A 90-minute candidates forum hosted by the Pleasanton Weekly and featuring those seeking election as mayor and to the City Council will broadcast by Tri-Valley Community Television on Channel 30 at 7 p.m. tonight.
The broadcast comes as voters already can start casting thei ballots by mail, well ahead of the Nov. 6 municipal and General Election.
At the Pleasanton Weekly forum, held in the City Council chambers, voters learned more about the two candidates for mayor and the three running for two vacant City Council seats in the upcoming municipal election.
Questions ranged from the city's unfunded employee pension liabilities of approximately $137 million to how to promote civility at City Council meetings.
The candidates for mayor are current Councilman Jerry Thorne and Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio, and, campaigning for the two open seats on the City Council, Karla Brown, Erlene DeMarcus and Jerry Pentin.
The forum was moderated by Pleasanton Weekly Publisher Gina Channell-Allen and Editor Jeb Bing. Candidates began and ended with two minute statements, and responses were strictly limited to 90 seconds.
In answer to the pension question, Cook-Kallio said that when she joined the council in 2007 it began putting plans into place to mitigate the unfunded pension.
"Clearly we have not done enough," she continued. "There has also been a reduction in revenue because of the recession. It is clear to all of us that sit on the council that we need to work toward mitigating that."
"One of things we have to do is continue a dialog with our labor groups," Thorne said, adding it's been a concern of his for some time. "As mayor this will be one of my primary objectives."
Council candidate Pentin said,"We have to adjust contracts to make it sustainable in the future," adding that there are many different schools of thought about how to best end the pension problem.
"Pleasanton has been smart in the way we've saved money," said DeMarcus. "This city was smart, it got money back from the firefighters and police."
The "unlimited money is gone," she continued, so negotiations will have to carry on. She commended the unions for having a place at the table.
Council candidate Brown added, "The mayor (Jennifer Hosterman) is on record to say she took baby steps. I hate to tell her but baby steps aren't working. We have great city employees. They didn't create the problem but they do need to be part of the solution."
The mayoral candidates were asked whether they supported Measure B1, which would add another half-cent sales tax in Alameda County for transportation in perpetuity.
"I don't support it, for a number of reasons," Thorne said. "The projects listed in the ballot book are all good projects but they decided to make this tax in perpetuity. In most cases when you do a sales tax, you get a chance to review it and see if they did what they said they will do and they didn't. So no, I don't support it."
He added that he is worried about the county's tendency to do projects using only union labor, which adds 10% to the cost.
"Since 85% (of construction workers) are non-union, I think we should use them," he said.
But Cook-Kallio offered a different perspective.
"I support it," she said. "It's the only tax you pay that comes directly back to your community. If you have $15,000 a year of taxable purchases, the increase in your taxes a year will be $75. This is to solve a perpetual problem -- we'll always have the traffic."
She also explained that it's a countywide tax, and Pleasanton wants to be in line for those projects that will bring money back to this community.
"There is a state law that says we have to pay prevailing wage," she added.
The candidates were also asked how they would address vacancies downtown, whether banks should be limited downtown, and how they would balance historic preservation with private property rights.
Referring to the soon-to-be closed Domus store on Main Street, DeMarcus said, "Hopefully that won't be vacant for long. We need to rely on our (Pleasanton) Downtown Association to attract businesses vital to downtown. As a council member I would support them."
"People I talk to love going downtown but at midnight when the music is loud there is definitely some friction there," Brown said. "We need to continue to work to find something that's a balance."
Thorne said he is pretty well known as a free enterprise person and he believes in the free market system.
"We can't start being specific about what can go where," he said. "At one time we were going to require every business downtown to have a conditional use permit. That would have been so onerous. We can put rules in place and if people comply with them we can have additional nightlife as well."
Cook-Kallio notes, "We have eight banks in a mile downtown. If we have more banks downtown it will no longer be a destination for people to shop. People who own property like banks because they pay a higher per square foot fee, higher than restaurants."
Pentin said the Planning Commission, which he currently chairs, sent the stipulation about banks on to the City Council to consider.
"We wanted to limit the amount of banks on corners," he said. "I've sat on the Hospitality Task Force for the last year, and we're trying to create a scenario where businesses can come into Pleasanton and not necessarily go though the conditional permit process."
Another question from the audience noted that City Council meetings have turned hostile in the past few years and asked: How would you maintain and promote civility? How would you handle difficult and emotional conflicts?
"There have been tremendously big projects that have come to the council over the last few years. I think the reason they have been emotional is because the mayor and the council care so much," Brown said. "If they are less than civil it's because the people care so much."
"You want to elect people that have a variety of opinions," she added. "I like to see emotions and I like it when people come up and express their opinion, too. I don't see it as problem."
DeMarcus countered that she finds it embarrassing, especially in front of professionals who come from large companies, if Pleasanton isn't conducting its meetings in a professional manner.
"I have a problem when meetings are not run in a businesslike manner," DeMarcus said. "It doesn't look good when a progressive city is having discord and people are being shouted down," adding that in such a cases, the meeting should be temporarily recessed.
Pentin noted the difference between when he served on the Parks and Recreation Commission, where everyone liked what the commissioners did, and the Planning Commission, where he is now sometimes treated like he personally is holding up the process.
"But I agree if we're up here we have to make decisions that are sometimes pleasant but sometimes not," he said. "If you take leadership on, that's part of the territory."
"I'm keenly aware that when people are here and are upset they're yelling at the government," Cook-Kallio said. "But you can't be up here and think it's my way or the highway."
"We have to always respect our colleagues and their opinions," Thorne said. "We have to discuss and try to come up with a common thread to come up with some agreement to benefit the entire city. I don't want a City Council that always disagrees."
"You do have to have some pretty thick skin to sit up here," he added. "If you take things to heart it can be a pretty miserable job. But my skin is pretty thick so you can yell at me all you want."
Other questions dealt with cooperation with the Pleasanton Unified School District, the proposed Oak Grove development, and whether "the voice of the people" will be heard now that the term limits have expired for council members Matt Sullivan and Cindy McGovern.
The hour-and-a-half forum was sponsored by the Bay East Association of Realtors and the Valley Real Estate Network.