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Phillips Lends Business Savvy to Downtown Revitalization, Pensions

The San Rafael mayoral candidate has raised over $34,000 in contributions and is making the rounds at elections forums.

When San Rafael mayoral candidate Gary Phillips walks down Fourth Street, he can predict which businesses are thriving and which are floundering.

"I might not know anything about their business plan, but it's a just a feeling I get in my gut," he said.

With 15 years of experience as managing partner of business consulting firm DZH Phillips LLP. and his service as board chairman of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, Phillips hopes to use that business instinct for San Rafael if his is elected mayor.

Now, with five weeks to go, the candidate has raised over $34,000 in campaign contributions (see full report on the right), walked several neighborhoods with supporters and is making the rounds at election forums.

"When I first started walking the neighborhoods the election wasn't in people's mind yet," he said. "But now it's starting to pick up."

Small Business and Revitalization

If elected, Phillips hopes to continue Mayor Al Boro's efforts for revitalizing the downtown area. The city currently has a vacancy rate of 10 percent for commercial businesses, and many new ventures are finding it difficult to stay afloat with the economy.

The certified public accountant believes that San Rafael must have significant outreach to attract new businesses, support existing establishments and evaluate rules or regulations that might put strain on owners.

"I've dealt with businesses. I understand their needs," he said.

During Phillips's stint on the City Council from 1995 to 2007, the council oversaw the transition of the Rafael Town Center in downtown from a commercial location owned by Macy's to an apartment complex.

"It was a situation where we brought several groups together to find a solution for something that wasn't working," he said.
 
Phillips was also a supporter of the , which gained in the past months before it was approved in April. Leading up to the vote, Phillips said he met with several local business owners about the issue, and determined that the financial benefits to the city and its residents were worth it.

Pension Reform

Back in 2004, San Rafael approved a pension plan benefit increase for police and other public employees without paying the cost of its retroactive component, which resulted in an unfunded expense of $18.5 million, according

According to the May report, San Rafael was paying 50 percent of payroll, or 20 percent of its General Fund revenue, to cover its annual pension obligation.

In July, and new employees will now receive a pension benefit of 2 percent, instead of 2.7 percent.

"When the city is not hiring any new people, that doesn't sound substantial," Phillips said.

When Philips left the council in 2007, there was low unemployment and San Rafael had to keep its pension plan at a competitive level to obtain employees. While the retirement age for most cities is 50, San Rafael's is 55, and the city has the highest employee contribution in the county, according to Phillips.

Phillips wants San Rafael to take the lead to address pension reform on a county-wide level, so cities can offer similar plans to potential employees.

"This problem is bigger than San Rafael. Every city is facing this," he said.

Continuing in the Steps of Al Boro

Many of Phillips's opponents criticize the candidate for continuing on the same path as Al Boro when the city needs change. But to Phillips, that's talk from those who might forget Boro's contributions to the city over the past two decades, including the and several other projects.

"A lot of things that have happened in that time that people are grateful for," he said.

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