This is a vital local election season throughout the Tri-Valley.
Accordingly, the Pleasanton Weekly editorial board is offering the following recommendations for the Livermore, Dublin, San Ramon and Danville council races as well as Livermore's health care cost initiative, Measure U. Pleasanton City Council endorsements will follow online early next week and in print next Friday.
Our recommendations are based on the public candidate forums the Weekly co-sponsored, meetings with individual candidates or campaigns, and/or regular news coverage during the election.
Two Town Council seats are up for election, with incumbents Karen Stepper and Robert Storer facing first-time candidate Ram Namburi.
In a community that embraces no term limits, Danville residents seem to value vision, continuity, experience and understanding from their council members.
Storer and Stepper embody those positive attributes, and more.
A 16-year council member also with prior San Ramon Valley school board service under her belt, Stepper remains focused on community planning, improving the downtown (for businesses and patrons), easing traffic concerns, enhancing town parks and smart budgeting. She is also a presence in and for Danville, from representing the town on regional governing boards to leading historical walks to still coaching Mustangs soccer after 35-plus years.
Storer has served on the council for nine years after a successful run on the Planning Commission. An integral part of what makes Danville (as he put it) the best run community in Contra Costa County, he has demonstrated an ability to support efforts by the town government centered on his priorities of public safety, improving downtown, maintaining a strong budget with healthy reserves, protecting hillsides and smart development.
Namburi is a Danville resident who says he wants to make sure the council is listening to the voices of the people, especially on issues of housing developments, downtown, traffic and cell towers. While we applaud Namburi for trying to get more involved with his hometown, he simply lacks the civic experience and depth of knowledge needed of a council member. We urge him to seek a spot on a town commission or committee, and begin effecting change that way.
Vote Stepper and Storer.
Incumbent Bill Clarkson is seeking a fourth (and final) term as mayor, and the lone challenger is Sanat Sethy, a business professional who also sits on the city's Economic Development Advisory Committee.
Clarkson has been a strong advocate for San Ramon residents for nearly two decades (including his school board tenure), and as he demonstrated at our Sept. 24 candidate forum, he remains full of ideas to improve city efforts in areas of concern for the community such as traffic, retail retention, public safety and development -- although we were disappointed with his non-answer on the San Ramon Golf Club zoning question.
Sethy shares many of those concerns and thinks the city should do more to create the sorts of improvements San Ramon's growing -- and changing -- electorate want to see. Unfortunately at our forum, he showed a lack of deep understanding on several key issues with overly brief responses while also offering few specifics on how he would accomplish his goals in office.
For San Ramon City Council, incumbent Dave Hudson is running against challengers Aparna Madireddi, Sridhar Verose and Sabina Zafar. (Councilman Harry Sachs did not run for re-election.)
We prefer Hudson and Zafar.
Now in his 21st year on the council, Hudson remains an assertive voice advocating for a better San Ramon within the city and the region. He has vital experience on almost every issue for the city while also representing San Ramon on Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Contra Costa Transportation Authority and the League of California Cities, to name a few.
A technology executive and mentor who previously sat on the Transportation Advisory Committee, Zafar ran for council two years ago and has gained from that losing experience, returning better prepared and ready to ensure positive change on the council. At our forum, she offered deliberate answers on her key priorities for the city and embraced a collaborative approach to achieving San Ramon and Tri-Valley goals.
Madireddi, an Open Space Advisory Committee member, also demonstrated a strong voice at the forum, but some answers were overly broad, at times too flippant and unnecessarily combative with another candidate. She did a great job identifying problems and general goals on issues like traffic, retail and residential growth (a “course correction,” as she put it), but we wanted to hear more specific strategies for how she and the council would achieve those lofty goals in a collaborative way. (See editor's note below)
Verose, who sits on the Parks and Community Services Commission, has the backing of Clarkson and councilmen Phil O'Loane and Scott Perkins. But his performance at our forum at times lacked conviction and nuance, and we're concerned about his ability to carve out his own, independent voice on the dais.
Vote Clarkson for mayor, Hudson and Zafar for council.
Dublin voters face a crossroads election. There are five candidates for two open council seats, plus a sitting councilman is challenging the mayor. Depending upon the votes, there could soon be three new people sitting on the council dais.
Mayor David Haubert is running for re-election to his fourth and final two-year term against Councilman Arun Goel.
