Political Climate with Mark Simon: Will voters embrace change on large ballot?

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

It may not be the biggest ballot in the history of San Mateo County, but if it’s not, it’s pretty close. And change is in the air. Will voters embrace the changes that are affecting their communities, or will they vote to slow down and, in many instances, stop these changes?

In addition to races for every statewide office from governor on down, 12 statewide ballot propositions and legislative and congressional races, county voters will cast ballots in 13 city council elections and 20 school board races and on 23 city ballot measures and five school ballot measures, as well as countywide races for the Board of Education and the San Mateo County Community College District board.

This is a political year tailor-made for a run-on sentence.

And that doesn’t include the campaign we’re all watching – the race for control of the U.S. Congress and, some would say, the soul of America.

If the national race is for the soul of America, there are some who think the local races are for the soul of a Peninsula that is quieter, smaller and less crowded.

These are the sustaining themes that cut through many of the races, as we are confronted by an entirely new economic reality.

There may be no more dramatic example than Measure JJ on the Brisbane ballot, a proposal to amend the city general plan and allow construction of up to 1,800-2,200 new homes and 6.5 million square feet of new commercial development in the Baylands area.

It was put on the ballot in the face of immense regional pressure to develop what is seen by many as one of the few remaining large plots of developable land in the Bay Area. The resulting development could easily double Brisbane’s population.

In South San Francisco, big plans for downtown development has prompted the usual complaints that the nature of the community is at risk.

The same concerns are at hand in Redwood City and Menlo Park, the latter being the company town for booming Facebook.

Change, albeit on a more modest scale, is also the issue in Belmont, where a unified City Council is looking to build a new downtown center to the community.

It always strikes me as ironic that Belmont has a downtown park, but no downtown, while Redwood City has a downtown but no downtown park.

Anyway, here are how some of the races seem to be shaping up.

AROUND THE HORN: In Belmont, incumbents Julia Mates, Warren Lieberman and Charles Stone have run as a slate, hoping to collectively overwhelm challenger Deniz Bolbol, who represents the out-of-power old guard of a decade ago. A sweep by the incumbents could be a mandate for their approach to transforming Belmont.

Daly City Mayor Ray Buenaventura, up for re-election and expected to win easily, has heavily backed Pamela DiGiovanni, so the election will be a test of his influence.

In South City, three seats are up and incumbents Mark Addiego and Pradeep Gupta are running. Congressional aide Mark Nagales has the support of most of the county’s political establishment, but the uneasiness in this town could put one of the incumbents at risk.

In East Palo Alto, longtime incumbents Donna Rutherford and Ruben Abrica face five challengers, so their election will be a measure of whether there is widespread dissatisfaction in their community, driven by the traffic and gentrification spurred by the presence of Facebook.

In Foster City, the absence of any incumbents has drawn six candidates for two seats. The race has been quite heated and the outcome quite uncertain. The usual movers and shakers in Foster City politics are spread out in this race.

In Half Moon Bay – Coastside politics always are as bracing as the ocean temperature – incumbents Debbie Ruddock and Deborah Penrose should be assured of re-election, but it is notable that neither of them listed their incumbency for their ballot designation, hinting that there could be turmoil.

In Menlo Park, where they have gone to district elections for the first time, two incumbents, Peter Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith, have drawn opposition. Ohtaki appears to be the safer of the two, aided by two challengers who can split the vote. Political insiders think Keith is in some trouble. Her challenger, Drew Combs, almost won a seat citywide last election, and Keith’s high-profile approach to issues has made some city leaders uneasy.

In Redwood City, the highest-profile race in the county, the seven-candidate race for three seats is anyone’s guess. Incumbent Diane Howard would be safe under normal circumstances, but the backlash against development undermines that sense of safety.

The race will measure how widespread is the dissatisfaction with how Redwood City has changed and will continue to change. It is hard to tell. Unhappy residents are always louder.

Two candidates are running classic political campaigns, Giselle Hale and Jason Galisatus: Raise money, build a high profile, issue targeted mail and build a presence on social media that remains positive, phone bank and knock on doors. The other candidates – Howard, Diana Reddy, Rick Hunter, Ernie Schmidt and Christina Umhofer — have relied more on grassroots and a network of neighbors, although all of them have raised enough money to send out some mail pieces and, Reddy, in particular, has been a prominent presence in social media.

Reddy also has been the target of an extraordinarily aggressive opposition campaign from the California Apartment Association, which sent out six negative mail pieces, the most of anyone in this race. The election also will be a test of CAA’s ability not only to oppose rent control measures but affect a city council race.

AND SO IT GOES: As I said at the beginning, it’s a full ballot.

Six of the city ballot measures are to increase a local hotel tax and five of them are to put some kind of tax on cannabis businesses.

There are races for control of the Sequoia Healthcare District board of directors and the San Mateo County Harbor District Commission.

Two San Mateo County Community College District Trustees – Rich Holober and Tom Mohr – are running against each other in the first district elections and it’s anyone’s guess how that will turn out.

The only real choice you have is to watch Peninsula TV (Channel 26, pentv.tv) tonight, starting at 8 p.m. There, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and I will wade through it all – national, state and, especially, local races, joined by our own analyst/expert, Melissa Michelson of Menlo College.

One thing is sure: It will be fun. Dial by.

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.