Candidate Questionnaires

Peninsula Progressive Action Group (PPAG) today endorsed Sara McDowell, Laura Parmer-Lohan, and Adam Rak for San Carlos City Council.

We received answers from Sara McDowell, Laura Parmer-Lohan, Adam Rak, and Ken Castle. John McDowell declined to answer our questions.

Below are the candidate answers, unedited:

ADAM RAK

Do you support the city’s moratorium of gun retailers? What regulations, if any, would you propose to regulate new gun retailers in San Carlos

Yes, I support the gun store moratorium as a means for the City to develop land use rules that ensure public safety. We should look at all legal options to restrict gun sales in San Carlos.

San Carlos Welcoming City resolution was passed in March 2017. How would you have voted for this resolution and why?

I would have voted for the resolution. First and foremost, I support this resolution because it conforms with my ideals as a community member in San Carlos. Second, it conforms with the San Carlos Strategic Plan, which I also support.

What are changes you would like to see in San Carlos?

The region’s incredible growth and prosperity should result in a better quality of life for all people who live and work in San Carlos, regardless of income. This means focusing on improving our parks, walkability around town, creating a more bike-friendly environment, and adding more affordable housing so that our teachers, firefighters, police and social workers can live in the community that they work. We need to carefully prioritize our spending so that our residents will feel this benefit for generations to come.

Are there any aspects of San Carlos’ ongoing evolution and development that cause you concern? Why?

I believe that civil servants who work in San Carlos — police, fire, teachers, etc — should be able to live in our city. They are already priced out of this market. With the trend toward larger and

larger homes, I worry that the problem will be exacerbated. I would like to find a solution where the people who serve San Carlos can afford a good single-family home.

What issues have moved you to speak at city council meetings in the past?

As President of the San Carlos School Board, I spoke at several City Council meetings on issues common to the city and schools, including safety and school capacity.

How do you feel the Community Foundation money should be spent/allocated?

I am pleased that a Community Foundation is being created through seed money from the PG & E settlement on line 147. I believe very strongly that the citizens of San Carlos should have an important role role in determining the structure, goals and on-going operations of this organization. I think it is important to develop a holistic approach to our support of all non-profit organizations in our community.

San Carlos is losing families due to the high cost of housing. What will you do to bring more housing, including more affordable housing, to San Carlos?

It is clear that we need more housing and in particular more affordable housing. We should look at areas near transit including those that are already zoned for mixed use to increase the housing stock as a first step. I also believe we should shift the focus from in-lieu fees to having developers build affordable units into their projects. I believe this is a faster, more efficient way to get affordable housing units online.

Many parts of San Carlos have no sidewalks, so pedestrians, bikes, cars, and trucks share the roadway. For example, there are few sidewalks and very narrow streets leading to Arundel Elementary School. What can the City do to improve pedestrian safety in areas without sidewalks?

On major walkways and bikeways to CalTrain and our schools, I think we need to add sidewalks and protected bike lanes. Traffic is only getting worse. We need to build safe routes to schools, so that parents can feel comfortable encouraging their kids to walk or bike. If we can’t build these routes using existing traffic patterns, we’ll need to look at creative solutions to improve walking and biking routes. I would also look at implementing Walking School Buses like Southern California has to encourage more parents to let their children walk to school.

 

SARA MCDOWELL

Do you support the city’s moratorium of gun retailers?  What regulations, if any, would you propose to regulate new gun retailers in San Carlos

The San Carlos community came out in strong opposition to the opening of retailer Turner’s Outdoorsman.  As an elected official, it is important to listen to the public, weigh the options available, and make a decision that will best meet the needs of the community.  I support further discussion about changing current zoning regulations for businesses that sell firearms from “permitted” to “conditional” which would open up the review process to public input and feedback.

San Carlos Welcoming City resolution was passed in March 2017.  How would you have voted for this resolution and why?

I support the San Carlos Welcoming City resolution.  San Carlos is a community that welcomes everyone regardless of age, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin.

What are changes you would like to see in San Carlos?

