Photography by Emma Cypressi
This November 3, 3 of the 5 seats of Walnut Creek’s City Council are up for election. City Council elections are held every other year, but for 2020 in particular, the stakes are much higher. Eight candidates have been declared for this election, the highest the city has had in years. With a high number of candidates, and with the recent protests for BLM and Miles Hall, who was killed by Walnut Creek Police in 2019 during a mental health crisis, the candidates’ views and actions will matter a lot more to voters this November. The Page reached out to each candidate asking their stance on the local protests for Black Lives Matter and related topics. Reese and Talbert did not respond to answer our questions.
The five new candidates this year are Hailey Ayres, Cindy Darling, Kurtis Reese, Michael Samson and Lauren Talbert. Plus Justin Wedel, Kevin Wilk and Loella Haskew (current mayor) are running for reelection.
Hailey Ayres, a Las Lomas alum, studied sociology and government, as well as gotten involved in local leadership. Ayres said she wants to use what she’s learned and bridge the gap between theory and practice in order to work with cities and residents to support a sustainable Walnut Creek. “I think the term ‘defund the police’ gets a bad rap but it’s mostly just because people don’t really understand what that means…It’s the idea of reallocating funds from police departments to other non-police forms that continue to address public safety…I would love for us to find a creative way in Walnut Creek to help address public safety that doesn’t involve calling an officer with a gun to show up to help,” said Ayres. “I learned in my program that there is often a gap between those making policy, politicians, and those that implement policy, those who work for the city. I wanted to bridge that gap.”
Cindy Darling is a former Chair of the Walnut Creek Planning Commission. Now, as a candidate, she’s prioritizing the city’s economy as well as responses to mental health crises and homelessness. On the topic of BLM, Darling said, “Our country and our city are having a long overdue conversation on the role of race, policing and equity…Moving forward, we should look towards an expeditious and collaborative process that brings our community, including marginalized members, other interested parties, mental health professionals and law enforcement together to ensure our public safety system is equipped to properly respond to mental health incidents, to ensure our city works to keep everyone in our community safe and to foster the warm, inclusive community Walnut Creek deserves. I will advocate for an unarmed response to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, implicit bias training for our entire city staff and council, de-escalation training for our police department and improved recruitment of BIPOC for city leadership positions…Police serve a critical public-safety function in our community, and they need the training, resources, transparency, mental health support and, above all, accountability to keep all members of our society safe.”
Loella Haskew is running for reelection and has been mayor of Walnut Creek since December 2019. This December, the City Council will select a new mayor, typically a senior member. In this case, the new mayor, assuming he is reelected, would be Kevin Wilk, as he is Mayor Pro Tem. With her not only running for reelection, but also being the current mayor, voters can judge Haskew based on what she has already done on the City Council. “My ‘official’ goals are to rebuild and enhance our economy, explore and implement modern initiatives for public safety, revitalizing the arts, recreation and library program, preserving the quality of life while addressing local housing needs and ensuring our City’s strong financial future,” said Haskew. When asked about her views of the police’s response to the June 1st protest, when protesters were tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets by police here in Walnut Creek, Haskew changed the subject, instead mentioning when protesters were outside her home, saying “Or, how about the protest held outside my home at 10:00pm at night with a significant amount of vandalism that my husband and I had to pay for ourselves…I am angry that the ‘mob’ scared the heck out of my neighbors; that burning anything close to a home and an accelerant such as oil-based paint is so potentially dangerous that it could have burned down our home and as a result, burned down our neighborhood, and no one even cared to know anything about me or my husband or if we deserved to be singled out as a target.” She also said, “If this brings us closer to social justice and awareness that Black lives matter, it is a small price to pay.”
Kurtis Reese is a Las Lomas dad and has been friends of the Hall family since his time in college, having known Miles Hall for his whole life. “Miles suffered from schizophrenia and experienced a mental break last summer…Instead of Miles getting the help he needed, everything went horribly wrong that day and the police shot and killed him. I was distraught. Eventually, I realized I had to do something – to speak out about what happened to Miles, and to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That led me to speaking regularly at city council meetings and walking around city hall in search of leaders to engage to bring about much needed change. I knew Walnut Creek could, and must, do better,” said Reese. “We must ensure social justice through an equitable distribution of opportunities, application of laws and usage of systems and programs to everyone.” Reese has been endorsed by Michael Samson.
Michael Samson, a teacher at Cal High School, decided to run for election because he believes that the current City Council is lacking. “My involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement, witnessing what WCPD did to peaceful protestors, including myself, my partner and my mom on June 1, and my disappointment when seeing how our City Council responded, including all three of the incumbents currently running for reelection, is what convinced me in the first place that I needed to run. I strongly support the Black Lives Matter movement and Justice for Miles Hall,” said Samson. “Justice for Miles Hall means two things; Implement a 24/7 mental health crisis non-police response, and take the officers responsible for Miles Hall’s death off of the street.”
Lauren Talbert worked at the Walnut Creek Library until she was laid off due to COVID-related budget cuts. After seeing the city’s dismissal of people’s concerns for the library, while the police budget is 26.7 million dollars, Talbert decided to run for City Council and has been endorsed by Michael Samson. “I thought I would give it a try at being somebody on City Council who actually cares and who also has worked for the city…I think it would’ve been meaningful to me to see representation in my local government…It would have been nice to see myself represented and feel more like I belong here and not like I need to adjust myself and my behaviour.” Talbert said. “I wouldn’t say necessarily that Walnut Creek is racist…But I don’t think it’s a place that is actively anti-racist either…I grew up in Walnut Creek. I grew up in a predominately white school. I grew up with some racist values, as a black person, that I had to unlearn.”
Justin Wedel is another one of the 3 candidates running for reelection. He had been mayor from 2017 to 2018. “As the one of the two Council members that has attended every BLM and Miles Hall protest, not the daily ones, I have a first-hand account of the stories told, the messaging, and the City’s response. I believe that everyone has the right to the first amendment and I will continue to ensure that protests can occur, that the appropriate precautions are made to ensure safety, and that the City responds in a fashion that respects the rights of all in our community,” said Wedel. When asked his position on defunding the police, Wedel said, “I stand directly alongside California Representative Karen Bass, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. She stated that defunding the police would be horrible for our communities, especially communities of color. Her position, my position, obviously does not mean that we need to evaluate our opportunities for improvement. That is why I have been a strong advocate and leader for a 24/7 non-police medical response, zero-based budgeting to ensure all tax dollars are going to appropriate functions and review of our policies, including the use of canines, tear gas, other non-lethal weapons and how and when we use SWAT vehicles.”
Kevin Wilk, another council member running for reelection, says he’s running for a second term because, as he believes, there is still more work to be done on important social issues. “As the only Democrat on the Council, I have ensured that important social issues along with democratic principles were addressed consistently and often,” said Wilk. When asked about how he plans to obtain justice for Miles Hall, Wilk stated “[I am] requiring a full report from the DA’s office so we can get a starting point, and requiring full transparency on this. The DA has been woefully late in this…I am working with the county to provide a 24/7 unarmed mental health crisis response for Walnut Creek and all our surrounding cities. Ideally, this would be for the entire county.”
With the incumbents, Haskew, Wedel, and Wilk, voters can base their decision on their actions in City Council and not just their words. Voters can see what Walnut Creek has been like recently and decide if we need to keep certain people in office, or if we need to elect new voices.