Belvedere City Council: Incumbent, three hopefuls seek two full-term seats
The four candidates competing for two four-year seats on the Belvedere City Council include one incumbent and three newcomers who all say they’re eager to tackle the city’s challenges, from infrastructure to housing to climate change.
Sitting Councilmember Peter Mark and challengers Jane Cooper, Brian Davis and Richard Snyder are set to face off on the Nov. 8 ballot, one of two Belvedere races for the council. In the other, two candidates — Mayor Sally Wilkinson and former Parks, Open Spaces and Lanes Committee member Carolyn Lund — will vie for one two-year seat on the board.
In the pick-two race for four-year seats, Mark and Cooper are mostly aligned with the rest of the current City Council, including two-year candidate Wilkinson — particularly in their support of Measure D, a 0.8-percent real-estate transfer tax to fund a $20 million utility-hardening road-rehabilitation plan on the same ballot. Together they’re running on platforms of experience and realistic, responsible governance and have backed each other’s campaigns.
Davis and Snyder, along with two-year candidate Lund, are opposed to the tax measure, positioning themselves as fresh new voices from outside an “inner circle” of appointed leadership who will take stronger positions on priority issues, such as battling state housing mandates. With three of five total council seats up for election, they represent a potential to tip the balance of power on the council.
Cooper says her background would benefit board
Cooper, 73, first moved to Belvedere with her parents in 1963. She’s a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley who worked as a teacher and lived in San Francisco and then Sausalito with her husband.
The couple moved back to Belvedere in 1983, purchasing Cooper’s childhood home from her parents, and raised two daughters. While her children were growing up, Cooper volunteered in the Reed Union School District, including with the Parent Teacher Association and with the Foundation for Reed Schools. She served two terms on the district’s board of trustees.
She later obtained a master’s degree in public policy from Stanford University and has worked as a consultant for nonprofits.
She recently worked with the Planning Commission to help refine Belvedere’s newly adopted objective design and development standards, a set of customized standards intended to help the city streamline future high-density and multifamily housing projects, and served on the short-term construction-impact committee, which was tasked with coming up with ways to mitigate construction-related traffic, parking and noise.
She’s also served as president of the Marin County School Boards Association and was elected twice to serve on the board of the Belvedere Lagoon Property Owners Association.
Cooper said her top three priorities as a councilmember would be housing, improving communication between the city and the community and making City Hall work for everyone.
She said she’d actively work to maintain a respectful dialogue at council meetings, noting that at some of the past year’s virtual meetings, some people have seemed “a little overly agitated.”
She noted she has experience in writing policy and overseeing budgets from her time serving on the Reed district board, but that’s just one way she thinks she would be an asset to the council.
“I am a good listener, I’m friendly, I’m not afraid to work hard, I love to hear other people’s opinions and I like seeking out experts who know more than I do and asking them what their input would be, and then putting that all together and coming up with what I hope would be a good decision,” she said.
While Cooper said she thinks she could serve with any of the candidates, she has worked with Mark and Wilkinson during her time on the objective design standards and said she admires them.
In addition to chatting with residents on her walks around town, Cooper said that if she was elected, she’d like to institute monthly office hours to connect with constituents.
In making decisions as a councilmember, she said, she’d keep and open mind, listen to residents and city staff and follow the law.
“I think it’s very important to step back and not prejudge anything and also to, as I said, listen to other people that have other perspectives before making a decision,” Cooper said.
Davis aims to bring independent voice to council
Davis, 50, moved to the West Shore Road area in 2015 with his wife and two school-aged children. He is a mostly retired entrepreneur who graduated from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta and Harvard Business School. He’s a member of Belvedere’s block captains program, a group of neighborhood leaders who help others in the event of a fire, earthquake or other emergency.
He previously applied for appointment to an interim seat on the council but lost out to Mark.
Davis said his top priority if elected would be to foster communication, accountability and increased transparency between the council and the community.
“I don’t think we’re doing a great job of outreach, consensus-building and educating of the constituents, and I want to be a solution to that,” he said.
He said he would also work to address infrastructure issues in a “smart, cost-efficient and measured way.”
