ELECTION 2014: Gilmore, Spencer vying for mayor's seat
ELECTION 2014: Gilmore, Spencer vying for mayor's seat
Updated at 9:37 a.m. Friday, October 3 in BOLD
Correction: The Alamedan erroneously wrote that as a school board member, Trish Spencer voted against the Measure H parcel tax. The Alamedan regrets the error.
Trish Spencer is running against incumbent Marie Gilmore for mayor. Contributed photos.
Two attorneys with a history of engagement in local politics are squaring off in the mayor’s race this fall.
Incumbent Marie Gilmore, a Boalt Hall-educated lawyer with two decades of experience in city government, is being challenged by Trish Spencer, an attorney, longtime schools volunteer and substitute teacher who’s been on the school board for six years.
Gilmore, who served on the council for seven years before being elected mayor in 2010, cites her administration’s deal with the Navy to win title to hundreds of acres of Alameda Point – a goal that long eluded the city – and contracts with public safety workers that increased workers’ pension and retiree medical costs as evidence of her efficacy over the past four years.
“I have a proven track record of working well with others, building consensus and getting things done for Alameda. In addition, I understand the complexities and challenges of the job,” Gilmore said in response to a questionnaire from The Alamedan.
Spencer has positioned herself as an advocate for people who have lacked a voice on schools and city issues – and as someone who is willing to put the brakes on development in Alameda. During her tenure on the school board, she has earned a reputation for saying no, voting against leasing office space for the district’s headquarters, lessons and books intended to halt anti-gay bullying and two of the three taxes her dais mates have put on the ballot, including the Measure I bond voters will consider this fall.
“I am willing to ask serious questions for the good of the community and do not simply rubber-stamp proposals. In other words, I give all residents a voice in city government,” Spencer said in response to The Alamedan’s questionnaire.
Like the City Council candidates profiled earlier this week, whoever wins the mayor’s race will make decisions on development at Alameda Point and elsewhere on the Island, how to address concerns about evictions and rising rents and how to further reduce Alameda’s unfunded pension and retiree medical liabilities.
Here’s how Gilmore and Spencer said they would address – and how they have addressed – some of the key issues facing the city and Alameda’s schools, and what tools and experience they would bring to the task.
EXPERIENCE: Gilmore started her local political career on the Recreation and Park Commission and served on Alameda’s Planning Board for eight years before being picked in 2003 to join the City Council after Councilman Al DeWitt died (she won her own term in 2004). She was elected mayor in 2010. Spencer joined the school board in 2008 and was re-elected four years later, besting a field of eight other candidates by a decisive margin. Prior to her school board service, she served as PTA Council president.
KEY VOTES: Many of Spencer’s key votes as a school board member have been “no” votes, and school board meeting minutes show that she has frequently pulled individual contracts and other agenda items set for a voice vote and cast what is often a sole “no” vote against them. While on the board, she has voted against leasing office space for the district’s headquarters; the Measure E parcel taxe and the Measure I bond; two extensions of former superintendent Kirsten Vital’s contract and several district office positions, notably a new general counsel; anti-bullying lessons and books intended to protect gay youths and their families, and ultimately, a list of other protected groups; and a swap deal that saw the district exchanging land and cash with the city and housing authority (a deal Gilmore approved). She has consistently voted in favor of approving charter schools and has voted for in-district choice programs – though she voted against the long-term lease that united the Nea Community Learning Center and Alameda Community Learning Center on one campus – and she voted for new contracts for teachers and other district staffers that included their first raises in years. She has also worked to eliminate cell towers from school campuses, and she voted in favor of putting the Measure A parcel tax that’s currently in place on the ballot.
Gilmore’s big votes include approvals of the terms needed to win deeds at Alameda Point and of a host of planning documents that clear the way for development there, along with public employee contracts that both offer pay raises that grow if the city performs well financially and shift higher pension and medical payments onto workers. On Gilmore’s watch, the city has also established partnerships with nonprofits to manage city assets including the Meyers House museum and the Alameda Animal Shelter. And Gilmore voted to put the unsuccessful Measure C sales tax increase on the ballot. But Gilmore has also exercised her right to say no, voting down a controversial plan to give the Mif Albright golf course to a developer in exchange for cash and another property and saying no to city staff’s proposal to hire KemperSports to run the Chuck Corica Golf Complex, in favor of Greenway Golf. She also helped quash efforts to put campaign finance reform rules in place, saying rules proposed were “elitist” and favored wealthy candidates who could self-finance their campaigns. She recently voted to forego a city-sponsored rents task force in favor of a community-driven process despite reservations over whether the community process would produce the results the city is seeking.
