Kari Birdseye interview in the Benicia Herald

Repost from the Benicia Herald
[Note from Kari: Thank you to Nick at the Benicia Herald for his continued quality coverage of the 2018 election race.  He includes a bit about my background here that may be news to you.  Thanks to all of you for your support! Look for my campaign signs this weekend – and let us know if you want one in your yard.  Best – Kari]

Candidate Spotlight: Planning Commission Chair Kari Birdseye sees council as next step

Planning Commission Chair Kari Birdseye has her sights set on a council seat. (File photo)

After three years on the Planning Commission, including a year and a half as its chair, Kari Birdseye is ready to continue serving the city in a bigger way, hence why she is running for the City Council.

“(It’s) the natural next step in my service to Benicia,” she said.

Birdseye received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from San Francisco State and spent 11 years working in Atlanta as a producer for CNN, where she was part of a team that won an Emmy for covering the Centennial Park bombing at the 1996 Olympics. In between the birth of her daughter Julia and her son Joey, Birdseye moved her family to Benicia in 2000. Julia is now a freshman at SF State, and Joey is a junior at Benicia High School.

Upon returning to California, she began working with the Wine Institute, a San Francisco-based trade association of California wineries where she helped develop the Code of Sustainable Wine Growing practices.

“It’s a workbook that puts together all the best practices in the vineyards and the wineries, and it teaches folks to evaluate themselves through this workbook,” she said. “It allows them to become more environmentally sound and lessen their footprint.”

Birdseye went back to school and got a master’s degree in environmental management and became an agricultural sustainability consultant. She became a press secretary for the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice and is currently the strategic communications manager for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Throughout her time in Benicia, Birdseye has been involved in volunteering and civic engagement. When her children were attending Matthew Turner Elementary School, she served on the Parent Teachers Association board and volunteered in the classroom and for annual fundraising events. When her children reached the middle school level, Birdseye served on the board for the Benicia Stingrays swim team, including a stint as president. From here, she began serving on the Human Services Board which helps administer grants the city gives to nonprofit organizations.

“I got to learn a lot about our small town through that work,” she said.

In 2015, Birdseye applied to the Planning Commission to put her environmental and planning background to work while serving her community. In 2017, she was appointed to chair following the retirement of Donald Dean.

“It’s been very rewarding,” she said. “I have a background in working in environmental impact reports and doing environmental work, so I find that a good fit for me and very valuable.”

Since announcing her campaign, Birdseye has been going door to door to talk to residents about their concerns. One issue she said came up a lot was the City Council’s 2012 decision to adopt new water and sewer rate increases due to aging infrastructures after a six-year hold, resulting in households paying more for water usage. Birdseye said she understood the council’s reasoning but felt it could have been communicated better.

“I do think addressing the historic, crumbling infrastructure that our city had in delivering our water was the right thing to do,” she said. “I think it could have been handled differently, and I pledge to communicate and better inform our community ahead of big issues like that.”

In regards to an Industrial Safety Ordinance debate, Birdseye said she supports installing air quality monitors throughout Benicia and having the council look into a draft ordinance.

“I think the city needs to take steps to have a partnership with Valero to ensure that Valero is the best neighbor it can be,” she said. “The intention of the draft ordinance is a good one, and I think it needs to be reviewed by City Council.”

A top priority for Birdseye is having the city diversify its tax base, especially in the Industrial Park.

“Our Industrial Park is a jewel, and it should be more than just warehouses,” she said. “We should be bringing exciting, wonderful companies to our Industrial Park that help us stay a full-service city.”

Other major goals for Birdseye include maintaining Benicia’s small-town and historic feel, ensuring access to clean air and water and “being a good neighbor at City Hall.”

“What that means is always being a good listener to our residents, making City Council meetings a friendly place to be and having a discussion with our community around the big issues that face us all here,” she said. “I think, at the Planning Commission level, I’ve done a good job at having rich discussions with our community members about permitting processes and different issues that come before the Planning Commission, and I intend to do the same thing on the City Council if I’m elected.”

For more information on Birdseye’s campaign, visit birdseyeforbenicia.com.

Birdseye’s opponents in the City Council race are retired carpenter William Emes, Economic Development Chair Lionel Largaespada and former Councilmember Christina Strawbridge. The top two vote-getters will serve on the council with the candidate getting the most votes earning the title of vice mayor. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.