Where Does This Leave Sidewalk Repair?

A thank you sign was added to Craig Gartman's campaign sign

Post-election speculation rampant after residents give the City
Council a makeover
Gilroy – A fourth man is all they needed to fix the city’s cracked sidewalks and press forward with a host of other priorities.

Three like-minded councilmen – Bob Dillon, Craig Gartman and Russ Valiquette – got their wish Tuesday, when planning commissioner Dion Bracco clinched a council berth in the election with a strong second-place finish.

The only kink in their plans? Dillon lost.

The surprise victory by former councilman and local physician Peter Arellano, who ousted Dillon for the third and final council seat, has thrown the future of the city’s top governing body into the realm of unpredictability.

Are there enough councilmen to quickly push through sidewalk repairs? Does interest remain in getting council to negotiate directly with labor unions? Do councilmen agree that developers should ante up if they want special treatment under zoning laws?

Mayor Al Pinheiro, who throughout the campaign expressed his desire for council to remain unchanged, said he placed a call to each of the council members Wednesday “to extend my hand to work together with everyone. It doesn’t mean I have to have the same exact political views as my colleagues, but that we work together to find the best answers for Gilroy.”

Sidewalks and arbitration – a new approach

“We have a campaign that highlighted the need for a greater emphasis on taking care of the sidewalk issue in town,” said Gartman, who handily defeated the five-man field for second council term. “If nothing else, the campaign made sure there was a gigantic spotlight put on this. I think with that we have created the political will.”

Pinheiro agreed that the time has come for comprehensive sidewalk repairs. But the issue of timing and approach may pit the mayor against both current and newly elected council members.

Bracco, Gartman and Valiquette continue to support the idea of an internal bond measure to finance citywide sidewalk repairs, but the mayor insists that a task force should first examine financing options and related issues. Arellano appears to share the view that the city’s sidewalks must be repaired. In fact, he said the city should be able to come up with a financing solution within 90 days to get started on the most neglected areas. In an apparent attempt to find the middle ground, he endorsed the idea of borrowing against future tax revenues to jump-start repairs while allowing a task force to devise long-term solutions to the sidewalk problem.

The mayor and council may also find themselves at odds on the best way to resolve a stalemate with the local fire union. Both sides say they want negotiations to resume before an arbitrator arrives in January to mete out contract issues and impose his will on the city. But council remains divided over the best strategy to break the deadlock.

On the campaign trail, Bracco and Gartman criticized the negotiation process and said councilmen must get directly involved in labor talks. The mayor has vigorously opposed that position, arguing that the city’s use of negotiators as go-betweens prevents back-room deals and a fragmented council. On Wednesday, both Bracco and Gartman stopped short of calling for direct bargaining by council members, but said they continue to support greater council involvement in the process. Neither offered specific ideas.

“I want to do everything legally possible to avoid arbitration,” Gartman said. “I also believe the fire union does not want to go to arbitration. If we continue the dialogue, I’m hopeful that before the end of this year, we will have a settlement.”

Arellano criticized any plan that would place Bracco, Gartman or any other council member that received endorsements from public safety unions in the position of having to bargain with them directly.

“How do you remain neutral in that situation?” he asked.

Demanding more from developers

In the last two years, the city has taken a magnanimous attitude toward developers looking to build downtown, eliminating hundreds of thousands of dollars in up-front construction fees to spur the area’s revitalization. But city leaders are now awakening to the possibility of demanding more from developers who ask for special exemptions to build elsewhere in the city.

Bracco said he agreed with Councilman Roland Velasco’s proposal to extract certain “value-added” items – such as additional open space, a small park, better design standards – through the city’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) process. Awarded at the discretion of council, the zoning exemption has allowed a growing number of developers to deviate from city standards and other land-use regulations.

“The city’s giving up a lot and there’s nothing in return,” Bracco said, pointing to a September decision by council to approve a controversial housing project on Miller Avenue, one of Gilroy’s showcase streets.

Arellano wholeheartedly supported using the PUD process to extract concessions from developers. In fact, he said he raised the same issue during his first council term between 1999 and 2003.

Gartman and Pinheiro agreed that developers should ante up in order to receive PUDs, though Gartman said the city should also rework its building-permit competition to encourage desirable growth in the long term.

New priorities?

While most council members speak tirelessly of cracked sidewalks and new housing, Arellano draws attention to issues rarely discussed on the dais in the last two years.

His ideas include creating a program to review the environmental practices of businesses that receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax incentives from the city. He also wants to see a renewed focus on getting youths off the streets by diverting them into after-school programs. He plans to press those issues when it matters – at council retreats when officials craft policy and during budget season, when they dole out the money.

“We’re not going to see eye to eye on everything,” Arellano said. “It’s a give and take situation. I have learned that politics is a whole other frame of mind. I can see it black and white, and somebody else can see it red and green. The solution is to understand there are differences and to come to a happy medium.”

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