Election Forum Held for Mayoral Candidates

File Photo -- The three mayoral candidates took part in an election forum conducted by League of Women Voters Alameda on Sept. 20.

Election Forum Held for Mayoral Candidates

The League of Women Voters (LWV) Alameda held a virtual election forum for the Alameda mayoral candidates Tuesday, Sept. 20. The event was broadcast live via Zoom.

The forum began with the three candidates — Barack D. Obama Shaw, Trish Herrera Spencer and incumbent Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft — giving a brief introduction.

“It’s been an honor and privilege to serve as Alameda’s mayor these past four years including during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ashcraft said. “I am grateful for the way our city weathered the storm, putting into place several protections for vulnerable residents and struggling local businesses.”

Spencer discussed why she was running for mayor again.

“I’m running for mayor because I think our city is actually a city of crisis right now,” said Spencer. “Many of my friends, and your neighbors, have left our city sadly because crime is rising [and] we have unfettered growth that isn’t meeting the needs of our community members.”

During the forum each candidate discussed their main priorities they will address if elected. Ashcraft's priorities include housing, transportation and addressing climate change and sea level rise. Spencer's top three priorities are safe neighborhoods, smart growth and commonsense traffic solutions. Obama Shaw wants to improve safety, especially for children, create better relations between the community and the police department and to reduce homelessness by getting to the root of why someone is homeless.

Questions were posed by LWV Alameda Treasurer Anna Crane. When Crane asked the candidates how they will ensure coordination and the resources to complete many of the projects in Alameda in the coming years (zoning for housing mandated by state law, addressing congestion and traffic safety, building resilience to address the problems caused by climate change, etc.), their answers varied.

“I think we do need to add more staffing,” said Ashcraft. “Especially in our Community Development Department (CDD) because that’s the department that works directly with housing, addressing homelessness and we stretch those folks really thin.”

Ashcraft said she would like more staffing in the Planning, Building and Transportation and Public Works departments. “This would impact our budget, but we can make room for it,” she said.

Spencer said to ensure coordination, the city must hire a city manager that will stay long term.

“It is the city manager who hires all the other department heads and it will fall on that person to ensure coordination between departments,” said Spencer. “We have a recruiting problem, a serious problem, and I attribute it to sadly, our current leadership, in regard to being unable to keep a city manager or interim city manager.”

Later, Crane asked the candidates whether the city should lease or sell unused or underutilized properties at Alameda Point.

Obama Shaw believed the best course would be to lease the properties.

“If we did lease, it can provide resources for the city that is ongoing,” he said. “If you outwardly sell it, you get some money, but if you lease it that would be a long-term income stream and we can allocate that money where there is a deficit.”

Ashcraft was cautious about leasing the properties.

“If we’re leasing, we’re the landlord, but we don’t want to be a slumlord,” she said. “Some of our properties are in serious disrepair. Do we have the revenue to keep them up?”

Both Ashcraft and Spencer said the city should wait until they meet with an economic consultant on the pros and cons of selling or leasing the properties before making a decision.

Crane also asked the trio if there is something the city can do give residents more opportunity to express their opinions at City Council meetings, considering the length of the meetings.

“One thing I would like to explore is doing workshops,” said Ashcraft. “When we have something like the housing element or the transportation plan, maybe instead of it being an agenda item, it can be its own separate meeting or workshop.”

Spencer doesn’t want to see residents get less time to speak at meetings because she uses their opinions to decide how she will vote on a certain measure. She did say that excluding the City Council from the agenda item selection process is contributing to the long agendas at the meeting.

Other topics discussed in the forum include Ranked-Choice voting, whether city offices should return to a Monday through Friday work week, and more. To watch the full forum, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CphGpCf1VAo.