The housing crisis, sales taxes and a vital business community are among the top priorities for most candidates running for the Concord City Council.
District 1 has three candidates, Judith Herman, Laura Hoffmeister and Ron Leone, while District 3 has two: Dominic Aliano and Kenji Yamada. Tim McGallian is running unopposed in District 5.
In response to questions from the Pioneer, the candidates in the two contested races dig deeper into some of city’s top issues.
Q: What do you see as the top priority in your district and how will you address it? What if other council members feel your position conflicts with the needs of the whole city?
Herman: From talking to voters, housing is a top priority. We need to look at expanding the availability of affordable and workforce housing in Concord. The whole city needs housing solutions, not just District 1. Concord, like the rest of the Bay Area, has fallen behind in addressing housing availability and affordability. I plan to bring more voices to the table to solve this problem in both the short and long-term.
Hoffmeister: Adding police officers and improving 911 response times, increasing services for victims of domestic violence, maintaining streets and repairing potholes, revitalizing older commercial areas and reducing cut-through traffic in neighborhoods are top priorities. I have an excellent working relationship with my fellow council members. While I will be a strong advocate for the citizens of District 1, I have and will continue to develop solutions for all of Concord.
Leone: 1. Public safety 2. Economic development (jobs) 3. Development of the Concord Naval Weapons Station. 4. Bringing a four-year public university to Concord. A city council member should only do what is best for the city as a whole.
Aliano: Top priorities for District 3 are renter protections and parking within the Monument neighborhoods. I support rent control and just cause eviction and believe that ensuring every renter in Concord is protected from unexpected, extreme rent increases or sudden eviction is needed regardless of where you live in Concord. As a planning commissioner and member of several non-profit boards, I have proven to be a consensus builder and am able to work with colleagues to find solutions to common problems.
Yamada: The top priority is housing. It is a citywide need. Coming to an agreement with a majority of council members will require a combination of good-faith reasoning and political organizing. I have experience with both.
Q: Some city residents and officials are concerned with urban blight in the city. Are there areas in your district that would be considered blighted? If so, how do you propose dealing with this issue?
Herman: While I don’t see blight in District 1, I see areas in which people have unmet needs. There are some homeless camps and some rental properties that need renewal. Throughout Concord, some retail areas need revitalization and reinvestment. The best way to address unmet needs is to look to the business owners and residents for answers. An ordinance fines commercial properties not adequately maintained. The fines should be balanced with recognition for properties that are well maintained.
Hoffmeister: Yes, there are older strip malls and commercial areas that need improvement. I have supported additional code enforcement officers to develop outreach and enforcement and to identify leasing opportunities in dilapidated areas. We need to do more to attract retail businesses and small businesses to these areas. I would develop specific plans, so an updated vision can be established to achieve economic rehabilitation and leasing opportunities.
Leone: Yes, there are issues of blight in our city. We have been looking for ways to combat this. The best way to resolve these are through economic development. We need to continue to make our city more business friendly.
Aliano: Concord is currently working on a retail revitalization program and none of the retail centers in District 3 were initially targeted as blighted. There were two retail centers targeted in District 4 that are right on the border of District 3, and those retails centers were 1500 Monument Blvd. and 2060 Monument Blvd. The city is still currently discussing this matter, and some of their targeted retail centers might change. I do believe that the city needs to provide incentives for property owners to update their properties, yet at the same time needs to be prepared to penalize property owners if they decide not to work with us.
Yamada: The best approaches to the types of blight found in the Monument are community-oriented and non-punitive. The neighborhood cleanup events in which I have participated have been productive and fun, and I would love to organize more of these.
Q: What are the best methods for attracting new businesses to Concord?
Herman: Businesses will come to Concord with an educated and prepared workforce. Also, we need to have adequate infrastructure, a tax structure that is in line with other cities in Contra Costa County and purposeful development for a sustainable customer base.
Hoffmeister: Direct outreach to businesses looking to relocate is the most effective method. As your council member, I’m proud of the work we’ve done to attract new businesses and local jobs. I’m on the board and executive committee of the East Bay Economic Development Alliance, which connects new business to the area.
Leone: We have created a more robust economic development department. We have advertised, attended business fairs and worked with current businesses in our city. Plus, we are making our city a more business friendly environment through improving our permitting process, with less red tape.
Aliano: The best method is having a City Council and an economic development team that is out there continually working to market our city to work with potential new businesses. At the same time, it is important for our tourism district, Visit Concord, to continue promoting Concord as a great destination for people to visit and live.
Yamada: I would rather focus not only on attracting businesses to Concord but also on facilitating new business ventures by Concord residents, rooted here. Supporting low-cost business locations like co-working spaces is one way. Reducing unnecessary code and permitting obstacles to new businesses is another.
Q: Do you support an additional half-cent sales tax to help improve infrastructure and unfunded liabilities in the city?
Herman: I support putting the question before the voters. While we need to be careful not to price the city out of the market, another half-cent sales tax would give the city the additional funds to address the traffic and road maintenance problems that many District 1 voters have concerns about. Since we lost the opportunity to place the tax on November ballot, we need to look at it for 2020. The effort needs to include extensive outreach to the whole city on the maintained needs and plans.
Hoffmeister: Any such consideration must be done in consultation with the community, and the issue must be put to the voters. Funds are needed for additional road repairs and improvements. The funds should be prioritized to the needs of the public infrastructure, such as road and traffic improvements.
