All five candidates running for American Canyon City Council participated in an election forum Thursday night, but not all of them were ready to answer the many questions thrown their way.
The forum, organized by the American Canyon Chamber of Commerce and held at the new Boys & Girls clubhouse before a packed audience, focused largely, but not exclusively on business-related and economic development issues.
For those who missed it, the Chamber recorded the event and posted it on YouTube.
The two incumbents — Councilmembers Mark Joseph and David Oro — were most adept at directly answering questions and providing pertinent answers.
But the three challengers — Jason Kishineff, Robert Vega and Pierre Washington — struggled at times with the questions presented by Mandy Le, the Chamber’s CEO and president, and to offer relevant responses.
For instance, the first question of the evening asked the candidates to name their top three economic and commercial development options for American Canyon.
Joseph, who has served two terms and spent his career in local government, quickly rattled off his priorities: Get Watson Ranch approved, finish the Broadway Specific Plan, and focus on improving and expanding the Green Island industrial area.
“That’s how we make a great community,” Joseph told the crowd.
Oro also named Watson Ranch, the Broadway plan, and Green Island, which was consistent with views he’s expressed on the council since being appointed to it in February 2017. His vision regarding economic development and growth is similar to Joseph’s.
In contrast, Washington — a retired police officer and now security director for Genentech — equated economic development with public safety and spoke of listening to what the community wants.
“Economic development begins with you the people,” he said.
Vega said economic development “takes many shapes and sizes” without offering specifics. He did mention Watson Ranch and the need to bring more businesses to American Canyon, including convincing those owned by local residents to relocate to the city.
Kishineff said he would establish a “co-op incubator” to aid economic development, put his “mark” on Watson Ranch and the Broadway plan, and push for an ordinance to prioritize the establishment of locally owned businesses over “corporate ones” or “tourist traps.”
After fielding questions from Le for about an hour, the candidates were asked questions from the audience. One asked about their plans for open space and wildlife in American Canyon.
Vega mentioned he was raised on a farm with animals, and said he wants to keep American Canyon “similar to what it is” — a city where chickens run freely near the 7-Eleven and farm animals can still be found on the outskirts. He added that he wants to keep the hillsides free of development.
Washington echoed Vega’s remarks while saying American Canyon is a “beautiful city” and should stay that way.
Kishineff stated his “personal philosophy” is to put people and the environment “before profits.” He added that he supported Measure C, which sought to protect oak trees and limit development in Napa County.
Joseph, while acknowledging his support for job growth and expanding city revenues, said he has always been a supporter of preserving open space, including when he served as city manager of American Canyon last decade.
His remark that he has worked well with Barry Christian — one of American Canyon’s best known advocates for open space preservation — earned applause from the audience.
Oro noted that he volunteered to serve on the Open Space Advisory Committee after moving to the city 13 years ago, and is a founding member of the American Canyon Community and Parks Foundation.
The forum, lasting one and a half hours, was cordial and free of disparaging remarks between the candidates.
In an effort to separate himself, Washington said he disagreed with Oro’s plan to make American Canyon a “destination” city, and not just a drive-through. Washington prefers to keep it “family friendly.”
In response to a question about expanding tourism, Kishineff said he favors keeping the number of tourists “about the same” as now.
Kishineff also distinguished himself by advocating for opening cannabis dispensaries in American Canyon — something the City Council opposed in establishing a new ordinance earlier this year authorizing certain businesses in the Green Island area.
Vega stood out by calling for the creation of a sports complex with baseball fields and perhaps miniature golf.