OAKLEY -- Jobs and businesses.
Oakley's need for more of them is a common theme among city council candidates, although no one is exactly sure how to make it happen.
Mayor Kevin Romick, one of six competing for the three seats up for grabs, hopes the current overhaul of one section of Main Street's downtown will entice other stores to open there and, in turn, draw more shopping dollars to the area.
But although the city is cold-calling businesses to try to sell them on moving to Oakley, Romick said it's an uphill battle.
"It's a tough world out there -- the only thing expanding is dollar stores and fast-food restaurants," he said, adding that the city can't entice merchants with offers of free or low-cost water and sanitation services because, unlike many cities, it doesn't have control over those utilities.
Romick, 57, is an IT manager at a steel finishing plant campaigning for his third term on the council after having served four years on the planning commission before that.
The knowledge he's gained over that time of how government works as well as the contacts he's made equip him for a job that, with the elimination of redevelopment funds and decline in property tax revenue, is no longer the same, he said.
"I have the experience to forge a new 'normal,' " Romick said.
An Oakley resident for 32 years and current president of Ironhouse Sanitary District, Doug Hardcastle considers his knowledge of the area's
Hardcastle, 61, owns an RV parts and repair business in town, and says the council should include the perspective of a small-business owner.
Recalling the difficulty he had navigating the red tape when he was launching his business ("I didn't feel the love when I went in there"), Hardcastle says he'd like the new city council to ensure that staff members take the time to help inexperienced business owners navigate the paperwork.
The former vice president of Oakley's chamber of commerce also wants the city to place more emphasis on the importance of residents shopping where they live and for that reason Hardcastle doesn't oppose the notion of big-box retailers coming to town.
Overall, he says, his goals in political office are modest: "I'm not going to slay any dragons; I'm not going to save the world," Hardcastle said. "I just want to be a voice of reason and treat people with respect just like I want to be treated -- just common sense."
David Hansen is another candidate who doesn't object to the city welcoming large chain stores as a way of bolstering its tax base and making it possible for residents to do the bulk of their shopping in town.
They don't necessarily spell doom for mom-and-pop businesses, which come and go anyway, Hansen said, adding that he's seen plenty of small towns with big-box stores that still retain their rural character.
In addition, the 19-year resident wants the city to continue improving roads that are dangerously narrow or that lack sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
Youngsters need more sports fields where they can play, he added, noting that such venues also serve as gathering places for adults to meet and form friendships, thereby helping the city to become more tightly knit even as its population continues to grow.
"The fallacy is that as the community grows we'll lose that small-community feel," Hansen said.
He considers himself a good leader, able to grasp issues and communicate them clearly as well as develop consensus among people.
Hansen, 51, owns a real estate company and also volunteers as a police chaplain for Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office.
Randi Adler, 53, was inspired to run for office after successfully getting help for her subdivision, where she and other residents found themselves in limbo after the builder went out of business before the city assumed responsibility for the upkeep of sidewalks and landscaping.
Now she'd like to see the city eliminate rundown storefronts on Main Street.
Another way to bring shoppers into contact with downtown businesses is for the city to host more events such as an art and wine festival, car shows and more family movie nights, Adler said.
The side benefits are that residents don't need to leave Oakley to have fun and, as they get to know their neighbors at these gatherings, they become more likely to watch out for each other and the crime rate decreases, she said.
Adler isn't a fan of giant retail chains coming to Oakley, however, saying she prefers the kind of upscale boutique businesses that can be found in Sausalito and Napa.
Adler also wants the city enforce its curfew to reduce the chances of youth getting in trouble.
"I want people to say what a great city this is," she said.
Ron Borland, 61, decided to run for office after the City Council last fall forgave the balance on a home loan it had given the city manager and guaranteed him equity in the property, a deal worth $366,500.
The part-time substitute teacher and 25-year resident of Oakley considers the council's actions symptomatic of leaders who have lost touch with their constituents, noting that members negotiated the lucrative -- and controversial -- agreement at a time when residents were losing their homes to foreclosure.
"I want a more transparent, responsive government," Borland said.
By way of reconnecting with the public, he says he would make a point of involving businesses in the conversations at City Hall that affect them, including visiting owners at their workplace to keep them in the loop.
Borland wants Oakley to develop using infill instead of sprawling, and likes the idea of parlaying the community's rural features in ways that attract visitors -- establishing more wineries, for example, and creating an equestrian center featuring events catering to horse owners around the county.
"A lot of people want to keep the semirural identity intact," Borland said.
Consensus building is one of her strengths, says council candidate Diane Burgis, noting that she's acquired plenty of on-the-job experience in that area.
As executive director of an East County environmental nonprofit, Burgis, 46, has ties with people representing a diverse array of groups, some of whom have conflicting goals.
But she's managed to enlist their cooperation and achieve things together, Burgis said. It takes being a good listener, keeping an open mind, learning what others want and why, and respecting those wishes while exploring which are feasible, she said.
The same skills can come in handy on a city council, where Burgis envisions being able to help colleagues overcome the impediments to progress that naysayers can create.
"They get slowed down by people saying 'Yeah but, yeah but,' " she said.
In addition to being able to broker more unity on a council she believes has become divided, Burgis considers herself a quick learner as well as action-oriented.
If given the chance to oversee the city, she wants to ensure that Oakley remains a safe place to live and promote its proximity to the Delta's recreational possibilities.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.