Benicia City Council’s new and returning members have been settling in and getting down to business the way any team adjusts to new players joining as a season begins. The new council collectively expressed a common need as they address the city’s issues—a sound economic foundation.
Newest to the Council is Lionel Largaespada, former member of the Economic Development Board. He said a diversified economy is key to addressing Benicia’s infrastructure needs for years to come, although he wants the city to remember its environmental responsibilities, too. His focus is on public safety, rising water and sewer costs and road repair, and he wants to work creatively with other government agencies in finding financial solutions.
Businesswoman and new Vice Mayor, Christina Strawbridge also has Economic Development Board ties, and has returned to the Council after serving a previous term. Along with many years championing the arts and economic growth and vitality downtown, Strawbridge said that established Industrial Park businesses are key, and the Council must “work to retain and enhance their opportunities for success.”
Steve Young wants economic diversity and hopes new cannabis companies would expand Benicia’s tax base. Like his colleagues, he has environmental worries, such as Valero Benicia Refinery’s May, 2017 flaring incident. He sees air quality as a public safety issue as well as a health matter.
Dr. Tom Campbell’s vision of Benicia is “a safe little city with great schools, parks and infrastructure” and “a place where people can have a good time.” His first priority is the budget, and he hopes to generate more money from the Port of Benicia and the cannabis tax.
Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s platform since 2003 has been ensuring the General Plan is followed. Her goal is “a sustainable city in all matters, for economic, environmental and equity of city services,” she said. “We are a small town with great ‘bones’ and great people who care and who work hard to be leaders in the development of clean tech, mitigating and adapting to climate change, supporting our arts and cultural endeavors, preserving our historical resources and being the best place to live, work and recreate.”
All advocated collaboration and cooperation, and many said they want city action to be transparent to residents. It’s a budget year, Patterson added, and the Council will be taking a priority-based approach to its developing. To keep the charming ambiance Campbell described, Patterson said Benicia needs to remain walkable. But some of the sidewalks are in poor shape. The Council may need to consider whether the burden of sidewalk upkeep should be borne alone by property owners, she said.
Young said he hopes more money can be spent on road repairs. He joined several others in hoping to find ways to reduce customers’ water rates. The Council faces multiple challenges, including adopting a new budget and the associated documents that describe Benicia’s goals and priorities.
Campbell, a 17-year veteran, said members need to be flexible, to listen and to respect each other’s viewpoints. “This new Council reminds me of my first City Council, in that there were sharp contrasts in basic views on many issues. This new Council may prove to be very entertaining.”
“I’m confident this Council is positioned to work for the best interests of Benicia,” Largaespada said. “We’re going to bring diverse perspectives to each meeting on every topic and represent every neighborhood.” Strawbridge agreed, saying each member brings a particular expertise to the Council. She hopes for a welcoming of new ideas as well as courage and tenacity. “The bottom line is that we all want what is best for Benicia,” she said.