WHILE HILLSIDE development battles have highlighted Pleasanton politics in the past few years, the economy has crept up on a city that had enjoyed years of remarkable fiscal health. Now, the community needs leaders who respect the will of the voters on the former and understand the urgency of the latter.
It's for that reason that we endorse Karla Brown and incumbent Jerry Thorne for the two City Council seats on the Nov. 2 ballot and Councilwoman Cindy McGovern for mayor.
The recent confrontations over hillside homes were the result of more than a decade of inaction by the council, which failed to deliver a promised ridgeline preservation ordinance.
When residents rose up in 2008 by putting an initiative on the ballot, the council countered with a second measure aimed at undermining the first. Voters weren't fooled. They passed the residents' initiative and rejected the council measure.
The issue resurfaced in June, when voters rejected the proposed Oak Grove luxury-home development that did not comply with the new hillside guidelines. The property owners, Jennifer and Frederic Lin, have sued to force the city to allow them to build anyway.
The city needs a mayor and council members who will implement the hillside initiative and defend the city against the Lins' lawsuit, while being willing to negotiate a settlement that complies with the initiative.
Meanwhile, city revenues are falling and about 10 percent of city jobs have been left unfilled to save money. At the same time, yearly retirement costs and the long-term unfunded pension liability continue to mount. The city offers workers very generous pensions and, in most cases, requires no employee contribution. As a result, for every dollar of salary, the city pays an additional 25 to 38 cents just to cover retirement costs. At the same time, the city pension fund is, very conservatively, at least $70 million short. That's nearly a year's general fund revenues.
Of the two mayoral candidates, McGovern was the one sensitive to the concerns of residents during the fight over hillside development. While incumbent Mayor Jennifer Hosterman supported placing the competing measure on the ballot, McGovern wisely opposed it. Hosterman now says her actions were a mistake, but it took two successive ballot measure losses for her to reach that conclusion.
McGovern also has a greater sense of the urgent need for pension changes. Both candidates recognize that the current system is unsustainable and both recognize that employees need to contribute to the cost. But Hosterman says that can only start with "baby steps," while McGovern emphasizes the need for significant action. McGovern recognizes the pension liability for what it is, huge long-term debt the city must bring under control quickly before it grows exponentially.
There are four candidates for the two available seats on the council. Brown stands out as the only one who fully supports the will of the voters on hillside development. She helped write the successful hillside initiative and helped lead the successful campaign to stop the Lin proposal. At the same time, she stresses that the city's retirement plans are unsustainable and way beyond those available in the private sector.
Thorne was one of the council members responsible for the misguided counter measure placed on the ballot in 2008 and he was an outspoken supporter of the Lin proposal. However, Thorne recognizes that he lost on both and promises to defend the will of the voters. On city finances, Thorne is keenly aware of the problem posed by the retirement plan and promises to push hard for significant changes.
The other two candidates in the City Council race -- incumbent Cheryl Cook-Kallio and political novice Fred Watson -- seem to still be battling against the will of the voters on ridgelines. Cook-Kallio says she heard the message, yet she continues to complain that voters were deceived during the campaign. Watson goes further, suggesting that the Lins should be able to develop the project voters rejected. And neither candidate understands the city's pension burden.