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PD Editorial: Keeping a balanced, effective council in Petaluma

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Diversity of opinion is a good thing for a public board, and so is collegiality.

The Petaluma City Council, which at times in the past was beset by infighting and personality clashes, has for the past four years thoughtfully debated affordable housing, taxes, cannabis regulations and other issues in the county’s second-largest city.

With four seats up for grabs — three on the council, plus the separately elected mayor — the Nov. 6 election is pivotal for Petaluma. Mayor David Glass and Councilman Chris Albertson are stepping down, leaving a gap in experience and institutional knowledge that will be tough to fill. Additionally, City Manager John Brown, who has been at the helm for a decade, is retiring.

Voters would be wise to preserve the existing balance of power to ensure that the council continues to function smoothly as it deals with Petaluma’s tight finances and growing housing needs. The best way to accomplish this is electing incumbent Councilwoman Teresa Barrett as mayor and Dave King, Michael Regan and Kevin McDonnell to the City Council.

Barrett and King are effective council incumbents. Their combined 16 years of experience will be critical as Petaluma faces hard choices about how to grow and how to surmount looming financial challenges.

The remaining council candidates can be divided into two categories — a bloc of older, progressives and a trio of young moderates. McDonnell rises to the top of the former category, and he would best fill the council seat held by Barrett. Regan would add youth to the council and is the best choice to fill Albertson’s seat.

Barrett has served 12 years on the council and nine on the Planning Commission. She isn’t afraid to make hard, principle-based decisions, even if they aren’t politically popular.

A political ally of Glass, she champions environmental issues and wants developers to adhere to the city’s land-use plans. She has taken heat for past votes against the Rainier crosstown connector but says she supports the project if the city can figure out how to pay for it.

Barrett faces two challengers for mayor: Mike Harris and Brian Powell.

If he had picked up 85 more votes in 2014, Harris would be running for re-election. Since leaving the council four years ago, he has remained active in local politics and community programs. Harris is the most business-friendly candidate for mayor, and his job as an executive for a financial services company gives him a strong fiscal background.

Powell wants an end to all development to preserve the city’s character. That probably isn’t legal, and it absolutely would exacerbate the housing crunch, further marginalizing working-class families.

During his first council term, King has been the closest to a swing vote. A lawyer and independent thinker, he asks probing questions and makes deliberate decisions. He supports the Rainier extension and wants to find money for street repairs.

At 38, Regan would be the second youngest member of the council. A mortgage broker, his insider experience would be a plus for a city with a housing shortage. Regan, who grew up in Petaluma, has solid leadership experience, chairing the city’s transit advisory committee and helming the Petaluma Educational Foundation board.

McDonnell, 61, is already working to solve Petaluma’s problems. The civil engineer founded Know Before You Grow, which convenes forums to discuss how ways to develop the city in a healthy, environmentally friendly way. An advocate for youth sports and local parks, he is chairman of the recreation, music and parks commission.

The remaining council candidates are Scott Alonso, a planning commissioner and former state Assembly staff member; Dennis Pocekay, a physician involved in progressive causes; D’Lynda Fischer, an urban planner; and Robert Conklin, a San Francisco city fleet manager.

Petaluma voters have a difficult task this November. But they can preserve the current balance on an effective City Council by electing Teresa Barrett as mayor and Dave King, Michael Regan and Kevin McDonnell to the City Council.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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