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Pro-Choice Advocates Criticize San Mateo Council Candidate Rod Linhares Abortion Stance

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Where does San Mateo City Council Candidate Rod Linhares stand on abortion? It isn’t fully clear, but his answers to questions about the issue, including whether he supports Proposition 1, is drawing criticism from pro-choice advocates.

Proposition 1 would codify reproductive rights in the California State Constitution in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning all federal abortion rights and remanding the decision to the states.

Councilwoman Amourence Lee emailed each of the candidates asking them to declare their stances on abortion and Proposition 1. Of the seven candidates running for Council, Linhares was the only candidate to offer no response, even after multiple attempts to follow up. Their responses were subsequently published to the Councilmember’s Facebook page.

In a written response to Climate Magazine’s request for clarification on his position on Proposition 1, Linhares stated, “I support our City Council’s decision to establish a 100-foot buffer zone around our Planned Parenthood Clinic to help ensure access, safety, and provide peace of mind. In addition, I support enforcement of all the laws of the state of California, including women’s reproductive rights.”

He declined to answer whether he would support Proposition 1.

The lack of a clear response has drawn criticism from pro-choice advocates who hope to strengthen women’s reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to strike down federal protection for abortions.

Dr. Jenn Conti, an Ob/Gyn at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health and a pro-choice advocate Tweeted, “Sorry, Rod Linhares, voters in the Bay Area require this crucial information. You can’t sit this one out.” In a separate Tweet, she called on Linhares’s endorsers to withdraw their support for “refusing to protect abortion rights.”

Lee also pushed back on Linhares’ response in an interview with Climate Magazine, stating, “When asked three times, candidate Mr. Linhares would not respond to a simple yes or no if he supports Proposition 1. Now, he says he doesn’t know, he’s not sure. Can voters entrust the protection of our basic rights to someone who doesn’t have a position on the legal right to abortion? How about gay marriage and LGBTQ+ adoption?”

Critics further question whether his position as Director of Development for the San Francisco Archdiocese would affect his abortion stance. Linhares has been employed at the San Francisco Archdiocese for the past five years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Led by the controversial Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the Archdiocese has been a leading regional voice for restricting access to abortions, among other conservative causes. According to a letter from Cordileone, “The California bishops have made defeating Prop 1 our number one priority for this year.” Cordileone also sparked outrage when he denied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a devout Catholic, the sacrament of Holy Communion over her vow to protect reproductive rights.

Linhares said his service on council would not be affected by his day job. “My work for the Archdiocese is separate from my community service, and my beliefs are my own.”

Some critics remain unconvinced. “How can voters believe that he doesn’t have a position on Prop 1, when the employer he is tasked with financing has made it their number one goal to defeat Prop 1?,” asked Lee.

Election Central: Supervisor Gordon endorses Parmer-Lohan at Menlo Park fundraiser

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Parmer-Lohan-campaign

Laura Parmer-Lohan, candidate for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, greeted supporters at a fundraiser in Menlo Park on August 31. Former Supervisor Rich Gordon appeared at the event, and offered his formal endorsement. Parmer-Lohan stressed her desire to push action on sea-level rise, flooding induced by climate change, and year-round wildfire prevention, in addition to fighting for women’s reproductive freedom.

Election Central: Supervisorial candidate Ray Mueller kicks off campaign in San Carlos

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Election Central: Mueller campaign kick-off

San Mateo County supervisorial candidate Ray Mueller welcomed supporters at his campaign kickoff at Faith & Spirits in San Carlos on August 22. Among those present to back Mueller were San Mateo County Sheriff-elect Christina Corpus and two former opponents whom Mueller defeated in the county’s June 7 primary election.

Congressional campaign office openings signal focus on Redwood City

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Congressional campaign office openings signal focus on Redwood City

Redwood City appears to be a focus in the race to succeed longtime Congresswoman Jackie Speier in the 15th Congressional District, who announced last fall she will not seek reelection.

