The following are a series of 9 questions to the Brentwood City Council candidates on a variety of questions including affordable housing, cannabis, jobs, and public safety.
The following candidates replied:
Emails were sent to candidates on Monday (10/8) and a reminder on Monday (10/15). Neither Joel Bryant or Johnny Rodriguez responded.
Update – Joel Bryant’s answers have now been included.
What is your top priority should you be elected to the City Council? What will you do to accomplish your priority
- Bryant: Public Safety has been and will continue to be my top priority. The safety and quality of life that we enjoy in Brentwood is the greatest asset that we have. It is what attracts good families to our community, and it is also what corporations and businesses who will bring high paying, quality jobs to Brentwood are looking for. The minute that we fail to maintain the level of safety that we have, we will find ourselves in the same situation that some of our surrounding communities have fallen into. I just can’t allow that to happen as a member of Brentwood’s City Council. To stay ahead of these issues, I have worked to put into place our own Police Dispatch/911 facility, so that all Brentwood 911 calls and calls for service, are answered right here in Brentwood. I have helped to create four additional officer positions, and and three new Community Service Officers, to serve our residents. Some of these new positions are traffic officers, who work full time to address our traffic safety issues. I will continue to work with the Fire District and our County and State representatives to find a real, workable solution to our desperate need of improved fire response. I will continue to support our School Resource Officers in their efforts to keep our children safe while at school, and continue the training that our Police Department is providing to our school districts, in how to respond to potential dangerous situations on all of our campuses.
- Fink: My first priority, should I be elected, is to start looking at how we are going to maintain the City’s quality services in the wake of losing the development money the City has relied on for many years. In about 4 years we are going to exhaust the existing, approved permits for single family residential homes and without new development, we are going to need to find a way to fill that gap in order fund all of what the City does to maintain our high quality of life and maintain a strong code enforcement program. Moving the urban limit line for future development is not the answer, it just prolongs the inevitable and is not good planning. Ways I would accomplish this is to cut City spending now and look at new sources of revenue to move us into the future. The new economic development zone, Plan Area 1, will play a big part in this as it will create over 8,000 new jobs, building the tax base for the City and also reversing the commute of our citizens. By having great, high paying jobs in our City it will keep people here, spending their money in our local businesses, keeping those tax dollars from being spent elsewhere and helping to maintain a healthy financial future for Brentwood.
- Jones: My top priority is bring high-paying, professional jobs to Brentwood, in order to balance out several challenges facing the city and its residents, including upcoming budget constraints and the 2-3 hour commute that thousands of our professional residents have to deal with everyday, during the week.
- Vidriales: I’m a longtime Brentwood resident and a local businesswomen. I care about the Brentwood community and I am committed to protecting our great qualify of life. Keeping our neighborhoods and schools safe from gangs, drugs, home/car burglaries and other criminal activity is essential. I am honored to have the endorsement of the Brentwood Police Officer’s Association. If elected to represent you on city council I will work closely with our excellent police department to continue to make public safety a citywide priority.
For Planning Area 1 – what is your vision?
- Bryant: Having Co-chaired the PA 1 Specific Plan, and worked on it for almost two years, I will move forward with its recommendations. To put the infrastructure in place to attract Medical, Tech, and high tech manufacturers to PA1. This area is planned to be the jobs and tech hub of Brentwood and Far East County. We don’t need thousands of additional rooftops to cram into the borders of our City, we NEED a jobs center. That is exactly what my vision of PA1 is. To allow our residents to work close to home, avoid the terrible traffic issues we face during rush hour, and to get two or three hours a day of their lives back to spend with their families and loved ones.
- Fink: I have been working on Plan Area 1 as a working group member and Planning Commissioner now for over a year. I am very excited at the potential this very critical project has for the future of our City. I and others on the team have created an economic zone that will bring high paying jobs to our City, reversing the commute for our citizens and keeping them here in Brentwood. I see businesses in the light industrial zone as medical device manufacturing and medical research laboratories as well as agricultural research facilities working with our local farmers to improve the crops they grow. I see larger tech firms setting up “satellite” locations in this area giving their employees a high end location to work from and in an affordable community that maintains a high quality of life for them and their families. The area will have retail locations with offices and living spaces above so these employees who work there will not have to get in cars to go to their jobs. It will create a “walkable” work/live neighborhood helping to maintaining that small town feel in the City.
- Jones: Our vision for PA-1 is futuristic business parks, modeled on very successful existing business parks, such as Bishop Ranch in San Ramon. We would like to see this anchored by tech and/or biotech tenants.
