FREMONT — The first of three City Council candidate forums Monday produced few disagreements among the eight participants.
The candidates — among 10 vying for two seats Nov. 4 — mostly agreed that Fremont needed a downtown, vibrant historic districts, more police officers, new businesses, "greener" buildings and closer ties between the council and school board.
The eight participants were Vinnie Bacon, Sue Chan, Fazlur Khan, Larry Montgomery, Alan Stirling, Linda Susoev, Trisha Tahmasbi and the lone incumbent, Bob Wieckowski. Two candidates — Hou Leong, an eye doctor, and Charles Bartlett, a member of the Golden Gate Minutemen — didn't attend the forum, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
The two top vote-getters will serve on a City Council that will likely face tight budgets and could be asked to vote on the Oakland A's ballpark village proposal — which would be the largest in city history.
Six candidates said they were inclined to support the A's project, while two — Bacon and Stirling — criticized it.
With little more than one hour of debate time, the eight participants weren't allowed to answer every question posed by the moderator. They also weren't permitted to question or respond to one another.
The candidates emphasized their top issues.
Montgomery, a construction inspector, pitched his call for a free citywide wireless Internet system and a convention center on the site of the A's project. Stirling, a retired iron worker, criticized city management and called for the firing of Fremont's police chief and city attorney.
Susoev, who has run in nearly every council election for more than a decade, said that rents and the cost of living must be lowered; and Khan, a retired banker, stressed economics, saying that when it comes to the economy, "I have the foresight, like Bill Clinton."
Wieckowski reiterated his openness to new taxes to pay for more police officers and better services. Meanwhile, Bacon criticized the city's development record, arguing that Fremont would be able to afford more amenities, including more police officers, if it had built less housing and fewer strip malls and attracted more businesses.
Tahmasbi and Chan, the two challengers with the most establishment support, both emphasized public safety and economic development. Tahmasbi is an Ohlone College trustee, while Chan is a local planning commissioner.
Chan said Fremont's police need to once again respond to burglar alarms. Tahmasbi, who has received the police union's endorsement, said the department's existing alarm policy was not something it wanted to implement.
"They just didn't have the manpower to deal with it," she said.
The candidates gave a wide range of views of the A's ballpark village proposal.
Montgomery, Susoev and Khan each said they fully support the plan. Chan and Tahmasbi said they supported the project in principle, but would need more details. Wieckowski said it was too early to offer an opinion.
Bacon said the A's plan has no viable transit options and would cause massive traffic jams on game days. He also said that because the project is in a redevelopment zone, most of the revenue would go to the city's redevelopment agency, which can't use the money for police or fire services. Stirling said the city would end up having to finance the stadium and predicted relations with the A's would sour once the team moved to town.
All candidates said the city needs more police officers, but most said that other than a proposed hotel tax increase on the November ballot, the money should come from new revenue generated by economic development.
The exception was Wieckowski, who proposed the hotel tax hike and has supported others as well.
"We've gotten to an idea where it should be painless," he said, arguing that the city needs to ask voters to tax themselves to pay for better services.
Only Stirling declared his opposition to the hotel tax, which would fall on the shoulders of people staying in city hotels.
Three candidates addressed the affordable housing issue.
Wieckowski and Bacon each expressed interest in increasing the quota for affordable units in new developments. Chan emphasized housing that would be affordable for public employees, such as teachers and police officers.
The candidates are scheduled to appear at two more forums: one to be hosted by the Fremont PTA on Monday, and one to be held at Comcast's studio Oct. 1.