Please join me and the other City Council candidates at a number of upcoming forums. I look forward to seeing you there. Please mark your calendar now!
Oct. 3: League of Women Voters Benicia and the local AAUW will be cohosting a candidates’ forum for the four people running for Benicia City Council Wed. Oct. 3, 7-8:30pm at the Benicia Public Library
Oct. 4: Valero Refinery, Napa/Solano Labor Council, others – Thurs, Oct. 4, 5:30pm to 7:30pm. Doors open at 5:00pm. Ironworkers Local 378 Union Hall, 3120 Bayshore Road, Benicia
Oct. 11: Benicia High School (seniors only), City Council candidates forum – Thurs, Oct. 11, 9:35am.
Nov. 3 – City of Benicia Open Government City Council candidate forum, Sat. Nov. 3, 9am-11am, Council Chambers, City Hall, 250 East L St. (And taped for re-broadcast on the local television channel at 7 PM on Sunday, November 4 and Monday, November 5, 2018.)
The campaign for Benicia’s City Council seats received a dose of ugliness this week with an outside “research firm” calling Benicians with a so-called poll on state and local politics.
My campaign is in no way connected to this poll. However, the telephone pollster offered lies about me and flattering comments about one of the other candidates. The favored candidate has publicly denied involvement. I believe him, but then he claims that the poll wasn’t necessarily biased. He suggests that people hear what they want to hear. But many Benicians have reported that the push poll is an obvious attempt to smear my good name. Our city attorney has contacted the firm to inform the outfit that they are most likely violating city ordinances that promote clean campaigns in Benicia.
All of the candidates have signed pledges to adhere to Benicia’s Code of Fair Campaign Practices. Our code includes this section:
The candidate will immediately and publicly repudiate those who take actions that either help a candidate’s candidacy or hurt an opponent’s candidacy, which are inconsistent with the Benicia Code of Fair Campaign Practices.
And now I’ve done so.
Let’s get back to the positive campaigning that has introduced me to so many new Benicians who want a smart, positive candidate who has a track record – on the planning commission and elsewhere – of working to improve our community.
Thanks to all of you who have reached out to me since receiving the bogus poll call to show support.
I rewatched Michelle Obama’s 2016 speech this morning and am inspired to repeat one of her most memorable quotes: “When they go low, we go high.”
Viewers of Wednesday’s Candidate’s Night forum, sponsored by the Benicia Chamber of Commerce, had an opportunity to ask questions of the City Council candidates and learn their perspectives on hot-button issues facing the city.
The forum was held in the Council Chambers of City Hall and moderated by James Cooper, the president of the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce. All the candidates were present, including Planning Commission Chair Kari Birdseye, retired carpenter William Emes, Economic Development Chair Lionel Largaespada and former Councilmember Christina Strawbridge. Prior to the forum, audience members wrote down questions on cards, which Cooper read to all the candidates. Below is a sample of the candidates’ answers.
Industrial Safety Ordinance
The candidates were asked their stance on a proposed Industrial Safety Ordinance for the city, which among other things would include a more community-involved approach to safety procedures at the Valero Benicia Refinery and other local industries. A draft ISO went before the council in June, but the council voted to delay the ISO to give Valero more time to address some of the concerns resulting from the 2017 flaring incident.
Birdseye felt the proposal should be reviewed.
“I’m all for communications between our great neighbor, Valero Refinery, and the community at large,” she said. “The heart of the ordinance is better communications and better data on what’s in our air.”
She proposed the ordinance should be renamed the “Community Involvement Ordinance.”
Largaespada made five points. He said his top priority was public safety, the city should have an active climate environmental policy, he supports the installation of more air monitors, the council should be vigilant over the council’s execution of Program 4— the state version of the ISO and he supported the expansion of command centers with every vulnerable entity in town, including Amports and schools.
“We didn’t have to wait for there to be a flaring incident at Valero to take all these actions,” he said. “I assure you as the next councilmember, public safety is what I will think about every day, working with fellow councilmembers and city staff. We will correct and amend our ordinances and our processes along the way.”
Strawbridge said she was concerned about the way the ordinance was presented, namely that she felt the public did not have much oversight and the councilmembers and staff did not have much time to review it.
“I think we need more time to review it,” she said. “I think that it has brought people to the table, which has been really important.”
