Supe candidates square off at forum

The five remaining candidates for the District 1 seat of the

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors hopefuls want to
preserve the South County way of life, improve prospects for new
local jobs, retain public revenue and reduce the burden on
taxpayers in order to climb out of the current recession.
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors hopefuls want to preserve the South County way of life, improve prospects for new local jobs, retain public revenue and reduce the burden on taxpayers in order to climb out of the current recession.

Digressions of political and philosophical beliefs, promises to work with the people and verbal resumes were presented by the five candidates for the District 1 seat at a forum Tuesday night. Little was offered in the way of specific policy proposals or ideas.

Candidates Forrest Williams, Teresa Alvarado, Mike Wasserman, Thomas Kruse and Dr. Peter Arellano attended the forum in Morgan Hill, which was organized jointly by the Morgan Hill and Gilroy Chambers of Commerce. About 60 audience members, including the candidates’ staff people and local public officials, attended.

The candidates are vying to replace Supervisor Don Gage, who is termed out at the end of this year. If no one wins a majority of the votes in the June 8 election, the top two vote getters will square off in the Nov. 2 general election.

The two-hour forum used a question-answer format, with each candidate answering seven questions devised by the chambers, then answering questions from the audience. The audience only submitted two questions.

Prior to the questions, candidates were given time to introduce themselves and tout their backgrounds, endorsements and experience.

Williams, a former San Jose City Councilman, noted he has been in public service for 28 years. He said the “innovation and creativity” that Silicon Valley is known for should be encouraged.

“I want to see how we can decrease costs without reducing services,” Williams said. “And I think we should create opportunities to generate revenue so we can be more self-sustaining.”

Later in the forum, responding to a question about what the county could do to encourage economic development, Williams said one way is to temporarily eliminate fees for development.

Alvarado, a former public affairs professional, said the county is experiencing a “major transformation” with a $250 million deficit going into next year. She noted South County’s economic and geographic uniqueness, with 73 percent of the county’s agricultural land located in District 1. She said as a supervisor, she would do more to promote local agricultural products, especially wineries.

Alvarado was the only candidate who mentioned Morgan Hill’s continual flooding problem as one of the district’s biggest problems. “It is unbelievable that an urban downtown gets flooded (regularly), and we have to do something about it,” she said.

Wasserman is a Los Gatos City Councilman who said his campaign endorsement from 25 former and current mayors and Gage show he is qualified.

Kruse opened a winery – Thomas Kruse Winery – in Gilroy in 1971, and has served on the county’s planning commission and the architectural and site approval committee.

He identified himself as “conservative, philosophically,” and a strong property rights advocate. And he doesn’t want to increase taxes or fees to carry the county through the current recession.

Arellano, a medical doctor and Gilroy city councilman, said he is running for “the future of our children.” He added that in the coming years it will be important for South County to preserve its idyllic and agricultural character.

“Everyone in San Jose is looking down here to see what we’re going to do with our land. But this is the quality of life we have chosen,” Arellano said.

In response to several of the questions, Arellano proclaimed that public health and promoting more and better health care services in the district would be a high priority as supervisor.

When asked what they would do to foster economic development, most of the candidates decried the county’s bureaucracy and sluggish approval process that currently hinders new businesses from coming to the county. They said those processes should be streamlined and made more efficient.

The most detailed answers came when the candidates were asked about the wages and benefits paid to public employees. Agencies such as the county have to grapple with the conflict of currently high and unsustainable wages, and the contracts made in the past to provide raises and growing pensions, Wasserman explained.

That could be resolved by making different agreements, presumably for lower wages and retirement benefits, for new and prospective public employees while keeping existing contracts intact, Wasserman said. He noted that he would treat public safety unions different than non-public safety unions, but did not specify how.

Both Kruse and Arellano said public employees should not be allowed to cash in on full retirement until the age of 60. Now, some agencies allow public employees to retire at 50 or sooner if they have worked for 30 years or more.

Arellano also suggested that employees should pay a higher portion of their health care benefits.

“I’ve been doing this the last two-and-a-half years in the city of Gilroy,” he said. Gilroy’s council laid off 48 full-time employees last year in response to declining tax revenues, and since then has been in ongoing negotiations with the city’s unions.

Alvarado said she has worked successfully with unions in the past, when she was employed with PG&E. In wage negotiations between the county and employee unions, both parties should acknowledge the need to “grow in the same direction.”

And Williams said unless county management and employees sit down together to solve the problem, “We will become Vallejo,” referring to the East Bay city that declared bankruptcy in 2008, primarily because it promised its employees more in retirement packages than it could afford.

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