[BenIndy editor: Many thanks to Benicia Herald editor Galen Kusic for gathering together in one place the following Benicia candidates’ written responses to questions on key issues. I am hopeful that in future I can re-format this Q&A so that all candidate responses to each question appear side-by-side for an easier voter comparison. Stay tuned for that…. Meanwhile, here are jump links to each navigate among the candidates: Campbell, Diavatis, Macenski, Scott, Strawbridge, Young. – R.S.]
Benicia Herald Candidate Questionnaire responsesThe Benicia Herald, by Galen Kusic, Editor, October 1, 2020
These questions have been formulated to best address issues affecting Benicia residents. While this publication usually conducts candidate interviews, it does not endorse. Therefore, these questions went out to all registered candidates and their answers were printed alphabetically by last name over three print editions. These questions are unbiased and addressed to directly benefit the citizens of Benicia to better educate themselves on the candidate’s positions on key issues affecting not only Benicia, but the region, state, nation and world.
Candidates were instructed to return the questionnaire by e-mail by 6 a.m. on Sept. 18. Candidates were asked to please answer questions thoroughly and to the best of their knowledge.
Councilmember and candidate Tom Campbell:
1) COVID-19 economic recovery for businesses and the City. While the city has offered grants, services and accommodations to help local businesses survive during the pandemic, what will you do to further assist businesses while also following state and federal guidelines to keep citizens safe? What is your plan toward economic recovery for businesses and the City?
The Covid recession will be my third recession I’ve been involved with since I’ve been on the Benicia Council. Each was different and Benicia had strengths and weaknesses going into each recession. Our strengths this time are that we have $21 millions in reserves and unassigned funds to work with, our budgets’ shortfalls will be covered for the next two years using some of this money, and this recession is going to hit cities that depend heavily on sales tax revenues hardest. By far Benicia’s biggest city revenue is property taxes and it should be stable while our sales tax revenue compared with most other cities is a smaller percentage. So Benicia’s basic financial structure coupled with having a decent amount of money set aside puts us in a good position to do two things for businesses. For the downtown and small businesses we can do basic monetary policies i.e. the City can continue to infuse money into this group of businesses to help keep them a float and generate jobs. Out in the industrial park it’s a different strategy because we simply don’t have the amount of money to do the same thing as with downtown businesses. So here we have to work on helping businesses with infrastructure upgrades, things like roads, 5 G Broardband, keeping water and wastewater piping break problems quickly under control, etc. The City will need to be flexible on rules, quick in response, and consistent in its response to businesses’ questions. This last sentence applies not only to the industrial park but also to all businesses. The downtown parklets for restaurants is an example. When the idea was proposed city staff had to find away to allow it given the City’s rules and get it done yesterday. Things now have to move at the private sector’s speed and not at the public sector’s speed.
2) COVID- 19 testing. While Benicia currently has the second lowest COVID-19 case numbers in Solano County, what will you do to increase testing available to residents and especially businesses, first responders and City employees?
The first thing is to make the information available as to where tests are given and that under new federal law a person’s insurance is supposed to cover the test costs in full. The next thing is to give out information so that people know to watch out for attempts to piggy back other costs onto the Covid tests that aren’t covered. Next the City needs to keep up on the state of art as to what tests are available. For example I happen to be in the dental industry so I know that new saliva teats are coming on line that are accurate, faster to get lab results, and cheaper than the existing tests. The City needs to keep up on testing information such as this and get it out to the community quickly.
3) The City Council recently voted to hire a part time Equity and Diversity Manager and to follow several policies demanded by Black Lives Matter in the wake of recent police murders. This major step toward racial equality is both groundbreaking and the first of its kind in Benicia and the county. What will you do you if elected to further enhance racial equality, not only within Benicia, but the region and world?
I don’t think I’d call it Black Lives Matter folks demanded anything. We all seem to be working pretty well together right now. For me it was about get the ball rolling. So first the Council forms a subcommittee with a group that includes a part time employee with expertise in this area for about 3 months. This will cost about $22 thousand. Then once we know what we want in an equity/diversity report we go out and get one done. After that comes back with what Benicia’s issues are we decide whether we need a part time equity and diversity city employee or a consultant to come in less often the same way we have an independent auditor come in every year to have an outside set of eyes look at all the City’s finances. It may turn out that having an independent out side set of eye looking at what we do for equity and diversity is better, we’ll see, We are in uncharted waters here because there aren’t any other cities close to our size doing this. This isn’t a bad thing because it gives us a chance to get ahead of the curve. Unfortunately it also means we get to make all the mistakes that a trailblazer makes. For me it boils done to keep pushing forward with this equity and diversity stuff but try to keep an eye on costs.
4) What police reforms will you support if elected? What policies would you like to see implemented in Benicia to help further improve community relations, especially with communities of color?
The police have done an incredible job with reform changes. If you want to see the reforms they are listed on the 8/25/2020 Benicia Council meeting. I don’t know how it happened. It may have just been dumb luck. But we may have the best chief of police in the State of California to deal with this particular issue. He just happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time. He’s moved on to our City Manager role so I’m inclined to get out of his way and see what he comes up with. If you’ve got someone who’s smarter than you working for you, let them do their thing, get out of their road and just take credit for what they do. I guess that’s politics 101.
5) Benicia is extremely susceptible to sea level rise. While the City has taken steps to address this issue, more needs to be done to combat aggressive climate change. What will you do if elected to address not only sea level rise, but climate change as a whole while working to further implement the City’s recently adopted Climate Action Plan?
We’ve done a lot of things to address climate change. The 2007 Climate Action Plan was one, but we also did $13 million in solar panels to power the City’s public works (it also saved us some money too), a LEEDS gold standard City Community Center, multiple programs such as the WattzOn program, PACE Resolution, retrofitted 2200 streetlights with led lights, hired a climate action coordinator, and many other programs. Over the last seven years Benicia has participated in the Beacon Program sponsored by the Local Government and the Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative. In that program Benicia has received multiple silver, gold and platinum Spotlight Awards. We formed the City Sustainability Commission that spent $14 million in Valero VIP settlement money on environmental projects and programs. Our most recent climate action was a climate emergency resolution this year. I’ve been lucky enough to have been on the City Council to vote for all of the above projects but it will never be enough because the CO2 levels in the air were not supposed to be over 350 parts per million and it is now at 420 ppm and rising faster than anticipated. You have to continue encouraging energy reduction programs which probably would best be accomplished through a city climate action plan coordinator.
6) Valero is the largest employer and generator of tax revenue for Benicia, but also the biggest polluter. The company donates to countless Benicia and Solano County charities and schools. Yet, fossil fuels continue to decimate our ecosystem. If elected, how will you continue to embrace Valero’s economic and charitable contributions while also demanding cleaner policies and safety for Benicia residents?
I’ll be diplomatic and say the relationship between the City and Valero has been frosty for several years. This wasn’t good because trying to find common ground in an adversarial situation is hopeless. As it turned out when talk began about doing an Industrial Safety Ordinance it looked like it was going to get even worse but instead it went in the opposite direction. At the time it looked like it was a split Council so I decided to say I’d vote against the ISO if Valero did a series of things. First get more fence line monitors, get us the same information it gives the State and Air Board after an incident, get that information to us quickly, develop a disaster plan, develop an evacuation plan and a bunch of other items. To Valero’s credit it did everything I asked for and several other things such as donating mobile air monitors for emergencies, spending an additional $2 millions for fence line monitors on the west side of the refinery which the Air Board hadn’t even requested, and $1.5 millions for the good neighbor steering committee to spend on environmental issues such as community air monitors. As a result of all these negotiations over a 6 months period and in no small part due to our fire chief’s work in negotiating the agreement the relations between the City and Valero seem to have thawed some. It clearly thawed enough that the agreement worked out and Valero got a unanimous 5-0 City Council vote. Even the mayor who was adamant about an ISO voted for it. The point of all the above verbiage is that if you look for common ground sometimes you find it. The only way we our going to protect our citizens and get cleaner air polices with Valero is to find common ground. The adversarial approach only creates hardened lines that are always self-defeating.
