One mayor, two City Council members, two School Board trustees— and 10 candidates for the five openings. Benicia voters will decide Tuesday, Nov. 8, who will lead our community for the next four years. Voters have plenty of material to consider: statements on websites, fliers delivered to homes, candidate forums played and replayed on local cable channels. It’s a lot to digest, so we cut to the chase and asked each candidate to respond to one question we’d all like answered: What is your top priority for the city, and how do you plan to address it?
Elizabeth Patterson, resource staff environmental planner and incumbent mayor, 30 years in Benicia: Economic development has been a top priority for a long time, and we need to take the draft Business Development Action Plan and implement the low-hanging fruit right away. That will create jobs and economic prosperity for the community and, in the short term, increase tax revenues to maintain the quality of life for Benicians. The first thing is to establish a web page that’s dedicated to economic development, specifically the Benicia industrial Park. That’s a way to recruit businesses. The long-term items include street repair, drainage, and the most important thing is high-speed broadband service, the most advanced, cutting-edge broadband available.
Alan Schwartzman, 62, mortgage broker and councilman, 24 years in Benicia: Maintaining a balanced budget and a 20 percent reserve by aggressively seeking efficiencies, reducing overtime, minimizing lawsuits, offering compensation that’s fair to employees and taxpayers, centralizing our purchasing, looking at contracting out for some services and having a pay-as-you-go policy. We can’t just cut our way to a stable budget. We need to focus on economic development and our biggest economic engine is the industrial park. We need to spend money on broadband and roads to make the industrial park competitive in the global market. The increased taxes will help us fix roads, assure the quality of public-safety services and maintain our quality of life.
City Council Candidates
Christina Strawbridge, 59, small-business owner, Benicia resident from 1985-1989 and 1999-present: Economic development is crucial to the city right now, and that’s my strength with my business background. We need to find new revenue streams, be more business friendly. We also need to develop a campaign to shop locally, not only residents shopping locally, but also businesses shopping business-to-business locally. My other priority is saving our state capitol, our state parks. We can’t let the capitol get boarded up.
Dan Smith, 54, writer and health educator, 24 years in Benicia: My top priority is to put a stop to city reductions in the partnership with the school district to maintain our ball fields. We revised the joint use agreement in 2005, and the city has rolled back several aspects of it. I’d like to restore field maintenance. The condition of facilities matters for business recruitment, property values, and the safety of those who use the fields.
Tom Campbell, 61, orthodontist and incumbent councilman, 26 years in Benicia: My top priority is establishing a stable, balanced budget. We’re almost there, but we cannot cut our way to a stable, balanced budget on a long-term basis. With the latest cuts, we’ve got employee compensation at 67, 68 percent, so we’re at the same spot we were 10 years ago and 20 years ago. Now senior management can concentrate on ways to increase our revenue.
Rick Ernst, 60, insurance benefits coordinator, Benicia resident from 1988-2001 and 2005-present: The budget certainly is my top priority. I don’t think there’s anything else that’s as important as the budget, and we’ve got a budget that has a $1.7 million deficit, maybe over a $2 million deficit. I’d address this by keeping employee compensation to 60 percent of the budget, by renegotiating contracts to include verbiage that says we can’t raise compensation unless we have the funds.
School Board Candidates
Matt Donahue, 22, student teacher, 17 years in Benicia: My top priority is creating a comprehensive plan for education in the school district. Defining your goals and the anticipated outcomes of the education process, and saying what you’ll do to get there, will naturally lead to increases in collaboration between the community and the school district, plus lead to increased funding sources. We can start by establishing a formalized process to utilize the expertise of our community.
Andre Stewart, 47, malpractice insurance senior vice president and incumbent trustee, 13 years in Benicia: My top priority obviously is financial solvency. Beyond that, my priority is to incredibly vitalize our whole curriculum, including vocational education and the Pathway program. The way to get this done is to work with the Napa Solano Building Trades Council. I want these kids to get jobs. I’d love to include the middle school as well so middle school kids can see what options are available.
Bonnie Weidel, art educator and incumbent trustee, 33 years in Benicia: I find it hard to limit it to one item, but I’d like to see an art and science resource center at each elementary school. We’ve got room, we’ve got volunteers, we’ve got donated art supplies at each school, so we need to inventory them and provide equal access and resources so each teacher can utilize the center. I don’t think we need extra funds to start this.
Gary Wing, 50, electrical supervisor, 24 years in Benicia: My top priority is to open communications back up between the board, to make the board more visible at the sites with the teachers, classified employees, parents and students. I’d like to do that by actually working on the school board goals that were established last September. I feel by working on those goals that the sites would feel like the board’s engaged with them.