Finances, development, public safety and keeping the momentum of the downtown renaissance going are among the campaign issues for the six candidates vying for three spots on the Redwood City Council.
The full candidate pool includes incumbents Jeff Gee and John Seybert, former councilwoman Diane Howard, Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt, community activist James Lee Han and bail bonds business owner Corrin Rankin.
The candidates met with the Daily Journal to determine endorsements and were also asked to answer the following questions in 50 words or fewer to let readers hear directly from them. Answers are arranged alphabetically by the candidate’s last name and in some cases edited for length.
The courts have twice overturned the City Council’s approval of the Finger Avenue subdivision development. What are the missteps and future action?
Gee: The Finger Avenue proposal is complicated and until all court actions are complete, it’s premature to take any policy actions. Once court actions are completed, the council will review the final court ruling and provide policy clarity that balances property rights, neighborhood quality of life and environmental and planning regulations.
Han: The council violated the city’s own creek setback ordinance by failing to follow municipal code in calculating the “top of bank” line where the creek buffer is measured. Judge Weiner’s ruling sets an important precedent that will protect Cordilleras Creek. In future, the council must choose the law over developers.
Howard: In this situation, there seems to be a difference of opinion in regards to the interpretation of setbacks from the creek. The city engineer determined the project was safe. The court disagreed. The city does not have a specific ordinance addressing creek setbacks and perhaps that is what is needed for future developments.
Rankin: The issue is the environmental impact of having too many homes being built so close to the creek. Judge Weiner suggested that eight homes would fit adequately instead of nine homes. Moving forward the developer should work with the city in reducing the size of the project and following Judge Weiner’s suggestion.
Schmidt: A lot of the confusion over this project lies with the fact that Redwood City has a setback for storm water drainage but not for creeks. Redwood City should adopt a creek setback ordinance.
Seybert: My decision was based on findings made in accordance with CEQA guidelines. Both sides of the issue have appealed the judge’s decision; therefore, until all appeals have been ruled on, it would not prudent to determine whether any missteps were made or if any changes in city processes are required.
The downtown redevelopment has been a big success but what else can be done to make the city an entertainment and economic draw?
Gee: Downtown has several entertainment and dining options, which I hope will continue to grow once people are living and working downtown. To support a thriving new downtown entertainment district, you need people to live and frequent those businesses after work hours. Within 24 months you’ll see an exciting new neighborhood.
Han: Losing family entertainment options like Mel’s Bowl and Malibu Grand Prix makes it crucial to bring in unique recreational opportunities that will cement our growing status as a destination city. I’d also like to organize an event for the LGBT community to complement the various cultural festivals we now have.
Howard: Prioritize public safety, aesthetics and the cleanliness of the downtown experience; frame downtown as the center for arts, entertainment and a diverse economy; ensure good traffic flow and pedestrian mobility; incentivize current business to expand and/or bring in new retail; and work with the chamber and other interested stakeholders to create mentorships for new businesses.
Rankin: Marketing. The city needs to develop a multi-layer marketing campaign to draw, visitors, patrons, new business, etc.
Schmidt: We need to conduct more outreach to existing businesses to make sure we retain them in Redwood City. The city recently hired a new economic development manager, which is a great step toward doing just that.
Seybert: The downtown renaissance continues with an unprecedented amount of housing and top-notch office space under construction. Adding daytime and nighttime populations will ensure retail, entertainment, dining and cultural events can thrive. With the success of our downtown, I will also be concentrating on supporting the growth with necessary city services.
What is the biggest challenge facing Redwood City?
Gee: Balancing our general fund budget. We anticipate the loss of $2 million in state funding next fiscal year, and $4 million per year, every year after that due to changes in how the state allocates property tax revenues. We’ll need to find ways to maintain public safety and city services, without cutting services or increasing taxes
Han: We’re adding cars, people and buildings to our city at a fast pace. The consequences to our community will be huge unless we take a more thoughtful and proactive approach to affordable housing, traffic and the environment. Our biggest challenge is ensuring that our renaissance doesn’t leave regular people behind.
Howard: With the unpredictable state raids of city funds and rising retirement costs, establishing a budget that provides for essential services for our community is the top priority. Also, our diversity, both ethnic and economic, is one of our greatest strengths and challenges. We must find a way to provide adequate housing and services for all.
Rankin: Public safety. With all the changes in our justice system over the past two years, crime is on the rise. In some cases crime has risen 48 percent in Redwood City alone. My expertise in public safety will be critical going forward.
Schmidt: Redwood City needs to expand housing opportunities for people of all income levels.
