The Half Moon Bay Neighbors' Alliance, riding the crest of an election sweep last November, and the resignations of a councilman and the city's top two administrators, struck an iceberg Friday in its quest to gain a majority on the City Council.
At the close of nominations Friday, two candidates for the city's vacant council post emerged from the slow-growth, environmental movement symbolized by the Neighbors' Alliance - Carol Cupp, the designated choice of the Neighbors' Alliance leadership, and John Maness, a private investigator and former Half Moon Bay police officer. They will be joined on the ballot by David Mier, a planning commissioner and water district employee with ties to the city's longtime leadership.
Cupp, a staunch Neighbors' Alliance supporter, has already garnered that group's support, including nods from Mayor Debbie Ruddock, Councilman Dennis Coleman and former Councilman David Iverson. But Maness, while not the Alliance-chosen candidate, is viewed as closer to its philosophy than that of the longtime power structure. Some believe that Maness and Cupp will split the Neighbors' Alliance vote, thrusting Mier into the open seat.
"No one likes the math," Maness said on Monday on the possible voting permutations.
Art Zich, political counsel for previous slow-growth and anti-redevelopment campaigns, had an even more pointed prediction.
"I think the chances of getting a majority on the council have been seriously shaken by this split, and the leadership in that movement is to blame," Zich said.
In the interest of encouraging a head-to-head race against Mier, he added that he would "unqualifiedly, publicly, without any reservation," support either Maness or Cupp in 1997's council election if one of them backed out now. City Clerk Dottie Robbins said, however, that all three candidates names will be on the ballot.
Ruddock, who urged Cupp to run, disputes Zich's reading of the upcoming election. She said she sees Maness as a "a mystery candidate" whose stances on issues are unknown. By comparison, she said Cupp and Mier have both demonstrated their beliefs through involvement in issues facing the city. As a result, Ruddock predicted the race will be a clear-cut choice between Mier and Cupp and the opposing philosophies and constituencies each represents.
Coleman agreed, noting that Cupp has already cultivated a strong public image through her involvement in local politics.
"It's the communication," he said. "There's been a consistent message from Carol Cupp that she's been involved with the community and cares about it."
He said he believes Maness would do better in 1997 when three council seats are up for grabs if he uses the interim period to establish his positions.
Meanwhile, Mier's supporters are rallying behind their candidate.
"I think he'd do a fine job," said Phil Schiller, who had been expected to run, but opted out, in part he said because of demands from a new job. He said he will run in 1997.
While the candidates' supporters jockey for position, the candidates themselves are already trying to stake out their own territory - Mier as the candidate with experience in local government, Cupp as the candidate most qualified to further the goals symbolized by last November's vote, and Maness as a moderate who can work with both sides of the split council.
Mier, who has worked with the Coastside County Water District for 14 years and is its superintendent of operations, brings the most governmental experience to the race. He has served on the city's Planning Commission since 1980 and has earned a reputation for asking probing questions to get applicants to live up to zoning requirements, and for his attention to detail.
Mier, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 1991, was involved in drafting the city's Land Use Plan.
Critics, such as Ruddock, are quick to paint Mier as a pro-growth relic "associated with the failed policies of the past." But Mier vehemently rejects assertions of any past policy-making, pointing out that his job on the commission is only to implement established council policy, not to interpret or create it.
He also emphasized that he did not take any position on Measure I, the failed North Wavecrest Redevelopment Plan.
"I'm the only candidate with any experience in city government," Mier said Monday. "We have a city that is in gridlock. I have demonstrated leadership capability.
"I know this community inside and out," he added. "There are times when I have agreed with (Councilwoman) Naomi (Patridge) and (Councilman) Jerry (Donovan), and times when I've agreed with Deborah," he continued, citing his disagreement with the additional funding given to the South Wavecrest project, and agreement with Arleta Park residents in their complaints last year that the city's heritage tree ordinance had been violated.
In addition to his seat on the commission, Mier has volunteered with the Boy Scouts, Lion's Club and the Coastside Adult Day Health Center Board of Directors.
He scoffed at the coffee shop quarterbacking that predicts he will be the beneficiary of a split Neighbors' Alliance vote.
"All of that guessing means nothing," he said. "It's what those three (candidates) do between now and June."
Maness believes he can be a bridge between the two factions on the council.
In a letter to the Review, Maness stated, "I see a council completely polarized by deep-rooted mistrust and share the frustration of the residents when important issues are scuttled or delayed over and over again. I am not running to give either side a victory. There are two other candidates already positioned to do that. "I am a `no-strings' candidate, independent of either political machine.
"I think my biggest strength is I'm not closely aligned with one or another," he added in an interview.
Maness acknowledged that he was a lieutenant with the Half Moon Bay Police Department who resigned due to administrative differences with the police chief, but emphasized that is not what motivated him to run for office. He stressed that "correcting management problems within the police department rests with the City Manager, not the City Council.
"We need to get our council `off the dime,' " Maness stated. "I believe I can bring a no-nonsense, both-feet-on-the-ground approach to our town's issues and accomplish just that . . ."
Maness' experience includes writing grants for municipal government programs and operating his own local private investigation business for the past two years. His wife operates a children's clothing business downtown. They have lived in Half Moon Bay for nine years.
Maness applied for the open council seat in November when the council was unsuccessful in agreeing on an appointee. In his letter of application he wrote: "I am a sincere and reasonable person who can agree to plant trees or build homes depending on what seems best for our community. I would, however hope to move on to other important issues such as commute traffic, the needs of our children and a community park. Imagine what may have been accomplished over the past five years if our electorate had had the opportunity to focus their collective energy on less controversial issues."
In an interview Monday, Cupp stressed her involvement in the community as a local business owner with her husband, as chairwoman of the PTA at Hatch Elementary School, and as an active volunteer in support of Alliance causes. She opposed redevelopment, has spoken frequently at City Council meetings and was a leader in the grassroots movement to protect cypress trees by prompting City Hall to catalogue them and spell out how they will be cared for in the future.
"Rather than sitting back and complaining about problems, I've gotten involved," she said. "I'm the kind of person who doesn't have a problem getting involved."
Cupp said she believes council members should represent the current political tide expressed at the ballot box in November. She believes that shift to be toward less residential development, with more empahsis on taking care of what is already here.
"I think the city has been so busy trying to enlarge itself, rather than taking care of itself," she said.
She said she believes she stacks up the well when the seven characteristics the council agreed in November that potential council members should have are applied to the candidates. The characteristics are: a strong background and experience; special education or knowledge; clear interest and commitment; analytical skills and the ability to make tough decisions; effective communication skills; consistency between a candidate's views and recent public opinion trends and election results; and a professional, businesslike demeanor.
"I feel very strongly that I meet all those criteria and characteristics," Cupp said.
The issues she anticipates coming to the campaign's fore are land use, Devil's Slide, the city's involvement in providing programs to keep youths out of trouble, and public safety. She said she favors tinkering with the Land Use Plan to make it less oriented toward residential development. She said she strongly opposes the 4.5-mile Martini Creek Bypass and would rather see the current road repaired.
The election is June 4.