If elected, I will take an active role in guiding development to ensure that projects in San Carlos include benefits that positively impact our community.  These benefits could include increased public parking, more affordable housing units, new parks and community amenities, and improved streets and sidewalks.  Guiding development also means taking action to preserve the charming characteristics of our town that make San Carlos unique on the Peninsula.

Are there any aspects of San Carlos’ ongoing evolution and development that cause you concern? Why?

San Carlos and neighboring cities are facing a period of unprecedented growth.  I want to take a pragmatic approach to ensure public safety resources are protected, development projects include benefits that positively impact San Carlos, and parking and traffic concerns are addressed. San Carlos must budget and proactively plan now in order to meet the increased demand for services that our community will require in the coming years as a result of the development and growth occurring now.

An adequate supply of affordable housing is a challenge that is faced in San Carlos and in our region as a whole.  Recent large developments in San Carlos and neighboring communities have not been required to build enough affordable housing.

I also want to ensure that as our community grows, the characteristics that make San Carlos unique are preserved.  We are fortunate to live in a town that is safe, where residents can enjoy a thriving downtown business district and a beautiful parks and recreation system.  I will ensure that we preserve the characteristics that make San Carlos the City of Good Living.

What issues have moved you to speak at city council meetings in the past?

While I have not spoken at City Council meetings I have participated in many City Commission meetings.  Not long after moving to San Carlos I petitioned the City for a 4-way stop in my neighborhood.  As part of that process, I attended Traffic and Circulation Commission meetings to present my research and signed petitions advocating for the stop signs (which were eventually granted).  I recently attended a Traffic and Circulation Commission meeting to advocate for a crosswalk improvement project at the intersection of Woodland and Brittan Avenue.  For the last two and a half years I have also served as a Commissioner for the San Carlos Economic Development Advisory Commission (EDAC), a role that is appointed by the City Council.  Last year I served as Chair of the Commission.  EDAC’s role is to advise the City Council and other City agencies on economic development strategies.

How do you feel the Community Foundation money should be spent/allocated?

San Carlos is fortunate to have several non-profits and foundations doing great work in our community.  I served as a Board member of the San Carlos Education Foundation for two years and I currently serve on the Board of the San Carlos Parks and Recreation Foundation.  It will take some time for the Community Foundation’s role to be clearly defined and I am looking forward to community input in this process.

San Carlos is losing families due to the high cost of housing. What will you do to bring more housing, including more affordable housing, to San Carlos?  

An adequate supply of affordable housing is a challenge that is faced in San Carlos and in our region as a whole.  Recent large developments in San Carlos and neighboring communities have not been required to build enough affordable housing.  I want to change our policy of accepting in-lieu fees from developers.  If elected, I will push for a policy that requires developers to build a percentage of affordable housing units instead of accepting payments into an in-lieu fund.

Many parts of San Carlos have no sidewalks, so pedestrians, bikes, cars, and trucks share the roadway. For example, there are few sidewalks and very narrow streets leading to Arundel Elementary School. What can the City do to improve pedestrian safety in areas without sidewalks?  

Since moving to San Carlos I have advocated for pedestrian and traffic safety improvements for our residents, pedestrians, commuters and school children.  It is unacceptable that sidewalks are still inadequate around Arundel Elementary School.  San Carlos recently received a grant that will allow the City to study pedestrian and bike flow throughout our town and create a master plan for improvements.  This is a much-needed step in the right direction.  Now is the time for the City to spend funds on infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks, signalized crosswalks, and bike lanes.  If we want people to use cars less, we need to make the alternatives safer.

 

LAURA PARMER-LOHAN

Do you support the city’s moratorium of gun retailers?  What regulations, if any, would you propose to regulate new gun retailers in San Carlos

I have spoken publicly at City Council forums in support of the gun store moratorium. I do not support repealing the 2nd amendment, but I’m committed to ensuring a common sense approach to gun ownership. My campaign theme is “Leading by Listening.” In this context, I would facilitate a community discussion on this topic. If the result supports making the moratorium permanent, I would support it. By understanding the facts and promoting civic dialog I am confident our community can come together and determine what is best for our city. Having said that, I believe that we need to ensure that our residents are safe from the unintended consequences associated with increasing gun gun access. According to the Giffords Law Center, states with the highest gun levels had 9 times the rate of unintentional gun deaths of states with the lowest gun levels.

