WALNUT CREEK -- Two new City Council members are set to take the dais next month, with the city budget, police staffing and accommodating downtown growth likely to be major topics of discussion early on.
Incumbent Mayor Bob Simmons and challengers Loella Haskew and Justin Wedel were the top three vote-getters, with Barry Grove trailing Wedel by a slim margin to finish out of the running.
The name of another incumbent, Kish Rajan, appeared on the election ballot, but he dropped out of the race in September after being appointed director of GO-Biz, the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development.
Longtime incumbent Gary Skrel did not seek a fourth council term.
A number of mail-in ballots still awaited counting as of Wednesday morning, but probably won't affect the outcome of the race.
"I thought that it was a vigorous, competitive election without the rancor of personal attacks," said Simmons, who was gathering up his campaign signs Wednesday morning. "We have shown other communities that it is possible to participate in an election that informs and educates the electorate without personal attacks.
"I am looking forward to working with then new council and dealing with some of the issues that we, as a community have to resolve," Simmons added.
Said Wedel, a local businessman, "I'm just happy with the results. I look forward to working with the rest of the council."
The Walnut Creek city budget was a primary campaign issue, and Haskew -- a certified public accountant -- said her skill sets and interests are just what the city needs for "proper fiscal balance."
Wedel talked about a long-term financial plan and "community driven balanced budget process."
"The budget is why I decided to run," Wedel commented."The council has been spending too much for too long."
Grove, a Contra Costa County deputy district attorney, said he stay involved in the Walnut Creek community, including through his work.
"Also, as a private citizen there are many issues such as the new aquatic facilities, the fire hazard on Acalanes ridge and increased public safety manpower that I will continue to support," he said Wednesday.
Simmons and Haskew said a half-cent sales tax increase should be considered; Haskew said she doesn't expect cost-cutting alone can pay for all the city's capital needs. Voters would have to approve any sales tax increase.
Wedel, successful in his second run at a council seat, and Grove opposed increasing the sales tax, saying the city should instead use the money it has in different ways.
Wedel and Grove also said Walnut Creek needs more police officers, both in downtown's night club neighborhoods and in the residential parts of the city. Grove contended that money saved in recently ratified police officer contracts should be used to fund more officers. Simmons said a balance between city budget constraints and recommendations from the police chief on the best way to deploy officers must be achieved.
"We have a two-year budget in place and the police department has been authorized to fill two of the vacancies that were frozen," Simmons said. "The chief has indicated that if we develop as much multifamily housing as planned, we will need to add additional police resources."
The Walnut Creek Police Association endorsed Simmons, Grove and Wedel in this election.
Police department leaders have said additional officers will be needed to serve an expanded population downtown, where some 1,400 apartment units in several large developments have either been approved or are in the planning pipeline.
Haskew intends to take a short timeout after campaigning.
"I truly didn't know what campaigning was," she said. "I had worked at the polls and on campaigns, but it different when you are the candidate."
Also, Simmons, Wedel and Grove publicly supported efforts to bring all public schools in Walnut Creek under the same district; some local schools are in the Mt. Diablo and Acalanes districts.
BOB SIMMONS -- 26.37% (14,932 votes)
LOELLA HASKEW -- 23.31% (13,196)
JUSTIN WEDEL -- 19.78% (11,198)
BARRY GROVE -- 18.19% (10,300)
*KISH RAJAN -- 12.10% (6,849)
WRITE-IN 0.26% (147)
*Rajan pulled out of the race in September
Source: Contra Costa County Elections Department