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Political Climate by Mark Simon: Council race will be costly, rough

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The flurry of activity in the Redwood City City Council race at the start of February has settled down a bit, but some would-be candidates are still contemplating their options.

Veteran Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt, who ran unsuccessfully for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 2012 and for the city council in 2013, said he is “50/50 about running this time.” He sounds like he’s leaning toward passing this time and running in 2020, when term limits and higher ambitions among current council incumbents may mean more open seats.

As for 2018, it will be the first council election to be part of the statewide general election, which means much bigger turnout and a base of voters well beyond the number who participated in prior elections, and these voters will have to be contacted. Add to that the noise and attention of a statewide ballot that includes races for governor and U.S. senator, and a local candidate will struggle to be heard.

Schmidt estimates a campaign for city council this year will be the most expensive ever. Do I really want to spend 90 grand?” Schmidt said.

Then there’s the expectation among many that this council race will be distinctly contentious as some of the most controversial issues play out between hardened camps.

“It’s such a weird climate,” Schmidt said. “The race is going to be very noisy. I don’t know if I have ear muffs strong enough for all the noise.”

EXPECTATIONS: Schmidt’s reference to the political climate is accurate: In talking with a number of candidates, it is clear the expectation is for a rough campaign.

That’s one reason my debut column expressed disappointment and impatience with an anonymous complaint filed at the state Fair Political Practices Commission against incumbent Jeff Gee. Since that appeared, I’ve been told that all complaints to the FPPC preserve the anonymity of the complainant, even if that person identifies himself or herself to the FPPC.

Well, that’s not true. Complainants have the option of remaining anonymous. In fact, they have to take an affirmative step to preserve their anonymity. That was the case in this complaint filed by a self-described “concerned citizen of Redwood City.” The same complainant later says, “I am filing this complaint anonymously as I am concerned for my job if named.”

Of course, we have no way of knowing if any of that is true, nor are we able to assess the motives of the complainant.

The timing is significant: the complaint was filed on Dec. 29, 2016, when it still looked as if Gee would be on the ballot in 2017. Was it filed for political mischief and to burden Gee with a political wound at a critical time? Is that fair or accurate speculation? Who knows? The complainant knows, and he or she is welcome to call me up and straighten me out if my speculation is off-base.

NEW FACES: I had a chance to talk to several of the new names emerging for the 2018 council race, one of whom, Giselle Hale, is the most recent to enter the race, doing so today via a Facebook announcement.

Christina Umhofer described herself first as a “lifetime resident” of Redwood City and as someone who believes in actively engaging in the issues that concern her. “If I’m going to have a criticism, I should put myself in the role of doing something about it.”

In prior publications, she has been labeled a “residentialist,” a label she said “other people have put on me.”

The issues of the campaign, she said, will be rent control, growth, parks and open space and infrastructure.

She understands “we have to grow in order to survive and thrive. …I think we could pause for three to six months and see what our city and residents need. We have afforded ourselves the opportunity to pause for a few seconds.”

As a property owner – Umhofer’s family owns a long-established auto garage – the economic growth has benefited her property values. But Umhofer said there have been unreconciled impacts on roads and sewer systems and not everyone has benefited. She said she wants to understand what else needs to be done for the whole of the city’s residents.

Rick Hunter answered questions via email and said the major issues facing the city are “severe budget difficulties, the affordable housing crisis and jobs/housing imbalance and the balance between quality of life and growth.”

With a decades-long record of civic activism as a volunteer and as a member of city and school commissions and foundation boards, “It’s the right time to use my experience to help guide the city through the next very important period.”

A CPA with an MBA from UCLA, Hunter said his background in finance and accounting will be valuable “In making difficult budget decisions as the city faces a growing problem with unfunded pension liabilities.”

As for Hale, her Facebook announcement began with a Valentine to the city: “I love you Redwood City.” She said she is running “because I will work to ensure residents and families of all ethnic and economic backgrounds can live in Redwood City and not just make it here – but thrive.”

Her local experience includes a seat on the Planning Commission and a board member on the Redwood City Education Foundation. A product director for Facebook, Hale’s activism includes Democratic campaign work on behalf of President Barack Obama and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and the leadership council for the National Partnership for Women and Families.

She said she is concerned whether Redwood City can remain family-friendly. She was prompted to ask: “Why not me, why not now?”

“It is becoming unsustainable to raise a family in Redwood City,” she said, noting that her school-age children have seen the families of friends move out of the area because of the cost of living, particularly housing.

