San Ramon City Council candidates air views at Chamber of Commerce forum

Contenders field questions on traffic, development

The four candidates vying for two seats on San Ramon's City Council aired their views on traffic congestion, a proposed housing development and other local issues at a public forum held Thursday evening.

The free one-hour event took place at The Roundhouse in San Ramon, where the candidates fielded audience submitted questions as well as ones asked by moderators Gina Channell and Jeb Bing. Channell is the president/publisher and Bing the editor of the Embarcadero Media Group's Pleasanton Weekly.

The San Ramon Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum, which was attended by roughly 150 constituents.

The candidates for the pair of four-year terms are incumbents Phil O'Loane and Scott Perkins and challengers Susmita Nayak and Sabina Zafar. Perkins is seeking his fourth consecutive term on the council, while O'Loane is pursuing his second.

Mayor Bill Clarkson also is seeking re-election, but is unopposed.

Candidates faced questions on several city-specific issues, including the proposals to annex Norris Canyon Estates and build houses on a portion of land at San Ramon Golf Course Club; San Ramon's sales tax revenue, and the overgrowing trees in Dougherty Valley neighborhoods.

Asked for their positions on rezoning the golf course to residential, which would allow the owner to have houses built on part of it, challengers Nayak and Zafar said they are against rezoning.

"I would definitely like to see that as open space for our residents, whether it's a golf course or could be turned into a park," said Nayak, an engineer who has lived in San Ramon for over a decade. "We should not encourage developers to take that beautiful piece of land."

The incumbents, meanwhile exercised caution in answering the question since they are seated council members. O'Loane said he could be barred from future voting on the matter if he made a judgment before the public hearing process.

That being said, O'Loane told the audience he likes the zoning the way it is but that this would be a two- to three-year process.

Perkins added that he was on the City Council when it voted for the property's land use designation as a golf course and that he did and still believes that is its correct zoning.

On the proposed annexation of the Norris Canyon Estates gated community, only Zafar gave direct support for the concept. The other candidates expressed interest as well as concerns about the ramifications of such a move.

"There are potential unintended consequences," O'Loane said. "It'd have to be very thoughtful, but it's an intriguing idea that's worth exploring."

The candidates were also queried about how they would improve the city of San Ramon.

Asked how she would increase sales tax revenue with returns from the City Center development still years away, Zafar, a business technology director, said she would encourage revitalization of San Ramon's strip malls and fostering an environment that would attract and retain start-ups.

In his opening and closing remarks, O'Loane pointed out recent city accomplishments and said he doesn't think San Ramon needs to change direction. Asked how he would reduce traffic congestion and make the city more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, O'Loane brought up the improved signal system for the Bollinger Canyon and Crow Canyon corridor and the city's work with Bishop Ranch testing out autonomous vehicles.

Perkins said he wants an improved I-680 on-ramp and pointed out that the city is just starting on a new bike master plan.

Nayak, meanwhile called for encouraging residents to use public transit more and Zafar said San Ramon should work toward becoming a "smart growth city" with more people living and working there simultaneously.

Asked about a regional transit matter the $3.5 billion BART bond measure , the candidates emphasized the importance of the service but also expressed a need for more station parking and connections.

To watch a recording of the forum, go to YouTube and search "2016 San Ramon city candidates." The forum will also air on CCTV at a time and date to be determined.

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