With mail-in ballots arriving this week, Petaluma voters got a closer look at their mayoral and city council candidates Tuesday night as they weighed in on some of the issues facing the city.
Hosted by the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce and the Argus-Courier, the hopefuls debated items including cannabis regulation, increasing minimum wage, banning fireworks, and the controversial Water Street art project in a forum at the Hotel Petaluma.
The three mayoral candidates – Teresa Barrett, Mike Harris and Brian Powell – also got a chance to face a series of questions separate from the seven members of the city council race, who are seeking three seats. They were able to spotlight their leadership qualities, how they’d overcome partisanship, and their differing approaches to green-lighting development.
The conversation on possibly amending the city’s marijuana business policies, which currently allows for two delivery services, was one of the more robust discussions of the night, and helped differentiate candidates that have often been on the same side of issues like housing and infrastructure.
Most candidates believed overturning the ban on dispensaries would provide a new stream of much-needed tax revenue that could address many of the city’s needs.
Council candidate Robert Conklin said he “would like to see the taxation of it go to public safety, especially with DUIs on the rise,” and to also use some of the funds for sponsoring youth counseling to deter drug use.
“It does have medical benefits, and there’s money to be had,” Conklin said.
However, Harris and council candidates Kevin McDonnell, chair of the Recreation, Music and Parks Commission, and Michael Regan, a local business owner, said the city would be wise to follow a “wait and see” approach.
With only one cannabis delivery service permitted and a second request for business proposals going out later this year, Petaluma has yet to see its policies play out.
“Do we want to chase this taxation money from this group, or try and solve our multiple financial problems more broadly, more evenly?” McDonnell asked. “I’d rather wait and see. I wouldn’t change what the city has for its cannabis ordinance at this time. … Other cities are facing this. We’ll learn a lot by paying attention to all the communities around us.”
Another topic that helped discern the candidates was on whether the city should accelerate the steps to increasing its minimum wage to $15 an hour. State labor laws call for the increase by 2022.
Retired physician Dennis Pocekay said he was in favor of speeding up the process with a phased-in approach since it would help attack the affordable housing issue by providing residents with more income.
“You can either reduce the price of housing or increase wages,” he said.
The two businessmen seeking office, Harris and Regan, were opposed to pursuing a contrast with the state’s timeline.
“I don’t want to put our businesses at a competitive disadvantage out there,” Harris said. “I think it’s very important to follow what the state is already doing.”
On the public art installation on Water Street, a polarizing topic that has brought the city’s ability to effectively conduct community outreach into focus, Harris and Powell said they did not support the project for that location. Regan gave the bath tubs on stilts project an outright “no,” while the candidates currently on the council spoke more to the process behind its approval.