The Brentwood City Council race is an interesting race thus far because the two hardest working candidates out there are Gene Clare and Carissa Pillow while incumbents Erick Stonebarger and Robert Brockman have been essentially silent and you wouldn’t even know they are running for office.
Over the past few months, it’s as if Gene Clare has been everywhere so I’ve given him the name Gene “Everywhere” Clare because the guy never sits down and wherever I seem to go, I run into him at an event wearing that bright orange runners jersey. But more importantly, the guy is always polite, won’t say a bad thing about any of his opponents and just appears to be enjoying the process of “Running for Brentwood”. His signs are posted all over Brentwood and has a great platform–what’s not to like? You have to respect a guy like that. He has been a huge supporter of our local firefighters who even shared his story of how they saved his life.
But what is fabulous about how he is running his campaign is not just him, but it’s his supporters who are just as enthused as him. Hands down, he has the best supporters for all the right reasons, they are just happy people which is a nice change in tone for local politics which can be brutal. It’s almost like its a happy go lucky campaign. It really does excite me.
If you want to meet Gene Clare, here are his upcoming events.
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Carissa Pillow is another candidate who is working very hard for votes. She has probably the best website of all and like Gene Clare, is using social media beautifully. Ms. Pillow is the most blunt candidate of all and you will always know where she stands, which I like! While she does not have the signs up like Clare or Brockman, she appears to be reaching people with her message. What is really cool about her is that her blog site is being used to promote those who have already endorsed her–typically its the other way around. At a lower level of Gene Clare’s, her supporters have been pretty good about spreading the word about her candidacy to residents. While I myself am not yet willing to endorse her over her stance on ECCFPD, she does have an overall solid campaign platform and running a good campaign. She is also very positive in her attitude towards Brentwood and confident in her beliefs.
In contrast, one would not even notice Mr. Clare and Ms. Pillow have opponents as Chris Becnel has been silent while few have heard a peep out of incumbents Erick Stonebarger and Robert Brockman. For the record, I will support neither Brockman or Stonebarger for what they helped create at ECCFPD. I believe Brentwood deserves better.
For Brentwood, Brockman is my least favorite candidate and this is his time to go. If you recall, there was Contra Costa Times article last year which stated the following on a shady business deal.
Councilman Robert Brockman failed to pay thousands of dollars in permit fees for properties he once owned after the city allowed businesses to operate in them that did not meet zoning requirements.
In 2004, Brockman bought properties in the Sunset Industrial Complex on Elkins Way and leased spaces to at least three businesses that were not allowed to operate in an industrial area, according to city records.
Brockman requested that the city permit the businesses, which included gymnastics, dance and karate studios. The city changed the zoning rules for the development to allow the nonindustrial businesses, as long as they obtained conditional-use permits.
Brockman never obtained the required permits, which typically range from $2,500 to $5,000. Only one of the recreational businesses that cycled through Brockman’s properties was ever permitted, according to city records, despite the city sending a letter to him and other property owners in the complex in 2006 reminding them of zoning rules.
Facing financial collapse, the two-term councilman lost his Sunset properties to foreclosure this year.
Brockman did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment for this story.
The city began developing Sunset Park, a 40-acre parcel off Sunset Road, a decade ago to try to move some industrial businesses off Brentwood Boulevard.
In early 2004, Brockman purchased a 24,000-square-foot property in the front section of the park from the city, and received permission from the Planning Commission to begin putting up buildings.
In official documents, he told both the City Council and his fellow planning commissioners that he planned to lease his land to a cafe, a muffler shop and a few other industrial businesses.
Several months after the Planning Commission approved his project, the city sent Brockman and all other Sunset Park property owners a letter telling them that recreational uses such as dance and karate studios were prohibited.
Brockman responded immediately, telling the city in a letter that he was already in the process of leasing his just-purchased properties to a gymnastics center, a dance studio and a karate club, and asking the city to reconsider its zoning for the park.
