The two incumbents running for re-election in Half Moon Bay say the city is on the right track now after years of intense belt-tightening and lost court settlements but the two challengers in the race say the city fell so low because of poor leadership on the council.
Councilwoman Marina Fraser and Councilman John Muller face first-time candidates Harvey Rarback and John Ullom this November for the two open seats on the council.
The Daily Journal sat the four candidates down for a meeting this week to discuss the issues facing Half Moon Bay and to get a sense of why they are running for office.
Fraser has already served two terms on the council and has lived in Half Moon Bay for 40 years. She is seeking re-election because there are projects in the city, like building a new library or sprucing up athletic fields, that need to be realized, she said.
She also said she wants to see the city become safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Rarback, a retired physicist, is running because he had some run-ins with city staff in the past and felt ignored when trying to weigh in on a potential development about 10 years ago.
"It left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said.
Now that he is retired, he feels he has the time now to give back to the community.
Muller, known as "Farmer” John, touts his decades of experience serving on regional boards and wants to continue bringing the city’s expenses in line with its revenue.
"It’s not just two meetings a month. It’s an everyday job,” Muller said.
Ullom is running because current councilmembers "haven’t learned from their mistakes.”
No one took the blame for the botched Beachwood development that is costing the city more than $1 million a year in bond payments, he said.
He also said the city’s effort to pass a 1-cent sales tax to keep from having to contract out its police force was characterized by city officials as a "doom and gloom” scenario.
"Now they are taking credit for turning the city around,” Ullom said about the annual $800,000 the city saves by contracting out police services to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.
He also said the city spends money on things the city doesn’t need such as the $450,000 it spent for an Emergency Operations Center that is currently little used.
Rarback, too, called that expense too costly.
"It is redundant and a waste of money,” Rarback said.
But Fraser said the coastal city needs to be prepared for potential disasters, such as a tsunami, and that the expenditure is justified.
"We need to continue to be prepared in the event of an emergency,” she said.
Fraser wants to bring some projects back to life that sat idle while the city dealt with Beachwood such as a facility for seniors.
The city had about 70 employees just a few short years ago but that number has dwindled to about 20 now as Half Moon Bay contracts out many services it used to provide in house.
"We’ve restructured and reorganized the city but there is still room to explore combining and sharing resources with other cities,” she said.
Rarback is especially upset with city officials for not respecting the Coastal Act. Recently, the city had to pay a more than $400,000 settlement for doing work on the coast for which it did not seek permits.
As far as future development in the city goes, Fraser said, the city does not have a lot of land left to develop.
The Beachwood property, now known as the Cabrillo Highway properties, can one day be sold to reap the city significant money and create housing opportunities.
Muller, however, thinks growth "is a thing of the past.”
Future development, he said, would likely be private property infill.
Ullom, however, thinks the city should develop every piece of property it can.
"We are on the edge,” he said.
He suggests building high-density housing for seniors since there are not enough jobs on the coast to support family housing.
Tourism is one of the city’s biggest revenue generators and Muller wants to attract more Bay Area residents to the coastal city.
Fraser agrees, saying the area’s "beautiful beaches” and small-town feel should be a draw for "staycations.”
Ullom, too, wants the city to promote eco-tourism.
"Half Moon Bay is the premier destination to ride a bicycle and we need to promote that to the rest of the Bay Area,” Ullom said.
Ullom’s biggest issue with the council is that none of its members have "owned up” to their mistakes.
"They need to take responsibility,” he said.
Rarback is seeking more transparency from the city.
"We need to fix the mistakes from our past and clean house. There’s more to being a good leader than just being well-liked,” he said about the current council.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.
Name: Marina Fraser
Occupation: Project manager at Genentech
Experience: Incumbent councilwoman
Education: Attended De Anza College and College of San Mateo
Name: John Muller
Experience: Incumbent councilman
Family: Married with two children and two grandchildren
Name: Harvey Rarback
Occupation: Retired physicist
Experience: Officer, Sandy Cove Homeowner’s Association
Education: Ph.D. in physics
Family: Married with two children
Name: John Ullom
Occupation: Technology specialist
Experience: Self-employed business person
Education: Graduated from high school