San Carlos Welcoming City resolution was passed in March 2017.  How would you have voted for this resolution and why?

I spoke publicly at City Council in support of the Welcoming City resolution.  As a working mom and member of the LGBTQ community, I believe that all citizens matter – diversity and inclusion are critical in creating healthy and sustainable communities. My candidacy has been endorsed by many elected officials and groups that value diversity, inclusion, family, and community – Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Anne E Campbell,  Former State Assemblymember Rich Gordon, SMC DEMs, DEMFEMS of Silicon Valley, BAYMEC, and San Mateo County Labor Council and many of their affiliates.

What are changes you would like to see in San Carlos?

I would like to create solutions that enable more of the people who make our community great the opportunity to live here – increasing workforce housing stocks and programs to help our teachers, first responders, and civil servants the opportunity to live here.

Create a common and unified vision for near-term development that brings our community together – change is inevitable, so how we manage that change is what matters.  We need to work with developers to ensure that they are enhancing our community. And we need to ensure that the infrastructure is in place so that what makes San Carlos so charming is retained and our quality of life is high!

Work has already begun to address child care capacity.  Thanks to outreach from Ron Piovesen, conversations are underway with City staff to encourage the promotion of existing after-school Park & Rec programs.  Feedback about community needs regarding the programming is being collected and will be shared to modify the programs to better meet the needs of our families.

Are there any aspects of San Carlos’ ongoing evolution and development that cause you concern? Why?

While we have a General Plan that was approved a few years back, I am concerned that the development needs of the City are not in clear focus.  The mix of new projects on Industrial (hotels, office space, and auto dealership) is confusing and the claims by the office space developers that the impact of their project on our community is minimal to nil does not ring true for me. I believe we need to have a clearer and more unified vision of near-term development to ensure that the projects enhance our community and that developers pay their fair share of the costs of community improvements.

 What issues have moved you to speak at city council meetings in the past?

  1. “Welcoming City”
  2. Gun store moratorium
  3. Contract extension for Arbor Bay School and support for increased programming for afterschool care
  4. I am in constant communication with City staff on many topics: afterschool care, development issues, fire and safety service levels and the potential economic value of outsourcing.
  5. I use the “Inform San Carlos” app frequently. Most recently to request street and sidewalk cleaning on Laurel St. prior to Hometown Days, to ask for new trash bins for Burton Park bathrooms, to repair a broken pedestrian sign at Brittan/Cedar, and to request the removal of “NO PARKING” signs placed by a resident on a public street.  City staff addressed all of these issues in a timely manner and it is fun to be “Mayor for a Minute!” Everyone should use this app!

How do you feel the Community Foundation money should be spent/allocated?

The current council is evaluating the establishment of a not-for-profit foundation that would be seeded with $2MM from the PG&E settlement.  At present, the vision and mission for this foundation has not been defined. I believe that this foundation could serve as a mechanism to secure funding for capital improvements to our community facilities, programs, and services of value.  It should be an independent community-based organization with sole discretion for how the funds are spent. It should also be the vehicle for the acceptance of private donations and endowments given specifically for improving our community. During my campaign canvassing, I have heard that residents would like a community center to host large gatherings, a performing arts center to support our community arts performances, an aquatics center and/or additional sports fields and urban forest development (additional tree-lined streets). The Community Foundation could be funding source for any/all of these.

San Carlos is losing families due to the high cost of housing. What will you do to bring more housing, including more affordable housing, to San Carlos?  

Additional housing stocks need to be built and this could be done in a variety of ways, including  in-fill development, smart (re)development of medium density, and mixed-use housing near public transit corridors. State law regarding the addition of Auxillary Dwelling Units (ADUs or in-law apartments) supersede local ordinance.  We might  create simple templates and work with local labor union apprentices to build out “tiny houses.”  I have been told that if 10% of Bay Area homeowners were to build an ADU, the housing crisis would be solved.

