Friday, October 30, 2009

Dan Smith answers Benicia Herald

Dan Smith, Candidate for City Council on Nov. 3, answers the Benicia Herald questionnaire.
Dan's Website ; Dan's Blog

Personal: Dan Smith
Birthplace: Anaheim, CA
Age: 52
Years in Benicia: 22
Job/Company: Community relations specialist/Currently freelance
Family: Wife Diana, daughters Jessica and Catherine

Political history

How did you get into politics?

I have engaged in political discussions since I was young. Shortly after moving to Benicia, I was encouraged to apply for a city commission by then-Mayor Marilyn O’Rourke. I had always been involved in coaching and playing baseball, so I applied and was appointed to the Benicia Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission in 1990. Then, when the city planned to replace the playground in City Park, I saw the proposed equipment and thought the park was too special for typical catalogue variety equipment. My wife and I and several other families worked together to organize volunteers to build the Playground of Dreams. It was a life-changing experience that has inspired me in politics and community work ever since.

When were you first interested?

When I was 10, I was affected by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It compelled me to learn more and take a lifelong interest in politics. I later wrote editorials for my high school newspaper, including one urging President Nixon to surrender his tapes. I also took some Political Science classes while at Cal. As an adult, I read a great deal and engage in discussions to keep up on the politics of each city and county where I have lived.

What motivated you to run for Benicia City Council?

In the late 1990s, I was inspired by the work of Councilwoman Jan Cox-Golovich and other leaders I had admired through the years. As a newspaper journalist for 17 years, I had reported on several city councils in California, including Benicia’s. Many people were asking me if I would consider running. I also felt that too much power was being wielded by the city manager, who was also police chief at the time. The council was being led astray from our General Plan, so I ran for the first time and won in 2001. Then, in both 2005 and this year, I was asked again by many Benicians to run. I am proud of past achievements like the Playground of Dreams, the XPark skatepark and the 10,000-acre Tri-City Open Space and am driven to repeat those successes on behalf of the city I love.

What do you think you would bring to the Council, if elected?

I am a voice for young people and for the environment, two critically important aspects of society too often neglected in politics. In addition, I am an independent who endeavors to be consistent, yet weigh each decision on its own merits, on a case-by-case basis. Mayor Patterson and I agree on a great many things, but not always. We did not always vote the same way when I was on the City Council.

Finally, regarding the most important issue before the City Council, I will insist on a first-class project from the Seeno development that adheres to the components of the community-based agreement. With me on the council, I believe there will be a majority who will not accept a project that would violate our city’s General Plan with regard to environmental impact and sustainability. That is the key difference between me and the incumbents.

What issues in this race do you feel you’re most qualified to address? How, then, would you address those issues if elected?

I have been working on the Seeno project since the late 1990s when I was on the Economic Development Board and during my time on City Council 2001-2005. I am qualified to address that issue and, as I mentioned in my response to the previous question, I will insist on a first-class, sustainable business park.

I opposed the city’s takeaway of the scout houses when I was on the City Council, and I will push to get permanent housing as soon as possible for Benicia’s scouting programs at Mills Community Center. The troops are in temporary portable housing right now.

I have been a leader in preserving open space and creating trails throughout Southern Solano County for 15 years on the Tri-City Open Space group and other committees. I will continue to work toward creation of the county’s first regional park and completion of a Carquinez Shoreline Loop Trail. Both of these projects will improve quality of life and stimulate economic development in Benicia.

What direction do you think Benicia is heading during the next four years? Where do you see Benicia four years from now?

Benicia, unlike many cities, is in solid financial shape during this recession thanks to the 20% General Fund Reserve we approved when I was on the City Council with Tom Campbell. I think that will continue. We are closer to getting a good project from the Seeno company, which could be one way to create jobs and help Benicia in the next couple years, assuming we find ways to mitigate the environmental impacts on the East Second Street corridor, including Semple school.

I am concerned about the ability of our school district to provide the same excellent level of instruction that my children have benefited from here, with state funding per student being slashed dramatically. My record of improving city cooperation with the district in the Joint Use Agreement revision proves I am a strong advocate for the district at City Hall, which could be critical to the district’s continued success. I was a major force behind the city stepping up on maintenance of the community ball fields, used by everyone but owned by the financially strapped school district.

The county’s continuing public access at the Lynch Canyon open space and the opening of the bicycle/pedestrian lane on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge have been huge steps, suggesting that the aforementioned regional park and loop trail could happen by 2013 with an improved economy and enlightened leadership.

We have money in the Valero Improvement Project Mitigation Fund for possible land acquisition in our Arsenal, reviving the potential of a Civil War history park on Jefferson Street. With vision we can polish the jewel that is the Benicia Arsenal.

In what areas do you think Benicia has succeeded in the past? Where has it fallen short? How can it address those areas better, and what can it do to keep addressing the other areas well?

Benicia has done a pretty good job at preserving one of California’s most historic and charming cities as the Bay Area has exploded with growth and population. Traditions like the parades and the Holiday Open House may be the best things about Benicia along with its waterfront view and great weather. Staying around 30,000 people instead of building in Sky Valley was a superb, critical decision by the community. It protected the small town feel, which is fragile enough with the freeway bisecting two distinct residential areas.

Certainly the Library and the Playground of Dreams were two great successes of 1992. Our Community Park was completed a few years later and it is an award-winner. I think the improvement of the foot of First Street was a great accomplishment, especially after we saved and moved the old Lido building.

As for mistakes, I already mentioned prematurely taking away the scout houses and how it should be remedied ASAP.

In my opinion, we did not get good work from our environmental impact consultants on either the Seeno project or the Lower Arsenal Mixed Used Specific Plan. I believe there are even more shortcomings to the Arsenal environmental impact report than those the city has already tried to correct, and I think that dense housing as has been proposed in the Arsenal would be ill-advised. We need both the Council and staff to be more demanding of high-paid consultants, not allow them to submit subpar work.

We have fallen behind on what the Association of Bay Area Governments estimates should be our “fair share” of affordable housing time and again, too often allowing developments of only expensive single-family homes. We need to find appropriate places for affordable housing and commit to them, preferably as in-fill in residential areas but not in sizeable open space areas.

Sometimes it’s difficult for some organizations in town to work together, particularly ones that have common interest like the Chamber and Main Street or the Historical Society and the Historical Museum. Perhaps we can all try to think outside the box and keep the town’s best interests at heart. The formation of the new Arts and Cultural Commission may serve as a useful example of groups coming together for a common good.

Finally, why should Benicians vote for you over your opponents?

I am honest and hard-working. Children and the environment are my top priorities, and I have a track record that proves I will lead that way and vote for what is best for Benicia. I am accessible and work hard at communicating with Benicians through email, community meetings and the phone. I believe that, as your Councilmember, I will help to protect Benicia and encourage the City to thrive.

No comments: