From housing to budgets, new mayors hope for more constituent involvement

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Jan. 18, 2024) — Local incoming mayors are all looking to work closely with residents on key issues, with Pleasant Hill’s new mayor even declaring “Come Together” as his theme for 2024.

However, Clayton Mayor Jim Diaz got off to a rough start last month after a divided council vote to elect him. Now, Diaz tells The Pioneer he wants to foster “a better-informed community” and sees the town’s upcoming 60th anniversary celebration as a community rallying point.

As the new mayors of Concord, Pleasant Hill and Clayton set their agendas, much of what was the focus a year ago is being recirculated.

Birsan: Looking for civil discourse

Edi Birsan, Mayor of Concord.

Concord Mayor Edi Birsan identified cleaning the roads and working on homeless issues as a couple of primary goals again for 2024.

Along with improvement with these persistent challenges, add affordable housing and maintaining the stable quality of life that residents have come to expect.

From a civility standpoint, he hopes for more respect among individuals.

“Some things are driving us apart that we need counter. We need to get back to having civil conversation with each other and working on things that are common,” he said.

“I know we can respect each other,” added Birsan, who has lived in Concord since 1983 with his high school sweetheart and wife of 50 years.

He has served on the council since 2012 and was previously mayor in 2017. While bothered by a decline in civil discourse over the last decade and increasing situations that are driving the community apart, Birsan noted examples that reflect how the community is coming together.

He pointed to the raising of the Pride flag becoming the rule for Concord, not an exception, and increased attendance at the Pride Picnic as well as participation in the Clayton Pride Parade.

He also cited the first Juneteenth Celebration and growing Latino festivities, plus substantial representation from minorities, including residents of the Asian and Indian communities, appointed to city panels.

“We have made advances in diversity in the last seven years,” said Birsan. “And, I see it continuing.”

In the year ahead, he also wants the Historical Society and arts group to become more active in the community.

The way forward, Birsan believes, is the avoidance of ID politics that have caused stratification nationally and locally as people have become entrenched on the extremes rather finding common ground in the middle.

“Hope won’t make it happen,” he said. “People working together will make it happen.”

Diaz: Keeping residents informed and involved

Jim Diaz
Jim Diaz, Mayor of Clayton.

Progress with technology and closer examination of the budget to better serve the needs of the rural bedroom community top Diaz’s goals for Clayton in 2024.

Updating the community’s resources translates into serving the community more efficiently, he said. And, achieving a balanced budget will further ensure that not only are residents getting the services they deserve now, but the city is prepared for financial challenges as they arise.

A resident of Clayton for more than 44 years, Diaz has seen the city’s evolution through different lenses – from being a member of the Clayton Police Department for 10 years, serving with the Clayton Business and Community Association (CBCA) and working for two years on the Planning Commission. This is Diaz’ second time holding the gavel. He was mayor in 2017.

Now as mayor, he is charged with positioning Clayton to take on continuing challenges, notably housing, and do it while also addressing and seeking a remedy to the growing divide in the community of just more than 10,000 with a rich ranching history.

Along with achieving the state’s expectations for the Housing Element, staying in compliance with general maintenance and improving infrastructure persist as challenges that the council needs to continue navigating.

“Making sure we follow through with the proper oversight on our finances, and making sure our police department is properly funded so that they can continue to provide the residents a safe community,” Diaz said of goals for the city.

As Clayton wrestles with these unavoidable issues, 2024 also is the community’s 60th anniversary, and Diaz is excited to participate in planning for this special occasion.

He noted the city has evolved in many ways, some positive and some not so ­positive.

“However, in my opinion, a better-informed community would be a good starting point as we move forward with our daily challenges,” said Diaz.

“My goal in 2024 is to provide an open and transparent City Hall, keeping the residents informed and involving them in important decisions,” he added.

Rinn: Bringing the community together again

Matt Rinn
Matt Rinn, Mayor of Pleasant Hill.

As one hurdle is crossed, following it is yet another obstacle. So goes the landscape facing Pleasant Hill officials in 2024.

While the state finally approved the Housing Element, with its share of resident concerns wrapped in it, on its heels will come further discussions on how it impacts the city’s General Plan – with much of the next 12 months spent finalizing it, said Mayor Matt Rinn.

Another goal is continuing the Bike and Pedestrian Plan, a project he said will benefit the community.

Rinn is no stranger to the role of mayor, having served in 2020 after first being elected to the council in 2016. Now that everyone is unencumbered by the COVID shackles of recent years, he expressed confidence that it is full speed ahead.

Like their peers in surrounding communities, Pleasant Hill officials are facing tough budgetary decisions to retain the high quality of services the city provides and the ever-increasing costs to provide them.

“Pleasant Hill has been a great place to live, raise a family and run a business all while maintaining that quality of life is not easy in the Bay Area,” Rinn said.

The Pleasant Hill Library branch remains a beacon of pride of what can be accomplished for the immediate needs of the community and for generations to come when everyone is pulling the oars in the same direction, and Rinn sees that as motivation for what is sure to follow.

“My theme for 2024 is ‘Come Together,’ as we are coming out of the pandemic and are restarting many community events to bring our community together again in new ways with new events,” he said.

An area for improvement is the rise in retail crime syndicates who target businesses and, in turn, finding better ways to prevent thefts and accountability in the justice system.

“So many factors have changed in society itself, from workspaces and classrooms to even how public meetings were conducted virtually. I think most people are looking at everything with a different appreciation for friends, family and the community we live in,” he said.

David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.