City Council candidate Tom Campbell declined to attend our Candidate Forum on August 11. Following our endorsement of Steve Young for Mayor and Terry Scott for City Council, Dr. Campbell was asked to respond to the prepared questions the candidates were asked at our forum. Here are the questions and Tom’s responses:
Candidate Campbell – Response to Questions
August 22, 2020
- Would you support infill housing and if so, would you advocate for the City to either build or manage the building of such housing, splitting the cost of building with the builder? Would you recommend that the City set up an HOA and receive funds for each infill unit as a revenue source for the City? Please explain your response. The City has a long history of doing abysmal contracts with developers. Case in point, Casa Villarasa. This was a below market set of apartments that the City did with a developer. The developer couldn’t make his developer loan payments and said the City should pay the $800,000 still due. An old mayor said he had told the developer orally that the City would guarantee the loan. The mayor had no authority to do that and an oral agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. None the less he said he would swear to this in court. Our attorneys said that given the circumstances we were safer settling the case. So we gave the developer $800,000 of our residents’ money. The point here is there is no accountability for monumental mistakes. The people in office are gone. The people who were City staff are gone. The City has a long history of contract screw ups and never anyone left to hold accountable. We’re better off staying out of these types of contract.
- We know there is a lack of housing for low-and-middle income people in the Bay Area. What plan would you propose to increase affordable housing in Benicia, specifically housing that would admit those low to middle income wage earners, for example retail workers or those starting out as new teachers or health care workers, to the real estate market? The best we can do is infill apartments and accessory units. We do not have the available spaces to come anywhere near close to the units that the State says we have to have. The only way we could meet the State’s requirement for housing units is if we open up the hills north of town and build low and middle income units there. There is not enough infill left in Benicia to meet the State requirements. So you are left with protect open space or build housing north of town which there is no chance I will support.
- Water rates: What is your plan to address water rates? I opposed the water rate plan increases 5 years ago and also voted not to increase the rates twice after that. I’ve stated the reasons I opposed the rate increases publically at City Council meetings so I won’t go into them here. This week the Council went over the independent consultant’s analysis of the next 20 years capital water and wastewater needs. It totals $336 million which is way more than we could ever generate by water rate increases. The number was scary but also had some areas that had questionable logic. For example why would we repair the existing pipe line from the Cordelia Pump station to the water treatment plant for $46 million and also put in a parallel pipe line for another $116 million. But I digress. Back to the question about water rates. The vast majority of future costs are capital infrastructure costs and will have to be addressed by property bonds because there is no way increasing water rates could cover the dept service. At some point the capital costs will have to be separated from the operational costs.
- What is your plan for attracting new businesses to downtown and the Industrial Park? Considering the current pandemic, what types of business would you encourage and how would you support them? Downtown the City has made it more attractive with improvements like lights on the trees, recent repaving First St., improved designation of parking spaces, moving business employee parking off First St. so there is more parking available. And many other infrastructure improvements. I could list several more things that have been done downtown but it has been a 20 year process that is now starting to produce benefits. The City sill continue to try new things such as the parklettes in front of restaurants to allow more outdoor eating. As for the industrial park. We have a problem. The industrial park is almost totally filled. The vacancy rate is close to 0. There isn’t any room for big businesses to come in anymore. The only available space left is the 500 acres of the Seeno property and they have continued to not negotiate the development of an additional business park.
- How should Benicia adjust its budget with the decrease in revenues from COVID-related business closures? The first week of March 2020 we had allocated over $9 millions of unassigned funds to improve our roads, improve employee retention, improve our pension issues, work on a new police station and several other projects. When the State shutdown businesses the next week we stopped all those projects and returned the money to the unassigned fund to hold it until we more clearly understand the Covid impacts. At this point we have $9 million in our reserves plus $12.1 million in our unassigned funds to cover a projected deficit this year of $2.5 million and up to $8.5 million next year.
- What are your thoughts about the Benicia’s dependency on businesses that significantly contribute financially to the City’s revenue base? Do you have a plan to diversify our tax base to reduce the City’s dependency on these businesses? Valero contributes about 20% of our General Fund revenues. But there are about 10 other decent sized corporations in Benicia that significantly contribute to the General Fund and jobs. Even Valero has said it would like to see Benicia have a broader tax base. Our problem again is we simply don’t have the room to expand. That’s why the Seeno property is our only potential source for economic development. Along those lines when you hear a candidate say what Benicia needs is economic development the next question to ask is enough about clichés what are you going to do and be specific. That’s because the only real area where economic development to any degree is available is the Seeno area and they aren’t interested in what the City wants to do. They want to put houses in that area period.
- Would you support City owned and operated business rental space in downtown and other parts of the city? If so, would you support the City lowering rental fees to below market prices to support small business and to provide competition to existing private landlords? No
- With regard to Valero’s failed permit to have crude oil shipped via rail to Benicia – would you support this project if it resurfaces again or similar projects that would increase Benicia citizens exposure to additional toxic pollutants in our air and water? I voted against crude by rail and my view hasn’t change. It’s unlikely we will face this issue again any time soon because when the price of a barrel of crude went to $50 all of the major companies in the oil sands and oil shale areas of the northern plains went bankrupt. It only works when a barrel of crude oil is over $90 a barrel. I wonder who is going to clean up the mess now in the oil sands?
- The City of Benicia is the only jurisdiction in the Bay Area with a refinery that does not have in place an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO). Do you support the Benicia adopting an ISO, like the one implemented in 1998 by Contra Costa County, to provide the City a seat at the table not currently provided by state regulations regarding review of incident reports, safety plans and audit reports, and risk management plans required by petroleum refineries? California has an ISO that was copied from the Contra Costa ISO just like Benicia’s would have been and has been in effect for closing in on 2 years. The major parts of the proposed ISO for Benicia where improved response to a disaster, improved air monitoring, improved communications between the City, Valero and the County; the City gets reports on an incident in a timely manner and the reports to the City are the same reports as go to the State and Air Board; and finally the City has a right to inspect Valero if we choose to. I expressed to Valero at a City Council meeting that if they met all of the requirements except the City Inspection requirement I would not vote that an ISO was necessary. The City worked out an agreement with Valero on all the issues and Valero exceeded the requests that were made. As such I voted not to do an ISO and to approve the agreement between Valero and the City which included everything I mentioned above except the right for the City to independently inspect the entire Valero facility. Worth also noting the Council vote was a unanimous 5-0 vote.
- Do you agree not to accept campaign contributions from any political action committee, return any such funds if received and how would you handle any negative campaigns issues? I’m not excepting contributions from anybody this time around. As for negative campaigning issues, since I started and did the initial writing of the campaign reform ordinance with our city attorney and it dealt with several of the issues we have faced in elections since it was enacted it’s a pretty good bet I’m going to follow the rules in it.
- What would you do to make sure Benicia lowers its greenhouse gas emissions in the residential, commercial and municipal realms and do you support hiring a climate action coordinator? Over the years I’ve voted for everything from the Benicia Climate Action Plan to $13 million for City solar panels and improved energy efficient street lights to subsidizes for businesses in Benicia to improve there energy use. I also voted for the formation of the Benicia Sustainability Committee. This process is on going and will continue to have new ideas developed. I also voted for our last climate action coordinator and don’t see why I wouldn’t vote for one again.
- If elected, what would be your first action be to address racial injustices described by Benicians during recent peaceful protests in the City? My first action for addressing racial injustices will probably happen next week at the 8/27/2020 Council meeting.