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Stanford faculty resolute in criticism of White House advisor’s national COVID strategy

in PoliticalClimate by

A group of approximately 100 Stanford faculty members are holding firm in their convictions criticizing White House Coronavirus Task Force senior adviser Dr. Scott Atlas’ controversial views on the pandemic, despite recent legal threats from Dr. Atlas’ lawyer.

Dr. Atlas, the former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford Medical Center and a Hoover Institution senior fellow, was appointed a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and senior advisor to President Trump in August. On the heels of an Aug. 31 report by the Washington Post that he embraced a controversial herd immunity strategy to combat the pandemic, Dr. Atlas drew intense criticism from colleagues.

Dr. Atlas denies recommending herd immunity as an option to the task force or the president, per a report in The Stanford Daily. Nonetheless, the same report said he has repeatedly upheld the strategy as one of the best ways to “eradicate the threat of the virus” in Hoover Institution virtual policy briefings, in an April op-ed in The Hill and in his remarks in May to a U.S. Senate committee.

In their initial letter addressed to colleagues and dated Sept. 9, the Stanford faculty member collective stated in regards to Dr. Atlas that “many of his opinions and statements run counter to established science and, by doing so, undermine public-health authorities and the credible science that guides effective public health policy.” The letter went on to provide five statements, drawing upon global data, offering their collective guidance on effective public health policy regarding COVID-19.

On Sept. 23, a new letter, signed by an even larger group of 105 doctors, scientists and health experts, reiterated their concern in the wake of receiving a letter threatening legal action from Dr. Atlas’ attorney. The letter demanded the Stanford collective issue a press release retracting their statements, claiming they falsely portrayed Dr. Atlas’ views and were defamatory. Despite the alleged threat, however, the growing group of medical experts say they will remain resolute in their collective criticism of Dr. Atlas.

“We believe that his statements and the advice he has been giving fosters misunderstandings of established science and risks undermining critical public health efforts,” the group said in the Sept. 23 letter. “Today, we stand by our Sept. 9 letter and reaffirm our concerns. In addition, we are deeply troubled by the legal threats that Dr. Atlas has made against us in an attempt to intimidate and silence us in the midst of a pandemic, as we speak out on important public health issues.”

The group added, “We stand together and we reiterate clearly and with great affirmation that public health policy must be guided by established scientific principles and not opinions, especially ones that could harm individuals and the health of our nation.”

Photo credit: White House

Political Climate with Mark Simon: 3 candidates, 3 different approaches in District 7 race

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

The following is the third of four columns covering the November election for City Council of Redwood City. This installment reports on the District 7 race. Previous coverage includes the District 4 election here and the District 1 election here.

Already the longest continuously serving member of the current Redwood City Council, Alicia Aguirre, if elected to her fourth full term on November Nov. 3 has the chance to serve a total of 19 years, which would make her the longesttenured councilmember in the modern, term-limits era. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that Aguirre’s longevity is a central issue in the District 7 city council race, whether as an asset, as she asserts in her own campaign materials, which say the mid-Covid crises that face City Hall call for “tested leadership.”  

Or whether her longevity calls out for change, as her opponents assert. Former Redwood City police officer Chris Rasmussen says in his own campaign materials that “it is time for NEW leadership in Redwood City.” And nonprofit program facilitator Mark Wolohan promises to bring to city government “a fresh perspective.” 

“I think we’re going through really challenging times,” Aguirre said, but the council is a positive balance “of folks who have been there a while and a lot of new people coming on the council. … I’ve been there through the (2008-09) recession, all the changes, housing concerns, transportation challenges.” 

At a time when the city went through some upheaval to create two council districts that are minority-majority, and predominantly Hispanic, Aguirre notes that she is the only Latino on the council and the only Latina on any city council in the county. “I believe that my district and the city respect diversity and inclusivity,” Aguirre said. 

“People in my district want change,” said Rasmussen, whose 30-year police career included a lengthy tenure as the department’s lead community officer, which brought him wide contact with the people and issues of the city, particularly in working with the homeless. Change, he said, takes the form of “thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo and not just rubber-stamping things that could be better or different. They want to be listened to and I’m hearing (from them) that the council isn’t listening to them. I’m a real person and not just a politician.” 

As a prime example, Rasmussen cites the city’s failure to resolve its housing crisis. “Decades of inaction have only exacerbated the problem,” he said. 

