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Forum focuses on Menlo Park's financial future

Residents question five city council candidates

The conversation was civil, the swipes subtle, as the five candidates for two seats on the Menlo Park City Council squared off Thursday night during a voters forum.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters, the forum at the council chambers was sparsely attended, with about 30 people passing up the vice presidential debate and baseball to watch the local candidates instead.

Below is a brief recap of the evening.

The 15 questions submitted by the audience often focused on the city's finances, with people asking how each candidate would create revenue and ensure sustainability. Answers, for the most part, did little to distinguish the candidates from each other. All five, for example, unsurprisingly wish to see a vibrant Menlo Park that maintains quality of life for its residents. Housing Commissioner Carolyn Clarke focused on how to make Belle Haven an integral part of the city, complete with services such as a police substation, retail and an improved educational system.

The four newcomers agreed that streamlining the permit process to create a more inviting atmosphere for new businesses, particularly in blighted areas, was key, while incumbent Kelly Fergusson stressed fighting the state's raids on city funds and closing the $1.9 million gap left by the redevelopment agency closure. "We have to play offense, we have to play defense," she said.

Transportation Commissioner Ray Mueller emphasized revitalization of the M2 industrial district, as did Ms. Clarke and Parks and Recreation Commissioner Catherine Carlton. Firefighter Dave Bragg drew a connection between property taxes, sales taxes and encouraging business development to generate more revenue.

Speaking of taxes – the five again found themselves in agreement while discussing changes to local taxes. Do they support raising the transient occupancy tax, also known as the hotel tax? Yes. How about the utility users tax? No.

"I've talked to hotel owners, and they're not against it. If they're not against it, there's no reason for me to be against it," Mr. Mueller said. "I'm not excited about it. ... I think any competitive edge we can give Menlo Park in this environment is an edge we want. I don't want to raise taxes when not doing all we can do to raise revenue."

Other questions explored the state of downtown parking, requiring green building features for residential projects, and whether the city should impose its master sidewalk plan on neighborhoods that don't want it.

See the story on the Menlo Park elections in the Oct. 17 Almanac for more information about each candidate. Sorry you missed the forum? Catch a replay at the Mid-Peninsula Media Center website once the league posts its recording.

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