The Pleasanton Council Chamber was packed last Tuesday with residents and supporters who came to the Pleasanton Weekly's City Council Candidates Forum to learn more about the four running in the mail-in election, which ends May 7.
The two-minute opening comments established the identities and priorities of the four candidates who are vying for the seat vacated when Councilman Jerry Thorne was elected mayor in November.
Mark Hamilton touted his independence as well as his concern about the future of Pleasanton.
"Are we going to end up with a voting block?" he said. "Then decisions will be made, and we will have to address them afterward."
David Miller talked about growing up in a small town in Arkansas, his Chinese immigrant wife Laura, who loves America's freedom, and choosing Pleasanton as their home.
"We love our Pleasanton lifestyle," he said, but was concerned that deals were happening without public discussion and without asking, "How much does it cost? Who's going to pay for it?"
Kathy Narum stressed her experience of many years on the Planning and Parks and Recreation commissions as well as running the champion swim team, Seahawks, after she retired as a chemical engineer to raise her family.
"It's one thing to make promises, another to have a proven track record that others can see," Narum said.
Olivia Sanwong, who graduated from Amador Valley High in 1996, wants to make the city more high tech to "keep it ahead of the curve." She noted that she and her husband are now homeowners, having recently purchased a 1912 bungalow a block away from the "beloved Pleasanton Arch."
She also wants to be a voice and leader for Generations X and Y, which are not currently found on the City Council, she said.
The event, from 6:30-8 p.m., addressed the candidates' experience, ideas about meeting housing demands, the role of City Council in keeping downtown vital, and the East Side Pleasanton Specific Plan. Next, moderators Publisher Gina Channell-Allen and Editor Jeb Bing asked questions from among the 20 or so emailed by residents in advance and the approximately 50 questions turned in by members of the audience.
All four candidates addressed the impacts of new developments under way in Hacienda Business Park.
Miller noted that Pleasanton is having high density housing forced upon it and "we have to make best with what we've got."
"What are ways we can deal with the impacts? We have to make sure everything pays its own way," he said.
"We've rezoned in the last cycle to meet 30 units to the acre but that doesn't mean anything is going to be built," Narum noted. "As we've been beginning to see applications, I'm insisting that communities (developments) come with amenities to be self-contained, with open space and places for kids to play."
"I feel very strongly that we need to get the housing element done, and need to find a strategy with other cities in the region," she added.
"This is quite an opportunity to combine jobs and housing," Sanwong said. "Businesses want workforce housing. When I think about our businesses I think about (people who work at) the mall, firefighters, teachers, city employees, who would like to live near where they work."
"We are going to have to make sure any new development fits the town aesthetically and financially so when we get a new development, the city benefits," Hamilton said. "Management needs to be transparent. That's one thing we failed to do in the past."
The candidates agreed they all love Pleasanton's downtown.
"We need to create and have a vision for downtown on what people want," Narum said. "Is it late night entertainment? A wide variety of restaurants? Relocating the Civic Center?"
"It's really important to develop guidelines," Sanwong said. "Keep in mind that song about how they paved over paradise and built a parking lot."
"We do have a lot of things happening downtown -- street fairs, farmers market, the Amador theater," Hamilton said, adding that he would like to keep entertainment dollars downtown.
"The people before us have done an awesome, awesome job. However, I've been talking with various business owners to find out what is our goal," Miller said. "Let's be careful, we don't try to over-control."
An audience question was, "What is your definition of private property rights and how will you work to defend them?"
"People have the right to own and enjoy their property," Miller answered, adding that zoning and restrictions requires community involvement. "They may affect the rights of others. We have to make sure both sides get treated fairly."
"People should be able to use and enjoy their property as they want," Narum said, adding that she has dealt with neighborhood disputes many times on the Planning Commission. "We have to try to find a balance and mitigate and find solutions that work for everyone."
Sanwong stated that property rights are "core to the American system of government," although some issues need to be addressed. She noted that she is a member of the city's Economic Vitality committee.
"Homeowners will be very much impacted by what comes out of the task force," she said.
Hamilton said that trying to cut down a tree on his property after a neighbor complained about it was "one of the most difficult things I'd ever done."
"The process has to be streamlined," he said. "So many people have complained to me that it's so difficult to get things done."
The candidates were also asked whether they support Measure PP, which was passed in 2008 to restrict building structures on hillside lots with a 25% grade or more. The City Council is currently debating whether or not a road counts as a structure, and what points to use to measure the grade.
"I've always considered roads to be infrastructure, therefore not a structure," Sanwong said. "Whether it falls under PP I think it's another question that needs to be decided."
"When is a road not a road?" mused Hamilton, adding that each scenario needs to be considered on its own. "These are not easy decisions -- how it impacts the environment, wildlife, that's part of the aesthetics and how it affects the ridge line."
"A road is not a structure," Miller said. "I don't tell my kids, 'Look each way before you cross the structure.' PP was passed to limit housing that goes on the ridge line. In my mind, a road is not a structure. If you have to put a road on a 25% slope that is something that can be considered."
The Planning Commission voted 5-0 that a road is a structure, Narum said.
"We looked at what we thought the intent of PP was," she explained. "There was a lot of testimony from people on both sides."
One question aimed at Hamilton asked what he would do to make the City Council more transparent.
"For every decision we need to have outreach," Hamilton said. "No town will survive without growth. We have to have some growth but it has to make sense for the town."
Miller was asked about the fact that he put up his campaign signs early, rather than follow the 40-day recommendation from the city.
"First of all, the 40-day recommendation from the city is a recommendation," Miller answered. Secondly, he said mail-in-only balloting has a different time frame. Also, he said he needed signs posted because he did not already have name recognition.
Narum was asked what fiscal responsibility means to her.
"Managing and keeping an eye on expenses, employee costs and pension liabilities," she answered. "The other side of the equation is increasing city revenues. I'd like to see us doing more things to increase city revenues so we can do things."
She suggested reviewing and consolidating the planning documents for Hacienda Business Park to help businesses move there instead of at Bishop Ranch. She also noted the Stoneridge Shopping Center is entitled to be almost twice as large as it is currently.
"Why aren't we encouraging them to do more with that?" she asked.
Sanwong was asked what kinds of programs help prepare students for service on the City Council.
"The 'We the People' (program) is very important," she said.
She was on the "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution" team at Amador Valley High School that finished in second place in national competition in 1996, and she noted that she will know what she is doing if she takes the oath of office for the City Council.
In closing remarks, Sanwong said she wants to be a voice and a leader for a segment of the population not currently on the council.
"Diversity is important to ensure diversity of thought," she said. "Millennials will be the leaders of the future."
Narum asked voters to think about which candidate has the most experience working for results.
"In my work I've reached across party lines and neighborhood fences to reach solutions," she said. "I've been endorsed because they know I do my homework. I make decisions and vote for what's best for the city. I've built a reputation for bringing people together and not driving them apart."
"Sacramento is strapped for cash, which means Pleasanton gets less," Miller said. He would like to measure city services to improve them and set priorities.
"I get support from middle class and blue collar residents," he said, not outside influences.
"My biggest selling point is I'm independent and I'm a leader," Hamilton said.
See forum in its entirety
The Pleasanton Weekly City Council Candidates Forum is being shown on TV29 and TV 30. For a schedule, go to www.tri-valleytv.org.