“We need to decide how that’s going to play out,” Hale said. “We’re raising the first generation of children who won’t drive cars.”

Like other candidates, Hale said the next step is to spend time talking to fellow residents, understanding their concerns and working together to learn how to address them.

“Any candidate who is running is out listening right now,” Hale said.

Mark Simon can be reached at

Giselle Hale announces City Council candidacy

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City Council hopeful Giselle Hale formally announced her candidacy this morning in a most fitting way – a Facebook post.

The director of media partnership at Facebook, who currently serves on Redwood City’s planning commission, is a young leader with years of professional experience and community service under her belt. Hale said she is running for City Council to “ensure residents and families of all ethnic and economic backgrounds” can live and thrive in the city.

“I believe my combined experience as a businesswoman, current Redwood City Planning Commissioner, community volunteer and most importantly a mother provides me with a broad perspective on what it will take to create and maintain a vibrant and livable Redwood City for all residents,” Hale said in her announcement.

Hale joined Facebook in 2010 after co-founding the startup Civio. Professionally, she is an expert in fields including marketing, program management, business development, channel strategies and startup operations.

She’s also been very active in the public sector, serving as campaign manager for Congresswoman Anna Eshoo in 2008, who won re-election decisively that year. Prior to that role, she was a regional field director for former President Barack Obama’s campaign.

Hale has served on the Redwood City planning commission since 2014, and is also active with the National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, health care access, and policies that help parents meet the demands of work and family.

She earned an undergraduate degree in International Relations from University of Wisconsin-Madison and a graduate degree from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

“My husband and I came to Redwood City to start our family because it was a place that matched our personal values of hard work, kindness, family and fun,” Hale said. “Redwood City stands out across the Peninsula as a place that embraces diversity, families and every generation with an unmatched quality of life.”

Hale’s campaign website can be viewed here.

Redwood City Kaiser campus revamp plans get green light

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Kaiser received approval by the Redwood City planning commission last week to build a four-story medical office building with three levels of underground parking at the southeast corner of Marshall and Maple streets, along with a centrally-located 1.5 acre park space on the medical campus featuring a children’s playground and future farmers market.

The 197,800 square foot building will house 143 doctor’s offices and 116 exam rooms at 1175 Marshall St. It is part of a long-running Kaiser campus overhaul that included construction of the new hospital at Walnut Street and Veterans Boulevard, which was completed in 2015.

The latest project entails constructing the new building with an underground parking garage adding up to 454 parking spaces, then moving staff, medical providers and equipment from the adjacent Tower and Oak buildings into the new building. After that move, the Tower and Oak buildings will be demolished, a task expected to take up to two years. An 85-space surface parking lot will also be constructed adjacent to the new medical office building.

The project will include street enhancements on Marshall Court, Marshall Street and Maple Street. On Maple Street, the road will be reduced from two vehicular lanes in each direction to one, making way for a bike lane.

The design of the campus aims to create pedestrian access and connectivity throughout, with “wide walkways” connecting buildings, according to city officials.

Redwood City wants more say in Dumbarton Corridor study

in Featured/Infrastructure by
Supes vote in favor of placing Regional Measure 3 on June ballot

Redwood City wants to be a more active partner in the ongoing process to establish and implement traffic relief improvements projects along the Dumbarton Corridor.

At its meeting Monday, Redwood City’s council voted in favor of sending a letter to SamTrans executive director Jim Hartnett requesting more than just updates when it comes to proposals being eyed to change the Dumbarton Bridge (Highway 84) and its approaches, as well as to possibly rehabilitate and repurpose the Dumbarton rail bridge for transit use.

SamTrans staff recently presented proposals from the 2016-launched Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study to the Redwood City Council. While the presentation was appreciated, city officials say they want more involvement in any proposed project that would impact Redwood City, according to Mayor Ian Bain’s letter to SamTrans.

The study’s proposed alternatives include adding express lanes to the highway bridge and increasing bus service to local cities including Redwood City. It also includes building a commuter rail shuttle between Union City BART and Redwood City Caltrain, and possibly a bicycle and pedestrian multiuse path options on the Dumbarton rail line from Redwood City to East Palo Alto.

As the transportation project moves forward in its vetting process, Mayor Bain’s letter requests that Redwood City and other impacted local cities become “active participants in the technical and outreach work and in the decision-making process.”

