Readers offered a range of helpful suggestions, but one theme was stated or implied throughout the evening: We must insist on civility in our public discourse. That plea applies in particular to Almanac editors' monitoring of our online forum, Town Square, which during election season can be a magnet for anonymous postings by people whose goal is to spread rumors, smear candidates and avoid discussing the issues. This is a complaint (and ongoing situation) that we take very seriously, and we've put some tools into place to try to maintain the forum as a place for civil conversation.
The Menlo Park council race is unique this year because it's the first election cycle in which candidates will be elected by district. While the new system, which allows only residents of an individual district to vote in that district's contest, should be beneficial in several ways, it raises concerns among some residents that council members might make decisions based primarily on the interests of the neighborhoods they represent at the expense of the general good. Readers participating in the discussion said they want candidates to state how they will balance their district's interest with that of the entire community's.
Other issues raised that pertain to the Menlo Park race included equity in the city — in particular, how serious needs of the neighborhoods east of the Bayshore Freeway will be addressed — the city's grade-separation plans for the Caltrain rail, and solutions to the transportation and housing crises facing not only Menlo Park but the region as a whole.
Readers indicated they want candidates to state clearly what fundamental values will guide their decision-making, and what sets them apart from their competitors for the seats they seek — critical information not only for the eight Menlo Park council candidates but for those in races for seats on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District board (four candidates for three open seats) and on the Woodside Town Council (two candidates for one open district seat).
We're grateful for the ideas of those who participated in last week's discussion, and hope others will join in the conversation. If you'd like to offer suggestions on The Almanac's election coverage, or are inclined to state your views on issues facing the communities that candidates are vying to represent, your letters to editor@AlmanacNews.com are always welcome. If you'd like the letter to be published in our Viewpoint section, please indicate that in the email subject line, or include that information in written letters sent to the address below.
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