HERCULES -- Seven candidates, including three incumbents, are vying for three City Council seats in Hercules, where personal animosities complicate the issues.
Incumbents Gerard Boulanger, William Wilkins and Mayor Dan Romero face challengers Bill Kelly, Sherry McCoy, Hector Rubio and Phil Simmons.
Councilwoman Myrna de Vera, whose term runs to 2014, is backing McCoy, Rubio and Simmons; de Vera's husband, Manuel, has launched two PACs, one to support, the other to oppose, local candidates.
Fans of either camp insult each other on local blogs. And Manuel de Vera sent an email last month that accused unnamed followers of the incumbents of derogatory remarks against Filipinos after some pseudonymous posts on Hercules Patch. When asked about the email, de Vera said it was sent to "20 or more friends."
"They see Filipinos, particularly Myrna de Vera, as a threat to their re-election," the email reads in part. "It has not been this bad against Filipino-Americans in Hercules until recently. It began with the negative politics of Dan Romero, Wilkins and Boulangier (sic) in the recall elections last year."
In June 2011, Boulanger and Wilkins replaced two white council members in a special recall election, while Romero replaced a Filipino-American council member who resigned five months earlier. Those three former council members, along with two others whom voters replaced with Myrna de Vera and John Delgado in 2010, were widely blamed for the city's financial meltdown and for allowing a former city manager to steer several million dollars in city contracts to his family company.
On the issues, the candidates are divided over the fate of several large, vacant properties, two of which the city is under contract to sell; the third is under negotiation. The challengers accuse the incumbents of lack of vision and transparency.
Sycamore Crossing, 11.43 acres at San Pablo and Sycamore avenues, is under a $9.27 million contract of sale to the development subsidiary of Safeway, which wants to build a grocery store and gas station. A deed restriction attached by a previous owner prohibits the sales of groceries and a range of other products; the city has sued to lift the restriction.
Parcel C, 17.27 acres midway between San Pablo Avenue and San Pablo Bay, is under contract for $8.75 million to DeNova Homes, which wants to build up to 350 apartments. Victoria Crescent, 6.37 acres along San Pablo Avenue north of Highway 4, is under negotiation with developer City Ventures after the collapse of tentative deals with other developers that had proposed building 50 to 60 homes there.
The challengers have blasted the deals, saying that the city needs to attract more retail business to generate more sales tax revenue to the general fund, which has a $1.2 million structural deficit. They say that building homes on the parcels would betray the New Urbanist vision for the area as reflected in the Central Hercules Plan, which arose from a community planning charrette in 2000.
They say the city manager hatched the deals in secret, and council members rubber-stamped them in closed session, implicitly changing the properties' designated land-use by approving their transfer to developers of housing.
The incumbents have said the deals will keep the city out of bankruptcy, after it put up two of the properties as collateral for a $4.1 million debt to a bond insurer in a court-approved settlement. They say gasoline sales at Sycamore Crossing will generate lots of sales tax. They also say DeNova's plan for Parcel C is New Urbanist because it is near a planned transit center for buses, trains, and, in some indefinite future, ferries.
At a televised candidates forum at City Hall last week, the three incumbents urged revisiting the Central Hercules Plan that is the framework for the New Urbanist vision. Wilkins said that its projection of 370,000 square feet of offices, 4,700 garage parking spaces and about 500,000 square feet of retail with more than 1,200 new apartments is unrealistic.
Romero noted that the Bayside neighborhood, where some of the most vocal opponents of the property deals live, originally was supposed to have a retail component, and that in 2004 the Planning Commission and council changed it to residential.
The challengers say the property sales betray the New Urbanist vision of the Central Hercules Plan and that officials must market the city creatively and proactively to retailers to put its finances on track and ensure long-term solvency. Simmons said the Central Hercules Plan is a flexible framework, and that the city should strive for a balance of retail, commercial, open space, schools, parks and some more residential.
Kelly suggested paying back the bond insurer by moving city offices temporarily to the Corporation Yard and selling City Hall, a valuable and centrally located property. He hammered on the theme of openness and transparency, saying residents have lost faith in City Hall.
Rubio recommended setting up an economic development task force.
The debate can be viewed at http://hercules.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=5&clip_id=494.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlochner.
Name: Gerard Boulanger
Occupation: owner of carpet cleaning business; semiretired
Political experience: Current Hercules city councilman
Education: "Received in Europe; not transposable in the USA"
Name: Bill Kelly
Occupation: Retired police officer, attorney
Political experience: No prior elected positions
Education: Law degree, San Francisco Law School
Name: Sherry McCoy
Occupation: Small business owner
Political experience: Five years, Hercules Planning Commission (2007-2012); three years as chairman and president, board of directors, Foxboro Village HOA
Education: B.S., chemistry, UC Berkeley; MBA, San Francisco State University
Name: Dan Romero
Occupation: Independent insurance agent
Political experience: Current mayor of Hercules; city councilman since June 2011; team leader of Hercules Recall, 2011; longtime community watchdog
Education: Attended Merritt College and carpenters trade school; also attended insurance industry classes for life insurance and property and casualty lines of insurance
Website (soon to come): www.Dan4Hercules.com
Name: Hector Rubio
Occupation: Licensed architect and project manager
Political experience: Chairman, Hercules Citizens Finance Ad Hoc Committee, 2011 to present; school board president, St. Joseph School-Pinole, 2007-2010; member, Hercules Bayfront Task Force, 2011 to present
Education: M.B.A. in finance, Saint Mary's College; B.A. in architecture, City University of New York
Name: Phil Simmons
Occupation: Retired printing and publishing sales executive
Political experience: Hercules Ad Hoc Legal Committee; leadership role in various citizens groups; Bayfront Task Force; Waterfront Initiative
Education: Attended North Carolina State University; Central Piedmont Community College
Websites: http://philsimmons.net; www.facebook.com/groups/452502464797222/
Name: William "Bill" Wilkins
Occupation: Retired public employee with 35 years of public sector real estate experience
Political experience: Member of the Hercules City Council for 1 years; vice chairman for the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Commission; board member of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority; board member of the Contra Costa Community College Foundation; former member of the Citizens Ad Hoc Finance Committee for the city of Hercules.
Education: Bachelor's degree in anthropology, Fresno State University