EL CERRITO -- Local candidates on the November ballot got together for a forum Saturday sponsored by the El Cerrito Democratic Club where they competed for the club's endorsement.
Candidates running for the West Contra Costa school board joined a group from the Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District, along with candidates for the BART and AC Transit boards.
El Cerrito City Council candidates were missing. The council election is uncontested, with three candidates running for three seats.
West Contra Costa schools have four candidates running for two school board seats, including incumbent Antonio Medrano.
Medrano touted the board's work with academies within the district's high schools, including ones specializing in law and justice, and engineering.
He also praised the ongoing construction of new schools and the bond measure on the November ballot, which will be used to rebuild elementary and middle schools still awaiting repairs.
Challenger Robert Studdiford described his experience as a parent volunteer on the district's Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee, supervising the bond program and the Budget Advisory Committee, which advises the school board on district finances.
Studdiford cited his involvement in the bond program, which has paid for school remodeling and construction, saying it has been the most efficient in the state in obtaining low interest rates.
"There's been good stewardship of your money, and the buildings are of the same quality whether they are in Kensington or Richmond," he said.
Randall Enos brings a background as a teacher and administrator in the district to his candidacy. He has taught at Kennedy High in Richmond and served as principal of Gompers Continuation High School, among other positions. Enos said his priorities are school safety, improving student performance and encouraging more community involvement in schools.
"I've had a 40-year commitment to young people," Enos said.
Todd Groves has been a parent volunteer for 16 years and now works with students at El Cerrito High School as part of the WriterCoach Connection, a program for tutoring students in writing. Groves advocates more autonomy for individual schools and bringing more adult volunteers into the schools. He is also calling for higher expectations for student behavior and performance.
All four candidates expressed support for continuing adult education programs despite tight budgets.
"I stepped forward and said no to cutting adult education," Medrano said.
They also agreed on the need to provide greater community access to the district's sports and recreation facilities.
"Everything is locked on the weekend (at El Cerrito High)," Studdiford said. "The facilities should be open. Our kids and adults need a place to play."
Medrano praised the parcel tax on the ballot as a necessity for maintaining school programs, while Groves said school funding reform is needed at the state level to moderate the need for parcel taxes.
"Property taxes can now account for 10 percent of annual (household) earnings," he said.
Groves and Medrano said they support charter schools, while Studdiford and Enos oppose them, saying they are a drain on school finances.
"Parents demand a choice," Medrano said.
All four candidates endorsed measures G and E, the district's parcel tax and school construction bond on the November ballot.
Groves won the Democratic Club endorsement with 68 percent of about 85 members voting at the forum; Medrano and Studdiford each received 45 percent and Enos 21 percent. Candidates with at least 60 percent of the vote received the club's endorsement.
Statements by the five candidates running for two seats on the Kensington services district board highlighted the split between incumbents Cathie Kosel and Chuck Toombs.
Kosel, a former El Cerrito mayor, has been vocal in criticizing the new contract and pay raise given to police Chief Greg Harman in July. Harman serves as chief and district general manager, and Kosel is calling for splitting the two jobs.
"We need a separate general manager," she said. "The executive (Harman) supervises himself."
Kosel also lambasted the board majority, led by Toombs, for declining to grant a request from Bay View Refuse and Recycling of Richmond to renegotiate its contract, saying that the community is getting great service at a low price and should be concerned about driving Bay View into bankruptcy.
Toombs focused on his accomplishments as president of the board for the past three years. He said he has made traffic safety a top priority and helped engineer a master plan for community buildings. He said he will push for regional open space planning, disaster planning and support for public schools.
"We are part of a larger regional community," said Toombs, who also pledged "to look responsibly at a garbage rate increase."
Challenger Patricia Gillette, who exchanged endorsements with Toombs, criticized what she said is an atmosphere of hostility at board meetings and in closed sessions.
"I'm appalled by the lack of civility, which has hurt the image of our (police) department," she said. "I'm seeing our G.M. cringe in the face of false accusations."
She praised Toombs for standing firm on the garbage contract.
"A contract is a contract," Gillette said. "We should always be looking at the best service for the lowest price."
Candidate Jim Hausken joined in deploring the rancor on the board but said there is a need for more openness in transacting business.
"There is a protective attitude toward the police and an insularity about the department," Hausken said. "We don't have an internal affairs department, so we need community input to replace it."
Hausken said he's upset by the fact that the district pays 100 percent of the cost of police pensions, saying it is now the only district in the county that does so. Kosel also criticized the district's pension policy, characterizing it as overly generous.
Candidate Kim Zvik touted her involvement in the schools and the community as a parent of four children.
"We have a lovely community, and I'm committed to having people get along," she said. "I want to run as an individual."
Toombs and Gillette received the Democratic Club's endorsement with 78 percent and 74 percent of the vote, respectively. Hausken received 20 percent and Kosel 16 percent. Zvik had 5 percent. Both El Cerrito and Kensington residents were allowed to vote.