Carmel Candidates Agree on Most Campaign Issues
March 1, 2012
Based on the size of the overflowing audience that exceeded fire-safe capacity in Sunset Center's Carpenter Hall Wednesday, you'd think voters were gathered for a ruckus to rival the national GOP debates. But in a two-hour forum, two mayoral candidates and four city council candidates exchanged only the gentlest of barbs in the first of three forums before the April 10 election.
City Councilman Jason Burnett and restaurateur and business owner Rich Pepe are vying for outgoing Mayor Sue McCloud's seat. Seeking two open council seats are four contenders: incumbent Ken Talmage, Planning Commissioner and architect Victoria Beach, Forest and Beach Commissioner and retired physician Tom Leverone and realtor Bob Profeta, who has a background engineering nuclear power plants.
District Attorney Dean Flippo moderated the forum, which was sponsored by the Carmel Residents Association. Subjects included beach maintenance, code compliance to help preserve Carmel's village character and shared services for police and fire departments.
A common thread to every question: how to pay for things. With revenues barely growing and liabilities exploding (the city’s CalPERS debt along soared from $18 million to $36 million in 2010 as anticipated economic returns nationally deteriorated). Most candidates agreed every additional revenue source, from paid parking to tax hikes, should be on the table in developing solutions to ensure public safety and that Carmel’s biggest attractions thrive.
In response to a question about maintaining the urban forest, Pepe said, “Money cures all ills,” citing a staff shortage when it comes to culling old trees and replanting new ones.”
His messaging throughout the night focused on branding Carmel. Pepe said keeping the beach clean was essential for maintaining revenues long term: "It's one of our top selling points,” he said. “It's part of our brand.”
All the candidates agreed the beach is in need of repair: “It’s so beautiful that is has been a victim of its own success,” Beach said.
Profeta floated the idea that the city charge people to build beach bonfires. "I think we pay enough he fees," he said, "but there are some issues [like beach maintenance] where we may have to take draconian steps."
Leverone, as beach commissioner, is planning to present a fire basket prototype to City Council later this month, which would make ash cleanup easy for people who light bonfires.
Leverone also pitched improved paint jobs on trash cans to better indicate which ones are for recycling. "I'd like to give people the benefits of the doubt," he said, "and let them enforce themselves if we'd just educate them."
When it comes to shared services, Burnett said he wouldn’t be willing to lose control of the local police department, but there could be additional revenues if Carmel PD were to provide service to areas outside city limits, like Pebble Beach and Rio Road.
“Our police could cover a larger area,” Burnett said. “Our service would be just as good [as it is today], and our neighbors’ would be better.” Leverone echoed Burnett’s proposal.
Talmage, Profeta and Pepe argued against against shared services. “There is crime in Monterey,” Pepe said “And we’re about 20 miles from the murder capital of California.”
All the candidates agreed code enforcement has fallen by the wayside as a result of budget cuts, with dedicated city staff cut from four full-time to one half-time position in recent years. “This gets at the heart of what it means to preserve village character,” Burnett said.
Talmage said cuts mean that code compliance has fallen to residents calling city hall to complain about neighbors. “What that leads to is an inconsistent and inequitable process,” he said.
Leverone proposed reviewing city code with a fourth-grade English teacher; Beach compared effective code compliance to good parenting, in which education comes first; Pepe said city codes are in need of rewrites and more helpful city assistance to applicants.