In November, San Ramon voters will choose a new mayor and at least one new council member to lead the city through what will be a challenging time.
San Ramon is experiencing growing pains -- a necessity and expectation for a community with a rapidly expanding and changing population during a global pandemic and resulting economic downturn.
Budget shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 crisis, opposition to the recently approved CityWalk mixed-use project by Sunset Development with 4,500 housing units and justified concern over crowded schools and roads are among the current issues. These challenges will only become more complicated by the continuing economic downturn and an increase in affordable housing obligations in the next few years.
Mayor of San Ramon
Dave Hudson has the experience in local and regional leadership to lead the city through the pandemic, the economic crisis that will follow for many years and put the city on the right path for the future.
With nearly 28 years on the City Council and seats on regional regional committees such as the Contra Costa Mayors Conference, Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), and Bay Area Regional Collaborative (BARC), Hudson is well-versed in balancing the desires of residents and demands of the state as far as development and resulting issues such as transportation and environmental impacts. He also stays informed on what is happening in Sacramento and in the county, as it affects San Ramon.
Vice Mayor Sabina Zafar is the only other of the six candidates on the mayoral ballot with necessary civic leadership experience. Just two years into her first council term, Zafar has shown an ability to comprehend complex issues, bring forth commonsense solutions and engage residents. We encourage her to get more elected service time and run for the mayoral position again in a few years.
We are impressed with Zafar in that she is also approachable, personable and invites community input, which we feel is important in a council member and a mayor. Mayor Bill Clarkson has spent nine years modeling this behavior and, because Hudson has a more authoritative, straight-to-the-point persona, our editorial board questioned Hudson on this "softer" aspect of leadership. Hudson assured us he is responsive and will seek even more public engagement if elected mayor. With his home phone number on the city's website, he said, "Every resident has my phone number and I respond."
Hudson also said that, if elected, the council will "allow the public an opportunity to speak to our subcommittee meetings during council comments. We do this on regional committees, and it allows residents the opportunity to get a different point of view."
Vote Councilman Dave Hudson for mayor of San Ramon.
City Council District 1
Two candidates are on the ballot for the District 1 seat. Seeking a fifth term, Councilman Scott Perkins is being challenged by county health manager Luz Gomez in what is San Ramon's first election under district-based voting for council seats.
We hesitantly endorse the incumbent, Perkins.
Perkins has served the city well for four terms and is knowledgeable of the issues as well as the history of planning projects and strategic plans. We are hesitant in our endorsement because we believe Gomez would challenge the status quo, which needs to happen.
For example, Gomez and Perkins differed on the city's assistance to residents and businesses in response to the pandemic.
While praising the city's efforts to keep residents informed, Gomez said, "Unfortunately our reserves have been going down in recent years, and I wish they were healthier so we could do some additional help to our small businesses."
Perkins, on the other hand, praised the city's hiring of a consulting firm for $40,000 to help local small businesses. We believe the taxpayer money would have been better used funding microgrants for small businesses or something similar, as opposed to adding to the profitability of an out-of-town business.
Another difference between the candidates was in regard to the police department. Both candidates praised the department and Chief Craig Stevens, but Gomez brought up that the department's annual budget increases seem unsustainable.
"A concern that I have is that the police department budget has been increasing by about $1 million per year for the past five years," Gomez said during our Sept. 24 candidates' forum. "This is not sustainable and I want to look under the hood and see why... "
With an expected, significant budget shortfall because of the economic impacts of the global pandemic, struggling businesses and an increased housing obligation on the horizon, the city needs to question the status quo and "look under the hood."
However, Gomez would have too much of a learning curve on land-use issues, housing obligations and city finance, having never served on a high-level city commission or committee, to be up to speed in a timely manner to address all of the intricacies of the issues.
A perusal of her campaign contribution reports also gives us pause. A significant amount of her contributions (as of Oct. 9) -- $9,000 -- came from one person, a former San Ramon council member and no-growth advocate, Jim Blickenstaff. He also spent over $3,000 to do a mailing. We have to question why.
With a new regional housing needs assessment (RHNA) cycle coming soon and an increase in housing obligation expected, we need a council member who understands that affordable housing will be built and must be planned. What San Ramon doesn't need is a lawsuit like its neighbor to the south -- Pleasanton -- which ended in millions of dollars spent only to be ordered by the state to construct housing, or loss of local control.
Vote Councilman Scott Perkins in San Ramon's District 1.
City Council District 3
Four candidates are on the ballot for the District 3 council seat. Any one would bring passion and dedication to the position, but we need someone who is the most ready to hit the ground running on day one.
San Ramon Parks and Community Services Commissioner Sridhar Verose is best equipped with knowledge and experience for this seat. He understands no growth is not an option, and that if the city doesn't plan for affordable housing the state will and the city could lose local control. He has a proven track record of community leadership and collaboration, and will continue his predecessor Phil O'Loane's commitment to protecting open space.
Other District 3 candidates -- Varun Kaushal, Reza Majlesi and Sameera Rajwade -- impressed us with their preparation for the forum and eagerness to serve their community. We hope these three will continue to pursue community service.
Vote Sridhar Verose in San Ramon's District 3.
Correction: The amount contributed to Luz Gomez's campaign by a single donor, Jim Blickenstaff, has been corrected. We regret the error.
Editor's note: The DanvilleSanRamon.com editorial board reached its decisions based on the candidates' performances at our online forum, email interviews on endorsements, and our review of past reporting and research.