Leone: I did not support another half-cent sales tax on Aug. 7. We are just coming out of a recession; sales taxes are increasing and unemployment in the city is down to 2.8 percent. The city currently has $33 million in reserve. We should look to trim our budget before asking the taxpayers for a permanent increase.
Aliano: I do support a half-cent sales tax to improve our infrastructure, yet I do not support a half-cent sales tax to directly fund unfunded liabilities. I would support a half-cent sales tax to support public safety. It is expensive to repair roads and to retain and attract police officers. The half-cent sales tax will allow Concord to keep our streets in good condition and our neighborhoods safe.
Yamada: Yes. I have closely followed the city’s efforts to cut costs, including the Budget Stabilization Workshop on Feb 24. I am convinced there is no way to fulfill contractual obligations, and maintain services that residents expect, without more revenue.
Q: There are some who feel that the city should remove Lennar-5Point as master developer of Phase 1 of the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Why do you think they think that way and do you agree?
Herman: Before we move ahead with any developer, my voters are concerned about the environmental impact. Local developers have filed suit against the Navy for failing to adequately address the site cleanup before turning over the facility to the city and Lennar. My district wants the cleanup process to be transparent and provide for a safe environment.
Hoffmeister: Most all public input received has been positive in nature, with only a few naysayers. The decision has been and continues to be supported by neighborhoods, environmental groups, businesses and labor organizations. The city controls the planning process, which will remain transparent, and will result in a world class project.
Leone: Because Lennar-5 Point is a large corporation, they are an easy target. If the city were to break their agreement with Lennar-5 Point after they have already spent millions of dollars, it will face a large financial obligation and be sued. What we need to do instead is work with Lennar-5 Point to make the base project world class.
Aliano: The process for choosing the master developer and the overall planning of the Concord Naval Weapons Station has been an inclusive and transparent process, with much input from community members. As we move forward, the council and the master developer must continue to engage the public to address concerns and ensure decisions are transparent.
Yamada: Lennar has given reason for wariness in its past dealings with Mare Island, as well as its repeated walk-backs of assurances given in various stages of the CNWS Land Use Plan. I am open to removing Lennar and seeking a new master developer but not yet convinced.
Q: How do you think your district/the city should address the housing crisis? Do you favor rent control and why?
Herman: I favor rent stabilization that addresses the needs of tenants to have a dependable rent and landlords to maintain their property and allow these property owners a reasonable return. The housing crisis requires a creative solution from increasing both market rate and affordable housing, with an eye toward preventing homelessness.
Hoffmeister: Affordable housing is a local, state and nationwide problem. I support infill housing near BART to help with this shortage. I supported the new Rent Stabilization Board that addresses excessive rent increases. Rent control won’t encourage new housing and isn’t the ultimate solution to our housing crisis. Cities that have rent control still have high rents and supply issues.
Leone: Rent control actually increases rents in the city. Every Bay Area city that has rent control has higher rents. The newer renters in an apartment complex must subsidize the renters who have been there longer by paying higher rents. The real answer is to build more housing to lessen the demand on the housing crisis. I took the lead in the city to create a Renter’s Mediation Board, which is a non-binding way to address excessive rent increases.
Aliano: The majority of District 3 is built out, but the rest of Concord has some vacant parcels for potential homes and the Concord Naval Weapons Station. The city needs to continue to build homes and do so by having a healthy mix of affordable and market-rate housing. The Concord Planning Commission has done a good job of approving entitlements for homes to be built, and we have approved a mix of single-family homes and multi-family housing.
Yamada: We need to build more housing and stabilize rents in the meantime. I favor rent control because new housing stock takes years or even decades to bring down prices, and Concord residents who rent can’t wait that long.
Q: It’s estimated that 10,000-15,000 adults use pot in Concord on a monthly basis. Do you support a dispensary for adult recreational use? What about a medical marijuana dispensary? If so, where should it/they be located?
Herman: I favor providing adults in Concord with the opportunity to purchase a legal product here in Concord. However, I believe it needs to be supported by the community. Concord residents did vote to legalize adult use cannabis; I have found they would favor regulated and responsible dispensaries. I would want to hear more from them directly on cannabis dispensaries and appropriate placement of them.
Hoffmeister: I supported the city establishing medical delivery services. There may be places for medical cannabis dispensaries that are not near residents, schools or other sensitive uses. I am less supportive of recreational cannabis at this time as more discussion is needed, and I would want input from residents in my district.
Leone: The council has already voted to allow deliveries and medicinal cannabis manufacturing. A medical cannabis dispensary will more likely be supported by the council than a recreational dispensary. As far as a location, I will weigh heavily upon the recommendation of our police chief.
Aliano: I support a dispensary for medical use, because I do believe that cannabis can be used as medicine. I am more cautious when it comes the recreational cannabis. I have experience working with alcohol and drug addicts on achieving a successful recovery, and every addict that I have worked with has informed me that cannabis was one of the first drugs that they started using. Also, I do not want the city to absorb the cost of implementing recreational cannabis. There would need to be an approved tax measure for the city to collect revenue from cannabis before we approve anything.
Yamada: Cannabis dispensaries should be regulated similarly to businesses that sell alcohol and tobacco, with similar restrictions on their location and operations. Beyond these restrictions, the free market should determine how many and in what areas of town.