By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The six candidates seeking three Petaluma City Council seats on the November ballot agreed on much in their first side-by-side appearance Wednesday night, but showed stark differences on the controversial issue of development.
The forum was the first of at least three the candidates will engage in before an election that could tilt the balance of power on the council again. about 150 people attended the event at the Sheraton Petaluma, which was sponsored by the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and the Petaluma Argus-Courier.
Candidates Alicia Kae Herries, Tiffany Renée and Jason Davies are ideologically aligned with Mayor David Glass and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett, who tend to be more skeptical of development in Sonoma County’s second-largest city.
Mike Healy and Kathy Miller, who are running as a slate, tend to agree with Councilmen Mike Harris and Chris Albertson, who share a more welcoming view of growth and large-scale development.
Gabe Kearney, initially viewed as a progressive, has voted with both contingents during his 18 months on the council.
Renee is seeking a second term, Healy a fourth and Kearney is seeking a first full term after being appointed in 2010 to fill a council vacancy. The others would be first-time council members.
All the candidates said they supported a parcel tax measure on the ballot that would to pay for parks improvements and maintenance, and all said they would oppose a potential casino for Indian-owned land just south of Petaluma along Highway 101.
All endorsed building economic vitality by attracting new businesses and increasing tourism. And each of them promised to listen to all sides of an issue and work cooperatively with other council members.
But questions about the city’s two largest shopping centers and the Rainier Avenue cross-town connector revealed differences.
For years, Petaluma’s councils have tacked back and forth over the speed and type of development that should be allowed as political majorities have changed on the seven-member council. Currently, the council is split with Kearney sometimes providing a swing vote.
Renee voted against both the Target and Friedman’s projects, while Healy and Kearney voted to approve them both.
Miller supports both projects, saying the parcels are zoned for mixed-use and both met that requirement with retail and office components.
Davies and Herries said they support Friedman’s, but would have preferred an alternate project for the Deer Creek Village site that would have substituted a skilled-nursing facility for much of the retail space.
Herries has lobbied against big-box development, signing a petition against the Target-East Washington Place development. Davies said he hopes the council will come up with a plan to help existing businesses that may lose customers to the Target center.
The candidates were asked if the long-planned Rainier Avenue cross-town connector was a priority and if so, how they would get it built. The city long has planned for another northern connector between the east and west sides, and across Highway 101, to ease congestion, particularly north of East Washington Street.
“We have to have a City Council absolutely in support of getting Rainier built, and I don’t think that it has been in the past,” Miller said. She, like Healy and Kearney, said she would be part of a council willing to actively seek funding for it.
Herries and Davies were doubtful that the connector will be built
“It’s been on the docket since 1965 and the council has not made Rainier a priority,” Herries said. “What makes us think in 2012 this is actually going to occur?”
Davies said because of the lack of secured funding, the city needs to look at other methods of traffic control.
Herries was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2010 by a new slow-growth City Council majority, which removed Miller and other members favored by the pro-business majority at the time.
Miller, a founding member of Petaluma Friends of Recreation, said her background as an attorney will help her to “disagree without being disagreeable” in working with other council members.
Davies finished fourth in a race for three seats in 2010 and said he hopes to use his experience in high-tech and international marketing to attract businesses to Petaluma and retain and expand existing ones.
Kearney asked voters to look to his record and return him to office, noting that everyone says during a campaign that they will work well together.
“But it’s another thing to do it,” he said. “For the past 18 months, I have been doing it.”