"I'm pro-business and I'm proud of it!"
With those words not heard from a Pleasanton mayor since Ken Mercer in the 1980s, Mayor Jerry Thorne spelled out his views and governing strategy to loud applause at a meeting last Friday of local Realtors and real estate-related professionals.
In fact, Thorne credited Mercer, who is Pleasanton's longest-serving mayor, for much of the development that continues to fuel the city's diversified tax base that includes Stoneridge Shopping Center, Hacienda Business Park and a number of successful housing developments that brought families, business professionals and quality schools to Pleasanton. That growth momentum stalled when no-growth to slow-growth mayors followed, with Thorne now renewing efforts to keep the city fiscally strong and a continued destination for business in an increasingly competitive environment.
Thorne was born and raised in the western Tennessee city of Union City and earned his engineering degree at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. A chemical engineer by training, he linked up with Hewlett-Packard after military service as an Army artillery officer, moving with the company to California in 1968 and to Pleasanton in 1974. Later, when H-P wanted him to transfer him to Boston, he said no, telling H-P, "I've found paradise." It's here that he and his wife Sandy raised their daughter Keri. Next month, they'll travel to Ireland for Keri's wedding on June 29.
Thorne worked for H-P for 28 years and two more years for Agilent Technologies. He started out as an environmental engineer, working his way up to top management posts with multiple responsibilities, including handling H-P's real estate. That pleased the Realtors who now eye the Pleasanton mayor as "one of our own."
Besides his H-P property duties, Thorne held other key management responsibilities that he believes prepared him for the multitude of tasks needed to govern a city. He's working with City Manager Nelson Fialho to develop performance standards that they and the public can use to measure department managers' success. These include a streamlined process for handling permit requests from large apartment complexes now being planned to faster action on an individual's request to make some remodeling changes on a house. Still, Thorne told Realtors that he's found that government by its structure works more methodically and slower than private enterprise. Building codes, inspections, public hearings -- all are part of good government and at times tend to slow the process down.
A key objective in this arena, Thorne said, is significantly reducing the burden placed on developers by the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, a good bill signed into law by then-Governor Ronald Reagan but one that "has become an absolute nightmare for business." Fortunately, Thorne has found support from Gov. Jerry Brown and relief may be on the way.
Asked how Pleasanton fares compared to other cities, Thorne is convinced that its good government and a dedicated, highly professional management team in City Hall that makes our city better. He's checked around and finds that many cities are operating "hand-to-mouth" when it comes to municipal revenue and spending, whereas Pleasanton has more than $25 million in a rainy-day reserve fund for use if needed. Last week, the city took money from other reserves to pay off some $20 million in golf course construction bonds, leaving the city virtually debt-free aside from outstanding employee pension obligations.
"I wouldn't trade my experience in public service for anything in the world," Thorne told the Realtors. "Community involvement carries with it a very high level of satisfaction when you see public projects that benefit our community succeed. If you have the ability to bring people together to get things done, you ought to consider coming on board. We can use your help."