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In The News

Redwood City Council candidates tackle development, budget

By Michelle Durand, The Daily Journal, 10/02/09

The budget, transportation, housing and the overall quality of life are among the issues the five candidates hoping to join the Redwood City Council think are key to the city’s future and to showing voters just who is best to lead the way to that goal.

Planning Commissioners Janet Borgens, Jeff Gee and John Seybert, council incumbent Jeff Ira and Housing and Human Concerns Committee member Cherlene Wright are all vying for three seats on the Redwood City Council. Current members Diane Howard and Jim Hartnett are being termed out so at least two new faces are assured in the November election.

An in-office forum was held to help the Daily Journal determine endorsements. To allow each candidate a forum to express their opinions on the issues discussed, candidates were given the same questions and asked to answer each in 50 words or less. Responses were edited for grammar. Answers are arranged alphabetically by the candidate’s last name.

1. Once the Cargill Saltworks 50-50 balanced plan proposal is vetted for adequacy it returns to the City Council for consideration. Is this plan a good fit for the city or what criteria should be used to choose the best option for that area?

Borgens: A good plan for land-use decisions need to address the immediate and future needs of the community. It needs to be sustainable. What are our wants: Open space, restoration, parks? What are our needs: Housing, school, sport park, levy enhancement, flood control. This plan addresses all of that. How big a footprint is on the discussion table. Listening to our residents is the next step.

Gee: The current project proposal is only in its beginning states. Environmental studies will take years to complete. It is too early for me to say whether or not the project is or is not a good fit for Redwood City. With these studies, and community input, I will make the best decision for the future of Redwood City.

Ira: The 50-50 plan will not be the plan returning to the council. There will be many changes to the plan before then. Assuming that all conditions can be mitigated, the question is what does the plan do to enhance the quality of life in Redwood City and what benefits does it bring to the community. It should be treated like any other development and certain guiding principles should be applied such as providing community benefits, supporting the city’s long-term fiscal stability and supporting the concepts, vision and intent of the city’s general plan.

Seybert: Consistent with my eight years on the Planning Commission, my decision will be based on the independent environmental impact report, other technical data, the input of all stakeholders and the priorities and goals of our community. Until a transparent public process is complete I will not jump to any conclusions.

Wright: The first question to be answered is “should the Cargill property be developed?” and if that answer is yes, the second is “what usage most benefits Redwood City and its citizens?” The answers to those two questions will set the criteria for our choices.

2. Much has been made about rising employee costs being a major factor in budget problems for individual cities in San Mateo County. Do you believe this is true for Redwood City and, if so, how should it be addressed?

Borgens: Decreased property tax revenue, lower sales, TOT tax revenue and rising employee cost are part of the issue. Now is the time for us to work together with our labor groups in crafting long-term, sustainable solutions to continue to provide quality services to our residents while respecting the needs of our employees and their families.

Gee: A public sector career usually meant job stability and retirement benefits. These differences were blurred during the dot-com boom. Taking away retirement benefits from retirees should not be taken lightly. We must decide to be either a traditional public sector employer or transition to a competitive, private sector employer, with the respective trade-offs.

Ira: Wages and benefits equal 80 percent of the budget. Since we have a structural deficit, then these need to be addressed with long-term solutions. We are currently working with our unions to address this situation. We have been diligent to give them complete information and asking for their ideas and input.

Seybert: Yes, over 70 percent of the budget is personnel. We need to collaborate with employee groups on ways to increase efficiencies and reduce costs with the realization that we all need each other to have a successful city. My professional experience in finance and HR is well-suited for this issue.

Wright: The state’s choice to balance its budget by taking money from the local coffers is our biggest budgetary issue. Rising employee costs are a factor in the city’s overall rising budget, but our current crisis has been caused by the state takeaways.

3. The county has recommended the motor pool site, near Redwood City borders, for a new jail. What position, if any, should the city take on the recommendation and the planning process?

Borgens: There are tremendous opportunities for both the city and the county to engage in mutual opportunities in and around the county’s campus. I recognize the overcrowding issue at the existing facilities but downtown Redwood City is not the place to solve those issues. I am disappointed in the process and feel we should take a step back.

