Orinda’s City Council Candidates Respond to Issues in Public Forum

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(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
Oct. 6, (L-R) Alex Drexel, Stuart House, Brandyn Iverson, Latika Malkani, Sunil Rajaraman and Janet Riley. Riley, who was recovering from COVID-19, appeared via Zoom. The six candidates in the run for three vacant seats on the Orinda City Council answered a variety of questions in a public forum held in the Library Auditorium.

    On Thursday, Oct. 6, six candidates running for three open seats on Orinda’s City Council participated in a public forum held in the Library Auditorium. The event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV) Diablo Valley, The Orinda Association and The Orinda News, gave the candidates an opportunity to answer questions posed by the community and share their priorities for the city. The in-person attendance was 60 people, while 41 tuned into the forum via Zoom.
    Topics discussed ranged from the Downtown Precise Plan revitalization project to the idea of parking meters in the city. Candidates were allowed 90 seconds for their opening and closing statements and 60 seconds to answer each question, as well as two rebuttals of one minute each at their request.
    The candidates – Alex Drexel, Stuart House, Brandyn Iverson, Latika Malkani, Sunil Rajaraman and Janet Riley – were asked questions in random order.
    “The City Council is responsible for establishing policy, passing ordinances, voting on appropriations and having overall authority in the city government,” forum moderator and LWV Diablo Valley’s Janet Hoy reminded the attendees at the event’s 
opening.
    “It’s not a matter of taking charge, it’s a matter of making the best decisions you can, and I think I would bring that as a particular skill,” Iverson responded to the first question regarding what leadership and managerial skills she would bring to the City Council position. Iverson served on the City’s planning commission for six-plus years and has participated in downtown unification plan ConnectOrinda.
    Fellow candidate Rajaraman cited his experience as an entrepreneur, saying that “building from scratch to something that exists and is a living, breathing entity” is something unique he brings to the council. “Learning from others is something that I do very well, and that’s something I plan on doing as a City Council Member, with whoever ends up being elected.”
    “I’ve been an executive for quite some time,” candidate and technology executive Drexel responded to the first question. “I’ve led large organizations, international organizations, through change and restructuring,” adding that a leader needs to manage change and, to do that must “be an active listener.”
    Malkani cited her work with the City’s Supplemental Sales Tax Oversight Commission (SSTOC), as well as her six years of experience serving on the board of Planned Parenthood Miramonte, for teaching her the “nitty gritty” of oversight and budgeting. “But what it really taught me the value of is strategic planning and long-term strategic planning,” Malkani said.
    “I’ve worked for government at the local, state and national levels,” said House in response to the first question of the evening, citing his service on the boards of many non-profit organizations across different states, as well as his previous leadership in roles in a city art council and as assistant director of community affairs and staff training with the Michigan Credit Union League, among his 
experiences.
    Riley spoke of her work with area school parents’ clubs and the Educational Foundation of Orinda, as well as her service on the boards of the Orinda Garden Club and USDA NorCal and her social justice work at a local church. “The key to everything I do is to listen and involve everyone’s opinions and get buy-in and consensus,” she said, joining the panel via Zoom due to being in quarantine.
    In addition to sharing skills that would help them in their service on the City Council, the six candidates were also asked to share their thoughts on a variety of Orinda-related topics, such as how to revitalize the downtown area and fill vacant business spaces, how to balance state housing mandates while retaining Orinda’s rural character and the exclusion of private streets from the city’s road maintenance program, with residents on private streets still paying the same property taxes as residents on public streets.
    Moraga Way’s heavy congestion before and after school, during commute hours and utility work, while simultaneously acting as Orinda’s primary exit route in an emergency was identified as a real problem during the forum. A potential ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, the support of making Juneteenth a city holiday for employees and keeping the city free of graffiti, litter and dumping were also questions posed to the candidates. Inquiries about handling gun violence in the city and the enhancement, funding and securing of schools rounded out the collection of topics
    “I feel very fortunate that we have so many excellent candidates running for our City Council,” Orinda resident of 50 years, Linda Luini, said after the forum. “I regret I can only cast votes for three of them.”
    Bob Burt, an Orinda resident for 36 years, echoed Luini’s thoughts. “The main thing that comes across is the outstanding qualities of all six,” he said after the event. “Orinda’s in good shape with all three of [those elected].”
    To view the recorded event, click here.
Andrea Madison can be reached at drea.madison.05@gmail.com.

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