Pleasanton residents have a clear choice between the two incumbent council members running for mayor in the Nov. 6 election. For us, Jerry Thorne is clearly the superior candidate.
Similarly, of the four candidates running for City Council seats, two stand out: Jerry Pentin and Karla Brown.
In just two years, since the last election, candidate focus has shifted from hillside development to transportation, the city budget and the sustainability of public employee pensions. That's as it should be after the 2010 voter rejection of the Oak Grove luxury home plan that violated the city's hillside ordinance. For now at least, the 51-home proposal on land owned by Jennifer and Frederic Lin seems to be dead.
Instead, this year, with the countywide Measure B-1 sales tax on the ballot, transportation funding rises in the political debate. The measure would double the county transportation portion of the sales tax from a half-cent to a full penny on each dollar spent, and make it a permanent levy without a sunset date.
Mayoral candidate Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a current member of the council, and council candidate Erlene DeMarcus, a former BART director who served one term that ended two decades ago, support the tax measure. They cite the proposed improvements to Highway 84 as justification.
Fortunately, Thorne, Pentin and Brown recognize the problems with Measure B-1. They are unwilling to be bought off by the local project. Highway 84 improvements, as important as they are, don't justify doubling the tax and making it permanent. We applaud their stand. B-1 is a bad measure. How the candidates evaluate it tells us a lot about how they will approach other policy decisions.
We also learn a lot from how they approach the complex world of public-employee pensions. The city has been more sophisticated than most in its approach to controlling employee pension costs. Unlike others, it has taken small steps to reduce its unfunded retirement system shortfalls.
Nevertheless, the city's pension and retiree health care plans have a combined current shortfall of $176 million, equal to more than four years of city payroll before overtime. Clearly, a lot more cost reductions are needed. In our discussions with the candidates, it was clear that Thorne, Pentin and Brown best understand the issue.
Pleasanton is blessed with a solid tax base that has helped the city weather the economic downturn with less pain than most California municipalities. Nevertheless, the city workforce has been reduced by 12 percent since 2007, and more cuts will be needed if Pleasanton leaders fail to further trim retirement costs.
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