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Mark Simon

Mark Simon has 22 articles published.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Campaigns uncertain as homes become voting booths

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Two weeks from today is Election Day, which used to be a major civic event with people streaming (or trickling) to their polling places to cast their votes.

This time, it’s different, and it’s much more complicated and uncertain for those brave souls on the ballot.

San Mateo County is one of five counties in California (Napa, Nevada, Madera and Sacramento are the others) that will vote almost entirely by mail. In fact, voting began May 7, when ballots were mailed to all registered voters.

And there’s where the uncertainty comes in.

As noted often by my friend and TV partner Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, who pushed for all-mail voting in the county, a candidate in a typical election would obtain a list of likely voters – usually those who voted in the last three or four statewide or national elections.

Then, the campaign would focus almost exclusively on contacting those households – by phone, by mail, in person – where likely voters resided.

By implication, all other registered voters were, in reality, people unlikely to vote. They couldn’t be bothered to leave their homes go to their local polling places, so skip them – no mail, no phone call, no in-person visit by the candidate.

But this time home is the voting booth. The universe of likely voters is likely to change.

And if he were going door-to-door in a tough re-election campaign, that would be just enough to give Mullin pause.

“How do I walk past a home, knowing there is a ballot in there?” Mullin mused recently. And should a candidate knock on the door and remind the resident there is a ballot at hand, does that cause the voter to actually vote – perhaps in gratitude to the candidate who made the effort?

Or does the disciplined candidate ignore this temptation and stay with the plan?

In fact, we are in uncharted territory. We don’t know who will vote, how big the numbers will be or whether the universe of voters will be significantly different.

LAUNCHING HALE: A day after her 39th birthday and with husband Brian and children Lula, 4, and Viva, just shy of 2, at her side, Giselle Hale kicked off her campaign for the Redwood City Council in front of about 100 friends and supporters Sunday at Cyclismo Café.

Hale, a marketing director at Facebook, a planning commissioner since 2014 and a veteran Democratic organizer, made clear her focus will be on the future of Redwood City as a place for families and the increasingly diverse population of the city.

“I am running to be a strong voice for all residents of Redwood City and a much-needed one for families and children. I want our children to grow up in a place where they can make friends for life and return home as adults,” she said.

Hale noted the average age in Redwood City is a surprisingly young 36, suggesting that the demographic shift to younger residents with school-age children is more pronounced than it might appear in the public debates over growth and housing. She said the largest demographic in Redwood City is the 0-14 age group.

“Redwood City is diverse, inclusive and multi-generational, all qualities worth protecting. We need entry points for all generations at all income levels to preserve the diversity that makes this city what it is,” Hale said.

She called for “a variety of solutions” in housing, including more affordable housing, inclusionary zoning, more single-family homes and “large apartment buildings” – in essence, more family housing. She said a review of Zillow last week showed only seven three-bedroom units for rent in the city.

Hale said she supports the city’s El Camino Real master transit plan, and she said she would tackle the issue of quality child care, of which there is a significant shortfall in Redwood City: “I want to see more developer community benefits directed toward our schools,” Hale said.

Hale’s campaign event was heavily populated with a wide swath of established political and community leaders.

Councilman John Seybert emceed the event and said Hale’s candidacy was a major factor in his decision not to seek another term this year. He repeatedly called Hale “the next generation of leadership in Redwood City.”

Also present were City Councilwoman Shelly Masur, who wrapped up the event with a pitch for money for Hale’s campaign; incumbent Councilman Jeff Gee, who is running for re-election this year; former Councilman Jeff Ira; incumbent Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, seeking election on June 5; Assemblyman Marc Berman; and community leaders Lori Lochtefeld, Daniela Gasparini, Adina Levin of the Friends of Caltrain; Connie Guerrero; and Jason Galisatus. Also on hand: Sequoia Union High School Trustee Georgia Jack; Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian; Menlo Park Councilwoman Kirsten Keith, also up for re-election this year; former Mountain View Councilwoman and Assemblywoman Sally Lieber; and the ubiquitous Belmont Councilman Charles Stone, also up for re-election this year.