- Vidriales: PA1 is a comprehensive, long term plan that will be a game changer for Brentwood. My vision for PA1 is to build a high tech office complex that will attract high tech businesses to Brentwood. Brentwood’s high tech fiber optic infrastructure is already in place and is the envy of the state. This Smart Growth strategy will not only bring jobs to Brentwood but also alleviate traffic and bring in much needed revenue streams.
With the passage of AB-2923, should Brentwood move forward with a BART Station or move away to another project?
- Bryant: I have great , personal concerns about moving forward with BART having total control of the development of their properties. I have met with some of the heads of Contra Costa Transit Authority regarding the implementation of a transportation alternative for Brentwood. I believe that we should look at the use of autonomous people movers, similar to what many airports have currently. It is technology that is proven, safe, and would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the cost of a new BART line.And it’s DOABLE according to those that I have spoken to. It could take Bart riders up to the Antioch BART station and return them to Brentwood, and could happen in just a few short years, rather than many decades. This technology does not require building tracks, and is the wave of the future, not two hundred year old rail technology.
- Fink: Many citizens of Brentwood have expressed to me that they do not see a BART station as a positive addition to our City and in Plan Area 1 where we have designated a transit village which includes a future BART station, and with the passage of this bill I now agree with them. AB-2923 would essentially undo all of what we have designated for that area by turning over land use control to BART and taking it away from Brentwood and its citizens. Plan Area 1 is so vital for the future of our City, and we need to do whatever is in the best interest of Brentwood, not BART. I think the transit village could be served better by other modes of transit including “autonomous vehicles” taking folks to and from the transit village to the existing BART station in Antioch.
- Jones: We should reevaluate the Bart Station, based on this new law. There may be some alternatives available that would meet a balance between people that want a Bart station in Brentwood and people that don’t want a Bart station in Brentwood. If planned smart, it may be possible to have only a Bart station in the middle of 4, without giving Bart any of the land to the east of 4. All of the options need to be evaluated and public opinion of residents should be weighed as well.
- Vidriales: Brentwood should move forward on this project while ensuring any final development is in line with Brentwood’s vision. In addition I am working with Assemblymember Jim Frazier to look for other public transit concepts to get our residents more efficiently to the Bart station as well as working to add hundreds of new parking stations to our local Bart station.
Many small businesses have complained about all the “red tape” in Brentwood, what do you believe should be done to make it easier on local business to operate and open shop?
- Bryant: I am currently working with City staff on ways to streamline, and reduce or eliminate some current fees that are in place. It is vital to me, that The City of Brentwood not only focus on attracting new corporate business, but creates a vehicle that allows our local businesses to thrive. Working with businesses owners, and the local Chamber of Commerce, we will be able to improve owners profitability, and grow our local economy.We have some great resident business owners, who have partnered with the City over the years, to bring us the wonderful shop and dine, local experience that we have. As we continue to work together, it will only get better.
- Fink: The first step in addressing this issue is to find out where the process gets held up thus generating the complaints. Is it the application process? Is it in the amount of staffing we have to meet the demand of those opening a business? Is it the fees we are charging? Are the regulations we have in our municipal code to overbearing? As a city grows, like we have, these questions I’ve brought up need to be evaluated on a regular basis to make sure we are meeting the needs of our business community, ensuring that we are “business friendly” and not missing opportunities for growing jobs and services these business provide. Our focus is on economic development and it defeats the purpose of bringing in new business, especially those with the potential of high-wage jobs, to throw up roadblocks when they get here. We need to be looking at other cities around us that are successful in their economic development efforts and learn from their processes to help us be successful as well.
- Jones: Several businesses struggle to open shop in Brentwood, particularly ‘mom-n-pop’ businesses. We need a more streamlined application and permitting process for ‘small businesses’, as well as for special events. It’s ridiculous to be put through so much red tape. We also need to stop outsourcing our building permit work to the 3rd party vendor that the city currently uses. We should be able to handle all of this in-house.
- Vidriales: I believe small business is the heartbeat of Brentwood. The City of Brentwood needs to streamline the process and work hand in hand to ensure small business can flourish. I promote developing and implementing programs and services that support innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability, growth and social impact.
What do you believe should be done to bring big business and higher-level/paying jobs to Brentwood?
- Bryant: As mentioned earlier, we must provide shovel ready infrastructure as well as financial/tax sharing incentives to bring them to Brentwood. We must also continue to partner with companies like Sonic, who provide Gigabit fiber optic connectivity to tech and medical fields, so that they are not limited to housing their employees in the Silicon Valley communities. We have currently begun a marketing campaign that places all of the very attractive businesses opportunity areas as well as our wonderful quality of life, in front of the decision makers of companies that would be a great fit for our City, and residents.In addition to these things, I, along with the City Council are currently in the process of filling the vacant Assistant City Manager position. This individual will need to have extensive experience in the field of Economic Development. The plan is to focus on the very kind of Economic Development that the vast majority of us as residents want to bring into our lives, here in Brentwood.
