In a 90-minute forum hosted by the Mill Valley Chamber at La Ginestra restaurant, quintet of candidates vying for three slots cover a wide range of issues, from improving and sustaining economic vitality and the Miller Avenue Streetscape Project to parking and – of course – traffic.
With residents set to vote on Nov. 3 for who should fill three open seats on the Mill Valley City Council, dozens of local business owners packed into La Ginestra restaurant on October 6 to hear the five candidates vying for those slots dive into the issues most important to the economic vitality of our community. Equator Coffees & Teas provided delicious coffee and pastries and the League of Women Voters of Marin County moderated.
Ken Brooks 
The current president of the Rotary Club of Mill Valley, former Chamber board member and a longtime community activist, Brooks owned a retail store downtown for nine years and currently runs his own green building consulting firm.
​​Kirk Knauer 
In the midst of his second term on the Parks & Recreation Commission, Knauer, a father of three, has spent the bulk of his career in education management at firms like Berlitz and currently spends most of time doing pro bono consulting for nonprofit organizations.
Sashi McEntee
A mother of two daughters and the chair of the City’s Emergency Preparedness Commission and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Steering Committee, McEntee has a professional background in finance and business development and runs Infinity Video Systems with her husband Dave.
Stephanie Moulton-Peters
A two-term incumbent and board member of the Transportation Authority of Marin “running for a third term because there are some projects I really want to see through,” Moulton-Peters used to manage PG&E’s environmental compliance program and recently co-founded MV Aware, which seeks to combat the high rate of substance abuse and binge drinking in our community.
Jim Wickham 
A fourth-generation Mill Valley resident, Wickham began his long career at the Mill Valley Police Department as a parking enforcement officer at the age of 18. He has helped organize some of Mill Valley’s biggest events, including the Carnival and Winterfest, and worked with the City and the Chamber to create the RSVP parking sticker program. 

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PictureFrom left, Jim Wickham, Stephanie Moulton-Peters, Kirk Knauer, Ken Brooks and Sashi McEntee at a City Council Candidates Forum hosted by the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce at La Ginestra restaurant.

The discussion kicked off with a focus on economic vitality, with each candidate noting the strength and health of the local economy, particularly compared to the years after the recession.

“The Chamber is vibrant and active in supporting the business community,” Knauer said. “My role as a council member would be as a partner with the Chamber and City staff to promote the businesses. I will be a major proponent and advocate for business in our community.”

Brooks and Wickham emphasized the impact of the local business community on the City’s budget via sales tax revenue.

“Local business helps everything we do here in town,” Wickham said. He also lamented the loss of some resident-serving businesses over the years. “We’re not a full service community anymore – it would be nice to bring those businesses into our town.”

“I actually have a very optimistic view of the Mill Valley business landscape,” Brooks said. “Entrepreneurs are attracted to Mill Valley. I will be a strong advocate, in a sensible way, for local businesses.”

Moulton-Peters applauded local efforts to promote the arts in Mill Valley as one of the community’s greatest strengths and attractions to both residents and visitors, and suggested continuing to grow that effort.

Improving the Permitting Process
When asked about ways to improve the costs and delays that can come with commercial permit applications, the candidates said increasing efficiency and focusing on customer service is key.

“We can do more in the way in removing government impediments and streamlining commercial tenant improvements,” McEntee said. “We need to allow businesses to do their thing without being held back.”

Moulton-Peters acknowledged the impact that the controversy around the surge in residential projects along Lovell Ave. had on the planning and building process. “We had to double down and see how we were managing things,” she said. “You have all lived through a slowdown. But now we’re taking steps to open up and streamline the permitting process. We are trying to be more responsive and there is more to do.”

Those steps have included bringing the vast majority of “plan checks” in-house, depending less on contracted assistance and adding clarity and predictability to the process.

“As a Councilman, I would simply tell the City Manager: Fix it,” Wickham said.

Brooks suggested that with the City in the midst of a residential renovation boom, we “need to look at increasing the size of the City’s resources in that department.”

McEntee also suggested a Marin Master Gardener-style program for building in Mill Valley, whereby those developers and architects with a proven track record for success and compliance in town could be leveraged to pass along that knowledge to others.

Miller Avenue Streetscape Project
With the Miller Avenue Streetscape Project set to kick off in 2016, candidates honed in on a variety of ways to manage the disruption to Miller businesses.

Wickham said the City and the Chamber should continue to work closely on reaching out to businesses, as evidence by the August forum for business owners that saw City officials and the project’s consultants unveil the schedule and implementation plan to minimize the impact on parking and access to businesses.

“City staff needs to be out there talking to businesses,” he said.

Brooks suggested that the impact on different businesses in terms of size and age will be different, as older and larger businesses can more easily manage the weeks of heaviest impact. “But I would have the City bind its contractors to a timeline,” he said.

Knauer said the hard work in terms of outreach to businesses and planning should be happening right now.

“It’s critical that all parties are involved in making sure that impact on businesses that this project has is minimized,” he said. “And the time to be working on that is now.”

“The communication with businesses is going to be absolutely critical,” McEntee added.  “It would be great for the Chamber to be an extension of staff.”

Moulton-Peters noted that City officials altered an initial plan of doing construction in the “Main Street” section of Miller where most of the businesses are located in the spring or fall after receiving feedback from business owners.

“The City is really committed to making this work for business,” she said.

Chamber of Commerce
Each of the candidates said they strongly supported the City’s professional services agreement with the Chamber and the tangible set of deliverables attached to it. Several also suggested that the agreement could be expanded for the Chamber to provide additional services.

“I strongly support the activities of the Chamber and the agreement itself,” Knauer said. 

“The Chamber is a strong communications partner in a lot of things we do at the City,” McEntee said.

“There may be room to expand this agreement,” Moulton-Peters added.

While the economy and business issues were the focus of much of the forum, candidates spent several minutes discussing the elephant in the room: traffic and, to a lesser but still significant degree, parking.

Moulton-Peters said she looks forward to the challenge.

“I’m not afraid of our traffic problem,” she said. “We have a real chance at reducing our traffic by 15-20 percent with a variety of solutions, including school buses. Mill Valley is posed to use them if we have the poltical will to fund them. That will pull a lot of traffic off our main arteries.”

All of the candidates suppoeted the idea of testing the viability and success of school buses, particularly for students at Strawberry Point and Edna Maguire elementary schools on ether side of the heavily congested Hwy. 101.

The candidates closed the forum by reminding the crowd about why they were running for Council.

“The course of the City is going to be defined in the next four years and beyond,” Knauer said.

“Mill Valley – the words themselves evoke this ethereal, fantasy unrealistic place,” Brooks said. “That was the case when I moved here 20 years ago and it still is true today. We have a vibrant art and business community, highly effect governmentt and services.”

“Mill Valley is a place worth fighting for,” McEntee added.