Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vote for Smith

by Roger Straw, Oct. 31, 2009

In the summer of 2008, it looked very much like Albert Seeno would finally get his way with the city of Benicia. Many in our community were astonished that a majority on the city council were ready to approve staff's recommendation of Mr. Seeno's decidedly unworthy project proposal to grade and commercialize our beautiful hills north of town. Vocal opposition and expert critique had come forward, Benicia First! held a great series of public educational forums, and our small Green Gateway Group worked up an alternative vision for development north of our fair city.

At that time, many thought that only one or two votes on our five-member council could be counted on to listen and vote "no" on Seeno. Most everyone was sure that Mr. Hughes and Mr. Schwartzman would continue to support whatever proposal came forth from Seeno and Discovery Builders. I recall presenting the work of our Green Gateway Group at several council meetings in the fall, and I recall the indifference and dismissal of our group by city staff and council members, particularly a few very cynical and biting statements made by Mr. Schwartzman, questioning our motives and intent.

Not until Mike Ioakimedes took a stand alongside Mayor Patterson and Councilmember Tom Campbell for good air and a safe environment for Benicia's schoolchildren, did the Seeno train run off the tracks. When the project had all but failed, some very serious and creative negotiations resulted in a reversal of the vote to deny, and the train was back on the tracks again, this time with a very different look. The project would be overseen by a Specific Plan, a Development Agreement, and a citizen oversight committee, and would comply with new state laws AB32 and SB375. There would be a new environmental study, and protections for Semple School. Mr. Seeno committed to a number of other design characteristics, including LEEDS certified buildings, free public transit to and from the site, and a plan for proactive promotion and recruitment of green/clean technology users. The council voted 5-0 to reconsider, and everyone felt hopeful, but then Mr. Seeno pulled the project for the time being, citing the economic downturn.

At every point in this public process, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Schwartzman, honorable and respected in so many ways, could not bring themselves to stand up to the commercial interests and staff recommendations that drove the Seeno project, and would not give thoughtful citizens a decisive voice in planning and oversight.

I believe it is imperative that at least one of our city council incumbents be replaced. My vote in this election is strongest in unseating an incumbent if I vote only once, for candidate Dan Smith. Dan has worked as an advocate for open space for years in our community, and demonstrated his ability to say no when necessary to the powers that be. I reject outright Mr. Schwartzman's claim that it is somehow unfair or undemocratic to cast a single vote on Tuesday. "Bullet voting" means casting an intelligent single vote for the single most qualified candidate, and it is a time-honored and fair electoral strategy in the United States.

Please join me in voting for Dan Smith for City Council.

Dan's the One!

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