Four candidates are running for two seats on the Pleasanton City Council, Joe Ledoux, Joe Streng, Julie Testa and incumbent Kathy Narum.
The Independent submitted questions to the candidates regarding their views on growth, including the urban growth boundary and restarting the planning of the eastside. Other questions relate to the Civic Center move to the Bernal property, housing, retaining local planning control, and what they see as the top issue facing the city. We asked what they hoped to accomplish as a city councilmember and what unique quality they would bring to the role.
The responses are in alphabetical order.
Joe Ledoux declares that he is running for Pleasanton City Council to provide a unique and fresh perspective. As a police officer, he would bring a public safety lens to his role as a councilman. Currently, there is representation on the council from those in real estate and the business/corporate background. He points out that he is the only candidate that is not endorsed by anyone from the current council. “I bring the unique perspective, that of the community, with family centric, common sense decision making. We need someone with a unique and diverse background to provide the most comprehensive makeup of our council for the most optimal decision making.”
He earned an undergraduate degree in International Business from SFSU, and a graduate degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He and his wife have a son.
He spent nearly half of his life in public safety, the past 12 years as a police officer. Prior to that, he worked as a police dispatcher, and a reserve fire fighter. “I have spent nearly my entire career being held accountable for my interactions with the public, and being transparent in my career. This has transferability to my role as a city council member if elected,” he states.
As a councilmember, he would aim to help expedite the approval process. “We need a more streamlined process. I would work to move the city forward with mindful growth - work to keep our thriving economy, and maintain growth that is consistent with the Regional Housing Need Allocations (RHNA). We need to grow our critical infrastructure, and address our traffic issues.” He feels that his background in law enforcement offers a unique perspective that will help to evaluate traffic flows concepts.
Ledoux adds, “I have a young family, and represent all the residents that have families here, too. I’m the guy next door who’s around to help when asked.”
He views future growth as the main issue facing Pleasanton. Growth, whether it be the Eastside Development, the Civic Center project, or future high density housing developments, this is the core issue going forward. “I would work to ensure that we address this with a public safety perspective, and with a common sense, family centric decision making vantage point.”
Asked about support of the urban growth boundary, Ledoux states that he supports planning for future development. The planning allows the city the opportunity to assess future needs, and determine if the needed infrastructure is in place. In many cases, the answer is, “No”. In that case, we should assess the development of future critical infrastructure. “I believe that we need to leverage partnerships with all stakeholders to most fairly represent the needs of the community as a whole. We shouldn’t be swayed in our decision making by special interest groups, or groups that don’t share the voice of the overwhelming population.”
He notes, “I’ve seen situations where a false narrative is provided to delay or derail projects with information that is unsubstantiated. We (the council) need to listen to those concerns, but make decisions that represent everyone.”
He supports current open spaces. “I realize that we have less area to address the future housing needs. I believe we must work with the experts to look at planning that is innovative and consistent with our small town charm. If we fail to plan, we may be forced into a corner where the state does the planning for us. I’ll fight to keep our control local.”
The drought was one of the reasons the eastside planning process was stopped. He would agree to revisit planning the eastside. People are worried that this area will be developed for industrial use.
“If we revisit the planning, we can look at our critical infrastructure needs, such as schools and fire stations.” He added, “Also, a newer development can utilize technology to overcome some of the drought concerns. We can build smarter homes that require less energy, and less water.
“Although I see the value in planning, I would be receptive to hearing from all the residents to ensure the representation of the majority. I feel that this needs to remain transparent.”
Ledoux says that he firmly believes that growth should be directly tied to the development of critical infrastructure. He also wants public safety to keep up with growth.
He expressed excitement about the opportunity to move civic uses to the Bernal property. “We need to ensure that the library and other city buildings are representative of the community. Currently, we have staff working out of mobile trailers that weren’t designed for long-term use. We owe it to our staff to provide a permanent office that is well designed, safe, and functional. We need additional meeting rooms for various organizations.”
He would explore the possibility of funding the Civic Center Plan on the Bernal property through a hotel use tax. He thinks that this unique idea would defer the cost from residents to the visitors. This concept is highly utilized in many major cities. As for the current civic center, “I would seek further input from the community to ascertain their desires.”
With regard to affordable housing, he states that the city has a legal obligation to address the RHNA. He notes that he has had conversations with non-profit organizations that work to create beautiful affordable housing in partnership with corporations. This defrays the costs to the community. “I also believe we should consider looking at having an allocation provided to the school district to utilize in the recruitment of new teachers.”
As for homelessness, he feels that it needs to be resolved on a regional level. “I think it should be addressed on a mental health front, on a work placement front, and from an addiction front. We can work with the county to get people mental health, addiction, and job assistance if they desire. I feel that my experience and background with proven successes and failures would be highly beneficial on the city council.”
To help combat the state’s erosion of local control, he would partner with Catharine Baker, Steve Glazier, and others to advocate for city decision making authority on community issues. “I would also reach out to those supporters, and engage in conversation explaining our disapproval. I’ve already had a conversation with one of the state supporters to ascertain a way for Pleasanton to address this concern.”
As for housing in the downtown, Ledoux notes that in the Bay Area there are 6 new jobs for every unit of housing. “I’m concerned that without the growth of housing, we may constrict our job growth and potentially stifle our thriving economy. I support mixed use retail/residential units, but again, it would need to be mindful, have adequate parking, designed with a family-centric background. Housing could add additional vitality to our downtown.”
Ledoux feels that protecting the ridgelines is important, noting that the community supported and created a plan to protect them.
Addressing the need for the city to offset pension deficits, he comments, “I commend this work and I see it as one of the most impressive accomplishments of our current council. All of the city’s labor organizations have max employee contributions, and have utilized the most current pensions offered.
“While some may look to leave CALPERS pension systems, I would encourage everyone to look into the viability of this option. The contractual issues make it nearly impossible for a municipality to exit from CALPERS. It costs nearly five times the unfunded liability to exit CALPERS, as a loose rule of thumb. So if Pleasanton wanted to exit CALPERS and enter a traditional 401k plan, the city would be stuck with a debt possibly close to $800 million.”
He views Pleasanton as a safe place to live. “We’ve seen a 28.9% increase in Part 1 crimes since 2010. Part 1 crimes include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft, and arson. While this is consistent with regional crime trends, we can combat this with the use of technology. I would evaluate the need for additional staffing based on response times, proactive versus calls for service, after discussing the issues with the command staff of the Police Department.”
Kathy Narum is seeking her second and final term on the city council. She notes that she is running for re-election because she enjoys the position – setting policy and seeing the results of those decisions, and having conversations with residents as the council formulates policy. She likes helping residents navigate the government.
She earned a BS in chemical engineering from UC Davis and worked eight years for the Pillsbury Co. in both R&D and operations. She then became a stay-at-home mom. The interests of her two daughters led her to get involved in the community. She was appointed to the Parks & Rec Commission, and then Planning Commission. Along the way, she served on numerous task forces.
She’d like to accomplish the following in the next four years: completing an updated Downtown Specific Plan that reimagines the south end of downtown; adding additional parking in the downtown area; finishing a specific plan for the eastern edge of Pleasanton; finalizing a plan for building a new library/community center; and, generally contributing to the governance of Pleasanton.
She explains that general governance issues include: making sure that city finances continue to be sustainable, including maintaining a balanced budget with adequate reserves and a continued commitment to managing the plan for the mandated payments to CalPERS; continuing to promote Pleasanton as a city that welcomes and values having businesses located in the city; and, doing all we can to maintain local control in decision making for Pleasanton by working with our legislators, engaging with the CA League of Cities, effectively using the lobbyist hired by the five Tri-Valley cities and making sure we are purposeful and decisive in local decision-making so that the state doesn’t have the opportunity to make decisions for Pleasanton.
