Exclusive Interview with Mayor-Elect Marchand

Mayor-elect Marchand leaning up against the water feature at the newly opened Livermorium Plaza.

Kate Wang

Mayor-elect Marchand leaning up against the water feature at the newly opened Livermorium Plaza.

Nuha Maflahi and Kate Wang

Recently Livermore voted for a new mayor for Livermore. Mayors play a key role in running the city. They have to oversee law enforcement, housing, transportation, and improve the quality of life in the city. Needless to say, this was an important election for Livermore. This election was a choice between candidates John Marchand and Mony Nop. The candidates launched their campaigns in the summer and the election was held in November. After a close race, John Marchand was named the next mayor of Livermore. John Marchand had already served as Livermore’s mayor for nine years from 2011-2020 and decided to run again after the previous mayor Bob Woerner decided not to run for mayor again. Last week we got to sit down with Mayor Marchand at Peet’s Coffee and talk about his win and his future plans as mayor.

Q: What’s the thing you’re most proud of in Livermore?

A: “Now, I’ll tell you one of the things that I am most proud of for my accomplishments as having been the mayor for nine years. The new council chambers, but this right here, Livermorium Plaza, is one of the [things] that I’m most proud of. Livermore is one of the six cities in the world to have an element named after it on the periodic table of elements and to have a park that commemorates that, and Livermore’s place in the world of physics and the cutting-edge world of science is really something that’s quite remarkable. (Pulls up a photo on his phone). This man right here is Yuri Oganessian. Element 118 was named after him.” 

Q: Why did you choose to run for mayor?

A: “Because we look at district elections this time, so we have two new districts coming on. That means we have two new people that’ve never served in elective office before and have no experience running a city. Our mayor declined to run again because of health issues. That meant that we would’ve had a council majority with no experience of running a city. And that’s a dangerous place to be, because you don’t want a majority that has no experience. What I set out to do was to give voters a choice for proven, effective leadership. Or, they could choose someone that had no experience. My opponent even said, that it would probably take him about a year before he got up to speed. Well that’s a year of being ineffective and we can’t afford to do that. We have to have somebody who can hit the deck running, who can start the work immediately. That’s why I ran.” 

Q: How did you feel during the mayoral race especially since your opponent was spending so much money and how close it was?

A: “As I said I was good with the result no matter which way it went. I had achieved my goal – to give the voters a choice. It was up to them and whatever the voters decided, I was good with that decision because if they decided against me I go back to being retired and enjoying life. Now I’m going back to a full time job, that doesn’t pay well. The mayor in Livermore makes $18,000 a year. That’s what my son made as a slicer at Mr.Pickle’s. So I don’t do it for the money, I do it because we love this community. The personal attacks were difficult because they were trying to destroy my reputation that I had spent thirty years building, when they’re calling me things like a career politician. My first fifteen years in public office I was making $50 a month, so I’ve never been a career politician. I’m a water quality chemist, that was my career, so to try to malign me by saying I made my career as a politician, is just a straight up lie. So that was difficult and it’s difficult for the family to process this stuff and to see weekly attacks in public, but one had to be assured of one’s own self-worth and recognize that you’re here to serve the community, and that’s what I set out to do, and that’s what I will continue to do. I can always look at myself in the mirror and say I’m doing this for the community, not for myself.” 

Q: Housing prices are going up and for our generation, younger kids want to settle in Livermore, maybe buy an apartment or a house, but they can’t because it’s too expensive. What do you think about that?

A: “Well that’s why I found that so important, is because this is about creating housing for the next generation and a half dozen people have spent 6 million dollars fighting 130 apartments. Six people have spent 6 million dollars. Now when the 220 luxury apartments went in, the legacy apartments, those were market rated, there wasn’t a whisper of controversy. They didn’t spend a nickel opposing that and yet the ground underneath that was more contaminated than the land under Eden Housing. But because this is affordable housing that’s why they fought that, because this is a group of elites, these are people that are millionaires and they don’t want people that aren’t like them in downtown. If you’re not a millionaire they don’t want you here, I guess, and those are the people I’m fighting.”

Q: What are some of your plans to fight this housing crisis?

A: “Well, we’re gonna build more housing, that’s something that’s absolutely critical. Right now I’m on the General Plan Advisory Committee and this is a committee that is looking at the entire city, and we have 19 members of this stakeholder group, and we’re looking at the whole city map, and we’re picking out areas that make the most sense to put housing. So for example, we’re looking at adding 4,000 housing units where Isabel and highway 580 come together, just north of that, we’re looking at the possibility of adding 4,000 housing units of which one thousand are going to be affordable. Affordable meaning 60-80 percent the annual mean income. There’s also conversations about providing housing up at Las Positas, you know how can we help Las Positas allow students to stay here because it’s very expensive. In the last 10 years, 500,000 jobs have been added to Santa Clara and San Francisco counties. 60,000 housing units have been added at the same time. Demands gonna go through the roof. That’s why people are living in the San Joaquin Valley because they can’t afford to live on the other side. If we can create transit to connect those people to the job centres, then we alleviate the traffic and it makes it easier for everybody.”

