CONCORD, CA (Dec. 6, 2022) — It took one word to possibly torpedo the city’s plans for the development of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS).
When voters heard that word leading up to the Nov. 8 election, it changed everything. For the first time in 30 years, an incumbent City Council member lost his seat by a word with powerful connotations.
That word was Seeno.
Nakamura pulled in supporters
Seeno is a partner in Concord First, the master developer the council selected for CNWS in May. In the normally quiet and uncontroversial District 5, which represents Walnut Country, Turtle Creek, the Crossings and other nearby neighborhoods and is largely conservative, five-year incumbent Tim McGallian was upended by his vote to approve Concord First as the master developer.
Political newcomer and longtime Concord resident Laura Nakamura won his seat with 56% of the vote to 44% for McGallian.
Nakamura, a plucky and well-organized candidate, used her connections with Save Mt. Diablo, the Concord bike coalition, volunteers from St. Bonaventure Catholic Church and an army of dedicated neighbors and friends to run a progressive campaign that centered around grass roots footwork and using the Seeno vote to upset McGallian. In door-to-door canvasing, she says her volunteers asked residents if they knew that McGallian voted in favor of Seeno.
She also had support from unions, who are unsure that Concord First will keep its promise to use local companies to develop the property.
“Laura ran a good campaign,” McGallian concedes.
He, too, knocked on doors, but for many voters, the damage has been done. Voters seemed to forget that McGallian’s financial acumen got them through the pandemic, that he was the seasoned volunteer behind Todos Santos events and the 4th of July celebration, and that he sits on many state and regional boards representing Concord. The only thing voters heard was that he was one of the three original votes that allowed Seeno and its partners to become master developers.
Seeno vs. Brookfield
Seeno has been plagued with lawsuits for years, even criminal ones that included extortion and murder. They have been a dirty word for many construction unions who have worked with them, claiming that they cut corners and built homes and other properties that were below standards. And Concordians – at least those in District 5 –don’t trust them.
But McGallian, then Mayor Dominic Aliano and Councilmember Edi Birsan didn’t trust their competitor, Brookfield, fearing that they would come back with an untenable term sheet and ultimately walk away from the project like the predecessor, Lennar.
Concord First – made up of 45% Seeno, 45% Lewis Co. and 10% California Coastal Investments – has promised use of local unions, affordable housing and other compensation for the city.
“My loss has a lot of people scratching their heads,” McGallian says. “Many people, and I myself, would consider me the glue that held the council together.”
He says Concord had a “good, functioning” council, and he’s now worried where it is headed.
“Laura hails from a very liberal to almost socialist agenda,” he says. “It (the council) is going to be on a very different spectrum.”
Focus on safety, homelessness
Nakamura’s win brings another aspect to the council that may have an impact locally: She is progressive and wants to take a deep dive into the city budget, looking at such things as police allocations and prudent reserves.
“People think I’m anti-public safety, but I’m not,” she says. “I just want to make sure we’re doing this right.”
One thing she says she will address right away is road safety, for all users. “I’ve taken to riding my bike to work at Shadelands Children’s Hospital because of the traffic,” she says. “The traffic on Ygnacio and Treat is out of control.”
She also wants to address the homelessness issue, recognizing that there is not one quick fix. “It’s a problem we all have to tackle, and we have a pot of $5.4 million that we need to use to help come up with a plan – and not just displacement of people.”
Obringer looks to the future
Councilmember Carlyn Obringer, who ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor in June, is less critical of Nakamura’s win.
“I look forward to working with Laura as my newest colleague on the Concord City Council as the council continues to work on rebuilding our roads, assisting the unsheltered, supporting local businesses, redeveloping the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in a way that is beneficial to the Concord community and ensuring all of our neighborhoods are safe,” she says.
“Going forward, I believe we have excellent opportunities to build a strong relationship with two county supervisors: Ken Carlson and Federal Glover,” Obringer adds. “Both represent the city of Concord, and we will need strong partnerships with both county leaders to assist the most vulnerable in our community, including those struggling with homelessness, mental health challenges and substance abuse.”
However, she also says that the McGallian-Nakamura results “were unexpected.”
“Laura ran a good campaign,” Birsan notes. “Feet beats money all the time,” referring to Nakamura’s commitment to reach voters through old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning.
McGallian also walked his district, as did his volunteers. But as a sitting council member and representative on boards, he says he was busy with meetings and other activities. “I was doing my job,” he says.
One of the worst things about his loss, he says, is that now there won’t be a voice for Concord on the regional and state committees, like growth and transportation. “I worked hard to get on those committees and commissions, and to make a difference for our community.”
Other incumbents retain seats
Meanwhile, longtime Councilmember Laura Hoffmeister easily handled challengers Robert Ring and Quinne Anderson with 43% of the vote, compared with 34% and 22%, respectively. Her District 1 covers much of east Concord.
Aliano ran unopposed in District 3, which covers much of the Monument Corridor.
For city treasurer, incumbent Edith “Patti” Barsotti beat D’Marco Anthony with 77% of the vote.
In the January 2023 issue: What just happened in Clayton, and how will the city respond?
Peggy Spear is a journalist and frequent contributor to the Pioneer.