During the four years that she has served on the council, she points out that new parks have opened, including a second dog park. Garbage rates have been lowered with additional services provided. The Sunflower Hill community was approved, along with a plan to help with the mandated payments for the CalPERS unfunded liability.
Narum says that one of her strengths is being a good listener, and hearing all the different perspectives regarding an issue.
When it comes to the urban growth boundary, she supports it as it was approved by voters. She would not support moving it without a vote of the people if the move facilitated new development. She would be okay with a minor adjustment if it involved infrastructure, such as a bend in the road, water tank, etc.
She believes the city needs to restart the eastside planning process. “With all the recent housing legislation, it’s pretty clear the state will do it for us if we don’t take control. We must be decisive in our governing of Pleasanton to prevent the state from exercising unwanted influence. There is currently zoning for approximately 200 homes and some industrial. We don’t want the area developed piecemeal, but rather developed with a comprehensive plan that includes the amenities important to Pleasanton residents,” she states.
Addressing growth, she believes the city has met its RHNA obligations for the current period. When an application for housing comes before the council that either requires a variance or a modification, she would ask, “What would be the benefit to Pleasanton?” Next, she would ask what is the impact to surrounding neighborhoods — how does it affect them? At the same time, she states that there is a need to be aware of the impacts to infrastructure, and to make sure projects that help with that have priority.
She sees an opportunity with the eastside planning to look at true entry level housing — 1,000 to 1,500 square foot homes that would be more affordable by design. She believes infill housing in the downtown area can also be affordable by design, such as studio type apartments. “I don’t believe we should address our need for affordable housing by entirely depending upon a small set-aside when high density housing is constructed. That would create problems that come with too much growth, while not really making a dent in the on-going demands for affordable housing.
In regard to homelessness, the city is working on implementation of the Homeless Street Outreach program that has identified homeless residents in Pleasanton. The program provides encouragement for the homeless to accept services and begin a process that leads to housing. Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton have been awarded $100,000 altogether to provide more intensive case management, as well as rental assistance and motel vouchers for Tri-Valley homeless. City Serve of the Tri-Valley is implementing this program. The Faith Community is engaged and participating on a Homeless Collaborative led by Cornerstone Church.
Commenting on moving civic uses to the Bernal property, Narum points out there is a need for a bigger library/community center. She supports asking the voters to amend the Bernal property specific plan to allow for civic center uses on the area currently designated for a regional theater. If the voters agree, she would first support building a library/community center on the Bernal property, and then take the current library building and convert it to a City Hall. This would allow the city to tear down the three current buildings making up City Hall. In its place, she would like to see a large town square. One building on the site could be a movie theater. She would pay for the new library/community center through revenue realized by either selling existing civic center land or entering into ground leases for it, and by utilizing development impact fees and COP (certificates of participation) with the debt service paid by increased hotel/motel occupancy tax.
She views local control around decisions cities should be able to make, especially with regard to housing requirements, as one of the biggest issues facing Pleasanton. More and more decisions are being taken away from local decision makers and made by Sacramento. They have no understanding of the capacity of the city’s roads, schools, public facilities, etc. No funding comes with the mandates.
Retaining local control requires local leaders being bold enough to govern. “It is good to have strong relationships with our legislators, both helping them by providing necessary information as requested, as well as communicating our position relative to legislation that affects cities.”
In the downtown, parking is an issue. Narum notes that the city recently completed adding signs that direct drivers to parking locations. Long term, we need to build a parking structure. The question is where it would be best located, and its funding. If the structure were built on the property across from the current library, I would envision an autonomous shuttle making a loop to drop people off and pick them up so the distance from Main Street is not an issue.
She is not opposed to infill housing in the residential area of downtown, as long as it is consistent with adjacent homes. She would support limited residential on the civic center site if it were not located on the street level.
In order to attract and retain business, first there is a need to make sure Pleasanton is a safe, attractive community with excellent public schools. It is important to have a business-friendly climate, so that businesses know they are valued and their needs will be accommodated. This includes having the city actively engage with business owners. We can ask the simplest question, “What can Pleasanton do to help you?” This can include regularly conducting surveys to know what is important to businesses to make sure the city continues to meet their needs.