Assemblymember Kevin Mullin held a grand opening over the weekend for his congressional campaign headquarters in Redwood City, located at 540 Price Ave., Suite 101.

In January, his opponent, San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa, opened a campaign office at 2421 Broadway St.

Mullin has served as assemblymember for the 22nd District since 2013 and previously served as a South San Francisco councilmember and mayor. Speier has endorsed Mullin to succeed her. Mullin’s lengthy resume of political service includes stints as district director for Speier when she was state senator, and as political director for former State Assemblymember Gene Mullin, his father. Mullin’s list of endorsements include Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (CA-18), California Attorney General Rob Bonta, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and four Redwood City councilmembers (Mayor Giselle Hale, Vice Mayor Diana Reddy, Diane Howard and Alicia Aguirre).

Canepa, who currently serves as president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, has his campaign headquarters in Daly City, where he served on the City Council from 2008-2016 and as mayor in 2014. Canepa’s list of endorsements include San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault, San Francisco Board of Supervisors Shamann Walton and Myrna Melgar, and the mayors of Daly City, Brisbane, Burlingame, Foster City, Colma and Pacifica.

Photo from Mullin’s campaign headquarters grand opening in Redwood City courtesy of his campaign.

District elections bring big changes to local government

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Smith's District 4 successor to be appointed

San Mateo County, long a bastion of an unchanging governmental environment, has plunged into the most radical change to occur since the formation of the county 165 years ago.

In a breathtakingly brief period of time, 11 of the county’s 20 cities have changed or are in the process of changing how they elect their representatives, moving from at-large, where every council member is elected citywide, to by-district, where voters in a specific district elect only their representative. Add in the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, which switched to district elections in 2012, and the growing number of school districts making the transition, and it is safe to say a revolution is taking place in local government.

This story was originally published in the October edition of Climate Magazine. Click here to read the full digital publication.

The consequences of this sweeping change to district elections  are only beginning to reveal themselves, but it is safe to say there will be unexpected results and it is likely the political landscape is changed forever. It is boom times for the law of unintended consequences.

“There is no going back,” said Jim Hartnett, a former Redwood City mayor and multi-term member of the Redwood City Council. “Whether people like it or not, it’s not going back.”

This change was forced on nearly every jurisdiction. Attorneys throughout the state have been sending letters to cities and school districts that elect representatives citywide or district wide,  asserting that they are in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. The threshold for proving their case is fairly low. Historic voting trends merely have to show that minority candidates for any office—city council, U.S. senator, lieutenant governor—routinely were unable to elect persons from the same ethnic minority, essentially disenfranchising minority voters. Courts have interpreted the CVRA broadly; challenging the law has been expensive and unsuccessful.

Most Cities Comply

More than 100 cities have received a CVRA letter, and the vast majority have opted not to fight. Every city in the county that has received a letter has chosen to comply with the demand to shift to district elections.

“It’s a legal fact of life,” said Hartnett. “There’s no sense in fighting over it.”

Four cities divided their communities into districts in time for last year’s election—South San Francisco, Redwood City, Half Moon Bay, and Pacifica. Menlo Park was the first city penguin off the ice floe, moving to districts for the 2018 election. A sixth city, Woodside, oddly enough, has had councilmembers elected citywide from districts. The town initiated its own effort to switch to election by district.

Five cities are in various stages of switching to district elections. Millbrae received a CVRA letter on March 8, but has yet to start drawing districts. Burlingame received a demand letter in January 2020, and is deep in a process it has dubbed “5 Districts—One Burlingame.” San Mateo received a demand letter in May and also is in the process. Belmont only recently received a demand letter and has barely begun its discussions. San Bruno decided to start the process without waiting to get the inevitable letter.

All are legally compelled to implement district elections by the November 2022 elections.

Nine cities have no districts and, so far, have not received a letter. Five are among the county’s smallest cities—Brisbane, Atherton, Colma, Portola Valley and Hillsborough—and it appears they are unlikely targets for the ever-eager attorneys. Two of the cities would appear to be likely targets—Foster City and San Carlos.

