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The Belmont Stakes
August 26, 2013, 05:00 AM By Sue Lempert

It’s not exactly a horse race but the Belmont council election may be one of the county’s most exciting and determine the city’s future.

Warren Lieberman is the only incumbent seeking re-election. Coralin Feierbach and ally David Warden, two veteran members, are not. Feierbach together with Warden and Mayor Christine Wozniack have dominated the council in the past decade. With the departure of the two incumbents — Belmont has no term limits — the existing power structure is up for grabs. Five candidates hoping to fill the void are three members of the Planning Commission: Eric Reed, who lost by 11 votes last time; Kristin Mercer and Gladwyn D’Sousa. Charles Stone, school foundation endowment chair and Realtor Mike Verdone are also running.

***

If Lieberman wins, he will have a shot at being mayor. He has been passed over twice before when he did not receive support from Feierbach, Warden and Wozniack when it became his turn despite efforts by councilman David Braunstein.

***

A look at the candidates’ endorsements is revealing. There are two camps. Mercer and D’Sousa are endorsing each other. They are supported by Wozniack, Feierbach and Warden and have similar endorsers including former planning commissioner Rick Frautschi. Mercer is also endorsed by County Superintendent of Schools Anne Campbell. Reed and Stone are endorsing each other and have the support of Lieberman, Braunstein; Supervisors Don Horsley and Adrienne Tissier. Reed also is endorsed by Supervisor Warren Slocum and Stone by Assemblyman Richard Gordon and state Sen. Leland Yee. Lieberman is endorsed by state senators Jerry Hill and Yee; Supervisors Horsley. Tissier and Carole Groom. Mike Verdone, newcomer to Belmont politics takes his first plunge. See endorsements on the candidates’ websites.

***

Lieberman is running for his third term. He served on the Finance Commission with then-treasurer Howard Mason who encouraged him to run for council. He is now a management consultant for software development and used to consult for American Airlines. Lieberman would like to see a more vibrant downtown where people can walk and find something to do. Right now, when people come to Belmont, they drive home after dinner. He believes Belmont’s insistence on conditional use permits has discouraged new development.

***

D’Sousa has served on the Planning Commission, the Green Advisory Committee, bicycle advocacy groups and chairs the San Carlos Belmont Sierra Club. He’s for more development downtown via community benefit agreements with no extra parking. He could see four- to six-story building on El Camino and on Ralston from Sixth Avenue to the highway. He and Mercer are supported by the city’s more vocal no-growth advocates. He vigorously objected to Crystal Springs private school locating off Ralston Avenue, a controversy which continues to split the city. He felt local public schools would suffer financially.

***

Reed has served on the Planning Commission since 2008. He was the only planning commissioner of the three running who voted for Crystal Springs. He works at Genentech in South San Francisco. He feels the current tree ordinance is overkill and should be limited to heritage trees. He wants to protect existing open space but would like to see more development downtown. The city needs to bring Oracle employees and Notre Dame students downtown. He would increase development through enterprise zones which follow strict guidelines and limit multi-story buildings on El Camino Real to three stories.

***

Mercer has been proactive on the Planning Commission for the past seven years. She is frustrated the city has not moved more quickly on developing a downtown vision and redoing the general plan. She could support some increased development downtown including four stories east of El Camino to Highway 101 but not on the part of El Camino adjacent to Ralston Avenue. She supports the judge’s ruling which might halt high-speed rail and is wary of its impacts on Belmont. She started her activism in the parent-teacher association. She voted against Crystal Springs but could reconsider.

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Charles Stone, an attorney, has been involved with the school district’s foundation, School Force. He was a major advocate for Crystal Springs coming to Belmont and thought it was a win for the city and the school district. He wants to preserve Belmont’s suburban nature but would like to see more development downtown — up to four stories and higher density around the train station. He feels development has “passed us by and Belmont can no longer afford to be a difficult town. We are part of the larger county and region.”

***

Despite the rhetoric, the candidates don’t seem that far apart. Whoever wins in November, council dynamics will change. Who wins may depend in part on a heated school board race with seven candidates and a school parcel tax. That turnout could determine the council victors.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at sue@smdailyjournal.com.

 

 

Tags: development, belmont, school, downtown, planning, lieberman,


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