The two mayoral candidates and four City Council hopefuls expressed their love of Livermore, and their plans for it if elected, during a public forum last week.
The debate in the Livermore High School theater, hosted by the Pleasanton Weekly and Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce, with Livermore Indivisible as a partner, featured two rounds of discussion in front of more than 125 residents.
The first session involved the two candidates for mayor: incumbent Mayor John Marchand and challenger Joshua Laine, a first-time candidate for mayor.
The second portion consisted of the four City Council candidates: current Vice Mayor Bob Woerner, and challengers Patricia Munro, Neal Pann and Alan "Brent" Siler. Two regular council seats are up for grabs with Councilman Steve Spedowfski opting not to seek re-election.
Each candidate shared opening and closing statements summarizing their experience and priorities, in addition to answering questions moderated by Weekly publisher and president Gina Channell and editor Jeremy Walsh.
The candidates debated a range of topics at the forefront of many Livermore residents' minds, including the downtown plan, the Measure U health care costs initiative, homelessness, ValleyLink commuter rail and more.
All of the candidates agreed with moving forward with the downtown plan recently approved by the sitting council -- a proposal that is now the target of a referendum petition, with signature gathering underway, backed by Friends of Livermore.
"I absolutely support the downtown plan. We had competing priorities," Marchand said. "It's time to get this plan moving."
Marchand, who is seeking a fourth term as mayor, served six years before that on the City Council. A retired water industry professional, he also previously spent 15 years on the Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors.
Laine, this year's mayoral challenger, agreed when it came to the Downtown Specific Plan update.
"I do support the council's plans," said Laine, a Livermore resident and Marines veteran who owns Valor Winery. He also launched a bid for California governor in June, but did not qualify for the certified list of candidates for the primary election ballot.
"We're not gonna make everybody happy. The majority of the people that did come down and put their interest in, basically got their way," Laine added about downtown.
The council candidates shared similar sentiments.
"The city went through a year long process of public outreach," said Pann, an architect by trade who sits on the Livermore Planning Commission. "We've been through a collaborative process, which was pretty unheard of locally, to come to a consensus for what is best for the city."
Munro, another first-time candidate, also appreciated the city's outreach process for the downtown.
"I think it's a good idea ... I was very impressed with the outreach process. This was a very careful process," said Munro, a sociologist and longtime Livermore resident who also previously sat on the Livermore Shakespeare Festival board.
Though council challenger Siler stated his readiness to move forward with the downtown plan, he added, "We'll hear that the city did all this outreach. We could have done more." Siler is a Marines veteran who has more than 25 years of experience working in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.
Woerner, who has served on the council since 2012, expressed his steady support for the downtown plan he voted to approve earlier this month.
"I agree with it. I think it makes sense. It's been a long process," said the incumbent, who also has prior Planning Commission experience and works full-time for PG&E as senior director for electric operations.
Every candidate expressed disapproval of Measure U, the local initiative proposing to regulate health care service costs in Livermore -- a measure spearheaded by SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, which represents some Stanford Health Care employees.
"Measure U is a significant threat to our quality of life," Woerner said, referring to the fear that local medical practitioners will leave Livermore if the measure passes.
Mayor Marchand referred to the measure as "horribly misplaced efforts."
"I absolutely oppose this," he added.
Traffic and ValleyLink
When asked what candidates would do to address the increasing traffic problem in Livermore and how they would ensure bringing regional public transit to Livermore, Laine stated that he plans to "hold BART accountable."
"I don't personally want BART (in Livermore)," he said. "BART brings crime." He went on to say that public transportation should be privatized, and that he would take BART to court and demand Livermore taxpayers' money back.
"There is no large pool of money for rebates -- that money was spent decades ago," the mayor said. "What I'm working on right now is to create a ValleyLink. We can create a BART to ACE link to start moving people through this corridor."
Council candidates supported moving toward ValleyLink, saying it's clear that BART will not be coming to Livermore.
"Enabling commute traffic from the Central Valley through ValleyLink is perhaps even more effective at reducing traffic than BART would have been," Munro said.
Pann added that encouraging businesses to relocate here and building the housing for that workforce may help alleviate the commuting traffic problems as well.
Candidates agreed that the city of Livermore does well in addressing homelessness, but more can still be done.
"The city is doing a very good job about homelessness," said Pann. "We're the only city regionally that has services located within the city." He said the city can work on expanding collaboration with the faith-based communities doing work to alleviate homelessness.
Marchand pointed out his initiative to host the first mayors' summit to address regional homelessness and his efforts to build affordable housing in the area.
Siler stated that the city can and should do more.
"We could take a warehouse over where we can have central services, like food, medical, dental," Siler said.
Moderators asked candidates if the city has an underfunded pension liability problem, and if so, what they plan to do about it.
"Pensions suck up a huge chunk of the city budget, we could be bankrupt by 2022," Laine said. "We need to get off pensions, get back to the private sector and go back to 401(k)s."
Siler also suggested that, "there are alternatives out there for pensions."
Marchand disagreed, saying the city is solving the problem and has already reduced the amount in underfunded liabilities from $100 million to $52 million.
"We will continue to fund them, and we will succeed," the mayor said.
Pann, Munro and Woerner reiterated that the city seems to have found a solution and is working toward fixing the problem.
Other topics addressed during the Weekly's forum included:
PAC money and negative campaigning: All candidates expressed disapproval of negative campaigning and the ability for one entity to sway elections. However, all candidates ceded that little can be done to limit political action committee (PAC) money in elections.
For his part, Siler stated his campaign is self-funded, and did not accept donations from individuals or organizations.
Teenage vaping: City Council candidates were asked what they would do about the increasing use of vapes by teenagers. Candidates all took a collaborative approach.
"We need to align our approach with the other intergovernmental agencies," Woerner said, referring to the need to work with the school board on such an issue.
Water rates: When asked about the city's water rates, most candidates said the rate levels appear necessary.
"We would all like our rates to be lower, but we need to maintain our infrastructure," Pann said.
Siler stated the necessity for transparency from the city. "What I'm not seeing the water department do is prove to me that the rate they're charging is what we need to maintain the infrastructure," he said adding that if he were on the council, he would demand such answers.
Public safety: The candidates gave Livermore high marks on public safety.
"We live in a remarkably safe community," Munro said. "The primary problem is probably the homeless. They don't feel safe and the rest of the city doesn't feel safe."
"Our city police and the fire department do a great job at responding to problems," added Pann.
Editor's note: The entire forum was video-recorded by Amos Productions. The video link is available here.