Two Exceptions

And two cities of substantial size—Daly City and East Palo Alto—may be immune to the civil rights accusations. Both cities are majority-minority communities—more nonwhites than whites. In East Palo Alto, the whole city council, reflective of its community, is composed of entirely of Latino or black members. In Daly City, four of its five councilmembers are minorities (a term that seems increasingly outdated). Three councilmembers are from the city’s Filipino community, which makes up more than one-third of Daly City’s population.

Three cities—Burlingame, San Mateo and Redwood City—have toyed with using the change to consider an at-large mayor. But they have moved on for a variety of reasons—the other district-based councilmembers fear being overshadowed by a citywide mayor; the process of drawing district lines, either for the first time or the second (the county, Redwood City, Menlo Park, South City) is just too much to take on; and it might invite further legal challenges.

The immediate impact of district elections at the city level has been to elect councilmembers who had limited chances of winning a citywide election. Instead, well-established incumbents have been defeated, often in districts small enough for a challenger to knock on every door of every would-be voter. And not to understate this, but because of districts more minorities are being elected than ever—in some instances, breaking up longstanding all-white council lineups.

In Redwood City, political unknown Lisette Espinoza-Garnica, a self-described nonbinary Latinx, who advocated abolition of the police department, parlayed a grassroots campaign and union connections into a win over incumbent Janet Borgens. In Menlo Park, two-term incumbents Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki were defeated by Cecilia Taylor and Drew Combs. Taylor was the first black woman elected to the council and the first from the city’s majority-minority Belle Haven neighborhood in more than three decades. In South San Francisco, district elections had an impact that rippled through the political status quo—then-21-year-old gay Asian American James Coleman, campaigning while attending Harvard remotely, defeated longtime incumbent Rich Garbarino, a widely liked and well-connected figure countywide.

“If South City and Redwood City had not moved to district elections, we almost certainly would have seen the re-election of Rich Garbarino and Janet Borgens,” said a consultant.

“A Perfect Storm”

And if 2020 had not been 2020—marked by a pandemic, a deeply divisive and energized presidential election and the murder of George Floyd by a police officer. “It was a perfect storm for someone to come in and win,” said one veteran political advisor.

In some instances, the district elections allow newcomers to bypass the traditional path to office, including service on a city board or commission, high-profile participation in community events and nonprofits and building a base among a city’s customary political establishment.

This also means a wave of newcomers who do not feel the need to “wait their turn” in running for office, but also face a steep learning curve on such basic topics as how a city works, the budgeting process, issues of citywide importance (land use, in particular) that extend beyond a specific district and the most fundamental city council reality: winning the votes of a majority of council colleagues.

“The downside is that it means electing somebody who has almost no experience at any level —government, nonprofit. The wheels of government run slowly enough when you have people with experience,” said one veteran local government political and public affairs advisor.

District elections also mean a greater expectation that a councilmember will intervene on such nuts-and-bolts matters as a pothole or garbage pickup.

Leveling the Playing Field

This also could strain city budgets and staff, who now must consider how to serve  councilmembers who may want to hold office hours or produce a city-sponsored district newsletter. It has prompted at least one local public affairs consultant to suggest that current city councils need to do a better job of recruiting a diversity of people to boards and commissions, the minor leagues of government service. Cities ought to consider public financing of campaigns to ensure a level playing field for all candidates, the consultant said, and better compensation for councilmembers as district elections are likely to increase the amount of time an officeholder will spend on what is supposed to be a part-time job.

“When you shrink the territory, it reduces a candidate’s cost and increases the value of sweat equity. You increase the competitiveness of the non-establishment type candidate. You need to increase the leveling of the playing field,” said the consultant. “It’s not enough to just make it easier for the incumbent or the angry person to decide to run for office. The city or school district now has to work twice as hard to make sure people are prepared and have the experience they need to effectively govern.”

