The Danville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum for Town Council candidates last week, offering those in the business community an opportunity to hear a variety of views on the future of the town ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Seven candidates are running for three seats on council, including two incumbents. In order of when papers were filed, the seven candidates are:
- Mayor Newell Arnerich
- Councilmember Mike Doyle
- Bob Nealis
- Renee Morgan
- Jim Jelincic
- Deanna Sullivan
- Lori Hock
Newell Arnerich served as mayor in 1999, 2004 and 2009 and, if re-elected for another four-year term, will continue the current mayoral rotation. A professional architect, Arnerich owns an architectural firm with offices in Oakland and Los Angeles and serves as President/CEO of the firm. If re-elected to Council, he would "continue the partnerships and the relationships we build to help make Danville a wonderful place."
Mike Doyle has served on the Council since 1991 and considers himself an ally of Danville's business community. If re-elected, he promised to maintain retail incentive programs and focus on the town's strong quality of life.
Long-time resident Bob Nealis is a retired Dreyers employee who said he "has the time, energy and expertise to effectively participate in the management of our community." Nealis promises to manage growth in accordance with the town's general plan, make sound financial policies and encourage appropriate commercial improvements and development.
Current Planning Commissioner Renee Morgan has lived in Danville for over 20 years and is currently serving her third term on the School Site Council. A former business owner, Morgan said she "knows what it takes" and promised to maintain incentive and business outreach programs. If elected, she promised to work diligently to maintain open spaces and hillside ordinances and support the needs of veterans and seniors.
Jim Jelincic has been a Danville resident for 17 years as well as an active member of his homeowners association. The owner of a distribution business, Tri-Valley ProPac, Jelincic said he felt a calling for a new challenge and believes Danville will benefit from his service.
Deanna Sullivan is a lifelong resident of Danville and active community volunteer who was named Kiwanian of the Year. Sullivan said she hesitated to run against incumbents in previous years, but felt "this was a good time to step up and be a bigger voice for Danville."
Lori Hock is a Danville native and State Farm insurance agent who has owned a business in town for 23 years. With several family members who own small businesses and others who work as realtors, Hock said she comes from an entrepreneurial family.
"Raising my children and growing our businesses here has given us a real commitment to the town that we grew up in. I would like to continue that commitment and give back to the community," Hock said, adding that she would like to increase cohesion between the community and businesses.
The forum was moderated by political columnist Lisa Vorderbrueggen at Bridges restaurant. Candidates were given two minutes each for opening and closing statements, then 90 seconds to answer a series of questions.
1) The Danville Hotel property on Railroad Avenue is an eyesore. What role should the town play in demanding that the property be demolished?
Current town officials reiterated that demolition of the Danville Hotel property on Railroad Avenue, which is slated to be a mixed-use facility with 16 residences, is slated to begin in March 2013. The property was owned by the IRS for 12 years who "ran it into the ground," Arnerich said.
Financing is now being secured by owner Castle Companies. All candidates expressed excitement about the project, some offering solutions to the site's current state of disrepair.
"Let's get the stakeholders together . . . or at a minimum board that area off so the attractive nuisance and eyesore combined are just simply out of sight," said Nealis. "I think we can all accept a partial solution like that while we wait for the financing to be secured."
Sullivan questioned whether there should be consequences if Castle does not acquire funding by March, while Morgan said she was excited that the company had made it through Danville's extensive planning process.
"It will definitely liven up and bring vitality to our downtown. I'm excited to know that this is going to be happening," she said. "I think we also need to be sensitive to our local merchants to make sure we maintain their business revenues during this time of demolition, as we did try during the Veterans (Memorial Building) redevelopment."
2) On Monday, the Save Open Space Danville group filed an initiative petition for the preservation and strengthening of the voters' right to decide whether Danville's open space will be converted to residential or other uses. Soon the SOSD will be gathering signatures, do you endorse the initiative?
In 2000, voters overwhelmingly passed Measure S (Danville Open Space Preservation Initiative) to amend the town's 2010 General Plan by adding a new policy regarding proposed land use changes areas zoned agricultural, open space and parks and recreation; any changes would be voted on by residents. The measure is set to expire in 2020 and several candidates backed the possible initiative as a means of avoiding developments such as the Elworthy property and Magee Ranch, which they believed to be out of line with Measure S.
