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In The News

Redwood City council candidates square off at forum

By Shaun Bishop, The Daily News, 9/26/09

Bringing more housing to Redwood City topped the list of priorities for three of the five city council hopefuls at a candidate's forum Thursday night.

Housing issues dominated the discussion at the forum, though the four newcomers and one incumbent vying for three seats up for election Nov. 3 also touched on economic development, the city's parks shortage and the massive development proposal for the Cargill Salt lands.

Several candidates said the city has a "jobs-housing imbalance" with 40,000 people commuting into Redwood City every day for work.
"Many of those people cannot find a place to live in our community, and we need to fix that," Planning Commissioner Jeff Gee said.

Cherlene Wright, a member of the city's housing and human concerns committee, said housing impacts the city's economy too, because "businesses don't want to settle someplace when they know that their employees will have to travel long distances to have the housing that they need."

Candidates also said housing is sorely needed downtown. Planning Commissioner John Seybert held up a miniature four-legged table to illustrate his point. He said there are four elements that are essential to a successful downtown — entertainment venues, great public spaces, restaurants and retail, and housing.

"An issue we have with downtown, essentially, is we have one of the legs missing and that's the housing," Seybert said.

The forum was organized by the residents' group Sustainable Redwood City, which formed last year to oppose the land use initiative Measure W, an environmentalist-led effort to block development on the 1,433-acre Cargill Salt land. Sustainable Redwood City has since expanded its focus to other issues.

Each candidate was given a chance to describe their top priority if elected, then a moderator read a few questions submitted by the audience of about 25 people.

Planning Commissioner Janet Borgens said she would focus on economic development if elected, encouraging people to shop at local businesses.

Incumbent Council Member Jeff Ira focused on the city's financial health, saying he wants to guide the difficult budget decisions the city will have to make in the coming years. He said "everything has to be on the table," including finding ways to cut rising employee costs.

"When 80 percent of your costs are salaries and benefits, there's not a lot of options," Ira said.

All five candidates declined to take a position on whether they support a proposal for a massive development on the Cargill land that includes 12,000 homes and hundreds of acres of restored wetlands. Most said the city needs to study the plans more thoroughly before making a decision.

Still, several candidates said the resulting plan does not have to be "all or nothing" — environmentalist groups want no development there — and suggested there is room for compromise.

Borgens said the city has "an opportunity" with the Cargill land to meet a variety of needs, including parks and housing.

"You want parks? You've got an opportunity out there for 50 acres of parks," Borgens said.


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