Four seek to unseat incumbent in Concord race

Four seek to unseat incumbent in Concord race

Four seek to unseat incumbent in Concord race
(Clockwise from top left) Carlyn Obringer, Harmesh Kumar, Tristan Piper, Paul Wood and Hope Johnson are running for the District 2 spot on the Concord City Council.

This November, Concord City Council District 2 incumbent Carlyn Obringer will face four challengers hoping to unseat the two-term council member and former mayor.

It is the first election for Obringer since the city changed to district elections in 2018. District 2 covers North Concord, including downtown, the North Concord BART station, Holbrook and Sun Terrace.

Ready to face the future

Obringer, 40, wants to continue leading Concord residents and businesses through the COVID-19 crisis. “I have the experience Concord needs to overcome the pandemic and economic downturn and emerge even stronger on the other side.”

Hope Johnson, 54, a senior paralegal, is taking her second shot at a council seat after losing to Obringer in 2016. An outspoken advocate for North Concord, she wants to bring a more “progressive voice” to city decision-making. “For too long, the Concord City Council has blocked progressive ideas for solving issues, especially those affecting the most vulnerable residents.”

Back for his fifth run for council, Harmesh Kumar, 61, is a clinical psychologist and owner of a private counseling agency. Kumar has also made runs for governor, state Assembly and county supervisor. A South Asian immigrant, Kumar self-describes as the “relatable candidate,” the one who has had to fight “all sorts of red tape adopted only to discourage people of color from progressing.”

A 31-year resident of Concord, Tristan Piper, 58, wants to serve on the council to “ensure that my children and future generations inherit a fiscally sound city.”

Paul Wood is a relative newcomer to Concord, moving here in 2017. The 41-year-old retail executive is motivated to run for council to be sure that “all voices are heard.”

Two key issues

COVID recovery and budget woes loom huge over the city and dominate all five candidates’ platforms.

All except Johnson support November’s Measure V to double Concord’s current sales tax to 1 cent and extend it indefinitely. Johnson supports a sales tax but only at the current Measure Q half-cent rate with a sunset date renewable only by voters.

The City Council says the tax is one way to help close the $45 million shortfall facing the city by 2028.

Meanwhile, Obringer sees an immediate need for continued support for Concord’s 130 small businesses and encouraging residents to shop local. Long term, the city needs to sway more business owners to locate in Concord.

Policing vs. social services

In addressing the highly charged “defund police” movement, there is little agreement even on what the term means.
For Johnson and Kumar, it means reallocating funds to mental health and social services. Johnson also wants to demilitarize the department. Officers in camouflage uniforms with military-style weapons send the wrong message, she says. “The community is not the enemy.” Kumar advocates more money diverted for the homeless and youth services.

Obringer wants to continue the “community conversation” that began with the Town Hall meetings on July 15 and Aug. 12. She looks forward to exploring how “we can reimagine policing in Concord” with an emphasis on mental health and social services.

Wood says the police budget should be capped at 50 percent of the General Fund. He believes the city should entice people to move to Concord and encourage home ownership to increase property tax revenue.

Piper is happy with the police budget the way it is.

Helping the homeless

All five candidates agreed that the city should not be providing homeless encampments.

Concord is one of only two Contra Costa cities that operate a homeless shelter. Obringer says the city doesn’t have the land to devote to additional homeless encampments. Instead she wants churches to dedicate excess or unused land for housing the homeless, perhaps in partnership with the city.

Johnson only favors dedicated encampments during the pandemic. “People can’t shelter in place if they have nowhere to go.”

Kumar says encampments solve nothing unless officials attack the root causes of homelessness: affordable housing, unlawful evictions, low wages, mental illness and substance abuse.

Wood said the city should use the Naval Weapons Stations, while Piper wants no homeless provision beyond the one shelter.

More on the table

As the largest city in the county, Concord is facing complicated issues. A shortage of affordable housing, supporting diverse populations, finding a new master developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station, renter protections, economic growth and infrastructure improvements all need critical attention now and long-term. The candidates weigh in on these and their visions for the city’s future in their full-length questionnaires in the special Election 2020 section on our website, coming soon.

In District 4, Councilman Edi Birsan will run unopposed for his third term in November. Although not actively campaigning, Birsan completed our questionnaire.

[Editor’s note: In the original version of this story, Paul Wood’s age was misstated. He is 41, not 58. This version of the story has been corrected to reflect the change.]

Click on the photo to read each candidate’s complete questionnaire:

Hope Johnson
Hope Johnson
Harmesh Kumar
Harmesh Kumar
Carlyn Obringer
Tristan Piper
Tristan Piper
Paul Wood
Paul Wood
Edi Birsan