Pleasant Hill council candidates look to future – while maintaining city’s charm

Pleasant Hill council candidates look to future – while maintaining city’s charm

Pleasant Hill council candidates look to future – while maintaining city’s charm
Candidates running for Pleasant Hill’s City Council include: Bill Bankert, Sue Noack, Andrei Obolenskiy, Zac Shess, and Zhanna Thompson.

PLEASANT HILL, CA (Oct. 18, 2022) — As the five candidates vying for two positions on the City Council shared their views, easing traffic, supporting business and maintaining the fiscal health of the city emerged as key goals.

In the city of about 34,900, two-term Councilmember Sue Noack is on the ballot with Bill Bankert, Andrei Obolenskiy, Zhanna Thompson and Zac Shess. Daniel Rodriguez will appear on the ballot, but he has withdrawn from the race. Mayor Michael Harris is retiring after 20 years on the council.

Two recent forums provided an opportunity for the candidates to state their views and address issues facing the city. On Sept. 21, the Diablo Valley League of Women’s Voters sponsored a candidates’ night moderated by KTVU’s Claudeen Wong that was livestreamed on YouTube. An Oct. 4 event at the city offices allowed for audience members along with a livestream. Live or online viewers could submit questions to moderator Jack Lack, chair of the Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee.

All the council hopefuls are parents of former or current Pleasant Hill students, and they have some of the same goals for the city – including maintaining the small community environment while addressing traffic concerns in and around the city, as well as providing planned support for city businesses. All agree the city should not mandate rent control but plan for housing that meets the needs of economic segments of the community. They unanimously support Measure M to change the city treasurer’s position from an elected to appointed position. Andrew Kalinowski is running unopposed for that slot.

Here is a look at the council candidates, their backgrounds and their visions for Pleasant Hill, in order of the randomized ballot listing as determined by the California secretary of state:

Promoting the Pleasant Hill lifestyle

Bankert is a health industry businessman who has served on several city organizations during 20 years of volunteer service, including eight years on the Planning Commission as well as on the Civic Action Commission, the Library Task Force and committees for events including the city’s 50th anniversary and Fourth of July celebration.
He would like to see thoughtful economic development, including incentives such as free advertising for new businesses, an annual economic summit and innovative community events such as an indoor farmer market.

He envisions Pleasant Hill as a place where recent college graduates with good jobs want to start “a hip productive life because it is a cool place to live because of the great dining, the shopping, and the entertainment” and a place where service workers want to work because it’s a fun, inclusive environment and people treat them well.

“I believe all of the candidates for this election would agree that we want a safe city, well-planned for growth and maintained, and a financially sound city. But my vision for Pleasant Hill is greater than just that,” said Bankert. “I want to maintain the small town feel and idea that Pleasant Hill is a great place to raise a family.”

‘Looking to the future’

Obolenskiy is a former consultant for Fortune 500 businesses. He operates an automotive business and a language school with his wife that supports Ukrainian immigrants.

“My campaign motto is ‘Looking to the future,’ ” he said. “My platform is ‘transparency and fairness.’ ”

A consistent theme in Obolenskiy’s vision for the city is better support for the people who work, including convenient transportation. “Let’s make public transportation safer, work with regional partners,” he said.

Obolenskiy emphasized his diverse experiences and volunteer service, including as a manager of hundreds of people, his work in finance and customer service, and his community involvement and support of local nonprofits, with specific mention of the LGBTQ community.

“I am here to listen, provide input and ensure all of our stakeholders have a place at the table,” he said. “I believe in fiscal health, ensuring we have enough funds to run the city properly and attract the best talent. I also want to ensure we meet our housing needs without changing the character of the city. We also need to meet the needs of our small businesses and attract investment to our city that makes sense.”

Hoping to continue her legacy

Noack is seeking a third term on the council, where she has served as vice mayor and mayor. She is a co-founder of the Pleasant Hill Education Foundation started in 2008, on which she serves, and she represents the city on several transportation organizations, including County Connection, Transpac and the Innovate 680 policy advisory committee.

