Concord is no different from most cities in the problems it confronts. There's not enough money to cover its budget wishes. There are too many empty office and retail spaces. There's a looming concern about public pensions and unfunded liabilities.
Say this for the community, though: There's no shortage of volunteers willing to tackle the issues. When City Council seats open up in Concord, the line of candidates goes out the door and around the corner.
Two years ago, when three seats were available, 10 hopefuls threw their hats in the ring. Three months later, when Mark Peterson vacated his seat after being elected Contra Costa County district attorney, 20 people interviewed to fill the position.
This year, 11 candidates are targeting two spots. Nine of them spent Tuesday morning baring their hopes and dreams at a public forum hosted by the chamber of commerce at the Concord Hilton. It hardly mattered that only 32 people showed up to listen. Their undiminished enthusiasm in a mostly empty room was enough to warm even a cynic's cold heart.
Were they all qualified? Probably not. Did all their answers make sense? Well, no. But that seemed less the issue than their concern for the community.
Six men and three women sat side-by-side, representing a broad swath of life experiences: a health services worker, a paralegal, a therapist, a business owner, a psychologist, a planning commissioner, a soccer coach, a scientist and an incumbent, Dan Helix, who was appointed to fulfill Peterson's term 19 months ago.
Getting to know nine candidates in two hours is like trying to see California on your lunch break. But there were small windows into their visions, beginning with what they deemed the most important issues ahead.
The coach said he'd like to see an athletic facility built on the former Naval Weapons Station, where sports tournaments could bring families and disposable dollars to town. The business owner wanted to eliminate costly lifetime health care for council members. The scientist pinpointed the need for Concord to attract biotech companies and jobs.
When they were asked how to boost the city's economic health, the answers again reflected the array of personalities.
The health services worker wanted to help ailing small businesses by facilitating bank loans for upgrades and repairs. The psychologist urged transitional housing for the homeless, whose presence in downtown has hindered businesses. The scientist, unswerving in focus, made another push for biotech companies.
The candidates were asked how Concord could distinguish itself from neighboring communities to capture consumer dollars. The therapist said the city should emphasize its diverse shops. The councilman favored a collaborative marketing program with local businesses. The planning commissioner wanted more downtown events. The scientist said people spend where they earn. So, once again, how about some biotech jobs?
There were no wrong answers, just different approaches to the same questions. Every candidate saw the challenges through the prism of his or her experience. They left smiling, even complimenting one another.
Concord has its share of problems, all right. But finding residents who want to make it a better place is not one of them.