The four candidates vying for a vacancy on the Pleasanton City Council offer voters a diversity of perspectives on the future growth and finances of the community.

Unfortunately, none provided the solid mix of policy positions and understanding of city finances that we were seeking.

In the end, for our endorsement, we settle on Planning Commissioner Kathy Narum. She brings the most experience and familiarity with the city's housing and hillside growth challenges.

But, she, like the other three candidates, and, sadly, like most candidates running for local elective office, remains confused about the city's huge debt for employee pensions. We hope that, if elected, she will study harder.

Kathy Narum, candidate for Pleasanton city council in Pleasanton, Calif. on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (Jim Stevens/Staff)
Kathy Narum, candidate for Pleasanton city council in Pleasanton, Calif. on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

Narum, businessman Mark Hamilton, electrical engineer David Miller, and market researcher Olivia Sanwong are seeking the seat vacated by Jerry Thorne after he was elected mayor in November.

The balloting will be done by mail. There will be no polling locations. All ballots must be received by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters office no later than 8 p.m. May 7.

Pleasanton weathered the fallout from the Great Recession better than most California municipalities, thanks to its solid tax bases and its minimal long-term construction debt costs. But it has still had to reduce its workforce by about 12 percent since 2007.

And it faces an unfunded liability of about $160 million for employee pension and retiree health care programs. That works out to about four years of base city payroll.


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Meanwhile, the city has fractured over development issues in recent years, in particular, rules for hillside construction and provisions for affordable housing throughout the city. Voters pretty much settled the former issue by passing hillside construction standards, and the state of California successfully sued the city on the latter, forcing Pleasanton to allocate more land for affordable housing.

The candidates' positions on these issues helped determine our endorsement. We found that Hamilton lacked the policy sophistication we would like to see, and we especially disagree with his desire to funnel city funds into the schools.

Miller seemed poised to re-engage the housing fight with the state, at one point suggesting that planning to provide affordable homes and reduce traffic should be abandoned. We see it differently, as we noted at the time of the court ruling against the city.

Pleasanton has benefited greatly from its business boom. It also has a responsibility to plan for housing for workers who help drive the city's economy. It's not enough to just build single-family houses for the wealthier segment of the community.

Consequently, our selection came down to a choice between Sanwong and Narum. Both candidates bring a reasoned perspective on growth, yet both need to develop more financial sophistication.

We go with Narum because of her greater public experience, including her service on the Planning Commission, and her extensive community support. But we think either candidate would be a thoughtful council member.