7) A major issue affecting Benicia residents is no limit on campaign contributions. There is a large cross section of bi-partisan resident support in Benicia to get big money influence out of politics. If elected, what steps will you take to eradicate corporate influence from Benicia’s elections?
Well first that’s not quiet right because we do have spending and donation limits on candidates. After the 2007 Benicia election I decided that too much money, especially outside money was being spent on Benicia elections. The Council majority didn’t agree with me so I went out and did a ballot initiative and got 2200 signatures, which was more than enough to put it on the next ballot to reform our campaign contributions and several other campaign problems. A little aside here, a ballot initiative trumps all City Councils. Fortunately when the City Council was faced with having to vote to put this on the next ballot they decided to work with me to do a new campaign ordinance instead. To the Council’s credit we brought in a legal expert on campaign spending and the final product was I think better than my ballot initiative. Since the reforms were put in Councils have twice modified the ordinance. The problems we have now are that federal laws limit what cities can do regarding PACs and Independent Expenditure Campaigns. The direction I think we have to go now is to make available as much information as possible on who the actual donors to PAC and Independent expenditure campaigns are. You have to work on the assumption that voters are smart enough that if they know who is actually funding a PAC they can draw their own conclusions as to the truthfulness of the ads, mailers and surveys that a voter gets.
8) Affordable housing continues to be a major problem within the City. If elected, what will you do to increase affordable housing for working families, single mothers, homeless veterans and disabled/mentally ill residents while further addressing the racial and socio-economic inequities within Benicia?
This is an incredibly tough nut to crack. The problem is Benicians want to live in a small safe non-growth community. This doesn’t work if you are trying to build low and moderate income housing. On top of this the State of California has given Benicia a requirement of a certain number of housing units to build and we aren’t remotely close to meeting it. So what do you do when you have a community that has to grow in size but is happy with the size it is. The only things I’ve come up with are infill development and accessory units. Some people have proposed putting houses on the 500 acres of the Seeno property next to the industrial park. I don’t think that’s a good idea. First putting hundreds of houses fifty feet of pavement away from our existing industrial park will lead to no end of lawsuits over noise, smells, light, etc. coming from the industrial park. Second, industrial and business parks make money for cities and residential areas don’t. Residential development gives cities a quick pulse of money but the roads, lights, water plants, sewer plants, police and fire protections have to be paid forever so eventually residential costs more than it brings in no matter how you try to off set the costs. So I think the Seeno property is off limits for residential development which means the only options we have are infill housing, accessory units and possibly higher density units on the last few remaining bigger open spots in town.
9) As Benicia continues to grow in popularity, if elected, what will you do to increase tourism and recreation opportunities within the City? What are some of your ideas to improve recreation opportunities for residents and tourists while maintaining the quaint, small town atmosphere that residents love?
I’m going to keep doing what we have done. When I was first elected in 2001 you could throw a bowling ball down First Street Friday night and you wouldn’t have hit anything. Since then through a concerted effort to move from antiques shops to restaurants and retail we have changed the energy downtown. We also improved the presentation of the downtown area through things like lights on the trees, resurfacing the roads, better signage. We also hired a consultant who had good media connections and understood tourism. He also knew how to get Benicia’s name out to the media. Unfortunately he died not too long ago, but the City staff structure is in place to keep our success going. The Council understands the importance of various media now and has been willing to spend money to keep it going. The economic development department at the City has done an outstanding job and needs to have the funding to continue what it’s doing.
10) As the cannabis industry continues to grow in Calif., how do you intend to utilize this economic boom for Benicia’s benefit? Smaller cities than Benicia have seen tremendous returns with no public safety issues, while larger cities like Oakland have experienced a significant amount of crime. With a referendum on the ballot in Nov., will you follow the will of the people as to whether more cannabis businesses should be permitted within the City limits? If the public does call for more cannabis businesses, what is your plan to implement this safely for the best economic benefit of residents?
I got a bare majority to go along with me on putting the advisory vote on cannabis dispensaries on the ballot. Since it was my idea of course I’ll go along with the outcome. But your guess is as good as mine on which way it will go. Allowing the one dispensary was a compromise I came up with because we had one Council vote for dispensaries (3 to 2) and almost no buffers and then two months later a newly elected Council vote just the opposite (3 to 2) for no dispensaries and to have buffers around parks, schools and recreational facilities. In two months we’re going to have a new Council again and they will at least have an idea what the residents think about cannabis dispensaries in Benicia the next time this issue comes up. I would have liked to have had the one dispensary in the industrial park away from residential zones but as it turned out the one chosen by the Planning Commission was almost right on top of where I live so it was too close for me to vote on the Planning Commission appeal when it came to the City Council. None-the-less I still like the idea of trying only one dispensary. If it works then Benicia could maybe look at more dispensaries some day. If it doesn’t it’s easier to get rid of one than multiple dispensaries. This is a case of putting your toe in the water and seeing what happens not doing a running cannonball off a cliff.
11) With the sudden departure of the City Manager, if elected, it appears one of the first tasks will be hiring a new full-time City Manager. What qualities, qualifications and insight are you looking for in the chief officer to run the City?
I’ve been around long enough to have worked with four full time city managers and 2 interim city managers. The ones that worked best knew how to delegate authority and how to not overreact. Benicia is a very politically active community that is protective of its sense of community and freedom of choice. I’m still amazed at how the residents guard their small town values and sense of place. That’s good in that the residents care deeply about Benicia but the combination of the items I just listed make it a hard place to manage. Benicia requires a seasoned administrator with a lot of patience. This is not a place for a rookie.
Mayoral candidate Jason Diavatis:
1)The Boost Grants are a good start, but will not be able to help very many struggling businesses. The best thing the City of Benicia could do is communicate with the businesses, allow the businesses to innovate the solutions, and the City support those efforts. Until now, the City of Benicia has had almost no contact with the business owners. Our new City Manager Erik Upson has already started to reach out to the businesses in an effort to engage them in the process.
Moving forward we need to look to more innovative ways to generate revenue, rather than the same old song of raising rates and fees on citizens and businesses. Take the 1902 Benicia Train Depot for example. This key city asset could generate over $500,000 a year for the City of Benicia, AND serve as a destination for our community, while drawing tourists from all over to the Historic Benicia Downtown Waterfront. My plan includes hardscaping the grounds, adding train track and a few train cars on display! The City of Benicia already has a caboose hidden in the city corp yard. By creating a bar and restaurant inside the Train Depot and utilize the grounds for outdoor dining, the city could collect over $400,000 a year just off of the lease! PLUS the city share of sales tax and the 1% Measure C. That number could go up.
I would also support creating a full time Grant Writer position, that would be dedicated to finding and writing grants on three levels: 1. Direct benefit to The City Of Benicia 2. Direct benefit to Benicia based Non-Profit Organizations 3. Direct benefit to Benicia Based Businesses.
2) This is a County Health question. The City of Benicia does not have the resources to expand COVID Testing. COVID Testing is already available through Solano County.
3) First, I do not agree with phrasing of the question that includes “Police Murders”. There are passionate opinions on both sides of this topic, as are with many topics these days. The City of Benicia tried to quietly pass this agenda item that would cost the city $216,000 with a half baked idea. There is not even a job description for the $133,000 30 hour a-week job they tried to push through. It was reduced to a cost of $89,000 for a 20 hour a-week position. While there are certainly issues that need to be addressed, I believe this idea was a large expense that would do nothing to solve the very real problems that exist. People have lost their income, businesses are still fully or partially closed, and the City of Benicia is facing significant revenue shortfalls. Benicia cannot afford to spend money on an idea that has not been fully thought out.