DOWN AND DOTTY: Amid this long list, Lieber seems the odd person out, having had little or no political profile on the Peninsula for years. Ah, but take note: She has announced she is running for the state Senate seat to be vacated by Democrat Jerry Hill in 2020. … Lieber ran for the same seat in 2012, losing to Hill. … Masur also is running, of course, and both Lieber and Masur already have campaign Facebook pages up and running. … That may be enough to prompt some activity by the other rumored candidates, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and, a new name in the mix, Burlingame Councilman Michael Brownrigg.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

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

The above photo is courtesy of the San Mateo County Facebook page.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why Regional Measure 3 is a good idea

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Post: It’s a regional measure, by and for the whole region.

When it comes to regional transportation, the main problem is San Francisco Bay.

It’s in the way.

Of course, the world would be a very different place if we had heeded those Bay Area boosters in the 1950s who wanted to fill in the Bay so that Northern California could compete more effectively in size and stature with Southern California. As we always say, size isn’t everything.

The presence of the Bay is the answer to the question that comes up with some frequency by the most hardcore transit advocates: Why are there 27 (or 26 or 28, depending on how you count) transit agencies in the greater Bay Area? If there were one, the argument goes, it would be easier to use transit regionally.

That overly simplistic view (often the safe haven of the hardcore advocate) offers up a solution to a problem that is much more complicated financially, politically, and geographically.

But at the heart of the matter is a simple reality: Traffic is a regional problem with regional solutions that do not include filling in the Bay.

We all contribute to the problem, and we all have to help resolve it.

That’s why Regional Measure 3 (RM3) is on the ballot and that’s why it’s a good idea.

RM3 would raise regional bridge tolls by $1 in 2019, 2022 and 2025, and, yes, most of the money from the increased tolls will not go to improve, repair or expand bridges.

Opponents argue that the people paying the bridge toll will not benefit directly in the form of improved bridges.

Which would be an excellent argument if the people who drive across the bridges went no farther.

But they do. They go to jobs up and down the Peninsula and they are a major reason why there are traffic jams on Highway 101 at the approaches to the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges. These are traffic jams that occur all day, every day – weekends, after normal commute hours.

In other words, it’s a regional problem. And the money will go to regional traffic relief including toll lanes on regional highways, including Highway 101, expansion of BART to San Jose, electrification of Caltrain, extension of Caltrain to downtown San Francisco, expanded ferry service and expanded regional bus service, including new express service to San Francisco being developed by SamTrans.

If we applied the same logic as the opponents, you should pay for schools only if you have children in school and you should pay for street repairs only on those streets you use.

As comedian Jim Jeffries puts it so eloquently: “We’re not animals. We live in a society.” I’m not paraphrasing here so much as I am censoring just a little.

A FEW DOTS: Some Redwood City Council colleagues were more than a little miffed when Diane Howard recently told Spectrum Magazine she would have voted against a General Plan amendment for the Harbor View project, 1.2 million square feet of office space on the old Malibu Grand Prix site. … The amendment passed 4-2, so Howard’s absence was inconsequential. … She was on a long-planned trip to Europe and she told Spectrum a vote that important should have been held when all seven council members could be there. It struck some as campaign posturing by Howard, who is up for re-election this year. … Contacted by Political Climate, Howard said that’s not quite how she meant it. She said she asked Mayor Ian Bain and city staff if the vote could be pushed back because she thought the whole council should participate in the discussion. It couldn’t, and that was that. If it was portrayed in any other way, that was inaccurate, she said. … Howard is one of two incumbents up for re-election this year, being challenged by at least four opponents, and she declined to say if she would endorse colleague Jeff Gee. “I may not endorse anyone,” Howard said. She will wait to see who else gets into the race. “Ask me in August,” she said.