“Pleasant Hill has been my family’s home for 24 years, and it has been my honor to serve on the City Council for the last eight years,” said Noack, whose professional background is in finance. “I’ve worked hard to make sure we keep the small community that makes Pleasant Hill such a great place to live while focusing on the challenges that will ensure a positive future for the city.”

Noack has served on the city’s Budget Committee and on a task force for Pleasant Hill’s new library, which opened nearly three months ago and is drawing up to 1,500 people a day. She noted some of the adaptations starting during the height of the pandemic, including providing grants to businesses to enhance their online presence.

“My experience on the council, my 20-year finance career and seven years on the city’s Budget Committee give me the skills and experience,” she said. “It’s been a pleasure to serve this community for eight years, and I hope to do it for four more.”

Bringing ‘a different perspective’

Thompson, a director of quality assurance in mental health and a board-certified behavior analyst, emphasizes goals for the city that include promoting equity and accessibility.

“My focus is on accessibility for all residents to key locations, pedestrian safety, increasing workability, green infrastructure and smart roads development, public safety, and bringing and supporting small businesses and keeping the community feel we have in Pleasant Hill,” said Thompson.

She lists the experience of her daughter almost getting hit by a car crossing Taylor Boulevard in a crosswalk on the way to school as a catalyst for her campaign and her goals of a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly city.

The mother of two, who is married to a Contra Costa firefighter stationed in Pleasant Hill, offers the answer to a question she’s asked frequently on the campaign trail. “People have assumed that I’m in my early 20s,” she said. For the record, she is 34 – and says she’s ready to represent her community.

“I will uphold the goals of Pleasant Hill to grow a city that is safe, financially sound, well-planned, maintains and improves the quality of life for its residents, and provides efficient and effective public service,” she said. “I offer new eyes to the same issues and bring a different perspective. I know together we can bring Pleasant Hill to be a leader in environmental policy, green infrastructure, growing communities through smart growth development and ensuring that Pleasant Hill offers top quality of life for all of our residents.”

‘Delivering real results’

Shess, who attended Pleasant Hill Elementary in the 1970s, has served community schools where he and his wife were instrumental in years of annual fundraising and the sports community, coaching and as a commissioner for the Pleasant Hill Baseball Association.

“Pleasant Hill has been the backdrop of some of my family’s greatest joys and toughest challenges, and everything in between,” said Shess.

The 19-year resident cites his 10 years on the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District, including three as board president, as some of his most fulfilling city contributions. He touts the creation of an all-abilities children’s playground at Pleasant Oak Park, completing a comprehensive parks and facilities master plan, and co-authoring a diversity and equity policy that outlines the district’s approach to ensuring equitable opportunity for staff and the community.

“I believe Pleasant Hill residents are looking for leaders who offer pragmatic problem-solving with innovative solutions to move their community in the right direction. I see my experience leading a public district, listening to those residents, working with staff, and delivering real results makes me uniquely qualified to sit on the Pleasant Hill City Council,” he said.

“I have a proven track record of fiscal responsibility, facility and program expansions. I know how to get things done, and I’m ready to work hard and bring a fresh voice to our City Council to ensure our city remains a safe, economically vibrant and inclusive place to live and own a business.”

The top two vote-getters will join a council in January that includes current Vice Mayor Timothy M. Flaherty, Ken Carlson and Matthew Rinn. Carlson is also on the November ballot, running for the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. Should he be elected, the Pleasant Hill council would appointment a replacement.

The candidate forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce is available here:

Karen Jenkins
Karen Jenkins
Correspondent |

Karen Jenkins is pleased to be a correspondent with the Concord Clayton Pioneer News. She has worked as a community journalist on and off for three decades at publications including the Contra Costa Sun in Lamorinda; the Antioch Daily Ledger; the Avon-Beaver Creek Times in Colorado; Roll Call in Washington, D.C. and the Daily Nexus at UC-Santa Barbara. She is also the student advisor for The Sentinel, the student newspaper at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. She may be reached at