"I fully and formally endorse this initiative. It is being put forth precisely because Measure S has some significant loopholes that the present Town Council has seen fit to walk through," Nealis said.
Jelincic agreed, adding that the initiative "locks in the ambiguousness of S. Measure S really does have some ins and outs you can interpret in different ways."
Hock also endorsed the measure and while Morgan and Sullivan were open to improving Measure S or accepting the new initiative, current councilmembers Arnerich and Doyle disagreed though for different reasons.
Arnerich noted that not one developer has requested a change in land use designation on Measure S-protected lands and advocated for making the measure permanent, rather than "taking away property rights." Doyle refused to comment on an initiative that wasn't put before the council, but said that the town has fully adhered to the requirements of Measure S.
3) What role should the town government play in helping fill vacant properties?
The town of Danville employs several strategies to promote local businesses and the filling of vacant properties, including a business concierge service that offers help to potential small business owners and grant programs. Each candidate acknowledged these programs as good for the community, though some suggested more collaboration and marketing.
"All plans that the town has implemented are great. But it doesn't do a whole lot of good unless we can market them," Hock said. "I think the town should be involved in events, maybe in conjunction with the Chamber, to promote vacancies, -and that may include incentives."
Nealis pointed to various interest groups such as the Discover Danville Association and Chamber of Commerce, and suggested that there be "a little more collaboration across party lines . . . toward a common goal." The retired Dreyers executive also mentioned constructing a collective budget that could be used to entice new businesses.
4) How many Town Council meetings have you been to in the last year? *Incumbents excepted from this question
Morgan: Because of joint planning meetings, "too many to account"
5) What is One Bay Area and what does it mean to Danville, particularly with affordable and low income housing?
One Bay Area is a concept plan under the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), which aims to create a long-range plan for sustainable land use, transportation and housing throughout the region. Several public hearings were held on the subject in January, where many upset residents voiced their disapproval for the potential plan. Several Council candidates echoed that sentiment.
"My concern is (ABAG) are imposing higher density residential developments on all the towns in the Bay Area. My stance on this has been that Danville is really special and whereas some of the areas have BART and other mass transportation . . . we don't have those," Jelincic said. "For us to be forced to build high density properties doesn't strike me as being the right thing for Danville."
Hock agreed and said that, while she doesn't like the government dictating town planning and would personally choose to opt out of the plan, Danville will build affordable housing correctly. Currently, the town is in compliance with state regulations on affordable housing.
Arnerich said Danville already has beautiful affordable housing, some near the shopping center on Laurel Lane, and encouraged the audience to have faith in Danville's aesthetic and planning. There are parts of One Bay Area Danville doesn't agree with, but town officials are "smart enough to work within the law," he added.
Nealis said the town should pick its battles and actively participate in the planning process, looking for sites that could be used for affordable housing but not building to the full One Bay Area plan amount.
"We have to look forward in terms of our geographic plan, our zoning plan, where we might have opportunities if necessary if forced, if pressed to have areas where we could construct," he said. "We work within ABAG requirements and... fly under the radar and worry about more important things like making sure our budget is in shape."
6) Beside career success, what have you personally given back to the community in terms of volunteering or community work to make Danville a better place to live, work and play?
All candidates for Town Council are long-time Danville residents and have made an impact on the community. Sullivan spent the last 15 years volunteering in the PTA, Girl Scouts, coaching Mustang Soccer and taking part in various Kiwanis Club activities, including being honored as Kiwanian of the Year in 2008.
"I think it's so important, it makes you a whole person when you give back to the community," Sullivan said, adding that her children also do community service.
Jelincic said his community service experience goes beyond Danville to San Jose, where he coached soccer and little league. Locally, he coached softball and basketball and is currently chair of his homeowners association.
Current mayor Arnerich sits on a dozen commissions for the town as well as several professional organizations. The three-time mayor was a planning commissioner for five years, is 20-year member of the Chamber of Commerce and helped build the gazebo at Hap Magee Ranch Park.
