ALBANY -- In his many years as president of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, Tod Abbott has spoken to the City Council on a variety of issues, promoting the interests of the city's business community.
So it should come as no surprise that Abbott holds bachelor's and master's degrees in ... philosophy?
"I wasn't one of these analytical philosophers, but one studying American pragmatism," Abbott said. "One of the people I studied was John Dewey."
If you're not familiar with Dewey, he argued that there was no question of theory versus practice, but rather intelligent practice versus uninformed practice. Which actually makes sense when you consider that Abbott is running for City Council.
"My overall campaign message is quality of life," he said. "I'm packing that to include smart development that provides the income to achieve all those goals and support small business. Quality of life means everybody getting along, people recognizing their common ground and working together. But at the same time, providing leadership so that you can say, 'We've heard enough, we need to make a decision.'"
Abbott grew up in Walnut Creek and earned his bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley in 1988. He earned his master's degree from Northwestern before returning to the Bay Area. He moved to Albany in 2003 and owns his own web design and development business.
Now 48, he's married with two children.
Not long after moving to Albany, Abbott joined the Chamber of Commerce.
"I've always liked being involved in local organizations," he said. "I actually just walked into the chamber one day and said I'd like to become a member. Literally, their jaws dropped because that never happens."
A year later, Abbott was set to be co-president of the organization when at the last minute, his cohort was transferred out of town. That left Abbott as president of the Chamber, a job he held for most of the past five years until quitting to concentrate on his run for City Council.
Abbott said he wants to balance making sure everybody is heard on issues with a need to make progress on projects such as on the controversial University Village development for a market and senior assisted-living housing on University of California property along San Pablo Avenue.
"That's a perfect example," Abbott said. "I've been going to these meetings. They came to the chamber in 2008. I thought, 'This is amazing. I don't need to go to the City Council meetings. Who's going to talk against this?'"
Abbott was wrong about that. The project was approved by the City Council after a marathon meeting in July, but two lawsuits and a referendum led anchor-tenant Whole Foods Market to withdraw in August. Abbott was frustrated with some complaints that Whole Foods Market was too big for Albany.
"What makes a healthy business community?" he asked. "How you do that, get a good anchor store. Allen Cain (executive director of the Solano Avenue Association) says all the time, 'Anchors are supposed to be big and heavy.' You don't want to be Emeryville where every store is big and heavy. You want one or two."
In Abbott's view, "People drive through Albany and don't know where they are. Do I want to look like Emeryville? No, I do not. Do I think that a small grocery could have had the affect that Whole Foods would? No. Small grocery stores go out of business. Had we been able to get something like the Berkeley Bowl, that would be a whole other situation. But Berkeley Bowl just expanded."
Another issue Abbott said is important is reforming the city's cell phone tower ordinance, which Abbott believes hurts residents because it prevents facilities from being sited in the city, leading to poor cell phone service.
"Once you accept the idea that cell phone communication is no longer a luxury, then you need to start saying, 'What's it worth?'" he said. "How does that weigh against these other people's fear of radiation that is not supported by science? Sometimes you've just got to make the call and live with the consequences."