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In The News

Wide range of issues tackled during candidate forum

By Shaun Bishop, The Daily News, 10/1/09

The high cost of pensions and health care for Redwood City employees emerged as one of several key issues Wednesday night during the third city council candidates’ forum in the past month. All five candidates said the city should revisit the salary and benefit packages paid to employees, to help the city through the economic crisis.

“It’s a situation that’s really gotten out of control in a lot of ways,” said Jeff Ira, a council member running to defend his seat.

John Seybert, a planning commissioner, noted he has been endorsed by several unions, and said he would emphasize working with labor groups to find ways to reduce costs.

“I’ve promised them one thing,” Seybert said. “I’ve promised the fact that I will sit with them and listen to them and collaborate with them, not that I will agree with them or always go their way.”

The subject of employee costs was among the wide range of topics candidates tackled during the forum at Redeemer Lutheran Church, including attracting new housing developments, financial troubles for the downtown Fox Theatre and the controversial Cargill development proposal.

With vote-by-mail ballots going out soon, the five candidates are trying to round up votes to nab one of three council seats up for election, including two seats left vacant by council members because of term limits.

The city’s efforts to revitalize its downtown was another major theme at the forum, and several candidates criticized the San Mateo County sheriff’s stated preference to build a new jail on the county government center property, located blocks from the heart of downtown.

Planning Commissioner Jeff Gee agreed with Ira that a jail is a bad idea for that site. He said the downtown is still a work in progress. “We can’t have a jail that takes away from that vision,” Gee said.

Several candidates aired their ideas for new programs. Cherlene Wright, a member of the city’s housing and human concerns committee, said she would advocate for a citywide affordable housing requirement for new housing developments, which currently does not exist.

Planning Commissioner Janet Borgens said she would push for a program that would let seniors to buy parking permits that would allow them to park anywhere in downtown and not have to use the city’s electronic parking meters, which some have complained are burdensome.

Asked whether the city should become a “sanctuary city,” generally defined as cities that offer services to illegal immigrants and do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, Seybert, Borgens and Wright all said, “Absolutely not,” saying the city should stay away from immigration policy.

No debate on Redwood City issues would be complete without discussion of Cargill’s controversial plan to build as many as 12,000 homes on a 1,436-acre site it owns near the Bay. But no candidates took a position on the project, saying they need to wait for technical studies on the proposal to be completed first.

“We keep talking about the (Cargill) plan as if it’s a done deal,” Ira said. “Trust me, that proposal is not anywhere near what might even be done with the development.”


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