PITTSBURG -- Two incumbents on the Pittsburg City Council are facing a challenge on the November ballot from a former council member and a planning commissioner who think they can do a better job.
Councilmen Ben Johnson and Will Casey were first elected in 2004 and then re-appointed to the council in 2008 when no candidates challenged them that year. That's not the case this time around, with Bob Lewis, a former council member, and George Harris, a former planning commissioner, running.
Pittsburg was one of the more aggressive cities in California in using redevelopment funds to improve the city's infrastructure and revitalize its downtown area on Railroad Avenue before a state law passed last year did away with redevelopment agencies. That means the city will have to come up with solutions to encourage new businesses to come to Pittsburg, said Johnson, a retired banking professional.
"That's one of the issues we have to deal with. We have to deal with managing the debt and how to pay the bonds back," said Johnson, who is running on a platform to bring more jobs to the city while maintaining a balanced budget.
He pointed to the overwhelming passage in June by voters of Measure P, which temporarily increases the city's sales tax over a 10-year period to offset a decline in revenues from falling property taxes, as a sign that residents support the current council.
"Obviously, (voters) felt we need to continue to do what we do,"
During the past four years, Pittsburg and other cities have faced financial challenges set in motion by tough economic times, said Casey, a former San Francisco police chief who also served as Pittsburg's top cop and city manager before he was elected to the council.
"I decided to seek re-election to keep us going in the right direction," he said. "We have to keep a balanced budget to get us through these very difficult financial times."
Casey also pointed to voter approval of Measure P as a sign of support.
"That was a blessing from the citizens of Pittsburg," he said. "We have the citizens of Pittsburg going along with us. We've got to keep managing the budget and attract people and businesses to Pittsburg."
Lewis is a vice president of a property-management firm who served on the council from 1989 to 2002. He said he wants to return to the council to help the city deal with tough economic times. Among his goals are to expand recreation opportunities in the city and come up with solutions to replace the loss of redevelopment funds.
While on the council, Lewis helped form the Pittsburg Power Co. in 1996, a city-owned company that has generated about $30 million in revenues over the years as a result of partnerships to develop projects that transmit electricity to third parties.
"We're not going to be able to do the kind of (redevelopment) programs we did in the past," he said. "The Pittsburg Power Co. is the major economic development tool that the city of Pittsburg has available to it."
Building contractor George Harris served on the planning commission from 1993 to 2006.
In a written statement about why he was running for council, he said: "I still have the passion, and I have the time to work for you. ... A pro-business strategy is key to our image, our economic well-being and our local efforts."
But he declined to comment when asked for specifics.
"I don't want everyone else climbing on board," he said.
Reach Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.