Candidates air their positions at Chamber of Commerce forum

All agree city is on a positive track going forward

Candidates for Pleasanton’s mayor and City Council positions sparred Friday over several key election issues, with those already holding these offices vowing to continue the work they’re doing and the one challenger saying he can do better.

The four answered questions at a forum hosted by the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, which was moderated by Dave Stark, director of public affairs for the Bay East Association of Realtors and held in the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Pleasanton.

The candidates are Mayor Jerry Thorne, who is seeking re-election to a third two-year term, and challenger Julie Testa. The three candidates seeking the two available seats on the council are incumbents Karla Brown and Jerry Pentin and challenger Herb Ritter, who is chairman of the city's Planning Commission.

The candidates faced questions about community priorities, including the Johnson Drive Economic Development Zone, transportation, water, workforce housing, the proposed construction of a new civic center and library and what they envision in a new the downtown specific plan.

They were also asked to describe how they differ on issues affecting the city's business community and Pleasanton voters as a whole.

Mayor Jerry Thorne led off the chamber’s forum, fielding a question from Stark who asked if the city is on the right or wrong track.

Thorne, who is seeking re-election to a third two-year term of office, was alone at the mayoral side of the chamber’s table. His challenger, Julie Testa, was absent from the session.

Thorne said Pleasanton is definitely moving forward in the right direction.

“We’ve paid down our pension debt by 15% and we now have no construction debts on our books,” Thorne said. “Surveys tell us that 99% of our residents and businesses feel safe here. Having met our court-ordered and state mandate to provide more housing, we now have a growth management law in place that will limit growth going forward.”

Brown, Pentin and Ritter agreed.

“Over the last 10 years, I have served on the Trails committee, Parks and Recreation Commission and for the last three years on the Planning omission, where I am now the chairman,” Ritter said. “During this time, I have worked to ensure that the city is following a smart growth plan.”

Pentin said he’s served on the Parks and Recreation Commission and spent nearly five years on the Planning Commission. During the last four years on the City Council, he’s been part of major accomplishments, including the expansion of Bernal Community Park and its new sports complex and also working to maintain a good working relationship with the Pleasanton school district.

Brown said she is seeking re-election to continue her effort to curb growth and improve water sustainability, traffic and schools, “even though there are times when I occasionally disagree with my fellow council members.”

She disagreed with Pentin and Ritter on Measure MM, the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would restrict new development on Johnson Drive to structures no larger than 50,000 square feet.

Such a restriction would block so-called big-box stores from locating there, including Costco, which has indicated its interest in the former Clorox Research site that is now vacant.

“By limiting this property to 50,000 square feet, we would have the ability to have smaller businesses use that site and give back to our community in many ways,” Brown said. “Large retailers come and go. Look at K-Mart which has closed some stores. These large stores may not be here forever. Costco wants to build a 140,000-square-foot store. That’s huge.”

Pentin disagreed.

“Measure MM would deny the city the opportunity to make the best decision on how to use that property,” he said. “I’m in favor, though, of letting voters make this decision. It’s the democratic process.”

Ritter said there is data “very supportive of doing the right thing for Johnson Drive.”

“Costco would increase revenues for the city,” he added. “By limiting the area to 50,000-square-foot buildings, we would be preventing the city from doing what best for area. I don’t know of any businesses that are interested in coming in at that size. I’m afraid we will have vacant lots for a long time.”

On other issues, candidates said:

• BART to Livermore and completion of expanding Route 84 to a full four lanes between Interstates 580 and 680 are among their top priorities.

• East side development planning of 1,100 acres north and east of Valley Avenue and Busch Road will likely await the new mandated housing numbers that will be issued by a state housing agency in 2022.

• The Bernal Community Park would be a good location for building a new, multi-million-dollar civic center, public library and police headquarters once funding is identified and voters approve the project in a citywide referendum.

The Pleasanton Weekly will host another candidates’ forum starting at 6 p.m. next Mnday in the Pleasanton City Council chamber at 200 Old Bernal Ave.

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