Big Changes Coming to San Leandro

Voters will elect a new mayor this November, along with three new city councilmembers. And the most important issue may be pot.

This fall’s mayoral and city council races represent a watershed moment in San Leandro’s history. In the November election, residents will be choosing a new mayor and three new members to the San Leandro City Council. The political changeover will be the most sweeping in the city’s history.

In the mayor’s race, incumbent Stephen Cassidy has decided to not seek reelection, and three candidates are vying to replace him, including two current members of the council: Diana Souza, who is termed out this year, and Pauline Russo Cutter, who was elected to the council in 2010, but is giving up her seat to run for mayor. The third candidate is Bal Theatre owner Dan Dillman.

One of the top issues in this year’s campaign is the future of medical cannabis dispensaries in the city. Souza was a fierce opponent of San Leandro’s first-ever dispensary, which was approved the council in 2012. And Souza is being backed by the city’s police officers’ union, which holds considerable sway in San Leandro. Souza, who also has strong support from many conservative voters in the city, has been a consistent critic of Mayor Cassidy over the years. In an interview, she said she would have run for mayor regardless of whether he had decided to call it quits this year.

Cutter, by contrast, has maintained a good relationship with the outgoing mayor, having served previously with Cassidy on the San Leandro school board. During candidate forums, Cutter has argued for keeping San Leandro on its current path, including moving forward with the city’s downtown fiber optics project. When it comes to pot dispensaries, Cutter was ambivalent toward them at first, but later became a convert — as did Cassidy — after touring Oakland’s Harborside dispensary. Her support, though, is qualified. Cutter voted last year to limit the number of dispensaries in San Leandro to just one.

Dillman, meanwhile, wants to make the city’s nightlife more vibrant and is pushing to build an entertainment district along the East 14th Street corridor near his theater. In this somewhat low-key race, Dillman is easily the most intriguing candidate. He served 69 days in jail this summer after getting into a fight with two plain-clothed Alameda County sheriffs’ deputies. Dillman also supports dispensaries, but his politics lean a bit right of center. For instance, he supports the police department’s quest to purchase an armored personnel vehicle.

The contests for three seats on the council also do not feature any incumbent candidates. Like Souza, Councilmember Michael Gregory is termed out of office this year, and the race for his seat may the most interesting. Two-term San Leandro school board member Mike Katz-Lacabe is the most progressive of the four candidates for District One. Katz-Lacabe has long been a critic of the city’s police department, of the growth of mass surveillance technologies, and of the lack of transparency in city government. Deborah Cox is the chair of the city’s Human Services Commission and founder of a respected San Leandro education foundation. Ken Pon is a former San Leandro school board member who has ties to the downtown business community, and David Anderson is former Oakland school board member who unsuccessfully ran for the same seat four years ago.

In District Three, a city commissioner and two political unknowns are vying to replace Souza on the council. Planning Commissioner Lee Thomas may be the least liberal candidate on the ballot this fall in San Leandro. Like Souza, Thomas is a strong opponent of pot dispensaries and has the backing of the police officers’ union. His candidacy has prompted concerns among dispensary supporters such as San Leandro Councilmember Jim Prola, who are worried about the future of medical cannabis in the city. In fact, Thomas’ politics prompted the Alameda County Democratic Party to endorse Victor Aguilar, who is not only a newcomer to San Leandro, but also to the entire Bay Area. Candidate Allen Schoenfeld is a long-time San Leandro resident with no prior experience in local politics.

San Leandro school board member Corina Lopez is hoping to win the District Five seat that she unsuccessfully sought four years ago. The daughter of Southern California field workers is an advocate for improving services for low-income residents and immigrants. Candidate, Mia Ousley, meanwhile, is a community organizer who helped in the grassroots effort to save San Leandro Hospital from closure. She has attempted, at times, to outflank Lopez to the left by highlighting the threat of rising rental prices coming to San Leandro. The third candidate is Human Services Commissioner Leah Hall, an architectural designer and community activist.

In addition, there is near-unanimous agreement among the candidates over the decrepit state of San Leandro’s streets. A recent survey showed that the city has the second worst road conditions in the county. The problem has consistently squeezed San Leandro’s general fund in the past, so this year the city placed on the ballot Measure HH, which would continue a sales tax hike that was passed by voters in 2010. The measure also increases the tax hike from a quarter-cent to a half-cent and lengthens its duration to thirty years. The city would use the additional revenue to fund street paving, public services, and more police officers. If HH passes, along with Measure BB, the Alameda County transportation tax on the November ballot, San Leandro’s sales tax will rise to 10 percent.


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