Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Walnut Creek City Council candidates square off at forum hosted by Chamber of Commerce

Neiman Marcus, downtown parking and budget issues illuminated some differences among four Walnut Creek City Council candidates during a Tuesday forum. But on many issues, the candidates agreed.

The forum, hosted by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce at Scott's Seafood restaurant, drew dozens of residents and business people interested in finding out what differentiates the candidates, who are vying for three open council seats in November's election.

Incumbent Gary Skrel, who has served eight years on the council, said he wanted to ensure fiscal stability, economic development, a sound infrastructure and a sustainable environment as the city looks to tighten its belt in the face of rising costs and lackluster revenues. Challengers Sol Henik, Kish Rajan and Bob Simmons also said they'd like to help rein in costs, keep the downtown vibrant and maintain a high quality of life for residents.

Henik said he would bring youth, energy and an independent voice, with no ties to the council or special interests.

"I feel that our council has spent too much time focusing its energy on the downtown core," Henik said, adding that he has talked to many residents since his unsuccessful council bid two years ago. "One of (residents') main concerns is they feel like they're not being heard and are being ignored. I think we need to reach out to these neighborhoods."

Skrel, Rajan and Simmons touted their city government experience and connections. AdvertisementMayor Gwen Regalia, who with Councilman Charlie Abrams is stepping down from the council, has endorsed each of them.

Simmons said he helped establish the Castle Rock fields, has been active on the Walnut Creek Open Space Foundation and Planning Commission and has received nearly 250 endorsements, including many from current and former city officials.

"They know me and they have the confidence in me to make the right decisions to lead this community," Simmons said.

He supported the extension of parking meter hours for Sundays and weekday evenings, believing it could help generate a higher turnover of cars, thus benefiting businesses. Henik opposed additional parking meter hours, saying that could prompt shoppers and diners to go elsewhere.

Skrel and Rajan didn't weigh in on the issue, because moderator Richard Carlston posed that and many other questions to only two candidates at a time.

Henik said Neiman Marcus would make a great addition to Broadway Plaza because it would add jobs and much-needed revenue, but he didn't support the proposed valet-parking program because it was untested, and because potential costs and traffic consequences were unknown. He suggested coming up with another alternative, or testing out the valet idea this holiday season to see how it worked.

Rajan also voiced support for a Neiman Marcus store in the city, but noted that parking and design issues still needed to be worked out.

"I think Neiman Marcus and Broadway Plaza are on our side," Rajan said. "We should condition (valet parking) so that if it doesn't work, there are ways to remediate that situation."

Rajan talked about the importance of neighborhoods and joint partnerships with schools, noting that he was the only candidate with young children. Simmons said he wanted to attract more green businesses to the city and to acquire nonpolluting buses downtown.

Skrel said he'd like to see one or two downtown hotels. Henik said the city needed another parking garage, and he would like to improve Heather Farm Park.

All the candidates said they wanted to work with business owners to strengthen the city's economy, and to collaborate with employees to find cost-saving measures through City Hall.

"We are at a crossroads," Skrel said.

"The time for stability and leadership is now."

  • Dawson council digs man’s pitch to mine for gold under Dome Road
  • Two sides dispute why Simmons closed Ont. plant
  • Walnut Creek City Council will gain at least one new member in November
  • Walnut Creek council to go through big changes