- Fink: Approval of Plan Area 1 is only the first step to the process of bringing the high paying jobs we hope to attract to Brentwood. Having the best team on city staff is going to be critical to the success of this endeavor. They will be the ones promoting Plan Area 1 to potential, targeted business. One component of this needs to be the elevation of the current Business Development Manager position to Business Development Director. By doing so this position will have greater flexibility, communication and authority with other city directors critical to the success of our business development plan. One crucial qualification this individual must have is connections to economic areas of the state that we wish to recruit business from, primarily the inner Bay Area, especially the Santa Clara Valley. In this realm it is all about who you know and the network that they can utilize to make this project a success for Brentwood.
- Jones: We have to recruit and give these large companies like Genentech an incentive to come, with the goal being to make it a win for Brentwood in the long run. Do you know why Great Wolf Lodge went to Manteca? They gave a huge incentive to Great Wolf Lodge. We didn’t. From what I heard, Manteca gave up 29 acres of free land. Now Manteca is anticipating new income, in excess of $1MM annually, as a result of the Great Wolf Lodge deal. Losing Great Wolf Lodge is not the end of the world for Brentwood. It would have only benefited Brentwood residents financially, in the form of additional city income. However, the major companies like Genentech, Oracle, Microsoft, etc., bring jobs to our commuters and make our retail businesses healthier. In addition, companies that many residents would like to see in Brentwood, like Apple, Lulu Lemon and Cheesecake Factory are waiting for these jobs to arrive before they invest in Brentwood. We need ‘daytime traffic’.
- Vidriales: I support projects such as PA1 which will attract high-tech companies to invest in Brentwood. This will enhance our quality of life in multiple ways including reducing traffic/congestion in and out of Brentwood and provide additional revenue streams for our city.
What are your thoughts on the Deer Ridge & Shadow Lakes rezoning? Do you support the idea of more homes?
- Bryant: The State of California Fair Political Practices Commission, the legal body who regulate and enforce the laws regarding elected officials in the state, has issued a finding that I am unable to participate in a Council discussion regarding this topic, and am very limited as to what I can say publicly. The reason is that the Suncoast applicant has proposed to build a facility on a piece of property less than 250 feet from my front door. That, according to the F.P.P.C., means that I am personally affected more than the other Council members, and more than the average Brentwood resident. As you can imagine, these limitations on what I can say publicly have been EXTREMELY frustrating, and have led some to feel that I am avoiding the subject. After talking to the State, and several Attorney’s, I am able to publicly state this. The Staff of the City of Brentwood reviewed the application from Suncoast, and found numerous areas,in their opinion, that the project did not align with the Cities General Plan regulations. They then recommended against approval of the application because of this. Having been the Co-Chair of the General Plan working group, and having worked for two years to help create the Cities General Plan, personally, I feel that it is a well thought out and prepared document, that leads our community in a safe and prosperous direction into the future. It provides numerous protections against potential harmful development City wide, and the zoning areas were crafted for just that purpose. I consider it a privilege to have been able to help lead that process, and I agree with City Staffs decision on the application as received. I hope that this helps to clarify my position in this matter. I love living in Shadow Lakes, and I love the City of Brentwood as a whole. The close community and small town feel are priceless to me and my family, and I will always fight to keep it that way.
- Fink: I have been on the Planning Commission for over 8 years. I believe in the integrity and consistency of the General Plan and the decisions we have made over the years regarding large projects that have major impacts on the Citizens of Brentwood. That said, I was in agreement with City Staff’s recommendation to deny the project for Deer Ridge and Shadow Lakes. The placing of high density housing in the midst of large, low density development was going to go against all of what the General Plan calls for in our City. As to the building of more homes, that would not be a better solution for this particular situation or project. Even though the need for more housing is critical throughout our region, it has to be done in an area appropriate for development. In-fill projects such as this are very difficult to do because the zoning around the new development has to be similar or compliment the existing zoning to ensure the uses are compatible. As an experienced Planning Commissioner, I have the knowledge and skills needed for dealing with in-fill projects and with guidance from the General Plan I will continue to maintain that high standard of zoning that our City is known for as your City Councilperson.
- Jones: I do not agree with a rezone for the golf courses in Shadow Lakes & Deer Ridge. This is open space and already zoned for that. The golf course owner has other options.