Protecting the ridgelines is important. “I believe the ridgelines are adequately protected by Measure PP and Measure F. The council adopted mapping of the ridgelines in the southeast hills so that there is no longer any question about what defines the ridge. Going forward, this will be a critical tool to continue to protect important open space and hillsides.”
Creating the irrevocable pension trust will be one of the legacies of this current council. When the time comes that the General Fund can’t be balanced due to mandated pension payments (projected to be in eight or nine years from now), the trust can be used to balance the budget without cutting services. Meanwhile, the City keeps control of the funds. Should there be a crisis, such as a natural disaster, money in the General Fund to pay pension costs could be used instead for repairs. Current CalPERS contributions could be paid from the trust.
She feels Pleasanton is a safe place to live. However, there is a need to keep forward thinking and monitoring of the metrics around safety. The addition of a police substation in the Workday parking garage that will be shared with BART police will help in the area around the mall, as well as ensure that Pleasanton benefits from BART police. Narum would continue to monitor technology advances that can be used to help officers. As an example, she points to the upgrade of body cameras and storage of the videos.
Joe Streng decided to run for city council because Pleasanton has been his hometown for nearly 40 years. “I’m passionate about serving our community. Pleasanton is not only the best place to live in the Bay Area, but one of the best in the State of California and the United States. I’m running for city council to keep it that way.”
He describes himself as a strong communicator who will ensure that all voices are heard and that everyone understands the rationale for final decisions. “I’ve earned a reputation as a consensus builder who will engage with all stakeholders and then make a careful, thoughtful and informed decision.”
He graduated from Amador Valley High School and from CSU Sacramento with a degree in Journalism/Government. He worked in radio and television news for the first 10 years of his career before moving into corporate communications roles.
He served as a member of the Bike, Pedestrian and Trails Subcommittee, followed by two terms as a Parks & Recreation Commissioner. He has worked with the Council to set priorities and directly with city staff to plan projects, including the upcoming Community Farm at Bernal and the Lions-Wayside redevelopment. “I’m particularly proud of my contributions to the long-term planning of our Park & Rec system, including development and adoption of the Park & Rec Master Plan and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan,” Streng declared.
He supports the urban growth boundary as defined in the General Plan. He added, “I would give significant scrutiny on any attempts to move it.”
He believes that the city should resume planning on the eastside, mainly because if the city doesn’t plan it, it will likely be planned by other entities. Pleasanton will lose its voice in how to utilize that land. “I believe strongly in maintaining local control of land-use decisions.”
When it comes to growth, he supports limited growth that is thoughtfully and carefully planned, which includes ensuring the infrastructure is in place to serve the residents. There are regionally mandated housing requirements that must be met.
Additional affordable housing needs to be a consideration as part of the city’s overall housing strategy, with particular emphasis on meeting RHNA requirements. This approach could include continuing to site housing near transit hubs and consideration of duplexes or similar non-single-family stand-alone homes in new developments.
He would seek a holistic approach to homelessness, including partnerships with the city, not-for-profit organizations, neighboring communities, the county and the state to create long-term solutions.
He supports a phased approach to relocating the civic center to the Bernal property over the long-term, beginning with a new library and community center. Moving forward with this plan would require voter approval. By taking a phased approach, it would be possible to begin to plan the development of the new library and community center as part of the biannual priority-setting and budgeting process. “I support the work being done on the Downtown Specific Plan to set the long-term vision of the area.”
Asked about the biggest issue facing the city, Streng chose traffic. “I’m a strong advocate for making sure streets are working well for everyone – motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Improving roads and infrastructure will ease local traffic. At the same time, we must continue to partner with neighboring communities, the county and the state to address broader traffic flow issues and reduce cut-through congestion. Improving 580/680, widening 84 and providing alternative transportation options – in other words, moving forward with the Valley Link project and improving ACE – are all potential solutions.