Contact Mark Simon @mark@climaterwc.com.

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

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Judge Persky recall and popularity in the judiciary

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Judge Persky recall and popularity in the judiciary

We all have noticed how our modern social media environment almost seems to invite the strongest, even harshest, statements. These are angry times and anger never seems to be silent these days.

But one person’s angry assertion could be another’s call to action.

Locally, there may be no more complete example of how social media anger can translate into action than the effort to recall Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky because he issued a sentence in a rape trial that was widely criticized as too lenient. Remarkably, this election has become a national news story, as evidenced by the news conference Persky held yesterday, which drew dozens of TV cameras and reporters.

Two comments jumped out from Persky’s hour-long appearance. The first: “When public opinion influences a juror’s decision or a judge’s decision, it corrupts the whole system.”

That California judges at every level are subject to a vote of the public has public corruption at its root. In the earliest days of the United States, all judges were appointed for life, a circumstance that invited judicial misconduct, including bribes and favoritism. Reforms led to the election of judges and when California’s judiciary was established in 1849, the election system was adopted. On more than one occasion, California voters have rejected efforts to appoint judges rather than elect them.

Clearly, Californians value being able to vote on judges, although the vast majority of them run unopposed. Paradoxically, what we often say we value most in judges are integrity and independence.

On the Peninsula, judicial elections have not been popularity contests, even on those occasions when a judge made an unpopular decision or handed down a controversial sentence. Judges have been ousted at the ballot box, but at the heart of those campaigns has been questions of dereliction of duty, inappropriate conduct and unjudicial behavior. In essence, ousting a judge, particularly on the Peninsula was equated with impeachment – misconduct in office was considered a critical threshold.

As Persky suggested, should he be recalled, we will be entering a new era in which a judge is removed for following the judicial sentencing guidelines. The real problem may well be with the law, not the judge. But anger is easier to direct if the target is an individual and not a system.

The other comment by Persky that jumped out from yesterday’s news conference was this: “I was surprised at the amount of the backlash.”

And that leads us to a remarkable turnabout by our own little Palo Alto Daily Post, which began years ago as kind of spunky but has been largely grumpy and pugnaciously anti-government for the last several years.

The Post, it can be stated fairly, was happily and strongly in the vanguard of the backlash, running a headline nearly two years ago that read: “Judge Aaron Persky should be fired.”

The accompanying column lectured Persky on how he should have been thinking about this case.

The remarkable part of this came in an editorial last week in which the Post reversed itself and now opposes the recall of Persky because, while the sentencing was a mistake, “it would be an even greater mistake to give up the concept of an independent judiciary.”

The Post editorial even took a half-hearted swipe at admitting it might have made a mistake: “But we never anticipated that the campaign to remove Persky would result in a lynch-mob movement that threatens the independence of the judiciary.” Not much of an admission that they might have been wrong.

The Post gets credit for a public reversal – it could have remained quiet. But it would be more admirable if the initial call to “fire” Persky were not typical rhetoric from the Post, where thoughtfulness tends to be afterthought. Better late than never, I suppose.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Get Us Moving campaign picks up speed

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After months picking their way through the political thicket, the organizers of Get Us Moving San Mateo County (GUM) are preparing to move from picking their way through the political thicket into full-out advocacy. Right now, the pathway looks good.

The GUMbies are preparing a half-cent sales tax ballot measure for November and this month, they are holding a second round of public meetings to gather public comment and, not incidentally, build a base of public support for the eventual campaign that will kick into gear shortly. You can find the meeting dates, times and locations here.

A near-ubiquitous flyer is urging people to participate in a survey that would assign priorities to how the sales tax revenue should be spent. You can find the survey here.

All this is timely because next month, the SamTrans Board of Directors will hear a presentation on the first draft of the spending plan that will accompany the ballot measure. In July, the transit board, along with the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, will be asked to put the measure on the November ballot. Full disclosure: I worked at SamTrans and Caltrain as an executive from 2004-2017 and was directly involved in the planning and preparations for this effort.

