LETTER SERIES: Larnie Fox – “Leadership Style” on the Benicia City Council

[Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald. But the Herald doesn't publish letters in its online editions - and many Benician's don't subscribe. We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution. - RS]

“Leadership Style”

By Larnie Fox
October 21, 2016
Larnie Fox

Larnie Fox

Republican mayoral candidate Mark Hughes is running on a platform of changing the “leadership style” on our City Council, and the other council members are supporting him. I’ve been attending City Council meetings and watching them online for the last six years, and I think I know what he means.

As Mayor, Elizabeth Patterson is constantly trying to lead the Council to be forward-thinking and visionary, and has often been frustrated by the inertia of the current Council.

During the recent debate over Valero’s crude by rail proposal, Council members, including Mark, appeared to be unhappy with Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s questioning of Valero’s proposal. Elizabeth was unhappy because Council members and City staff made a concerted effort to stop her from spreading information about the project via the informative email newsletter which she produces at her own expense. She was forced (also at her own expense) to mount a legal defense against those efforts. Personally, I want a mayor who is willing to share information with the public and has opinions on important issues. Other Council members and City staff, (whom I know to be good people and like personally), apparently disagreed with this understanding of the First Amendment.

The decision on crude by rail should have been a no-brainer after our Planning Commission’s extensive research on the subject, the environmental impact reports, the input from communities and governmental entities across the state including our Attorney General, and the ongoing pattern of explosions, derailments, and spills. Yet, under pressure from Valero, the Council voted for delay. Elizabeth Patterson and Council member Tom Campbell were opposed to the project early on, but the other three were noncommittal about it until the recent explosion in Mosier Oregon convinced Christina Strawbridge. No one wants to be on the losing side, especially right before an election, so we had a unanimous Council opposing the project, thank goodness! Mark Hughes is now running on his record of opposing crude by rail. Clearly, Elizabeth Patterson on the Council and Steve Young on the Planning Commission provided the leadership to finally stop this dangerous proposal.

The debate over water rates provides another illustration of differing leadership styles. My understanding of the water issue is as follows:

1. We are in a drought; water is harder to get and more expensive.
2. The infrastructure is old and needs work. Benicia loses around 25% of its water to pipeline leaks, faulty meters, etc.
3. The council postponed raising rates to appropriate levels during the Recession.
4. Our current Mayor is a water-use professional on the State level, and an expert in the field.

Therefore rates have gone up; more so for the bigger users. Elizabeth led the Council to this action to secure our water supplies and rebuild our old infrastructure, in spite of the fact that it was politically unpopular. Hughes, on the other hand voted against it. Clearly that that was the politically expedient thing to do. Elizabeth could have waited until after the election to do this, but was unwilling to “kick the can down the road” and did the responsible thing.

Now the Council is considering the “Northern Gateway project” development proposal to build 900 homes on Seeno family land near the industrial park in land zoned for industrial use, without much consideration of the need for additional schools, police, fire or road infrastructure, and no plan for more water. Elizabeth, Steve Young and Tom Campbell are for smart growth and clearly against the proposal as it stands. Hughes recently said repeatedly that when a developer approaches Benicia with an idea we should “throw out a welcome mat” for them. The Council’s style so far has been reactive, one in which they react to proposals piecemeal as they come in, rather than a proactive style, in which Benicia makes plans then finds developers to execute them. Elizabeth and Steve are both planners by profession, Elizabeth at a high-level position with the State Department of Water Resources, and Steve, retired with 30 years experience planning housing and redevelopment. They are both arguing for a proactive approach to planning.

I have been working actively for the campaigns of Elizabeth Patterson and Steve Young primarily because of these three issues, and also because they would better support the arts.

Elizabeth’s opponent Mark Hughes is a decent guy, but conservative, Republican, pro-development and pro-corporate; a veteran of PG&E. I feel that it’s crucial for Benicia to finally get a forward-looking, proactive majority on City Council and put the “good ol’ boys” days behind it.

The local election may have more impact on our lives than the national election, so please do your research and vote, and pay special attention to this race.

Larnie Fox, former Director of Arts Benicia
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