Political Climate with Mark Simon: Sheriff Bolanos’ views on immigration enforcement

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Sheriff Bolanos’ views on immigration enforcement

in PoliticalClimate

We go about our day. We fight traffic and go to work. We go to lunch, go home at the end of the day. We go to the store or visit with friends or go to the movies.

We don’t worry about someone arresting us for simply going about our day. Unless we weren’t born here.

For all the time and attention focused on new buildings and traffic and housing prices, for a significant, below-the-radar percentage of the local population, what may matter most is who holds the office of sheriff of San Mateo County. It’s a position responsible for law enforcement in the unincorporated portions of the county, including those such as North Fair Oaks, which is heavily dominated by Latino residents, among them many immigrants.

Right now, that job belongs to Carlos Bolanos, who was appointed to the position by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in August 2016, when incumbent Sheriff Greg Munks stepped down for health reasons.

The board vote was 3-2, with Supervisors Dave Pine and Carole Groom objecting not to Bolanos but to the way the appointment seemed to be hurried and without an effort to seek a wider range of candidates. The county’s two congresswomen, Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier, also wrote to the board objecting to the appointment and saying an “open and transparent” appointment process should be undertaken. The board went ahead.

Now, Bolanos is up for election for the first time.  All five supervisors have endorsed Bolanos, along with dozens of local elected officials and the county’s state legislative delegation. Notably, neither Speier nor Eshoo has endorsed Bolanos. By contrast, according to his campaign web page, challenger Mark D. Melville, a deputy in the Sheriff’s Office, has four endorsements, and only one is an elected official, San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, no stranger to the contrarian public position.

Bolanos is the son of immigrants – his parents came to the U.S. from Nicaragua and he was born and raised in the Bay Area.

Ultimately, by his own description, he is a law enforcement officer, having been a police officer for going on 39 years. And in that simple answer is an indication of how complicated immigration has become as a political issue.

“I’ll enforce the laws, whether I agree with them or not,” Bolanos said in an interview. He will apply the appropriate federal immigration laws to those arrested and in his custody, who are serious and violent criminals and he will work with federal immigration enforcement officials to arrest and deport “those who prey on our community.” That being said, Bolanos added: “I hope local law enforcement will not be pulled into enforcing federal law.”

He is troubled by the anti-immigrant rhetoric emanating from Washington, D.C., which he called a “sad commentary on our country,” and he said several times that immigration reform is essential. He stopped well short of saying he would refuse to assist federal immigration officials, but he said the rhetoric – the threat of raids – is terrorizing “good people,” and he worries it will prevent people from reporting crimes, going to school or going to work because they fear it will expose them to deportation.

“Anything that terrorizes our community members concerns me,” he said. “There are a lot of good people who live and work in this county” and because of their documentation status “are being scapegoated.”

In reality, a look at the campaign web pages of Bolanos and Melville shows no significant discernible difference between them on this issue, except that Bolanos is the first Latino sheriff in San Mateo County since the county was incorporated in 1856.

Does that matter?

“I think it does,” said Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre. “It is a plus and the people in the Latino community feel comfortable with Sheriff Bolanos because he has been active in the community.

Melville, by his own initial admission to local newspapers, entered the race largely to ensure that Bolanos did not run unopposed.

San Mateo County in recent years has had a history of unopposed incumbents for offices from supervisor to sheriff to district attorney.

“Everything’s been handed down, and I said, ‘that’s wrong,’” Melville said.

UMHOFER LAUNCHES: Redwood City Council challenger Christina Umhofer formally announced her candidacy last Sunday in front of about 40 friends and family at an event at Main & Elm Coffee Shop, the same venue where Diana Reddy did the same thing a few weeks earlier. Reddy was on hand for Umhofer’s announcement, as was Rick Hunter, another challenger, who said he would make his formal announcement once he gets past tax season. Hunter has his own accounting business.

Umhofer, whose campaign slogan is “From Redwood City, for Redwood City,” offered what she said are “out of the box” solutions to the problems facing the city where she was born and raised.

In accommodating the rapid rate of growth in office and market-rate housing in the downtown neighborhood, the city council failed to exact all it should have from developers, aesthetically and to the greater benefit of the entire city, she said.

“We, as elected officials, need to have the developers present better projects with more community benefits for the residents of Redwood City,” Umhofer said.

One of those benefits would be providing the financial support necessary to attract retail to downtown, particularly redesigning Main Street as a retail corridor.

“We misstepped as a city when we allowed office use in the ground floor space of our downtown. All ground floor space should be saved for retail and/or restaurants,” she said.

In a brief post-announcement interview, Umhofer subsequently said she would support a cap on the number of restaurants in downtown, a longstanding practice in Burlingame that is credited as a factor in that city’s wealth of high-end retail.

And she cited as an example for future housing solutions how she and her husband sold a small commercial/residential complex by partnering with regional below-market housing advocates, who obtained grants to purchase the property at current market value. The Umhofers got a competitive price and the tenants got long-term leases that protect their current rent levels and allow them to stay, she said.

This is the way to break the cycle of market-rate sales followed by steep rent hikes that amount to driving tenants out, she said.

“I like solutions. I like to think out of the box to obtain solutions,” Umhofer said. “For the ones that have known me, know that I do not like nor give lip service.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.