Candidates air their positions at Pleasanton Weekly forum

Constituents crowd into City Council chamber to hear candidates for mayor, Council

Candidates for Pleasanton’s mayor and City Council positions sounded off last Monday at the Pleasanton Weekly's candidates’ forum over issues facing the community and how they would prioritize those issues if elected on Nov. 8.

The five answered a multitude of questions submitted by many of the more than 150 constituents who crowded into the City Council chamber where the forum was held. Those questions and others asked by forum moderators Gina Channell, publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly and this writer, who is the newspaper's editor, filled the two-hour session.

"We hold these candidate forums before every city election and we've never had so many questions submitted to us by the audience to ask the candidates," Channell said. "It shows how important this election is for voters in this community."

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 downtown specific plan.

They were also asked if they would work independently if they disagreed with the majority on proposals before the council.

Brown said she voted against allowing another Seven-11 store to open at Santa Rita Road and West Las Positas Boulevard (a store that recently opened), going against a majority vote that favored the store.

"The store is near Fairlands Elementary School, neighbors signed petitions against it, but the rest of the council approved the project anyway," Brown said.

Pentin said he voted against allowing the developers of the 350-unit apartment complex nearing completion at Bernal Avenue and Stanley Boulevard to avoid providing at least 15% of the units for moderate- to low-income tenants as required in Pleasanton. But the rest of the council allowed the developer to skirt the rule by contributing $5 million into the city's affordable housing fund instead.

Testa, a long-time advocate for reducing what she claims are overcrowded schools in Pleasanton, used her opening remarks to call for a halt to new development. She acknowledged that the more than 2,000 new housing units under construction or recently completed today were approved to comply with a court order. But now that the city has met those requirements, it’s time to stop.

"We're at a crossroads," Testa said. "The community feels it has no choice, no voice in what's going on. The students that will be attending our schools have yet to move into these unfinished projects. Our schools are already crowded; we are out of balance. It's time to stop and let the infrastructure catch up.”

Thorne said the five large apartment projects are being built because of that court order are the result of a decisions by previous City Councils that imposed a no-growth housing cap that reined in development. That decision, which both a court and state housing agency declared illegal, forced the city to “catch up” to state-imposed housing needs allocated by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).

But with that mandate now met, Testa questioned why the council is still considering a developer's plan to build 93 more homes on Stanley Boulevard.

"We don't need 93 more houses in Pleasanton, “Testa said.

Thorne responded by pointing out that the Stanley project is planned in combination with adding a residential community for adults with developmental difficulties, to be operated by the Sunflower Hill nonprofit organization.

Fielding audience questions about Pleasanton school needs, Thorne said there's only so much a city can do to support a school district because it’s a separate taxing agency with an elected separate government. However, at his direction and with the council's approval, the city now maintains all of the sports fields at the three middle schools, provides and pays for crossing guards, funds the placement of police resource officers in the schools and pays for traffic controls, including two new signals installed in front of the Amador Valley High School parking lot this summer.

Asked about Measure MM, the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would limit new retail sites on Johnson Drive to buildings no larger than 50,000 square feet, Councilman Pentin and candidate Ritter urged voters to reject it. Although they supported placing the measure on the ballot, they asked voters to turn it down so that the city can continue with its rezoning plans to improve and enhance the commercial opportunities on Johnson Drive.

The measure was placed on the ballot by a citizens group opposed to allowing big-box stores such as Costco from building there.

Testa and Councilwoman Brown support the ballot measure, arguing that smaller retail stores would add more jobs and appeal to shoppers

Brown said the Costco stores in Danville and Livermore adequately serve the 12,000 residents here who Costco claims as members. Costco’s potential 140,000-square-foot store would add to the city's traffic woes, pollution and city-paid infrastructure costs, she added.

Pentin said Measure MM, if approved by voters, would restrict the city's planning of a new business corridor. As for all the talk about Costco, he said the retailer has not filed an application to build here. If it ever does, Pentin said it would have to go through the same process as other business applicants with public hearings and full financial disclosures.

Ritter agreed, adding that Measure MM would prevent the city from ever "doing what's best for Johnson Drive."

Four of the five candidates responded favorably to questions about plans to build a new civic center and library on Bernal Community Park property, a project that could cost $200 million.

Thorne said the new complex could free up the current city and library building sites, which could be sold and developed in accordance with a new Downtown Strategic Plan that all candidates also support.