Gee: A new jail should be approached as an opportunity to re-vision the County Government Center. A comprehensive master plan for the county’s facilities should be developed that is contextually appropriate to Redwood City’s downtown. The master plan should provide the physical tenor that this is the county seat.

Ira: We will be asking for a delay in the decision which will allow us to meet with staff and the supervisors to re-evaluate the decision from a non-operational perspective. I feel confident that we can find an alternate location.

Seybert: I believe this site would have negative impacts on the transit-oriented housing we must develop to achieve or community’s vision for a thriving downtown. We should work with the county to find a site that suits their needs but does not impact the opportunity for housing on the Peninsula.

Wright: A jail facility at the motor pool site is counter to Redwood City’s plans for the downtown area. However, if the site is chosen, it is important for Redwood City to take part in the planning process and advocate for the least impact on our downtown.

4. A councilmember was recently contacted by a constituent with concerns about a planned DUI checkpoint in the North Fair Oaks area which was subsequently canceled. What is the appropriate action for a councilperson in this situation?

Borgens: I think it is always wise to not react in the “moment” unless a life/health/safety issue is at stake.

Gee: I was not involved in the situation referred to in the question and do not know the circumstances that were in effect at the time. The city manager and department managers need to have the authority and autonomy to conduct city operations consistent with policy. Post-event debriefings can occur to discuss lessons learned.

Ira: Councilmembers regularly respond to inquiries and contact staff for analysis and review. Regardless, a call from a councilmember should never influence a department head’s decision regarding their department’s operations. The chief has stated that there was no council meddling. In the future, I think it would be best to respond the next day when everything could be reviewed, analyzed and evaluated by management and their team.

Seybert: Not having all the facts, I will not make assumptions about this specific situation. My leadership style is to consider whether it is absolutely critical that I intervene. If not, I would step back and ensure the situation was followed up through proper channels and learning gained for the future.

Wright: To reassure the constituent that the DUI checkpoint was put in place to enhance the safety of the public and to be a calming influence for the community. To trust that the police operation is appropriate and that the officers on scene can best gauge the situation.

5. Is high-speed rail a good fit for the Bay Area and, more specifically, Redwood City? Why or why not?

Borgens: I think it may be a good fit but I am waiting to see more information from both the Alternatives Analysis and through the EIR process to better understand the impacts and the benefits. I want Redwood City to stay informed and engaged on this issue and look forward to be being involved.

Gee: The opportunity to take a high-speed train instead of an airplane would be great. The major challenges include the physical construction of rail separations in Redwood City and whether there should be a station in Redwood City. I have requested an economic impact study if a station is considered.

Ira: There are simply more questions than answers right now. We need to get so much more information before we can evaluate whether this is good for Redwood City.

Seybert: We need significant improvements to our regional and statewide transportation systems to handle growth and impacts related to vehicle miles traveled. As for Redwood City specifically, there are still a number of issues that need to be vetted by all stakeholders to determine whether it is best for our community.

Wright: Space, safety and cost are my biggest concerns, and they have not been addressed to date. Until adequate answers as to these issues have been given, it is impossible to determine the effects of the high-speed rail proposal.

Name: Janet Borgens
Age: 61
Years of residency: 40 years
Occupation: Beautician
Education: Some college, trade school
Family: Husband, Milton; one son, two stepchildren, four grandchildren
Campaign Web site:

Name: Jeff Gee
Age: 49
Years of residency: 14 years
Occupation: Vice president, Swinerton Management and Consulting
Education: BS, architecture, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Family: Married with two children
Campaign Web site:

Name: Jeff Ira
Age: 54
Years of residency: 54 years
Occupation: CPA
Education: BS, business administration/accounting
Family: Four kids
Campaign Web site:

Name: John Seybert
Age: 44
Years of residency: 12 years
Occupation: Director of Operations
Education: High School, 3 yrs + college, business/leadership courses
Family: Wife, Melanie; three daughters
Campaign Web site:

Name: Cherlene Wright
Age: 40
Years of residency: 40 years
Occupation: San Mateo County probation officer
Education: Woodside High School, Mills College
Family: Husband, Alex; twin sons
Campaign Web site:


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