To create racial equality, we have to stamp out hate. Hate is not a one-way road! Hate flows in all directions! Hate starts with ignorance. End the hate. Stop being divisive. Search your heart, if you have judged someone for anything other than the content of their character and their behavior, you are part of the problem.
4) Our Chief of Police (now Interim City Manager) Erik Upson along with Captain Mike Greene (now Acting Chief of Police) has been very pro-active in his approach to community law enforcement. I would continue to support our police department in the policies they have created pro-actively. All patrol officers now wear and use body cams. I would like to see more officers on foot or bike patrol in our downtown. This allows for great community interaction. I would ensure the School Resource Officer stays in our schools. I would like to bring back the “Breaking The Ice” Youth and Police Picnic that I started around 2001 that creates the opportunity for Benicia Youth to “Hang Out” and interact with our police officers in a fun and casual atmosphere. I would also focus on retaining our officers. Increasing the average years of service within our community helps to create a better partnership between our officers and the community they so proudly serve, which will reduce potential negative interactions.
5) I do not agree with the Sea Level increase narrative. I have seen no evidence of Sea Level rise. Parts of Benicia were built on swamp land. There is a very real problem with sinking. I would reduce the amount of city money spent on climate change plans, those should be left up to the State and Federal government.
6) I support Valero. I do not believe that “Green Energy” technology has evolved enough to handle our requirements for energy. The rolling black outs on hot days are enough to prove that point. We have reduced our Peak Power Plants in the name of “Green Energy” and that is not only an inconvenience for many, it has also been shown to be deadly in some instances. Valero has been a great partner in our community, I would work to further improve relations between Benicia and Valero. I would also continue to keep Valero responsible to our environment. For example, growing up in Benicia the night sky commonly had an orange glow, flaring is no longer a common practice. Valero Benicia Refinery is under the watchful eye of multiple County, State, and Federal agencies including Fed EPA, USCG, State CARB, Cal OSPR, Regional BAAQMD, Solano County Environmental Health to name a few.
7) My campaign is committed to raising and spending the minimal amount of money possible. I am proud to say that we have not raised enough to even meet the minimal reporting level of $2,500. I do believe that some reform is necessary to reduce the influence of special interests such as the Central Labor Council and Valero. The idea of “Working Families for a better Benicia”, a Political Action Committee, (A coalition of Labor and Industrial Services Companies) spending nearly $250,000 to influence a mayoral election in a town of 29,000 is concerning to me. My campaign is focused on Grassroots community involvement, if elected, I believe it would be a great example for future campaigns in reducing the wasteful spending and outside influence of special interest groups that we have become used to. No one should be able to buy a seat on the Benicia City Council. It’s Time to send a clear message!
8) Although I was born and raised in Benicia, I can barely afford to live here myself, I understand this is a common concern. There is very little space remaining to build. As nice as it would be to make housing in Benicia more affordable, I do not see how, as Mayor, I could influence that. There is very little supply, and Benicia is a very desirable city to raise a family.
9) Tourism is one of my top issues. I already mentioned the 1902 Train Depot Restaurant idea. I would support improving our community events which go a long way towards entertaining our community and drawing tourists. I would support creating a new position in the city “Communication and Marketing Director”. This position would be a revenue generating position for the City of Benicia. This position is already partially funded with Tourism money spent on marketing the city. I would support building up our historic downtown waterfront which is currently underutilized.
10) I am neither for or against cannabis in Benicia. I have never used cannabis myself, and I do not support the use of cannabis with youth. I have publicly opposed the idea of a cannabis dispensary in our downtown and in our neighborhoods. I am not opposed to adding another cannabis dispensary in town, location should follow the minimum requirements of a liquor store. Many other Bay Area cities have successfully increased tax revenue from dispensaries with little or no crime in connection. I believe there is a responsible way to incorporate this type of business in our community while minimizing any negative impact.
11) The City Manager must be a “People Person”. Someone accessible, approachable, and a great communicator. When Police Chief Erik Upson arrived in Benicia in 2015, I noticed that each week he made a point to walk in our downtown. He was visible, he was approachable, and he was willing to openly engage anyone in conversation. I recall saying that he is a great example of what I want to see in our City Manager. Now that he is the Interim City Manager, I would like to give him every opportunity to become our Full Time City Manger. In my interactions I find Erik Upson to be a great communicator, highly intelligent and informed, and focused on solutions.
City Council candidate Trevor Macenski:
1) As an urban and environmental planner, I have helped a number of businesses in our downtown find creative ways to assist our businesses during this pandemic. One of particular interest is the Rellik Tavern. I worked hand-in-hand with their owner to help design a new back patio adhering to all permitting and approval requirements mandated by our City. Because I live and breathe the permitting and approval triggering points in my day job, I was able to find creative ways to streamline their approval process through material selection, setbacks, and design. To have similar impacts across our community, we need an army of volunteers to try and help do the same. To that extent, we are very fortunate to have a number of planning, design, safety, engineering, and architecture professionals that are more than willing to help our businesses. As an active volunteer that is well connected within our community, I will continue to reach out to our business owners to try and help identify local talent that is able and willing to help. Collectively, we need to come together as a community to help our fellow neighbors figure out how to expand their businesses and allow for continued service during this pandemic.
My plan for economic recovery for our businesses starts with economic retention.To help stabilize our local economy, we have been incredibly fortunate to have the help of many gracious donations from our business community. This, coupled with our County wide grant program will hopefully help some of our businesses hold-on until we can reopen. We must first hold on and backstop our existing businesses to ensure they can survive. The initial community grant program helped sustain a lot of local businesses thus far. However, with the endpoint of covid being so uncertain, we need to do more. I would propose a second round of City sponsored grants for our local business community to help keep our local economy alive.
2) Regarding COVID-19 case numbers in Benicia, we’re fortunate our case numbers are lower than most. With that said, all testing centers are controlled by our County, which is prioritizing the locations for those populations that are impacted the most. However, the problem isn’t where the testing sites are – it’s ensuring our community, businesses, front line workers, etc. have access to such testing and turning the results around quickly. I would love to help facilitate a partnership with Soltrans, the City, and Kaiser to establish a shuttle service for our sensitive populations to ensure access for our community. We need to collaborate with all three parties to identify quick responses for priority testing based on the demand across the County.
3) If you’re going to dismantle systemic racism and enhance racial equality, you have to understand the why and how it keeps reproducing inequality and marginalization, unemployment, incarceration, poverty and racial segregation. As a white male, the first thing I must do is acknowledge that I come from a privileged position and use that privilege to help solve the problem. As a council member I would do the following:
Diversify the discussion: Being an ally not only to those communities of color but the LGBTQ+ communities is the expectation in my mind. I will continue to help support and bring awareness to how systemic racism is pervasive in our unconscious biases. As a City Council representative, I will continue to be a proponent of diversity of leadership. Without diversity and inclusion, we will continue to struggle with the barriers for all to engage in our civic process in an equitable fashion.
Accountability: As a City Council representative, I am committed to make sure our City has comprehensive diversity hiring policies. Making sure that we identify candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences that will help represent all sides of our community today and what we want it to be tomorrow. Ending systemic racism is going to require a redistribution of power and resources in cities like Benicia.
Housing and Access: As an urban planner, I understand that one of the very large barriers to dismantling systemic racism is access to housing. Please see my response below on affordable housing. Homelessness is connected to all of this. There is a very strong connection between access to housing and the criminal justice system in the United States. As a City Council representative, I will strongly advocate for affordable housing in our community to ensure that people of all economic status, color, and identity have the ability to enjoy our community and all that it offers.
