Hayward Mayoral Candidates Explore City’s Budget Dilemma

HAYWARD | MAYOR | Hayward has two competing but inextricably related problems. One, is a long-held public perception the city is anti-development and, second, it’s a bear for small businesses to set up shop making it difficult for Hayward to create new revenues streams. Meanwhile, the entire council, including three running to replace Mayor Michael Sweeney this June have received significant heat from city employees union for successfully imposing a stunning five percent wage on workers to lower Hayward’s rising expenditures. A candidate’s forum Wednesday night saw some softening in their previously hard stances against city workers while acknowledging Hayward needs to become friendlier to business, especially in its flagging downtown.

“There’s a lack of vision there,” said candidate and current Councilmember Francisco Zermeno. Earlier this month, he supported a housing and retail project at the vacant Mervyn’s property on Foothill Boulevard, which the City Council turned down. Zermeno said the project could have worked and would have funneled residents to the downtown.

Councilmember Barbara Halliday did not directly speak to the Mervyn’s project, but instead said Hayward needs to also maintain its existing big box tenants like Costco and Home Depot, which are tax revenue boons to its local economy. She fears the potential loss of brick-and-mortar stores to online purchases could negatively alter Hayward sales tax dollars while bringing an influx of trucks delivering goods to resident’s doorsteps.

Hayward mayoral candidate
Rakesh Kumar Christian

Even when business people show interest in Hayward, said Councilmember Mark Salinas, the city shoots them down. He lamented the demise of a proposal two years ago to bring a Walmart grocery store to the long-vacant Circuit City on Whipple Road. “The Council shot it down,” said Salinas. “We strung this guy along for years and it was struck down.” Same with the Mervyn’s project, he added. “As a council, we have to be careful of saying no.” Salinas, born and raised in Hayward, claims some buildings and storefronts in the city have been vacant for decades, some as long as he’s been alive. A member of Halliday’s campaign later questioned the last assertion as hyperbole.

However, the Walmart project, which was vehemently opposed by numerous local unions, also reveals the rift between the three mayoral candidates, as members of the current council, and the war of words still being fought with the Service Employees Union International Local 1021, which represent nearly 300 city workers in Hayward. All three candidates attempted to sidestep any direct words toward the union, whose leadership declared last February, “this is war,” after the City Council unanimously voted to impose a five percent wage cut even though the two sides had not bargained since the previous spring. On Wednesday, the trio all offered biographies included their own past involvement in the labor movement. A fourth candidate, Rakesh Kumar Christian, who is concurrently running for governor of California a second time, mixed a platform of anti-government stances with calls for Hayward residents to empower themselves.

Zermeno, the only candidate who backed off from any negative words toward the union said he was once a member of the United Farm Workers. “Then I realized I wanted to make my living with my brain and not my back,” he said. While leading teachers at Chabot College, where Zermeno is a long-time Spanish professor, he appeared to have tweaked the city’s controversial long-term budget forecast used to justify the contract imposition. At the community college, Zermeno said, the administration was offering a 30-year forecast during negotiations. “Talk about reality,” he said, “we have a 10-year forecast in Hayward.”

Halliday, however, mirrored her comments from February regarding the contract talks when obliquely questioning whether the union was taking the city’s stance into account. At the bargaining table, said Halliday, the other side “need[s] to respect that position and understand it as best you can and acknowledge that it’s valid.” Nevertheless, Halliday, who said her grandfather was a labor leader, believes the council’s decision helps guarantee pension promised to workers in the past will be paid in the future. “We do not want unhappy workers,” she added.

Calling them “our union brothers and sisters,” Salinas, also a member of two teachers’ unions, said Hayward needs a “new normal” when it comes to labor peace. He says his hands and those of the city were tied during negotiations. He implied other labor units who made concessions to the city did their homework when it came to the city’s budget realities, while SEIU Local 1021 did not. “It’s this constant dance back and forth that we constantly have to do,” he said, “We should focus on trust instead.”