Seybert: The budget. It is foundational to everything a city, business or family needs, or wants, to accomplish. With my support, the council has balanced the budget, without using reserves, the last four years. I will continue to ensure Redwood City lives within its means and protects our quality of life.
As the county seat, how can the City Council balance the needs of the city with the overlapping needs of the county such as parking space and the new jail?
Gee: Redwood City is the county seat and we value the positive economic benefits of county employees frequenting our downtown businesses. We need to collaborate with the county on solutions that complement our downtown revitalization plan as long as traffic mitigation, parking solutions and other issues are coordinated and solved together.
Han: Gov. Brown signed the TRUST Act, meaning that San Mateo County must end its practice of detaining undocumented persons not accused of certain major crimes, reducing overcrowding in the Maguire facility. We should have rejected a new jail on Chemical Way which now may cost county taxpayers $400 million to build.
Howard: We need to recognize that the revenues for the city and the county come from the same source — the taxpayer. We need to partner with the county to eliminate duplication of services and provide cost efficiencies, which will result in the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.
Rankin: These are important conversations that need to take place immediately. Growth and prioritizing a Community Benefits Program to address increased parking needs. Better signage for visitors and patrons to find current parking is something we can implement immediately. I have a great working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office and am confident we can continue working together to find solutions.
Schmidt: The county garage is open to the public on evenings and weekends for free. The city should work to make it a better utilized parking option. The city should continue to be a collaborative partner with the county because there are always opportunities for mutual gain.
Seybert: Our great relationships with county leaders have created a partnership providing much-needed parking downtown. Fortunately, we were able to move the new jail out of downtown. We need to continue to work with county leaders on additional parking solutions and to ensure the jails do not negatively impact our downtown.
How do you think the city handled the Pete’s Harbor situation, in particular community outreach and initial approval of the development permits?
Gee: The Pete’s Harbor developer could have done a much better job with their community outreach effort. There’s a distinct difference between “telling the community” what it is going to happen and “engaging” the community in dialog. To help ensure that there is community engagement, the city is now involved in this process.
Han: The Planning Commission’s decision to fast track the development six weeks after nearly 200 residents received notice was disappointing. I helped lead community opposition to the project and articulated my concerns over the jurisdictional issues involved. The city must listen to residents and approach development more thoughtfully going forward.
Howard: In general, it is the primary responsibility of the developer to reach out to the community affected by the proposed project. Pete’s Harbor is an example of the complexity of developing along our waterways due to multi-jurisdictional involvement. The city can only respond based on its own ordinances and jurisdictional boundaries.
Rankin: Most of the Pete’s Harbor area is private property, however, this area of Redwood City has been a staple in our community for years. Listening to the voice of the community is always important.
Schmidt: In terms of community outreach, the city did everything it could. As for permitting, the city could have been more diligent in ensuring the project had the necessary approvals from other permitting authorities like the State Lands Commission. But all in all, the city handled a complex project very well and most importantly conducted its duties in good faith.
Seybert: The development proposed is within the current zoning ordinance prescribed by voter passage of Measure Q in 2004. The developer led the community outreach effort which is different than community engagement. For me, community engagement is what we are doing with the city-led Inner Harbor Task Force — involving our community.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102
Name: Jeff Gee
Occupation: Vice president, Swinerton Management and Consulting
Education: BS, architecture, California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo
Experience: City Council; former Redwood City planning commissioner; past member Architectural Review Committee
Years of residence: 18
Family: Married, two children
Name: Diane Howard
Education: Lewis Wilson School of Nursing; Suffolk County Community College
Experience: former City Council; chair of the Pride and Beautification Committee, co-chair San Mateo County Water Transit Advocates; chair, Water Emergency Transit Authority Citizens Advisory Committee; member downtown business group; Chamber of Commerce; Parks and Arts Foundation
Years of residence: 32 years
Family: Husband and son
Name: John Seybert
Occupation: Facilities/transportation manager
Education: Cabrillo Community College, Santa Cruz
Experience: City Council, former planning commissioner
Years of residence: 16
Family: Three daughters
Name: Ernie Schmidt
Education: Two years junior college
Experience: Planning Commission
Years of residence: 12 years
Name: Corrin Rankin
Occupation: Business owner
Education: High school, vocational college, insurance education and licensing
Experience: Criminal justice, community service and nonprofit boards
Years of residence: 19 years
Family: Husband and three daughters
Name: James Lee Han
Occupation: Business manager; nonprofit group secretary
Education: Attendance at Brown University and University of California at Davis
Experience: Public sector work, community organizer in Redwood City advocating affordable housing and responsible land use decisions; member, Coastside Beach Coalition
Years of residence: Entire life except five years