Belvedere City Council: Ex-parks committee member challenges mayor for short-term seat
The two candidates vying for one two-year seat on the Belvedere City Council hold differing opinions on how the city should address key issues, from the planned road-and-seawall infrastructure project to housing goals to how to most efficiently run the city.
Mayor Sally Wilkinson will face off against former Parks, Open Spaces and Lanes Committee member Carolyn Lund on the Nov. 8 ballot — one of two Belvedere races for the council. In the other, four candidates — incumbent Peter Mark and newcomers Brian Davis, Jane Cooper and Richard Snyder — will compete for two four-year seats on the board.
The election has the potential to the tip the balance of power on the five-member council, with Lund backing Snyder and Davis — enough to gain a majority vote on city issues that come before the council. While Lund touted individuality in speaking with The Ark, her appeal to voters as an alternative to the status quo has also relied on shared values, and advertisements, with Snyder and Davis. Most prominently, all three oppose Measure D, the 0.8-percent real-estate transfer tax to fund a $20 million utility-hardening road-rehabilitation plan on the same ballot; if it passes, the slate would have the votes to put an initiative on the next general-election ballot for voters to potentially repeal and/or replace it.
Wilkinson, on the other hand, has been a champion of Measure D, sitting on the seawalls committee that helped develop the infrastructure project, the Finance Committee that developed the taxing option to fund it and the council that voted to get it on the current ballot, and she signed the formal argument in favor of it passing. Cooper and Mark also support Measure D.
On housing, Wilkinson says she objects to the state’s mandates but has sought to work within the requirements of the law while attempting to minimize any need for rezoning. Lund wants to join a growing coalition of cities seeking a ballot initiative to restore local control on housing needs. Lund is critical of the city’s spending on consultants, while Wilkinson argues the city’s fiscal responsibility is second to none. And while Lund is vocally against the redevelopment of the Mallard Pointe duplexes into houses and apartments, Wilkinson, like Mark, has been mum, saying she needs to reserve her open-mindedness and neutrality in case the Planning Commission’s decision on the project is appealed to the council and she must play a deciding role.
Lund wants to bring fresh perspective to council
Lund, who is in her late 60s, has been a Belvedere resident since 1993, raising three children with husband Claus at their Madrona Avenue home.
She grew up in Hong Kong and earned her undergraduate degree from Vassar College and her master’s in business from the University of California at Los Angeles. She’s now retired after a decades-long career as a marketing executive launching products for corporations.
She was first appointed to the parks committee as a non-voting member in 2018 before being named to a three-year term as a voting member in 2019. Her seat was eliminated earlier this year in a reorganization of the board.
During her time on the committee, she was a critic of the city’s plan to renovate the playground at Belvedere Community Park using a pour-in-place rubber.
She also led a grassroots campaign to encourage Amazon to establish a program to reuse its delivery boxes and reduce the amount of cardboard that’s recycled or remanufactured.
“What I bring to Belvedere is, I think, a strong business sense, what efficiency is, asking questions: How you do or do not use consultants, how you guide them,” she said.
Lund said she was encouraged to run by former Mayer Jerry Butler; resident Bill Rothman, a frequent attendee and public speaker at council meetings, and several of her neighbors.
Lund is a vocal opponent of Measure D, the Nov. 8 ballot measure that asks residents to approve the transfer tax and to convert Belvedere to a charter city so it can levy the tax. She said while she supports work to fortify seawalls and roads, “it needs to be done in a better way. It needs to be done with a different type of tax.”
Other priorities include environmental advocacy, working with other communities to restore local control of city zoning and planning, urging the ban of potentially carcinogenic particle surface material in Community Park and ensuring the city runs efficiently.
She noted none of the current councilmembers has a background or particular interest in environmental issues, even though “every project or every issue facing Belvedere today has a huge environmental impact.”
“We’re talking about road work, construction, Mallard Pointe, on and on — they all have a whole environmental side that someone needs to pay attention to, and that’s what I would like to do,” Lund said.
Lund also said she feels the council is being guided by consultants rather than the community, which she said led to the council’s decision to approve the pour-in-place rubber surface for the Community Park playground. Lund, along with Rothman, was a vocal opponent of using the rubber over other options, like wood chips or sand, citing potentially cancer-causing chemicals that could harm children. The council and city officials deemed the substance safe after doing additional research, and further testing in July and August confirmed the substance was safe, officials said.