- Vidriales: I have been against the rezoning and the addition of more homes since the beginning. I believe the current zoning and following our General Plan is most appropriate. The addition of the multi-story residential housing is not suited for Deer Ridge or Shadow Lake neighborhoods for several reasons including the added traffic congestion to the area and the added strain on emergency services.
How would you better support local agriculture and protect it? Would you support local farms who wished to grow cannabis as opposed to traditional crops?
- Bryant: As many know, I was raised in a ranching community In Oklahoma. Our Agricultural core is vitally important to me. Since I have been on City Council, and as a member of the Agricultural Subcommittee for many years, I was able to protect in perpetuity hundreds of acres of our agg core, by partnering with our farming families, to purchase those protections, ( with several million dollars that were set aside by the City for just such an opportunity) by partnering with grant funds made available by federal and state grants, to KEEP much of our agg core from ever being taken over by non agricultural uses. I am currently working with our City Staff, at a county and State level to create a way to allow vertical integration of common, modern approaches to our farming communities ability to provide Agg. focused industry. ( Bed and breakfast, dining experiences, and other activities connected with agriculture ) Our farmers are brilliant at what they do, and I believe in asking THEM what they need. They are the experts after all. Then working as a City, to support them as effectively as possible. I have spent a lot of time learning about the challenges that we as a state are facing, regarding the cannabis issue, at a state and federal level. After speaking with our State representatives, growers, representatives of the banking industry, environmental protection agencies, and those who provide medical and recreational cannabis to consumers, I have learned the following.Because use and growth of Cannabis being a federal violation, there are some areas of universal concern and difficulty at a State level. Banking – Because of the federal regulations, Banks cannot accept ANY money that is a part of the Cannabis industry, or they face the loss of Federal protections (FDIC). This means that all Banking must be done in a “ closed loop” banking system. Only a privately run bank can take the money, ( for a shockingly high handling fee) which is currently ALL CASH. The checks from that account can ONLY be cashed at that bank, and most businesses in the State, because of the issues attached won’t currently accept them. This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding banking. Environment – The production of cannabis is very difficult to mitigate, environmentally, and State regulations are in the infancy of being created. Law enforcement – There is currently no effective way to test the level of inebriation that an operator of a motor vehicle is under, for cannabis. Anyone who has ever used Cannabis will have to admit that it alters motor functions if abused. This causes potentially dangerous situations on our streets, while driving. So far, no answers as to effectively dealing with this issue have come at the State level. I know this has been a long answer, so I’ll wrap it up. I feel that it is very early in the process to have any definitive answers regarding the large scale production issue, and I would hate for our farmers to get financially stuck in a situation that could balloon out of control regulatory wise. I think we need to watch this for a while longer for some clear answers.
- Fink: The best way that we can support the farmers is by listening to what their needs are. To often there are ideas and planning that is done by the City that does not include the input of the farming community itself. Even though well intentioned, the City needs to include the agricultural community when it is discuss ways they can assist them in the promotion and support of the agricultural community. The other partner at the table also needs to be the County. I know that County Supervisor Diane Burgis is wanting to be very proactive in the promotion of our agricultural businesses and I feel strongly that we finally have an advocate in the County, in partnership with the farmers and Brentwood, that will finally move us in the right direction. Our agricultural community is one of our greatest assets and we need to do whatever it takes to preserve it and make is flourish. In response to the question regarding cannabis cultivation…I want to wait and see how other counties and municipalities deal with this issue. Cannabis may be legal, but as a “legal” industry it has a long way to go to solve some very important issues before I feel we should look at it as part of our agricultural industry in Brentwood.
- Jones: I think the agricultural industry should be the cornerstone of building a legitimate tourism industry here. The urban limit line will need adjustment in some areas, like by Heritage High and Adams Middle, where the traffic debacle is ridiculous. However, the line does not need to be completely moved. That said, our farm lands need to be preserved as much as possible. We need to do a better job of bringing our farmers more business. If cannabis is something that our farmers would like to explore for growing on their own land to increase their income, I think we should listen and hear them out. It’s a crop that is now legal in the whole state. Not affording our farmers that opportunity puts them at a great disadvantage to many other agricultural communities in CA.
- Vidriales: I am passionate about Brentwood’s agricultural community and heritage. Our local agriculture has been the backbone of Brentwood & I will continue to work with and support this community. I would not support farms who wished to grow cannabis as opposed to traditional crops. However I do understand this issue will be for the voters of Brentwood to decide.
How will you work to ensure crime remains low in Brentwood and that response times do not creep up? Can you also speak to traffic and what should be done to ensure drivers are following traffic laws within city limits?
