Concord City Council candidate questions: Harmesh Kumar

Harmesh KumarThe Concord Clayton Pioneer newspaper presented a list of questions to the candidates running for Concord City Council in the 2020 election for District 2. To read other candidate answers, click here. For our story on all the candidates running in this race, click here.

Harmesh Kumar

Age: 61.

Current occupation: Psychologist/small business owner.

How long have you lived in Concord? 28 years.

Personal information: Married for 32 years, blessed with beautiful daughter, who completed her bachelor’s in biology and is studying hard to get into medical school. My hobbies: music, poetry, singing, travel and helping those who need the help.

Why do you want to serve on the Concord City Council? Serving on the City Council will allow me to serve my community. By serving I don’t mean picking up trash, or creating videos highlighting local businesses. Serving the community to me means not only listening to people’s needs but also understanding those needs and creating a plan to address those needs. For example, the city of Concord has no youth centers where our children can go to get the support they need to become productive law-abiding citizens.

What experience or training do you have that qualifies you to make decisions for the city? I am the relatable candidate. I am the candidate who understands poverty, health care, renters’ issues and being a new immigrant in the United States with no clue on how to navigate the American system. I am the relatable candidate that has started all my businesses and organizations from the ground up, sometimes having to go through all sorts of red tape that people of color face on a daily basis and that has been adopted only to discourage people of color from progressing. As a clinical psychologist, I have seen the best and worst of people and I have a unique perspective to common, everyday human sufferings that my opponents cannot even begin to understand.

What engagement have you had in civic affairs? Do you regularly attend City Council meetings? I have a long trajectory of community service. And yes, I have attended several City Council meetings and have been attending these meetings for several years. What I have witnessed is that people’s needs are heard, but not addressed. I have accepted that real change comes from within, by being elected to office. I will never be able to effectively change anything in Concord from the sidelines or by simply attending City Council meetings.

What do you see as the three most important issues immediately facing Concord and how do you plan to address those issues? Review the city budget to ensure that no taxpayer money is being wastefully spent on things that are not a priority, and this includes funneling some of the police budget back to the community for social service needs.

Collaborate with the Chamber of Commerce to create small business opportunities for Concord residents by seeking grants, collaborating with local banks and removing unnecessary red tape.

In anticipation of an eviction wave, I will work closely with residents and landlords to come up with programs to get everyone up to date with rent and avoid the costly costs of evictions to landlords and the displacement of Concord residents. The objective being to avoid another renters’ crisis. We fear having a huge amount of rental vacancies after the moratorium expires, which in turn may create blight in the city. Blight attracts crime and crime causes property values to go down.

What are your priorities in making public policy? Public policy should always be about benefiting the people. Unfortunately, when a candidate’s campaign is fully or partially funded by special interest groups, he or she has committed to the desires of the special interest groups and will vote in favor of policies that will benefit these special interests groups for the sake of keeping the political seat. For example, if the police union or developers contribute to my campaign, I no longer have the freedom to vote for policies that serve my constituents. For this reason, my campaign is fully funded by the people and if I am elected, I will have no one to answer to but to my community. The same cannot be said about my opponents.

How much would you say the city’s budget deficit is? How would you close the gap? Based on my discussion with city staff and council members, the city has an almost $106 million annual budget and there may be $12-17 million deficits in the coming years. I think Measure Q could bring almost $11 million in to fill the gap. We could have avoided the gap if we did not waste funds on the Concord Naval Weapon Station. However, I would like to study the hidden overheads in the city budget once I am elected and make some priorities for future expenses.

A measure on the November ballot would extend Concord’s Measure Q until ended by voters – raising it to a one cent rate instead of the current half cent. What is your position? See above.

What does “defunding the police” mean to you? The police budget is 57 percent of the city’s General Fund budget. Would you change this allocation? How? We need police to protect people and property. However, some tasks officers are performing, they are not qualified to perform – like dealing with the mentally ill and homelessness. We need to rethink allocating some police department resources for mental health services, to reduce homelessness and stop our kids from getting into the prison pipelines – especially minority kids. We also need to renegotiate our relationship with the county to bring in more funds for these issues. Therefore, defunding the police simply means funneling some of the police budget money back to the community for social services. The people I have spoken to in my district are simply in disbelief when I tell them that more than $1 million is spent on the Concord Police Department alone. For a city of about 130,000, I am curious to get my hands on the city budget to determine how necessary is it for us to spend that much money on the police. I bet you I will find that a lot of taxpayer money is unnecessarily being spent.

Should the city dedicate land for homeless encampments? If so, how much land and where? Homelessness is one of those social issues that no one really has a solution for. There is so much to tackle that it can be overwhelming. Dedicating land to a homeless encampment is only part of the solution. Sure, we can dedicate land to house the homeless, but we would need a workable infrastructure. The best method to attack homelessness, in my opinion, is by preventing it. One way to prevent it is by adopting ordinances to protect renters from unlawful evictions. Another way is by paying people a livable wage. And also to provide mental health and substance abuse services onsite.

Do you support just cause clauses to prevent evictions? Do you support a rent freeze? If so, for how long? If not, why? As a businessman, I can tell you that the rental industry is one of the most unregulated business ventures I have witnessed. I do support just cause eviction, because a law-abiding renter who is in compliance with the terms of his or her lease should not fear being evicted. As with any other industry, the landlord should be compelled to provide a legal basis for the eviction. To the contrary, landlords will be above the law and no one should be above the law.

What role should the city play in closing the housing gap? The city can repurpose vacant land (change zoning laws) to allow for multi-family development. The city can also make it easier and/or facilitate the permits to allow for the addition of units to existing single-family homes. These are commonly known as in-law units. We should also promote or encourage affordable housing development opportunities in and around the city.

What is your vision for the Concord Naval Weapons Station? The northern waterfront? I do not have a vision for the Concord NWS project because the city of Concord has spent more than $14 million on that project, and it has yet to come to fruition. What I can say is that $14 million could have been very well spent in revitalizing the downtown area of Concord to make it more attractive to businesses or visitors. Or the city could have built a convention center to host events here in the city, which in turn would attract more business to local businesses.

What would you do to differentiate Concord from surrounding communities in attracting new business and retaining current businesses? Concord is the largest city in the county and has prime land in the Bay Area. Visit Concord has done some good work in retaining the businesses, but we have complicated red tape. We need to look at and dismantle some of those rules and regulations with implicit bias. Minority business owners who bought already existing businesses were told by the city that they cannot run the same businesses and were forced to shut down. I would also propose that the city should help small business owners find affordable health care, workers’ compensation and liability insurance, with help from county. This will attract lot of small businesses to the city. I am also a strong supporter of education. We can work to bring a world-class university with biotechnology, biomedicine, neurorehabilitation, geropsychiatric and other health-care based programs. That will lead to more quality of life, such as organic agricultural programs for urban populations, self-driven automobiles along with renewal energies technologies. These areas are going to create more sustainable, future-oriented, market-driven jobs. We can bring private investors to invest in these areas.