Four candidates are vying to become Petaluma’s next mayor: David Glass, Chris Kilgore, Jezra Johnson Lickter and Jeff Mayne.
Nine candidates are seeking three seats on the Petaluma City Council: Chris Albertson, Teresa Barrett, J. Ray Bellefeuille, Wyatt C. Bunker, Jason E. Davies, Mike Harris, Ray Johnson, Gabe Kearney and Karen Nau.
The Press Democrat Editorial Board endorsed Jeff Mayne for mayor and Mike Harris, Jason E. Davies and Ray Johnson for City Council on Oct. 2. A copy of the editorial is attached below. Did the PD Editorial Board make the right decisions? Disagree with the choices? Post a comment to share your thoughts with other members of the community.
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PD Editorial: For Petaluma
Mayne, Harris, Davies and Johnson offer ideas, experience
Despite a dramatic makeover of its downtown, Sonoma County’s river city hasn’t been spared the withering effects of the recession. With sales and property tax revenue sliding and commercial vacancies rising, Petaluma has all but exhausted its budget reserves.
The city has made significant spending cuts, including layoffs, furloughs and outsourcing the planning department, as general fund spending has fallen from $43.2 million in 2007-08 to $32.5 million this year. But the rainy day reserve has been cut to $5,000, and, unfortunately, there aren’t many signs of recovery. Then there’s Measure K Measure U, an ill-advised initiative that could render the city unable to pay the debt on its new sewer treatment plant.
Petaluma, meanwhile, has become known as as a city where the council is beset by squabbling and obtaining a permit is an exercise in uncertainty — a reputation that wasn’t helped by a $100,000 settlement paid to two neighborhood activists who sued to block the Regency shopping center after a review that dragged on for seven years. Now, it appears as if the city won’t finish an environmental review of the Deer Creek Village proposal within the one-year limit established by state law. That may result in a lawsuit filed by the applicant.
That sort of notoriety can only hinder efforts to attract new employers and, in turn, badly needed tax revenue to help pay for law enforcement, fire protection, road maintenance and other services that Petaluma residents expect and deserve.
Addressing those challenges will require creativity and a greater degree of civility on the council dais.
For better or worse, politics in Petaluma and much of Sonoma County pits two large and passionate factions — those who believe growth needs to be strictly regulated, at times down to weighing the relative merits of one company over another, and those who want fewer obstacles for businesses that are consistent with local general plans and urban growth boundaries.
With the self-proclaimed “smart growth” faction in control, we think the council has gotten bogged down in process despite an economic climate in which the city needed to be nimble. In this election, we think a change is in order. The Press Democrat recommends Jeff Mayne for mayor and Jason Davies, Mike Harris and Ray Johnson for City Council.
Mayne, the president of the Petaluma Downtown Association, says the city needs to eliminate red tape to attract business and suggests creating a database listing rents paid in local commercial buildings as a service for potential tenants. Councilman David Glass, the other leading candidate for mayor, is an advocate for transit-oriented development around Petaluma’s two SMART stations, a smart direction for the city, and one that he could still pursue with two years left on his council term.
Among the nine council candidates, Harris, a widely respected two-term incumbent, understands Petaluma’s budget challenges, its economic development needs and, especially, its opportunities now that work is done on the general plan update and an extension of the urban growth boundary, which also appears on the Nov. 2 ballot.
“Now that we’re done with the bureaucratic stuff,” Harris told the editorial board, “we can say we’re open for business.”
Davies and Johnson would be newcomers to the council, but both have served in other capacities for the city.
Davies, the vice president of a Petaluma software company, serves on the city’s technology advisory committee. He’s associated with the “smart growth” faction, but he brings extensive international business experience and clearly understands the nexus of commerce and government. Davies is committed to bringing “green and clean” industry to Petaluma, and he has fresh ideas for marketing the city to potential employers.
A fresh perspective also is a selling point for Johnson, a retired AT&T marketing executive who served on Petaluma’s Site Plan and Review Committee before it was abolished by the council. He, too, wants to raise Petaluma’s profile and, equally important, he wants a clear set of rules for development and to end the practice of “land-use by lawsuit.”
Harris, Davies and Johnson concur on the need for more courtesy and respect in council dialogue and debate. An able mayor can set the tone. On that score, frankly, we have concerns about Glass and Mayne. Whomever is elected will need to control a pugnacious streak to help bring comity to the City Council.
In terms of Petaluma’s need for economic development, Mayne, Harris, Davies and Johnson offer experience in government, experience in business and good ideas for restoring the city’s fiscal health.