4) Under the direction of Chief Upson, we have seen great improvements to the policing culture in our City. From the new implementation of body cameras and citizen complaints processes we are already on a path to better community policing. I am not an advocate in defunding the police in our community. We have a well respected force that has been the center of many positive regional and national stories. Our officers need more help, they need more assistance, they need better tools. If elected, I propose we work with our department to expand our volunteer police force, expand our neighborhood watch programs, and focus on outreach to our community members of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. By simply facilitating a targeted discussion and having more diverse representation from our officers and volunteer community members will foster trust and build a stronger connection to our community members of color and ultimately make our police department stronger.
5) I believe the question is referring to our Adaptation Plan, which was accepted by the City Council on November 15, 2016. Our Climate Action Plan or CAP was approved back in 2009 which mentioned the need to adapt to a changing climate. Regardless, implementation of climate resilience goals is going to be critical to our community’s long-term viability and prosperity. With a CAP coordinator in the City to focus on implementing the funding from the California Coastal Conservancy Climate Ready Grant program, the City completed a Vulnerability Assessment which becomes the basis to the Adaptation Plan. In our Adaptation Plan we identify areas of our community, mainly waterfront facing lands, that would be impacted. Of particular note, the inundation areas include very expensive infrastructure, such as the Benicia Wastewater Treatment Plant and access roads and energy infrastructure. To combat climate change and sea level rise we need to first develop a downtown sea level rise adaptation strategy that will evaluate such things as emergency preparedness, protecting and maintaining infrastructure, risk mitigation strategies etc.. As a potential City Council representative, I will continue to lead with my decision making ability as I have done on the Planning Commission. As a planning commissioner, I was one of only two votes that approved the Lake Herman solar project. Embracing a renewable energy future is just one thing we can do as a community to help fight climate change. Also, we must continue prioritizing energy efficient infrastructure replacement and repair that reduces energy consumption and provides cost savings to the City. Additionally, I will continue to support alternative modes of public transit and be an advocate for our City to collaborate with STA to identify funds to allow our community to replace coastal roads. We have to start planning for the change along our shoreline so that we can adapt to it over time. Our ability to adapt to sea level rise is going to be critical to our success and needs to be a phased approach that is feasible not just building a sea wall around our waterfront.
6) As one of the “At Large” members for Benicia’s Community Advisory Panel, a group that helps communicate community concerns to refinery leaders and act as a consensus builder between our citizens and the city’s largest employer and taxpayer, I worked with both sides of our community to help Valero understand our community concerns and working with our citizens and the Refinery leadership to address them. As a supporter for a reasonable energy transition that is less reliant on fossil fuels, the balance of benefit to our community and impact on our environment it paramount to our community. But beyond the fiscal impact Valero has on our community, we must recognize that safety of our citizens is of the utmost importance and in my discussions with refinery leadership they want nothing more than to make sure our community is safe for Benicia residents and their own employees. A major part of improving our relationship with Valero is communicating better with our citizens so they feel informed and trust the information that is provided. I am optimistic that with new leadership on the City Council and at the refinery locally, we can work together to improve communications related to refinery operations and incidents. One such misperception is the City’s ability to “regulate” or develop new “policies” that will help with that safety. As a City our ability to influence how the refinery operates is tightly tied to their “use permit” and we are dependent on resource agencies like the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to enforce and implement policies related to emissions from their operations. In contrast, what we can do to improve on communication of pertinent information between our City and our citizens using existing tools such at Alert Solano or Nixel. With Chief Chadwick we have seen a great improvement in the relationship and trust that our community has in the information that is shared and the level of detail. As with anything we can and will always strive to do better.
7) Well as a first time candidate I’m proud to say I’m running a shoestring budget just to prove that the power of the people can and will speak in our town. I haven’t accepted money from a PAC and I don’t have any large corporate donations. As of right now my parents are my largest single supports. With that being said this will continue to be an ongoing challenge for our community. As we all have experienced, influence is real and that is why the City developed a Open Government Committee to help identify ways we can change locally. Out of the formation of that committee came our City’s Voluntary Political Practices Policy. Unfortunately the amount of control we have a local level is limited by federal campaign regulations. With the Citizens United case the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that limiting campaign contributions does burden free speech to an extent. So as candidates we can continue to strive for better transparency and clean campaigning amongst all candidates.
8) The development of housing in Benicia has been a historic challenge for our community. In the last eight years, we have developed under 30 housing units which is significantly less than our last Regional housing need allocation from the bay area association of governments (the regional entity that helps population and housing needs). So safe to safe to say we also have not developed affordable housing. As an urban planner, I have worked on some of the bay area’s largest affordable housing projects. With that experience, comes an advanced understanding how to make affordable housing work on all income and community types. From the urban hire rises of San Francisco to the historic districts of Santa Rosa, I have witnessed first hand experience on how a community can accommodate housing types for all. As a City Council representative, I will strongly advocate for affordable housing in our community to ensure people of all economic status, color, and identity have the ability to enjoy our community and all that it offers.
9) More than half of the world’s population live in cities that are densely populated so offering a local getaway for Bay Area residents and a getaway destination atmosphere for distance travelers is crucial. Benicia is a destination in the Bay Area for our historic roots, bay front access, open space, recreational amenities, and our amazing downtown. If elected to our City Council, I would continue to build on our existing tourism plan that centers around our community’s ability to attract tourists looking for a Great Day By The Bay. I would look to leverage our waterfront access and recreation department to create a water sports rental company offering visitors passive water sports equipment. I will look to prioritize our City’s economic development team and create an actual economic development department within the City.
10) In transparency, as a supporter of cannabis businesses within our community, I don’t appreciate the way this question is written. It shows a large amount of bias. Regardless, I would be supportive of any business that decides to take the risk and invest in our community if they follow the procedural requirements outlined in our zoning code. As a City, we identified a process and procedure as to where cannabis businesses are allowed and where they are prohibited. As a member of our Planning Commission during the formation of the sitting requirements, application ranking, and selection process, I participated in hours upon hours of public testimony, staff presentations, and community member engagement. During that process, I was very vocal that cannabis retail stores didn’t fit in our Downtown. If you dig into our existing zoning code, you will also find that other such adult uses have historically been deemed incompatible with Downtown such as adult novelty stores, adult entertainment, etc.. However, I am supportive of Cannabis manufacturing, distribution, cultivation, testing, microbusiness, delivery-only and retail businesses; because in our town they are subject to very specific tracking and performance requirements including issuance of a Public Safety License by the Chief of Police. So I would support the will of the people should this November’s election allow for additional businesses in town. I believe following our existing siting and performance requirements require each facility to get a Public Safety License which requires a site specific safety plan that gets reviewed by our police department.
11) Now that our City Manager Lorie Tinfow has stepped down and resigned with her $300,000 severance package, we have turned to our chief of police, Erik Upson to manage our government. Personally, I appreciate all that Erik has done with our police department and stepping into this new responsibility while helping our police department is no small feat. One of the critical roles our City Council fulfills is hiring a City manager. As a Urban Planner, I have had the great fortune to have worked with many fabulous civic leaders over my close to 20 year career. The community of qualified people to run a city is very small and attracting them to Benicia will take a Council that has the ability to inspire a vision of prosperity.
Now as a citizen, I know I would want Councilmembers going through that process that understand municipal government, have experience hiring civic leadership, and experience working with City Managers first hand. I can tell you from those experiences the highest priority is to understand the culture a potential new City Manager will create in the new role. Having worked with cities to help hire similar roles, I understand we need a city manager that is willing to take on a job that will require making substantial change. We need a leader that is willing to take a critical look at our departments, their structure, their budgets, their people, and most importantly the services each department offers our community. Let’s use this challenge as an opportunity to set our city up for a brighter future. As a community, we want a new City manager that has operational experience within California, preferably in a town with Historic districts; and one that comes from a community with large industrial users preferably with waterfront access in the Bay Area.
