Casey Tanaka has been the “go to” moderator for several of the recent City Council Forums. During the Chamber of Commerce’s City Council Candidate Forum held October 4 in the Winn Room, he helped keep everyone within their time limit and sprinkled humor throughout.
Sue Gillingham, Executive Director for the Chamber of Commerce advised that the questions were selected by the Chamber Board Members with a slant towards business issues. With approximately 50 people in the audience, an attendee who wished to remain anonymous said “I attended the Monday night forum, but I came again tonight to hear the candidates more clearly articulate their differences. They are all smart and energetic and this is going to be a tough decision. I plan to go to another forum next week, to help make my final decision.”
The Forum started off with each candidate giving a two minute introduction.
Bill Sandke joked that the Chamber of Commerce gave him the best gift of his life when he met his wife at meetings in the late 1980s. He highlighted that he has unfinished business on City Council and wants to continue to focus efforts on relinquishment, the Gateway Project and undergrounding [utilities]. As a business owner himself, he has a unique perspective on how to adapt in business, and stressed that as Coronado moves forward, it is important to be cognizant of the trends.
Daron Case is a write in candidate who is an attorney and involved in commercial real estate. He agrees with Mary Sikes that this is a pivotal time in Coronado’s history. He believes that the city has exceeded its capacity and wants to focus on reducing and calming traffic. He is a proponent for a practical Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to maintain the character of our town. With regards to the sewage issue, he thinks Coronado needs to do more than take a diplomatic approach.
Derik Mundt came here as a teenager and has managed the UPS store from a budget of $200,000 to now $1 million in revenues. He is an advocate for Historical Districts to keep the aesthetics of our town. He is disheartened by the recent business closures and the fact that we can’t go in the ocean without the fear of getting sick. He believes relinquishment is necessary because “We care more about our streets than Caltrans.”
Marvin Heinze highlighted that after his naval career, he immersed himself in the community on the Planning Commission, Street Tree and Emergency Response Committees and more. He will listen to citizens’ needs and work to calm and reduce the volume of traffic. As a veteran, he is well suited to work with the Navy on these issues. He feels that the city has done a good job with the above ground structure with City Hall, the Police stations, etc., but needs to concentrate on the infrastructure.
Mary Sikes emphasizes that Coronado is at a pivotal moment and that we have been living with the status quo with the old 1985 Master Plan. She believes City Council needs to become more visionary and she brings 30 years of business experience and plans to focus on strategic planning and be proactive.
Peter Jensen left the Highway Patrol in 1972 and went on to law school while working in the Sacramento legislature for eight years. He worked as a consultant in a variety of arenas and was the Undersecretary for the State Prison System and commuted from Coronado to Sacramento for 11 years. He is currently serving his third term on the Planning Commission and his second term on the Civil Service Commission.
Next on the agenda, Casey asked candidates eight questions related to business in Coronado.
- We have been hearing a lot of messaging towards ‘Residents First,’ what is your message to Coronado businesses?
Daron said, “If you look at a flow chart, then citizens are first because they are our bosses.” He said that the city should look at ways to help long-term businesses, like they did with the Village Theatre.
Derik said, “I would never vote for anything that isn’t for the residents.” He noted that online sales have taken away from local businesses, so new avenues of revenue need to be found. As the self-proclaimed Coronado Food Critic, he works to help promote local businesses. He said we can’t go back in the past, but we can set up protection for businesses going forward.
Marvin highlighted that the diversity of businesses is disappearing. He said, “We need to help businesses by enforcing the Orange Avenue Plan and provide incentives to keep businesses healthy.”
Mary said, “The residents, businesses, and the Navy all intersect.” She emphasized that the young families in the community feel priced out of shopping in their hometown. She is supportive of building public parking for tourists and enforcing the Orange Avenue Plan.
Peter said his wife has a family business in the South Bay, and he understands that 65 percent of sales are off island. He would like to see our downtown have more unique shops that appeal to both residents and tourists.
Bill remembers the late 1980s when the Lamb’s Players Theatre was in their old building and there were lots of changes with the sale of commercial property. “I believe there are cycles in downtown and that businesses support the value of homes.” He also said that parts of the 2002 Orange Avenue Plan Update are outdated and need to be reworked.
