Candidates should learn about the issues before they run for office, not during the election season.

Year after year, hopefuls campaigning for city councils, schools boards and even the state Legislature offer up slogans rather than substance. The latest examples can be found in San Ramon, which is holding the only East Bay candidate election this fall.

Next year, voters will be swamped with campaigns for local offices. Let the candidates for San Ramon City Council serve as an example of what not to do.

Of four candidates vying for two seats, two -- Thomas von Thury, a lawyer, and Rene Matsumoto, until recently a part-time city employee teaching bicycle and pedestrian safety -- were still coming up to speed. They both want to serve. They're both intelligent people. They both seem to care. They're simply not ready to discuss city issues in any depth.

Only Planning Commissioner Harry Sachs and incumbent Dave Hudson seem to understand the issues facing the city of 74,000: the structural budget deficit; the long-standing fights over growth; employee salaries and benefits, including pensions; and the financing scheme for the long-discussed City Center project.

Von Thury's sole purpose for running is to slow development, to keep the city a primarily residential community with limited commercial development. He fears it becoming like Walnut Creek. That campaign approach might have made sense 20 years ago, but San Ramon now has 8,000 more residents than Walnut Creek.

Matsumoto's ultimate answer to key questions was that she was studying the issues. We encourage her to do so, perhaps get involved by volunteering for a city commission and try again in two years.

We passed over Hudson for endorsement four years ago. We disagree with him on many issues. His answers are often disjointed. He does not always work well with colleagues. But he's familiar with the issues. That's a low bar, but it's a requisite first step.

As for Sachs, he understood the issues and could cogently discuss them. He recognizes that city employees need to make more than a minimal contribution toward their pensions.

In 2010, he supported Measure W, which would have opened up to development about 3.5 square miles on the east and west sides of the city. After 71 percent of voters said no, he now acknowledges suffering a "butt-kicking." He says he heard the message: Leave Tassajara Valley alone.

This is a weak field of candidates. But we have no other choices. So, we endorse Sachs and, very reluctantly, Hudson.

We hope candidates come better prepared in 2014.