Pleasanton is poised for a pivotal city election on Nov. 3, with the mayor's seat and two City Council positions on the ballot to reshape the dais as the city government continues to address monumental local issues such as the COVID-19 crisis, social justice reform and affordable housing.
City voters are fortunate to have a catalog of inspired candidates from which to choose. While looking through the list of five mayoral candidates and seven City Council contestants, we urge residents to recognize that depth of knowledge and depth of experience will be paramount to guide the city government during a difficult 2021 and beyond.
In our view, the candidates who best embody those vital characteristics and are the right community leaders for the terms ahead are Jerry Pentin for mayor, and Nancy Allen and Jack Balch for council.
Mayor of Pleasanton
The mayoral ballot features two sitting council members who are terming out after eight years -- Pentin and Karla Brown -- along with three political newcomers in Monith Ilavarasan, Tom Turpel and Druthi Ghanta.
A demonstrated leader in Pleasanton, Pentin has run an invigorated campaign prioritizing safety, housing, business support, traffic relief, the environment, education and local control. A former Marine who now runs a media production company downtown, Pentin previously served on the city's Planning, and Parks and Recreation commissions in addition to the Firehouse Arts Center and Callippe Preserve Golf Course task forces.
His work on the council's Legislative Subcommittee will be also invaluable as the city looks to maintain its reputation as the "City of Planned Progress" in the face of impacts from the state and federal governments. We also view Pentin as a natural successor to outgoing Mayor Jerry Thorne, keeping the city on its strong path with an effective leadership style and comparable priorities.
Karla Brown likewise has been a proven independent thinker on the City Council during her eight years in office. She's shown herself to actively engage a number of community views and at times willing to be a lone critical voice in dissent to a council majority or city staff. She has also been a standout advocate for Pleasanton on groups like the Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority board (but so has Pentin).
Where we give one slight edge to Pentin is the experience category; though they both have eight years on the council, Pentin has extra layers of public service on his record. We also see Pentin as the more effective leader to guide Pleasanton as it evolves into the future -- and yes, that evolution will have to include some growth because of local needs and state mandates. We see more feasibility in Pentin's responsible growth platform than Karla Brown's less-specific slow growth vision.
We'll be sad to see Karla Brown's voice leave the dais due to the city's term limit law, but we really hope she remains engaged in public service and even considers running for other local or regional offices to help ensure Pleasanton is well-represented at all levels.
Ilavarasan, an Amador alum and young tech professional, impressed at our online candidate forum Sept. 3 with inspired ideas to address key issues like community inclusivity, police reform, affordable housing and COVID-19. But knowing about government and knowing how to govern are two very different things. We encourage Ilavarasan to seek a seat on the Planning Commission or another city body to gain necessary experience.
Turpel, a Pleasanton native and first-time candidate, did not participate in our forum and responded inconsistently to our comment requests so far. His stated campaign priorities are muddled at best, but more noticeable is an apparent lack of public engagement.
The final candidate, Ghanta, told us she needed to bow out of the campaign after qualifying for the ballot in order to focus on more important personal priorities than trying to be elected as mayor.
Pleasanton voters are lucky to have three really engaged candidates, two with good governance experience and one with the leadership presence needed to continue the city's strong record of accomplishments into the future.
Jerry Pentin will be that mayor for Pleasanton.
Pleasanton City Council
There are seven challengers for two at-large positions open on the City Council (Pentin's and Karla Brown's seats): Nancy Allen, Valerie Arkin, Jack Balch, Randy Brown, Jarod Buna, Zarina Kiziloglu and Chiman Lee.
To navigate a crowded ballot, we encourage residents to use the guiding light of city service experience. Allen and Balch, both members of the Planning Commission, stand above the rest.
They have some similar campaign priorities and some in contrast, but we recognize it's important to have differing viewpoints on the dais -- especially when they have the experience to back them.
Allen, in her seventh year on the Planning Commission with time on multiple other committees and task forces, points to her civic and business leadership record, finance background, independence, and support for preserving downtown's small-town character as well as responsible and thoughtful growth policies citywide. She's been an inquisitive voice who commands the room on the Planning Commission, and we look forward to her bringing those attributes to the council.
Balch, a sitting planning commissioner who earlier served on the Parks and Recreation Commission, also cites fiscal sustainability as a priority on the council, along with promoting economic recovery, keeping neighborhoods safe and strengthening the city-school district partnership. He's been a thoughtful commissioner, asking smart questions and providing informed input to help improve individual projects and city planning policies, and we expect to see much the same on the main dais.
Pleasanton's is perhaps the most effective planning commission in the Tri-Valley, and that's in part because of the perspectives and decision-making styles of Allen and Balch. They've always prioritized positive outcomes for the betterment of the community, even if they didn't see eye to eye on some specifics. That approach will be invaluable on the City Council.
Among the five other candidates, Arkin has 12 years of elected experience on the Pleasanton Unified School District Board of Trustees. Arkin is well-versed in local education issues, but struggled in our candidate forum to show her expertise and creativity on city government topics -- including an unfortunate misstep implying BART to Livermore was still on the table.
Randy Brown, a real estate professional who is serving as board chair for the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce this year, knows the issues but has never served on a city commission or committee. That sort of experience is vital to demonstrate independent decision-making, and the absence thereof can't be overlooked in this race.
Kiziloglu, a city housing commissioner, is running on almost a one-issue platform: affordable housing. She has important ideas on this top-priority topic, but her depth of ideas on other important topics is lacking. That said, we think Kiziloglu would be a great addition to the Planning Commission and urge her to apply (and be appointed) to help shape the future of Pleasanton.
Lee, a former one-term Economic Vitality Committee member, presents interesting concepts on topics like pandemic relief, police reform and sustainable growth, but he has failed to convince how he'd accomplish those ambitious goals as a council member with no high-level civic leadership experience.
Buna, an Amador alum running for the second time in 24 years, appears an accomplished attorney with important campaign priorities, but we're not confident that, given his lack of city service time, he would be able to offer the effective type of bold leadership he promises.
Don't get distracted by the collection of endorsements and social chatter that make it appear like there are two "tickets" developing for City Council -- Balch and Randy Brown as some sort of pro-developer duo, and Allen and Arkin as an apparent anti-growth tandem.
We see that as an over-simplification as it applies to all four of those candidates, but more importantly, Allen and Balch are nowhere near those extremes. And how do we know? They have individual voting records on the Planning Commission that prove their independent mindsets focused on what's best for the city.
The next four years for the Pleasanton City Council may well be defined by navigating conflicting priorities. Nancy Allen and Jack Balch are the leaders to help find that important balance.
Editor's note: The Pleasanton Weekly editorial board reached its decisions based on the candidates' performances at the Weekly's online forum, email interviews on endorsements, and our review of past reporting and research.