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In The News

Candidates tackle land use, money

By Michelle Durand

The Daily Journal, 10/22/09

When Redwood City voters choose members of the City Council next month they are picking people to tackle a number of issues that will shape the city’s future development and financial success, according to the candidates.

Janet Borgens, Jeff Gee, Jeff Ira, John Seybert and Cherlene Wright are all vying for three seats on the City Council. Only Ira is seeking re-election so the council is assured at least two new faces. Current councilmembers Diane Howard and Jim Hartnett are being termed off the council.

At a forum last night sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the candidates showed where they overlap on matters and differentiated why they believe they are best to lead the city.

Downtown renovation and housing took a main focus.

Wright said housing and retail are key, particularly in the city’s downtown precise plan.

“What we don’t have is enough retail to keep people interested,” she said.

Seybert agreed, but added public spaces and entertainment to downtown’s needs. Retail, though, he said is predicated on housing. Without that element, he said, the city is wobbling like a table with three legs.

Gee and Borgens also echoed the sentiment to mix housing and retail downtown as well as other locations within the city.

Borgens acknowledged the tough economy but said it is not impossible to bring all those elements to the table.

Ira, who served as mayor while the city revamped its historic courthouse plaza, said the first step is getting the precise plan approved and then move toward market rate housing. He told the audience not to think building new housing will automatically increase the number of residents.
“The population is here,” he said.

All of the candidates did agree that a new county jail is not a good fit for a site near downtown, as currently recommended by the Sheriff’s Office.
Regardless, Gee told the audience that it should not detract from the vision for downtown. He did recommend the county use the plan as an opportunity to revamp the entire County Government Center. Gee suggested rebuilding it into a place that “we can all be proud of.”
Borgens also said if the jail is located on the county motor pool lot as planned the city recoup some benefit.

Ira minced less words.

“It’s a disaster ... we need an alternate location,” he said.
Similarly, the proposed development on the former Cargill Saltworks site met a mix of caution until final reports are returned and a willingness to follow the city’s decision-making method.

“We drive that process,” Borgens said, citing, as an example, the opportunity to have developers — not the city — fund park space.
Seybert compared the issue to that of using recycled water which was originally divisive but eventually resolved. He later said the water program should be expanded.

Aside from overall visions for the future, each candidate said they also have concrete experience in managing that will help them on the council.
Seybert said he manages employees in his company and knows how to work collaboratively for tough decisions like budget cuts.

The city needs to look at its budget two or three years in the future and make adjustments far ahead of the game, Gee said.

Borgens, a small business owner, also tackled creativity and said the same customer service approach that keeps her afloat in her private work can work the same in the public sector.

Wright said the city budget requires respect and acknowledgment that it involves other people’s money.

“If you can keep that in the forefront of your mind  . . . that’s the forefront of managing a budget,” she said.

Outside of the usual campaign topics, the candidates tackled earthquake preparedness  —  Borgens supported community emergency response training — and communication. Wright said the city’s Web site should be promoted.

But Seybert said there is a difference between dumping information and asking residents how they want to receive information. Gee pointed out the four generations currently sharing society have different needs and different means.

“That’s what’s going to keep our community tied together,” he said.


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