Dillon Lays Down Pen to Tackle Issues

Councilman got his start on the city’s library commission
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Dispatch is running profiles every day this week on each of the five candidates running for three city council seats Nov. 8. Tomorrow the paper will run a profile on Craig Gartman.

Gilroy – Four years ago, Bob Dillon chose to walk the walk and make a bid for city council, rather than just talking a big game from the safe confines of his weekly newspaper column.

“I commented on (politics) so long that I began to think ‘Hey, I can do this,’ ” said Dillon, who wrote a Dispatch column for 11 years before he was elected to his first term on council. “I decided that rather than just being a pundit, I would try it from the inside – and boy is it different. You could criticize from the ivory tower and think you can make things happen, but once on council, you begin to learn how long the process takes. It can be frustrating, but you have to work within it.”

Since ascending to the city’s top governing body in 2001, Dillon, who frequently notes his impatience with the slow grind of government, has encountered both frustrations and success.

He and other councilmen have pushed through policy changes in the last two years credited for breathing new life into the downtown after two decades of decline. The area now has more than two dozen projects in the works, including a major housing project at the old Cannery site off Lewis Street.

At the same time, Dillon pointed out that sidewalks remain cracked and uprooted, despite lip service to the citywide problem for the last 15 years.

“We need to take a close look at sidewalks,” he said. “I think all we’re missing there is the political will to get it done. It’s the same with the downtown. It languished for years until council decided to get it done. I think we’re going to have to climb the same mountain with the sidewalks.”

Dillon and fellow candidates Dion Bracco and Councilman Craig Gartman have proposed borrowing against projected increases in tax revenues to finance sidewalk repairs.

At the same time, Dillon believes the city must tighten the purse strings where possible, especially with regard to union salaries and benefits. He was among the early supporters of a ballot measure to eliminate binding arbitration after Fire Local #2805 and the city reached impasse in labor negotiations this spring. His position has evolved since then into a focus on greater council involvement in labor talks as a way to avoid impasse.

Still, he questions the demands public safety workers have placed on the city’s budget. According to city staff, 80 cents out of every dollar go toward fire and police budgets, and firefighters are now demanding salary and benefit increases to match those given to police four years ago. They point to the city’s $23-million general fund, tax revenues from the outlets and returns of state takeaways as a funding source to meet their demands.

“I know the firefighters are eager to jump on board because they think we’re doing well,” Dillon said. “But pluses in the city budget aren’t necessarily the property of bargaining units. They belong to the citizens. I believe our public safety people are well compensated and have good benefits.”

Dillon took a different path to council than most of his colleagues, who have generally spent at least one term on the city’s planning commission. Instead, Dillon got his start on the Library Commission in 1996. He said he spent the first two years on council attending planning commission meetings to get up to speed, since a vast majority of council work involves development issues. In recent weeks, Dillon was among the minority of councilmen who opposed a controversial plan to bring higher-density development to Miller Avenue, one of the city’s most scenic streets. While that decision may have earned him some votes, he has also taken the politically risky step of not including a 200-word statement in ballot pamphlets sent to every voter. The maneuver, which saved the city $1,500 in filing fees, was intended to highlight Dillon’s determination to rein in city spending.

Looking ahead, he plans to focus his energy on maintaining the momentum of downtown redevelopment, while protecting business owners in the area.

“I think council will probably look at the incentive program, additional housing permits, and the streetscape and parking issues,” he said, referring to the expected loss of parking during next year’s major street improvements along Monterey Street. “We don’t want to run anybody out of business. You’re walking on a tight rope there.”

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