- What do you consider City Council’s role in promoting businesses in town?
Derik said that the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is a big revenue source for Coronado. He advocates stopping the day trippers and attracting more conventioneers for less traffic impact. “I talk to 80 customers a day with 20 of those being tourists.”
Marvin wants to see predictability with a steady, consistent plan with good infrastructure and a pedestrian friendly atmosphere. He noted that Discover Coronado statistics point to conventioneers spending about $300 per day here.
Mary said they need to set policy making and enforce existing measures in the 2002 plan. “We need to deliver promises.”
Peter gave the example of when Bay Books had to put in a handicap accessible stoop, they received an $8,000 bid, but were told by the State they had to pay prevailing wage bringing it to $30,000. When Nicky Rottens opened, they had parking restrictions from the Coastal Commission. He feels we need reexamine some of these issues for businesses.
- What is your response to the Sales Tax revenue going down?
Marvin doesn’t feel that there is a correlation between the 2015 Discover Coronado change in tactics from attracting day trippers to conventioneers. “We need to get more data and it bears watching.”
Mary also doesn’t think there is any correlation due to the marketing shift. “The TOT and property taxes have gone up, so actually the bottom line is better.”
Peter said “You know more than we do. We need to do more research.” He emphasized that it is important to strike a balance and improve the medians and buildings. He wondered why the Coramart building has remained empty for so long.
Bill also agrees that there is no correlation, but feels that, “We are missing key elements. The retail mix needs a new look.” All monies matter and the Chamber could partner with the HTC to look at this.
Daron said the city gets it revenues first from property taxes, then $15 million from TOT and then a distant third from sales taxes. It’s important to look at capacity issues, but it’s not all bad to have day trippers.
Derik said that Amazon affects locally owned businesses. “We need to look at different avenues and do more research.” He is willing to help demolish Coramart and Casey is willing to give him a sledgehammer.
- Given the number of commercial properties in flux, what is the Council’s role in shaping downtown?
Mary said she sees new trends in businesses. She has read 10 other city plans similar to ours. She pointed out that restaurants are the highest revenue businesses. The city can help with saturation. When people thought there were too many hair and nail salons, they looked at them and found they were all full. They said no to a second Starbucks. “It is important to enforce the codes and be visionary.”
Peter would like to see the parking meters removed and go to marking tires. “We need to reexamine the parking and encourage more pedestrian traffic.
Bill said that, “With vision, commercial real estate can build what Coronado wants and needs. We owe it to the residents to have a vibrant downtown.”
Daron cited the franchise rule that limits chains to 10 in Coronado. “We need to keep the small town village atmosphere and cater to locals.” He mentioned adopting legislature to mold and shape business.
Derik said, “There is only so much we can do in a Capitalist Society.” He will fight for historic districts and believes parking meters are good for business.
Marvin said, “We have to have vision to create a pedestrian friendly plan with a diversity of businesses.” We can leverage the Chamber on where we want to take business. It is important to motivate new owners by providing incentives and help them reach their goals.
- Each morning and evening, approximately 40,000 cars cross the bridge to work on North Island, how can we promote local businesses to these people?
Peter said, “Businesses will have to offer unique items.” He feels we need to work on improving the flow of traffic.
Bill said there is a policy that we don’t sell what the Navy does. He feels that Navy personnel do pick up coffee in the morning, grab a deli sandwich from the liquor store and maybe miscellaneous items, such as dog food, on the way home. He advocates working with the Chamber to make a more pedestrian friendly downtown and offer respite via parklets.
Daron is not sure what the city can do to attract these commuters to shop. He says that traffic calming is of the utmost important and wants to see the project study report (PSR) to make decisions about this.
Derik jokingly suggested billboards on 3rd and 4th Streets. “We should offer military specials and communicate with the military.”
Marvin said, “it helps to have a Navy guy running.” He thinks it would be good to offer discounts because there is no sales tax on the base. He advocates working with the Chamber and the Navy to strategize.
Mary comes from a 22-year Navy family and says the base pricing is not as good as it used to be. She thinks young sailors like to get off the base and she sees them in town buying coffee and lunch because that’s what they can afford.
- This year the Council amended the Community Grant Process ~ what are your thoughts on this?