Davis stressed that he would bring a new voice to the council, which by his calculations has voted unanimously on issues about 96 percent of the time over the past four years. He said he doesn’t think that consensus is reflective of the constituency as a whole.
“I will push us to think about things better,” Davis said.
He said his approachability, kindness, ability to talk thoughtfully and be open-minded about issues are some of the qualities he’d bring to the council. He noted he’d like to host quarterly meetings in his home as a councilmember and would continue to knock on doors to speak with constituents as he has during the election.
Davis said in making decisions as a councilmember, he would be driven by principles and by input.
“I believe that we are better served through local control through consensus building, that is a guidepost,” he said. “I would then want to talk to a lot of people to understand how the community is feeling about things.”
Mark cites experience in election bid
Mark, 56, moved to Belvedere from the East Coast in 2012 with his wife, Elizabeth Needham, and the couple’s two children, who are now grown.
He graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont and moved to New York City, where he worked in media at Time Inc. and in business development for Martha Stewart Living.
He has been running his own real-estate company since 2000.
Mark was appointed to the City Council in May to fill an unexpected vacancy due to the resignation of Steve Block, reportedly for personal reasons.
Before his appointment, Mark had served on the Planning Commission since 2015, taking turns as chair and vice chair. While on the commission, he chaired the objective design development standards subcommittee and the floodplain-analysis subcommittee.
His priorities for a new four-year term would be to support Belvedere’s independent oversight of housing, to make City Hall work better for everyone and to inspire more civic engagement and transparency in all city work.
He also said he believes the city can do more to address climate change and to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.
With a host of issues big and small facing the community, Mark said the city will need experienced councilmembers who have a track record of listening and working with stakeholders on all sides of a problem to make effective and objective decisions.
“I think experience and a decision-making process is very important to this election and to our city going forward, and I’ve been involved in volunteering with the city for quite a while,” he said.
He notes he tries to suspend or keep separate personal perspectives on an issue until he can really listen to what’s going on and to different perspectives and do research in order to come to a balanced decision.
Mark has endorsed fellow candidate Cooper for the second four-year seat and Wilkinson for the two-year seat.
Snyder seeks to bring ‘stability’ back to council
Snyder, 78, is an attorney who has lived in Belvedere since 1999. He earned a bachelor’s in history from the University of California at Los Angeles and his law degree at UC Hastings College of Law. He also pursued post-graduate studies at the University College London, King’s College London and the London School of Economics.
He currently serves on the boards of Sanitation District No. 5 of Marin, which serves Belvedere and southern Tiburon, and the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District.
Snyder said he was urged to run for the council seat by Accountable Belvedere, a nonprofit resident opposition group formed to fight Measure D. He’s endorsed by the group, as are Davis and Lund, and Synder said he’d like to see both of them elected alongside him.
If elected, Synder said among his priorities would be fighting state housing mandates, as well as making Belvedere’s streets safe and friendly for bicycles. He said he wants to “bring stability back to city government.”
“I have some regard for the members of the council, some are personal friends, but some decisions I disagree with,” he said.
He cited “integrity, independence and an open ear to hear and also to read the documents and form sound judgments” as qualities he’d bring to the council and said if elected, he would host open houses to hear from constituents.
As a councilmember, he said, he’d prioritize listening and being aware that he’s representing residents. In making decisions, he said, he’d take all information into consideration and try to minimize impacts on residents.
“It is a matter of politics of compromise,” he said.
Candidates differ on support for Measure D
The candidates are split in their support of Measure D, with Cooper and Mark saying they plan to vote for the measure and Snyder and Davis opposing it.
If passed by a simple majority of voters, the measure would enact a 0.8-percent real-estate transfer tax and allow Belvedere to convert to a charter city to levy the tax; revenue, estimated at $1.6 annually for a maximum of 30 years, would go toward paying for the $20-million first phase of the city’s planned road-and-seawall infrastructure project targeting the aging Beach Road and San Rafael Avenue.
Cooper said she thinks the project is needed, noting that all of Belvedere’s utilities run under those roads, which have sunk 4 feet over the past 80 years. She also said she believes the proposed transfer tax is the right way to fund the work, agreeing with the city’s Finance Committee that the tax is a fairer option that the other two considered, a flat parcel tax and an proportional ad valorem tax based on assessed property values.
