Pacifica voters will see a lot of unfamiliar names on the ballot in November.

At least eight people are running for three seats on the City Council. With only two incumbents in contention, the race is wide open -- and it could get even more crowded by the filing deadline Wednesday afternoon.

Councilman Jim Vreeland and Councilwoman Sue Digre will try to hold on to their seats, and they are facing a diverse field of challengers of all ages and levels of experience, including current planning commissioners, local business owners and folks who recently settled in Pacifica to raise families.

Councilwoman Julie Lancelle surprised even city insiders by choosing not to run again. She has served three terms and more than 10 years on the council. She did not return calls for comment.

"I think part of the problem in Pacifica right now is the incumbents have been in office for a very, very long time and people are frustrated," said Barbara Johne Nathanson, a planning commissioner who jumped into the council race this year to reduce "infighting and nastiness" at public meetings and create a more civil tone in the governance of Pacifica.

Indeed, it was voter frustration that spurred two residents to launch a petition to impose term limits on the council. The term-limits measure qualified for the ballot this November, as did a council initiative to raise Pacifica's hotel tax from 10 percent to 12 percent.

Residents say this is the most highly contested council race in recent memory, although Pacificans aren't shy about jumping in to challenge the status quo when they have the chance. 

In 2008, two incumbents and three challengers competed for two seats. In 2006, seven people vied for three spots. In all that time, only one incumbent was unseated.

Many of the candidates singled out Pacifica's budget crisis as a reason to jump into the race this year. The city recently used most of its remaining reserves to cover a $3 million budget deficit, and leaders recently embarked on a five-year austerity plan to generate $8.5 million through salary freezes and pension-contribution freezes.

"We're at a serious economic crossroads and we need leaders who are going to give 100 percent of their energy and experience and regional connections," said candidate Barbara Arietta, a public relations consultant who leads Pacifica's Green Building Task Force and sits on several other citizen subcommittees.

Candidate Thomas Clifford, a general contractor and a member of the Pacifica Planning Commission, wants to see city officials aggressively pursue opportunities to build up commercial tax revenue.

"As a businessman, I can say that not enough has been done in the last 20 years. There hasn't been enough of a focus on it," Clifford said.

Not everyone is focused on change. Karl Davidson, one of the youngest candidates at 34, grew up in Pacifica and recently moved back to town with his young family. He wants to make sure Pacifica continues to protect its open spaces and views from sprawl and unsightly development.

"I want to keep it the same," said Davidson. "When I moved back, I was awestruck by how similar the city was to when I was growing up."

Contact Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.

Three seats up for grabs in November.
Sue Digre (Incumbent)
Jim Vreeland (Incumbent)
Thomas Clifford (General contractor)
Barbara Johne Nathanson (Operations manager)
Karl Davidson (Information security specialist)
Heather Tanner (Attorney)
Barbara Arietta (Public relations consultant)
Susan Vellone (Local business owner)

Posted by Steve Sinai