- Bryant: More Police officers, implementation of technologies designed for public safety,
Adjusting staffing to effectively address peak hours of call volume. I also want to implement a public awareness program that involves our neighborhood watch groups, as well as our schools, regarding responsible driving and public safety awareness. We can all do better at this.
- Fink: It is very clear that our Police department does a great job in our City as people feel safe, but are concerned that as we grow, crime will grow with it. That means the Council and senior staff need to make certain we have the funding to continue to hire officers and keep them. We need to make sure we have the highest ratio of officers to citizens. However, Brentwood is currently losing officers to other agencies in the Bay Area, mostly to Antioch PD, because we do not offer a competitive benefits program to keep them here. Another statistic that is concerning to me is that less than 45% of Brentwood officers live “in” Brentwood. The ones that don’t feel they cannot afford to live here on the salary and benefits we are offering currently. If we want to keep our officers and keep them living in the city they protect, the City needs to be more competitive than other agencies on salaries and benefits. In regards to the traffic and driver issues, the department now has a dedicated “traffic unit” with a Sargent and three officers just for traffic duty. They are doing a great job of enforcement at this time. I would dedicate more resources to this unit in the future to make our streets even safer.
- Jones: We have one of the best police departments in the state, yet they are the 2nd lowest paid in East County. We need to do a better job of getting the police department the resources they need, which includes more traffic patrols. However, that is not possible without finding additional new sources of revenue. The plan we have to bring in very low crime industries, like tech and biotech, are actually welcomed by our police, because those industries generally do not put any additional stresses on police resources. However, they do bring the additional sources of revenue that help the police meet their goals
- Vidriales: I will work closely with the Brentwood police department and make sure that they have the funding and resources to continue to keep our city safe. Brentwood police department has recently added three motorcycle officers to increase police presence and the ability to deal with traffic violations in neighborhoods. I also support focused community education and awareness regarding adherence to traffic laws.
Some claim Brentwood has an affordable housing problem with average home value at $600k. Do you believe Brentwood should make available more affordable housing/low income or simply let the market dictate home prices?
- Bryant: I have been meeting with developers regarding this issue. There are several issues that affect all of us. Housing is one. I love Brentwood. It’s small town feel and family focused community must be protected. If we lose it, we will never get it back. Our housing has a great deal to do with this. I believe that families with deep roots in a community are what make it a wonderful place to live. It’s fantastic to live in a place that so many families have lived here for multiple generations. In order to keep this, we can’t continue to price our kids out of the housing market. There are some housing products that are becoming available that are single family units, designed to be sold at a substantially lower price point. This type of building will help to maintain our current home values, provide homes that our next generation can afford, and help us to avoid the issues that come along with large amounts of government subsidized housing. I think that this is the way to go for Brentwood.
- Fink: This is a question of how you look at what affordable housing means. If you ask any real estate professional, they will tell you that compared to the rest of the Bay Area we are a very affordable market. Affordable housing and low income housing have gotten a bad reputation in years past because some individuals perceive it as a hand out and that people in this type of housing abuse it and bring down the quality of life in a neighborhood that has affordable or low income housing. However, I see “affordable” housing as a stepping stone to getting started in your home ownership lifetime. The City of Brentwood requires home builders to have two or three homes built into each new subdivision, slightly smaller and blending in with the surrounding homes and at a lower in price. These homes are then offered to Brentwood families at lower income levels to help them get started in homeownership . The City has a downpayment assistance program providing funds to these families that gives them the opportunity to be homeowners where they would not be otherwise. Another way to look at affordable housing are higher density homes that use less land, such as cluster homes, townhomes and condominiums. They are less expensive due to the smaller lot sizes. All of us at one time or another lived in affordable housing otherwise we’d still be living with our parents. We need to have a good mix of housing in order for our market to be competitive with other cities, otherwise people will choose to live elsewhere and take their tax dollars with them, this also includes “affordable housing” as well.
- Jones: There is a problem with the housing prices, which will likely be corrected naturally by the market. You can make $150K per year and not find ‘affordable housing’ in Brentwood. That said, we have to let the market dictate the prices. Many of the people that bought all of these houses over the past several years did so with ‘equity gain’ in mind. Buying a home is an investment. However, we should also explore ways to keep people that have lived in Brentwood for a long time, in Brentwood. We currently have special programs that assists people, like teachers, in purchasing a home. Now we need to find a solution for renters. That will be a team effort.
- Vidriales: I do believe the market should dictate home prices but if we can offer assistance to first-time home buyers, teachers, firefighters and police officers that would be something I would be very interested in discussing.