ELECTION PROFILE
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 end there.

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 issues.

“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,” Blake says.

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.”


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