All of which brings us back to the law of unintended consequences. Or, as district elections sweep through the county, entirely unknown consequences.

The impact of district elections? “It’s too early to tell, ” Hartnett said. “It has to work its way through some election cycles.”

San Mateo begins transition to district elections

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San Mateo to pay $450K settlement related to denial of housing project

San Mateo City Council on Monday committed to transitioning to a district-election system for electing City Council members, prompting the launch of a community engagement effort to determine district boundaries.

The city recently became the latest California jurisdiction to face legal action if it did not transition from an at large system for electing City Council members to a district-based version. The current at large system has voters citywide electing all five City Council members, while a district-based election has voters solely electing the councilmember who resides in and represents their designated district within the city.

In late May, the city received a letter from attorney Scott Rafferty stating at large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) as they dilute representation in minority-majority neighborhoods. No cities have successfully defended a CVRA lawsuit brought to mandate district-based elections. Entering litigation comes at a high cost in city funds. Redwood City held its first district elections last year.

“This is perhaps the most important shift in local City Council elections in San Mateo’s more than 125-year history,” said Eric Rodriguez, Mayor of San Mateo. “Listening to and learning from our community is key to this process, and I encourage everyone in San Mateo to get involved in guiding the future of our democracy.”

Along with an outreach program to gather community input, the city has hired a professional demographer to assist in developing a map divided up into council districts. The timeline to get this done is short. The city is legally mandated to hold at least five public hearings and to finalize a map in 90 days. The city intends to request an extension “to allow for more robust public outreach and to incorporate the Census 2020 demographic data that is expected to be released this year.”

The transition to district elections has become increasingly common in the state and San Mateo County, as attorneys have sued local cities and school districts alleging there is evidence of racially polarized voting in at-large electoral systems,” the city said. “While the City does not believe there is local evidence of raciallypolarized voting, under the CVRA, minimal evidence of racially polarized voting can result in a court ordering a change from at-large voting to district-based voting.”

To learn more and follow the process, visit the city’s new District Elections web page here.

Applicants sought to serve on Redwood City 11-member redistricting committee

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Smith's District 4 successor to be appointed

Redwood City residents are being sought to serve on the 11-member Advisory Redistricting Committee (ARC), which is tasked with helping to determine district boundaries for City Council elections following the 2020 Census.

Applications are due by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, June 6. After they’re reviewed for eligibility, the City Council will hold interviews and then make appointments at its meeting June 28. The committee will meet about 15 times throughout the process, which must be completed no later than April 17, 2022. Visit here to apply.

Members must be residents of incorporated Redwood City, eligible electors throughout the duration of their term, and the City Council expressed a desire for the committee to reflect the diversity in the community, and that its members be fair-minded and committed to ensuring fair representation, city officials said.

Committee members can expect to work with one another to learn about “learn about the legal requirements and best practices for redistricting, to engage the public in providing testimony on communities of interest, and to create draft maps to be considered by the City Council,” officials said.

“An ideal candidate may have knowledge or experience in, though not limited to, the following areas: data and analysis, GIS and mapping, Redwood City’s diverse communities, working collaboratively to achieve a common goal, and community engagement strategies,” the city said.

Those not permitted to serve on the committee are elected officials of the local jurisdiction, a family member of an elected official of the local jurisdiction, an elected official’s staff member, or paid campaign staff of an elected official of the local jurisdiction, the city said.

In March 2019, Redwood City became the latest California jurisdiction to transition from an at-large to district based system for electing City Council members under threat of legal action. While at-large elections allow voters of the entire city to elect the seven councilmembers, a district-based system has voters voting solely for the councilmember who resides in and aims to represent their particular district of the city.

A District Elections map was subsequently adopted comprising of seven districts, and the first district election was held Nov. 3, 2020, with four district seats on the ballot. Now, the city is legally mandated to undergo a redistricting process based upon new 2020 U.S. Census demographic data. In April, the City Council voted to form ARC.