UNION ENGAGEMENT: The perceived influence of Alameda’s public employee unions has been raised by voters as an issue in this election cycle. Both Gilmore and Spencer were backed by worker unions in their prior runs – Gilmore by the Alameda Firefighters Association and Spencer, by the Alameda Education Association. Spencer has said she’s not accepting money or support from unions or developers this time out, though the teachers union – which hasn’t formally announced its support for school board candidates – has joined the firefighters in supporting Gilmore for re-election and issued a statement saying they want Spencer to remain on the school board which noted that the union had “invested heavily” in Spencer 2012. Gilmore said donors shouldn’t expect any favors on the dais for their contributions to her campaign.
As to votes that pertained to workers from those two unions, Spencer was part of a board majority that voted in favor of a new contract for teachers that contained their first raise in years, and she twice voted against contract extensions for former superintendent Kirsten Vital, with whom the union had a frosty relationship. Spencer also voted against new district office positions and has expressed concerns about teachers’ lack of engagement in district initiatives like a technology plan, meeting minutes show; the union’s chief had voiced similar complaints about teachers’ lack of engagement in creating the plan. Spencer has also pulled reports detailing staff moves up for discussion to voice her objections to what she felt were a large number of teacher resignations, the minutes show. Spencer did not respond to a reporter’s request to discuss her reasons for the votes.
Gilmore voted with a council majority to approve new contracts that give all of the city’s workers raises - which escalate if the city performs well financially - but also require them to pay more for their pensions and health benefits. After the contracts were approved, firefighters dropped a ballot measure that would have mandated a minimum staffing level for their department, at a cost of about $4.8 million. Gilmore voiced interest in building a new, mid-Island Fire Station 3 and emergency operations center on former Alameda Belt Line property in 2010, before she ran for mayor. She has also voted in favor of allowing the fire department to start a non-emergency ambulance transport service which she said is popular with seniors and has saved Alameda Hospital money, and to hire temporary staff with a federal grant the department secured and replace equipment that was broken or beyond its service life. And she joined most of her dais-mates in granting former Alameda Point firefighters who’ve since joined the city fire department the right to purchase credits that will boost their retirement earnings (in responding to questions from The Alamedan, Gilmore said that when the Naval Air Station closed, the federal government asked the city to prioritize hiring the base’s former firefighters, who were federal workers).
ALAMEDA POINT: During Gilmore’s tenure as mayor, the city has secured deeds to hundreds of acres of Alameda Point and approved plans allowing the development of up to 1,425 homes, 5.5 million square feet of commercial space and 291 acres of open space and parks at Alameda Point, and the city is considering finalists to develop 150 acres of the former Naval Air Station and fielding proposals from developers interested in purchasing other acreage. In her response to a question about her vision for the Point – something Gilmore said is already being realized – she said she focused on retaining city control over development of the property and assembling a financially viable development plan with community input that focuses on producing jobs and open space. Gilmore has cast the housing that would be built at the Point – a third of what the city’s prior master developer, SunCal, had proposed – as an “amenity” for businesses intended to reduce traffic and sprawl, and other council members have pushed for the option to develop more housing there. The council has also signed off on developer fees approaching $1 million an acre to fund roads, utilities and protections from sea level rise.
When asked about her vision for Alameda Point, Spencer said she would prioritize wetland and park development and restoration of commercial and industrial areas, job production, and then residential development, “which would require careful planning to ensure that the public’s health is protected.” Specifically, Spencer said the Point offers an opportunity to create a regional park similar to Crab Cove. Spencer – who noted that she gathered signatures to fight SunCal – said she’s concerned about the risks of contamination and that the Point will be over-developed with buildings, and she said other issues – like sea level rise – need to be fully explored and addressed in development plans.
NORTHERN WATERFRONT AND OTHER DEVELOPMENT: Spencer has been active in efforts to fight development, organizing against former Alameda Point developer SunCal’s proposal to build more than 4,500 homes, opposing Harbor Bay Isle Associates’ proposals to build homes or a hotel and conference center where the Harbor Bay Club sits and to build a new club near the Harbor Bay Business Park and gathering signatures to put a measure rezoning federal property sold to a housing developer for park instead. Gilmore has supported development, offering approvals for Alameda Landing, Boatworks and several affordable housing projects. But she voted against a controversial proposal to give Harbor Bay Isle Associates the Mif Albright golf course in exchange for cash and another property for sports fields. The council hasn’t yet weighed in on a proposal to redevelop the Del Monte warehouse or to build a new Harbor Bay Club, and Gilmore has said she won’t offer her opinion on the latter proposal until it comes to the council for consideration.
