By Dave Roberts
The six candidates for county supervisor representing East County’s District 3 agreed on the need to protect the Delta and improve public safety and transportation at a recent League of Women Voters debate. They differed, however, in their priorities if given the opportunity to replace Mary Piepho, who is not running for re-election after 11 year on the Board of Supervisors.
Brentwood City Councilman Steve Barr said his top priority, based on what he’s heard from his constituents, is public safety. “We’ve always maintained our police force at a level to keep our community safe,” he said. “And that starts at the county with the county sheriff.”
To provide that level of safety in the unincorporated areas of the county, compensation for sheriff’s deputies needs to be increased, he said. “I’ve looked at those budgets and where the pay rates are, and they are not meeting the needs of the residents of the county,” said Barr.
East Bay Regional Park District board member Diane Burgis, who is also a former Oakley City Council member and executive director of Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed, is focused on environmental issues. Like the other candidates, she believes the Delta’s water quality will suffer if the state goes through with its plan to construct tunnels siphoning water from north of the Delta and sending it to central and southern California.
“District 3 deserves and needs a county supervisor that’s going to be a champion for the Delta, and make sure that we are a voice making sure that Delta tunnel is not built and our water is protected,” said Burgis.
Oakley City Councilman Doug Hardcastle’s main focus is fiscal responsibility in government. Like many, he was outraged when the supervisors approved a $32,000 pay raise for themselves before being pressured to reduce it to a 12 percent pay hike.
“I will bring more financial stability” if elected, Hardcastle said. “Not to go after people’s wages or anything, but there’s always waste. [We need to] look at it like you would your own house or whatever. You’re going to make that dollar go as best you can. You’re not going to be frivolous with your own money. We’ve got to treat that money like our money and not government money.”
Antioch Mayor Wade Harper, who is a former Tracy police officer, shares Barr’s interest in improving public safety by increasing compensation for sheriff’s deputies and firefighters.
“[I’m] seeing we don’t have enough firefighters, we don’t have enough fire stations to cover 250 square miles, over 100,000 people,” said Harper. “Looking at the police out there, knowing the sheriff’s department is going to be used as a training ground because they don’t have the proper pay and benefits.”
Antioch’s rate of violent crime is nearly twice as high as the California average, according to Neighborhood Scout. Harper acknowledged that the increase in low-income Section 8 housing in the city has contributed to the problem.
“There’s a need not only for affordable housing, but for safe housing,” he said.
Odessa Lefrancois, president of the East County Branch of the NAACP for six years, and a retired Navy veteran who works for the county as a respiratory therapist, wants more governmental social service programs in East County.
“I’ve sat back and looked at the county, studied the budget and kind of realized that a lot of the resources, especially after I moved out to far East Contra Costa County, haven’t been allocated out in that area,” she said. “When I … see how people are treated in one part of the county versus another part of the county, and we’re all paying property taxes, and we don’t have the same resources, and people are actually sitting on Highway 4 a lot longer. We’re not able to live, play and worship in a community that we actually would like to be in.”
Antioch City Councilwoman Monica Wilson shares Lefrancois’ desire to increase government services in East County.
“I believe that it’s time for East Contra Costa to have the access to job training, affordable health care, education, economic development,” she said. “[H]ow do we support [East County’s] industry and make sure that they are surviving, that they can hire more? And also look at industries such as advanced manufacturing, biomedical and energy. And finally, people want to come home to safe communities. They want to come home, raise their kids, have a wonderful life and still feel safe.”
The candidates also had varying stories of how they decided to run for office.
Barr said a friend suggested he apply for a vacancy on the school board, which he did and then was elected to another term. “I think my ability to work with people, solve problems and with my financial background, I made a good candidate,” he said. “And that’s why I’m in politics today and serve now on the City Council.”
Burgis said that she is a divorced mother of three boys under 10. “[A]nd I wanted to live in a place that I could be proud of, where they would be safe and they could go to good schools,” she said. “The reason why I’m running for county supervisor is that I have this regional experience. I have this really strong experience with the Delta. I have strong shoulders, a compassionate heart, I’m really smart and I want to make a difference in my community.”
Hardcastle said he was motivated to run after a confrontation with Piepho over the supervisors’ initial pay raise.
“When the Board of Supervisors voted to give themselves a $30,000 a year raise, I was furious,” he said. “I told one of the supervisors that I serve on many boards [with that I] was going to run against this person. She said, ‘Well, why?’ I said, ‘I think you’ve lost touch with the people that you’re supposed to serve.’ When we take a position in public service, it’s service. It’s not to make ourselves any better, not to financially make our lives better. It’s to serve the people out there. So, like I said, when they voted for the $30,000 a year raise, I said, ‘You’ve lost touch because there’s a lot of people that you serve that don’t even make $30,000 a year.
Harper said his motivation for running for office is simple.
“I just want to help people,” he said. “I’ve never lost an election. When you win an election they call you a politician. I don’t want to be a politician. I just want to help people. I served in law enforcement for 24 years. I started off as a police dispatcher, worked my way up through the ranks. I volunteered for the school attendance review board for the high school. I’m now teaching part-time at the local high school. And I’m training up the next generation of police officers. My family was in ministry. I am a minister. And it is in my heart to help people.”
Lefrancois said there are two types of people in the world – doers and complainers – and she’s the former.
“I learned a long time ago that you can sit around and complain about things, or you can be somebody that actually makes things happen,” she said. “Twenty-one years I spent on active duty in the military, and that’s the lesson that I learned. I think I bring leadership and accountability, responsibility and a dedication to make something happen. Because it isn’t about me. It’s about making sure that every resident out in far East Contra Costa has a say in how their dollars are spent and what type of life they should have.”
Wilson got involved after struggling during the Great Recession.
“Back in the early ‘70s when my parents moved to the Bay Area, they were able to buy a home, raise three kids and had jobs that paid affordable wages,” she said. “Fast forward 2008, I go to buy my home, two weeks later the economy crashed, I lose my job. I used a lot of my savings to keep myself afloat. So I got involved in my community. I eventually was appointed to the Economic Development Commission.
“And then eventually I ran for the City Council. I ran for a seat I wasn’t supposed to win. And I went out there and I worked really hard to let the community know who I was and I was serious about running. I now currently work for the Workforce Development Board. I work with a lot of people in the community ranging from 16 all the way up to people in their 60s and 70s making sure that they have job training available to them so they can get jobs that pay them livable wages.”
The entire candidates’ forum can be viewed on Contra Costa TV. CCTV is available to AT&T U-verse customers on Channel 99, on Channel 27 for Comcast customers and on Channel 32 for Wave customers in Concord. Following is the schedule for the remainder of May: Sundays at 9:00 AM, Mondays at 8:00 PM, Wednesdays at 12:00 PM and Fridays at 3:00 PM.
The election is June 7th. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, then the top two face off in the General Election in November.