SALINAS, Calif. — Radicchio grower-shipper Dennis Donohue will not seek reelection as mayor of Salinas, Calif.
Donohue, the city’s mayor since 2006, is also president of Salinas-based Royal Rose LLC. A personal timetable and the needs of his produce business motivated the decision not to seek a fourth two-year term in November, he said.
“I always viewed it in a six-year window,” he said. “It’s essentially part-time, but in terms of the energy and ability to go at the level I felt the position required, I tried to approach it as full-time.
“There’s a balance between family, work and city. It just became clear to me that with some of the changes going on in the produce industry, it would be necessary for me to be focused on Royal Rose on a full-time basis.”
Royal Rose had a good year in 2011, Donohue said, but faces challenges.
“It hasn’t been a growth business,” he said. “But the thing about produce is, you never want to play for a tie. There are changing demographics. Retail space is getting tighter. Taste and flavors have never been more popular, but in the produce business past is not always prologue.”
Radicchio is an item buyers think twice about because of cost and other factors, he said.
“A lot of folks talk about sweet instead of bitter,” Donohue said. “I like to talk in terms of authentic and original, but that’s me. The reality is we’ve got a little marketing, educating and promoting to do. It was clear that I needed to be as focused on the radicchio and specialty vegetable business as I have been on the city.”
In his time as mayor, Donohue said, the city has united on public safety issues, though Salinas continues to struggle with gang-related crime.
“People throughout the city and area continue to be focused on how we can be a more peaceful community and I think we’re changing Salinas,” he said. “That really stays with me. A lot of people talk about the challenges. I always viewed those as opportunities.”
Since the recession began, the city struggled to balance its budget, facing deficits in the millions annually.
“Salinas has moved forward and made the necessary progress,” Donohue said. “We’ve done the organizational, budget and economic development work even in the midst of difficult times.”
For the future, he’d like to see closer links between the city and San Jose, an hour north on Highway 101.
“It’s the idea of bringing together the Salinas Valley and Silicon Valley and seeing what happens when ag-tech meets high-tech,” he said. “What are going to be some of the new businesses that come from that?
“If you work across multiple sectors — food safety, food traceability — it’s not too far a stretch to start thinking about food security and information technology. You have to think about financial services, data and privacy. What happens when you bring all those elements together and rub the sticks of fresh and high-tech?”
Silicon Valley’s economic agenda centers on clean technology, social media and networking, and as Donohue sees it, those have natural ties to agriculture.
“The biggest human network in the world is agriculture,” he said. “The Salinas Valley is uniquely positioned to have that conversation because of the marketing consolidation, the financial consolidation and production consolidation that resides here. This is the fresh epicenter of the world.”