There isn’t a thing, we did, that I would have changed.
A group of intelligent, passionate, concerned citizens organized, campaigned, called, walked, talked and worked day and night for a safe, healthy and prosperous future for Benicia.
If it had been a traditional, clean campaign, we most likely would have prevailed. Despite the unfair, dirty resources that skewed the results, we came close. Three percentage points away from office will be noticed by the outside interests that poured more than $200,000 into our race. We spent less than $20,000.
I am honored to have been your candidate. I learned so much about Benicia, its neighborhoods, its politics, and the best and worst of our community. The most treasured outcome of this process has been getting to know and working beside so many wonderfully engaged and compassionate people. Many of you were more surprised, upset or disillusioned than I am about the outcome. Thank you for your outpouring of cards, flowers, and well wishes. I have one request for you and then I’ll make you a promise.
Please stay engaged. Attend City Council meetings. Ensure that the elected councilmembers keep their promises to work towards a healthier, safer Benicia. Write letters despite the dysfunction of our local paper. Shine a spotlight on lies or councilmember votes that don’t match the campaign rhetoric. Remain vigilant in working towards our vision.
I promise to work as hard as you did this season in preparing for 2020, by supporting the best candidates up for election and/or re-election.
Thank you, my friends. I’m glad I ran and I am proud of the race we nearly won.
Many thanks to Benicia High student Emma Goularte at the Benicia Paw for this. I hope we see lots of first-time voters at the polls this Tuesday. And of course, thanks to every student who already sent in a ballot! – Kari
This month there is an election for City Council here in Benicia. There are two open seats due to Mark Hughes and Alan Schwartzman leaving. There are four candidates racing for the two spots. Christina Strawbridge, Lionel Largaspada, William Emes, and Kari Birdseye are the four candidates. Kari Birdseye is a candidate who is determined to get a spot on City Council.
Birdseye has lived in Benicia for the last 18 years. She grew up in the Bay Area and in different parts of California. Throughout her childhood, she watched Mary Tyler Moore on television. Moore was a professional, and a television producer, who Birdseye looked up too. In high school, she was on the school paper and in college she studied Journalism. She got her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and wrote for the college paper. After she graduated she became a television news producer for CNN. She even won an Emmy for the Olympic Park Coverage. She later left CNN to become a Director of Communications at the Wine Institute. She enjoyed the environmental part of the job, so she went back to school to get her Masters of Science and Environmental Management. In addition to her job, she has been on the Matthew Turner PTA board President for eight years, Benicia Stingrays board for 10 years, served through city government, held fundraisers, and administered grants to the non- profit organizations in this community.
Along with all of the organizations she is a part of, and her full time job, she added campaigning into the mix. According to Birdseye, “Having to get yourself out there and campaigning is like having two full time jobs, but I love doing it so it doesn’t feel like work to me.” She loves to keep busy. As long as she likes what she’s doing, then she is happy to do it. While campaigning you have to put forth your strongest qualities to catch people’s votes and being on City Council people need to see you follow through and put your best foot forward. Her strongest qualities are synthesizing information and understanding complex situations and data. She is good at communicating and understanding how to find solutions to problems. In other words, she is a good strategic planner and a good problem solver.
Birdseye has three main problems in our community that she would like to fix. She first wants to face economic sustainability and diversity. The city faces some tough financial problems coming up due to the retirement funding set up. We need funding to help run our city so we can have a police department, fire department, sewer, and other things Benicia needs to keep a happy and healthy community. Improving the industrial park, different kinds of businesses, and keeping businesses financially healthy is also important for our community. “We need to plan for the future and what we want our city to be in 10-15 years,” Birdseye said.
Another thing Birdseye would like to maintain in Benicia is access to clean air and clean water. She believes everyone deserves clean water in Benicia, not just the rich. Also, she wants air monitoring throughout our community so we can see what we are breathing. They should start at schools first because that’s where the most “vulnerable” people are.
The next important thing she wants to address is better planning and better communications throughout our community. City hall needs to become easier for citizens to come, listen, and share their ideas to help our community. It is important to her to make it so everyone in Benicia who wants to deal with city government can do so and feel welcome.