Bill acknowledges that the Council didn’t handle this issue in the best way and some organizations were blindsided. He would like to help be part of the change and says the city should segment the grants out, like paying for tents for the Flower Show and the Book Fair, and putting CHA in a category other than grants, especially given the service of their community bathroom. “I will continue to fight for community organizations.”
Daron said he wasn’t sure how the Council came up with the new $1 million cap, but with $380,000 budgeted for CHA for three years, that seems unfair to the other organizations and should be a separate line item. “I would love to take a look at what we can do differently.”
Derik feels, “It should be based on a percentage of the City budget, like five to ten percent and should adjust with cost increases.” He called for more volunteers and donations for organizations.
Marvin said, “We are fortunate that we have these organizations to make Coronado a special place.” He agrees that it wasn’t handled well this year and agrees with dividing organizations into categories. He also feels non-profits should be informed before they apply for a fair process.
Mary also felt the grant process was not good this year. “I believe in a percentage cap which works well in good and lean years.”
Peter said there needs to be more accountability and motivate groups to be more results oriented and get more contributions.
- What revisiting needs to be done on the Orange Avenue Corridor Plan?
Daron said, “We should enforce the existing plan, but subject to amendments.” He feels the recent renderings for new building on Orange Avenue are not reflective of the village atmosphere.
Derik recently read the plan and said it included a place for teens to hang out. He said that historic districts would allow commercial buildings, such as the old Eagle & Journal Building to be historically designated.
Marvin was impressed with the plan and says it has been amended four or five times, with the last time being in 2014. “It needs tweaking, but nothing too radical.”
Mary said that we need major enforcement of the plan. One key element was the promise of public parking, which needs to be delivered. She suggested possibly using the Walgreens parking lot to build a parking structure.
Peter said the plan helps protect the village atmosphere, but we do lack parking and traffic is a deterrent. He feels that the streets would be more pleasing without parking meters.
Bill said that more parking brings more traffic. He wants downtown to be more pedestrian friendly with seating in the medians and public art with tighter design standards.
- The TOT exceeded $15 million for the first time in our history, where would you like to see that money spent?
Derik advocates hiring more police to help with bike safety in the business district. “Enforcement would help many things.”
Marvin said that as a fiscal conservative, he wouldn’t spend the extra money unless absolutely necessary. He gave a shout out to previous councils on their fiscal prudence.
Mary said it should be part of the general fund and wouldn’t pull it out for a specific item.
Peter agreed with Marvin and Mary on not spending it unless necessary. The city has some things like the CalPERS contribution and undergrounding infrastructure on the docket.
Bill said that the TOT dollars are spent on visitor impact, but there are other areas, like prepaying pensions and undergrounding that are coming up.
Daron said that the TOT goes to the general fund. The $175 for undergrounding is a big price tag and the CalPERS pension funding is as well. He would like to see the free shuttle brought back to the Cays.
Lastly, the candidates had 90 additional seconds to share their final reflections and thoughts they wanted to leave with voters.
Marvin is ready to hit the ground running on day one. He has experience with public budgets where transparency is required. He has spent a lifetime serving and worked with teams of four to 1000. “I am ready to lead and keep Coronado special.”
Mary would love to be able to talk to each citizen. “We need smart people who take their time and are strategic. I have worked in both the private and public sectors in policy and legislature and know how to leverage.”
Peter is a capable candidate who cited the 87 percent voting turnout for Coronado, which is among the highest in the state. He has dealt with legislature and drafted appeals of inheritance tax. “I am a better listener than I am a speaker.”
Bill said, “I am not a politician, but I wanted to get involved in my community. I am a local guy trying to do what’s right for his town.” When he ran in 2014, his wife’s vote was most important and he has been humbled to serve and hopes that residents will continue to vote for him.
Daron feels, “The key elements for a City Councilmember are understanding the issues, introducing solutions, being proactive, not reactive, and representing the best interest of the residents.” His main issues are sewage, traffic calming, FAR and density.
Derik said, “I want to give back to the community and I have the vibe of what Coronado wants from talking to my customers.” He would advocate for clean water issues, historical districts and always put residents first.
If you weren’t able to make it, Tony Perri of Surf’s Up Studios filmed the event for the Chamber. Watch it here: