SAN PABLO -- Five San Pablo City Council candidates engaged in a positive, cordial debate at Maple Hall on Tuesday night that broke little new ground; a sixth, Frank Ybarra, was a no-show.
Three council seats are at stake on Nov. 6. Incumbents Leonard McNeil, Kathy Chao Rothberg and Mayor Cecilia Valdez and challengers Rich Kinney and Franklin Onwubuariri broadly agreed on the issues Tuesday.
The five participants agreed that public safety, police, public health, business development, employment opportunities and education are very important. They said they want San Pablo to be a good, safe place to raise a family and start a business but offered few specifics.
Incumbents McNeil and Valdez spoke about "civic engagement," which has become a quasi-official slogan of late in a city where there has historically been some disconnect between municipal government and residents. San Pablo's turnout on election days has lagged behind other West Contra Costa cities, a fact variously attributed to voter apathy or the large number of non-U.S. citizens among the city's population.
And today, San Pablo remains an anomaly among West Contra Costa cities for failing to televise or video-archive City Council meetings. Attendance at most council meetings is sparse.
San Pablo also is something of an anomaly in that it is relatively cash-flush even though many of its residents are low-income. The budget for the current fiscal year projects about $15 million in revenue from Casino San Pablo, owned by the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians; that represents almost two-thirds of the city's general fund.
The casino and the budget generated little mention Tuesday except from Kinney, who said the city should reduce its dependence on gambling and look for other sources of revenue.
The candidates stressed their records of public service on the council or in other forums. McNeil, a political-science professor at Contra Costa College, has served 12 years on the council. Kinney, a pastor and a middle and high school teacher, coach and tutor, noted that he served on the city's zoning committee and the Contra Costa County Advisory Council on Aging.
Chao Rothberg, appointed in April to replace then-Councilman Arturo Cruz, who resigned for health reasons, noted that the organization she serves as executive director, Lao Family Community Development, helps thousands of people annually to get jobs, training and health care.
Onwubuariri, a fitness trainer, noted that in his profession, he serves the cause of a healthy populace.
Valdez, a retired court reporter for San Francisco County Superior Court, noted that she mentors students through the Metas program at Contra Costa College, supports apprenticeships through labor unions and takes students to Sacramento to meet state legislators.
Several candidates afforded personal glimpses. Kinney noted that he and his wife have raised several foster children along with their own children and that all have attended West Contra Costa public schools. Onwubuariri, who was born in Nigeria, cited his medical studies in the Dominican Republic, where he says he became proficient in Spanish, an important asset in San Pablo, Contra Costa County's first and only city with a majority population of Latinos, as of the U.S. Census' 2005-07 American Community Survey.
Valdez noted that her father, a World War II veteran, was an advocate of civic engagement, long before it became San Pablo's slogan.
During the candidates' closing statements, McNeil made the case that the three incumbents' human capital, supervisory and fiscal management experience, and relationships with officials in other government agencies make them deserving of re-election.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.
Occupation: Executive director of nonprofit organization; council incumbent, appointed in April 2012 to replace a council member who resigned for health reasons
Name: Rich Kinney
Occupation: High school and middle school teacher, coach and tutor; pastor; police chaplain
Name: Leonard McNeil
Occupation: Political science professor
Political experience: City Council incumbent with 12 years experience on the council
Name: Franklin Onwubuariri
Occupation: Fitness trainer
Name: Cecilia Valdez
Occupation: Retired court reporter
Political experience: Elected to San Pablo City Council in 2008; former vice chairwoman of Contra Costa Democratic Party Central Committee
Name: Frank Ybarra
Occupation: Alcohol and drug counselor
Note: Biographical details were provided mostly by the candidates