The controversial Transit Village project, downtown parking and getting more revenue into city coffers are among the San Carlos city issues highlighted by the six candidates hoping to secure three seats on the City Council.
Incumbents Bob Grassilli and Matt Grocott, appointed incumbent Karen Clapper, former councilwoman Inge Tiegel Doherty and Cameron Johnson, chair of the city’s Economic Development Advisory Commission, spoke with the Daily Journal as part of the editorial endorsement process. The candidates were also asked to answer the following questions in 50 words or fewer to let readers hear directly from them. Former planning commissioner Michael Corral chose not to participate in the endorsement interview but did submit answers. Answers are arranged alphabetically by the candidate’s last name and in some cases edited for length.
Greater East Side residents have felt several projects such as the In-N-Out, Carlos Club and Transit Village have unduly affected their neighborhood. How can the City Council best balance what is good for the entire city with what this particular community wants?
Clapper: We must be sensitive to East Side residential areas. Being alongside the city’s commercial and industrial districts requires careful review of projects. Similarly, we must balance advantages and impacts on other neighborhoods near multi-use, higher density projects on El Camino Real, Laurel Street and San Carlos Avenue.
Corral: The council must listen to residents’ concerns before making these decisions. Public outreach is vital. During my campaign, I still find many residents who haven’t heard of the Transit Village proposal. GESC happens to be the most vocal group, but in their defense, they bear the brunt of many city projects.
Doherty: The impacts to this neighborhood need to be considered against the perceived contribution and value to San Carlos. The council will need to consider cumulative impact for proposed development and possibly modify the general and East Side specific plans.
Grassilli In relation to the East Side residents, if growth is allowed, there must be some mitigation or benefit that directly accrues to the East Side. New projects that benefit the city as a whole, must be balanced with neighborhood concerns.
Grocott: Keeping communication open and healthy is an ongoing process that takes effort. Looking for opportunities to add city amenities to the East Side has to be a priority and why I have previously suggested relocating city hall to the East Side on a campus including city offices and a sports complex.
Johnson: The East Side is just as much a part of our community as White Oaks or Crestview and we need to be sensitive to projects impacting the quality of life for residents. The city needs to do a better job of listening to those residents and incorporating their proposals into neighborhood projects.
Downtown parking is always a concern for residents. Is paid parking ever going to be a consideration?
Clapper: There is no question we need smarter ways to manage our public and private parking. While many San Carlans prefer no meters, other options include sensors to manage parking tickets, better signage to available spaces, new locations for employee permit parking, residential parking zones/permits and local shuttles.
Corral: Paid parking should never be off the table. We must balance if and where it might be appropriate, thoroughly considering effects to surrounding neighborhoods. To address parking perception, we need to show downtown dwellers alternatives to parking in front of their destination. I’m encouraged by the Smart Parking Pilot Program.
Doherty: It’s important to monitor parking space availability and increase that number as needed. This should include consideration of a parking structure and the funding to build it. While not a proponent of paid parking, a nominal fee to offset the cost of more parking should be evaluated.
Grassilli: I will never vote for paid parking in the downtown area. Our recent parking study showed that there is enough parking for all if we do a better job of signage and outreach, to educate drivers where the empty parking spaces are.
Grocott: No. The council backed via a Cisco grant into a hybrid. It is not paid parking but more stringent in enforcement and may generate revenue. A device in the pavement starts the clock whenever a new vehicle pulls in. A vehicle parked overtime signals an officer who tickets the vehicle.
Johnson: I oppose adding parking meters to Laurel Street because it would undermine our cherished small town feel. The Wheeler Plaza project will add additional parking spots to downtown and I support adding signage to direct cars to the parking garage on Laurel and Holly.
Where, if at all, do you think the city should use artificial turf in its public parks?
Clapper: Turf debates share a bigger issue that more parks and fields are needed, especially for our large youth population. Hours of play may increase with turf in limited locations, but the shortage of usable space really needs a combination of shared use with schools, reallocation of existing space and acquisitions.
Corral: I’m not convinced that turf is ever a good idea. After the Crestview decision, it’s very clear that the vast majority of residents are against it. Turf transfers maintenance and use concerns to health and other ecological issues. I also encourage studying a sports complex option for the city.
Doherty: I voted for artificial turf at Highlands Park. I believe in protecting parks for non-athletic uses so I don’t foresee needing artificial turf on the remaining parks. I would continue talks with the school district about replacing part of the blacktop playground at Central School with a shared and jointly funded artificial turf field.
Grassilli: I believe that Highlands Park is the only city park that should have artificial turf. That being said, I believe the San Carlos Elementary School District should study whether any of their playing fields could be better utilized with artificial turf.
Grocott: As multi-use facilities, it is incongruous to put artificial turf in our parks; they serve firstly as places where people go to relax and enjoy a park-like setting. The answer is a dedicated facility. The challenge is where times two: where is the location and where is the money?
