The nine candidates for Dublin City Council sounded off during an online forum hosted by the Pleasanton Weekly last week, where each individual attempted to distinguish themselves amid a crowded field of competitors.
Candidates Shawn Costello, Lucrecia Deleon, Razi Hasni, Sherry Hu, Michael McCorriston, Sri Muppidi, Dawn Plants, Kashef Qaadri and Samir Qureshi participated in the nearly two-hour forum last Thursday (Sept. 10) as part of their bid to win one of the two available at-large seats on the Nov. 3 ballot. Both seats are fully up for grabs, with incumbents Melissa Hernandez and Arun Goel running for mayor instead.
Moderators asked the council candidates a series of resident-submitted questions about topics that intimately affect the community, such as the coronavirus response, policing, social justice reform, affordable housing and growth in Dublin.
Presented by the Pleasanton Weekly in partnership with the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and Dublin/San Ramon Women's Club, the forum was broadcast live online (with a video recording available afterward) and moderated by Weekly publisher Gina Channell and editor Jeremy Walsh.
The three-hour livestream event also featured a separate debate for the mayoral candidates, held prior to the council's portion.
Housing, a hot-button issue for many communities throughout the Bay Area, took center stage at the council forum as candidates spoke their minds about how Dublin should address growth, affordability and the upcoming regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) cycle.
"As far as residential developments are concerned, the city has benefited from years of development and it has been successful trying to meet certain standards, but it has fallen a little short," said McCorriston, a Human Services Commission alternate member and finance professional. "We should focus building housing around transit-oriented centers. The RHNA standards have been set in motion and put new pressure on us, but we need to look at the strategic location of a development."
McCorriston added that the city needs to work with local nonprofits and developers as well as county and state agencies for funding and creative financing solutions for affordable housing.
Qureshi, a former city planning commissioner, concurred that transit zones should be Dublin's area of focus for state housing requirements, but added that residents need to be educated about RHNA standards -- noting that it's important for residents to know how RHNA mandates Dublin build a certain number of housing units
"I feel that we need to inform our community; they need to understand what RHNA is and how (it) impacts our community," Qureshi said. "Second we need to make sure that we are getting our fair share of housing, so we need to look at how calculations are done and make sure that we have the right numbers."
"I definitely look at transit-oriented communities for development. I think that's the way we need to look at how we can provide the best affordable housing for our community, and make sure that people are actually willing to come back and can afford to live in Dublin," he added.
Plants, an alternate member of the Planning Commission, said her main concern with housing came from Dublin's population density and its dramatic increase over the past 40 years.
"It's a good time to re-evaluate the entire situation for the population density, which is what I'm the most concerned with," Plants said. "It's just getting to be too much. I wouldn't want to see every blade of grass covered with concrete around here. Dublin won't be America's backyard anymore when that happens."
When it came to addressing Dublin's RHNA obligations, tech executive Qaadri stressed the need for affordable housing for all residents, as well as a thorough review process by the city for developments.
"We need to do this so that we are including low-income housing and senior housing, in particular. We need to make sure it is inclusive housing across all income brackets," Qaadri said. "We need to do this responsibly and sustainably, ensuring that we have the adequate infrastructure to support these new houses and we need to think about traffic flows and schools."
Touching on the potentially negative consequences if Dublin fails to fulfill RHNA obligations, tech investor Muppidi noted, "If we don't achieve (RHNA obligations) that are mandated by the state, we are liable to millions of dollars in fines, as was incurred on Pleasanton ... This is important for Dublin City Council to really think about as we are going into the next phase of growth to maintenance."
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was another high priority issue for candidates, who generally agreed that Dublin had done a good job of combating the virus and focused their discussion more closely on the economic downturn resulting from the virus.
"In the face of unprecedented challenges, it's essential that we support our local businesses and in turn our local families," said Hu, an entrepreneur and engineer. "The federal and state have different programs, and in addition to that, our city adopted some programs such as microloans and also ways to (use) outdoor spaces."
In addition to raising awareness and marketing for local businesses, Hu also came out as a supporter of helping businesses acquire microloans -- an idea that was supported by most other candidates.
"I've been severely affected by this pandemic," added Hasni, a business owner who said that he possesses first-hand experience of what it's like to try and keep a business going amid the pandemic.
"I disagree somewhat with the central governments and county government's response (to the pandemic) and how it trickled down to our city government ... My opinion is that if we can mask up and stay six feet away, we should be allowed to be open," he said. "We shouldn't let the pandemic stop us from living our lives."
Hasni further stated that through collaboration and sharing information via an online city portal, local businesses could work together with the city to find their way through the current crisis.
While acknowledging that the economic impacts of the virus can not be neglected, business owner Deleon said that the city needs to put health first and focus programs on supporting residents who belong to underserved groups.
"Health and safety is the main thing that should be in consideration, but there have been other impacts resulting from COVID-19 especially in many communities that have been underserved," Deleon said. "Although we are doing the most that we can in regards. .. there are many people in our community who have been underserved (and lack support programs)."
"Communities like older people and people of color have been impacted the most, and they have not been given the opportunity for safety and opportunities as other people and other communities," she added.
Costello, a disabled rights advocate and human services commissioner, also argued that residents who belong to vulnerable communities are in need of additional support from the city, and proposed the city form a database to track the needs of residents in these groups.
"What I want to do -- and I've been saying this for 30 years -- is that I want to make a database of disabled people and elderly people that are really in need of help and see them on a daily basis, even over the phone, to see if they are OK and check on them," Costello said. "(COVID-19) affects everybody here in our city. We have to fight for our jobs; we have to fight to be who we are."
"We also have to consider that our residents are impacted financially... the unemployment rate is relatively consistent with the national level and we need to think about that," added McCorriston, who proposed business grants, loans and sales tax reimbursements as possible solutions.
Police services and social justice reform have captured national attention in recent months, and while every candidate expressed appreciation for Dublin's police officers (the city of Dublin contracts its police services through the Alameda County Sheriff's Office), some candidates expressed ideas on how police can perform at an even higher quality.
"Dublin's police and fire have provided Dublin with exemplary service ... There are always opportunities for improvement," Muppidi said. "We need to make sure we work with the county to implement more transparency and more accountability."
Stating that funds can be allocated to ensure better service, Muppidi added that, "Some of my ideas are to allocate more funding for first responders around mental health crises and social case workers so that we can address (specific) issues ... I think we can invest more resources into police training and sensitivity training and I think we should also increase funding for violence prevention services (such as domestic abuse)."
Other candidates who voiced a need for local police to increase transparency and accountability included Deleon, McCorriston and Qaadri -- the latter of whom suggested the city form a citizens oversight body for police.
"We are really fortunate that Dublin is a fairly safe place, but we need to constantly explore new ways to make Dublin better and safer for years to come," Qaadri added. "Coming from a business perspective, any time you have a contract you have checks and balances and I see that as lacking in the city of Dublin. The major area is accountability and transparency and we fall short in this regard."
Other topics discussed include their plans to support the creation of downtown Dublin as well as their other individual priorities if elected.
Interested residents can view all candidates' full uninterrupted responses to the pressing issues facing Dublin, including their thoughts on the At Dublin development project and the creation of a downtown Dublin, in the full forum video at the Chamber's YouTube channel.
The Dublin City Council election will be held on Nov. 3, residents can register to vote online at www.acvote.org/voting/register-to-vote.