The City Council amended its Sunset Park zoning the next month to allow recreational businesses in the front section of the park as long as the city approved a conditional-use permit for each business.
These types of permits are tailored to the businesses that apply for them, and often come with restrictions such as limits on hours of operation and traffic.
Cities sometimes reject applications for conditional-use permits, and Brockman has voted to do so on several occasions.
Both tenants and owners can submit permit applications, though owners are required to sign off on them while businesses are not.
“It’s fairly common for applicants to comment on the amount of the fees as well as the time it takes to process the applications, ” city planner Erik Nolthenius said.
Though the dance, karate and gymnastics studios moved into Brockman’s properties, none applied for conditional-use permits.
In July 2006, the Community Development Department sent another letter to Sunset Park property owners reminding them that the complex was not intended for the general public and attached a copy of the zoning ordinance specifying that permits were required for recreational facilities.
A now-closed Curves fitness center appears to have been the only tenant of Brockman’s that obtained a permit for recreational uses during the six years that he owned the properties.
The business owner paid a $2,500 permit-application fee in 2005, shortly after Brockman was elected to the City Council.
Other property and business owners paid thousands of dollars in permit fees for businesses.
The owners of the Sunset property neighboring Brockman’s paid the city more than $7,000 to obtain two conditional-use permits for an indoor soccer facility they hoped to move into the building.
“That was our understanding of what had to be done, ” said Jonathan Strauss, one of the owners. “It was very clear when we bought it that we had to get a conditional-use permit.”
Though the city never evicted Sunset Park businesses for violating city zoning, Community Development Director Casey McCann said that Brentwood takes conditional permits seriously, in part because they help ensure that residents don’t spend time in contaminated environments.
“It’s a big deal, ” he said. “It’s not something that we ignore.”
By 2010, all of Brockman’s recreational tenants had closed except Black Diamond Kids Center, which had expanded to include a preschool in addition to dance and gymnastics classes.
A 13,500-square-foot warehouse filled with blue and red mats, Black Diamond had become Brockman’s largest tenant.
Brentwood surveyed the industrial park for zoning violations last year in response to complaints from businesses and property owners that had asked the city for permission to relocate to the complex and been rejected on zoning grounds.
Staff found that of the 47 Sunset businesses operating there, Black Diamond was the only one that still needed to obtain a conditional-use permit.
The city also found nine businesses in the park that were flatly prohibited by city zoning — eight offices and the Black Diamond preschool.
In response to the survey, the Planning Commission and City Council last year approved a new ordinance spelling out the park’s existing zoning in more detail and giving businesses 18 months to comply or find a new location.
Brockman was one of two people who spoke about the ordinance change before the commission, which is appointed by the City Council.
He expressed concern that Black Diamond would no longer be able to operate a day care. The new ordinance permitted Black
Diamond’s preschool to stay under a provision allowing “ancillary” day-care facilities.
Shortly after the change, Brockman defaulted on all of his Sunset properties.
The councilman’s contracting firm also went bankrupt last year, collapsing under the weight of lawsuits over home inspections gone awry, and he lost his own home to foreclosure.
Black Diamond owner Josh Storrer ultimately paid the $5,000 conditional-use permit fee in January.
Storrer said that from the beginning, Brockman handled communication with the city about zoning issues.
He was under the impression that the city had only recently imposed a conditional-use permit requirement on recreational businesses in the complex.
“There’s no way the city is gonna let a business open without a conditional-use permit if it needs one, ” he said.
Contact Hannah Dreier at 510-262-2787.
Of course, in an article by the Brentwood Press on June 9, 2011, Mr. Brockman denied wrong doing.
“It’s not unusual for businesses to get into gray areas,” he said, adding that payment for conditional use permits is not required up front, but “We always get our money.”
“There are some powerful people upset with me,” he said, declining to elaborate for this story. “I believe I know who it is. It’s a personal attack without facts, by someone who doesn’t know me and doesn’t have the (guts) to confront me. I would encourage anyone with questions to review the time lines and facts. They’re all public records. And if anyone has questions, ask me.”