Work across the region with other elected officials and private and public groups to find solutions to make housing affordable to those who serve our community but can’t afford to live here. This could include low interest loans to teachers, first responders, and civil servants, and increased child care capacity to free up family funds to cover rent and mortgage obligations.

Many parts of San Carlos have no sidewalks, so pedestrians, bikes, cars, and trucks share the roadway. For example, there are few sidewalks and very narrow streets leading to Arundel Elementary School. What can the City do to improve pedestrian safety in areas without sidewalks?

There are several schools around which sidewalks are inadequate and compel parents to drive their children to school. I believe we need to review the current policy and make any necessary improvements to ensure safe routes to school.

As a former road cyclist, I gave up my hobby when I moved to San Carlos as I didn’t feel safe riding my bike the half mile to downtown. We need to improve our bike paths to make them contiguous and more visible to cyclists and motorists. A bike/pedestrian bridge is going to be built across 101 but, at present, there is not a safe way to traverse the city to get there!

 

KEN CASTLE

Do you support the city’s moratorium of gun retailers?  What regulations, if any, would you propose to regulate new gun retailers in San Carlos.

It’s clear that many in our community became alarmed when burglars broke into a local gun store in 2016 and made off with a large quantity of firearms, which clearly were headed for the black market. From my research, it appears that San Carlos is the only city in San Mateo County that has adopted a broad-scale moratorium.  Even progressive Palo Alto, it seems, does not have anything comparable.

What this suggests is that either demand for more gun stores is extremely low or that potential merchants are discouraged from locating in the Bay Area because of various regulations such as extra permit fees, taxes and site restrictions.  Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Alameda County ordinance that banned new gun shops within 500 feet of schools, day care centers, liquor stores or bars, other gun stores, and residential districts. The court held that the Constitutional 2nd Amendment guarantee for the “right to keep and bear arms” doesn’t mean that gun shops have an absolute right to locate wherever they wish. Legal experts are saying that this matter could ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The San Carlos moratorium may also be headed for litigation, so it’s advisable for me to refrain from commenting on the specifics of that situation.  However, let me point out that since I am part of an industry that provides security and emergency communications systems for schools and transit agencies, I am constantly reminded of the concerns for personal safety.  And I share in those concerns.

San Carlos Welcoming City resolution was passed in March 2017.  How would you have voted for this resolution and why?

Even though national issues are not normally considered relevant business for local government, city councils throughout the Bay Area have passed similar resolutions, and I would have voted for this one.  The unprecedented political climate in our country, and the concerns that so many have for federal  overreach, are prompting a national outcry.  To me, the central issue is due process for all residents, and that is one of the cornerstones of my candidacy.  The other two are transparency and common sense in government.

What are changes you would like to see in San Carlos?

First, I think city government needs to improve its outreach to residents when it comes to matters that relate to their neighborhoods.  I am constantly hearing that people feel they are not being informed, whether it’s about a planned stop light at an intersection or about some development that would have regional impact.  Second, I believe that our volunteer commissions, including Transportation and Circulation, Parks and Recreation and the Economic Development Advisory Commission (EDAC) should hold their meetings in the city council chambers and at times conducive to maximum public participation.  Also, city council should hold its work retreats on a Saturday, not during a weekday when few people can attend.

Third, I believe that the city council should be more proactive in setting a vision for the city – one that takes into account issues that are regional in nature – rather than creating policy in a fishbowl.  We can no longer afford to view San Carlos as an isolated town, and we should be comparing notes with other Peninsula cities to establish best practices.  In that light, San Carlos needs to update many of its ordinances to be more reflective of accepted local government standards and policies.

Are there any aspects of San Carlos’ ongoing evolution and development that cause you concern? Why?

People are constantly expressing concern about oversized houses, due to the lack of city ordinances setting limits on development, especially on small lots of 4,000 to 5,000 square feet.  Although the Planning Commission has been studying the matter for more than a year, there is concern that its recent actions would not resolve the problem.  And although the city has been allowing larger commercial and residential developments that are changing the landscape, I see little movement to increase parks, open space and recreational amenities.  Measure V to establish a park on the Black Mountain property was poorly framed with what many voters feared was a blank check to buy now and plan later.