Along with requests to form active committees involving participating jurisdictions, including East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Mateo County, Bain’s letter calls for the Dumbarton Corridor study to examine impacts of a rail shuttle on the roadway network and the Redwood City transit center, as well as how it would be compatible with future streetcar service in Redwood City.

The study should also include the feasibility of a bike-ped corridor from East Palo Alto to Redwood City along the rail right-of-way, according to Redwood City officials.  Additionally, the city asks to be reimbursed for staff and consultant time while participating in the planning process.

To read the full Dumbarton Transportation Corridor study, go here.

Going to Bat

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By Bill Shilstone

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John. L. (“Jack”) Grandsaert called the courtroom to order with some unusual introductory remarks to the defendants:

“The discipline that you showed during your military training and service is what convinces me that you can successfully complete your probation and treatment in this court. Veterans deserve different treatment. They have already sacrificed part of their lives for the benefit of the rest of us.”

Any of the county’s 29,000 military veterans who find themselves in trouble with the law should hope to end up in Judge Grandsaert’s Redwood City courtroom. Instead of facing fines or a jail term that will build on feelings of rejection and anger that often plague veterans, he or she will find an authority figure who talks to them like a favorite uncle and offers a helping hand.

Grandsaert and the team he put together to establish the Veterans Treatment Court are dedicated to helping the veteran complete probation and get treatment. Convictions may be expunged. Fines may be reduced or excused. Perhaps most important, the veteran may get the feeling that the system can be accepting and assisting instead of accusing and adversarial.

At a recent hearing, Grandsaert had a twinkle in his eye, not a glare, as he engaged nine veterans, in turn, in friendly, personally directed conversation.

“How is the rock climbing going? I know it’s therapeutic for you.”

“You made all your appointments; good for you. We’ll see what we can do about your restitution problem.”

Eight of the nine received the same treatment: a smile, a handshake, congratulations on a positive report, a gift certificate for coffee and a “See you in a month” sendoff. Courtroom spectators applauded each one. One no-show and one report of a probation violation were the only negatives.

Grandsaert, who was raised in Redwood City, was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 2004 and started the veterans’ court six years ago. He’d read about similar programs and had an affinity with the military, having served 10 years in the Army Reserve and a son, Patrick, making a career in the Air Force. “It seemed unfortunate that we couldn’t help a veteran by taking into account that military service is where problems originate,” Grandsaert said. “To me it’s an easy sell.”

Easy sell maybe, but with no budget for judges and staff for an extra court, it took Grandsaert a year and a half to get the Veterans Treatment Court going. He started gathering people he knew would be receptive, either veterans themselves or with veterans in their families. He convened meetings with representatives from offices of the Veterans Administration, district attorney, private defender, probation, and county behavioral health and recovery – all players on today’s  VTC team. They took on the assignment pro bono, on top of their regular jobs.

It’s the team working together, plus a willing veteran, that is responsible for the program’s success, said Danielle Barringer, a deputy probation officer assigned to the court, with a son in the Army.  “We figure out what is best for each and every veteran, we support them, watch them fail, pick them up again and watch them succeed.”

Milton Mooney, a recent graduate, and Tim Healy, one of his mentors, are typical of the defendants. Proudly showing off the certificates of achievement on the wall of his cozy Menlo Park apartment, Mooney told of turning to drugs and alcohol in Vietnam to mask painful memories from his two-year Army tour. He himself suffered a serious head injury in a Jeep crash. When he left the service, “My family didn’t want anything to do with me because of the drugs and alcohol.” He bought a car and began a cross-country journey “stopping in every state to get high” and leaving behind a string of driving-under-the influence arrests.

After almost 40 years of homelessness, Mooney was referred to the Palo Alto VA’s Homeless Veterans Rehabilitation Program at the Menlo Park campus. As long as a veteran is committed to reform and is crime free, he or she has a bed for six months and transition to the VA’s many rehabilitation programs.

Mooney didn’t quite make it. Another DUI put him in county jail in Redwood City for three months. VA clinical psychologist Matthew Stimmel came to the rescue and got Mooney into Grandsaert’s court. After 29 months of rehabilitation, Mooney, 65, was able to say to the celebrants at his graduation in November, “I’ve finally become a law-abiding senior citizen.”

