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By Roz Rogoff

Observer's view of Candidate Forum

Uploaded: Oct 6, 2011

The Diablo Valley League of Women Voters held a Candidate Forum at the Community Center in San Ramon for residents to ask questions of the three candidates for City Council and two candidates for Mayor. Each session lasted one hour with a three minute introduction by each candidate and a two minute wrap-up at the end.

The three candidates for City Council went first. Abram Wilson started out listing his many contributions to the City of San Ramon, and finished by saying, "I worked for the last 34 years to enhance and maintain the quality of life for every resident of San Ramon." I agree. Abram has worked as a member of the Arts Advisory Committee, which I am on now, and then a member of the Parks Commission, and then a Councilmember, and then as the first and so-far, only elected Mayor.

Abram deserves a lot of credit and gratitude for his service to the community. Abram calls San Ramon a family, and he's made it his family 24/7. Now is the time for him to retire and spend more time with his real family. San Ramon has grown up and it's time to move away from Abram Wilson.

Scott Perkins recalled how he was elected on the heels of the "Gang of Three" and the mess they made of City finances. I don't dislike anyone in the Gang of Three. They are all good people, but they were a very bad Council majority. As Perkins pointed out they spent large amounts of money on plans for projects that would never be built.

They spent $2.1M on plans for a Civic Center, with an 8-story, 1200 seat Performing Arts Center, which was estimated to cost $128M or more to build, and would cost another $2M a year to subsidize. Jim Gibbon's group, San Ramon for Open Government, sued the current City Council for approving 7-story office buildings in Alex Mehran's City Center plans. The settlement reduced the maximum height of buildings in San Ramon to 5-stories, but nobody objected to the Gang's proposed Performing Arts Center plans, and this was during the dot-com recession which resulted in a structural deficit in San Ramon's city finances.

Perkins recalled that he was elected to bring the budget back under control and since he's been on the City Council, the budget is balanced, spending is under control, and the City has a AAA bond rating. Perkins didn't bring up the Performing Arts Center we have now, which is a City partnership with the School District, but that cost the City around $2M or about what the Gang wasted on those monumental plans, and at the September Arts Advisory Committee meeting we were told the subsidy from the City last year came to $34,000. That's thousands, not millions. Somebody is doing something right here.

Phil O'Loane opened his intro by saying he's the only candidate running who isn't a politician. Well what makes a politician, running for re-election? If you haven't run before, then you're not a politician? Phil did run a long time ago, but he's not a politician, and neither is Scott, who added that to his wrap-up, and neither is Carol Rowley or even Bill Clarkson who has run for the School Board three times.

Dave Hudson told me when I ran for DSRSD the second time that now I'm a politician. When Kevin L'Hommedieu found out I was running for DSRSD he accused me (it's a dirty word) of being a politician. If I was a politician, I would have won!

I had a nice, friendly chat with Kevin after the forum. He seems relaxed and happy. I haven't ever seen him that way before. Maybe it was because Phil came off well. I'm afraid Abram said the same old clichés we've all heard before.

The audience wrote questions on small pieces of paper which were asked of the candidates on stage. Each candidate had one minute to answer. One question that caught my attention was about changing City elections to even years. Wilson said it would save the City a lot of money. Perkins said odd years favor challengers because they get more visibility. O'Loane, who is the challenger, was the only one who recalled that the last measure to change to even years increased the Mayor's terms by one year. O'Loane said that's why it failed. He said he's willing to serve three years to make the switch.

Good call Phil. I was the opposition to that last "Term Extensions," measure put on the ballot by the City Council back in 2008. The Gang of Three tried it in 2002 with Measure H. Carol Rowley drew a Stop Sign with No Term Extensions on it that we all made into T-Shirts. I pulled out that T-Shirt in 2008 when the Policy Committee consisting of Carol Rowley and Dave Hudson approved putting the Term Extensions measure on the Agenda to be approved by the rest of the City Council. I posted a video of Dave Hudson saying he "wouldn't even consider shortening terms," on my San Ramon Observer website. Measure Q lost by 169 votes that year.

The Mayoral candidates followed the Council candidates. Bill Clarkson and Carol Rowley have similar backgrounds. Carol was a school teacher and Principal of Country Club Elementary School and Bill was on the San Ramon Valley Unified School District board for many years. Carol was on the Parks and Community Services Commission before she ran for City Council and Bill is on the Parks Commission now.

Someone, probably Kevin L'Hommedieu, asked about the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan. Bill Clarkson said the process wasn't done properly and more public input was needed. Carol disagreed and said the Economic Development Advisory Committee met with property owners and they liked the plan. Actually there is no North Camino Ramon Specific Plan yet. In order to develop a specific plan, the Planning Commission has to hold several Public Hearings and those haven't happened. Rowley explained that "It's a long process and won't happen for years." Chalk that one up for Carol.

My question about Mudd's came up next. I asked Rowley why the City is planning to tear down a City-owned building to lease the land to a private developer to build his own building there. Mudd's wasn't mentioned in my question, but Carol knew that's what I was asking about. She said, "Many things have to be addressed. There are lots of things wrong with it." She mentioned code violations and other problems, but didn't claim it was falling down, rat infested, or full of dry rot. She said the City spent money on restoring the Glass House and Forest Home Farms, and still needs to restore the Harlan House. So it sounded like the money went to other projects, and there isn't enough for Mudd's. That's a more honest answer than I've been getting for the last year.

Bill Clarkson questioned taking taxpayer money to buy the property and once it is torn down it can't be brought back. That of course is my point.

There were questions for both panels on the City Center. Carol said the infrastructure is in place, but they need tenants for the anchor stores. Clarkson said the City needs to be more proactive in getting the City Center underway, and pledged to form a Citizen Taskforce to keep residents informed of the progress. Clarkson also said he would move Public Comment back to the start of the meetings and communicate better with residents.

The forum wrapped up a little after 9 pm. It was videotaped and we were told the tape would be on YouTube. I'll post a link to it once I know where it is. It's too long for me to try to write everything about it here, but our intrepid reporter, Glenn Wohltmann is writing the story for the front page of the Express.