Shared services, maintaining finances and growing the city’s businesses and infrastructure are top concerns for those seeking the two open seats on the Millbrae City Council.
The four seeking office — Reuben Holober, appointed incumbent Anne Oliva, Douglas Radtke and Ann Schneider — spoke with the Daily Journal for endorsement interviews last week. Oliva was appointed to the council after the death of Nadia Holober, former councilwoman and Reuben’s mother. Mayor Gina Papan is termed out. Handling construction and the city’s fire assessment tax were also of interest to candidates.
Candidates expressed interest in expanding business in the city and a key part of this plan would be through developing land near the BART/Caltrain station.
The 1998 Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan encompasses 116 acres around the BART/Caltrain Station area. Higher density housing, retail, restaurant, office, hotel and entertainment uses in a mixed-use development have yet to materialize. Plans have since stalled and the site, known as Site One, hasn’t been actively worked on since 2006.
Oliva would like to see a couple plans in regards to the area.
“We came out of tough economic times and watched everything stop in regards to development,” Oliva said.
A mixed-use, high-density, residential, commercial and technology business friendly space would be Holober’s vision for Site One. Retail and restaurants are also necessary for keeping residents shopping in Millbrae, he said.
A transit-oriented development with mixed uses is Schneider’s idea for the area.
“We need to get the players together and move forward,” Schneider said. “It’s only a couple of years until Millbrae goes into the red. Millbrae needs to be focusing on economic development.”
Radtke would like there to be a focus on retail near the BART Station so Millbrae gets sales tax from purchases.
“My vision is probably a bit different,” he said. “Retail would bring the most revenue. It could accommodate an anchor store like Target, office space and condos on top. Retail needs to be dominated by an anchor store.”
In regards to the mix of businesses downtown, candidates would like to see more diversity.
If elected, Schneider would like to conduct a community outreach plan to come up with ways to attract new businesses.
Oliva said there are a lot of the same kinds of restaurants and businesses, but she doesn’t leave Millbrae often because businesses do cover her needs.
There isn’t the right mix of businesses, Holober said. Consolidating businesses to deal with a lack of square footage of each building could allow for larger businesses.
“It’s not a new issue,” he said. “We’ve been struggling with this for quite a while now. I would like to see a broad range of restaurants.”
Further, Radtke said the mix could be better, but he is a believer in the free market and the businesses open are a reflection of what people are demanding. The city of San Jose has a plan where they lower fees for new businesses opening, which he says could be an option for attracting more business.
“The council could work with the Chamber of Commerce to think outside of the box,” he said. “There were missed opportunities — like losing the Nissan dealership and Shaw’s Candy. Broadway is an eyesore with six empty businesses.”
Candidates addressed lawsuit brought against the city over alleged lack of quality construction on the two developments each have more than 100 units along El Camino Real — 88 Broadway and Park Broadway.
The city does need to take a stronger role with construction, Holober said.
“It’s kind of an embarrassment,” he said. “We want to avoid those types of issues and have the type of staff to make sure they’re constructed properly.”
Similarly, Oliva agreed it was unfortunate, but noted that the construction of Safeway is a good example of what to do moving forward. Providing construction workers with prevailing wages is important, she noted.
Having adequate staff checking plans and encouraging developers to hire high-quality workers would be Schneider’s plan.
The city had a cop-out response, Radtke said, noting the city inspector should be held accountable for faulty buildings being constructed.
With the city’s Fire Department sharing services with nearby cities and police services contracted out to the Sheriff’s Office, candidates were mostly in favor of the plans, which they say save the city money.
“There’s a benefit in shared services,” Radtke said. “Efficiencies are created and it’s outstanding out much money is saved.”
On the topic of the city’s fire assessment tax — which expires in spring of 2014 — candidates had varying views. Millbrae voters originally passed the $144 yearly fee for fire services on single-family homes in 2004 as one solution to address the city’s budget crisis, which began in 2001. It was extended in 2009. The levy brings in about $1.44 million annually.
The fire assessment tax needs to be earmarked for public safety, so that Millbrae residents get what they are paying for, Radtke said. He said the title of the fire tax assessment renewed four years ago has a misleading title.
“Amounts go to general fund revenue,” he said. “If renewed, we’d want to keep the city accountable and make language to dedicate to public safety.”
In terms of the fire department’s move toward a merger with other cities, Schneider was in favor.
“This is the future for many other departments in small cities,” she said. “We need to do a much better job of educating the public. In the long run, I would not like to do a fire assessment every five years, but rather make it permanent.”
Holober supports passing a new tax since the city doesn’t have the funds right now, but in the future he would like to avoid such a levy. Oliva was also in favor of the merger and would like to see another assessment passed to keep the city in good financial shape.
Additionally, candidates also supported consolidating other services.
Police and fire are a good start, Holober said. Adding the Public Works Department and certain programs in Parks and Recreation Department to the list of shared services would be wise, he added.
Schneider and Radtke agreed that Parks and Recreation could be consolidated, while Schneider emphasized senior programming and grant funding are other options for consolidation.
“The city may not be big enough to have one trained grant writer,” Schneider said. “I’d also like to see partnerships with schools and economic development.”
Some partnerships for projects are good, Oliva said.
“The partnership with the Sheriff’s Office is awesome,” she said. “I appreciate us having our own services; there’s pride in that.”
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