Q: Do you have an idea of when the Eden Housing Project will be built?

A: “It’s up to the court. Now, this group of millionaires that I told about that are fighting this, they have been required by the courts to put up a million-dollar bond because they now have been identified as what’s called a vexatious litigate. Don’t you love that term? Something that sounds like a real pain to have to deal with so you’re a vexatious litigate. That means that they’ve identified that ‘you don’t really care, you just wanna delay this.’ That’s where you get into this whole thing about CEQA reform. The California Environmental Quality Act which has been completely abused and, now they just use it to delay projects, you delay them long enough to kill them. We’re trying to get the hotel built, we’ve been trying to get that built for 30 years, but we’ve got the same small band that’s trying to stop it. That’s why I’m coming back, we’re trying to get this stuff done, and I’m fighting the same people I’ve been fighting for the last ten years.”

Q: Besides housing infrastructure, is it the same for industrial infrastructure regarding the wine and agricultural industries in Livermore?

A: “As we are looking at the general plan, which is the blueprint for the people developing the region, it is very important that as we look at areas that could be turned to housing. We have to maintain an inventory of properties for industries like wineries or retail. When you are developing a city, you have to reserve spaces for all those things. It has to be a walkable neighbourhood that is going to have services like a grocery store and a dry cleaners and all those sorts of things. Those are all things we look at when we are making the general plan. To make sure we have those spaces for industry, for the airport, for retail.” 

A: “Livermore is a very well-planned city. It’s not an accident. It takes experience, which is why I came back. For example, the holiday parade. There were a lot of people there from San Ramon. They come here for dinner. It’s how do you ensure that it continues to be that way. Our downtown was voted the number one downtown in all of the East Bay. And that’s creating the environment that makes businesses want to come here. That’s one of the reasons I worked so closely with the laboratory. The Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque is basically desert. We’re in wine country. So it’s about creating that quality of life where people want to live in Livermore. It’s very expensive so we make up for it with quality of life. People want to work here, in the shadow of vineyards, because we have a highly educated workforce and a great quality of life and that’s what attracts businesses and people to Livermore. That’s the job of the mayor.” 

Q: Do you have an opinion on how Livermore schools are being run?

A: “Both of my boys went to Sunset Elementary, Mendenhall, and Granada. My wife taught in Sunset, Jackson, Junction, and Emma Smith. So do you think I like Livermore schools? The most important thing is parental involvement. When my kids went to Sunset Elementary, I did the haunted house, a fundraiser for the school. And there were five years where I didn’t have any kids at the school, but I still did it every single year. So for 15 years, I did the haunted house. And that’s the key: to get the parents involved. If parents don’t think education is important, then why would kids think education is important? That’s why I’m so involved in it because I know it’s important. I think that the schools here are excellent and the reason being is because the parents are involved. We are the only city in the US with two national laboratories so you know these people are engaged. I did Peter and the Wolf on the Banquet stage with Natalie Creedman, who is the site manager for Sandia National Laboratory. The mayor is on the stage of the banquet theatre with the first violin as the site manager for the lab. How awesome is that? This place right here. Your kids walk onto this site and they are learning, whether they are aware of it or not. And I think that’s what makes it so special.”

Q: Do you have any message that you want to leave for Granada High students?

A: “The most valuable thing is to maintain your integrity. I think that one of the things that has motivated me is to work for the best interests of the community and not be afraid to step up and take a leadership role. I gave my valedictorian speech at my high school, and I wrote it in my freshman year. That has really been the defining principle in my life. Everyone talks about how they ought to do something. They ought to do something. Well, we are they. If we don’t act, they don’t exist. You have to step up and make a difference in your community. If we don’t step up, they don’t exist. If you want them to do something, you have to do something. When I talk to classrooms, I write an equation on the board, luck equals skills plus opportunity. If you have the right skills, when the opportunity presents itself, you can create your own luck. And I can draw a straight line between me being the mayor of Livermore and me teaching chess to fourth graders at the Hayward Library. Because when that skill set was needed, I had it and others didn’t, so I was able to outcompete others. I applied for a job as a teaching assistant and it was me against someone with a PhD and someone with a master’s. One of the questions was “do you have teaching experience?” and they were strictly academics, but I had taught kids how to play chess that were interested, which is what got me the teaching position, which got me a laboratory position at the Hayward Water Plant, which got me a drinking water chemical position, which got me elected into the Zone Water Board, which got me elected for City Council, which got me elected for mayor. I had the right skillset at the right time. So the bottom line is to expand your skill set because you never know when we may need it. And that’s how you can create your own luck.”

From left to right: Kate Wang, Nuha Muflahi and Mr. Marchand taking a selfie in Livermorium Plaza after the interview was completed.