Belmont Mayor Charles Stone’s support grows in bid for county supervisor

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Belmont Mayor Charles Stone this week announced a growing list of endorsements in his bid for District 2 County Supervisor in San Mateo County—a seat that opens in 2022 due to term limits.

Along with California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Stone has received recent endorsements from San Mateo Mayor Eric Rodriguez, President of the San Mateo-Foster City School District Board Kenneth Chin and former Belmont Chamber of Commerce President Mary Parden.

A county native and a graduate of Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Mayor Stone is the parent of two daughters in local public schools and serves as board chair of the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans). He is also an active school library, classroom and foundation volunteer, as well as a youth sports coach.

“As County Supervisor, I’ll continue to champion healthy, safe communities where every senior gets vaccines, medications, and care when they need it; affordable housing for our workforce and future generations; and a functioning public transit system that reduces congestion and provides efficient mobility options,” said Stone.

In endorsing Stone, Chin championed him as one who would “bring a much-needed parent perspective to the Board of Supervisors.”

Rodriguez pointed to Stone being “the best representative for San Mateo’s interests locally and regionally,” while Parden touted his ability to “lead the fight to provide the support we need as our local businesses and families recover from the fiscal and health impacts of COVID.”

To date, Stone has raised more than $80,000 for the June 2022 Primary Election. Lean more about Stone’s campaign for county supervisor here and/or contact him at charles@stoneforsupervisor.org.

Photo of Charles Stone being sworn in as Belmont mayor by his daughters in December courtesy of Charles Stone for County Supervisors.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Redwood City election was transformative

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Minimum wage in Redwood City set to increase

It is likely that decades from now, 2020 will be seen as a year when everything changed in Redwood City politics. Perhaps more than any election anywhere – here or across the country – the outcome of the Redwood City Council election was transformative, as sweeping as it was swift.

For the first time, a majority of the council represents the full spectrum of the city’s residents — four seats held by people of color with the return of Jeff Gee and Alicia Aguirre and the arrival of newcomers Michael Smith and Lissette Espinoza-Garnica. And, in the case of the latter two, it’s the first time the council has had two members who openly identify as gay or nonbinary.

It would not have happened without the city’s move to district elections. In a citywide race, Gee might not have not run – a decision he made in the last citywide election in 2018 — and it’s impossible to imagine Espinoza-Garnica winning citywide.

This has caused grumbling among the mainliners of the status quo, of course. There has been some online complaining from the usual suspects that the city should have fought the threatened lawsuit that prompted the creation of districts and cleared the way for the election of Smith and Espinoza-Garnica, each of whom represents minority-majority districts, and Gee, who represents a district that is substantially Asian-American.

This is what happens when the establishment loses power to a new reality, and my response to the complaints is: Tough.

We have just elected the first woman Vice President, the first South Asian-American Vice President, the first African-American Vice President. Change is coming to America. Too slowly, for some, too radically for others, too frighteningly for still others. But inevitably.

Kamala Harris represents a rising generation of young and younger Americans who will be diverse in background and ethnicity and who will see their world and the future in different ways that will break the longstanding white male dominance of this nation.

Redwood City is at the cutting edge of that change – ahead of California, ahead of America. The move to district elections, regardless of why or how, was the right thing to do.

PRACTICAL POLITICS: Two of the city’s contested seats went as could have been expected. Gee, long a denizen of Redwood Shores, easily won a new term on the council in the face of a credible challenge from Planning Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe. And Aguirre, deftly deploying all the advantages of incumbency, staved off a vigorous challenge from retired police officer Chris Rasmussen in the Farm Hills district. It is likely Rasmussen will remain a force in the community and this race may well set him for another race in the future.

The stunner was the defeat of incumbent Janet Borgens in Friendly Acres by Espinoza-Garnica. Borgens deep ties to the area looked like enough of an insurance policy against an unknown, inexperienced challenger in Espinoza-Garnica. But the pandemic clearly crimped Borgens’ campaign effort, while Espinoza-Garnica charged ahead, raising money and identifying and getting to the polls a new wave of voters. It is worth noting that turnout in this district was half that of the other districts – to the benefit of the challenger.

