Another election cycle is in the books. Our editorial team can finally exhale after the all-consuming local political season. It's some of the most important work we do as journalists, but it sure is taxing.
I can't turn the page, though, without writing some final reflections on the outcomes that stood out from the city elections in the Tri-Valley this fall.
I've considered Pleasanton to have the reputation as the most distinctly divided city/town council of the five Tri-Valley municipalities, almost always split on the question of new land developments. Control of the majority viewpoint may shift, but the vocal minority perspective is usually there on the dais too. And the sides are clear.
With that in mind, Pleasanton City Council results -- incumbent Julie Testa earning reelection and newcomer Jeff Nibert winning the District 1 seat -- weren't too surprising to me, although the final margins were a bit.
The 61.26% to 38.74% split in favor of Nibert was quite decisive. His demonstrated record as a planning commissioner no doubt helped (compared to opponent Dean Wallace, with no city service experience), but surely so too did his slow-growth campaign.
Some may look at the District 3 numbers and conclude that Testa (42.94%) was aided significantly by having opponents who were like-minded with each other, with Joel Liu (33.34%) and Jamie Yee (23.71%) effectively splitting votes. I'd think some of that was at play, but it's not the reason Testa won reelection. She's a passionate advocate for her community and that resonates with voters, especially fellow local-control constituents. That messaging could very well have easily won a 1-on-1 ballot too.
Pleasanton now has a slow-growth council majority that picked up a seat to stand at 4-1 with Nibert's victory. (Councilmember Kathy Narum was ineligible for reelection due to the city's temporary term limits; her effective and thoughtful presence on the dais will be missed.)
I wouldn't go as far as some people incredulously imply -- that the Pleasanton majority is wholly anti-growth -- but voters have given them the control to take it whatever direction they see fit. And while this majority is often aligned on development issues, they are less in lock-step when it comes to issues like water supply and police policy, which could make things very interesting.
Of course, in the top position on the council, Pleasanton Mayor Karla Brown ran unopposed for reelection to a second term, a clear community endorsement of her track record to have no challengers come forward.
Familiar mayors were very popular in the Tri-Valley: That has to be one of the big takeaways from this election.
Dublin Mayor Melissa Hernandez was also reelected unchallenged. In San Ramon, Dave Hudson (48.64%) claimed a second term comfortably over outgoing Councilmember Sabina Zafar (27.75%) and challenger Dinesh Govindarao (23.60%).
The race in Livermore was very close, actually with the lead flip-flopping multiple times over the days of ballot counting, before former mayor John Marchand held on for good over Mony Nop.
Going into Election Night, I wondered how Marchand would perform considering he had just been "termed out" in 2020. (when actually city law only mandates a two-year break in service after eight consecutive years, not an absolute term limit).
With sitting Mayor Bob Woerner, a political ally, bowing out for health reasons, would voters view Marchand as a reinvigorated leader ready for more or an uninspired retread candidate? Oh, and what role would the staggering amounts of money flowing in to bolster Nop's campaign play in terms of swaying voters -- plus the fact Nop came out against the oft-debated Eden Housing affordable project?
In the end, voters backed Marchand's bid to the tune of 53.25% to 46.75%, equating to a shade over 2,000 votes' difference.
A lot was made of the political puppeteering by Livermore special interest groups, particularly those funded by the owners of The Independent newspaper and their allies, with the curtain pulled back publicly this election season about the financial maneuvering of organizations like Take Back Livermore -- which, among other things, is entrenched against the Eden Housing affordable project.
Nop was one of the Take Back Livermore-supported candidates to lose. Carol Wahrer (40.88%) in District 1 was the other, falling to Planning Commissioner Evan Branning (59.12%).
But in District 2, the group's candidate Ben Barrientos scored a comfortable victory over Mel Chiong, 55.09% to 44.91%. Barrientos, who was oddly curt with our journalists at every turn before the election, seemed particularly helped by focusing his campaign on Springtown-area issues.
While I'm not sure how much "sides" will come into play for the new Livermore City Council, it sure appears like Barrientos is a departure from and Branning is similar to outgoing councilmembers Trish Munro and Gina Bonanno on a lot of topics.
As divided as Livermore stakeholders have been on downtown-related issues, it was refreshing to see the community largely come together in support of Measure P, the "South Livermore Sewer Extension Project" item, 66.60% to 33.40%.
Another interesting city outcome in the Tri-Valley was San Ramon City Council District 4 – not the fact Marisol Rubio won, but how convincingly she defeated fellow newcomer Heidi Kenniston-Lee: 64.25% to 35.75%. The two were not too far apart from each other on many issues, so it appears Rubio's more aggressive campaigning hit home for voters.
Mark Armstrong, the appointed incumbent for San Ramon's District 2, was propelled by a record of council experience and name recognition to a 59.23% to 40.77% victory over challenger Sara Lashanlo.
Over in Dublin, incumbent Jean Josey (10,938 votes) easily earned a second term as the top vote-getter in the at-large City Council election and Planning Commission alternate member Kashef Qaadri (8,008 votes) won the second seat over former planning commissioner Lynna Do (4,943 votes). Both winners ran the more inspired campaigns.
And remember, there was no town election in Danville -- yet again -- because councilmembers Karen Stepper and Robert Storer were the only candidates to file for the ballot. As I like to restate for the record when the chance arises, no sitting Town Council incumbent has ever lost a reelection bid in Danville history. What a streak.
With the oaths of office due for new and returning city electeds in the days ahead, we'll soon find out how these new councils all work together -- or maybe don't work together. Take a deep breath.
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh is the editorial director for the Embarcadero Media East Bay Division. His "What a Week" column publishes on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.