Benicia has a good school system that draws families here. The school is in the heart of the community and it is important to keep it safe and vibrant. It is important to embrace diversity within our schools and communities. We need to keep the Kyle Hyland Teen Center. It is important to our community, so teens can have a healthy and great place to go. “We need to keep our best teachers and make sure they are treated fairly. They deserve to be paid like rock stars or sport stars.” They are people shaping our lives so they should be treated importantly.
Birdseye is going to approach each problem or vote with an open mind and bring the experience and intelligence that she has to each problem. This will set her apart from the other candidates along with her reasoning, strategic thinking, and her independent thinking. She also wants the other candidates to know that she hopes they can stick to a fair campaign. She looks forward to working with whomever wins with her.
“People and companies go negative when they are afraid.”
Benicia City Council candidate Kari Birdseye responded Tuesday to questions asked by this newspaper after a special committee was formed to oppose her campaign.
As of Tuesday afternoon, financial records submitted to the Benicia City Clerk’s Office show that $124,000 has been pumped into the committee, which was also formed to support fellow council candidates Lionel Largaespada and Christina Strawbridge.
Records show that the Valero Benicia Refinery has contributed $14,200 to the committee named: Working Families for a Strong Benicia, a Coalition of Labor, Industrial Services Companies, Public Safety and Local Leaders Supporting Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada and Opposing Kari Birdseye for Benicia City Council 2018.
The other funding sources are a number of union PACs.
“Valero and their friends are afraid of a candidate whose priorities include diversifying our tax base, promoting access to clean air and clean water and being a good neighbor at City Hall,” Birdseye wrote in an email to the Times-Herald.
The committee paid for a series of political phone calls to Benicians. A phone script was provided with the expenditure report given to the clerk’s office. It shows that if a respondent reported he/she may vote for Birdseye, the caller was to say that Birdseye is a “yes man for the mayor,” and not an independent thinker.
“I’m not sure if that phrase was meant to be a misogynistic slight but it is,” Birdseye wrote in her email. “I’m a woman, with a brain of my own. I’m nobody’s yes person. I will do my homework, listen to Benicians and make my own decisions based on what I think is best for our community.”
She also repudiated the claim that she isn’t an independent thinker.
“I’m a critical, strategic thinker with years of experience in management, finances and leadership,” she added. “I’m the last person who wants to give oxygen to the lie being spread about the Mayor and Vice Mayor building their shadow government, but if you look at the Vice Mayor’s voting record, he also is an independent thinker.”
The committee also bought digital advertisements to convince Benicia voters that Birdseye would be bad for the city.
Birdseye said Valero’s committee reminded her of when Chevron pumped millions of dollars in to the Richmond’s City Council race in 2014 — and lost.
“Outside influences are pouring more than $100,000 into our Benicia race, where all the candidate campaign money combined doesn’t equal that,” she said. “It is wrong, unfair and Benicia deserves better.”
Birdseye, Largaespada, Strawbridge, and Will Emes are all running for two open seats on the five-person Benicia City Council this fall. The two incumbents, Alan Schwartzman and Mark Hughes, have both declined to seek re-election to the council.
BENICIA — Kari Birdseye says she has the skill set needed to make Benicia the best it can be; that’s why she decided to seek a seat on the Benicia City Council.
“Placing a priority of the long-term economic vitality of our community while maintaining the historic, small-town charm will take proactive thinking,” she explained.
Birdseye, 52, the strategic communications manager at Natural Resources Defense Council, also serves as chair of the city’s Planning Commission.
She says diversifying the tax base by attracting clean tech companies to the city’s industrial park, while also maintaining access to clean air and clean water for everyone are her campaign priorities.
“New businesses will provide economic diversity and stability to our full-service city,” she explained. “Polishing our industrial park into the jewel that it can be is key to the economic vitality of our city. We need to modernize the area’s infrastructure, by repairing roads and offering affordable, high-speed internet access, which will in turn attract new businesses that can help us diversify our tax base.”
Birdseye says she supports a thorough examination of Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s proposed Industrial Safety Ordinance.
