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Pleasant Hill's First Openly Gay Council Member Ready To Tackle Economic Issues

Ken Carlson says he'll focus on revitalizing business and building up the city's reserves

Ken Carlson made history in Pleasant Hill on Nov. 6.

The longtime Pleasant Hill resident finished second in an eight-candidate field for three seats on the City Council.

When Carlson became the first openly gay member on the city's governing body.

It's been a long journey for Carlson from Pleasant Hill student to Brigham Young graduate to Concord police officer to marriage to fatherhood to a realization he needed he come out of the closet to launching a political career.

Carlson said his main focus as he begins the first year of a four-year term will be to achieve modest growth in Pleasant Hill to boost sales tax revenues and replenish some of the reserves that have dwindled during the economic downturn.

"I want to work toward econonic stability," said Carlson.

Part of the new growth is the revitalization of The Crossroads shopping center, which will require the tearing down of the CineArts dome movie theater. The opening of a new Kmart this year is also in the works.

Another economic issue will be labor negotiations. Carlson said he wants to see city employees rewarded for their hard work, but labor costs need to be contained.

That includes the Pleasant Hill police union, which strongly supported Carlson in his election bid.

"I told them my obligation is to the city of Pleasant Hill," said Carlson. "I told them I'll vote my conscience."

Carlson also wants to take a close look at the city's infrastructure, including its roads.

"There are some things we need to get caught up on," he said, "but I want  frugal, thoughtful planning."

Carlson said they are no gay rights issues to deal with at the city level.

"It was never part of the campaign," he said. "Pleasant Hill is tolerant. It wasn't an issue."

That wasn't always the case.

Carlson was born in Stockton but spent most of his childhood in Pleasant Hill. He attended Pleasant Hill Middle School and Pleasant Hill High School.

He then earned a bachelor degree's in communications from Brigham Young University, hoping to launch a career in television.

After bouncing around at numerous jobs, Carlson joined the Concord Police Department in 1988 as a parking enforcement officer. He was encouraged by the department to enter the police academy.

He did, graduated and has worked at the police department ever since. Today, he's a traffic investigator.

"I've enjoyed the work. It's challenging," said Carlson. "There is such a variety of things to do."

Along the way, Carlson got married. He and his wife had three daughters, who are now 23, 22 and 19 years old. They have four grandchildren, too.

However, Carlson said he was living a lie during all those years. He knew he was gay when he was attending Pleasant Hill Middle School, but in the 1960s and 1970s, this wasn't something many people acted on.

"I grew up as a good Mormon boy," said Carlson. "I did my best to toe the line."

So much so that he married a woman and fathered children. However, about 12 years Carlson just couldn't do it any longer.

"I was miserable," he said.

So, Carlson first told his shocked wife and then his three children that he was gay. He said he has minimal contact now with his ex-wife but enjoys a healthy relationship with his children and grandchildren.

Carlson also told his co-workers at the Concord Police Department, one by one.

"They've been 100 percent supportive," he said. "I haven't had a negative experience."

Carlson has been with his partner, Jeremy, since 2003. They live in the Poet's Corner region of town.

Carlson's latest leg of his journey is politics. His grandfather, Jim Moriarty, was a Contra Costa County supervisor from 1966 to 1979.

Carlson remembers attending many a campaign rally as a child. When he decided to run for council, it seemed natural.

"It's always been there. This seemed like a good time for it," he said.

Carlson plans to serve the community on the council and stay in town for awhile.

"Pleasant Hill is such a quiet, down-home community," he said.

Jack Weir January 04, 2013 at 07:10 PM
Welcome aboard, Ken! Good to see another PHHS Ram looking after our city.
PH Fan January 04, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Sorry...did that say above..."The opening of a new Kmart this year is also in the works"...WTH??? Where is that going, this is the first I have heard of it...and, we just are closing one. Is this a typo??? Fingers crossed!
Jack Weir January 04, 2013 at 09:52 PM
My understanding is that KMart is on its way out. A developer is pursuing plans for new businesses at DVC Plaza.
MIKE ALFORD January 05, 2013 at 04:10 AM
They are going to build condos after they tear down the entire shoping center and build,build & build they are going to put so much density that the martinez city counsel will be in envey of them ! thet Janet will come out of retirment Lara will be beside herself,Animarie will be on the hotline along with Mike & Rob to RCD & Section 8 they will be estactic ! Just think of how exciting all this density will make Them
Sarah Lauer January 05, 2013 at 08:12 AM
It figures that CineArts would be torn down to develop business. Profit at the expense of art, people and the planet. Capitalism cannot succeed unless it's screwing somebody. Business as usual.
Sarah Lauer January 05, 2013 at 08:14 AM
A Kmart is much more culturally enriching than a theater that offers first rate independent and foreign films---not!

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