The hope is this sales tax increase will help ease a number of problems, including clogged highway traffic, deteriorating local streets and roads, Caltrain’s ongoing budget struggles, and expand bike and pedestrian networks.

But the centerpiece will be funding to SamTrans, perhaps as much as half the money over the 30-year life of the measure. SamTrans needs to reinvent itself as a mobility agency and that will require new technology, new partnerships, new ideas and new money. Right now, if nothing changes, SamTrans might not survive through the next decade.

Well, there’s early good news for the GUMbies. The online survey asks participants to select their budget priorities with the constraints of the money the sales tax would generate. As of this morning, a summary of the budget submitted by the public shows roughly half the money going to public transit.

THREE-DOT JOURNALISM: Perfected by Herb Caen, weakly imitated here.

A recent column described the conflict between two members of the San Mateo County Community College District – Tom Mohr and Richard Holober – who live in the same election district and are running against each other this November. They’re not the only ones. Trustees Dave Mandelkern and Maurice Goodman are both up for re-election in 2020 and they live in the same district. Mandelkern told Political Climate he is planning to run again and “I’m not contemplating moving at this time.” … South San Francisco Mayor Liza Normandy, whose day job is running the South City Chamber of Commerce, is telling people she won’t run for re-election this year. … At Redwood City’s Courthouse Square last week, a full complement of San Mateo County law enforcement officers conducted a solemn and dignified annual memorial honoring the 28 of their ranks who have died in the line of duty. Three names jumped off the program page for me: Hillsborough Police Eugene A. Doran, killed in 1959, and for whom the Highway 280 bridge was named; San Mateo Police Sgt. Gordon Joinville, killed in 1968, and for whom the city’s swimming facility is named; and Redwood City Police Sgt. George Garrett, killed in 1981. It’s always good to be reminded of how our local landmarks got their names and to renew our desire to honor these dedicated officers. Garrett was someone I knew personally – a larger-than-life, hard-charging cop, and whose memory I still hold treasure.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

 

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Design concept for county building draws protest

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In this era of instant opinions, the unveiling of a little information can cause some people to react like a group of chipmunks in possession of a brand new acorn. A group of chipmunks is called a scurry, which seems appropriate.

The scurry might explain the flurry, and, in some instances fury, of reaction to the recently circulated picture of the proposed County Office Building 3 (COB3) building at the San Mateo County government center in Redwood City.

You can see an architect’s conception of what the building could look like by going here.

Now, that preceding sentence had a lot of prevarication in it. The look and design of the building is just a concept. As in, idea or notion.

None of which stopped social media posters from immediately protesting that the building was completely out of synch with what Redwood City residents want. This led, inevitably, to further postings criticizing the county as heavy-handed. Then we were off to the races about what’s wrong with government and how life in the city is going to hell in a handbasket.

But let’s start by saying a few things, which might even qualify as that ever-elusive thing we call fact.

There is no design, only a proposal to build a 121,000-165,000 square foot office building on existing county land.

The unveiling of the proposal actually signaled the beginning of the public comment process and cooperation between the county and the city, not the end.

Anything new and modern on this site would be an improvement over the aged Hall of Justice, which sits next to the site, and is a sad building, above and beyond the justice meted out inside it.

The conceptual drawing is actually impressive – kind of a spinoff of the landmark Guggenheim Museum in New York City. It’s utterly undeniable that there are no buildings that look like that in Redwood City.

If there were anyone with cause to be upset, it would be Redwood City Council members, some of whom apparently were taken by surprise at the disclosure of the building proposal when it was described recently to the Board of Supervisors.

That prompted Mayor Ian Bain to write to the county, noting that the publication of the proposal in the San Mateo Daily Journal “was the first time that I had seen this drawing, and I have confirmed with our staff that Redwood City staff has not been involved in the process of designing County Center, despite assurances from County officials that we would be.”