She noted both are annual taxes, and the community already has several parcel taxes, including one that goes toward the Reed Union School District. There’s also a new a $335 annual parcel tax proposed to voters in Belvedere and part of Tiburon on the Nov. 8 ballot, Measure M, which would be used to help the county purchase and preserve the 110-acre Martha Co. property on the Tiburon Ridge.
Cooper said parcel taxes can be difficult for seniors living on a fixed income, though some of those taxes, such as the Reed district tax, do provide exemptions for seniors. She noted she wouldn’t want to price seniors out of the community because of the need to fix the city’s infrastructure.
“I do think the transfer tax makes wonderful sense because we’ve gotten the benefit of the community all these years and when we finally do sell the house, it’s not a particularly high (tax) percent,” Cooper said.
Mark called the proposed infrastructure fixes a common-sense issue, noting the two roads are vital to the community; he pointed out Beach Road has failed twice in the past five years, requiring expensive emergency repairs.
Like Cooper, he said the real-estate transfer tax option is the best way to fund the project; he voted with the rest of his colleagues to formally put the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.
He said he likes the real-estate transfer tax because no one’s annual taxes will increase.
“I think it is the least impactful and the most simple way to fund the necessary project,” Mark said. “Other taxes, I believe, are inherently less fair.”
Snyder and Davis encouraged community members to vote “no” on the ballot measure.
Snyder said there’s a need to address the city’s aging infrastructure over time but that the council is scaring people into voting for Measure D.
He said the city should be pursuing a special tax that requires a higher threshold — a two-thirds majority — to pass. He also pointed out that the revenue from the tax cannot legally be specified for any purpose, the reason why it only requires a simple majority. That, he said, means there’s no guarantee the city will use it for its intended purpose.
While officials have acknowledged they expect the tax to be paid off more quickly in part due to rising home values over time, faster repayment would require a commitment by future councils. Because the tax as proposed would only sunset automatically after 30 years, and because there’s no requirement the revenue is used toward the debt, any future council could choose to pay the minimum debt service and keep the additional revenue in the city’s general fund for other uses. Or, if the project is paid off early, the city could keep collecting the entire tax for general use until the 30 years are up or voters end it with another ballot initiative.
“What we really should be pursuing is a special tax that requires a two-thirds vote and funds are guaranteed to be applied to the project to which they are funding, and a general tax is not,” Snyder said. “If we have a sensible program here where you really define what you’re going to do with the money and protect the community, then you would get a two-thirds vote.”
He also expressed concerns about Belvedere’s conversion to a charter city to levy the tax, saying that would make it easier to tax residents with a simple majority. However, the charter does not — and cannot — change voter thresholds for taxation. Transfer taxes are already simple-majority general taxes under state law, and the charter allows the city to levy it. Special or school-district taxes, any tax levied on parcels of property and any tax dedicated to a specific purpose would still require two-thirds’ approval from voters.
Davis said there is a need for an infrastructure project but said that the two-phase project proposed by the city, which would first address infrastructure and then the seawalls, is the “epitome of biting off more than you can chew.”
He said the most pressing concern is Beach Road and last May put forward his own plan to address the city’s aging infrastructure in a stage format that would start with Beach Road and then move onto San Rafael Avenue, incorporating any lessons learned from the work on former.
He said he doesn’t believe the city needs seawall fixes anytime in the near future, as he said he thinks the city is at least 30 years out from seeing significant sea-level rise.
He said he doesn’t want Belvedere to convert to a charter city and favors an ad valorem or parcel tax measure, both of which require a two-thirds vote, as a funding mechanism for the project.
Housing remains a prominent issue
Housing has been a hot-button issue in Belvedere over the past several years. 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.
Mark said it’s likely he’ll have to rule on the project as a current member of the council and didn’t want to prejudge the proposal. He noted the city needs to look carefully at existing zoning in the context of any proposal.
Cooper said it’s important to consider how the proposal fits in with the city’s existing zoning and general plan. She said if she was on the council and tasked with evaluating the project, she’d listen to the city’s legal advisers and learn as much as she could about the proposal.