Johnson: I want to maximize playing time on our fields, but not at the expense of residents who enjoy our parks for picnics and relaxation time with family. That’s why I opposed adding turf to Crestview. I support adding a new dedicated turf field, with lights and parking, away from neighborhoods.
Should the city continue holding out for a hotel in its industrial area or would it be better served working with property owners to draw in other revenue-generating businesses?
Clapper: With recent discussions highlighting the potential of the Landmark-zoned properties, we have moved beyond “holding out” as we actively work with property owners to identify best long-term opportunities for revenue and return on investment for owners, developers and the city.
Corral: I made clear during Planning Commission’s debate over the landmark commercial rezoning, the city should work with property owners. While a hotel is still a possibility, by proposing the landmark commercial designation, the city dismissed some property owners. The council approved rezoning with zero public support and against Planning Commission recommendation.
Doherty: A hotel probably would be ideal use. The city hasn’t been approached by a developer sharing the same perspective. It is probably time to reevaluate possible uses, including a large commercial or mixed-use space. Our East Side Specific Plan should reflect the needs of businesses and be updated accordingly.
Grassilli: I believe a hotel is still possible in our industrial area. But I do not think the city should pass restrictive ordinances relating to private property. Working with property owners to bring in any revenue-generating business should always play a major role in our city’s economic plan.
Grocott: We have already taken a strong direction on this matter but I would rather we work with property owners to realize what they have in mind for their property than to insist that what the city has in mind is the so called “highest and greatest use.”
Johnson: A hotel would have a lot of benefits and, with the economy improving, there are signs it may finally happen. But as chairman of the Economic Development Commission, I have advocated setting a time limit of 18 months to create a sense of urgency and prevent an unending pursuit.
Outsourcing city services has been a boon to the city’s finances. What other administrative or budgetary innovations do you foresee for San Carlos?
Clapper: We will continue to build on past successes — fine-tuning day-to-day operations and contracting processes. I am pleased we budget on a two-year cycle with input on service priorities from community survey. We have an excellent staff that can be expected to control costs and ensure quality services.
Corral: There are always better ways to manage taxpayer dollars. The recession taught us that hard decisions needed to be made. Our city emerged stronger, although concerns have been raised regarding fewer police patrols and increasing crime. It’s important that nice-to-haves are identified and scrutinized for potential refinement. Pension reform, sure.
Doherty: The challenge is elected officials having the political will to give up local control. Key areas include shared parks and recreation services, public works/maintenance and additional public safety mergers. This would require collaboration and shared long-term planning between cities which could identify other areas like traffic congestion or affordable housing.
Grassilli: I believe that sharing services with other cities, or the county, is the model that San Carlos should continue to explore. Also, I believe we must continue to budget reserves for all our pension and health care liabilities, as well as our public facilities.
Grocott: The elephant in the room is pension obligations, a subject we must address and I’m focusing on in my campaign. We need to move from defined contribution to defined benefit retirement. Opening the doors to labor negotiations would help our finances by adding free market principles to establishing the value of city positions.
Johnson: We need to treat every tax dollar as precious and spend money only for projects and services that have a positive impact on our community. I support implementing performance based budgeting, which tracks the outcomes of every dollar spent, to ensure that we are only funding effective programs and services.
Name: Karen Clapper
Occupation: Appointed City Councilwoman; productivity coaching for nonprofits
Education: MBA, finance UCLA; BA, environmental design
Experience: Planning Commission, financial services consultant, Friends of Library volunteer and past treasurer, Gamble Garden treasurer
Years of residence: 18
Name: Michael Corral
Occupation: Wine buyer
Education: Bellarmine College Preparatory; San Jose State University, business administration/ marketing
Experience: Former planning commissioner
Years of residence: 10 years
Family: Domestic partner, 13 years
Name: Bob Grassilli
Occupation: Business consultant
Education: BS, University of San Francisco; MBA, UC Berkeley; CPA, state of California
Experience: City Council, former planning commissioner
Years of residence: 30
Name: Matt Grocott
Occupation: Business owner
Education: BS in design, Clemson University
Experience: City Council
Years of residence: Since 1994
Family: Married, son
Name: Cameron Johnson
Occupation: Director of product innovation, Netflix
Education: MBA, Stanford University 2008, BA Political Science, Reed College 2000
Experience: Chair, San Carlos Economic Development Advisory Commission; Chair, San Mateo County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Recovery Commission
Years of residence: Five
Family: Wife and two children
Name: Inge Tiegel Doherty
Occupation: Change management consultant
Education: USC School of Architecture
Experience: City Council, Planning Commission, Council of Cities, Economic Advisory Council, HIA and Harbor Industrial Annexation co-chair, founding member of county housing endowment and trust
Years of residence: 45+
Family: Three sons