“The City Council in the case of the playground decided to follow the consultant’s self-interested plan, even though they knew that there were carcinogens in the playground surface,” Lund said. “There were alternatives, but no effort was made to compromise at all, and the community was not listened to.”
She also cited several ways she believes the city could run more efficiently, including automating things like Public Records Act requests. She also said agendas for City Council meetings should be posted far in advance of the 72-hour legal requirement.
“Along with efficiency comes transparency,” she said.
Lund also said she’d like to see the city work with its citizens on planning projects, saying the city routinely comes after residents for “small stuff” like repairing a retaining wall, trimming a tree or expanding a shed. That leaves residents walking away feeling bad and feeling mistrust, she said.
“I feel we need to circle around and remind ourselves that the city works for us, and in all these projects they should help us rather than butt heads with us,” Lund
Lund said she enjoys walking every day and meeting people on the street for a chat. If elected to the council, she said, one way she’d be open and available for community members to reach out and share issues or concerns with her is through her daily walk of the community.
She called the field for the four-year council seats a good group of candidates. She said her opinions on Measure D may play into who she wants to win those seats but that all the candidates could do a good job if elected.
“I just hope we can break the feeling that the council needs to be loyal to each other and to vote together,” Lund said.
Wilkinson cites experience in re-election bid
Wilkinson, 52, is a native of the U.K. and has a degree in economics from the University of Bath. She has worked as an economist for Deutsche Bank and an economic adviser to the British Conservative Party. She and her husband, Serge Marquie, started a wine futures business.
She’s lived on Belvedere Island for eight years and has three teenage children.
She was first appointed to the City Council in 2020, plucked from the Finance Committee as the only applicant to replace longtime councilmember Marty Winter, who moved to Tiburon. She’s currently one of two Belvedere council representatives on the Belvedere-Tiburon Joint Recreation Committee board of directors, which oversees The Ranch, and represents the council on the MCE Clean Energy board.
Prior to serving on the Finance Committee, Wilkinson served as a member of the city’s Committee to Protect Belvedere’s Seawalls, Levees and Utilities, a team of island and lagoon residents that worked with the City Council to come up with the early iterations of the current road-and-seawalls infrastructure project. She has also worked on Belvedere’s Block Captains program; chaired Yes on Measure E, the successful ballot initiative that lets Belvedere pay for fire services; and sat on the committee that helped to develop the local Yellow Bus Challenge, which offers discount bus passes for Reed Union School District students in an effort to clear traffic off Tiburon Boulevard.
Wilkinson said she chose to run for the two-year seat because she wants to earn the vote of the electorate after originally being appointed to the council. She noted that if she wins and still feels like she has more to contribute at the end of the term, she would consider running for a second four-year stint in 2024; Councilmember Nancy Kemnitzer is likely to retire at the end of her second term under city tradition, creating a vacancy.
Wilkinson said if she were re-elected in November, she would continue to work hard in the role and remain accessible to the public.
“I think I am data-driven and really analytical, and that just comes from a professional background,” she said.
She also called herself open-minded.
“I don’t think I am rigid in my viewpoint on things, and so I’m always really open to hearing other people’s input and adapting and learning from other people,” Wilkinson said, adding that, like Lund, she enjoys walking the city and chatting with residents, some of whom also call her to discuss issues.
Wilkinson said among her priorities if she is re-elected and if Measure D passes would be ensuring financing is put in place “really efficiently and cost effectively, and that the project is delivered as best as possible on time and on budget and that there’s transparency and accountability during that process.”
She also said the city needs to focus on meeting state housing mandates in the way that works best for the city and do a better job of communicating and being transparent with the electorate.
She cited equity and inclusion and addressing climate impacts as issues the city hasn’t adequately addressed but needs to.
Wilkinson said a good councilmember follows the law and listens to the community to make decisions and solve problems.
“You have your own opinions but you have to factor in how the community feels about things, and that needs to feed into the decision-making process,” she said.
She said she’d like someone with government experience to win the four-year seats, noting that councilmembers really need to dig in and commit their time if elected.
