The two finalists for Alameda County Board of Supervisors District 1, Dublin Mayor David Haubert and Fremont City Councilman Vinnie Bacon, faced off in a candidate forum moderated by the Pleasanton Weekly on Monday, sparring over a variety of issues affecting the region.
Both candidates aggressively traded verbal blows throughout the evening, debating issues such as the county's coronavirus response, homelessness, campaign financing, partisan politics and social justice reform in their efforts to stand out for Alameda County's sizable District 1.
Far and away the county's largest geographically, District 1 covers 440 square miles of Alameda County's 738 total square miles. A district with an extensively diverse identity, encompassing urban, suburban, rural and open space areas, District 1 includes the cities of Dublin and Livermore, most of the city of Fremont, and portions of unincorporated Sunol and Livermore and Amador valleys.
The seat is currently held by Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who announced in 2019 that he would be retiring when his term expires in January 2021 rather than seek a seventh consecutive term at the polls.
Bacon and Haubert advanced to a two-person runoff on the Nov. 3 ballot after finishing first and second, respectively, among four candidates in the March primary election -- Bacon earned 27.22% of the vote while Haubert received 25.94%, both well short of the 50%-plus-one required to win the seat outright in March.
Monday evening's forum in Livermore, moderated by Weekly publisher Gina Channell and editor Jeremy Walsh, was livestreamed and a video-recording posted online Tuesday afternoon.
Coronavirus response and economic recovery
Starting off on common ground, both candidates agreed tackling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and managing the economic recovery must remain a top priority for the county, and that listening to health experts is paramount in overcoming the crisis.
"I think first and foremost we have to listen to the health experts. This is a medical crisis above all, and it really does annoy me to see people politicizing the issue," Bacon said. "My impression of COVID and the economy is quite simple: We need to solve COVID before we can get the economy going."
Further touching on the need to support residents suffering from economic hardships during the crisis, Bacon praised the county's eviction moratorium and said he would like to hire more residents to help combat the virus, citing the need for contact tracers as an example.
Additionally, Bacon said he was quite opposed to laying off civic employees as a way to offset a looming budget shortfall.
Haubert likewise emphasized the need to listen to health experts during the pandemic, but spoke of supporting small businesses as the best way to offset the economic crisis.
"My stance on reopening the economy is we must prioritize lives over dollars, it's plain and simple," said Haubert, who stressed the need to work with businesses to find creative ways to safely continue operating, such as promoting outdoor dining and shopping in previously designated public areas.
Haubert also highlighted emergency business loans and grants as vital in supporting District 1 businesses.
"One thing that I should add is that we've been able to keep the infection rates in my community one of the lowest in Alameda County," he continued.
Social justice reform
Both candidates also proclaimed that "Black lives matter" and committed themselves to ensuring the equitable treatment of residents under the law, regardless of race, and to combating systemic racism throughout the community.
Haubert -- who participated in organizing Dublin's Black Lives Matter protest earlier in the summer -- vocalized a commitment to review the use-of-force policies for police in District 1 and also ensure that officers and deputies receive proper training to ensure ethical policing. He also said he supports the "8 Can't Wait" policing reform policies.
Hinting at a need for more comprehensive reform, Bacon said he would consider allocating funds away from police services in favor of services that could better utilize the funds such as mental health services.
"One of the things I've called for is what type of calls are the police getting and what kind of personnel is appropriate for handling that call. Is it better that a mental health professional went instead of a police officer? I think those are the kind of discussions we need to have," Bacon said.
One of the evening's most contentious topics, candidates sparred over the most effective ways to increase housing for residents, with Bacon generally supporting the creation of affordable housing over other developments, and Haubert favoring creating market rate housing projects as a way to fund and ensure the creation of affordable units.
"It's very disingenuous to say that somebody has approved affordable housing when they have opposed just about every market rate project, which funds affordable housing, and then takes credit for providing affordable housing," Haubert said of his opponent.
"I think our community (Dublin) is a very good example of where local control can work very well," Haubert added. "We've added a strong balance of market rate and affordable housing. We've done it in a very planned way, and I'll tell you that I'm very proud of the communities that we build."
He went on to say that Bacon had a "spectacular unsuccessful record" of creating needed housing in Fremont as a member of the council.
Bacon responded in kind, criticizing Haubert's perspective as a preference for market rate over affordable housing, which Bacon said has failed to alleviate housing problems in the area.
