LAFCO to interview 5 for coveted seat; Allen not on list

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?


Helen Allen will not seek re-election

Helen Allen

Helen Allen

Seventeen-year Concord City Council veteran Helen Allen will not seek re-election, the second of three incumbents that has stepped away from the Nov. 2 election .

Councilman Guy Bjerke has also bowed out.

As  a result of the two incumbents’ decisions, the candidate filing deadline is extended to 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister has said she will run again. Four challengers have filed their paperwork and others are expected to submit their names for the ballot by the time the deadline hits.

Allen’s decision to leave the council does not come as a complete surprise. Her husband of more than 40 years, Bill, died in March, and she has been adjusting to life without her partner.

She also came under public fire in recent months over a letter she signed, as a commissioner on the Local Agency Formation Commission, that was used in a controversial Brentwood urban growth boundary campaign in June.

Allen, 70, says the letter flap played no role in her decision nor was she worried about the ongoing criticism of her split residency between her Sacramento house and her sister’s Concord condo.

It was time to move aside and make room for fresh faces on the council, she said.

Allen tried to leave the council in 2006 but made the decision not to run after she filed the candidacy paperwork. Legally, her name remained on the ballot and she won re-election even though she did not campaign.

She may be leaving the council but Allen, 70, says she has no plans to retire from public life.

“I have a whole bunch of options in front of me,” Allen said late today. “But I love the city’s people. I enjoyed the job. I have had a lot of good times and experiences and positive relationships.”

Allen has served on the Concord council since 1993. She was a city planning commissioner prior to her election, and was also mayor of Clayton.

As to her plans, “I am not going to move into a retirement home and disappear, that’s for sure,” said the feisty Allen. “I’ve been mayor of two cities now. Maybe I’ll move to another town. I wonder how many people have been mayor of three cities?”


LAFCO members fire back at critics

Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder and Concord Councilwoman Helen Allen, two members of the Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Commission under scrutiny for their involvement in a Brentwood growth ballot measure, have fired back at their critics. (See video below.)

Schroder described the repeated calls for an investigation, reprimands or removal from their posts as “public floggings” and said he would no longer “sit back” and tolerate “attacks on his integrity.”

Allen said she felt “badgered” and “fearful.”

The clearly emotional pair spoke at Wednesday’s LAFCO meeting and are referring to Save Mount Diablo Executive Director Ron Brown’s multiple appeals to the commission and the Contra Costa Mayors Conference for swift action to the officials’ involvement in Brentwood’s unsuccessful urban limit line expansion campaign.

The LAFCO board did not personally chastise Allen or Schroder but it did tighten its rules. It will now require members who express individual opinions about LAFCO-related matters to explicitly declare that their views do not represent those of the board.

The proponents of the Brentwood measure made liberal use of the Allen-Schroder letter in the campaign, although both officials said they were unaware that it would be used in this fashion.

The Contra Costa Mayors Conference, earlier in the month, did reprimand the pair but declined to remove them as their appointees to LAFCO. The letter identified Schroder and Allen as representatives of the Mayors Conference but did not make clear that their views were not those of the conference.

Click here to read my news story on the meeting. Check out the video below.


Bonilla endorses Mitchoff in CoCo race


Contra Costa County Supervisor Susan Bonilla has endorsed Pleasant Hill Mayor Karen Mitchoff as her replacement.

After one term on the board, Bonilla is leaving the job this year and running in the Democratic primary for Assembly District 11.

“Susan believes that  Karen’s experience with county government provides her with the necessary leadership  on our county’s issues,” said Bonilla’s chief of staff Luis Quinonez.

As the incumbent, Bonilla’s endorsement will carry some weight among the county powerbrokers.

The only other officially declared candidate for supervisor is elected Central Sanitary District board member Mike McGill. Concord Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister has said she wants to run but has not yet filed a candidacy declaration statement. Concord Councilwoman Helen Allen has said she will not run for the county seat.

The filing period for the June election is Feb. 16-March 12.


Helen Allen won’t run for county supervisor

Helen Allen

Helen Allen

Concord Councilwoman Helen Allen will not seek election to the seat held by outgoing Contra Costa Supervisor Susan Bonilla.

Allen says she will instead seek re-election this year to her City Council seat.

The other two declared supervisor candidates are Pleasant Hill Councilwoman Karen Mitchoff and Central Sanitary District board member Mike McGill. Concord Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister has said she wants to run for supervisor but has not officially declared or raised any money.

Bonilla is running for Assembly District 11.

Allen was an unlikely supervisor candidate anyway, and talk behind the scenes was that she simply wanted to push Hoffmeister into making a decision one way or the other.

Four years ago, Allen publicly stated that she did not want to be re-elected to the City Council but made the decision too late to have her name removed from the ballot. She did not raise a dime or campaign but was re-elected anyway. As a council candidate, she will likely face the same issue that has dogged her for years — questions about her residency.

Allen and her husband sold their Concord home and bought a house near Sacramento several years ago, but she maintained a partial residency at her sister’s Concord condominium. The outspoken, feisty retired school teacher says she and her husband had hoped to sell their house and move fulltime back to Concord but they have been stymied by the poor housing market.


Hoffmeister adds her name to supervisor list

Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister

Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister

Concord Mayor Laura Hoffmeister says she is 99.9 percent sure she will run for Contra Costa County supervisor in 2010. She has her eye on the District IV seat expected to open when Supervisor Susan Bonilla runs for the Assembly next year.

She expects to make a formal announcement in a couple of weeks.

“I need to make sure the decision fits with some issues in my personal life first, but I am very close,” Hoffmeister told me Thursday night at the Contra Costa Mayors Conference in San Ramon.

If Hoffmeister runs, it sets up a showdown between her and Concord Councilwoman Helen Allen, who declared herself a candidate on Wednesday.

Pleasant Hill Councilwoman Karen Mitchoff has announced her candidacy months ago and Contra Costa Central Sanitary District board member Mike McGill has said he is seriously looking at the seat, too.

The 48-year-old Concord mayor — it’s a rotating assignment among the councilmembers — told me she wants to put to work at the county the lessons she has learned while serving the past 12 years on the council.

Concord, of course, is the major player in the District IV race. It’s the largest city and it has provided the district’s last two supervisors including Bonilla and Mark DeSaulnier, who is now a state senator.

Allen and Hoffmeister each have substantial name identification in Concord. Some folks are expressed serious doubt that 69-year-old Allen is serious. After all, she withdrew from the 2006 City Council race but didn’t make the decision until it was too late to pull her name from the ballot and she was elected anyway.

But Allen insists she will run no matter what Hoffmeister decides.

“I don’t feel entitled to run, but I have paid my my dues and I have made up my mind,” Allen said.

Here’s an interesting sidenote to all this: Three members of the Concord City Council could be running for new offices next year.

Councilman Mark Peterson has announced he is running for District Attorney but he is running from a safe seat. His council term doesn’t end until 2012.

The terms of Hoffmeister and Allen both end in 2010, which means they must give up their council seats in order to run for county supervisor.

The prospect of two open seats could attract a substantial number folks interested serving on the Concord City Council. And on and on and on it goes ….