Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Concord candidates debate

CONCORD — The three Concord City Council candidates vying for two open seats agreed the Concord Naval Weapons Station reuse project should be "world class," with at least half of its 5,028 acres designated as parks and open space.

So far, neither city leaders nor candidates have gotten specific about what exactly "world class" means, but at an election forum taping Thursday, they discussed what that might be.

"It has to be out-of-the-box, not just housing and open space, but perhaps biotech or some kind of green industry," said Mark Peterson, one of two incumbents running and a 13-year council veteran.

"That's the type of thing that's still missing (from the plans), quite frankly."

Challenger La Shawn Wells, CEO of Western Career College, said it's important to look at outside projects — like things happening in Monrovia, Sunnyvale and places in Southern California — for ideas about what to put on the former military base.

"And, of course, we should make sure we keep talking to residents about what they want," he said. "It should be world class, and I may not be a politician, but I bring vision and I am open to new ideas with a fresh perspective."

Bill Shinn, a four-year council veteran and the city's mayor, said that whatever goes on, the base must be balanced and financially sustainable.

"We want a world class project, something the community can be proud of, something that fits the region's Advertisementvision," he said. "We have to look at exactly what it takes to build ... and 80 percent open space or 100 percent open space sounds nice, but open space costs money and we have expenses out there, like fire protection and weed abatement and other things."

He and Peterson both said they support two alternatives for development just released by the city. One contains 50 percent open space and one contains 73 percent — not the 80 percent that some environmental groups have said they want to see.

"We hear that 80 percent number a lot, but some of the environmental groups out there aren't even asking for that," he said.

Wells said the 80 percent number shouldn't be off the table.

All three candidates said they supported the city's recent decision to hire 14 police officers at one time, in anticipation of upcoming vacancies in the police department — called "overfilling." Public safety, they said, is the city's No. 1 priority. In addition, all candidates said they favor an RV and boat ordinance that combats blight.

"Residents should definitely be keeping up their property, and if there's blight or eyesores, we need parameters that take care of that," Wells said. "I'm not sure I've taken a side yet; I believe that the council should be able to make tough decisions for the good of all."

Peterson said cleaning up the city's streets is a priority, especially in light of foreclosures and declining property values. The city has proposed an ordinance that would "grandfather in" RVs and boats already in driveways, but would require new residents to store them in back or side yards, or off-site.

Shinn worried about the city staff time needed to enforce a new ordinance, especially in light of problems — like squatting — that come with foreclosed homes.

The debate, sponsored by the Times and others, will air at 6 p.m. Oct. 19, Oct. 26 and Nov. 2 on Channels 26 and 28.

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