Well, you’ll be pleased to know peace has prevailed. City staff, county staff, Supervisor David Canepa and Mayor Bain met this week and they’re all on the same page: The design process is just beginning, there will be a minimum of three community meetings, the public will have a chance to weigh in on the design and the city will have ample opportunity to influence a project that will have significant impact on the surrounding community.

“I’m much more at ease,” Bain said in an interview.

Deputy County Manager Mike Callagy, heading up the effort, said the county wants to provide a total package – an environmentally advanced building that is a good place to work, a good setting for the public who uses it, and is an asset to the community, with a park-like setting and open, public space.

Final design is a year away, Callagy said. Meanwhile, everyone is supposed to meet again next week.

ON THE TEAM: Speaking of Canepa, he was among the dissenting votes on a 10-6 vote approving Highway 101 toll lanes by the City/County Association of Governments.

That prompted some to speculate that Canepa was forging a role as an outsider on the Board of Supervisors. Not so, said Canepa in an assertive, almost combative, interview.

He said he supports the June regional ballot measure to raise tolls on the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges, even though some of the money could go to funding the toll lane project. He said he supports the sales-tax increase that eventually will go on the ballot in November to fund transit and transportation projects, including, possibly the toll lane project. He also supports Senate Bill 1, the legislation passed last year that raised the gas tax and could help pay for the toll lane project.

All those funds “can be programmed in other ways,” he said, hence his vote against toll lanes, which he doesn’t like at all. “I don’t think it’s good for the area.” He said toll lanes are inequitable and give preferential treatment to some drivers. “I don’t think people should move ahead of others,” Canepa said.

Canepa also said he works well with his board colleagues, none of whom endorsed him in 2016, that he has worked on legislation with each of the other supervisors and that he has voted with his colleagues in all but a very small number of times.

“On my end, it’s all cool. On their end it’s all cool,” he said. “This is the best job I’ve ever had. I love this job. I thoroughly enjoy my job.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Mohr to run for reelection despite unexpected opponent

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This November, the San Mateo County Community College Board of Trustees will become the second county-wide body to elect its members by district, joining the county Board of Supervisors, which moved to district elections in 2012.

It was easy enough for the Board of Supervisors – each member already represented a district.

At the Community College, however, the matter is more complicated. Three of the trustees, Maurice Goodman, Dave Mandelkern and Rich Holober, lived in District 3, which includes South San Francisco, San Bruno, Millbrae, Burlingame and Hillsborough.

Yes, lived, as in used to live there.

Holober, the second-longest-serving member of the board, elected in 1997, has moved out of District 3 and into District 4, which includes San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont and Foster City. He has moved from Millbrae to San Mateo.

The fuller significance of this is that Holober moved into the same district as fellow trustee Tom Mohr, and both are up for re-election this year. And, I am told, as Holober has been seeking endorsements, he also has been discussing with others that Mohr has been fighting cancer, that he has not been well and that he might not run again.

Asked about this, Holober said, “I don’t think I’m yet really asking people for endorsements.” He added, “People ask me (about Mohr’s health) and I say he seems fine. That’s really his business, not mine.”

Well, Mohr said he definitely is running. And the normally reserved Mohr is more than a little angry at Holober.

“Yes, I’m going to run again,” Mohr, elected in 2013 and seeking his second term, said, “I’ve handled this (cancer treatments) for two years. I think I’ve handled it pretty well.”

He also confirmed he has been told by others that Holober is seeking endorsements and “He is mentioning that I have this disease.”

That was confirmed by fellow trustee Goodman, who commented about it at a recent board meeting.

“The underlying expressions I’ve gotten within the county, in talking to other elected officials” is that Holober “is asking for endorsements and using Tom Mohr’s health,” Goodman said.

The decision by both Mohr and Holober to run for re-election this year is complicated by the realities of the new districts approved last June by the trustees. Only Mohr and Holober are up for re-election, and elections will be held this year only in Districts 2 and 4.