City Council candidate Terry Scott:
1)Economic recovery will not just happen organically as we begin to control COVID-19. With or without a vaccine, increased public health & safety measures will be a permanent fixture in our daily routine for years to come. Business and commerce as knew it pre-pandemic may change forever. The convenience and safety of buying online will be a difficult habit for consumers to break, and even more challenging for retail store locations to compete with.
Benicia will continue to fight the economic impact of the pandemic well into 2021-2022, particularly with reduced tax revenues. Longer term effects should be anticipated for the next five years or more.
First Street is the gateway for Benicia tourism. Balancing the need to keep it vibrant & thriving while at the same time ensuring public safety will be essential to Benicia’s identity and revenue source as a Bay Area destination community. As a Councilmember, I will:
- Sponsor a First Street ombudsman in Community Development to manage and fast track projects that provide immediate assistance to businesses— i.e. street parklets, enhancing the marina and working with retailers to create same day delivery service to fight online competition.
- Support financing options that create relief funds utilizing a combination of direct City resources, Benicia philanthropic dollars, and both federal and state grant money to provide businesses with forgivable low or no interest loans.
- Suspend utility charges as well as taxes, licensing & permitting fees
- Tap into the new remote workplace economy to create businesses that give residents the ability to shop local.
- Hire a grant writer.
- Shop Benicia first for goods and services.
- Create and empower an efficient business task force for economic stimulus and post-pandemic recovery comprised of city staff, business leaders, community foundations and private and public leaders.
- Improve the Industrial Park
Although we will have to navigate an extended budget crisis in the months if not years ahead, the failure to help Benicia businesses today will result in their closure tomorrow.
We must start developing a phased reopening plan based on safety lessons learned: apply best safety practices from the city and businesses that have adjusted Covid-19 ; enforce safety standards; listen and learn by engaging with the business community to understand current challenges, then respond by evolving a city plan based on what we learn.
2) First we must ask ourselves, “Why does Benicia have the second lowest COVID-19 case numbers in the county?” I believe the answer to that is the cooperation of a concerned and conscientious community who voluntary observed and subsequently supported the use of masks and strict sanitary guidelines.
Unfortunately, Benicia does not have a community health center typically charged with the responsibility of facilitating mass COVID-19 testing. Even if the city were able to circumvent the lack of a physical testing facility by purchasing testing kits through a complex supply chain, we still lack the trained staff to administer tests and follow necessary protocols, or to coordinate with associated labs.
Therefore, the obvious solution is to partner with the Solano County Public Health Department to sponsor an on-going Benicia testing site. While CVS “Minute Clinics” currently offer free COVID testing for the public, the nearest CVS “Minute Clinic” is in Vallejo. Partnering with an existing health care provider would be the quickest and most efficient solution for Benicia COVID testing such as collaborating with Kaiser or John Muir to establish routine and recurring drive-through testing events in town on a weekly basis.
I would also support encouraging in-home appointment based mobile testing for senior clusters and at-risk home bound patients with that same health provider. For residents with insurance, The Federal Cares program covers the costs. For residents without insurance, the city must work with Solano County to fund the testing cost and use of a mobile testing vehicle to reach each member of the community regardless of insurance or immigration or residency status.
Protecting our first responders is primary. Since it will be hard to create even temporary Benicia facilities, we need to make it easier for Safety forces and City Government employees to be continually tested. All safety and city employees could be given paid time off to be tested regularly. Concerning business owners and operators, they have a responsibility to encourage their staffs to be tested in a timely manner. This too could be part of the health care provider collaboration.
3) Society must share in the responsibility of ensuring that we are all provided with basic human rights, equal treatment, access to opportunities and equity in the proportional representation for those opportunities. I will be a proponent for diversity through the engagement with and for every member of our community regardless of race, sexual identity or orientation.
With that in mind however, we must accept the fact that “white privilege” is a reality woven into the fabric of our unconscious bias. The goal is to shape policies—through safe non-violent means until the barriers of racism are exposed and eliminated through conscious understanding and inclusion for all. This will require empathetic leadership with a fundamental understanding of systemic racism.
Racial justice is affected by changes in our culture. I support the compromise the City Council approved which include the many changes that Chief Upson has put into motion.
I will defer to expert opinions in these matters and refrain from questioning the findings of those we’ve entrusted to ascertain. I pledge to help build the path by listening and keeping an open mind. Benicia is fortunate to have a principled and dedicated Chief of Police in Eric Upson. His action plan leads our community by example in how we identify room for growth within our police force while maintaining compassion & professionalism.
Achieving diversity and equality require transparency which I will help lead as we offer resolute listening to EVERY voice in our community. I believe we must address the need for social justice, inequality, poverty and systemic racism, through City Council awareness, understanding and education.
Racial injustice and discrimination are forces that can destroy our city’s long-term mission and attack our core values as a community. I will support swift, definitive implementation of systems and policies and procedures that respond to racial injustice and discrimination of any kind.
I will Listen. I will Act.
4) To be clear. I support the Benicia Police Department and I am extremely impressed with Police Chief Upson. He a man of compassion, action and vision.
As the needs of our society evolves, police departments across America are evolving from decades of reactionary response to precautionary response. Society unfortunately has thrust upon the police department the need to additionally deal with social issues including mental health and homelessness. In an aging community like Benicia, more calls dealing with “lost” family members and issues associated with dementia will be necessary.
Given that, I support Chief Upson’s cultural approach to policing that begins with the premise of a vision of the police department that is measured by trust and respect of and from all members our community.
I support the Chief’s desire to reduce the number of service calls for race-out-of place by empowering dispatch staff to assess the call and if it appears to be race-based with no criminal intent to not dispatch officers. As a proponent of this, I will pledge to provide leadership in understanding the impact of, and the need to, help educate our community on race-out-of-place calls.
I believe the we need to implement the Racial and Identity Profiling act data collection process as soon as possible.
I believe as a council member we should encourage Chief Upson and his department to continue to reach out to the community to be connected to be seen as an agent for change, accountable and willing to tackle difficult societal issues.
- The recent purchase of high-tech body worn cameras
- De-escalation training as part of the on-going training cycle
- The commitment to bring in the Sheriff’s office for officer involved fatal incidents
At the same time, I applaud the City staff and the City Council for understanding the overt and covert racism which exists and moving forward boldly to create a part-time position of Equity and Diversity Manager. While the timing is certainly not good, given our financial condition, we must move forward toward a more inclusive and bias free community with accountability and responsibility.
5) What can the City of Benicia due to combat the impact rising sea levels? There have been some extreme predictions that by the end of the century that the bay could rise 8-10 feet. A number of Bay conservation managers and scientists believe that we should look at “soft edges” to our shoreline rather than seawalls–that tidal marshes, a major part of the Bay’s historical shoreline, will act as a sponge and soak up waters and create wonderful habitat for numerous species.
Benicia should be part of the movement along the Bay to help create marsh and wetlands. But that, according to experts, will only get us to possibly 2100. Tidal marshes won’t be enough to handle the sea rise in only 80 years. A holistic bay partnership needs to continue to be acknowledged and supported.
First. Climate change is real. Climate change is our number one threat to the planet. Everyday we see the ravages of the past coming to haunt and threaten our future.
I strongly support the Climate Action Plan, our Climate Change Adaption plan from 2016 and community Sustainability commission that is designed to educate and advocate for sustainable solutions now and in the future.
The city has made significant progress in meeting its green initiative. I believe we can do more as we look at our fleet of vehicles. I would recommend and support our conversion to electric as well as provide for more electric charging stations throughout of retail shopping areas of the community.
