The six candidates vying for three seats on the Belmont City Council came together on Oct. 9 for a forum at Nesbit Elementary School.
The event came two weeks after a similarly scheduled forum organized by the Belmont Chamber of Commerce was scrapped at the last minute when co-hosts League of Women Voters and the Belmont Library pulled out over a controversial mailer sent out by the chamber board. An informal meet-and-greet in the library’s amphitheater was held in its place.
The Belmont Neighborhood Associations sponsored the Nesbit forum on Oct. 9. Cari Pang of the Sterling Downs Neighborhood Association was the evening’s host, and Jimmy Cappels, a high school teacher and coach, was moderator.
The candidates for Belmont City Council, listed in order on ballot (three seats; four year terms) are:
Charles Stone—Father/Business Owner
Gladwyn d’Souza—Engineer/Nonprofit Director
Kristin Mercer—Belmont Planning Commissioner
Eric Reed—Father/Biotechnology Director
For more information on each candidate, including official statements, click here.
After each candidate gave a brief introduction, Cappels asked previously selected questions from the audience. Each candidate had two minutes to answer each question.
The following are excerpts from several of the questions posed to the candidates.
Q: Does the City of Belmont over-regulate?
Verdone: “There is micromanaging that goes on on both the city council and within the planning department. We’ve developed a reputation of being anti-business, for example, Belmont has the highest business licensing fees.”
Mercer: “Regulations arise to protect residents when they are aggrieved and we need a course of action. When people bring complaints to the city, things can be changed.”
Stone: “Yes, the city over regulates. The tree ordinance is a good example of a regulation that’s gone too far. Read the entire tree ordinance---to me, that’s government overreaching.”
d’Souza: “We need to have a way to resolve problems. For example---the red light cameras—people complained and the council voted them out. Residents need to exercise their right to be heard.”
Lieberman: “Most regulations are designed to address a specific issue, i.e. the tree ordinance. We shouldn’t have regulations that hurt businesses, such as Ralston Florist being affected by the sign ordinance.
Reed: The sign ordinance is a good example of over regulation in Belmont. It’s like the city is saying ‘We have gone way overboard and we don’t trust you and we need to guide you.’”
Q: What specific engineering changes would you make to improve Ralston Avenue’s visibility and safety?
Lieberman: There will be a whole set of traffic improvement recommendations coming out of the Ralston Corridor Traffic Study report, and council will take a look at that comprehensive report for specific things we can do to improve safety and visibility, such as round-abouts, lighted sidewalks, etc.”
Reed: This is a personal issue for me. The city is conducting a very specific study and we will get answers to how to deal with the 38,000 cars, pedestrians and bikes that use Ralston each day. The study will come up with a solutions and a budget.”
Verdone: “I’ve participated in the Ralston Corridor Traffic Study, and it’s clear that better lighting is needed as well as traffic light timing and traffic calming signs.”
Mercer: "We don’t currently have the funds for the more expensive engineering solutions. But we can start by picking the low-hanging fruit – low cost changes that we can implement right now can make a big difference: narrow lanes a bit to allow a wider bike lane and pedestrian buffer, improve sidewalks and stripe the crosswalks to make it safe for pedestrians and bikes. For big ticket items we need to agree as a community on the best solutions, and seek grant funding."
Stone: “A friction barrier to separate bikes and cars would be helpful. There are tough choices to be made—we can’t have both bike lanes, traffic lanes and sidewalks on the stretch of Ralston west of Alameda. We need to work with the county and state on solutions to the Ralston traffic safety issue.”
d’Souza: “To widen Ralston, we would need to eminent domain certain buildings. Funding should come from regional sources—the state and the county. We need to address speed and access, and perhaps stagger school start times. Developing both regional and local solutions is crucial.”
Q: As a council member, what would be your number one priority?
Stone: “Bringing an air of collegiality to the council and end the divisiveness. We are going to disagree, but that should be done behind closed doors.”
Mercer: “You don’t run a city behind closed doors—there are transparency issues. I would eliminate the whole priority calendar process and have a common dialogue. The shotgun approach to prioritizing projects won’t accomplish anything.