TRAFFIC: Spencer said transportation and infrastructure issues need to be dealt with before new development can take place in Alameda, adding that City Hall should consider vans and buses that can connect commuters to BART and other existing transit. But she also voiced skepticism that people will take transit, walk and ride their bikes. Gilmore said the city is requiring traffic management plans that boost access to transit and other alternate travel modes and that city leaders updated developer fees to fund the impacts of development, and new residents and business owners will pay fees to cover basic services like policing and new transit options. Gilmore has sought assurances that the transportation plans proposed to support developments (Alameda Point and Alameda Landing specifically) will work – and that the city will be able to change them if they don’t, City Council meeting minutes show. Alameda Landing operates a shuttle service to BART in Oakland and the city runs another, and Del Monte developer Tim Lewis’s traffic management plan also includes shuttle service, which residents and business owners will pay for. City leaders have also worked consistently over the eight years a reporter reviewed City Council minutes to improve bicycle access and pedestrian safety on Alameda’s streets.
MEASURE A: Neither candidate has said they’re for or against further changes to Measure A, which limits the development of apartments and other multifamily homes in Alameda. Gilmore said city leaders had to permit multifamily housing on anticipated development sites to win state certification of the housing element of Alameda’s general plan – a move that made the city eligible to apply for a park grant and other funds. She also said the state’s density bonus rules – which require cities to loosen zoning and other restrictions in return for affordable housing units – supersedes Measure A. Spencer said any changes to Measure A have to address traffic, parking and other challenges to the city’s transportation infrastructure.
UNFUNDED PENSION AND HEALTH LIABILITIES: Spencer, citing budget projections showing the city could face a budget deficit in five years absent action, said addressing unfunded pension and retiree health costs is “a priority” and that cutting costs “will require serious consideration of funding priorities to start to move Alameda in the right direction.” Spencer has said that everything has to be on the table, but did not provide specifics when a reporter requested them. Gilmore has said city leaders have already gotten the ball rolling on cutting costs, but that there are limits on what they can do. During her tenure as mayor, the council has approved public safety contracts that increased workers’ share of the cost of their pensions and health care benefits and eliminated retiree health benefits for the spouses of newly hired workers, and city leaders won their unions’ consent to reduce benefits and increase the retirement age for new workers as recently allowed by state law. Gilmore said the city can’t legally pursue pension cuts and that court and ballot box efforts to do so in California have been unsuccessful; no California court has ruled against the prevailing wisdom that pensions are protected by the state’s constitution. Under the current contracts, Alameda’s public safety workers pay a larger share of their pension costs than most other public safety agencies in Alameda County, a review of a comparison document provided by city staff and other cities’ benefit information showed. As a councilwoman, she voted for a resolution allowing the council to bargain with workers over retiree health, something some of her dais mates objected to. Going forward, Gilmore said she’d seek to fund the retiree health trust fund the council approved on her watch and to ask workers – whose contracts will expire in 2017 – to pay more for their benefits.
RENT CONTROL: Neither candidate has suggested the city should enact rent control, though Gilmore told attendees at an Alamedan/Alameda Sun candidate forum that the city is having “a very serious discussion” about rising rents. Gilmore said that she hasn’t made up her mind but that if the city did pursue a rent control program, it will be “a very expensive proposition.” She said the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee could be given broader powers. Spencer, who said she’s a renter, said she thinks the committee is effective in addressing rent concerns and that more needs to be done to promote its existence. She also recommended that renters take a survey being conducted by Renewed Hope to gauge rent increases over the past year and renter concerns.
BUSINESS ATTRACTION AND RETENTION: Spencer questioned the growing number of chain stores on the Island, saying she doesn’t think they are what’s best for Alamedans or that they will draw customers to smaller shops. To support local businesses, she said the city could support local business organizations, organize business fairs and publish business guides on paper and online. Gilmore, who noted that as a councilwoman she voted with her dais mates to restrict the development of big box stores in Alameda, said she’s tried to strike a balance between national chains that people have said they want here and local mom and pop shops. She said the city has initiated a “shop local” campaign and recently released a restaurant guide, and that the city “enthusiastically supports” local business association events like the Park Street Business Association’s annual art and wine fair. Gilmore said she also visits several businesses each month to find out what more the city can do.
For additional information, here are links to the candidates' websites.