“I feel really strongly that the general tradition in Belvedere of serving on committees, learning the ropes and learning how government works is super important because it would be absolute chaos to have people elected with no experience of government whatsoever,” Wilkinson said.
She noted she has worked with Mark during their shared time on the council, and “I respect him greatly.”
She said Cooper also stands out to her as a candidate because of her former work as a trustee for the Reed Union School District and her expertise on housing and other government issues.
“Those would be my two choices, but of course whoever is elected and if I’m also elected I will be happy to serve with whoever Belvedere votes for,” she said.
Snyder has spent over a decade on the Sanitary District No. 5 of Marin board, which serves Belvedere and southern Tiburon, while Davis has no previous governing experience.
Mixed feelings on Measure D
If passed by a simple majority of voters, Measure D would generate $1.6 million annually in general fund revenue to pay off the debt from a bond issued for $20 million in seismic upgrades to Beach Road and San Rafael Avenue — the first of a two-phase project that would eventually include fortifying the seawalls.
Wilkinson said Belvedere has a proud history of investing in its infrastructure and that it’s critical the city repair the 80-year-old roads, which are the main thoroughfares in and out of Belvedere and have sunk 4 feet since their construction, according to engineering reports.
Wilkinson has said that while the utilities under Beach Road and San Rafael Avenue may be the responsibility of the utility companies and may be state of the art, the roads are the city’s responsibility and aren’t seismically stable. She has said in the event of a moderate earthquake, the roads are at risk of sliding by a matter of feet, which would put the utilities that sit underneath them at risk.
Wilkinson argues the transfer tax is the best way to fund the project and the fairest option, as it’s paid only once at a moment of high liquidity based on market value and it is tax deductible for capital gains tax up to about a third. The other two taxing options — a flat parcel tax or a proportional ad valorem tax on assessed property value — are not tax deductible. She called the parcel tax a burden on those with lower incomes, including seniors, and the ad valorem tax unfair to newcomers with higher assessed property values.
Lund said she objects to a transfer tax because many residents sell their homes during a time of distress, when they’re downsizing or moving into a retirement home and most need their money. Instead she favors a parcel tax.
Lund said that while she supports repairing the Beach Road seawall, she plans to vote “no” on Measure D because it “terminates 125 years of operation as a general-law city, and it poses a charter for the sole purpose of raising taxes.”
She and other opponents argue the city’s clear intent for the tax revenue is a specified purpose and that, under state law, specified-purpose taxes must be funded by parcel or ad valorem taxes. Those two taxes come with voter protections, including requiring two-thirds’ approval and legally binding allocations for the revenue. The city’s charter-and-tax plan, she says, undermines both the law and taxpayer protections — though she’s incorrectly stated the charter changes the voter threshold for city projects. While the charter allows the city to levy a transfer tax otherwise disallowed under law, it doesn’t change voter thresholds for general or special taxes.
“I feel that Measure D is reckless because it funnels millions of dollars of taxpayer money into a general fund,” she said. “We have no say in how that money is spent.”
Wilkinson counters that in addition to audits and oversight by the Finance Committee and the public annual budgeting process, residents provide oversight in the form of elections: Councilmembers not adhering to the voter mandate can be removed from office.
Lund also criticized what she called fear mongering for the project and the fact that the city has continued to change the focus of the work.
“First it was streets blocked by ocean spray … but then that escalated into gas interruptions, breaking into water, no power — but never have these been concerns before, and the utilities assure us that they are all seismically up to date, state of the art.”
Wilkinson says the project’s scope has resulted from the natural evolution of committee and council discussions, the evaluation of new information when it’s presented and weighing community feedback into what’s feasible to accomplish.
Housing challenges a key issue
Housing is another prominent issue facing Belvedere. State mandates require the city to plan for 160 new units in the 2023-2031 housing cycle, a significant increase from the 16 required in the current eight-year cycle. While the city is not required to build the housing, it must identify potential sites and rezone to allow development — something city officials have said is a challenge, as the area is almost entirely built out.
In addition, an application has been submitted to redevelop the private Mallard Pointe complex, which sits between the lagoon and City Hall. The developer is proposing to tear down the existing 22 units and build 40 units in their place, a mix of apartments, duplexes and single-family homes.