At one time we had a climate action plan coordinator. I would suggest we look hard at re-visiting that position and look to grant funding to support it.
6) As we know, Valero is the city’s largest employer, largest taxpayer, largest user of untreated water. Valero is also the go-to company for the community for charities, sports groups, schools and arts and culture donations—among many others.
Valero and Benicia have formed a complex relationship.
I don’t see this as an either-or question. If Valero wants to independently be a community sponsor than they should continue. Their level of contributions to the community is not set nor is it measured by the City Council.
I want clean air. I want clean water. I demand a safe environment for my family. For all the people on the planet: all the time.
As a council member I will be an advocate for insisting and ensuring that Valero abides by their commitments through measurement and verification. I also feel that it is imperative we rely on the many subject matter experts that monitor and oversee Valero operations as identified in the 2019 Community Cooperation Agreement which includes oversight by EPA, DOT Coast Guard, and our Bay local air districts and the county health department.
From a resident’s perspective, I’d like to know how the Valero funded Public liaison position with fire department, which was designed to develop transparency and communications between the City and Valero, is working out. I would like to see a quarterly report given to city council on compliance.
After enduring 30 record days of hazardous spare the air, record heat waves and witnessing two hurricanes in the gulf coast, I don’t see how anyone can say that Climate Change isn’t real or upon us. We must act and do more.
I believe we can continue to do more through collaboration and transparency.
We share the air, water and environment with Valero. My role would be to listen, measure and respond.
Finally, I do believe it would be important to begin discussions about the future of the facility. One day, we may not have a need for petroleum-based production. What will happen to the property?
7) This is a major issue in Benicia. Political Action Committees technically cannot be stopped from being formed and spending money in support of a candidate or an issue –even if a candidate does not welcome that expenditure. However, we do have opportunity for control.
We have a very defined Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices ordinance. We have established limits on individual candidate campaign spending and contribution limits. In 2019-2020, the city embarked on creating a tighter PAC finance Compliance ordinance designed to address Political Action Committees actions and transparency.
So, there is a bit of control. But in the end we can not stop PAC money from being spent on the election—rather the city has put into place a series of comprehensive controls to make PAC spending transparent—such as disclaimers on ads, the use of persuasive polling has been eliminated and enforcement tools established.
But at the end of the day, if Valero, Amports or anyone else wants to form a PAC and independently endorse and support a candidate or candidates there is little to be done.
I will not accept PAC money. I feel that big corporations should stay out of our election. The residents of Benicia should vote for the candidates that THEY feel best represents their ideals rather than be influenced by huge sums of money.
In addition, it is an expensive process to run for local election. Fundraising can be a full-time job. Because of this we may not see enough diversity in our election process in large part due to the rigors of fundraising. As a council member I will propose that we consider creating a process where the city creates a pre-qualification process and then provides EACH candidate with a similar amount of funding. Local funding for local election. No additional fundraising will be allowed. I believe this will even out the playing field and bring more candidates into office.
8) Affordable housing is more than building units. Its more than construction. It’s about delivering on the social compact we have with each other. Affordable rental units and homes is a measurement of the community’s desire to have a diverse resident base. It’s about providing opportunities for all people to have a place to call home.
Affordable housing is about economic equality and about creating community connection. It’s about building neighbors and neighborhoods. It’s about growing Benicia. It’s about additional revenue that comes from restaurants, cleaners, grocers and retail stores—that all benefit from orderly, managed construction.
I support changing zoning laws on how we look at single family home neighborhoods that have infill lots. We can grow Benicia. The city must encourage affordable mufti-family rental construction using these infill lots. However, these MUST meet visual neighborhood standards.
Multi-family zoning laws will need to be changed to accomplish this—permitting processes and procedures will need to be changed. The definition of meeting visual neighborhood standards will need to be established. I will be a strong proponent of this.
Zoning needs to be changed in commercial areas to mixed use to encourage construction of multi-family units.
The E 5th Street corridor has been designated a possible mixed used zone and this area should be aggressively pursued.
Either the City of Benicia will drive affordable housing construction, or the state will continue to mandate it. I would prefer we control our destiny.
We can search for grants. We can address the affordability shortage with creating inclusionary zoning, removing parking minimums where public transportation is available. Target areas that are within walking distance to amenities and services for possible construction.
9) We are a community blessed with one of the most beautiful downtown landscapes. One of our most important assets we look at every day. Our beautiful waterfront is such a peaceful attraction. We need to bring visitors and residents alike down to the water and enjoy it.
Obviously, as Chair of Arts and Culture, I’m predisposed to encourage see more murals, sculptures, painted sidewalks, gallery’s and art expressions all over town. We’re known as an artist haven we should have more expressions throughout our community.
We have proven the relationship between art and economic development. As we come out of Covid-19, our non-profit organizations like VOENA, Benicia Ballet, Benicia Old Town Theatre and Arts Benicia need to be promoted and expanded to continue to bring people into our community.
We should consider creating and supporting a Performing Arts Center in the downtown. Either tied to construction of a Hotel or utilizing other areas within reasonable walking distance. As some of you know, I have a relationship with the owner of The Majestic Theatre who has expressed the desire to have more movie nights. As we’ve seen, bringing 250-350 people into the theatre can have a tremendous impact on the restaurants, bars and retail surround the theatre.
Our history. Our past is the history of California. We should support our historical museums and historic buildings to provide a foundation for enjoyment as a destination for visitors.
We are an easy to find jewel. We are convenient for one-night trips with restaurants and B&B’s and hotels that provide a sense of small town living with a cultural, historic past. We should promote all of this.
As we become more of a walkable city, we should insure than our parks are passive and handicapped accessible. This is a unique opportunity to promote especially as our own population ages.
Finally, I would love to see the marina improved. I’d would like to see more non-invasive watersports rentals like kayak and canoe. I would love to reshape part of our downtown infrastructure to encourage more walking, safe cycling lanes
10) We’ve spent more than 3 years discussing cannabis and we still do not have a dispensary. I support the cannabis dispensary based on what the Planning Commission recommended, and the City Council approved.
I believe we have a need in our community for a convenient dispensary for our residents. Dispensaries provide not only access to cannabis but access to information about treatments and dosages
Benicia certainly needs the revenue this business will generate in potential sales tax.
I supported placing a measure on the ballot to determine truly what the ENTIRE community feels about the future of any additional cannabis dispensary’s in our community.
Emphatically, I will support the will of the people if elected. However, if the vote is positive, this is not a signal that we will have another dispensary. We need to understand the impact on the neighborhood, community at large and see what the tax revenue potential really is. Since the operator will need to renew the license to operate on a regular basis, if in fact, issues arise and the police believe that it is not a good fit, I will again listen to the subject matter experts to determine its operating status.
Speaking specifically about the N Street location, the operator that was selected and vetted by the various city groups including the Police Department, I believe, will pose no security risk. The operator presented his security plan to City Council a number of weeks back and it was very impressive.
Finally, I believe because Benicia is located close to major transportation routes, cannabis cultivation and production would be an industry that would be attractive in our industrial park.
11) I believe an effective City Manager is someone who is willing to understand the entire workings of the city holistically–not just look at it as heading the city government. Someone who is willing to get out of the office and into the streets to understand the many nuances of our city.
Who is able to see our that our many different neighborhoods have different needs? A city manager must have the empathy and ability to communicate easily and effectively with staff, council and citizenry.
I believe our new city manager should be visionary, yet practical, committed and hardworking.
He or she should be a proven LEADER. Leadership begins with a willingness to understand and surround yourself with smart solid thinkers and not be afraid to relinquish responsibility to those around you.
He or she should have the ability to make tough decisions about the city’s future, while at the same time, understand the core small-town values that underscore Benicia’s rich history.
