Friday, October 18, 2013

Oct. 2013 League of Women Voters Candidates' Forum - Seat 3


This is a summary of League of Women Voters (LWV) forum for candidates for Seat 3 Griffith, Merrick.  This covers the first 30 minutes of the 2 hour video.  I made editorial decisions to select some parts and leave out others for the sake of readability.  The video of the LWV Sunnyvale City Council candidates’ forum on Oct. 15th, 2013 is available here:

See also Seat 1, Frazer vs. Larsson here:

and Seat 2, Hendricks, Hoffman, and Magana

Of interest:  Griffith says the current jobs-to-resident ratio is 2.6 and the ideal is closer to 1.9.  This implies a 37% increase in population (150K to 205K) if the job number stays constant.  See 10:00 minute mark question below.

Seat 3: Jim Griffith vs. Tap Merrick (Griffith is incumbent)
1.       After introduction they spoke of their background. 
a.       Griffith mentioned his years on the library commission and nearly 4 years on the City Council including two terms as Vice Mayor.
b.      Merrick mentioned his career in finance and on the Federal Reserve

2.       Question 1 was on selecting a new city manager.  Nothing interesting.

3.       10:00 minute mark on video: Question 2 on economic growth, neighborhood character, affordable housing:
a.       Griffith: new housing should be consistent with neighborhoods
b.      Merrick: mobile homes which are the most affordable housing are disappearing due to city council actions.  Maybe we don’t need to provide so many more jobs and instead should protect neighborhoods. We should be improving transportation so people can live in Gilroy or Tracy and commute in.
c.       Griffith: the ratio of jobs to housing is 2.6 and the ideal is closer to 1.9 and that needs to be looked at in terms of needing more housing. Telling people who want to live here that they should come in from Tracy is not right. (Editorial Comment:  to bring the ratio from 2.6 to 1.9 implies a 37% increase in the number of residents if no more jobs are created.  This implies a population growth from 150K to 205K.  Many more office buildings are going to be approved by December so more than 205K is highly likely.)  

4.       14:00 min:  Q. 3 On civility:
a.       Merrick: accepting campaign contributions from developers and then voting on their projects invites accusations of conflict of interest.  Since he (Merrick) isn’t accepting contributions from developers that won’t be an issue.
b.      Griffith: he gets along fine with 5 of the other 6 council members.  Claims a city lawyer and the city manager quit because of lack of civility (editorial note – both were fully vested in their retirement program and retired, the city manager at age 65).  Asks others to judge candidates on the tone of their campaign literature.
c.       Merrick claims his attacks were on Griffith’s voting record which is perfectly legitimate.

5.       18 Min:  Costs of employee pay and pensions:
a.       Griffith: Controlling costs is partially but not completely done.  Some employee groups are done but Public Safety will be done later.  Part of developing the "costs' plan he was part of.  City is restoring services.
b.      Merrick: Pension costs are coming under control but very slowly.  He and Andy Frazer founded Sunnyvale Pension Reform to raise council awareness which took a while to do but they finally got the City Council to raise the priority.
c.       Griffith: claims pay and pensions costs coming down fast and that Sunnyvale Pension Reform came after the city planning.

6.       22 Min: Revenue
a.       Merrick: Against tax increases on residents.  Prefers a tax on new development for new city expenses like expanding schools for the new development.  Developers should pay more for the costs their development imposes on the city.
b.      Griffith:  Favors a utility use tax so it can be tailored to industry more than residents.  Opposes tax on new homes since it penalizes new residents.
c.       Merrick: Opposes new taxes on residents like a utility tax.
d.      Griffith: Opposes more taxes on developers who already pay a lot.  Claims taxes on developers have gone up a lot since he took office.  Prefers utility tax on everyone including industry.

7.       26 minute: finishing down town:
a.       Griffith: prefers eminent domain but current city council opposes it.  Hopes new city council will go with eminent domain.
b.      Merrick: difficult topic – eminent domain requires $300M while we have an unfunded pension liability of $280M.  If we have $300M for eminent domain, he would rather pay off the pension liability and let the downtown take care of itself.

8.       28:30 Min: why should voters choose you?
a.       Merrick: My opponent has voted for high density 7 out of 8 times far exceeding the city’s already generous General Plan while he (Merrick) will adhere to the General Plan and try to find ways to cut expenses.  I (Merrick) have the experience and training to do it with his years in finance.  I (Merrick) don’t want to sell off city land, especially heavily used city land (presumably the Civic Center).  He thinks there are better ways to pay for things than to sell off city land.

b.      Griffith: I have served nearly 4 years and work hard to go to public meetings and online newsgroups.  I am doing the hard work and listening to citizens.

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