In The News
Five Redwood City Council candidates compete for three seats
By Shaun Bishop
The Daily News, 10/23/09
REDWOOD CITY — With a series of major development decisions on the horizon, five City Council candidates are running for three seats and a chance to help guide the city's growth.
The council is guaranteed at least two new faces, since incumbents Diane Howard and Jim Hartnett will be termed out. A third seat up for election is held by incumbent Councilman Jeff Ira, who is seeking another term. The election is Nov. 3.
The candidates agree that downtown Redwood City needs more housing and several say they have concerns about high-speed rail. But no one is taking a stand on the biggest and most controversial of all the projects: a proposal to build as many as 12,000 homes on the Cargill Salt property.
All five — planning commissioners Janet Borgens, Jeff Gee and John Seybert; Housing and Human Concerns Committee member Cherlene Wright; and Ira — agree that it's too early to weigh in on the Cargill proposal, because the city has not yet closely studied the plans.
Ira, an accountant who has been on the council since 1997, said the Cargill plan "has so many holes" right now that it will need to be revised, though wetlands restoration "has to be" at least a part of the project.
Others said they realize the possible benefits of new playing fields and wetlands restoration but want to see more detailed studies.
"I don't believe any developer that comes into our city waving some pretty pictures," Gee said.
Cargill's is not the only significant project in the pipeline.
Stanford wants to build 1.5 million square feet of office buildings. A half-dozen developers have filed to build housing projects in the downtown area, some up to eight stories tall. And plans are advancing for a high-speed rail line on the Peninsula that may include a stop in Redwood City.
Future development is one of several hot topics in a campaign that has been dominated at certain times by talk of bringing more housing to downtown and finding ways to keep the city's budget balanced in tough times.
The candidates agree that downtown revitalization should remain a priority and that the sheriff's preference to build a new jail near downtown is cause for concern. But they each have other priorities they hope will set them apart.
Borgens, a three-year member of the Planning Commission, said she wants to reach out to downtown businesses and ask them how the city can help them succeed. She also said the city should address merchants' and residents' frustration with the high-tech downtown parking meters, perhaps by initiating a permit program so residents don't have to use the meters.
Gee, the only candidate who lives in Redwood Shores, said he will focus on getting the downtown precise plan — a broad blueprint for the city's shopping district — back on line after a court decision invalidated its approval.
He agrees the city was "ahead of its time" in installing the much-maligned parking meters and said he wouldn't be opposed to turning them off to attract more people to downtown.
Seybert, an eight-year member of the Planning Commission, agrees that the downtown precise plan will be a major force in attracting housing projects to the area, which is one of his top priorities. He said having residents living downtown is a crucial component to making shops and restaurants there successful.
Wright has been the most critical of the current council, saying its approval of the downtown precise plan was a case of "following staff recommendations without asking enough questions."
She also pledged to keep the city's costs down by reducing overtime and consultant expenses.
Ira emphasizes his background as a "numbers guy," saying he wrote the city's budget reserve policy that has helped the city avoid drastic cuts during the economic downturn. He said he wants to help guide the city through the recession by working with the unions to reduce public employee costs, one of the biggest contributors to the city's deficit.
Occupation: Small business owner
Length of residency: 40 years
Family: Husband Milt; children David Turchet, Marc Borgens and Christina Lawton; four grandchildren
Occupation: Architect, executive
Length of residency: 14 years
Family: Wife Judie; two children
Occupation: Incumbent councilman, CPA
Length of residency: 54 years
Family: Josh, 31; Julie, 25; Joe, 18; Jessie, 15
Occupation: Director of operations
Length of residency: 12 years
Family: Wife Melanie; daughters Jessi, Heather and Megan
Occupation: Deputy probation officer, San Mateo County
Length of residency: 40 years
Family: Husband Alex; twin 16-year-old sons, Devin and Gavin