Blake lauds city’s growth, public safety, neighborhoods
By JONATHAN WHITAKER
September 6, 2018
Blend together a healthy amount of focus,
engagement, experience, commitment, leadership and service.
Then add a whole lot of positive energy. And you’ll
have the making of a 37-year-old Kevin Blake.
First and foremost, Blake is the father
of three school-age children. At work, however, he serves
the entire community as the highest-ranking sergeant at
the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.
Blake oversees patrols across the county,
takes an active role in protecting lives and property, and
literally chases down the bad guys when duty calls.
His public service, however, doesn’t
Blake has been a member of the City Council
since 2013 — a five-year period marked by growth and
optimism for a new and improved Merced.
“As I prepared for my first term
in office,” he says, “I promised to prioritize
public safety, improve our quality of life, support our
economy and earn your trust by advocating for transparency
and accountability. Over the last five years, I have been
hard at work to keep those promises and to help achieve
great things for the city.”
Candidate Blake is now leading his first
re-election campaign, albeit in a new representative area
that was forged after a districting process eliminated the
citywide vote for council members (other than the mayor).
Blake is facing first-time challenger Karla
Seijas for the District 4 seat — an area of Central
Merced that stretches north from Santa Fe Avenue all the
way to Yosemite Avenue, mostly east of G Street. In 2013,
Blake received the second-highest number of votes, after
Josh Pedrozo, in the at-large council race that included
eight candidates vying for three spots.
Blake’s vitality and availability
was on full display when he showed up for a recent Times
interview after a full day’s work that included chasing
down and capturing a suspect in the Target store fire in
Atwater. Blake cornered the 42-year-old man after he bolted
from a rural home and tried to hide in a tree in the middle
of an orchard.
Public safety is Blake’s forte, of
course, and one of his top priorities on the council. He
has worked his way up the ranks of the Sheriff’s Department
over the past 18 years. He says he has enjoyed a dynamic
career that has featured undercover work, being a member
of the STAR team, gang enforcement, narcotics enforcement,
gun enforcement, arresting murderers, crafting a marijuana
ordinance, and the rehabilitation of those who have spent
time in jail and/or prison.
“It’s been a good career and
a good job,” he says. “Some of it now is second
nature to me, but there are always surprises, and it’s
always interesting, and sometimes it’s scary. But
I grew up in law enforcement.”
Blake is the son of legendary local lawman
Bill Blake who spent his entire 38-year career with the
Sheriff’s Department and retired as the undersheriff.
The elder Blake also served on the Merced City Council before
he passed away in 2016.
“My job has given me a good perspective
on public safety related challenges within the city,”
Kevin Blake says. “This includes challenges such as
homelessness and blight. For me, these are tangible things
because I literally deal with them every day of my life
— addressing the concerns of property owners and offering
services to the homeless. I can see these issues from a
law enforcement perspective.”
During Blake’s time in office, the
council has restored staffing levels at the Police Department,
adding 11 positions, and made investments in crime-fighting
technology and equipment. Grants have also been secured
for school resource officers. The Traffic Division is back
up and running, and downtown patrols have increased. In
addition, several positions have been added to code enforcement
and animal control.
At the Fire Department, several new firefighter
positions have been added and station brownouts have been
eliminated. The council has also secured some $2.5 million
in equipment and services, including a brand new fire engine
and top-of-the-line ladder truck.
This year, Blake was credited for getting
a new illegal fireworks campaign going before the Fourth
of July holiday.
Public safety, he points out, has a direct
correlation to economic development and quality of life
“I have worked to ensure that our
budget is balanced, fees are lowered to be competitive with
other thriving cities, and that we make sustainable investments
in our infrastructure.”
As a result, he says, median home values
in Merced have gone up 66 percent since he first joined
the council. Construction is up too. This year, builders
are pulling more permits than ever before in Merced history.
“At the same time, we are working
with reputable developers to make sure that Merced has enough
affordable housing to be welcoming to all families,”
The candidate says he has personally worked
to support the creation of a Public Arts Commission, the
Ragsdale Honorary Historic Neighborhood District, and the
downtown ad hoc committee which is tasked with further revitalizing
the city’s historic main street and downtown business
district. Members are in the process of touring other cities
in the valley and beyond for possible improvement ideas
that can be utilized in Merced. There’s been talk
of extending the park area of Bob Hart Square to the edge
of 16th Street, and making Main Street more “walkable.”
Blake has also been supportive of new “welcome signs”
for the city, and the construction of a downtown arch to
invite new visitors to town.
The City of Merced now holds mid-year budget
sessions to better incorporate community input and has developed
an interactive, online budgeting tool so that residents
can learn more about how tax dollars are spent.
Blake says he supports a new facility that
city and county officials are developing in order to facilitate
shelter, services and housing for homeless residents. He
also wants residents to call him if they know of any veteran
living on the streets. Government vouchers and services
are available to get veterans into housing.
Actually, Blake adds that residents can
always call him anytime with any concerns they might have.
His number is 631-5859.
Councilman Blake enjoys a wide variety
of support and significant endorsements, including: the
Merced Police Officers Association, Merced City Fire, the
Merced County Deputy Sheriffs Association, State Assembly
member Adam Gray, District 4 resident and former County
Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, and Mayor Mike Murphy, along
with every other member of the current Merced City Council.
Blake grew up on a nearby ranch and dairy
in El Nido, but the family did all their shopping and other
necessary activities in Merced. He moved to the city while
in his teens. Kevin’s mother, Linda Blake, was a teacher
for Merced city schools for more than 20 years.
When asked what his father would say if
he were alive today, Blake responded: “He would tell
me to approach this elected position with the heart of a
servant. … He would tell me to do what’s right,
and not what’s popular or politically expedient. …
My father was the champion of the underdog. He treated people
with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Says Blake, “I care deeply about
Merced. It’s my home. It’s where I’m raising
my children. We are a successful city, and we are experiencing
unprecedented growth. Yet we also have a small town atmosphere.”
His children include Faith, 14, who is
a member of FFA and a straight A student at Buhach Colony
High School; Parker, 12, a Cruickshank middle schooler who
plays football for the Blue Devils; and Kevin, 10, who gets
straight As and likes to ride ATVs and dirt bikes.
The Times couldn’t let Kevin Blake
get away without teasing him about the rumored “bromance”
with fellow council member Matthew Serratto.
Serratto — as an accomplished prosecutor
at the DA Office — has always sat by Blake at the
dais, and the two are often seen conversing and sharing
ideas up there. They often appear in public together too.
“Yeah we roll together,” Blake
says with a laugh. “No seriously, it just so happened
that we ended up sitting together after Matt was elected
in 2016, and we got along great. But it’s funny because
later, when the council decided to mix up the seating arrangements,
we all picked positions from a hat, and it ended up that
Matt and I were again still seated next to each other. We
thought that was funny … What can I say? … We
have similar personalities and he’s a great guy.”