But that means if Holober was going to move, he could have chosen to move into District 2, which includes Broadmoor, western San Bruno near Skyline College, Colma, Brisbane and Daly City. Instead, he opted to move into the district where Mohr lives.

Holober said both he and Mohr have had to move since the adoption of the new district election process. He said Mohr moved last spring. Holober confirmed he moved more recently and into the same district as Mohr.

Mohr took umbrage at the implication that his ongoing battle with cancer might leave him unable to fulfill his duties as trustee.

Mohr said any of the leaders at each of the district’s three colleges would confirm he is one of the most active board members and a frequent presence at campus events.

In addition, Mohr is one of the most beloved figures in the county, having served to wide acclaim for more than 50 years as an educator and administrator on the Peninsula, including superintendent of the Sequoia High School District and, after retirement, as president of Canada College in Redwood City for six years.

His fight with cancer “doesn’t mean I can go 100 miles an hour,” but, Mohr said, he is more than able to fulfill the duties of a trustee, which do not include day-to-day management of the college district.

As for a showdown between two incumbents, Holober indicated he’s staying in the race. “I’m going to focus on myself. I’m going to focus on my own record. Every one of us is free to run.”

Mark Simon can be reached at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Who’s leaving – and coming – amid soaring housing costs

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As news goes, this barely qualifies: Bay Area housing prices continue to rise.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index, an authoritative national assessment, reported Tuesday that housing prices nationally rose 6.4 percent from February 2017 to February 2018.

And that raises an interesting question: Would we be more or less uneasy if housing prices rose 6.4 percent on the Peninsula?

Because the same index, as reported by San Francisco Chronicle’s insightful business columnist Kathleen Pender, showed prices rose 33.6 percent in Santa Clara County and 25.7 percent in San Mateo County.

Yikes.

In the 20 cities used in the index, only three cities rose by double digits: San Francisco (10.1 percent), Las Vegas (11.6 percent) and Seattle (12.7 percent).

There is no small irony in the timing of this information, which arrives about a week after the death of the bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener that would have forced cities to build with higher density and greater height around transit corridors.

Meanwhile, people are fleeing the Bay Area and California in record numbers. Right?

Well, maybe not.

In a widely publicized report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) and based on analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 5 million people moved to California from 2007 to 2016, but about 6 million left the state – a net loss of 1 million or about 2.5 percent of the state’s total population for those of you scoring at home.

But the same report notes: “These population losses are low in historical terms.” From 1990 to 2006, “net out-migration was, on average, more than double what it was in the most recent ten years.”

So, who’s leaving and where are they going?

The LAO report says “families with kids and those with only a high school education predominate among those moving from California,” and they are moving mostly to Texas, Arizona and Nevada (which explains that spike in Las Vegas housing prices).

Remember, while 6 million left, 5 million people moved here, and that group is dominated by 18- to 35-year-olds with college degrees. Where are they coming from? New York, Illinois and New Jersey, according to the report.

That information is borne out by a less-scientific but nonetheless reliable source: the United Van Lines Annual National Movers Study. The top ten states people moved to in 2017 are: Vermont, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, South Dakota (really?), Washington (see Seattle price spike), South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado and Alabama. The top ten states people moved from in 2017: Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Kansas, Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, Utah and Wisconsin.

So, California isn’t top ten in either category, but it remains a meaningful draw to younger, college-education people.

That’s borne out by yet another study by Livability, a website that conducts an annual ranking of the 100 best places to live in America based on nine factors, including amenities, diverse demographics, economy, education, health care and housing.

Even with the cost of housing, California cities make up 20 percent of the list. Palo Alto is ranked 6th, San Mateo 29th, Redwood City 65th and Burlingame 70th.

For those who resent “techies” who keep showing up in our communities with their hoodies, their employee badges and their disposable incomes, all these reports could be fuel for the fire, I suppose.