The new city manager should have the skill and experience in addressing the huge budget issues we face, be able to relate to staff concerns and work as a partner with City Council.
The new city manager will face a financial crisis, a job retention/turnover problem, labor contract negotiations, infrastructure decay and more.
I would look for a City Manager that can build trust and can unify a team to carry out the needs of the community, as set in policies initiated by the City Council that represents the citizens of Benicia.
This position requires someone that will build positive working relationships with our partners and stakeholders and has a demonstrated track record of effective staff management.
Someone who will be able to hit the deck running!
Mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor Christina Strawbridge:
1) We are already in discussion as to how to help businesses, especially restaurants, during the winter months as the pandemic continues. As mentioned, the City has offered and awarded nearly a half million dollars in grants, not loans, for businesses to adapt to the new normal. Through my efforts, a business recovery task force was formed bringing businesses together large and small to discuss the impacts and ideas for recovery. Key to success will be to keep communicating with the business community, through business walks and outreach. What was very rewarding was to see businesses helping businesses with their own grant program. Ponder Environmental, Valero Refinery, the Chamber of Commerce, Industrial Park Association raised $250,000 of support granting 55 recipients with cash. I also believe that our successful tourism and marketing efforts are essential now more than ever to attract not only visitors but our residents to shop and dine locally. I coined the tag line: Benicia, A Great Escape by the Bay! that is currently being used to attract visitors from local communities who do not want to travel far and still want the experience of getting away. My expertise in economic development is well documented and I am prepared to start on day one with a new policy of a business friendly City. For too long, the reputation of our City has been not open for business. There has to be better coordination between City departments and finally a Economic Development Department must be formed.
2) The City has no control over testing availability. It is handled by Solano County Health Department. There have been a total of 82,500 (9/17/2020) since the outbreak occurred. I believe as testing becomes easier and results are faster, the population will have more access to getting tested. I have been posting daily confirmed case counts in Benicia since the data became available in April. I do this to keep the public informed on how the virus has increased through the months of reporting.
3) I believe that Benicia has started the conversation with the recent Council action. After attending both local marches, I recommended the City start with a race equity commission, from which the residents would have a voice in how to proceed. With a new City Manager and Council, there will be an opportunity to bring the community together to address racial equality. Benicia is fortunate to have one of the best in Police Chief Erik Upson who was recently named Interim City Manager. He has worked tirelessly to develop a culture of community policing. The men and women who serve as members of the Benicia Police Department are dedicated to the safety of all citizens. Mr. Upson has already met with groups within the community to understand their concerns and to receive insight on how to move forward. I also believe that the cooperation we have with the school district is essential in the development of our children and broadening the curriculum to be more inclusive.
My husband and I own Benicia Magazine and its July issue was dedicated to BLM and the history of our towns African American heritage. The monthly publication is making every effort to be more inclusive with writers, articles and staffing that are representative of the diversity within the community. Little by little we all need to do our part.
4) The Council recently approved funding for body cameras and there have been changes in responding to citizen complaints. Of course we can all do better in recognizing bias and I believe it starts with us individually. Benicia is poised to make a significant impact in attracting people of color to open businesses, run for office and be hired by the City. We need to grow these opportunities by saying we are open for all.
5) First of all, the Climate Action Plan was adopted in 2009. The City of Benicia was the first town in Solano County to adopt such a plan. In the last 11 years, the Sustainability Commission was formed and along with a Climate Action Coordinator. The City also joined MCE Marin Clean Energy to save energy costs and invest in renewable energy. A Climate Action Coordinator position was approved pre-covid that is on hold with the City’s financial issues. The Sustainability Commission has some new appointees that will bring some new energy to the mix in order to address the climate emergency we are facing. All one has to do is look outside in mid September to the haze of smoke that has lingered for weeks because our State is on fire. One thing to remember is that we will not be able to solve the world’s dilemma. We can take steps here to respond by
1.Continuing efforts in investments of solar and wind energy projects.
2. Reinstate the award winning BRIP Business Resource Incentive Program to assist businesses become more energy efficient.
3. Conservation in water and energy use will help attain our carbon goals as well as have an economic impact on our citizens.
6) I am not sure the question is correct as to who is the biggest polluter when we are encircled by freeways and numerous other factories and refineries in the area. That said, the relationship between the City and Valero has actually improved the last 2 years. Fire Chief Chadwich has done an admirable job in creating a working relationship with Valero that has brought the attention to safety and other issues. Monitoring has been key to improving the dialogue. Valero has been approved as a Star Site, the highest plant safety recognition under (VPP) Voluntary Protection Program of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We must as a City work with Valero as a partner not as an adversary.
7) There are already limits on campaign contributions and expenditures but not by PACs. In 2019, the Open Government Commission studied ways of limiting “big money influence” in campaign through PACs and Independent Expenditures. Independent Expenditures are, just that, independent of the candidate or their campaign. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizen’s United allows these groups to act independently. The City Council approved some reforms as incentives to detour this type of activity without a penalty. Also a Voluntary Code of Ethics clause was added that has meant nothing in spite of each candidate agreeing to it.
8) The City has worked with the County in funding to help individuals with housing and mental illness. Funding has also been available through the Family Resource Center that took the lead in assistance during Covid. As far as affordable housing, the state will be mandating quotas that Benicia will finally have to address. I will be looking at where we can build housing including city owned land that could be developed.
9) As I helped launch the City’s tourism program A Great Day by the Bay, I am proud of our accomplishments in attracting visitors from all over the Bay to eat, drink, be pampered and eventually stay. Since Covid, visitors are looking for a great escape from nearby towns in order to take advantage of our amazing waterfront views and eclectic mix of dining. When we were surveying visitors on why they came to Benicia it was because they felt safe and loved the town’s historic and artistic component. They overwhelmingly came to shop and eat. Benicia has almost 30 some parks including the State Recreation Park. We have the advantage to offer water and land in recreation with bike routes and hiking paths. The issue is letting people know what the town has to offer which is why tourism is an economic activity.
10) I think this question is biased in its representation, referring to what has worked in other communities and what will work in Benicia. 50% of California cities have banned retail cannabis and have done so because of safety concerns. I have been opposed to cannabis dispensaries since it was first brought before the Council in 2017. I was not on the Council at the time but a very vocal citizen. When public testimony was allowed there was much input from the community including the Police Officers Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Benicia Unified School District Board of Trustees, the Superintendent, Principals, teachers, parents and even students. Their message was clear, they did not want retail dispensaries in Benicia. Even the Industrial Park Association said they did not want retail in the Industrial Park because of safety concerns. The previous Council ignored the testimonies of those who would be most impacted, the very people that care and educate our children. The advisory ballot measure question is poorly written, leaving the question of how many more retail dispensaries and where they would be located open? Would the recently approved buffers be removed to make room for these unspecified number of dispensaries? Will they be allowed in neighborhoods (like the one approved on N Street), or where children go to school, congregate, play sports and attend day care? I believe that it is premature to ask the public the question since the one approved dispensary has not opened and there is no data on the actual revenue, impacts on traffic, and the safety of citizens that live in the affected neighborhood on N Street.
11) As Mayor, I will be looking for someone who first of all understands and appreciates our community. Benicia is a full service city with its own library, police and fire departments, water and waste water utilities, cemetery and nearly 30 parks including 2 California State Parks. Benicia is steeped in history with an authentic 1800’s Downtown and other historic structures that represent California’s past. There is an active arts community that is made up of well known artists of many mediums that have offered their talents in making Benicia an art hub. Benicia is home to the largest and oldest Industrial Parks in Solano County that includes a refinery and supporting businesses.
The new City Manager will have major challenges ahead post pandemic and will need the support of not only the Council, City staff and the community. I am looking for a collaborator who will bring out the best of all of us and move Benicia forward.
