The two candidates fielded four pre-approved questions from ACIL members, and then took a few questions submitted by the audience who filled the air-conditioned Pavilion at Holbrook-Palmer Park. Elizabeth Lewis' supporters wore T-shirts in her signature shade of kiwi green, while Jim Dobbie's supporters wore buttons.
Property rights, a perennial topic in a town with so much residential construction, forms a kind of dividing line in Atherton politics. On one side are residents fed up with construction noise and traffic. On the other are residents who want the freedom to more or less build as they please.
One issue that's roiled Atherton in the past year is the lawsuit the town filed over environmental impacts from Menlo-Atherton High School's new performing arts center. ACIL panelist Sandy Crittenden asked the candidates what the town should do to improve its relationship with local schools.
"For one thing, we should stop suing our school districts," Ms. Lewis said. Atherton needs to be a good neighbor to its schools and let organized youth sports teams use public school fields, she said.
Mr. Dobbie said Atherton has excellent relations with its private schools, as well as public elementary schools Encinal and Laurel. "The town is no longer suing Menlo-Atherton. That's in the past," he said.
About the thorny topic of Lindenwood neighborhood complaints about noise from Pop Warner football practices on M-A's field, Mr. Dobbie said, "The use of the Menlo-Atherton facility for non-school events is almost totally resolved."
As she has in her campaign literature, Ms. Lewis repeated her charges that the Lindenwood neighborhood has an undue influence over town affairs, and over Mr. Dobbie.
"My opponent says he's not being supported by special interests, but his record clearly shows that he's influenced by a special interest neighborhood," said Ms. Lewis, who lives on Emilie Avenue. "I'm not affiliated with a special neighborhood."
Mr. Dobbie called himself an independent and said he would seek to balance resident's rights, property rights and community interest if elected.
"I believe residents' rights are being subordinated to special interests," Mr. Dobbie said.
Ms. Lewis called the right to do what you want with your property "one of the basic freedoms in this country."
"What I hear my opponent saying is that he wants to restrict residents' rights to do what they want with their property," she said.
Mr. Dobbie countered tartly by saying that anyone seeking unrestricted development ought to build in the Sahara desert, because no beautiful town had ever been built without some sort of regulations in place.
Ms. Lewis and Mr. Dobbie also aired contrasting views of the town's financial health. If the town continues to rely on the parcel tax for revenues, it should be renewed for a longer term, Mr. Dobbie said. The current parcel tax runs five years and expires in June 2010.
Ms. Lewis said she prefers the five-year term for the tax.
"I think that's a good thing (because) it acts as a report card to the council," she said.
Mr. Dobbie was dubious about the possibility of annexing adjacent county land to Atherton in order to provide the town with commercially zoned property, but seemed open to exploring the idea. Ms. Lewis said that adding commercial zoning goes against the town's general plan for land use and development.