Keeping the city’s finances in order, along with growing business and consolidating services are top issues for four candidates seeking two open seats on the Millbrae City Council.
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.
Interviews were held to help the Daily Journal determine endorsements. To allow each candidate a forum to express their opinions on the issues discussed, candidates were given the same questions and asked to answer each in around 50 words. Answers are arranged alphabetically by the candidate’s last name.
Describe your vision for Site One.
Reuben Holober: Site One is adjacent to the BART/Caltrain station. It is well suited for mixed use development that includes residential, retail and commercial space, generating jobs, revenue and better shopping options for Millbrae. Convenient access to public transit makes Site One an ideal location for bringing tech companies to our city.
Anne Oliva: I see lots of potential. I believe the property owners and developers will bring us choices. And while they do their jobs, council and city staff can be actively promoting all the great things Millbrae has to offer to help attract interest in Millbrae.
Doug Radtke: Site One should accommodate a prominent retail anchor store, shopping and offices primarily. For example the average Target brings in $38 million in sales at 9 percent is $3.42 million in sales tax revenue. Focusing on hotels would be a disservice to Millbrae residents. Southbound BART ridership would increase because of shopping.
Ann Schneider: An award-winning destination of remarkable urban TOD design that significantly increases our economic base, provides new shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities including commercial, office and living spaces, BART project connectivity while providing a quick, safe and vibrant gateway to the largest multimodal transit station west of Mississippi.
How do you envision the city’s fire department in five years?
Reuben Holober: Millbrae is considering a fire department merger with Burlingame, Hillsborough and San Bruno. A well-designed merger will reduce excessive overhead and management costs, allowing Millbrae to retain frontline firefighters and maintain prompt response times and excellent services. I’ll make sure any merger agreement guarantees that Millbrae controls our fire services.
Anne Oliva: I see our fire department in the black in terms of funding, providing outstanding service to residents and working collaboratively with other cities in the region.
Doug Radtke: Sharing fire services has helped create efficiency in the budget, but our relationship with the [Central County Fire Department] needs to be monitored. Giving up control gives City Hall an excuse to often not be directly accountable to the residents. We need to balance the budget and consider our options carefully.
Ann Schneider: Millbrae Fire will join Central County Fire Department [Joint Powers Agreement]. We will have affordable funding sources in place that allows for more than adequate and timely responses to our entire community. We will gain resources of a larger pool of employees and equipment. Services and efficiencies will be greatly enhanced.
Do you think downtown has the right mix of businesses?
Reuben Holober: Downtown needs a stronger mix of stores, consumer services and restaurants. Better restaurant and retail variety would keep Millbrae residents shopping here and attract shoppers from out of town. To attract higher end stores and more dining options, City Hall should collaborate with property owners to allow larger size storefronts.
Anne Oliva: Millbrae has a diverse collection of businesses and services. I rarely have to leave town to find what I want to eat, buy or do.
Doug Radtke: The free market will determine what businesses thrive or fail. If residents are criticizing the mix of businesses, they should be aware it is a direct reflection of lack of cooperation from our government. All business owners on Broadway are upset about the City Council. I’m the only candidate with a business mind.
Ann Schneider: No. We need restaurants, retail shopping and service opportunities that appeal to Millbrae’s diverse population and to the many hundreds of daily visitors. Business property owners should partner and consult with city staff to attract the right “mix” for our downtown business districts instead of “overloading” on similar ones.
What do you think of the city’s current financial situation?
Reuben Holober: Millbrae carefully balances its budget with a 15 percent reserve. To stabilize revenue and strengthen city services, we must attract new businesses to the area adjacent to the BART station, and make downtown more vibrant for retail. Improved revenue will enable Millbrae to pay for needed road and sewer repairs.
Anne Oliva: We are operating under a balanced budget and that is good. But we need more revenue coming in so that we can do more to care for our city and residents — for example, we need to put more money into infrastructure like our streets and aging sewer system.
Doug Radtke: As an auditor, I find Millbrae’s financial situation unacceptable. We have not had reserves for a decade. Our budget is propped up by Band-Aid solutions like the fire assessment. Millbrae should be aware the City Council has made no secrets about introducing yet another tax next year. Rampant indiscriminate spending by the City Council created our shortfalls and financial woes.
Ann Schneider: The five-year budget forecast shows Millbrae with a small increase in revenue over expenditures. If the fire assessment isn’t renewed within nine months, the revenue loss will be approximately $1.2 million. Millbrae has great business potential. Projects bringing in new revenue need to be sought to prevent future shortfalls.
A number of developments along El Camino Real have had challenges with construction quality issues. How can the city better work with developers and residents to help with those problems and prevent such problems in the future?
Reuben Holober: With several developments on the horizon, Millbrae needs adequate building inspectors to work proactively to prevent problems and ensure quality construction, as well as sufficient code enforcement staff. The city can avoid many problems by making sure developers use reputable local contractors who hire skilled local construction workers.
Anne Oliva: Collaboration and communication are keys — during the planning phase, construction phase and after projects are finished. We have a recent example of how to accomplish great work — the Safeway project used professionals paid prevailing wages. And it demonstrated how the City can work with developers to achieve success for all.
Doug Radtke: Those developments on El Camino were assisted by Millbrae’s former [redevelopment agency]. Individuals on council have received campaign funding and gifts from this developer. Millbrae’s inspector should be held liable for allowing shoddy work to pass. Individuals with conflict of interest issues should not dictate policy on the City Council.
Ann Schneider: Developers and residents must meet with the city first. Building criteria and codes are available. Communication is essential. The developer is responsible for construction quality. Well-trained workers and paying prevailing wages is important for successful projects. Staff should be available to work with developers and residents to resolve issues amicably in a timely manner.
Reuben D. Holober
Education: B.A. political science/communication, University of Washington
Experience: Biotech employee at Natera; former Millbrae Sister City commissioner; former intern for U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos
Family: Single, no children
Residence: 22 years in Millbrae
Education: B.A. psychology, Notre Dame de Namur University
Experience: Councilmember, Millbrae; broker, owner real estate business; past president San Mateo County Association of Realtors
Family: Married, three children
Residence: 22 years in Millbrae
Education: B.A. economics and business administration — financial accounting, University of California at Riverside
Experience: Governmental auditor for Badawi & Associates, CPAs; Pi Alpha Phi National Fraternity Board of Directors as national treasurer and director of expansion; co-founder of social gaming startup
Family: Mother and father
Residence: 16 years in Millbrae
Education: B.A. analysis of ecosystems and geography at University of California at Los Angeles; coursework completed for M.S. environmental science, University of San Francisco
Experience: Leadership, program development and government liaison at Hewlett Packard, contract management for city of San Jose, advisor to Mills High School Green Youth Alliance
Residence: Millbrae for 28 years