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News & Views

 

Walnut Creek council candidates stake out positions
on downtown, employee pensions

East Bay Times — October 22, 2018

By Sam Richards, Correspondent

 

Though all five candidates for two open seats on the Walnut Creek City Council agree a balance in downtown development is needed and a growing employee pension debt has to be tackled, their approaches to those and other challenges somewhat differ.


Walnut Creek’s downtown is a commercial and cultural hub with a vibrant retail base, but also one that’s plagued by traffic congestion and parking issues. For several years, the city has been trying to concentrate new housing there within walking distance of BART, businesses and entertainment.


Meanwhile, it’s been hard-pressed to find money to not only to pay down its employee pension debt but also to finance capital improvements, including either fixing or replacing several city-owned buildings.

 

“I’ve built units downtown; I know more about that than either Cindy (Silva) or Matt (Francois),” said Iman Novin, 34, a city planning commissioner and owner of Novin Development Inc.
There’s more the city can do to encourage affordable housing construction, Novin said, starting with simplifying red tape and giving builders better incentives.


Silva, 64, is seeking her fourth council term. At least one new council member will emerge from the Nov. 6 election because Rich Carlston, who joined the panel in December 2014, is not seeking another four-year term.


Francois, like Novin a planning commissioner, said the city needs to better plan for attracting high-paying jobs, preferably in the North Downtown area closer to the BART station. That, he said, involves outreach, zoning and planning.


“Especially for health-care and related businesses, we need to provide for more office space,” said Francois, 49, a land-use attorney. “And there needs to be better infrastructure for that.” It doesn’t all have to be downtown, he added, noting the Shadelands Business Park could also benefit from infrastructure improvements.


Silva said she and the rest of the council have done a good job of synthesizing downtown development, both commercial and residential. The city has a responsibility to meet state mandates and put much of its new housing downtown, where residents can walk to retail, entertainment and mass transit, she said.

“We’ve put the housing where it’s most needed; we’ve succeeded in that,” Silva said. “And we’re protecting open space and the character of our single-family (home) neighborhoods.”


For 24-year-old Spencer Dress, that could mean a “short breather” to take stock and make sure it’s all coming along the correct way. The downtown resident, who helps manage his family’s large storage unit business, said creation of downtown office space is lagging behind residential space.


“We’re not providing both sides of the economic equation that makes a city healthy,” said Dress, adding that medicinal and recreational cannabis sales also should be allowed. That’s what residents want, he added.
Rebecca Byrd agrees. The 53-year-old IT project manager said she believes the city hasn’t been properly responsive to residents’ desires by prohibiting cannabis sales. And while praising the general strategy of downtown development, she said the city must play catch-up with infrastructure, especially related to parking and traffic.


“People in all those apartments do drive cars, they do have kids who go to our schools,” Byrd said. “It doesn’t seem planning always provided for that.”


Downtown development also is considered by some candidates as at least a partial solution to another problem — unfunded employee pension debt. The four challengers agree the city has done a good job in recent years of tackling the problem through a combination of recruiting businesses, service cutbacks and economic efficiencies.


Silva said the city likely faces tough choices in the next few years in balancing pension debt payments with traditional city-type services. Silva and Novin also said the city must help work toward state-level pension reforms to fundamentally fix the system.


“We should spend less of our (budget) surplus on capital projects and put more of it into our Public Employees Retirement System fund,” Novin said.


All candidates say bringing more jobs to town — specifically downtown — will help provide tax revenue to reduce that pension debt. Francois said a more thorough economic plan, plus improved fiber optics and other infrastructure, are needed. Novin suggests cutting red tape for businesses and developers.


Silva said the city’s ability to plan near downtown may be compromised by a new law recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Assembly Bill 2923 will give BART much greater authority over developing land it owns up to a half-mile from entrances to its stations. Silva sees the new law as “an erosion of local control.”


While Francois and Novin have city government experience as planning commissioners, Byrd and Dress are first-time candidates at any level. Both say the City Council needs to listen more to its residents.


Dress acknowledged a learning curve, and said he doesn’t think that should stop anyone from considering voting for him.


“It’s a council of five people,” Dress said. “There’s room for someone with a shorter resume.”


Reach Sam Richards at sam.richards4344@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @samrichardswc

 

Source: https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/10/22/walnut-creek-council-candidates-stake-out-positions-on-downtown-employee-pensions/

 

 

 
 

Paid for by Cindy Silva for Walnut Creek City Council 2018 #1365770

   

Cindy Silva for Walnut Creek City Council 2018 • P.O. Box 30182 • Walnut Creek, CA 94598 • (925) 494-1812