Thursday, October 24, 2002
Photographer: Andrew Scutro Photo: Powerhouse: After fighting the issue for years, Mayor Jim Perrine has recently emerged as a champion of affordable housing.
Marina Mayor Jim Perrine stands waiting for a cup of black coffee at an empty strip mall cafe off Reservation Road just after 7am. Election Day looms in three weeks. He''d campaigned over the weekend but today he''s on his way to work as the city of Hollister''s utilities manager.
In what has become a tight, contentious race, Perrine has put providing affordable housing at the top of his priority list. This summer he brought the council to agreement on setting goals of 40 percent affordable housing citywide and 23 to 25 percent in each new development. His move brought a lot of attention to a city that''s under pressure to create housing in one of the least affordable markets in the country.
But if Perrine has taken up the housing cause, he''s blamed for chafing against public will earlier in his current term by resisting urban growth boundary known as Measure E. Voters approved the anti-sprawl tool in 2000 by a slim margin. With a large potential development at Armstrong Ranch at stake, the matter ended up in court, with Marina getting nothing but legal bills for its trouble.
Perrine faces a challenge from Ila Mettee-McCutchon, a feisty ex-colonel and current city councilwoman. She''s not afraid to publicly criticize her opponent, who she says is passive and ineffective. Perrine points to his record, and does not proffer a counterattack.
The mayoral race isn''t the only crucial one. Five candidates with their own axes to grind vie for two council spots--Mettee-McCutchon''s seat is up for grabs and incumbent Howard Gustafson is fighting to keep his. With a troubled bounty of decommissioned Army real estate on Fort Ord in its grasp, Marina faces a promising but trying future as the politicians wrestle for the helm.
A week ago, on Oct. 15, Mettee-McCutchon and two other city council members outvoted Perrine and green-leaning councilman Bruce Delgado to approve a big housing plan for Marina land on Fort Ord. Perrine and Delgado had been the council negotiators on the deal two years in the making. At the council meeting where the agreement came up for approval, on Oct. 15, Perrine delayed the public hearing for 20 minutes as he proposed a higher component of affordable housing than the eight percent contained in the agreement.
The public rallied at the hearing, many citizens upset about the tiny affordable housing allotment--the city recently pledged to ensure a minimum of 25 percent affordable housing in every new development.
As he presented his new plan, complete with charts, to the council, Perrine was interrupted mid-stride by vocal planning commissioner (and Mettee-McCutchon endorser) Gary Wilmot. He halted Perrine to say, "It sounds like a campaign speech to me."
Maybe it was. It''s no secret that the lack of affordable housing is a serious regional problem. Market demand is huge and, because there is still some undeveloped land here, Marina sits in the right place to satisfy it. But building homes is not enough, and "creating a viable jobs- and-housing balance" has become the city''s challenge and a campaign mantra.
Mettee-McCutchon voted for the agreement. She sees no conflict in the fact that her campaign assistant treasurer, Michael Shaw, an attorney, represents one of the Marina Heights developers. "He and I have not discussed the development," she says.
She vows to be a more hands-on mayor than Perrine, who works as the utilities manager for the city of Hollister, 32 miles inland. Perrine replies that it is dangerous to suggest that the mayor''s job should only be available to the "retired, unemployed or independently wealthy."
Perrine''s dayjob has not been easy lately. Hollister faces a fine and development moratorium because of a 15-million-gallon sewage spill in April. As the official in charge of the sewers, Perrine has been called to answer for the spill and come up with an action plan.
While Perrine looks for solutions for one of Hollister''s problems, he confronts many in Marina. Recently, a call for rent control in the city''s mobile home parks-- sparked by outcry from angry senior citizens--has gotten his attention.
A newly formed task force committee of Perrine, Mettee-McCutchon, landlords and homeowner associations has been meeting regularly. Perrine says he "has not seen the justification" for an ordinance while Mettee-McCutchon says she has not read enough "analysis" to take a position.
But Candidate Ken Gray, a state parks planner who first became active in Marina during the Measure E growth boundary campaign prior to the 2000 vote, has called for a rent stabilization ordinance in mobile home parks.
"I''m interested in trying to provide assistance to people who are less fortunate, in particular mobile home park residents and those on fixed incomes," Gray says.
Gray''s opponent, Howard Gustafson, accuses Gray of getting seniors "riled up" by proposing rent control. In fact, on his own initiative, Gustafson went into one mobile home park to try and help the owner put together a plan to realize a bigger profit without raising rent.
He''s warning against rent control.
"That could cost the rest of the city a tremendous amount in legal fees and other costs," he says. "[The landlord] is liable to file a lawsuit if it doesn''t come out in his favor."
There are three other council candidates in addition to Gray and Gustafson. Community activist LeVonne Stone is a tireless advocate for jobs and affordable housing. She proposes a "sweat-equity" alternative that would make 100 units of Fort Ord housing available to families who would shoulder some of the rehabilitation burden themselves.
"My top priority will be to focus on the needs of the community, especially those who have been severely economically impacted," she says.
Candidate Donye Mitchell failed to answer to a Coast Weekly questionnaire and refused to comment on his campaign except in written form, which had not arrived at press time.
Candidate Dave McCall is a Republican, union plumber who was encouraged to run by Mettee-McCutchon. He sees himself as a swing vote if elected to council.
McCall is a newcomer to politics who wants better communication between the city council and the city. In his campaigning he''s found that many citizens are unaware of major city issues until it''s too late. He believes that new housing should be "locked in with business growth"--growth fostered by attracting research and development facilities to the city.
"People just want to move into the 21st century and be a real city," McCall says.