However, Cooper has already been outspoken against the project, saying she’s “not fooled” by what she claims are deceptive project renderings and redevelopment plans that use state law to subvert local zoning codes to build high-end homes and apartments, which displace current residents and offer as few affordable units as possible. In letters to the editor, she points to Brig, the opposition group, for readers to learn more about the project.
Snyder said he doesn’t want to see the people who are currently living in the complex displaced. He said he believes the council should take a “very firm stance” with the developer.
“I want to protect the community and protect the people who live there right now, and I want to prevent the Manhattanization of Belvedere,” he said.
Davis said that in many ways, Belvedere is bound to state housing laws. He’d like to do what is necessary to bring back more local control.
“And then to some extent, it will be what the community wants,” Davis said on Mallard Pointe.
He noted he is worried about the construction and traffic impacts that the proposed development could create, as well as current resident displacement.
Cooper called the state-mandated housing allocation excessive but said Belvedere has no choice but to comply.
She said she’s a “firm believer in affordable housing,” but said if the state was truly prioritizing that, it would not be requiring more market-rate housing as part of the allocations.
She noted the state doesn’t offer any subsidies to assist cities with the housing goals, and most developers aren’t interested in building affordable housing.
“We’re pretty much at the mercy of some outside person coming in who may be willing to throw out a couple of units, but it’s not helping us get where we need to be,” Cooper said.
Cooper said if she were on the City Council she’d support looking into joining ongoing litigation efforts to challenge the state mandates and determining whether it would work for Belvedere.
Mark noted that if Belvedere doesn’t produce a housing plan that is certified by the state, there could be legal and other financial consequences. He said the city is working hard to identify development opportunities.
“These development opportunities should certainly be viable and accessible and encourage as much housing as we can, particularly affordable housing, that’s important,” Mark said.
However, he also called the mandates “inherently unfair, well-intended laws.”
“I do support us pushing back on them, not because I don’t think we should have more equity and inclusivity but (because) we’re a built community with real challenges,” he said.
Snyder said he supports joining efforts to challenge state housing mandates, noting there’s strong evidence from the state auditor’s report that California overstated its housing numbers.
“Once we have the numbers that are realistic, then we can deal with it,” Snyder said.
He said he is supportive of having more workforce housing, especially for firefighters and first responders, however, he said housing should be placed in Tiburon where there’s more space. He noted Belvedere has steep topography and is already dense.
Davis also pointed out there’s not a lot of buildable land in Belvedere. He said he believes more housing is needed but it should be targeted to places that can accommodate it.
“I also drive 5, 10, 20 miles up the road to Novato and I see wide-open spaces, so I don’t necessarily understand why the answer is cramming more people into a condensed space,” he said.
He said Belvedere does need to be part of a broader community-based solution to the housing crisis and that some of its tax dollars should go toward funding housing elsewhere.
Davis said the city needs to be more aggressive in trying to take back control from the state and should perhaps join litigation efforts to fight the mandates.
Candidates weigh in on diversity, equity, inclusion
All of the candidates addressed whether Belvedere should take steps to address social, economic and racial barriers, as the city has 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.
Snyder said Belvedere police should look into additional training on recognizing bias, noting that as a practicing attorney, he is required to take a certain number of courses dealing with bias.
“I would say that are local police should be taking the same courses that I’ve been taking, which are really good, and we should be working with Tiburon on how to deal fairly and equitably with people,” he said.
Cooper also agrees that Belvedere could work with Tiburon, especially because Belvedere and Tiburon police often help each other.
Mark said he doesn’t think the city has the answers yet but does need to address oversight and meaningful reform when it comes to police and diversity, equity and inclusion, all of which should be incorporated into the city’s broader strategic plan.
“I think we need to look at outside guidance, third-party and independent experts. I think we need to form community-action advisory groups to get feet on the ground and make real changes,” he said. “More diverse communities are a better, richer community overall.”
Davis said the city should focus on having a fair and open hiring process.
“It doesn’t send off the right vibe that we’re an open community that’s open to all applicants if we’re not even giving other people the chance to come in and run our community,” he said.