She noted that the ISO discussion has created opportunities for communication with Valero and suggested people wait and see what the refinery will do in the time given.
Emes felt Valero should be given time to meet the minimum requirements, including installing monitors.
“Over time, my 15 years experience working refineries, they have continually become better,” he said. “It takes time to do this. To demand that it occur instantly in five years is unrealistic given the historic record.”
Candidates were asked about the city’s decision to restructure water rates and their views on continued rate increases.
Birdseye noted her family was among those impacted by the water rate increases, and she noted in her experiences going door to door, many residents wanted relief and action. She felt that addressing the city’s “crumbling infrastructure” was the right thing to do.
“We want future generations of Benicians to have access to clean water, and that’s not a god-given right,” she said, citing the incidents of Flint, Mich. and Newark, N.J. as examples of failed leadership resulting in lack of access to clean water.
However, Birdseye felt the city should explore its options and figure out alternatives to rate increases.
Largaespada said he was frustrated by the rates and had been protesting them since 2016 via public comments at council meetings and letters to the editor. He offered a plan for the next council to freeze rates, bring back discounts to those with fixed incomes and extend them to nonprofits such as the Benicia Teen Center, ask for money from state and federal representatives and look at public/private partnerships.
“The reality is Benicia will never have enough money to pay for this,” he said.
Strawbridge said she was the swing vote when the council voted to increase water rates but felt further discussions should be held with residents and advocated freezing the rates to figure out where the city stands with its water and sewer funds. She also suggested developing a water hotline to address the complaints.
Emes felt assistance should be provided to those who need help and the commercial enterprises that use a lot of water should carry their weight.
“My feeling on this sensitive subject is that those in need should get help, and those that can give help should help carry the burden,” he said. “It is that simple.”
The candidates were asked their views on the city’s decision to allow cannabusinesses.
Largaespada rejected assertions that he was a “prohibitionist” or “moralist,” and he accepted the statewide voters’ decision. However, he did not feel the council’s ordinance was well-implemented, particularly the decision to do away with buffers around parks, places of worship or youth centers.
“It is the responsibility of the City Council to ensure that Benicia remains a family-friendly community,” he said. “Those businesses are welcome, but families come first and we will do our best to accommodate the locations that will not come at the expense of the families and children here in Benicia.”
Strawbridge said she felt the decision was made too fast and felt Benicia should have waited to see how cannabis legalization was impacting other communities.
“I have no problem with legalized marijuana,” she said. “I think it’s been helpful, especially for people for medicinal use for people trying to find relief and pain, but I do have a problem with the fit for here in Benicia.”
Strawbridge said she would continue to fight to ensure cannabis is not used by youth.
Emes agreed with Largaespada and felt there should be zones where cannabis is not allowed.
Birdseye, who was on the Planning Commission that recommended a zoning ordinance, said ensuring public safety in the wake of legalization will be a top priority.
“Our chief of police was there every step of the way in legalizing cannabis and bringing cannabis to our community,” she said. “He will ensure that cannabis will not be a safety nuisance. In addition, because we took advantage of the timing of the state in legalizing cannabis, we will have additional funds to enforce cannabis laws and keep it away from our kids and also education in our schools. I felt that was a very valuable part of what we did.”
The televised broadcast of the forum will be shown again at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 26; 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6; and 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 on Comcast Channel 27.
It has been a busy week with the Chamber of Commerce forum, Planning Commission meeting, working all week at the Global Climate Action Summit and somehow, I found myself on social media reading mean-spirited, fact-less attacks. And then I receive this from Duane:
You are an impressive candidate Kari. Now go win.
Just when I needed it. Thanks Duane. I have an impressive team of supporters who will help me do just that; Jack and Maggie at the Farmers Market today, spreading the good word. Gary, Kathy and June knocking on doors with me this weekend. To the beautiful people I’ve never met, donating online, thank you. And all the wonderful Benicians who have placed yard signs and continue requesting them. The website continues to attract yard sign requests, endorsements and donations. Visit my How Can I Help page soon if you haven’t already. And leave me feedback on how you think I did so I can improve for the next forum hosted by League of Conservation Voters and AAUW on Wednesday, October 3rd, 7-8:30 p.m. at the Benicia Public Library. Please try to come and watch in person and show your support like a good number of you did this Wednesday.