Verdone: “Due diligence and taking everyone’s opinion into account—no comment or question should be viewed a stupid. We also need to address the city’s aging infrastructure—we have $27 million in deferred maintenance.”
Reed: “Ending the culture of ‘No’—coming up with a win-win type of local government.”
Lieberman: “Working together to make things happen and revenue generation. We have current councilmembers who don’t seem to want any revenue generation---we need to look at our local resources such as NDNU (Notre Dame de Namur University) and the Belmont Sports Complex.”
d’Souza: “Safety. Keep police and fire departments operating with no sweetheart deals to unions that would compromise safety.”
Q: Do you support Measure R? ($174 school district parcel tax on the Nov. 5 ballot)
Reed: “Yes, it’s good for the schools, students and property values in Belmont, and those who can’t afford it can opt out. R is a must if we are to keep Belmont schools successful.”
Lieberman: Yes, I was the first of the current councilmembers to come out and endorse Measure R. I can’t imagine anything that would have more of an important impact on our schools than the funding from Measure R. Everyone in the community benefits from good schools.”
d’Souza: “Our property taxes are increasing and our schools are having more local control of the funding. We also have a construction bond and funds from the passage of Prop 30 in 2012. We need to look at other money coming to schools before we can endorse Measure R.
Stone: “Yes. The basic aid model is changing the district’s funding it is running very lean. Measure R would provide $2 million per year to our schools."
Mercer: “You don’t need a councilmember to tell you how to vote on an issue between you and your school district.”
Verdone: “Yes, Measure R would benefit families and increase property values.”
Q: CSUS (Crystal Springs Uplands School)—would you bring it back and what’s the projected cost to do so?
Verdone: “I’m availing myself to all stakeholders in the community, and if they’d like to present a revised proposal, I’m willing to look at it. I’m not saying that I’m going to vote for or against it, but I won’t turn it down before I study it. As far as costs, those mitigating factors have to be looked at.”
Mercer: “As chair of the planning commission, I argued vigorously for the concept of the school on Davis Drive, but the financial terms offered to the city were not adequate. In case of default, the city would have had no recourse. The problem is that our general plan is 30 years old; we haven’t had a discussion about what is the appropriate use of the property on Davis Drive. We need to settle that first before some other poor victim stumbles into our spider’s nest of an unrevised general plan.”
Stone: “The benefit to this town would have been huge. CSUS was offering a one-time payment of $1 million and a quarter of a million dollars each year. I hope they come back and I hope we can work with them to mitigate any problems. Part of being a leader is standing up for what you believe in—and I did that, I drafted a petition in support of the school.”
d’Souza: “Education is important, and I would support an elite middle school in Belmont, but this private academy was not ready to adapt to Belmont’s needs for police, fire, library, commuter access, etc. The school has been in existence since 1952 and charges $40K per year tuition, more than Stanford. Since then they have educated 124 students from Belmont---that’s 1.5 students per year. Our discretionary budget is $5 million, their profit would be $25 million. They wanted us to change the zoning on six acres for about 200 students. We have a problem with housing and schooling 1,500 students in our middle school and the traffic associated with it on Ralston.”
Lieberman: “Make no mistake about it, the deal and the offer from CSUS was extraordinarily good. There were five councilmembers who were originally in support of CSUS. What changed for three of them I still don’t know. There are things we need to tighten up financially and with other issues like traffic. We had the leverage to do that. They were willing to talk to us--they were willing to start school at 7:45. There were things that needed to be tightened up, but it was a phenomenal start.”
Reed: “There were legitimate concerns with noise and traffic from the CSUS proposal, but that said, there are times that when somebody wants to come in and give you a $1 million and $250 a year to build, but that’s a moot point---because they are gone. What you saw here is a process that is broken—first the council was all for it, then the planning commission, ‘No’, then city council voted three to two against it, then with an unusual amount of chutzpah, a city council member and a planning commissioner went back to CSUS to try to get them back to the bargaining table after they had been kicked to the curb. I think this is evidence of a process that shows we’re not able to work effectively to solve problems.
At the conclusion of the question and answer segment, each candidate had an opportunity to make a closing statement.