The powerful Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission, of LAFCO, which oversees orderly growth and public agency boundaries, narrowed to five the candidates it will interview April 11 for its public member seat.
It took LAFCO nearly two years last time to fill this opening after dueling factions couldn’t settle on a mutually acceptable choice. Confirmation requires at least one aye vote from each of the groups represented on its board — Contra Costa supervisor, special districts and cities.
Whether or not the vote proves difficult this time around remains to be seen.
But the central question of the prospective commissioners remains the same: How would you balance the ever-present tension between the demands of a growing population for housing, water and other services and the agency’s responsibility to control sprawl?
The short list is an impressive one: Retired Contra Costa Mayors Conference executive director and former Walnut Creek city manager Don Blubaugh of Brentwood; attorney and former Lafayette Councilman Ivor Samson; retired San Ramon city manager Herb Moniz; retired wastewater plant general manager Kathy Hopkins of Lafayette; and the commission’s current alternate public member, Sharon Burke of Alamo.
Blubaugh and Burke are the likely front-runners, but Hopkins and Samson reportedly did well in the first round of interviews.
Moniz will almost certainly draw the most attention from the environmental community, whose leaders closely monitor LAFCO’s policies on the county’s urban limit line. Moniz helped write San Ramon’s controversial failed Measure W, which would have expanded the city’s urban growth boundary into the Tassajara Valley.
Interestingly, former commissioner and one-time Concord Mayor Helen Allen didn’t make the cut.
She says county power-brokers conspired behind the scenes to keep her out and promote their own choices. But others say the outspoken woman’s dominating personality grated on her colleagues, staff and the public.
Former Concord Mayor Helen Allen
For years, the conservative Allen and appointee of the Contra Costa Mayors Conference was considered a reliable vote for new development. She pooh-poohed global climate change and said that as long as people keep having babies, local governments should help build places for them to live.
Allen has been a lightening rod for years on a whole host of issues. But she lost significant support from her elected colleagues in 2010 after she signed a letter as a LAFCO commissioner which was later used in a campaign mailer promoting a Brentwood urban growth boundary ballot measure. She narrowly escaped a move to have her removed from LAFCO.
Allen declined to seek re-election to her city council seat later that year and as a result, she was no longer eligible to serve on LAFCO as the mayors conference representative and avoided what would have almost certainly been an uphill fight to win reappointment.
She put out the word months ago that she would apply to LAFCO when the public member seat opened, citing her experience with the agency’s often arcane and complex issues.
Her chances were slim, though. She still faced concerns about her dominant personality and her past transgressions.
Allen admits she sealed her fate during the screening interviews with three LAFCO members, when she says she told them she knew she wasn’t going to be appointed and lectured them for more than 20 minutes.
Well, if you have to go out, you might as well make a lasting impression, right?