“At the heart of the ISO is better communications between the community and Valero and installation of community air monitoring stations with access to real-time data available to the public,” she said. “I believe the ISO could repair the relationship between Valero and Benicians by facilitating an honest dialog between the refinery and its neighbors. The proposed draft ISO is in no way redundant to Solano County’s Program 4, as other candidates have stated.
“The purpose of Program 4 is to prevent major incidents at petroleum refineries in order to protect the health and safety of communities and the environment. The local ISO picks up where Program 4 leaves off and involves the community in discussions related to the health and safety of us all,” she added.
Birdseye further said that Benicia is the only Bay Area refinery town without its own local ordinance.
“We need and deserve the same type of protections,” Birdseye added.
When asked about the city’s water rates, Birdseye said she supports the council’s decision to address the city’s crumbling water and sewer infrastructure in 2016.
“However, how that 2016 City Council addressed it needs to be re-examined,” she said. “Our economy today looks different from what they were facing two years ago. Installing smart meters with front-loaded rate increases was not the way to handle it.
“Smart meters should have been installed to capture the 25 percent leakage rate the city was facing, losing money on the lost water. Once the smart meters were in place, the city should have audited the updated water measurements, usage and increased fees that residents were facing,” she added. “Then and only then should have modest increases been considered and they should have been tiered over time.”
She said if elected she will lead examination and audit of the city’s water and sewer rate structure “and find avenues of relief for ratepayers.”
Birdseye says she fully supports Measure E, which would, if adopted by local voters, place a six percent tax on the gross receipts for the city’s cannabis businesses. City Hall through the measure could also impose a tax of up to $10 per square foot for commercial cannabis cultivation.
“Regulated cannabusiness in Benicia has the potential to generate millions of dollars annually between fees and Measure E taxes,” she said.
Birdseye further said her top priorities, if elected, are protecting the small town, historic charm of Benicia, and being a good neighbor at City Hall.
“I pledge to work hard to bring together the best thinking on this issue. It may take updating zoning ordinances, more resources at the city level for our economic development team,” Birdseye said. “I will bring my record of honesty, integrity, tenacity and caring about people.”
Benicia City Council incumbents Mark Hughes and Alan Schwartzman both declined to see re-election to the five person council. Four candidates are going for the two seats, including Birdseye, Lionel Largaespada, Christina Strawbridge, and Will Emes.
As you may have heard, Valero’s Benicia Refinery admitted last Friday to sponsoring the unfair telephone “push poll” many Benicians have been responding to during the past month.
Benicia’s City Attorney shared this fact with the public in a letter to the polling companies’ attorney. Valero General Manager Don Wilson did the right thing by disclosing Valero’s involvement. However, City Attorney Heather McLaughlin stated in her letter “In order to avoid having to issue a subpoena, I would ask that you voluntarily provide a copy of the poll questions to me within the next 72 hours.”
Benicians who received the phone survey have reported biased lead-ins to questions, including “Kari Birdseye wants to shut down Valero, costing hundreds of jobs” and “She will bring radical left-wing politics to City Hall.”
Benicia City Council candidate Lionel Largaespada’s response suggested that the poll may not even have been biased: “I have heard many different opinions on how it was conducted – ranging from Steve’s claim that it is biased towards me, to residents who found it equally balanced, to others who thought it was negative-sounding towards me. As with most topics, people have differing reactions and take aways based on their own beliefs and opinions.” Mr. Largaespada’s statement aligns with attorneys of the polling companies by casting doubt on whether there was bias at all.
In addition to asking for the actual questions used in the poll, the City Attorney has requested an itemized invoice showing the dates, times and number of calls made. This request has been refused by the companies’ attorney.
More polls, paid for PACs against me, are continuing today and probably throughout the weeks leading up to the election. Please learn more about my campaign through reputable sources like the website BirdseyeForBenicia.com or by watching candidate forums like this one: League of Women Voters / AAUW forum here.
Remember to vote on November 6th or send in your ballot, which should be arriving in your mailbox this week. And if you haven’t visited my website yet, please stop by at BirdseyeForBenicia.com
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.