Growth on back burner in Petaluma council race
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 9:58 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 9:58 a.m.
In the past several Petaluma City Council elections, candidates have been defined by their attitudes toward growth: Skeptical or welcoming, business-oriented or slow-growth, pro-development or pro-environment.
But with the approval of two large shopping centers now in the city's rear-view mirror, the six candidates seeking election in November are working to differentiate themselves by issues other than how accommodating they are to development.
Managing the city's precarious budget, fixing potholes and street lights, attracting jobs and revenues, maintaining the City Hall workforce and pensions, and getting along with each other are all priorities cited by the candidates.
With three seats on the seven-member council on the Nov. 6 ballot, the results could install a solid majority in either direction or establish a moderate mix.
Incumbents Gabe Kearney, Mike Healy and Tiffany Renée are seeking to retain their seats while Kathy Miller, Jason Davies and Alicia Kae Herries are challengers.
Healy is seeking a fourth term, Renée a second and Kearney is asking voters to continue his tenure on the council, to which he was appointed in 2011 to fill a vacant seat.
"There are some very qualified candidates," said Brian Sobel, a Petaluma political analyst and former city councilman. "It is, I think appropriately, being delineated as a more progressive threesome versus a more business-oriented, less-progressive threesome. And the balance of the council is at stake."
While some candidates in the nonpartisan race resist being characterized by their political leanings (all are Democrats), some inferences can be drawn from their endorsements.
Mayor David Glass and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett endorse Herries and Davies. Glass campaigned with Renée in 2008, but he hasn't supported her this time.
Councilmen Mike Harris and Chris Albertson support Healy, Miller and Kearney.
Miller and Healy are running as a slate and share the same political consultant, Herb Williams of Santa Rosa. They have several campaign contributors in common, including Petaluma developer Basin Street Properties and Ghilotti Construction interests.
Herries and Davies share support from the Progressive Democrats of Sonoma County, the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee, Assemblyman Michael Allen and former Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt. Davies is also supported by retiring Rep. Lynn Woolsey.
Renée has support from Woolsey, Allen, the Sierra Club, the North Bay Labor Council, the Coalition for a Better Sonoma County and Sonoma County Conservation Action.
Renée also was endorsed by the central committee, after a smaller committee of the party initially recommended endorsing Davies, Healy and Kearney. Kearney has been an active member of the local Democratic Party for years, and was a delegate last month to the national convention in North Carolina.
Kearney, along with Healy and Miller, is endorsed by the Petaluma police and fire unions, while Kearney said he is the only candidate supported by the largest city employee union, AFSCME.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman endorsed Healy and Kearney.
Renée, who owns a web design company, said that among her priorities in a second term is transportation, including seeking regional funding for 101 widening and the SMART train, and improving local transit. She also advocates for "social safety net" programs that assist the homeless, lower income residents and those facing foreclosure.
"My re-election is important for not only Petaluma, but for a progressive voice at the regional level," she said.
Miller and Davies said they would work to lessen the city's high rate of vacant office space by attracting new businesses or encouraging existing businesses to expand in Petaluma.
"Jobs and revenue are by far the biggest issues for me," said Miller, an attorney and former Planning Commission chairwoman. "Everything flows from that — fixing roads, our parks, our ambulances, filling police officer positions."
She said the recent reduction in development impact fees should help "signal that we're trying to make Petaluma friendlier to business again."
Business owner Davies said that because of his marketing experience in the high-tech industry he has the skills to attract new industries to Petaluma, including high-end car dealerships and "clean, green" businesses."
"I am eager to embrace smart projects," he said, "not just based on planning principles, but in a way that we're thinking long term, not just rubber stamping projects. We need to develop our town in a way that we protect and preserve what attracts business and tourists in the first place."
Public safety tops Kearney's priorities, along with improving the city's financial stability and fixing roads. He is an emergency services coordinator at Kaiser Permanente.
He tells voters to examine his record of votes, some with the progressive bloc and some with the more moderate contingent, to judge him.
"I've worked with all different members of the council," he said. "We can disagree, but we don't go home hating each other at the end of the night."
Healy, also an attorney, said that with the Friedman's and Target shopping centers approved the city has an "opportunity to pivot and focus on encouraging head-of-household jobs."
The way to do that, he said, is to follow the general plan guidelines so that businesses know what to expect when applying for new projects or expansions.
"If it is consistent with the general plan, they should expect to get approvals," he said, adding that "new development needs to pay its fair share of infrastructure upgrades."
Herries, an administrative assistant and planning commissioner, said she wants to "continue the dialogue" on reducing employee pensions so as not to "burden future generations."
She wants to work to bring health care and high-tech jobs to town and increase tourism to garner more money from the hotel tax. "I have a clear voting record around Smart Growth (planning principles)," she said.
Though decisions about the two shopping centers are done, another major project, the Rainier Avenue cross-town connector, is an issue that divides the candidates.
An environmental review is under way for the first phase of the project, which long has been in the city's traffic-relief plans but has no clear funding source. Cost estimates range from $60 million to more than $100 million.
Miller, Kearney and Healy have said they will actively seek money for the project, including $7.5 million in city redevelopment funds the state has claimed.
Renée and Davies support the project, but say since it may never be built, attention and potential funding should be focused on other traffic priorities. Herries believes the project likely will never be built, so the city should abandon the idea and concentrate on current and future traffic congestion solutions.
All candidates support a parks parcel tax measure on the ballot and continuing to fight the Dutra asphalt plan south of town.
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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