PITTSBURG -- Candidates running for seats on the City Council and Pittsburg school district board outlined why they should get the nod from voters at a meet-the-candidates event this week.

Incumbent Councilman Ben Johnson and challenger Bob Lewis, who served on the council from 1989 to 2002, made their case for voters to choose them.

Pittsburg has improved during the eight years he's served on the council, Johnson said.

"Some of the restaurants we have downtown, we didn't have eight years ago," he said. "We've reduced crime, we've repaved the streets and worked for the betterment of our community."

Still, Johnson said the city needs to bring in more businesses to help Pittsburg lower its unemployment rate, which is around 12 percent.

The city's economic future was also addressed by Lewis, a vice president of a property-management firm.

Given that redevelopment no longer exists, he said the city must work even harder to develop money-making proposals with the Pittsburg Power Co. Since it was formed in 1996, the city-owned company has generated more than $30 million in revenues through third-party partnerships to transmit electricity.

Both Lewis and Johnson addressed a proposal by Irvine-based WesPac Energy Group to upgrade several unused fuel tanks and a vacant marine terminal at the GenOn power plant into a facility to unload and store imported crude oil for shipment to local refineries. The project site is near homes and the marina.


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The project's draft environmental report outlining potential impacts and proposed mitigation measures was released in June, but changes have since been made by the project developer. A new environmental report is being prepared and expected to be released early next year.

"If (project impacts) can't be mitigated, I don't think the project can be approved," Lewis said.

The public hearing process will provides a chance for people to express their concerns, Johnson said.

"I think each individual's concerns, all need to be considered, and they have to make their voices heard," he said.

Incumbent Will Casey and challenger George Harris, a building contractor who served on the Planning Commission from 1993 to 2006, did not attend the Chamber of Commerce event. In fact, only five people showed up to listen to the candidates at the Monday night event, which happened to take place during Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

The timing provided school board candidate Joe Arenivar with the opportunity to use "closer" to describe his qualifications to fill the remaining two years of the seat vacated by former trustee Robert Belleci, who resigned in June.

"I'm a closer. I'm here to close this game. What is a good closer? A closer is a someone who is experienced and doesn't mind the pressure," said Arenivar, who previously served as a school board trustee from 1997 through 2010 after retiring from a career as a teacher and administrator in the district.

Duane Smith, a software engineer, touted his involvement with the district that includes serving on the Foothill Elementary school site council for five years and on the District Advisory Committee for two years.

"As a parent, I think I will bring a new, fresh perspective to the board from a parent's point of view," said Smith, who has a son attending Hillview Junior High. Over the past four years, Smith has attended school board meetings.

A third school district candidate, Ruben Esqueda, did not attend.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.