Four of the new units would be low-income, which makes the proposal eligible for a state density bonus, providing key waivers and concessions for zoning, height, setbacks, construction time limits, parking and more. The developers are also seeking streamlining under other state rules that would limit the number of hearings and local government stipulations on the project.
The proposal has garnered significant resident opposition, mainly from a group of more than 500 residents who call themselves the Belvedere Residents for Intelligent Growth, or Brig. They say Mallard Pointe is out of character and would jam up traffic conditions and challenge water supplies amid an unprecedented drought and question the displacement of existing residents.
Lund called Mallard Pointe “unfortunate” and a “bellwether of future development,” noting the state is “overriding local control of zoning and planning.”
She recognized the city cannot legally fight every developer that comes to the community, in part because the developers are armed with waivers.
“We can try and put off Mallard Pointe legally, but the city has no wherewithal, the funds, nothing to be able to fight developers, and the outcome from Mallard Pointe is uncertain,” she said. “We need to address this on a state level immediately.”
She said she has been attending meetings of Our Neighborhood Voices, a coalition of thousands of neighborhood leaders throughout California who are proposing a 2024 statewide ballot initiative that would restore the authority of local representatives to decide what gets built in each community.
Some 35 communities, most located in Southern California, have endorsed the coalition’s efforts so far. Lund said if she were elected, she would strongly urge Belvedere to get on board with the initiative, which she said is only way to protect Belvedere’s small-town charm.
Wilkinson said she is reserving judgment on the Mallard Pointe proposal. While it’s the Planning Commission that will make the ruling on whether the project can proceed, Wilkinson says it’s likely any decision will be appealed to the City Council, so she wants to maintain her neutrality.
On the state’s mandates to identify housing opportunities in Belvedere, Lund said she supports affordable housing, as it benefits the community as well as service workers and teachers. However, she said the amount of affordable housing the city can offer is small.
She said Belvedere needed to work with other cities in Marin to take a countywide approach.
“It should be near transportation, it should be near services, it should be in affordable areas, and there’s ample government funding available,” Lund said.
She added the county could apply for funding to create, encourage and subsidize more housing much more effectively than Belvedere could on its own.
Lund is critical of the state mandate and said Belvedere should focus on accessory dwelling units to meet its allocation, which puts her in agreement with Wilkinson and the rest of the current City Council. She said many new buildings have such units, and she herself rents out a room in her three-story house. She said when she talks to people, she finds that there are a lot of unregistered rented rooms, in-units and rented junior spaces that should be registered and counted by the city.
Wilkinson agreed that the state’s housing policy is bad policy, noting that as a fully built-out community, Belvedere’s obligations in the housing crisis should be limited to finding ways to build more affordable units, which she said would be beneficial to Belvedere. She said if the city could achieve that, it would be a much bigger win than building 160 pricier market-rate units.
However, she noted, the city must plan for the state’s requirements and could face legal repercussions if it doesn’t, so her goal is to comply without any changes to zoning.
Candidates weigh in on police reform, equity issues
The two candidates each had their own take on how Belvedere can better address social, economic and racial barriers, given that the city has increasingly been named by Bay Area equity groups as exclusionary, as well as whether the city should implement police reform amid a pending $2 million federal lawsuit filed against Belvedere by the Black owners of Yema clothing boutique in downtown Tiburon over its role in a 2020 police incident at their store, during which a city officer can be seen on video placing his hand on his holstered gun.
Yema’s owners, Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash, previously filed $2 million administrative claims each against Tiburon and Belvedere, settling with Tiburon for $150,000, reform concessions and a seat on a yet-to-be-formed citizen advisory panel. Their lawyers say they’re seeking similar reforms from Belvedere, but that the city declined to negotiate and the lawsuit intends to force Belvedere to the table.
Lund said she believes Belvedere should work more closely with Tiburon to institute oversight and meaningful reform. She pointed to the work of the town’s Diversity Inclusion Task Force, which was formed after the incident at Yema to examine and address issues of race and bias within the community and includes a Belvedere resident.
“There are good people involved in that that have racial experience in the community that would be good at recommending how to best handle some of these things,” Lund said. “On our part, we need more diversity. Cultural and racial diversity bring vitality to a community.”
