Candidates for Pleasanton’s mayor and City Council positions sounded off last Monday at the Pleasanton Weekly's candidates’ forum over issues facing the community and how they would prioritize those issues if elected on Nov. 8.
The five answered a multitude of questions submitted by many of the more than 150 constituents who crowded into the City Council chamber where the forum was held. Those questions and others asked by forum moderators Gina Channell, publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly and this writer, who is the newspaper's editor, filled the two-hour session.
"We hold these candidate forums before every city election and we've never had so many questions submitted to us by the audience to ask the candidates," Channell said. "It shows how important this election is for voters in this community."
The candidates are Mayor Jerry Thorne, who is seeking re-election to a third two-year term, and challenger Julie Testa. The three candidates seeking the two available seats on the council are incumbents Karla Brown and Jerry Pentin and challenger Herb Ritter, who is chairman of the city's Planning Commission.
The candidates faced questions about community priorities, including the Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone, transportation, water, workforce housing, the proposed construction of a new civic center and library and what they envision in a new downtown specific plan.
They were also asked if they would work independently if they disagreed with the majority on proposals before the council.
Brown said she voted against allowing another Seven-11 store to open at Santa Rita Road and West Las Positas Boulevard (a store that recently opened), going against a majority vote that favored the store.
"The store is near Fairlands Elementary School, neighbors signed petitions against it, but the rest of the council approved the project anyway," Brown said.
Pentin said he voted against allowing the developers of the 350-unit apartment complex nearing completion at Bernal Avenue and Stanley Boulevard to avoid providing at least 15% of the units for moderate- to low-income tenants as required in Pleasanton. But the rest of the council allowed the developer to skirt the rule by contributing $5 million into the city's affordable housing fund instead.
Testa, a long-time advocate for reducing what she claims are overcrowded schools in Pleasanton, used her opening remarks to call for a halt to new development. She acknowledged that the more than 2,000 new housing units under construction or recently completed today were approved to comply with a court order. But now that the city has met those requirements, it’s time to stop.
"We're at a crossroads," Testa said. "The community feels it has no choice, no voice in what's going on. The students that will be attending our schools have yet to move into these unfinished projects. Our schools are already crowded; we are out of balance. It's time to stop and let the infrastructure catch up.”
Thorne said the five large apartment projects are being built because of that court order are the result of a decisions by previous City Councils that imposed a no-growth housing cap that reined in development. That decision, which both a court and state housing agency declared illegal, forced the city to “catch up” to state-imposed housing needs allocated by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).
But with that mandate now met, Testa questioned why the council is still considering a developer's plan to build 93 more homes on Stanley Boulevard.
"We don't need 93 more houses in Pleasanton, “Testa said.
Thorne responded by pointing out that the Stanley project is planned in combination with adding a residential community for adults with developmental difficulties, to be operated by the Sunflower Hill nonprofit organization.
Fielding audience questions about Pleasanton school needs, Thorne said there's only so much a city can do to support a school district because it’s a separate taxing agency with an elected separate government. However, at his direction and with the council's approval, the city now maintains all of the sports fields at the three middle schools, provides and pays for crossing guards, funds the placement of police resource officers in the schools and pays for traffic controls, including two new signals installed in front of the Amador Valley High School parking lot this summer.
Asked about Measure MM, the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would limit new retail sites on Johnson Drive to buildings no larger than 50,000 square feet, Councilman Pentin and candidate Ritter urged voters to reject it. Although they supported placing the measure on the ballot, they asked voters to turn it down so that the city can continue with its rezoning plans to improve and enhance the commercial opportunities on Johnson Drive.
The measure was placed on the ballot by a citizens group opposed to allowing big-box stores such as Costco from building there.
Testa and Councilwoman Brown support the ballot measure, arguing that smaller retail stores would add more jobs and appeal to shoppers
Brown said the Costco stores in Danville and Livermore adequately serve the 12,000 residents here who Costco claims as members. Costco’s potential 140,000-square-foot store would add to the city's traffic woes, pollution and city-paid infrastructure costs, she added.
Pentin said Measure MM, if approved by voters, would restrict the city's planning of a new business corridor. As for all the talk about Costco, he said the retailer has not filed an application to build here. If it ever does, Pentin said it would have to go through the same process as other business applicants with public hearings and full financial disclosures.
Ritter agreed, adding that Measure MM would prevent the city from ever "doing what's best for Johnson Drive."
Four of the five candidates responded favorably to questions about plans to build a new civic center and library on Bernal Community Park property, a project that could cost $200 million.
Thorne said the new complex could free up the current city and library building sites, which could be sold and developed in accordance with a new Downtown Strategic Plan that all candidates also support.
Thorne added that revenue from the sales of those properties, along with the some of the city’s financial reserves and other available funding could pay for the new municipal complex, that would include a new police station. He also would insist that the project go to voters for approval before detailed planning could get underway.
Testa was the one hold out. She said she could support building a larger library but “with 115 portables on school campuses, some with no water, we need to fix these problems first" before building a new civic center.
Responding to other questions, candidates said:
They oppose the $3.5 billion BART bond measure; favor, though with some reservation, the Pleasanton school district’s $270-million bond measure, and back Alameda County’s proposed $580-million affordable housing bond measure.