Carmel-by-the-Sea City Council candidates focus on money, mail and parking meters.
Thursday, April 6, 2000
In a town best known for once having a movie star for a mayor, Carmel politicians are facing tough election bouts due to a shaky financial picture, historic preservation debates, and, of all things, mail delivery.
This race promises to be fairly spicy, with City Councilmember Sue McCloud vying to deny longtime Mayor Ken White his fifth term (McCloud will retain her council seat should she lose to White), and three challengers and two incumbents fighting for two City Council seats. Councilmembers Barbara Livingston and Marshall Hydorn are hoping to be reelected, while challengers Dick Ely, Gerard Rose, and Joe Steinfeld are aiming for an upset.
Incumbents and challengers alike have a lot to say about the issues facing the sleepy little village that is Carmel.
Preserve This: One of the biggest issues up for debate in Carmel this year is historic preservation, which all candidates favor to some degree. At the cornerstone of the debate is the famed crumbling cultural center of Carmel, the Sunset Center. After years of renovation talk, funds are still being scraped together to complete the plans.
White pledges to "ensure the Sunset Center project is completed. The city made a pledge of $5 million and the foundation has raised $11 million. I need to emphasize that we continue to preserve the Carmel way of life and the unique architecture here. We need a new awareness of preservation."
Livingston adds, "The Sunset renovation is the largest capital project we''ve ever undertaken. My big priority is historic preservation. We need to protect the village from the mass scale of homes we see in other places on the Peninsula."
Money Matters: While whispers circulate that Carmel''s books bleed red ink, a February report by City Administrator Jere Kersnar states that the budget is meeting expectations. Yet, revenues are flat. All candidates urged exploring new sources of revenue. They differ only in how to go about those tasks.
"We need to develop a multi-year budget," contends Ely. "Carmel needs to lobby for its state money, and we need to be more aggressive in pursuing funding for traffic and water issues. I''d like to work on increasing conferences in town; to get people in town off-season would increase TOT [Transient Occupancy Tax]."
Council candidate Rose, an attorney, says, "It''s important to focus the initial search for solutions away from Carmel''s elected officials and on to department heads. Also, ideas should be used from city employees, they''re in the best position to see how money is spent."
Retired businessman and council candidate Joe Steinfeld, a relative newcomer to Carmel, says, "We need new revenues. Our sales tax is flat, our hotel tax is flat."
Hydorn brings up other solutions. "There''s possible development taxes, paid through permit fees, contractors, etc. I don''t want to increase TOT more than other cities, so we remain competitive. That''s our largest source of revenue."
Get a Real Address: Only in Carmel would mail delivery be a hot election issue.
Recently, the decades-old tradition of going to Carmel''s central post office has been challenged by Steinfeld, who has caused quite a stir by forcing a reevaluation of home mail delivery in Carmel.
Steinfeld argues that it''s difficult for many elderly residents in the town to access their mail downtown and he advocates changing the rule.
The City Council is looking at the issue. However, home mail delivery may prove difficult in the town since there are no street numbers. According to Barbara Livingston, a fierce defender of Carmel''s village charm, the delivery could only be "rural route delivery to clustered boxes on the street."
Traffic Canyon: The hotly debated issue of highway improvements continues in this race. The Transportation Agency of Monterey County killed the proposed Hatton Canyon Freeway last year, but Caltrans currently has a plan of improvements for Carmel''s stretch of Highway 1.
Steinfeld says, "I have a simple solution for Highway 1. Just connect Rio Road to Carmel Valley Road. Remove the light from Carmel Valley Road and it would merge onto the highway. One climbing lane won''t help."
"Congestion increases considerably when people go through town, not on the highway," insists McCloud, who says her decision to dare White for his mayoral seat came at the insistence of community members. "Caltrans should have finished their plan of 12 improvements long ago."
Livingston is adamant, "Hatton Canyon was voted down because our general plan says we must have environmentally safe transportation. Traffic isn''t really a problem, we just need to extend the turning lane from Rio Road to Carmel Valley Road. Hatton Canyon Freeway would be very hard on the downtown businesses because there''s no Ocean [Avenue] off ramp."
"We need more than Caltrans'' current plan," says Ely. "We could consider moving the traffic east. I still support the Hatton Canyon Freeway. My fear, though, is a San Jose freeway with walls and four lanes racing through."
The Out of Towners: As more people look to Carmel for weekend get-aways, the issue of part-time residents who don''t spend much money or get involved in the community comes to the forefront for Carmel officials.
"Second home owners have a huge impact on Carmel," says McCloud. "U.S. News and World Report estimated that 81 percent are absentee owners. We want them to feel a part of the village, but it''s a big job to tell people about Carmel''s traditions and to uphold them."
Rose''s opinion is that Carmel''s lure makes a unique problem for city officials. "One thing is certain: The number of full-time homeowners is a fraction of what it is in other Monterey Peninsula cities. I strongly oppose city government getting too intrusive in citizens'' lives."
Pay to Park: With hundreds of visitors flocking to downtown every day, plus residents and local employees, parking is at a premium in Carmel. Last year, a proposal to install parking meters was met with loud collective protest from locals.
Rose says, "I propose a low-profile parking structure at Sunset Center, perhaps with a garden park on the top. Individual parking meters as a ''cure,'' I believe, are worse than the disease."
Steinfeld suggests a new solution to help parking and the budget. "One new source of revenue could be paid parking kiosks. Parking meters at each spot would look terrible, but these kiosks can be every few blocks and be designed attractively. One estimate is they could bring in $1.5 million."