All of the candidates attended Thursday evening’s forum hosted by the Alameda League of Women Voters, and were greeted by a healthy crowd of nearly fifty people in attendance, including Mayor Gilmore. Cards were passed out to the audience members to allow questions to be asked of the candidates. Due to time constraints, only four questions were chosen by the moderator. Three of the questions concerned popular topics from previous forums: master developers for Alameda Point, the parks initiative called Measure D, and the problem of unfunded liabilities. The fourth question delved into appropriate City services for public/private partnerships.
The PA system took center stage as the evening began, while candidates attempted the best positioning to avoid ear-shattering feedback interrupting their prepared opening statements. The forum marked the first appearance by Joana Darc Weber, a Brazilian journalist who just gained US citizenship before filing as a candidate for office.
The candidates were first asked whether they favored a master developer for Alameda Point, or if the City should handle it themselves. All spoke of the need to clean the site first, and nobody was exclusively in favor of a master developer handling the project. Daysog, Cambra and Ashcraft would all be open to the possibility, depending on the terms of the deal. Sullwold and Chen supported the idea of City-led development. Sullwold pointed out that for a master developer to make a profit would require more housing than permitted by the agreement with the Navy, which would trigger additional fees of $50k per unit. While stressing the need for local control, Chen suggested that new sources of investment for the Point should be considered, including foreign investors.
Dumuk and Weber spoke of the need to attract more businesses to the Point. Dumuk deferred making a final decision on development to do more research on the issue. Weber felt that renovation of reusable buildings needed to take place before tenants like the new brewery could be lured. Cambra and Ashcraft also talked of the need of rezoning the point, something Ashcraft said hasn’t happened since WWII. Cambra proposed something called “entitlement zoning” that would be flexible to take advantage of current market situations. The two also shared their vision of building a transit oriented village supported by ferries.
Next the candidates were asked what areas of city government services are or are not appropriate for public/private partnerships. Chen, Cambra Sullwold and Ashcraft cited the success of Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter, created last year to fill gaps in funding for the shelter. Chen suggested that Some police work and social services could be appropriate, but took a strong position against partnerships with firefighting or ambulance service. Dumuk didn’t pick specific targets, but felt the idea was appropriate as long as the partnerships didn’t intrude on existing City contracts and agreements with public employees. Weber felt that the partnerships would make money for Alameda, and agreed with Dumuk that agreements should be honored.
Sullwold raised concern that people have set budgets for charitable contributions each year, and instead of increasing their contributions, tend to change how they allocate their money. She worried that contributions would tail off after initial interest, and suggested caution in the number of partnerships created. Cambra used his time to distinguish between public/private partnerships and privatization, promoting the former because government retains involvement and oversight which is important for maintaining quality of service. The partnerships have limited uses, according to Cambra, and should be used to supplement services, not replace them.
Ashcraft mentioned the Friends of the Alameda Library as a successful program, and reminded the audience of the need, due to the budget, to be realistic about what services the City could provide. She provided other examples, like the PSBA and WABA, the Alameda Museum, and Jean Sweeney’s discovery of the Beltline property. She proposed that Parks and Recreation could benefit from a program like “Friends of the Urban Forest.” Daysog also cited examples of previous success, calling out the local residents taking care of the Lincoln and Franklin pools. Elaborating how, during the anti-SunCal Measure B discussions, citizens proposed putting up money for the sports facilities and their operations, he said that the City should encourage this sort of community support.
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No candidates came out against Measure D, to prevent Alameda parks from being swapped for other properties. Dumuk stated that the parks belong to the public, and Weber described her work with children. Sullwold explained how the loophole in the City Charter came to be, while Cambra pointed out the cost of putting the measure on the ballot was between $60-80,000. Ashcraft spoke of her younger days working for the Parks and Recreation department, and both she and Chen pointed to public parks as one of the City’s greatest assets. Daysog perked up the audience when he questioned why the effort had to come from public, and wasn’t led by City officials, saying it was another example of the disconnect between them.
Finally, the candidates were asked to address the City’s underfunded pension liabilities. The candidates suggested the total figure of $200 million could only be reduced by compromises and negotiations, but underscored the need to maintain existing obligations. Sullwold spoke of a “nuclear option” described to her by City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy, whereby the City could declare a financial state of emergency, which would compel the unions to negotiate immediately, instead of waiting until their contract expires in the summer of 2013. Cambra had confidence that a resurgence of the economy would drive more tax dollars, and further suggested increasing efficiency through technology and more public/private partnerships. He shot down Kennedy’s nuclear option, saying that a state of emergency could only be declared due to unforeseen conditions, and this condition is very well known.
Ashcraft spoke of the problems caused by the recession and greater life expectancy, and praised City Manager John Russo’s Pension and OPEV task force, whose suggestions include increased employee contributions, a two tier system and using an average of three years of highest income instead of just one. Daysog urged caution that the entire amount was not due all at once, and required careful planning. He proposed reducing the 3% formula to 2% and using furloughs and position consolidation to generate revenues to buy down liability. Hope that Governor Brown’s plan will trickle down to the City was Chen’s position, that the problem will be solved at the state level.
Dumuk was eager to answer the question, citing his recent experience in Sacramento addressing the issue for his job. He cautioned against panic, and expressed his faith in the abilities of CALPERS to manage their investments. He explained the passage of AB 340 will increase employee contributions, and also shared Chen’s hope that it will trickle down to the municipal level. Weber confided her unfamiliarity with the American system, but that she felt it was similar to what she knew from Brazil. She spoke of the issue of retirees returning to work due to financial difficulties, and how City should help.
Closing statements didn’t reveal any new information about the candidates, but gave them a chance to review their statements and ask for votes.