Thorne added that revenue from the sales of those properties, along with the some of the city’s financial reserves and other available funding could pay for the new municipal complex, that would include a new police station. He also would insist that the project go to voters for approval before detailed planning could get underway.

Testa was the one hold out. She said she could support building a larger library but “with 115 portables on school campuses, some with no water, we need to fix these problems first" before building a new civic center.

Responding to other questions, candidates said:

They oppose the $3.5 billion BART bond measure; favor, though with some reservation, the Pleasanton school district’s $270-million bond measure, and back Alameda County’s proposed $580-million affordable housing bond measure.

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10 people like this
Posted by Joe Pleasanton
a resident of Mission Park
on Sep 21, 2016 at 9:44 am

I'd vote for Testa as a candidate for School Board, and vote for experienced citizens as Mayor and Council.

5 people like this
Posted by Bill J.
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 22, 2016 at 8:38 pm

As much as I would like to believe the was allowing development because of a "court order", the truth is that it was a stipulated settlement between Pleasanton through its city council and the then Attorney General. There was no one at the table who wanted to keep the housing cap. Further, it only required the city to designate property zoned for lower income housing, not to approve it to the extent of the housing the city has allowed to be built.

Now we are paying the price with our high water bills, smog, traffic jams and crime. Only one council member has consistently fought for controlled growth. I hope she gets re-elected this fall.

4 people like this
Posted by local
a resident of Vineyard Hills
on Sep 23, 2016 at 8:42 am

@Bill, I agree with you. The Council, sans one, wanted to get rid of the housing cap and used this as a convenient way to get rid of it. These puppets of the chamber did their job. I have always been convinced that in closed session the council.mayor told the city attorney to make it look like we are fighting the suit but don't work hard on it. That council wanted to lose the suit. Since then, the council and planning commission have been approving housing as fast as they can, even over what is needed to meet the RHNA numbers. Plus they are salivating over converting open space and recreational uses in the east side into housing. A reclaimed gravel quarry is not going to even be stable enough to support housing and the city taxpayers will be paying for suits there forever if housing goes in as the ground will become unstable. Not to mention part of their plan includes building outside the urban line limit and in the airport protection zone.

For city council there is only one candidate who has stood up for the residents and has been vocal about this out of control development, and I will be voting for Karla. While the other two candidates are nice people, they have been real good friends for a long time including Ritter being Pentin's campaign manager so would not expect either one of them to vote independently of the other. We loose independent thoughts with those two there. Plus I don't trust any candidate endorsed by the chamber of commerce of Pleasanton as the chamber only endorses those who support building of more houses.

4 people like this
Posted by Time for a Change
a resident of Mission Park
on Sep 23, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Time for a Change is a registered user.

Karla has voted for more housing than Pentin (public record - go check it out).. you can't believe her when she claims to be slow growth. It's all rhetoric meant to get votes, but the reality is that she and all the candidates have to comply with state law.

3 people like this
Posted by M. Smith
a resident of Val Vista
on Sep 23, 2016 at 12:53 pm

M. Smith is a registered user.

Bill J and local,
I will vote with you for Karla. Others are all backed by the Chamber. This should tell you something. It tells me. Do you think there is a reason the Chamber wants her out, and is backing Pentin and Ritter?

Must be a reason. That enough for me. I will vote for Karla. I am tired of the back door deals in this City.

3 people like this
Posted by Ptownlady
a resident of Stoneridge
on Sep 25, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Julie Testa [removed] is factually incorrect when she implies to votors that she will fix the problem of portables at the schools. City funds ARE separate, and the city does not have jurisdiction ovet school properties. [Removed]

Like this comment
Posted by housing
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2016 at 11:31 pm

I will vote for Karla. She was the only one representing the "residents" during the recent East Pleasanton Specific Plan process.

Like this comment
Posted by res1
a resident of Birdland
on Sep 26, 2016 at 10:45 am

res1 is a registered user.

The city can do more to work with the schools. As something that was pretty involved in the school district, there was a time when the relationship was great and we did a lot of joint use projects. That all went away. Mostly from a lack of interest from the school district but the city could do more in sharing facilities and some operations. We have some facilities sitting idle for half the day and all summer. Working together we can better utilize them. The advantage of joint use facilities is the city can charge mitigation fees for new development easier than the school district can. And honestly, the city has done a much better job in managing money than the school district so probably better the city collects and hold onto funds for joint use projects instead of the district collecting the fees with no results.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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