“Counselors helped me get to where I am: DUI convictions gone from my record, a car, money in the bank, a job, housing (federally subsidized),” Mooney said. “I’ve never been there before. I want people to know it’s a blessing to be a vet, that we’re not bad people, and that vets court is God’s gift for giving us a second chance.” Mooney is now the newest mentor in Grandsaert’s court, someone who can “put an arm around the shoulder and say he knows the feeling,” said David Grillo, manager of the VA’s treatment liaison with the court.

Healy was a Navy airman from 1986 to 1990, and his story echoes Mooney’s.  “Alcohol is part of the culture in the military,” Healy said. “I graduated to bigger and better things and became a crystal meth addict. That led to losing jobs and being ostracized by family. I was an angry drug dealer. I pulled guns on people who owed me money. I was ugly.” Healy ended up in HVRP in 2010 and now works for the VA as an outreach specialist and is the lead mentor in the veterans’ court. Honored (with Grandsaert) in 2016 as co-Veteran of the Year, Healy’s personal turning point came when a psychologist told him, “If you change the way you think, you’ll change your life.  You create what happens.”

“I think what happens to many veterans who get in trouble,” he continued, “is that the adrenaline is suddenly gone. The military puts you in charge of life-and-death equipment, then you get out and go to work stocking shelves at Safeway. That was me. I’ve seen many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who just get bored. That leads to trouble.”

The success rate for the 175 veterans who have gone to the court is 100 percent, defined as connection with housing or treatment, Grillo said. From the court standpoint, the success rate is almost as good. “I’d say about two percent have problems after completing the program,” Grandsaert said. Nationwide, the rate of recidivism (another offense within three years) is 45 percent for misdemeanors and 60 percent for felonies.

“I also measure success by all the wonderful stories I hear,” Grandsaert said. He told of a man with a serious gambling addiction who was cured by his assignment to community service with the Warrior Canine Connection program, in which veterans train dogs to become service animals. “`Man’s best friend’ can be therapeutic for somebody down on their self-image who has trouble dealing with people,” he said.

Defendants eligible for assignment to the Veterans Treatment Court must have prior or current membership in the military and a diagnosis of trauma, substance abuse or other mental health issues that stem from military service. He or she must be eligible for VA benefits and for probation and not charged with serious violence. The VTC has handled cases of bank robbery, assault, and many DUI’s, Grandsaert said.

David Rice, a VTC mentor and assistant director of the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities at Stanford University, helps manage education benefits, connecting the 150 veterans on campus and facilitating needed social rehabilitation.

In both his mentoring and Stanford roles, Rice tried to ease the same kind of “culture shock” he experienced when he left the Army as a captain in 1997 after 11 years and went to work in graphic design. “My supervisors were afraid I was after their jobs,” he said. “In the Army, I knew my fellow soldiers had my back. It’s not like that in business.” Rice went to work at the VA as an addiction therapist and volunteered for the treatment court mentor program. He believes the program is successful, in part, because Grandsaert “talks to the veterans like they mean something.”

Grandsaert sums up the court’s benefits in the conclusion of his introductory courtroom admonition to the defendants: “If you are honest with me and the people who are trying to help you, and you give it your best effort, you will get through this, and good things will begin to happen for you once again.”


Redwood City Toys’R’Us spared from nationwide store closures

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Redwood City Toys'R'Us spared after company announces nationwide closures

The Toys’R’Us and Babies’R’Us store at 202 Walnut St. in Redwood City is not among the list of about 150 stores the company plans to close across the nation as it reorganizes in order to emerge from bankruptcy. The list includes 24 store closures in California alone.

On Wednesday, the financially struggling retailer, which is shedding about one-fifth of its U.S. locations, announced discounts of up to 30 percent at the stores that are closing. Those stores are expected to close in April.

The store closures are part of a restructuring plan that aims to make the company a viable contender in the rapidly evolving retail landscape.

Trailblazing Admiral instructs sea cadets in leadership

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A retired U.S. Navy rear admiral who navigated around restrictions women once faced in the military urged Sea Cadets gathered Saturday in Redwood City to create their own opportunities, offering advice from her own life about how to transform setbacks into success.

Speaking Feb. 3 during an annual inspection ceremony for the city’s unique U.S. Naval Sea Cadet unit, Rear Admiral Bonnie Potter, who is a physician, described her disappointment in 1975 when she came on active duty as a lieutenant and was told that she could not go to sea. She’d wanted to follow the path of her father, who had served the country in World War II.

“I thought, if I can’t go to sea, what else can I do?” she told the young people, their families and friends during the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps Band of the West Division’s inspection ceremony and performance. The event was held at American Legion Post 105, one of the sponsors for the nation’s first and only Sea Cadet band.

