Monday, September 29, 2008

Candidates offer different priorities and positions

Moraga's six Town Council candidates hardly agree about anything.

Howard Harpham, Janice Kolbe and Dennis Wanken said the town's fiscal situation is the most critical issue the council faces. Incumbent Michael Metcalf said police understaffing is first on his list; Brad Kvederis said development is most pressing. And Karen Mendonca said voters need to choose candidates who can work well with others.

Kvederis and Mendonca said they support the Moraga Open Space Ordinance of 2008, the more restrictive of two local open space initiatives on November's ballot. The other four candidates said they do not support either measure.

All but Kvederis said they are concerned about the town's budget. Wanken is the only candidate to propose a new tax.

"I hate to use this word, but somebody's going to have to say it — a parcel tax or a bond," Wanken said.

An infrastructure problem with roads and drains is "looming larger on the horizon," he said.

Metcalf wants to revisit the town's fee structure and possibly solicit donations from residents for police funding.

"People in this town do it for the schools, they do it for the fire district, they do it for parks and recreation," he said, reasoning they would do so for police, as well.

Kolbe also said cutting spending was a priority.

"I think we need to tighten our belts," she said. "I think we need to make some strong decisions about what's important to us and what's Advertisementnot important to us."

Kolbe and Harpham said the town needs carefully monitored growth.

Harpham said the town should work to revitalize its business areas to increase sales tax revenue.

The town needs to look at what other California cities in similar budget situations have done, Mendonca said — an effort she has already started.

Kvederis is the only candidate who does not view the town's fiscal position as a long-term problem. Because of aging demographics in the town, more houses will be sold in the coming years as the elderly leave their homes. The new owners will then pay the higher assessed property values.

"All we've got to do is wait five or 10 years," Kvederis said. Until then, the town should control its expenses to get by, he said.

Harpham supports new housing in the downtown specific plan area, enough to help meet the town's regional housing allocation and no more.

Kolbe echoed that sentiment, saying the town needed to balance its desire to remain small with its regional obligations.

"I'm a minimal-growth proponent, but I'm also abiding by the law," she said. "It's going to increase property tax revenue, it's going to increase sales revenue."

Metcalf and Mendonca said a project with 300 to 400 housing units would be reasonable in the specific plan area. More than that would put too much traffic on the roads through Lafayette and Orinda, both said.

Wanken said the plans need to go back to the drawing board for more public input.

Kvederis wants to reduce the scale of development there as much as he can, he said. He doesn't want to commit to development out of fear of lawsuits for failing to meet regional housing requirements, he said.

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