The four candidates seeking election to two available seats on the Pleasanton City Council put their best feet forward at a public forum Monday, but not all were in step with the current council's agenda for the next four years.
At the forum, hosted by the Pleasanton Weekly, were council incumbent Kathy Narum, who is seeking re-election to a second full term, and first-time candidates Joseph Ledoux, Joe Streng and Julie Testa. Councilman Arne Olson has chosen not to seek re-election, giving voters the challenge of filling at least one new seat on the council in the municipal election on Nov. 6.
Mayor Jerry Thorne also is seeking re-election to a fourth -- and final -- two-year term. He is unopposed on the ballot.
The four council candidates gave opening and closing statements about their backgrounds, experience and qualifications for election to the City Council. They also answered a series of questions on city and civic affairs from moderators Gina Channell, president and publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly, and Jeremy Walsh, its editor.
Although the candidates agreed on a wide array of issues, including providing more city aid to the school district and vowing to stop state legislators from stripping cities of local control, they differed on others.
Asked if the long-dormant planning for Pleasanton's east side should be re-started, Narum said the city has the staff resources to plan development of the largely empty 400-acre site, "just not now."
Added Testa: "I think we need to wait."
But Ledoux and Streng said the city needs to start the planning process now.
Ledoux urged the city to move now to plan for development on the east side. He cited the state's mandate in 2010 that required Pleasanton to rezone sufficient acreage for more than 3,000 housing units to meet numbers imposed by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process.
RHNA will come back in 2022 with even more high-density housing requirements, he explained. If the east side site is still vacant, the state will target it for high-density housing.
"With today's favorable economy and with the growth in jobs, this is the time to plan the east side to be ahead of (RHNA)," he said.
Streng agreed, adding, "If we don't plan it, someone else will plan it for us."
Downtown/Civic Center planning
With the next council likely to vote on a new Downtown Specific Plan, the candidates also differed on their views about the plan now under consideration, and the state of the downtown itself.
The new downtown plan is closely aligned with the council's announced intent to seek voter approval to move the public library, Civic Center and police headquarters to a new site at the edge of Bernal Community Park next to the Union Pacific railroad tracks.
Narum wants to call for a public vote to build a new library at the Bernal Park site, but leave any moves of the city hall and police department to another council.
"Once the new library is built, I'd like the current city hall to be relocated into the current library building," she said. "Then we can tear down the old post office building on Main Street and the other Civic Center buildings."
The downtown task force will likely recommend adding housing and retail on the current Civic Center site, along with a one-acre downtown square with entertainment and a small theater.
Streng said he supports that "phased move," but also suggested that the ACE Train station now on the Alameda County Fairgrounds parking lot also be moved to the Bernal site.
Ledoux agreed, adding that he supports building a new library now "because we've already outgrown it."
But Testa disagreed. She blamed the downtown task force for focusing too much on relocating city facilities to Bernal and building more housing on the current city site.
"Bernal Park is our protected land," she said "We voted to protect it. It's not supposed to be city offices. Plus, it will cost us $200 million to move everything there. I don't support it."
On water rates and recycling, the candidates again voiced different views. Although all four agreed that rates have gone up because conservation has cut revenue needed by Pleasanton water supplier Zone 7, only Testa criticized new uses for recycled water.
"Recycling water is sewer water," she said. "In 2000, the city of Pleasanton talked about it and had a resounding public opposition to it. So why is it coming back to us now as a possible substitute for drinking water?"
Gas tax repeal proposition
Although all four candidates seemed to oppose Proposition 6, a measure on the Nov. 6 ballot that would eliminate fuel and vehicle taxes recently passed by the State Legislature, only two -- Streng and Narum -- specifically said they would vote against it.
"If Prop 6 passes, that also repeals the last piece of funding for Highway 84 to be connected to I-680," Narum warned. "Widening 84 is important to get traffic off Bernal and First streets."
Calling Assembly Bill 2923 a bad solution for the Bay Area's housing shortages, the candidates agreed that the measure now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature would allow BART to construct as many as 20,000 new housing units by 2040 on property it owns.
"What this means is that AB 2923 will give BART authority to bypass city councils and city planners in cities along its route and build housing on its parking lots, including here in Pleasanton, and not replace the parking it takes away," Testa said.
"This legislation that is being forced on us is not a good solution," she added.
Candidates said that a better solution is for private developers to build a diverse inventory of housing.
"Not everybody wants a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a three-car garage," Streng said.
Narum suggested planning more affordable housing by design, with smaller homes, even duplexes and 350-square-feet studio apartments on new building sites, such as the east side.
As for parents complaining that their children can't afford Pleasanton, Testa said: "There's no guarantee that everyone can live anywhere they want. Sometimes we have to work our way towards our goals."
Other issues addressed by the candidates at the Pleasanton Weekly candidates forum included:
Costco: Candidates support building a Costco membership store and two hotels on Johnson Drive, and also reworking the environmental review report, now being done, that will better evaluate emissions from Costco's planned gasoline station.
Police and Fire: Citing a 28% increase in property crimes, candidates said it's good that a police substation is being built at the north side of Pleasanton next to the new Workday corporate headquarters on Stoneridge Mall Drive.
Also, Ledoux said the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department shows only a 74% response time measured against a national response time of 95%. "We can do better," he said.
Schools: Candidates promised, if elected, to work with the Pleasanton school district by sharing some costs, helping the district to build a new school and sponsor programs on student health and stress.
City pension liabilities: Candidates said they would look to the private sector for remedies on curbing pension liabilities. Narum cited the city's $21 million irrevocable trust as one measure already being taken to deal with ominous pension payout requirements the city will face in eight to nine years.
The Pleasanton Weekly Candidates Forum was broadcast live by Tri-Valley Community Television and will be rebroadcast on Channel 29 this Thursday at 2 and 5 p.m., Friday at 8 a.m., Saturday at 11:30 a.m., Monday at 9 a.m., next Thursday at 2 and 5 p.m., Sept. 28 at 8 a.m. and Sept. 29 at 11:30 a.m.
The video is also streaming online on the TV30 website.