Wilkinson argues Belvedere has done much more aggressive police oversight than anyone in California — a claim that’s substantially false, as cities across the state have adopted independent oversight models that include dedicated auditors, investigators, expert commissions and citizen-led oversight and advisory panels that, for example, independently investigate complaints and misconduct allegations, review the quality of internal investigations, evaluate training and codes of conduct, hear community appeals, participate in the hiring process and make recommendations back to police and councils, none of which Belvedere has done.
According to Wilkinson, the City Council instituted its own oversight of the Police Department in response to the Black Lives Matter movement by absorbing the department’s policy manual into the city’s general policy manual, so any changes have to be approved by the council. Wilkinson said the fact that Police Chief Jason Wu agreed to that is testament to his confidence in his department, though the vast majority of changes are routine and uniform, written and provided to Belvedere and other cities by policy-manual provider Lexipol in response to changes in state laws.
Wilkinson said the city has also instituted quarterly reporting that includes police complaints and the number of tickets issued. She added that Belvedere also started tracking and sharing race and other demographic data of those detained by police 18 months before it was required to under the Racial and Identity Profiling Act. However, the department’s new public-facing stop-data dashboard, which went online this month, is significantly less transparent that its predecessor, removing most data sets including simple detention counts, the time period presented and any searchability.
Wilkinson said diversity strengthens a community, and the city should examine whether there’s anything they’re not doing that they could be to improve hiring practices. She noted Tiburon has engaged a consultant to examine the equity of its hiring practices, and Belvedere should look to learn from whatever those results are.
“I think it is a long game. You can’t just change things overnight, so I think you need to be looking at how to make Belvedere a welcoming community for all different groups, and obviously if there’s any discrimination on any level anywhere in practices, then you should remedy that,” Wilkinson said.
Lund said she believes the barrier to Belvedere is economic and can be addressed with affordable housing, which she said would bring in cultural diversity as well as lower-wage workers.
Climate change a priority
To get in front of climate change and be proactive, Lund said the city’s climate action plan, which was recently updated with a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, should be front and center.
Lund has been critical of the plan, which was passed in June with what she said was very little discussion and has low standards. She said climate change is happening rapidly and, consequently, the council is going to have to update the climate plan regularly and aggressively and in conjunction with other communities. She noted affordable housing is directly linked to combating climate change; if care workers, teachers and others who currently commute into Tiburon and Belvedere were able to afford to live in the community, transportation-related greenhouse-gas emissions would be reduced.
Wilkinson said much of the problem lies on the supply side, noting there’s “tons of clean energy during the day and there’s none at night.”
She referenced a recent Marin civil grand jury report that concluded building electrification — moving away from natural-gas appliances — is a critical step in advancing Marin’s greenhouse-gas reduction targets.
“One of the ironies of this idea of moving to full electrification is the grid can’t even handle a hot day right now, so if we suddenly shift a lot of people off gas and onto electricity, all that means is that electricity will be supplied by gas,” Wilkinson said.
She said the biggest thing Belvedere could do as a community to reduce emissions is to shift when residents are using electricity to the day. She said she’d love to start an initiative in Belvedere to see how much community members can reduce climate impacts, and she said encouraging reduction relies on education or the use of apps that can let people know when best to charge their cars or do their laundry.
Ethics, values and service to residents
Lund said she sees the role of a councilmember as someone who presses for the projects, goals and values of the voters who elected them to office.
She said it concerns her that current council votes are often unanimous, saying that implies there is “no diversity in opinion and in thinking” and that the council is an “echo chamber” where friends are being put on committees and then moved to the council and asked to vote together.
Wilkinson said while people may join the council with an idea of changes they’d like to make, once they’re on the board, they learn a lot, which can sometimes change their perspective on things.
While the city has often prided itself on being fiscally conservative and operating with a lean staff and budget, Lund said the city needs to be more critical of how that budget is being spent.
“It’s going for a lot of consulting work and very expensive,” Lund said. She said the city should cut back on hiring consultants and tap into local experts.
Wilkinson said there’s no question the city can always do better but maintained it is incredibly well-run with a $10-million budget and a staff of about 20 people, which includes the Police Department.
“I think we’re delivering a pretty excellent service for the size of city and size of budget that we have,” Wilkinson said.
Reach Belvedere and public-safety reporter Katherine Martine at 415-944-4627.