New Pittsburg mayor combines youth, experience
By Paul Burgarino
Contra Costa Times


February 6, 2010

Salvatore Evola recently became one of the youngest mayors in Pittsburg's history, but the 33-year-old is seasoned when it comes to working with local government bodies.

Evola is senior vice president of homebuilder Discovery Builders, a job that routinely brings him before public agencies around the region on development projects. The company also does significant business in Pittsburg, though he doesn't handle those projects.

Evola's candidacy and election to the City Council in 2006 raised some concerns as his employer is first cousin Albert Seeno III, who owns Discovery Builders. The Seenos are arguably the most powerful family in Pittsburg.

There was speculation about whether Evola a Pittsburg native who's the fourth person in his family to hold office in the city would be beholden to the Seeno family and able to avoid conflicts of interest.

However, Evola's handling of the situation has put most of the scrutiny to rest.

"He's walking a tightrope, and he's done a good job in avoiding any risk," said Joe Canciamilla, a former state Assembly member and Pittsburg mayor.

Like many, Canciamilla had concerns when Evola ran for office, but they have been "alleviated."

"Sal knew people were going to be watching, and he'd have to be careful. He's followed through in a very professional way, and I feel he wants what's best for the city," he said.

But Seth Adams of regional environmental group Save Mount Diablo, which has opposed Evola's company on hillside development issues, remains concerned about his ties.

Evola's position "clearly has a lot of sway on city staff as far as influencing" what items or policies are considered behind the scenes. Further, Adams is concerned about Evola being a Pittsburg representative on a joint task force with Concord concerning the hills between the two cities.

Evola said he has recused himself on every issue related to Seeno companies, totaling about 1.8 percent of city business brought before the council since he was elected.

"I think I'm still able to be very effective in city business if I'm involved 98 percent of the time," he said, noting he voted for other developments that made sense for Pittsburg like Paramount Homes' Alves Ranch subdivision. That developer had an adversarial relationship with the Seenos earlier in the decade.

Councilwoman Nancy Parent, who preceded Evola as mayor, said he is "mindful of when he should recuse himself" and does a good job of looking at policy from a city standpoint.

In December, the Pittsburg native was elected by his peers as mayor for 2010, but he's quick to downplay the position as ceremonial.

"There's a huge misconception; the mayor doesn't run the city. I'm just one of five," Evola said, adding that city government is a team sport rather than a boxing match.

Evola says his day job affords him a unique perspective to see how "childish bickering" doesn't help anything get accomplished, while reaffirming lessons taught by his grandfather and other past Pittsburg leaders regarding the importance of treating colleagues and the public with respect.

"We may disagree, but it's important that everyone work together. Every one of my colleagues and the public deserves their chance to give their opinion and my undivided attention," he said.

Evola is optimistic about the upcoming year. Despite being hampered by losses in property and sales tax, a projected $2 million operating budget deficit and stalled efforts to redevelop its downtown, Pittsburg has not had to resort to large layoffs or institute furloughs like other cities, Evola said.

Further, Pittsburg has continued to fully staff its Police Department, which has led to a downward trend in violent crime, he said.

Evola hopes to keep public safety a top priority in the coming year, along with creating a financial sustainability plan where Pittsburg uses "the peaks to pay for the valleys." He also said downtown redevelopment is important, but "a balance must be kept in providing services to all four corners of the city."

Evola plans to seek re-election in November.

"I plan on getting married here and raising a family here, so the decisions we make are important and ones I'm going to live with," he said.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/pittsburgarino.

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