"There's an exit study (that shows) when you build market rate housing you end up needing more affordable housing. The in-lieu fees that we get from market rate housing simply doesn't cover it," Bacon said.
"Mayor Haubert is dead wrong when he says Dublin has provided adequate affordable housing. They've done 551% of market rate housing, and I can't even tell the graph is so small, something like 5-10% of affordable housing," he added. "I feel like the mayor, and what he put forth in Dublin, is the idea of just building more and more market rate housing and that somehow that will solve the problem ... The bottom line is we are simply not providing enough affordable housing."
Continuing on from the discussion of affordable housing, homelessness is another prevalent issue familiar to most Bay Area residents, and while both candidates agreed homeless residents needed support, they disagreed on where that help was most needed.
Bacon found that most homeless residents in Fremont were for the most part in their current situations due to economic strains or a lack of affordable housing. Haubert on the other hand found addiction and mental health issues as the primary contributors toward homelessness, saying support services are most needed to help these residents.
"Homelessness is one of the most devastating failures of our time and (alongside) the growing economy over the past decade, homelessness has almost doubled in some cases. Failed policy after failed policy have resulted in more homelessness," Haubert said, also highlighting his creation of the Valor Crossing veteran affordable family living community as a prime example of the facilities needed to help solve the crisis.
Another contentious topic was campaign fundraising, with the two candidates clashing over campaign financing, with each taking shots at their opponent's current and past records.
Bacon opened by criticizing his opponent's acceptance of funds from some developers and special interest groups, highlighting his own decision to not accept funds from political action committees (PACs), developers or labor unions in order to avoid undue influence on his campaign.
"Why do all sorts of developers donate to a candidate? Because they know they are buying influence, and we're just supposed to trust the person that they are taking all this money and it does not affect them," Bacon said. "There is a ton of corporate money going into this election and I think it's just wrong ... People buy their way into office and it makes it literally impossible for a number of candidates to get elected."
Referring to himself as a "clean money candidate," Bacon maintained that he is "the only one in this race who doesn't take developer money, who doesn't take corporate money, who doesn't take PAC money."
In response, Haubert declared, "I'm going to make it very clear: I can't be bought and I will not back down. Contributions do not make a difference in my decision making process whatsoever.
"I'm sorry if my opponent just can't seem to trust himself to not sell out. I know I never have," he added.
"When my opponent wants to trump up this clean money thing, it's pretty easy when you self-fund and you rely on family money to fund, nearly $150,000 of your family's money then you don't have to fundraise. And I wish I could do that but I can't," Haubert said, also criticizing Bacon for a fine for past campaign finance violations in Fremont.
"When I talk with voters, it's very clear to them; they see the developer money rolling in and they see the projects getting approved throughout Dublin," Bacon retorted. "Yes it is very sad. I'm not a rich person; it's very hard for me to put money in this campaign but I have no option. Against all the money going into this campaign I'd be slaughtered."
Alleviating the region's traffic woes was another key priority for both candidates, with Bacon and Haubert both vocalizing support for improved transit infrastructure and rail projects in District 1.
"I'm a fan of large scale transportation projects like Valley Link, like Dumbarton Rail, like the Capitol Corridor (Rail Project), like the study that we are doing on the connector between 680 and 580 in Fremont. These are all things that are good for the people, they are good for the workers that build them, they are good for the economy. We absolutely need to continue to support transportation," Haubert said, further clarifying that he generally supports rail projects over buses.
"I went to Berkeley to study transportation engineering because as an environmentalist I'm a very strong advocate for transit. We definitely need more transit and if you look at the main corridor where we have our traffic problems in District 1 ... we have a real dearth of transit and we need more of it," Bacon said, adding that he is also an advocate for public transit projects that include buses.
While the Alameda County Board of Supervisors is a non-partisan agency, the topic of political allegiance did arise at multiple occasions throughout the forum.
Bacon touted himself as a proud Democrat who holds Democratic values. Haubert described his views as independent with an ability to cross party lines as he is not registered to either major party, though his opponent criticized him for Republican views in line with his former party affiliation.
Bacon and Haubert also shared their perspectives on regional cooperation, the State Legislature, fire season preparedness, budgetary management and PG&E oversight during the nearly 100-minute forum.
The entire event can be viewed online, via YouTube.
For Monday's forum, the Weekly partnered with the Dublin, Fremont and Livermore Valley chambers of commerce. Amos Productions video-recorded the event, which was presented live and in-person at Garré Vineyard & Winery with social-distancing protocols in place and no audience members in the room.