Mayoral candidate and Councilmember Steve Young:
1) Unfortunately, the City has been too slow to react. I made two proposals to the Council, both of which were rejected and both of which are still worthy of pursuing. My proposal in late March for Downtown Dollars, under which the City (through Benicia Main St.) would issue $100 certificates to 500 persons economically affected by the pandemic to be spent at any local small business or restaurant, was defeated by a 3-2 vote for reasons that were described only as “not well thought out”. (The City of Martinez has recently adopted the exact same program, using private donations). That program was a good idea then, and is a good idea now. My other idea, which was also supported by a number of downtown restaurants, would have closed a portion of First Street on Friday and Saturday nights, as we do with the Farmer’s Market, to allow restaurants to move into and serve in the street. Unfortunately with the season coming to an end, we may have missed our opportunity for that.
2) The testing done by Solano County is, understandably, focused on larger cities like Vallejo and Fairfield where they can presumably test many more people than in our relatively small town. While CVS is now offering free tests, they are available only in Vallejo, and not at their Benicia store. We can and should be speaking with their corporate offices to see about making that service available locally. Our lack of medical clinics or hospitals also adds to the difficulty in securing local sources of testing. Fortunately, Vallejo is not too far away.
3) I think we need to acknowledge that structural racism is real, that white privilege is real, and that inherent bias exists in all of us. There is a need for greater racial diversity in the City workforce and the community as a whole. Part of increasing diversity is to provide more affordable housing opportunities. As far as enhancing racial equality in the region and the world, the Mayor must walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
4) Requiring body cameras to be activated for every interaction with citizens; requiring collection of data on race of all persons involved in traffic stops; create a committee consisting of Council and community members to hear complaints/allegations of racial harassment. To focus on de-escalation tactics in training and to reject surplus military hardware when offered. To actively seek out a wide diversity in applicants for city employment and for city Boards and Commissions.
5) I introduced an amendment to our recently adopted Climate Emergency resolution that required the City to first consider purchasing electric vehicles when replacing the City fleet. I also am on the board of SolTrans, who is actively moving to transition to electric and CNG buses. We should consider a requirement for installation of solar on all City facilities, and all newly constructed buildings. Climate change is real and its impacts are likely to become more intense. More droughts and hotter weather is a near certainty In addition to needing to protect our Wastewater Treatment Plant from the rising waters, we should also consider the issue of water sustainability by considering the implementation of a water re-use project. Currently Valero uses more (untreated) water than the rest of the City combined. While we need to continue providing water so they can operate, we need to look at this project as a way to preserve the water we do have. Maintaining water availably is essential to our growth and development.
6) While Valero should be justly praised for their contributions to local businesses and charities, there continues to be a need for better communications and transparency. All flaring incidents, whether planned or unplanned, must be immediately disclosed to the City, and the City must immediately pass that information on to the community. Many people have health issues that are impacted by the releases that accompany flaring. The installation of air monitors around the facility must be completed, and the information from the monitors must be available to the public in real time. Plans for expansion or changes in their operation should be disclosed to the public at the earliest possible moment to allow for maximum public understanding and discussion. We should ask Valero to commit to regular, public meetings with the City and public to address both their planned improvements as well as community concerns.
7) Benicia actually does have a fairly strict set of our own campaign regulations. The problem is that corporations and unions have formed PAC’s that are not subject to those relatively strict limitations. While candidates are limited to raising and spending $32,000 (with individual donations limited to $620), there is no limitation on what PAC’s can spend. In 2018, a PAC (Working Families to Elect Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaspaeda and defeat Kari Birdseye for Benicia City Council), was funded by Valero and various unions, and spent substantially to elect their preferred candidates. The campaign they ran was very negative and divisive, and was roundly denounced by all the candidates in the race. This type of negative campaigning left a bad taste in the mouths of many Benicia voters. But it was successful, and their preferred candidates were elected. In December, 2019 Valero announced that they were providing an additional $200,000 to influence the 2020 Mayor and Council race. If they spend that amount, it will be more than will be spent by all the Mayor and Council candidates combined. I disagree with the Citizen’s United decision that allows this type of activity, and believe the decision of who should be elected to the City Council should be left to local voters.
8) The State will be applying increasing pressure on the City to increase our production of affordable housing-which has been essentially zero for the last decade. With the loss of many affordable housing finance techniques at the state and federal level, it is nearly impossible to produce affordable ownership housing. New rental housing, if a portion is affordable, is the key to making the City more accessible to people who have been shut out due to high prices and zoning that restricts the ability to build multi-family housing The City will need to be willing to consider re-zoning many of the remaining vacant parcels in single family neighborhoods to allow for construction of 2-4 unit properties. In addition, we should consider raising our density and height limits. Our current restrictions make it very unlikely a project of affordable housing could be financed or constructed.
9) One of our biggest attributes, and attractions for tourists, is our proximity to the water. We should increase our walking trails along the waterfront near downtown, including from the Yacht Harbor to the Arsenal. We should consider allowing more commercial and retail development in the areas bordering downtown. The existence of more restaurants, art galleries and small businesses on and around First Street would help attract those important tourist (and local) visits. I would also like to see the owner of the Majestic Theater agree to sell the building. I believe there are potential buyers willing to not only buy the theatre, but also willing to invest the substantial needed to turn it into a lively venue for music, plays and films. That project alone would be a focus and stimulus for the re-imagining of First Street.
10) The City has, unfortunately, not had a consistent approach to this issue. In 2016, Prop. 64 (which legalized possession for adults, as well as giving cities the right to allow other forms of cannabis businesses) passed with 63% of Benicians in favor. There followed almost 20 meetings debating, primarily, the issue of retail dispensaries. The Council in 2017 adopted a set of criteria and an elaborate application and vetting process for potential applicants, with the expectation two dispensaries would emerge from the process. 9 applicants paid the City $20,000 apiece to apply, and also thousands in rent to secure sites, but the election of 2018 put in a new Council. That Council changed the rules mid-stream, adding buffer requirements which would have precluded any dispensary from being able to operate. This was to me, inherently anti-business and unfair to businesses who were willing to invest significantly to join the Benicia business community. Only under threat of a lawsuit by one of the applicants did the Council allow a single dispensary to be approved, while banning all future dispensaries. Measure D on the November ballot asks Benicia voters to weigh in on the question of whether they, in fact, approve of at least one additional dispensary. Although I have consistently voted to allow dispensaries (and the serious taxes they pay), I was the only Council member who pledged to honor the will of the voters and to oppose future dispensaries if Measure D is defeated.
Neither Mrs. Strawbridge nor Mr. Campbell agreed to do make that pledge to adhere to the will of the voters. I believe the City’s vetting process, led by the Police Chief, was very thorough, and would use it to review any future application. While some dispensaries have been victims of crime in other cities, the vast majority of legal dispensaries are very diligent about their security issues. Hopefully the federal government will re-classify cannabis as a non-Schedule 1 drug and allow banks to do treat llegal cannabis businesses like any other business.. That would go a very long way in reducing dispensaries as potential targets of crime. The image of dispensaries being places where young people hang out and smoke in the parking lot is not real. Many cannabis consumers in Benicia are baby boomers in their 60s, who simply want a safe, local place to make their purchases, many of which are used for medicinal purposes.
11) Appointing the City Manager is one of the most important decisions a City Council will make. I would be looking for a person who is well grounded in basic City operations, so prior city manager experience would be preferable. We have a great set of Department Directors who can, and should, be allowed to operate with a level of independence while still reporting to the City Manager. Obviously, that person would need to have sound judgment and decision making, be accessible to the community, and be able to communicate the Council’s direction to the workforce as well as the community as a whole.
Editor’s note: Thank you to all the candidates for their time. These are extensive questions, but the public has the right to hear every candidate’s ideas and plans to work toward improving Benicia for all.