Challengers have been critical that City Manager Robert Zadnik was promoted internally in a process that only included one other existing City Hall staffer, rather than the city conducting an open recruitment process.
Snyder also said he believes the city should diversify its work force. However, he disputed a recent study by Bay Area Equity Atlas that analyzed all 1,572 U.S. Census tracts in the nine-county Bay Area by race and income and found that more than one in 10 Bay Area neighborhoods is a segregated area of white wealth. Topping that list was Belvedere, which is contained within a single tract and has nearly 500 white households earning more than $200,000 per year and 132 white households earning less than $35,000 per year, but no low-income households of the three studied minority groups.
Snyder’s said the report was designed to try to “hype” the idea of segregation, which he said doesn’t really exist in Belvedere.
To do more to address social, economic and racial barriers, Cooper said it’s important to welcome, acknowledge and support people of all different cultures. Belvedere is a small community, but that shouldn’t stop it from tackling big issues, she said.
“We should try and we have to try to figure out better ways to do a better job,” she said. Cooper added that when driving around Mill Valley, she’s often noticed Black Lives Matters signs in people’s yards or windows, but in Belvedere, she hasn’t seen many.
“That’s something,” she said of the Mill Valley signs. “I think promoting an attitude visually also helps.”
Davis said the city needs to make sure it’s doing what is necessary to draw diverse people to the community.
Mark said the city should tap into the city’s large network of committed volunteers to look at problems and best practices for addressing barriers.
Suggestions for addressing climate change
To help combat climate change, Davis said he would like to see the city promote green building standards and streamline the approval process for installing solar panels, batteries and electric-vehicle chargers in homes. He also suggested the city could incentivize residents to switch from gas appliances to electric.
Snyder is an advocate for getting more people on bikes, suggesting the city possibly develop a system to pick up seniors and take them to a flat area where they can bike. He also stressed the importance of conserving water.
Cooper said she’d like to see more electric-vehicle charging stations around town and stressed the importance of solar energy, suggesting panels be installed on top of City Hall. She said the city should keep its climate action plan at the forefront when considering issues and policies.
Mark said first and foremost is to be prepared for natural disasters, continuing its efforts to educate residents on evacuation procedures and working on infrastructure projects beyond the Beach Road and San Rafael Avenue project that ensures critical roadways are secure.
He also stressed the importance of following the city’s climate action plan and of increasing low-carbon transportation, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and renewable energy, whether through “reasonable” reach codes or incentives to have more efficient equipment in homes. He said he’d also like to focus on increased water conservation.
Values and service to residents
The candidates each outlined how they would approach their role as councilmember if elected.
Cooper said her approach to the job might shift depending on the issue. If the council is discussing something that involves a private entity, such as a housing or development issue, members should remain neutral as they weigh the decision. However, in some cases, it might be more appropriate for councilmembers to press for the priorities of residents who elected them, sort of like when legislators in Sacramento propose a new law and then promote and discuss it.
Snyder said it’s important to take in human considerations, noting ordinances have to be tailored to minimize impacts on certain areas.
Davis said if elected, he would be an activist for the people who put him in office. While candidates should be willing to pursue the platforms they run on, they shouldn’t take those efforts to the extreme at the expense of a functioning council, he said.
Mark feels that a councilmember’s role is to understand and look at every issue as openly as possible. He said a member should be a trusted decision maker and leader and believes the city’s government is serving residents well, with some caveats.
He noted the pandemic has interfered with broader municipal affairs and that the city is short-staffed, saying the city has committed, professional staff members but that Belvedere has “real challenges” and has “struggled with some projects.” He said increased transparency is a priority of his for improvement.
Snyder said the city is not serving its residents well.
“I would stop hiring from within, stop having a ‘yes man’ and people who have a system where they’re all patting each other on their back,” he said.
Cooper said she would like to make City Hall work better for its residents, though she applauded Zadnik, who was promoted in June from public works director, and said staff at City Hall seem friendlier since he took over.
She said it would be great if the city could redo its website to be more user-friendly.
Davis said he thinks everyone in the community would be happier if they were more well-informed, including on challenges the city is facing.
Reach Belvedere and public-safety reporter Katherine Martine at 415-944-4627.