City Council candidate Stewart Chen
City Council candidate Stewart Chen
City of Alameda Health Care District Board Director
Seven years on the City of Alameda Social Service Human Relations board, three years on the Alameda County Human Relations Commission, and two years on the Alameda Health Care District Board.
If elected, what would be your top three priorities?
I have lived in Alameda for over twenty years and I have seen it in its better days. I would like to bring back the qualities that attracted our residents here in the first place. I would like to lower the crime rate, improve the quality of education and healthcare, maintain the parks and public facilities, improve the traffic condition, and other things that would make Alameda a safe and enjoyable place to live and raise a family. I would like to satisfy the people's needs and address their concerns. I plan to reach out to the community and listen to everyone. Everyone deserves to be heard and I will make myself accessible to them. By doing so, I hope to encourage my fellow city officials to do the same. City officials have a direct impact on the residents of their community and such a privilege should be taken seriously. And last, but not least, I would like to build a vibrant local economy that would make the city self-sufficient and be able to provide for the needs of our community. The five-year forecast for the city of Alameda does not look good and I would like to find other sources of revenue to avoid negative effects on our community. I would like to work with our local businesses to see what we can do to attract more customers and generate more sales. Like the local merchants along Webster Street, I would like to approach them and see if we can find ways to improve the shopping experience there and make Webster Street as vibrant as Park Street.
What is your vision for the future of Alameda Point, and what are three steps you would take to implement that vision?
Alameda Point can be developed and utilized to improve the quality of life of our residents if we use it wisely to provide jobs, housing, recreational areas, and a transportation system. With over 900 acres of land, developing even just a fraction of the whole property would be enough to accomplish this. My vision of Alameda Point includes affordable housing coupled with recreational areas, like parks, and maybe even an elementary school and a library that the residents can enjoy. It would also have a public transportation system to serve the area and minimize traffic and pollution. All of this would be supported by a vibrant mix of shops and businesses that would also help boost our economy.
There is a lot of potential in Alameda Point, but there is also the concern about the toxic wastes and hazardous materials that have been left there. My first step would be to clean up Alameda Point. Since I am not an expert in this matter, I would listen to the evaluation and recommendation of regulatory agencies, such as the EPA, but I would also proceed carefully and even err on the side of caution when humans and other living things are involved. However, I am optimistic that it can be done. As more and more technological discoveries are made, it is possible that the contamination can be cleaned up. For example, some plants have been known to clean up toxic materials in the soil while benefiting humans and other living things around them.
My second step would be to work out the development of Alameda Point in phases. This involves figuring out what needs to be done, which things go where, and when and how things need to get done to accomplish the vision that I have stated above. Then the third step would be to implement the plan. Implementation would involve working with the current tenants of Alameda Point and the PM Realty Group as well as other developers and business investors.
State law limits the steps local elected officials can take to address employee pension and benefit costs. Given these restrictions, how would you address the city’s unfunded pension and health care liabilities?
I agree that local elected officials are limited in what steps they can take to address employee pension and benefit costs. Any meaningful modification to the current MOU has to be carefully negotiated between both parties. The city cannot unilaterally change the terms of the defined benefits agreed upon by collective bargaining. However, I think part of the problem has been addressed by the State Pension Reform that was approved a few weeks ago and the City of Alameda has been making our yearly contribution to the pension fund and OPEB.
Do you think there are unmet housing needs in Alameda? If so, what are they and how would you address them?
Based on the State housing mandates and ABAG region needs allocations, Alameda is still in need of affordable housing. Unfortunately, I don't have sufficient information to address these needs at the moment. The issue of housing is important and any housing decision has a long-term impact on a society, so this question merits more than a haphazard or casual response. We have a housing authority that handles our city's housing needs and I believe they are in a better position to answer this question. If elected, one of my first priorities is to visit the housing authorities and help in any way I can. I recognize that there are experts in different fields that I can approach for help. My job, as an elected official, is to determine the needs of our residents and utilize the expertise we have on-hand for the benefit and welfare of our community.
Are there any city services that you believe are underfunded? If so, how would you raise revenue or what would you cut to pay for them?
I believe health care is important for all Alamedans and that we should keep our hospital. I also believe that we need to maintain a high level of quality in our public facilities that provide services for our residents. We should be able to maintain our facilities, like our community swimming pool, and keep them available for everyone to enjoy. In order to do so, we need to increase our revenue stream or find other sources of revenue. The revenue that we get from sales taxes is probably the major source of our city's revenues at the moment. We can increase this by attracting more visitors and shoppers to our area. I will work with the business owners along Webster Street so we can make the area as vibrant as Park Street. I will also work with the landlords of Marina Village and South Shore Center to help fill their vacancies. It would be a big boost to our local economy if we can revitalize our local businesses. Not only would our sales tax revenue increase, we would also be creating jobs for Alamedans.
City Manager John Russo has said he would like to implement more public-private partnerships in order to continue providing services at a reduced cost to the city. Do you agree? And if so, which services currently provided by the city do you think could be sourced through private contracts?
Yes, I think this is a good idea and there are situations where a public-private partnership would be mutually beneficial. One possibility that comes to mind is a public-private partnership to provide and maintain a recreational facility for the residents of Alameda. The city can provide the property and physical infrastructure for a recreational facility that will have a swimming pool, basketball courts, tennis courts, a weight room, a multi-purpose room, and a youth center and a private institution can be in charge of the daily operations and maintenance of that facility.
How could city government improve the way it does its job?
I believe that the primary job of city government is to serve the residents of the community. To effectively do this, we, first, need to know their actual needs and concerns. This is why I think accessibility is important. City officials need to be in constant contact with the residents and have regular positive and healthy exchanges. We need to have our fingers on the pulse of our city so we can anticipate its needs. I believe holding regular Town Hall meetings in different parts of our city is a good way of doing so and I intend to continue this effort, if elected. We can also cut down on bureaucracy to improve our service. City government, as represented by the officials and employees, should always strive to improve upon themselves. They should always keep in mind that they are public servants who need to be more sensitive, more responsive, and more proactive regarding the welfare of our city and our residents.