Monday, September 29, 2008

Candidates offer different priorities and positions

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

They have different top priorities.

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 other four candidates said they do not support either open space initiative.

Five of six — 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 is "looming larger on the horizon," he said. The town needs more money to keep its roads and drains fixed and to increase police staffing.

Metcalf said he wanted 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 for police, as well.

Kolbe also said cutting spending was a priority.

"I think we need to tighten our belts," she said. "I think Advertisementwe need to make some strong decisions about what's important to us and what's not important to us."

She cited some of the money spent on renderings for the downtown specific plan as an example of excess spending.

Moraga should consider moderate growth in sales and property tax, Mendonca said. Harpham, too, said the town needs "carefully monitored growth."

Harpham said the town should work to revitalize its business areas to increase sales tax revenue. Moraga should make getting permits easier by moving permitting functions from county offices to somewhere in town, he said.

Mendonca said she spent her career "successfully managing budgets during times of fiscal constraint."

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

"We're not alone in our quandary," Mendonca said.

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.

All the candidates except Kvederis said the development fees from Palos Colorados should be invested and the town should use the interest. Harpham and Metcalf said the interest would likely need to go to keeping the operating budget afloat; Kolbe and Wanken said the interest should go to other projects, depending on what residents supported.

Kvederis said the fees should be used to fund any major projects the town decides to undertake.

Harpham supports new housing in the downtown specific plan area, enough to help meet the town's regional housing allocation and no more. And it would be better if not all the low-income housing was concentrated there, he said.

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, it will be a shot in the arm that Moraga needs in order to be able to meet our expenses."

Metcalf and Mendonca said a project with between 300 and 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.

Mendonca wants any such plan to include senior housing and affordable housing for people who work in Moraga but cannot afford to live there.

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.

"I'm really opposed to building 300 or 700 houses," he said.

The town should try to change its regional housing allocations or avoid fulfilling them if they can't change.

"I want to fight having to develop new land unless we're absolutely forced to," he said. The town should not idly follow regional and state housing numbers because it fears lawsuits, he said.

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