Political Climate with Mark Simon: It’s truly change versus status quo this campaign season

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

Labor Day, just a few days away, is the traditional start of the fall campaign season.

Well, tradition has taken a buyout.

The local supermarket has had Halloween candy on sale since mid-August, so you can load up your trick and treat basket with tradition and all the kids in the neighborhood will skip your house.

The political manifestation of this break from tradition is what may be an unprecedented level of activity on the local ballots – 15 local tax measures, 10 contested city council races out of 16 on the ballot in San Mateo County.

Incumbency, the usual safeguard against a meaningful challenge, seems to carry less weight this time around. Except in Atherton, Colma, Hillsborough and Portola Valley, where incumbents have a free ride, the living is easy and the cotton is high.

Tradition would dictate that everyone should be satisfied with the way things are going.

Unemployment is at an historic low and every community on the Peninsula is thriving, bobbing on a wake of unprecedented growth in new and established businesses. Restaurants are packed. Public events draw huge crowds. Downtowns are thriving, spurred by young professionals flocking to communities adjacent to Caltrain. Local populations are growing, after decades of 1 percent growth a decade, and growing more diverse and interesting.

Instead, we seem to be victims of our success, not just in traffic congestion and housing prices, but in a broader uneasiness that with the changes in our community, something else has been lost.

We always hear loudest from the unhappiest among us – those who often want a city from 25 years ago, a city that exists more in memory than it ever did in reality. But surveys by local governments show a widespread and general sense that our cities are heading in the right direction.

It’s about change. The closing of a local business. The addition of a traffic diversion. New apartment buildings and new offices.

With change comes a battle to maintain the status quo – whether real or imaginary – and that appears to be playing out in some of these races.

CHALLENGING INCUMBENTS: In Menlo Park, where they are voting by district for the first time, incumbents Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki, are both facing serious challenges and you can expect the main debate to be over the changes brought about by the dominating presence of Facebook in that town. … In Half Moon Bay, incumbents Deborah Penrose and Debbie Ruddock face three challengers in a town where resistance to change (growth) is always a perennial favorite. … In South San Francisco, incumbents Mark Addiego and Pradeep Gupta face four challengers. … In Daly City, incumbent Ray Buenaventura faces three challengers. … In East Palo Alto, incumbents Ruben Abrica and Donna Rutherford face five challengers.

In Belmont, three incumbents – Warren Lieberman, Charles Stone and appointed incumbent Julia Mates – were hours away from running unopposed, when nonprofit consultant Deniz Marie Bolbol became the fourth candidate in a race for three seats. … Bolbol applied for the appointment to the council seat vacated by the death of Eric Reed. The council appointed Mates. Nonetheless, Bolbol brings an irresistibly fascinating background to the campaign – a career in public relations and television production, lobbying San Francisco to change its treatment of elephants at the city’s zoo, an internship in the White House Press Office during the George H.W. Bush administration and, currently, field director for the American Wild Horse Campaign. In her application for the council vacancy, she said she returned to Belmont three years ago and swiftly joined the Belmont Heights Civic Improvement Association. … Perhaps most revealing, she was promptly endorsed by former Councilwoman Coralin Feierbach, which would put Bolbol squarely in the camp of the group of insiders who used to dominate the City Council and are profoundly unhappy with the current council majority.

OPEN, OPEN, OPEN: Where there are open seats, the races are quite crowded – seven candidates for three seats in Redwood City with only one incumbent, six candidates for two open seats in Foster City, five candidates for three open seats in San Carlos, seven candidates for three open seats in Pacifica.

And at a time when cities should be enjoying the windfall of a booming economy, nine cities have put a combined total of 15 tax measures on the ballot, including a parcel tax, hotel taxes and the increasingly popular cannabis business tax.

What this means is an election year not only of near-unprecedented activity, but one of highly uncertain outcomes.

It’s a boom time for your local political columnist – a cause behind which we can all unite — and several columns full of tidbits, items and dots will be forthcoming in the next several days.

Meanwhile, if someone tells you they know how these races will turn out, keep your hand on your wallet.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.


  1. What does “The addition of a traffic diversion” mean?

    We’ve been talking about this sort of idea on Foster City NextDoor and our issue with cut-through traffic

    • Cities have gone to roundabouts, narrowed streets from four lanes to two (Farm Hill Blvd. in Redwood City is one example), speed bumps, etc. It’s a response, mostly, to exactly what you’re saying — cut-through traffic or the increased use of side residential streets as people work to avoid traffic on major thoroughfares.

  2. Gentrification in Redwood City is driving out lower income families, many of whom are Latino. I’d say the boom is making our town less diverse.

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