"My father used to drive me around in a small town that was like Danville and he volunteered for everything, and that's what he could give back to the community," said Arnerich, adding that the example led him to apply for the Design Review Board years ago.
A single mother and business owner, Hock said most of her community service has been on the lacrosse field.
"Part of the impetus for me to run is now that my son is off to college, it's my time to give back to the town of Danville," she said.
Morgan has been on Danville's Planning Commission for eight years and has served on the heritage resource commission, leadership San Ramon Valley and the School Site Council, where she worked to improve STAR testing scores and provide "computer on wheels" carts for students.
Nealis said his proudest accomplishment was working with the county search and rescue team, where he also helps provide mutual aide to other counties. Nealis has also coached little league and soccer, involved in youth groups and fundraising to support local underprivileged youth, as well as habitat for humanity.
Councilmember Doyle, who has served on Council since 1991, said he was proud to help Beth Chaim Congregation build its synagogue off Camino Tassajara. Doyle also discussed his efforts in helping bring bocce ball to the town.
7) If Danville came into an unexpected $500,000 windfall, how would you use it?
Arnerich, Morgan and Sullivan said they would save the money for a rainy day, opting to do "more with less in a less certain fiscal climate."
"Danville has the least amount of revenue per capita of any city around by 150-400 percent less . . . . We save our money to do everything," Arnerich said. "There is no such thing in government as having extra money right now, so that's why we need to do just what we've done . . . we don't overspend and we don't overreact when we find an extra dollar."
Hock suggested using the money as an incentive to bring more small businesses to town, while Jelincic said he would use funds to install historical looking covered bus stops. Doyle said he would give his money to Measure D, the proposed school bond, to ensure great education in the San Ramon Valley.
In closing, each candidate thanked the Chamber of Commerce and business community for the opportunity to speak and present their ideas for the future of Danville. All expressed their passion for the Danville community, which drives their desire to run for office.
"It's important to me to retain the integrity of Danville, that we keep our open spaces, that we keep the safety and security that we all feel and the thing that drove us to live here," Sullivan said. "With the community experience that I have and the passion for the community, I think I would be a great council member."
Doyle mentioned that, during the course of his 21-year council service, Danville has maintained a high level of public service, kept taxes low and prudently set aside a significant reserve. He added that, while officials might not always agree, they have conducted themselves "in an agreeable and respectful manner that has served the town well."
"We still have a lot to do, the job of delivering the best services . . . and maintaining a high standard of living isn't easy and is never finished, but having the opportunity to play a policy-making roll in the life of this town is both a responsibility and an honor," he said.
Nealis said he believes that it is time for new voices on the Town Council and encouraged voters to closely assess all candidates. He reiterated his platform of ensuring voter rights in residential growth, providing fiscal responsibility in the town budget and improving commercial development.
"My overriding objective is to keep Danville the jewel that it is in the San Ramon Valley and Bay Area," he said.
Morgan said her experience as a planning commissioner and member of various committees over the past eight years has given her unique insight into the community and the needs of Danville.
"I have years of experience, my education as well as my community service, which is a prerequisite to making decisions in the best interest of Danville," she said. "I truly care about Danville, the community that all of you, myself, my family call home. I'd be honored with your support."
Similarly, Hock said she feels extremely qualified for a seat on Town Council because of her deep roots, business acumen and love of Danville. She added that she is able to stay current with events and news and has demonstrated her commitment to the town through her business.
If reelected, Arnerich said he would continue to maintain Danville's unique character through various business promotion measures, stimulus programs and special events.
"I'm proud to be part of maintaining Danville's unique character and high standards of government. It is my honor to be part of helping keep that vision going," he said.
Jelincic said he is seeking office because he enjoys helping people and believes that "community service is a noble exercise of our freedom." If elected, he promised to promote Danville and its merchants, protect open space and maintain local control in making decisions that are best for Danville.
"This is an opportunity for me to serve in a capacity were I can have an impact in keeping our town financially strong while still providing for established town priorities, which are public safety and disaster preparedness, positive community appearance, activities and recreation opportunities for youth, adults and seniors," he said.