The new majority promises to be fascinating to watch. Espinoza-Garnica is a full-throat progressive who advocated abolishing the police. With housing and development still the dominant issues, voters elected councilmembers who were the object of dismay and unhappiness by the no-growth element of the city.

This ought to be fun.

SPOILERS: By the way, there also are those who say Mark Wolohan took votes away from Rasmussen and helped Aguirre win and, similarly, Isabella Chu took votes from Borgens and helped Espinoza-Garnica win. How do we know it’s not the other way around and Rasmussen prevented Wolohan from winning? The answer is that we don’t and to label Wolohan and Chu as spoilers is to a disservice to their candidacies.

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: It was a meaningful election for Rainbow politics. In addition to Smith and Espinoza, another openly gay candidate, James Coleman took out well-regarded incumbent Councilman Rich Garbarino in South San Francisco. … The ease with which appointed incumbent Councilwoman Amourence Lee turned back challenger Lisa Diaz Nash also speaks to the changing politics dynamics in San Mateo. Nash was heavily backed by development interests who saw Lee as a too-progressive outsider. Measure Y, the extension of San Mateo’s height limit, was losing as of this writing, but it was still too close to call and if it passes it will have a razor-thin margin – another sign attitudes are changing in San Mateo.

WELL, NO, NOT QUITE: In my last pre-election column, I made a number of guesses, and, boy, was I wrong – particularly about how well Espinoza-Garnica would do, the Lee-Nash race and the race for a San Mateo County Community College seat between incumbents Maurice Goodman and Dave Mandelkern, won by Goodman. I said Joe Biden would win a landslide and that it would be evident on election night, although I did hedge that one a bit.

The normal post-election news media analysis would be to say these outcomes were a surprise. But just because it’s a surprise to me doesn’t mean it’s a surprise to the candidates.

Yes, some races are still too close to conclude. But look at the trend lines. If the other guy’s lead is growing, that’s a bad sign.

MOVING ON: The ideal outcome of 2020 would be for everyone to take a deep breath, let it out slowly, take a look around and get new bearings.

I’d like to see those in the political arena engage each other over honest differences and stop this constant wave of suspicion and cynicism that seems to dominate our public discourse.

What brings this to mind was a late complaint from the Yes on Y forces in San Mateo that a mobile vote center had been placed at Hillsdale Shopping Center, which is owned by the Bohannon Company, a major backer of rival Measure R. “Is this one more thing that big money can buy in this election?  Shameful!” went the complaint. Well, it didn’t work, as Measure R was thoroughly trounced. Hillsdale Shopping Center is a community gathering place, which is where a mobile vote center should go. The dang thing wasn’t plastered with Yes on R stickers. It just sat there, like the inanimate object it was.

Not every action warrants outrage or suspicion. Really.

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

Political Climate with Mark Simon: My best election guesses

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June 7 is the last day to mail in your ballot for California’s primary election

Major League Baseball pitcher Joaquin Andujar once famously offered this pearl of wisdom: “I only have one word to say: Youneverknow.”

He’s right. Youneverdo. Especially, right now, in this unique, frustrating, tumultuous and chaotic year. Decades from now, we will tell young people about 2020 and they won’t believe us.

Anyway, we’re hours away from the first election results and, in the end, no one knows what will happen. Including me. Still, as a designated pontificator, I’ll offer up my best guesses. Then, I’ll add a little more about why this election, perhaps more than any other, is the most unpredictable at every spot on the ballot.

BUT FIRST, A SLIGHT DETOUR: And the first thing I’m going to do is back off on the rhetoric about unpredictability. There are some things we know.

Joe Biden will win the Peninsula, the Bay Area and the state. It is, as they say at the sports books, a mortal lock. The only question is whether his total will be at 70 percent.