Or, it could be seen as more of the transition that is taking place in our economy, our communities and our demographics. Change is always hard. Generational change is deeply disruptive.

Consider, though, the presence in Redwood City of Baobab Studios, a company that is leading the way in Virtual Reality animation, essentially melding VR and animated movies as an interactive entertainment venue.

It is mind-boggling, exciting stuff and they’re in Redwood City because it’s an ideal geographic location in the midst of Silicon Valley, which is helpful in attracting and retaining bright, creative employees, said Maureen Fan, co-founder and CEO of Baobab.

Fan told Political Climate in a recent interview that she is well aware of the cost of housing in the Bay Area and has had friends who have moved away “because it’s too expensive.”

But, she noted, there are still “more job opportunities in the Bay Area. If you have the technical skills, you want to come to the Bay Area.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Traffic is bad. Now what?

in Infrastructure/PoliticalClimate by
Post: It’s a regional measure, by and for the whole region.

Will people do anything for traffic relief? Will they pay more? Change their habits?

The answer is yes for officials throughout San Mateo County and the Bay Area, who are prepared to commit billions of public and private dollars on projects aimed at reducing traffic and enhancing public transit.

The plans, programs and projects that will transform our transportation system are the subject of a piece I wrote that will appear in the May issue of Climate Magazine, available in various locations next week.

Two upcoming ballot measures will test the proposition that people are fed up with traffic enough that they’re willing to pay more for solutions.

Regional Measure 3 on the June ballot would raise the tolls on seven state-owned bridges in the Bay Area, including the Bay, San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges. Tolls would go up a dollar in 2019, another dollar in 2022 and another dollar in 2025. The $4.5 billion the tolls would generate will go to improvements to current highways, bridges and roads, including toll lanes on Highway 101 and various public transit projects that aim to get more people out of their cars, such as the Dumbarton rail bridge and the Dumbarton auto bridge.

A separate measure in November will ask county voters to support a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for a sweeping range of projects and programs that have at their core the conviction that we have arrived at the post-auto era of transit and transportation. The tax measure still is being written, but it is clear that one element of it will be transit that is more available, more convenient and more frequent – in other words, an alternative to the car.

In the 1970s, when Jerry Brown was in his first two terms as governor, he publicly raised the possibility of purposely forcing people from their cars through the creation of disincentives – make the car too expensive and too inconvenient and make mass transit more attractive.

He was widely criticized for the notion and, typically, he was ahead of his time, a forerunner of automobile disincentives now embraced as progressive, such as congestion pricing and central district automobile bans, and incentives such as carpool and toll lanes.

Forty years later, the disincentive arrived on its own in the form of this late-breaking bulletin: traffic is bad. So bad, people will give up their cars.

That’s old news at Caltrain (in the interest of full disclosure, I was an executive at SamTrans and Caltrain from 2004 through 2017).

In 2004, Caltrain introduced its first Baby Bullet express trains. By mid-2005, it was clear that the express trains were the only part of the Caltrain service that was gaining riders, and the decision was made to double the number of bullet trains.

From 2004 to 2017, ridership on Caltrain has doubled (revenue from ticket sales tripled) as thousands of people a day left their cars and the challenging commute to ride on the train. In Caltrain’s 2017 annual count, six trains are at 100 or greater capacity. All of them are express trains. The average length of the trip made by these passengers was 23 miles and those who rode express trains rode an average of 28 miles.

It’s that very reaction that county transit officials are counting on. What is clear from the Caltrain example is that in this current economic environment, people value time more than money. And this particular form of transit serves the need to get from one place to another in a timely way.

“That’s why owning a car doesn’t make any sense,” said Redwood City Councilman Jeff Gee, who serves on both the SamTrans and Caltrain boards of directors, in the upcoming Climate Magazine piece. “The peak period of car ownership has passed. Younger people have figured that out. Now the rest of us need to figure that out.”