We recommend citizens re-elect Haubert. He's been endorsed by three other council members, four school board members, the Tri-Valley mayors and others, and has led the council well during a time when residents have been rightly concerned about overcrowded schools and traffic congestion to say nothing of the pace of development.
Haubert, who previously served on the school board, suggested the city to give the school district $70 million of city-owned land for two schools. The council agreed and that's a unique city-school district partnership in the state that resulted in Cottonwood School opening this fall and preserved $100 million in bond funds for a second high school in East Dublin.
For City Council, we prefer longtime school volunteer Jean Josey and Navy language specialist/consultant Shawn Kumagai.
Candidates Jing Firmeza and Bobby Khullar both want to slow down housing significantly. They, along with Goel, argue Dublin is going in the wrong direction. Perennial candidate Shawn Costello is also on the council ballot.
Josey has impressed with her commonsense approach to problem-solving as well as her commitment to using a series of measures to alleviate congestion at school sites and a focus on economic development. She has a long record of volunteer leadership in the schools.
Kumagai stresses he will listen and strive to bring the community together, an approach that will serve Dublin well.
Vote Haubert for mayor, Josey and Kumagai for council.
Mayor John Marchand is also seeking his final term in office with term limits, and he faces local resident Joshua Laine, a military veteran who owns Valor Winery here in the Valley.
Marchand is the leader Livermore needs for the next two years.
Marchand was poised, direct and informative at our Sept. 20 candidate forum, offering salient views on a range of topics such as support the council's downtown plan, traffic and transit improvements, combating homelessness and city pension liabilities.
Laine, on the other hand, appeared under-informed about most issues facing Livermore residents and the city government. And even more, he has done little to differentiate himself from Marchand's positions on other important issues such as downtown or homelessness.
This is an important City Council race as it marks the final at-large election before shifting to district-based council elections in 2020. Sitting Councilman Steven Spedowfski isn't running for re-election, meaning at least one seat is guaranteed to change.
Incumbent Bob Woerner stood out at our forum, as he does from the council dais, with in-depth insights and strategies for how to address a variety of issues facing Livermore. We were particularly impressed with his responses on the downtown plan, Measure U's faults, pensions and public safety.
Of the three challengers, Patricia Munro has our support. A sociologist who's held leadership roles in her Jewish congregation and with the Livermore Shakespeare Festival board, Munro appears focused on collaboration to achieve community goals. She offered a strong perspective at our forum for her priorities of transportation, smart growth, Stockmen's Park and helping vulnerable populations.
Alan "Brent" Siler also demonstrated an assertive voice and a willingness to ask the tough questions of city staff and the public, but we wonder if he's overly critical of a city that's operating well in many ways. Criticism for criticism's sake can sometimes prove obstructive.
The fourth candidate, Planning Commissioner Neal Pann, understands issues related to land-use and design, but his answers at the forum raised concerns about his depth of knowledge outside the planning sphere.
Vote Marchand for mayor, Woerner and Munro for council.
On the ballot in Livermore, this initiative aims to overhaul health care in that city by limiting medical care prices charged by providers to 15% above "the reasonable cost of direct patient care" -- and it tasks the city government with making sure that happens with each patient at every provider, large-scale or small, in Livermore.
The measure is spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union, United Health Workers (SEIU-UHW), whose only membership in Livermore is at Kaiser Permanente (and notably not Stanford-ValleyCare). The opposition campaign features a diverse coalition of health care providers, hospital staff and volunteers, Livermore civic leaders, and more.
We share the strong opposition expressed by the editorial board of our sister paper, the Palo Alto Weekly -- whose city is the only other Bay Area community facing this same ballot question.
As they wrote, "The proposal is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
"Not only will it fail to help consumers and create perverse incentives for medical centers to cut staffing levels, but it will also saddle the city with the need to hire a staff of experts to analyze and oversee the charges being made by almost all medical professionals, including individual practitioners, dentists and orthodontists ...
"No city is equipped to regulate health care providers, and it is hard to conceive of any court upholding the constitutionality of local control over what local health care providers can charge for their services."
Vote No on Measure U.
Editor's note: San Ramon candidate Aparna Madireddi has challenged our representation of her position on the Visit Tri-Valley/Discover San Ramon debate. After again reviewing the forum video, we think her response was unclear at best. We encourage voters to listen and decide for themselves, starting at 29:45 of the video.