#schoolsafety | Fairfax council candidates focus on racial equity, public safety

As Black Lives Matter protests continue in Fairfax and the town searches for a new police chief, racial equity has emerged as a key issue for the five candidates running for three seats on the Town Council on Nov. 3.

The three incumbents in the race are John Reed, a retired film animator seeking a fourth term; Barbara Coler, an environmental consultant running for a third term; and Bruce Ackerman, an engineer hoping for a second term.

Their challengers are environmental nonprofit director Chance Cutrano and food service director Joe McGarry.

McGarry, who described himself as a racial equity activist and organizer, said the town needs to bolster its stock of affordable housing so service workers with jobs in Fairfax can live in the town. He said that could also improve the town’s racial diversity.

McGarry said that as Fairfax searches for a new police chief to replace Christopher Morin, who is set to retire in December after 20 years with the department, racial equity should be a cornerstone of the hiring process.

“I think this is a moment where we can really embrace the idea of including our (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community in that discussion, because the intersection of race and the institution of policing can’t be ignored,” he said. “We can’t explore racial equity without looking at policing.”

Cutrano said Fairfax, which formed its Racial Equity and Social Justice Committee in July, is facing “a watershed moment for racial justice.”

Policing, Cutrano said, is central to the town’s efforts to improve equity. He said Fairfax should aim to build trust between police and residents.

Ackerman said the the Black Lives Matter protests in Fairfax, which began in response to the death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis, have sparked “a division in town.”

“It’s unfortunate that the organizers of the protests that continue to happen on the parkade have, instead of bringing people in, have created a lot of ill feelings by insulting our police as if they were the Minneapolis police,” he said.

Ackerman, who was appointed a Town Council representative to the racial equity committee, said Fairfax needs to “heal.”

To best way to improve racial equity, he said, “is to bring people in, to call people in, as opposed to create divisions.”

Coler said the town’s lack of racial diversity is directly correlated to its lack of affordable housing.

“It’s as simple as that,” she said.

Coler said she has championed several renter protection laws while on the council, including a ban on evictions without “just cause” and a law that made it illegal for landlords to turn down prospective tenants because they use Section 8 vouchers.

Coler said she supports activists’ push for police reforms around the nation, but she said the police in Fairfax “exemplify what we are looking for.”

Reed also said he believes the Fairfax Police Department is operating ethically, and he said some of the demonstrators in town are “protesting police in Minneapolis … and projecting those things onto the police force here.”

“Communication with each other is really what we need to build on,” Reed said. He added that residents and police should get to know each other.

McGarry said the town’s conversation about racial equity also extends to another key issue for Fairfax: the threat of devastating wildfire.

“Vulnerability for wildfires disproportionately affects Black and brown people,” McGarry said.

He said Latino residents are less likely to sign up to receive wildfire alerts by text message because they “want nothing to do with the sheriff’s department at this time.”

Reed said that when it comes to wildfire safety, “education is key.”

“People really want to know what they can do, because they’re legitimately scared,” he said.

Coler, a board member for the new Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority, said Fairfax also needs to “look at our staffing of the Ross Valley firefighters” and consider hiring more personnel to put out fires.

Ackerman said the town should continue urging homeowners to improve fire safety on private properties.

Cutrano agreed, saying, “Home hardening is going to be a critical discussion in the years to come.”

He said he would push for every neighborhood in Fairfax to become a Firewise community certified by the National Fire Protection Association.

Cutrano said he decided to run for council after PG&E shut off Marin’s power last fall and residents at the Bennett House, a low-income complex for seniors in Fairfax, were left in the dark.

“I realized new leadership was needed,” he said.

Ackerman said he has focused on promoting civility at Town Council meetings and has noted “great progress.” He said he hopes to continue that effort.

McGarry said he is running as “a call to action” as part of his aim to promote racial equity.

He said the town needs “new ideas and a fresh perspective.”

Coler said in addition to the renter protection laws she pushed for, she has pushed for townwide wildfire evacuation maps, urged a renovation of the town’s parkade and helped raise money to preserve Sky Ranch.

“I’ve accomplished a lot,” she said.

Reed highlighted his Town Hall experience as a 10-year member of the General Plan Advisory Committee and an 11-year member of the Town Council.

“I don’t think I would want to do this with any other town,” he said. “Fairfax has a great community. A lot of people care about it.”

The candidates

Bruce Ackerman

Age: 66

Occupation: Engineer

Education: Attended Baylor University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Experience: Fairfax Town Council since 2017; Fairfax Planning Commission, 2015-2017; Fairfax General Plan Advisory Committee, 2003-2010; founding member of Fairfax Climate Action Committee

Barbara Coler

Age: 68

Occupation: Environmental consultant

Education: Bachelor’s degree in ecology and systematics and master’s degree in entomology, University of Kansas

Experience: Fairfax Town Council since 2013; Marin Clean Energy board member since 2014; Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority board member; Community Media Center of Marin board member since 2014; Marin County Assessment of Fair Housing steering committee since 2016; Marin Local Agency Formation Committee member since 2019

Chance Cutrano

Age: 27

Occupation: Environmental nonprofit director

Education: Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and political science, Saint Xavier University; master’s degree in sustainable management, Presidio Graduate School

Experience: Vice-chair of Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter Executive Committee; Fairfax Open Space Committee treasurer; member of Fairfax Volunteer Board; member of Fairfax Measure A Oversight Committee; member of Fairfax Coronavirus Task Force

Joe McGarry

Age: 50

Occupation: Food service director

Education: Attended California State University, Chico, and Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

Experience: Director at Good Earth Natural Foods; racial equity activist and organizer; youth sports coach and mentor

John Reed

Age: 62

Occupation: Retired film animator

Education: Bachelor’s degree in sculpture, Pratt Institute

Experience: Fairfax Town Council since 2009; Fairfax General Plan Advisory Committee, 1999 to 2009; Fairfax Volunteer Board, 2002-2009; helped establish Safe Routes To School at Manor Elementary School

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