Streng emphasizes that he is a strong advocate for maintaining local control on development and other matters. He was a vocal opponent of AB2923, which gave BART the ability to develop housing on the parking lots without any input from the city. Pleasanton must join other Tri-Valley communities to ensure our interests are represented in Sacramento, both in direct advocacy and in partnership with our elected officials.
In the downtown, parking is an issue. Streng says there are a number of short and long term plans to address parking. The city is exploring converting the old railroad right-of-way on the south side of town into parking. There also has been the development of a new parking area on St. Marys, which should be improved with lighting. Long-term, the development of the new library and community center could provide additional parking options. He advocates creating a parking structure to serve ACE, which would provide additional spaces in the evenings and on weekends.
Adding housing in the downtown is a good idea. He points out that bringing a limited number of residents downtown would create more vitality downtown. There is a segment of the population – singles, younger couples, small families, retirees – who want to live in areas where they can walk to restaurants and shops. “I believe we would be serving a need, while creating a more vibrant downtown,” he concludes.
He would protect the ridgelines. He would also continue to work with local agencies, like East Bay Regional Parks, to expand trails and preserve open spaces.
When it comes to retaining and attracting new businesses to Pleasanton, he believes the city does a good job creating an attractive economic environment for businesses. The city should continue to look at the creation of Economic Development Zones in specific locations to bring new businesses and services to Pleasanton. “We also should increase our focus on creating a hub for specific sectors, such as biotech.”
The city has come up with a good plan to handle the pension deficit through the implementation of the Section 115 Pension Trust, which is a good first step. More needs to be done over the coming years to ensure the city meets its pension obligations.
As for safety, Streng notes that people move to Pleasanton for two main reasons: schools and safety. Pleasanton is one of the safest communities in the Bay Area. I will work to ensure it stays that way with investments in staffing and technology.
Julie Testa states that she is running for council to represent residents, not special interest groups. “We have a responsibility to preserve what we value in our community. I will protect our small-town character, while also considering impacts on schools, traffic, water, and quality of life.”
She points out that she would bring extensive experience to the council. She served 11 years as a Pleasanton City Human Services Commissioner and Housing Commissioner, numerous Pleasanton committees/task forces for both the city and school district. She adds that she is the only candidate who has attended over 100 school board meetings, consistently advocating for better planning for growth to prepare for increasing enrollment.
She has attended statewide meetings to join with other communities to oppose State overreach, lobbied state legislators in Sacramento, and testified against bills that would result in high-density housing mandates in Pleasanton.
“Sometimes someone needs to stand up; I will stand up for Pleasanton residents,” she declares.
She and her husband raised their family in Pleasanton. A 30-year resident, she has served as a Las Positas College student advisor, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Director, and REACH (Resources Education Activities Community Housing) Director.
Testa states that she absolutely supports the urban growth boundary and would defend it from plans to minimize or disregard it. In 1996, Measure FF was passed by the voters of Pleasanton to limit developmental sprawl in Pleasanton. Only a vote of the people can move or change the UGB, not city staff or the council. She does not support restarting the eastside planning process until we know future state housing mandates (RHNA numbers). “The eastside land is a good resource that will help us meet some of our future state housing requirements.
The original plans for the eastside involved development beyond the UGB, which I would not support. The council approved an Environmental Impact Report in 2013 to study a base amount of housing at an incredible 2279 units. Most plans showed zero houses would be needed to help Pleasanton meet the state housing mandates. The project was planning hundreds of acres of housing, and a possible elementary school. The plan offered no funding to cover the impacts of hundreds of new students attending middle or high schools. The eastside was put on hold for 2 reasons. (1), the 5-year drought and water penalties, and (2), more than 1000 residents overflowed public meetings voicing their anger at the city considering such a huge development between Pleasanton and Livermore.
Testa emphasizes, “I support slow and smart growth po licies, meeting state mandates for housing, not more, as well as ensuring that infrastructure keeps up with growth. New growth should pay for the infrastructure needs it creates through developer fees.”
