On the 15th of August, the Alameda Citizens Task-force (ACT) invited all candidates for city council to present their positions on: increasing voter participation, returning the city to financial stability, future plans for Alameda Point, and current proposals for rapid transit. Of the six candidates, three were able to attend – Jane Sullwold, Jeff Cambra and Tony Daysog.
Prepared statements from each one regarding these issues were followed by a question and answer period which extended into informal discussions over refreshments. ACT anticipates holding further meetings to broaden the discussion and to allow voters to hear from candidates who were unable to attend this meeting.
There was a low turnout Wednesday evening, both among candidates and the citizenry, for the first candidate forum of the 2012 Election season. Coming less than a week after the close of qualification for the ballot, the Alameda Citizen’s Taskforce City Council candidate forum attracted only three of the eight vying for the open seats: Jeff Cambra, recently president of the Alameda League of Women Voters, local businessman and attorney, former Councilmember Tony Daysog, an urban planner, and attorney Jane Sullwold, chair of the city’s Golf Commission. Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, also an attorney and arbitrator, and one-time president of the Planning Board provided written answers that were read by ACT co-chair, Nancy Hird.
Four questions were provided to the candidates in advance, and were available to the audience at the door of the conference room at the Alameda Hospital. The first question asked for examples of how Councilmembers can encourage the community to become more involved in city government and organizations. All four candidates mentioned the importance of improving communication with the public; Cambra stressed the need for punctuality with meetings, while Daysog touted his availability to the community during previous council experience. Sullwold suggested modifying Council meetings to allow Councilmembers to ask questions of the public, and for the public to question Staff when they present reports, while Ashcraft’s brief response was to have good public notices of City meetings and workshops and to use the City website to present press releases.
Next, the candidates were asked how they would guide the City back to financial stability. Daysog proposed implementing the pension reform plans City Manager John Russo, City Auditor Kevin Kearney and City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy are currently working on. Specifically he mentioned the need for public safety employees to increase the contributions toward their retirement from eleven to fifteen percent. Going forward, “Any new revenues have to be set aside in a lock-box of sorts, to buy down the unfunded liability.” Daysog said, alluding to former VP Al Gore’s vision to save Medicare.
“Over the last two years, The city has balanced its budget by transferring money from various funds other than the general fund into the general fund… That well has run dry,” declared Sullwold. In her view, Alameda Point is being underutilized in terms of increasing revenue for the City. To balance future budgets, she thinks that the City will have to prioritize its expenses to cover core needs, then any other luxuries like sports facilities can be considered.
Cambra also referenced the importance of the involvement of the stakeholders in the City Manager’s task force. “They are supposed to come up with a solution or a series of solutions… I would like to hear that report first,” he said. “That would be a solution everybody together came up with.” He cited his thirty years of experience as a businessman, and lauded the work of the City’s new Economic Development Director, Lori Taylor, in marketing Alameda Point to large retailers who could generate sales tax for the City. He also promoted increased efficiency in city departments and exploring public-private partnerships.
Ashcraft provided no specifics, saying only “Grow revenues, cut expenses. Include short term and long term strategies.”
A hot button topic in the 2010 Council election, the candidates next were asked about their vision of developing Alameda Point; specifically how many houses, if any, would they support being built. All the candidates felt that it was appropriate to build housing, but none was willing to commit to an exact number of housing units.
Sullwold endorsed the recent City staff proposal, which was voted down by the current City Council. It suggests partitioning the point into three zones, two commercial and one residential, and entitlements for 1400-1500 houses. But she said that number of houses required further investigation, and she “was not personally wedded to those numbers.” Her vision includes a mix of commercial, residential and open space, and regardless of which part of economy turns around faster, allows for a greater chance of success.
Long term leases are key, declared Cambra. With the City in charge of leasing, rent credits can be issued to allow tenants to retrofit and upgrade the properties. He cited the success of Michaan’s Auctions and how their expansion is benefiting the City both in increased rent and sales tax collected. He explained how keeping a reserve fund to address infrastructure repairs is necessary, “We do have old infrastructure out there, and that infrastructure is going to break.” To determine the number of houses to build, the City has to recognize its legal obligations, has to know what it can afford, and what the traffic impact will be.
As proud as he is of his accomplishments with the housing development, Daysog decided, “As I look at the rest of the base, quite frankly I don’t want to do Bayport again.” Stressing that the Point can’t be developed in a vacuum, he allowed that a figure of 1900-2200 houses at the point would have to take into account the Multi-Family Housing Overlay now imposed on Alameda by the state. He also suggested that there is a lot of opportunity for recreational amenities at the Point. He would like to attract clean industries and smaller businesses that aren’t “corporate” that can grow. Ashcraft favors “sustainable managed growth that takes community vision into consideration.”
The last prepared question asked candidates about their position on closing traffic lanes to accommodate rapid transit or bicycles. Ashcraft cited the need to obey the state “Complete Streets” act, while Cambra suggested that pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles all need equal dignity. He proposed that each case be taken individually, and judged based on public safety, demands of the street and the ability to implement the closure. Daysog suggested that improving Shoreline Drive bike access would make it a marquee attraction. He also suggested that Lincoln Ave. was wide enough to support light rail, which could be funded by a developer of Alameda Point. Sullwold expressed fiscal concerns, wondering if either was a core need for the City, despite being laudable goals.
Members of the audience provided the final questions of the evening, covering development, finances, Measure D, and the new Target at Alameda Landing. The most tense moment of the evening came during Susan Galleymore’s question about community funding from Target and how informed the candidates are about toxic waste at Alameda Point. Daysog was interrupted first by Galleymore when he didn’t immediately address her point about a benzine plume under Bayport. Then, when he gave an extended explanation about how the site is being cleaned up to appropriate standards, Restoration Advisory Board co-chair Carole Gottstein chastised Daysog that his answer showed he was not informed at all. He defended himself by saying he is passionate about getting Alameda Point going and cleaned up.
Another questioner asked how the candidates would reduce City spending by 40% to cover a projected $25-30 million shortfall. None of the candidates were willing to provide specifics, other than Daysog’s proposal to save 10% by cutting one hour from each of the 10-hour days in the current four day workweek. The other two candidates present cited the need for greater transparency. “It would be a mission of mine… to try and get some openness to the whole budgeting process so we can understand it,” promised Sullwold. She also got the biggest cheer of the evening when she expressed her support for Measure D with a simple “Yes.”