All that I’ve learned about politics in more than 40 years reporting on it at the national, state and local level also tells me that Biden will win big, perhaps a landslide and that it will be abundantly clear on election night. Still, the specter of bad polling in 2016 looms over any prediction that can be made and sows deep doubts about any judgment. As Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said to me the other day, “I feel like I’m driving around with the emergency brake on.”

Still, as I started to say before I interrupted myself, there are some sure things: Congresswoman Jackie Speier will get 70 percent in her re-election campaign because she always does and there’s no reason to think otherwise this time. Eshoo should hold off the frantically weird challenge from Democrat Rishi Kumar. And Josh Becker will win the 13th Senate District seat with similar ease, an outcome that was guaranteed when he drew a Republican opponent out of the primary.

ON THE LOCAL BALLOT: Back to my best guesses. Let’s start with Redwood City, not only because it’s the city’s first foray into district elections, but it’s also what I get paid to do. Yes, I get paid. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself.

For all the hoo-ha that attended the City Council’s tortured path to new districts, it looks as though the three contested seats are going to go to two incumbents and a pseudo-incumbent.

In District 1, Redwood Shores, Jeff Gee has been off the council for only two years. He raised the most money, had the deepest roots in the district, and, it could be argued, has been working the Shores for decades. There are definite anti-Gee (zero G?) forces in Redwood City, but district elections have diminished their impact. Planning Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe ran a credible campaign, hampered, perhaps, by her having moved into the district only a little while ago. Gee is a virtual incumbent, and voters need a compelling reason to vote out someone they have elected before. This race was never about that.

In the other two races, the same political reality prevails – two incumbents and no compelling groundswell of dissatisfaction about either of them that could be harnessed into an upset defeat. And, yes, I know neither Janet Borgens nor Alicia Aguirre is technically an incumbent – each was elected citywide and now they’re running in districts under the label “councilmember.” But this is a political column and, in that context, they have all the advantages of incumbency. Each of them could have faced difficult challenges because of the move to district elections. That’s not how it has played out.

District 3, Friendly Acres, where Borgens is running for re-election, is one of two new majority-minority districts, 70 percent Latino. She could have drawn a well-established, well-known Latino opponent who might have mobilized the community. But the reality is the historic political disenfranchisement of this part of town meant there was no bench of high-profile challengers from the Latino community. Absent that, Borgens’ long and deep ties to this district should see her through. She did draw two of the most interesting opponents. Isabella Chu, a leader of pro-growth Redwood City Forward, turned the usual campaign rhetoric on its head and advocated more height, more density and in more places. There was a fearlessness about this all-out, all-in campaign. Lissette Espinoza-Garnica was just as forthright as the most progressive candidate on any ballot in the county. Espinoza-Garnica’s affiliations with labor, the LGBTQ community, the Latinx community and the Democratic Socialists aligned with Bernie Sanders resulted in a competitive campaign treasury. Espinoza-Garnica could finish second in this race.

District 7, Farm Hills, is another example of the consequences of district elections. Aguirre is the only Latina on the council, and she lives in a district that is 70 percent white. In former community police officer Chris Rasmussen, Aguirre drew a more classic opponent – someone whose work made him a high-profile figure throughout the city. Rasmussen has ties to a core group of residents unhappy with a changing city, and who are credited with the defeat of another incumbent a couple of elections ago. Aguirre’s low-key style also made her appear vulnerable.

Rasmussen started fast and Aguirre started slow. He was up early with campaign signs, he raised a healthy campaign treasury, and he was active online, posting a particularly impressive life-story video that was notable for the passion he holds for the community. But Aguirre has been on the council since 2005 and has built deep and close ties to the county’s leading political figures. She won the endorsement battle going away and she raised a wholly competitive amount of money. Her own campaign message was that the city needs experienced leadership at this moment of multiple crises. Rasmussen’s message that it’s time for new leadership seems to have gotten less traction in this district. Mark Wolohan, the third candidate, has been a fresh and earnest voice in the district and demonstrated a grasp of key issues and some new ideas about how the city should go forward. But he self-funded his campaign and raised no money. In a non-pandemic environment, where candidates could directly engage voters, it might have been a different campaign for Wolohan’s decidedly outsider approach, but this is the season we’ve been given.

