Livermore's mayor and City Council candidates discussed a myriad of issues impacting the city, including the pandemic, police reform, homelessness, transportation and downtown redevelopment, during separate online forums last week.
The two-hour livestream event on Sept. 22 was presented by the Pleasanton Weekly in partnership with the Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce and Livermore Indivisible. Weekly publisher Gina Channell and editor Jeremy Walsh moderated the discussion.
The first half featured the two mayoral candidates: current Vice Mayor Bob Woerner and Mony Nop, a real estate professional and former Livermore police officer.
Their conversation kicked off with each answering what new programs, aside from the city's $2 million Small Business Grant Program, should be introduced to help and protect businesses and residents who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
"There are a number of things we're working very hard on and we've been doing it for several months. And I think as times evolve, we'll come up with more," said Woerner, who is in the middle of his second-term on the council and running for mayor from a safe seat.
"But personally, I'm quite worried about the businesses, especially the small ones, getting through the coming winter," Woerner added, urging residents to visit Livermore businesses and buy local as much as possible.
"For me, I've always been about finding out what the needs are and then finding ways to help bring resources," said Nop, a first-time candidate.
While he said he supports the city's grant program, which allows local small business owners to apply for between $2,000 and $20,000 to cover the cost of COVID-related expenses, he said he would like to create an economic task force of various business owners throughout the city and work directly with them to find solutions to the negative impacts of the pandemic.
Later, while addressing social justice reform and the possibility of reallocating funds from the police department budget for mental health services, Nop said that he is not in favor of "defunding" the police.
"As a former police officer of 17 years myself, I believe in law and order," he said, later adding that he is open to reallocating some funds toward more de-escalation training for the police department and to bring in more mental health professionals to work directly with officers.
"For those of you who are out there believing in defunding the police, I hear you loud and clear. I hope that you will sit down with me and let me know your thoughts and concerns on how we could do better," he said, adding that he is not currently in favor of forming a citizen's police oversight committee but is open to changing his position if he sees evidence of a need for it in the future.
Woerner pointed to the new Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee he co-chairs with Councilwoman Trish Munro as a step toward finding viable solutions specific to Livermore.
"Associated with (the subcommittee) is a working group of citizens, and we've been able to recruit 50 people to join and figure out what is it that we need to do," Woerner said, adding that the working group will focus on six major areas, including policing and human services policies. "What we're going to be doing there is reimagining and better coordinating public safety and human services for better outcomes, and ultimately, depending on what that working group recommends, that's what we will do."
Nop and Woerner both expressed support for the Valley Link commuter light rail project connecting Livermore and San Joaquin County to BART.
"This project will create about 22,000 jobs and would remove about 18- to 23,000 cars off the roads daily, Nop said. "When cars are taken off the road, it also means better air quality for Tri-Valley residents and the surrounding cities."
Woerner cited Valley Link as the "highest priority project that impacts the Tri-Valley," noting that he's on the Board of Directors of the Regional Rail Authority and that they are making progress. "It's very critical in the next year or two to make sure we get all the requisite approvals and that we get the $400 million that was allocated from Measure BB to the transportation quarter in the Tri-Valley, so we can build Valley Link and connect it to BART."
Other topics the mayoral candidates discussed were housing, the downtown improvement plan, wildfire protection and prevention, and fostering a more inclusive sense of community within Livermore.
The next hour of debate saw City Council District 3 candidates Brittni Kiick and Pete Patterson, answering a range of questions -- some similar to the mayoral candidates, some different.
Both running for election for the first time, Kiick and Patterson are competing to represent District 3, which covers southeast Livermore. This year marks the city's first district-based election for city council; however, the mayor will still be elected at-large.
"Livermore itself needs to be a little more proactive instead of reactive," Patterson, a medical account manager, said when asked how he feels about the decision to discontinue outdoor dining in downtown streets and what recommendations he has for supporting local businesses amid the ongoing pandemic.
"Looking at the success in Pleasanton right now, they're still thriving while our businesses are suffering. With some plans that I would like to put in place, we should speed up the process, be in communication with Alameda County and definitely open up our businesses for indoor dining," he said.
Kiick, a community advocate and photography business owner, said she authored the small business pledge as part of the "Back to Business" initiative with Livermore Downtown Inc. that was launched back in May and brought community stakeholders together in a virtual livestream to discuss plans for reopening Livermore.
"I wrote this pledge that we should be safe, transparent, adaptable, guided by science, equity minded and supported by community," Kiick explained. "Specifically, when it relates to this issue, I want everybody to remember that if you look at what the city did, they were responding to concerns from business owners who did not feel that they were being treated equally and that restaurants were getting priority treatment."
She added that when streets closed to allow restaurants to expand outdoor dining, other businesses suffered, and as a result, the city is taking a more "equitable approach."
On the topic of police reform and reallocating funds to mental health services, Kiick said that she advocated for the equity and inclusion working group that has been created and explained that a portion of city police funds already go toward mental health services provided by Horizons Family Services.
Patterson said that he doesn't think reallocating police department funds is a "necessary issue," adding that the Police Officers Association are supporters of his campaign because of his stance on this topic.
The candidates also discussed the proposed solar farm proposed for unincorporated North Livermore Valley, the downtown development plan, affordable housing and the East Avenue corridor study, among other topics.
A complete video of the forum is available on YouTube.
Kiick and Patterson are vying to succeed Councilman Bob Coomber, who opted not to run for re-election due to health reasons. Coomber was elected at-large in 2016 before the city converted to district-based elections. During that districting process, Coomber's position was effectively assigned to the newly created District 3 in which he lives.
Munro (elected at-large, in 2018) also resides within District 3 -- and would have needed to run midterm for the District 3 seat, or move into another part of the city, to continue serving beyond 2022. She opted not to compete in this election and serve out her current term.
The District 4 seat on the City Council is also up for election this year but incumbent Councilman Bob Carling, who was first elected to the council in 2016, is running unopposed. He did not participate in the Weekly forum.