Potter described how she focused on becoming the best she could be in her Naval assignments, which included a tour as Chief of Medicine/Residency Program Director at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and as Director of Medical Services for the USNS Comfort during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. In 1997, she was promoted to rear admiral, becoming the first female physician in the military to be selected to for “flag” rank.

Potter, who received her second star in 1999, retired in 2003 and is active with the Navy League.

Among the keys to success, she told the cadets, is to look for opportunities and not to allow the possibility of failure to hold them back.  People who aren’t necessarily “born leaders” can still be great leaders but need to continually assess their own strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s not a destination,” Potter said.  “It’s a journey. I still work on being a leader.”

Demonstrating how times have changed, two female cadets – Samantha Wen and Jenna Ghaddar – were pinned as chief petty officers, a rank achieved by only about two percent of all cadets.  Both are Aragon High School students.

The 48-member Band of the West is a unit of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a national youth program which develops skills in leadership, musicianship, basic seamanship, courage, self-reliance and discipline. Sea Cadets have opportunities to attend trainings conducted nationwide, which are supported by the U.S. military, in career fields such as cyberwarfare, STEM, aviation, medicine, law, engineering and more.

The band, which was commissioned in 2013, has steadily grown and does about 20 performances a year for veterans, military personnel and their families. During Saturday’s ceremony, the band paid musical tribute to Band Officer John Evans, who died in January.

Redwood City port director announces retirement

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Mike Giari, executive director of the Port of Redwood City, recently announced that he will be retiring effective May 1, or when his successor is in place.

Giari first joined the Port of Redwood City in 1988 as a manager of trade development and has been the executive director since May 1995.

“Mike has been instrumental in helping the Port grow and sustain that growth,” Port Commissioner Richard Dodge said in a statement. “Tonnage across the Port docks has more than tripled since Mike assumed his position in 1995 and the Port has attracted new businesses that benefit Silicon Valley.”

Giari is a past president of the Bay Planning Coalition and the California Association of Port Authorities (CAPA). He was also the past chairman of the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce where he has been an active member for nearly 25 years.

He is a Redwood City resident and is married with three adult children.

How a New York Times best-selling series came to rely on local fan

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How a New York Times best-selling series came to rely on local teen

A Miss California contestant representing Redwood City recently recounted a fascinating story about how she became a consultant for The New York Times’ best-selling children’s books series, The Kingdom Keepers.

On Friday, a blog post published on the Miss California website details how, at age 11, Brooke Muschott became a big fan of the Kingdom Keepers series, reading the books so many times that she managed to notice inconsistencies in the stories. Throughout her summer between her sophomore and junior years in high school, Muschott marked every inconsistency in the series with Post-it notes and then pointed them out to the series’ author Ridley Pearson during a book signing event at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park.

“…I took my books to be signed, post-its and all,” Muschott said. “And when Ridley asked me what the sea of pink and blue tabs sticking out the sides of his books was about, I told him they were inconsistencies.”

In what Muschott calls the “plot twist of all plot twist,” Pearson was not offended, but instead asked her to read an unreleased book from the series and search for inconsistencies in the story.

That encounter was a life-changer for Muschott, who “went from average high school student to continuity editor, and then a researcher, brainstormer, events and social media assistant on a New York Times bestselling series.”

Ridley even wrote her into the 7th book as a character, she said. At 19, she was a co-writer for one of the books.

Muschott went on to major into creative writing at Pepperdine University, where she studied abroad in Buenos Aires and Shanghai and interned at Shanghai Disney Imagineering. She currently works as an editorial and research associate at Ampersand and has her sights set on the Miss California competition, which will take place in June and is a prelim to the Miss America competition.

Photo credit: Hart Photography/posted to the

Redwood City Library to host college-bound Q &A

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Residents invited to Downtown Library to weigh in on transportation fixes

Here’s an opportunity for high school juniors and their parents to gain valuable insights on getting into college.

The Redwood City Downtown Library has scheduled a Q&A session on Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. with longtime college advisor Alice Kleeman to discuss everything you need to know about getting into college.

Kleeman was the college advisor at Menlo-Atherton High School for 20 years before retiring.

The event is open to all high school juniors and is sponsored by the Friends of the Redwood City Library, located at 1044 Middlefield Road.

For more information, contact Dyan de Jager at 650-780-5762

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