By Connor Allen & Brian Williams
The Atascadero Chamber of Commerce held a forum on Thursday night between all five city council candidates running in the November elections. The forum included introductions, three questions, and closing remarks between the candidate’s Mark Dariz, Brett Heinemann, Tori Keen, Nic Mattson, and incumbent Charles Bourbeau. The five candidates are running for two available seats as councilwoman Roberta Fonzi has decided not to run for reelection.
The forum began at 7 p.m. and was held virtually via Zoom and broadcast on Facebook Live for anyone at home to watch. The format made for a unique viewing experience where viewers could see the candidates and those with their cameras on who were also in the Zoom meeting.
The forum was moderated by Chamber of Commerce Chairman Tom Jones, who opened the forum stating that the questions were generated from the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce membership, the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce Diversity Council, and our Legislative and Economic Council. This was the second forum in a series of three the Chamber will hold. In January, they held a forum between District Supervisor candidates Ellen Beraud and Debbie Arnold. On Oct. 1, the Chamber will hold its final forum of 2020 with the Atascadero Mayoral candidates.
The order was determined alphabetically and rotated with each opportunity to speak. This gave each candidate a chance to speak first and last with their three permitted minutes for each question.
Jones started the forum, asking the candidates what they thought the City’s most pressing need is and how they plan to address it. Each of the candidates agreed that Atascadero’s local economy is one of the primary issues the City faces and proposed their plans for economic development. Candidate Keen also talked about the issues surrounding homelessness and affordable housing.
The only deviation came from candidate Mattson who started with public safety as a part of a three-pronged platform that included economic growth and municipal accountability.
The second question Jones asked was centered around diversity, asking the candidates how they would further equity and inclusion in City matters.
Heinemann opened the round, stating that he would use his character, values of honesty, integrity, and trust and closed, saying, “I want to be open and research and understand the problem and offer perspectives.”
Candidate Dariz spoke last on matters of diversity and inclusion.
“I want to reach out to groups that maybe feel underrepresented to let them know that they are welcome to join in every part of our city,” Dariz said. “If there is equity and inclusion issues that are happening in our City, then we need to reach out to these people, and we need to do our part to ease that problem and not let it happen.”
The third and final question Jones asked was centered around the proposed one-cent sales tax increase. Jones asked candidates to state where they stand on the issue presented to the voters come this November.
The five-person council was split three to two, with the majority voting in favor of the proposed 1% increase. Candidates Keen, Bourbeau and Dariz each made statements supporting the increase while Mattson and Heinemann made statements against it.
Keen opened the round to support the increase in favor of strengthening and supporting public safety services, specifically the Community Action Team (CAT) that Atascadero Police Department is currently using to assist the transient population and the deteriorating firehouse.
“I urge everyone to support the sales tax increase,” Keen said in closing. “I know taxes aren’t popular, I know it is hard right now, but if we want to invest in the future of Atascadero, we have to give more money to our city services.”
Mattson followed Keen, presenting his reason against the proposed sales tax increase.
“I don’t find that the City budget is going to fall off a cliff in the next few years, but I do find that their presentation of the sales tax did not instill the confidence in our community that the community was looking for from this measure,” Mattson said. “I want to light a fire under the butts of our city and get us all behind raising our level of economic industry.”
Mattson explained that economic vitality needed to be a primary concern that can be accomplished within the current budget with the proper motivation.
“I have talked to a lot of business owners, especially small business owners that are investing in the current curb appeal and their downtown, and they are not for this sales tax,” Mattson added.
Bourbeau responded, stating that Mattson was “half correct,” agreeing that the budget wouldn’t fall off a cliff, but it will cause a continuation of the problem.
“We have fewer police officers today than we did five or six thousand residents ago.” Bourbeau explained. “Our police department does an amazing job with what they have, and they will continue to struggle to do that, but it will be harder and harder to do that. You won’t see a cliff, but you will see a deterioration of services.”
Bourbeau continued stating that deteriorating services, such as the old firehouse, could eventually become more expensive if our public safety services receive low ratings and added, “In terms of attracting new businesses, you need to have a strong police department. A strong fire department.”
The forum closed with each of the candidates having an additional three minutes for their final thoughts and closing statements.
To watch the forum and all the candidate answers in their entirety, go to @Atascaderochamber on Facebook and look for the video entitled “City Council Candidates Virtual Forum.”