She does not support the current plan to move the civic center uses to the Bernal property. The Bernal Property was protected to provide citizen amenities, not city offices. I support a new library/community center on the Bernal property. She opposes destroying useful city buildings or the current library, which can be repurposed for City offices. Costs to demolish and build on the Bernal site is estimated to be a staggering $200M.
The current plan is to rezone the existing library/civic center site to add a massive housing/office project. This is a tremendous expense to taxpayers, with many costly, negative impacts, offering limited benefit to Pleasanton citizens. She would like to see a town square at the current civic center site if it were located along Main St. for community access.
To provide more affordable housing, Testa supports Pleasanton’s 20% inclusionary housing requirement for affordable housing. This is low income affordable housing that supports our vulnerable populations, seniors and disabled populations. While on the board of REACH, these and other housing funds allowed us to create affordable housing for developmentally disabled adults.
Pleasanton’s Human Service Commission supports nonprofits, such as Abode, that works with the homeless population. Pleasanton needs to continue to advocate for increased county services for the homeless.
As for the biggest issue facing Pleasanton, Testa points out that in the 2017 Community Survey, Pleasanton voters were asked what is the most serious issue that they would like to see city government address. Overwhelmingly, they answered that growth and its effects, such as traffic, are their top concern. I agree with the residents. She adds that state intrusion on local control and pension debt are other important issues.
When it comes to the state’s erosion of local control, Testa believes that Pleasanton cannot fight state overreach alone. We must join communities across the state in defending the California State Constitution that gives authority to local decision-makers to adopt land use policies and regulations.
In the downtown, parking is an ongoing concern for Pleasanton residents and shop owners, and should be fixed. One improvement that has been approved but not completed is paving the railroad corridor block by block to match the parking area behind the Firehouse Arts Center. These changes will double the number of cars that can park on this strip of land, located between Main and First Streets. In addition, Pleasanton should work with ACE to share a parking structure, possibly near the Library and ACE station.
As for housing in the downtown, Testa notes that the city conducted many surveys and polls, and found overwhelmingly that 75% of residents do not support adding housing downtown. “I would like to minimize housing in the downtown. I do not support any first floor housing.”
To retain and attract new businesses to Pleasanton, Testa suggests that the city could create incentives to upgrade downtown to attract and retain stores and restaurants downtown through the Downtown Specific Plan.
Protecting the ridgelines is important. When given the chance to vote on ridgeline protection with the citizen’s initiative Measure PP in 2008, the voters overwhelmingly supported full protection of our beautiful ridges. Measure PP had to overcome the council majority’s confusing counter-measure QQ. “I will stand with the voters to strongly protect our ridgelines. Protecting ridges with Measure PP is a clear and concise statement, and should not be open for interpretation.”
In handling the pension deficit, Pleasanton deserves credit for doing a better job of making pension plan corrections than many municipalities, but more must be done. We must look at how private businesses have solved their pension problem.
She adds that Sen. Glazer’s bill, SB 1149, did not pass. It is an example of how municipalities must work to support long-term pension reform. The bill proposed offering new employees a 401 (K)-style plan in which their own contributions would be fully matched by the state, at the same level the state now contributes to the California Public Employees Retirement System defined benefit plan. This plan would be good for employees and provide a more stable fiscal foundation for the city, according to Testa.
Turning to the issue of safety, Testa asserts that Pleasanton is a very safe community. Only 3% of residents surveyed had concerns regarding crime in Pleasanton. Currently, in cooperation with WorkDay, a new police substation is being built near the Stoneridge BART station. In a conversation with Chief Spiller, Testa reports that he said Pleasanton is committed to ensuring the department has the best technology and safety equipment for officers.
Testa brought up the use of recycling sewer water for drinking water. The science does not yet give a guarantee of safety to support Pleasanton residents taking the risk of contamination to our drinking water, as well as the staggering additional cost. “This is not a conservation measure. We should not accept the risks and cost until the science guarantees it is safe.”