THAT CITY UP THERE: The recent announcement by San Francisco that it was going to relocate the Caltrain railyard up there was typical of the city. You may have noticed in related news stories or the announcement by the city that no one from Caltrain was quoted. That’s probably because Caltrain doesn’t want to relocate its railyard, which, by the way, San Francisco doesn’t own.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Splitting California into 3 states divisive in several ways

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Splitting California into 3 states divisive in several ways

If splitting California into six states was a loopy idea, is splitting it into three states half-loopy?

Splitting up California is the brainchild of Tim Draper, a third-generation venture capitalist who apparently thinks smaller is better, although I suspect that is not the lesson he is teaching the budding entrepreneurs enrolled at San Mateo-based Draper University of Heroes, which puts on a nice street fair.

He has plenty of money, having invested early in Skype. Being smart at one thing appears to make him feel smart about many other things, although, it must be said, there is quite a long history in California of business executives failing miserably at politics, it being a little more difficult than it looks.

Anyway, he is willing to spend some of that money on his pet projects. In 2000, he spent more than $23 million on Proposition 38, a measure that would have allowed the state to spend $4,000 per pupil enrolled at private and religious schools. It also restricted the state from applying academic standards to these private schools. By the way, his dad also spent $2 million on the measure. It’s nice to see a family stick together. The measure failed.

In 2014, he spent $5 million trying to get a measure on the statewide ballot to divide California into six states, but roughly half the signatures he collected were invalid and the measure never was put before the voters.

Now, he’s back with what might be called a half-measure: dividing California into three states.  It would be easy to call it silly, but it makes sense to take it seriously.

Not the proposal – it is silly. Draper’s measure, if it qualifies for the ballot, will lose, but it can still do a lot of damage. The debate it will touch off has the potential to be seriously harmful and divisive at a time when our politics are badly divided.

What we need are our leaders – in government, politics and business – to look for ways to bring us together around common values and concerns.

The proposal was dismissed for just these reasons by Paul Saffo, who was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce’s 49th Progress Seminar, the annual gathering of San Mateo County leaders, who meet in Monterey to discuss the leading issues affecting the county and, oddly enough, seek consensus solutions. Saffo is a renowned futurist from Stanford, an engaging and thoughtful thinker about society, change and the dynamics that impact human behavior.

Saffo called Draper “the clown prince of Silicon Valley” and an example of “folks who get too rich too fast and decide to make everyone else unhappy.”

The three-states measure is “extraordinarily dangerous” because it undermines “our most valuable resource: our social cohesion,” Saffo said.

There are a wide number of interests around the country and the world “who love to see California get into a fight with ourselves,” he said.

There are parts of the state – largely the more rural eastern and far northern counties — where splitting off from California long has been advocated and signs calling for the creating of the State of Jefferson are becoming more prominent. The Draper proposal will only fuel that sentiment and embolden those who want their differences to become codified, rather than resolved.

California works in many ways, and it works best when we listen to one another, “not by insulting people,” Saffo said. “The stakes are really high.”

Saffo asked the audience members to show their support for a unified California by the simple act of putting on their cars a sticker depicting the Bear Flag Republic state flag.

Draper’s principal argument is that government is too large to be effective and that people are leaving California because it doesn’t work anymore.

In reality, the only problem Draper has with government is that he can’t get it to do what he wants, whether it’s put in place a draconian voucher system that would enrich private schools at the expense of public education or eliminate financial regulations and restrictions aimed to protect the American economy from abuse.

Yes, Draper spent $23 million on that failed voucher measure in 2000, and he spent $5 million in 2014 in an unsuccessful effort to put his first split-California measure on the ballot. Maybe he spent that much this time, too.

What we do know is this: He is likely to have more impact on improving California by spending his money on resolving the problems that face the state. Imagine what a local housing nonprofit might do if it had $28 million to spend. It might enable some folks to stick around.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com

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

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

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.

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