Also, I see no movement by the city to pursue construction of a community recreation center.  San Carlos is the only city on the east side of the Peninsula without such an amenity.  While revenue is always a major concern for cities like ours, I would like to see more effort to set an agenda for what most Bay Area residents consider to be standard public facilities.

What issues have moved you to speak at city council meetings in the past?

For 10 years, as the founder of the White Oaks Neighborhood Watch program, I have spoken out against what my neighbors consider to be heavy-handed treatment by the city government.  Among the issues were demands by Public Works for randomly selected homes to pay 100% of sidewalk repairs, many of which involved minor cracks and deformities.  Another issue was the demand by Public Works to remove a stately oak tree on Eaton Avenue, largely because of some root disruption on the sidewalk.  Fortunately, the City Council pushed back and literally found a common-sense work-around to save the tree, but it took a Change.org petition and a large turnout of residents to make the case for the Ruby Tree.  Traffic calming proposals in White Oaks was yet another issue, and in my view the reliance on recommendations from outside consultants who don’t know the neighborhood led to some misguided experiments by Public Works.

How do you feel the Community Foundation money should be spent/allocated?

Since the funds were acquired as a result of threats to public safety, my view is that they should be spent on improvements to public safety.  These could include installation of paved sidewalks, more traffic control, dedicated cycling lanes and measures to enhance preparedness for potential threats such as fires, flooding and earthquakes.

San Carlos is losing families due to the high cost of housing. What will you do to bring more housing, including more affordable housing, to San Carlos?

It’s my view that San Carlos and other Peninsula cities should collaborate in formulating a regional strategy.  I am quite familiar with how the City of San Francisco is joint venturing with non-profit community housing organizations and developers that specialize in building affordable housing.  Merely requiring a percentage of condominium or apartment units to be offered at below market rate doesn’t put a dent in the problem.  In fact, several projects in San Francisco have stopped construction because the margins aren’t there for builders to have those set-asides.  What’s emerging is that projects that are 100 percent dedicated to low-income families are more economically feasible to build.  Further, San Carlos and its neighboring cities should be consulting with other stakeholders such as school districts and transit agencies to identify potential sites.  This is already underway in San Jose and other parts of Santa Clara County.  Unfortunately, too many of the transit villages either planned or in place are not dedicated to affordable housing.  We need to change that dynamic.

Many parts of San Carlos have no sidewalks, so pedestrians, bikes, cars, and trucks share the roadway. For example, there are few sidewalks and very narrow streets leading to Arundel Elementary School. What can the City do to improve pedestrian safety in areas without sidewalks?

For areas that are large enough to accommodate sidewalks, such as the east side of El Camino – where bus stops are located at sites that are devoid of sidewalks – the city should be partnering with Caltrans and Samtrans to install paved walkways and thus make public transit more accessible and less hazardous.  I’ve also heard suggestions, especially from cycling groups, that we could consider making designated residential streets one-way thoroughfares.  That could reduce the dangers from mixing trucks and speeding vehicles with joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists. For some of our winding hillside roads, which are narrow with blind corners, it may be worthwhile to consider some type of shuttle system for school children and other pedestrians.  I’d love to see a network of people-movers such as gondolas that are popular throughout Europe, but realistically speaking there isn’t the budget to accomplish that.  Still, wouldn’t it be nice to have a gondola that descends from the top of Crestview Drive to selected stops along the eastern slopes of the hillside and possibly down to the central business district?  That’s how people get around in many mountain communities of Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France, and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting those places.  No need for cars!  Probably most people, except historians, don’t know that Burlingame once had a battery-powered trolley that was built in 1913 to ascend the hills of the Easton residential area west of El Camino.  Maybe that concept, in a modern context, still has validity today.  Sadly, when it comes to alternative forms of transit, the U.S. is decades behind most developed countries around the world.

 

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