SAN MATEO: It says here that first-term incumbent Diane Papan should win and be the top vote-getter in a three-candidate race for two seats. A late infusion of independent expenditures on Papan’s behalf probably helps seal the deal. The race between appointed incumbent Amourence Lee and Lisa Diaz Nash is a tossup. The sense of it is that Nash comes out on top, also aided by more than $30,000 in late, independent money. If Lee loses, it looks like it will be because Nash was able to marshal the forces that are unhappy with a changing San Mateo. But Lee is a new face from an historically underrepresented part of town and she could benefit from a wave of new voters showing up this year because of the presidential race.

There are two ballot measures, R and Y, addressing height limits in San Mateo – Y put on by initiative and R by the city council. I think both are going to lose, putting the issue back in the hands of the city council. Really, that’s where this kind of complex land-use policy decision should be made. Thirty years ago, the first height limit was a reaction to a city council that had approved a massive project on El Camino, “going off the rails,” as one long-time observer said. The city is different, the electorate is different and the council has a dramatically different sensibility about reflecting a community consensus.

ELSEWHERE: The Caltrain sales tax measure, RR, must be close in private polling if San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine thought it worthwhile to loan $500,000 of his own money to the Yes campaign at the last minute, sending a meaningful signal to some late, big-bucks donors.  I think it wins, getting 67-69 percent of the vote. … At the San Mateo County Community College District, where three seats are being contested, John Pimentel should win over Lisa Hicks-Dumanske, aided considerably by a campaign that will exceed $200,000, almost all of it his own money. Lisa Petrides should win her race against Eugene Whitlock, who dropped out of the race amid lingering controversy over his $2.3 million settlement against the district. Still, he remains on the ballot, which means he could win, which would be both weird and would invite months of litigation. Incumbents Maurice Goodman and Dave Mandelkern are running against each other and it looks like Mandelkern should win, if only because he’s a more frenetic campaigner. … In Millbrae, incumbents Gina Papan and Ann Schneider should win but the race for a third seat clearly is between Anders Fung and You You Xue and it’s impossible to call that one. It has been nasty with a wave of campaign complaints filed by a Xue campaign aide. … In Belmont, incumbent Davina Hurt and appointed incumbent Tom McCune should win easily. The group of Belmont residents who dominated city politics for many years keep looking for someone to break the hold of the current majority, but it’s a different era now and it may be time to move on.

I COULD GO ON: But honestly, there are just too many races to track effectively. And all the preceding notwithstanding, this year is the most unpredictable since Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey in 1948, when San Mateo County’s population was about 235,000. To give that a little perspective, according to the most recent report, there are 440,005 people registered to vote in Tuesday’s election in San Mateo County.

And that last number is why this election is so up in the air, particularly at the local level.

The current registration is nearly 20 percent higher than the 2016 presidential election. Data analysts say the biggest jump is among young voters, minority voters and people who simply didn’t vote in 2016. In other words, it is an electorate of new voters, which means that their voting habits are untested. Incidentally, San Mateo County’s registered voters are 54 percent Democratic, 26 percent who express No Party Preference, and a paltry 14 percent Republican.

At the same time, local elections have been merged with statewide elections. As I’ve referenced throughout this column, there will be thousands of voters who are showing up at the polls– waiting four years to run to the polls – to vote in the presidential election. How will they vote? No one knows. They are not steeped in local elections. By the time they get to the bottom of the ballot there will be more than a few shrugs.

The best guess is that they will tend toward incumbents unless they’ve been given a compelling reason to oust an incumbent. Really, none of these races has been an all-out attack on an already-vulnerable incumbent.

While there may be significant upheaval at the national level, here at home, even as change continues to sweep across the Peninsula, it looks like the status quo will hold for one more election.

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

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