there’s new construction. And there’s business. We’ve done very well with working on roads, enhancing, repaving, replacing and adding. There has been success in every area of city business, and I’ve been proud.
Measure C, a local half-cent sales tax passed in 2006 to help fund police, fire and other projects, is set to expire in 2026. The Council seems pretty divided on whether or not to put the measure on the ballot this November. You have been supportive of the tax. Why do you feel it should be on the ballot?
If you don’t have public safety, you don’t really have anything. Nothing else matters. If there’s anarchy and there’s disruption in the community, people can’t live in peace. We have to be able to add staff, to be able to build, to help with maintenance and apparatus and equipment and all the things that we need to have a functionally successful public safety program on the police and the fire side.
This is democracy. And so here’s the thing, put it on the ballot and let the people decide. If the people decide no, then the answer is no. If the people decide yes, the answer is yes, but I’m confident in this community.
Housing is another hot button issue for the Council. Affordability and availability are major problems in Merced, which is contributing to homelessness. What’s your view on the city’s approach to the crisis?
Wealth isn’t built overnight. We didn’t jump into this problem overnight. We’re not gonna climb out of this problem overnight. The city has and continues to do our part in contributing to housing. We appropriate funds, we come alongside and incentivize builders. With these foundational investments, the city has made some pretty significant strides when it comes to housing.
This city has given $47.3 million to either building or contributing to housing. And you look at local funding, $13.7 million in the ‘21-’22 fiscal year, $3.7 million in the ‘22-’23 fiscal year. You look at the Child’s Avenue and B street project, the V street project, the R street park, the first homeowner’s buyer program.
As there becomes more surplus. I think just organically rents are going to decrease. When there’s more to choose from, when people have the ability to become homeowner educated, to know how to best align themselves financially, to be able to purchase a home. And then they have the ability to tap in some of these programs that we have created in partnership with local Realtors.
We’ve done a lot in housing. There’s still work to do in housing. I totally get that. And I understand the continuous need, but we’ve contributed and I think we’ve done very well. We just have to be patient and let it come to fruition.
You have spearheaded Project Unity, a community initiative borne out of the unrest following George Floyd’s murder, with the aim of bringing people together to solve problems. How’s it going?
When I started working on this I thought, OK, how do we get all sectors of people? I started reaching out to various groups and one of them was the school district, and then we had the assistant superintendent from the high school. The UC Merced chancellor came to the table, the Merced college president, etc.
We have this huge conglomerate of various people that have the ability to be impactful and have a very far reach. And then the goal was to go out and just to work on projects. Then it kind of shifted when COVID happened. We started having this robust conversation about resiliency and what that looks like and how this group can work on it.
There’s some amazing things still in process and we’re tying up some loose ends before it goes public. There’s a big portion of this that I can’t share, just because it’s still kind of under wraps. But I’ll tell you that people will have something to look forward to and be proud of.