Wolohan, a lifelong renter in Redwood City who works at the Riekes Center in Menlo Park, described himself as a “fresh candidate without ties to any people or organizations acting out of self-interest.” He will wage an entirely grassroots campaign and accept no financial donations. “I think I could be of tremendous service to the community. It’s not like I’m doing this for status or power. … I want to channel a lot of voices that are maybe overlooked. … Being a person who doesn’t have any affiliation with local government is an actually an advantage. It gives me a more unbiased, clear perspective.” 

District 7 is the city’s westernmost district, essentially covering all the area from Alameda de las Pulgas to the western hills, including the Farm Hills neighborhood. It is the least diverse district – 70 percent White, only 9 percent of residents speak Spanish. It is the city’s second-wealthiest district and has the highest percentage of residents with household incomes over $200,000. Eighty-seven percent of the residences are single-family homes and 79 percent of residents are homeowners. 

Aguirre argues that her experience is precisely what is needed to see the city through the Covid-driven financial crisis that has been devastating to the local economy and caused a substantial city budget shortfall. 

As a sitting councilmember, she is participating in the discussions, spearheaded by city staff, about how the budget must be cut. “It’s difficult to say (where to cut) without knowing the (staff) recommendations,” Aguirre said. Reducing staff compensation “should be one of the last resorts,” she said. “If we’re not looking out for them, who is?” 

Rasmussen said “taking care of our people” should be the first priority. “Take care of our employees,” who are charged with taking care of the city and its residents.  He acknowledged he is “not well-informed” on where cuts must be made in the budget. “There are no easy answers.” 

Like his two opponents, Wolohan also offered no specifics. “We’ve got to look at inefficiencies and minimize them, make things more cost-efficient across the board. He said it’s unnecessary to increase taxes because the financial downturn probably means less demand on city services. And employee compensation has to be part of the discussion over cuts. “To say we’re not going to look at 70 percent of the budget is malpractice,” Wolohan said. 

Given the nature of the district’s housing, dominated by single-family homes and home ownership, It iwould be understandable that the issue of housing would be pre-eminent.  

The housing shortage cries out for converting the office buildings constructed and approved in the last decade to residential, Wolohan said. “Converting is a cheaper form of construction than starting from scratch,” he said. Cheaper also means more affordable housing for more people. “People are willing to live in units that don’t have washers and dryers, pools and granite counter tops,” Wolohan said. Such a redirection of policy will “alleviate the affordable crisis without a fiscal burden on the city.” 

Rasmussen was much more critical of the city’s “inaction” on housing. “There’s nothing happening as far as affordable (housing),” Rasmussen said. The whole city has not come out with creative ideas and moved on them. Homelessness is on the rise. What we are doing to protect our community and not drive (people) away?” The city needs to actively encourage more workforce housing and “to support the affordable housing we have” instead of “knocking them down and building monster homes for millions and millions of dollars.” He supports multi-unit buildings, approving single-occupancy units that can be placed in backyards or above a garage.” 

The race for District 7 is uniquely situated for the discussion about the city’s police, future funding, conduct and shifting of priorities. As the only Latina on the council, it is expected that Aguirre will bring an additional perspective on how the police department interacts with the city’s substantial Latino community. And Rasmussen, as the only candidate with a law enforcement background, would seem to have an additional perspective on what can be expected of the police department facing pressure to make changes. 

Rasmussen said the city needs more community policing, a law enforcement policy that puts police more directly in touch with neighborhoods and residents, beyond simply responding to emergency calls. And the department needs more standards and training, he said. 

Rasmussen said he supports the push for a citizens police oversight commission, but he is adamant that it needs to be run by an outside agency, not the city or a group of council appointees from Redwood City. It has to be run “by someone not aligned with the police department, someone completely objective, not appointed by the city manager to just brush over stuff, Rasmussen said. 

“Change is going to come from the top down. It’s going to have to be cultural. I’ve spoken up in my department about excessive force complaints. We need more officers to speak up and we need not have officers retaliated against when they do speak out,” Rasmussen said. 

Aguirre, who serves on the council ad hoc committee studying policing in the city, said, “Our community has spoken pretty loud on how we need reform and what that looks like,” she said. That would include a citizens commission and greater transparency about complaints of excessive force, she said. 

“I’m really open to looking at what oversight looks like and having the community involved in that,” Aguirre said. And she understands the push to shift away from police duties that might fall under the heading of social services. We’re looking at different options and everything’s on the table. Let’s set the model,” she said. 

Wolohan said he is “open and receptive” to a citizens oversight commission. “It could potentially create more transparency.” But, he cautioned, “I’m definitely not an extremist who thinks the police is an unnecessary entity.”  

He also suggested a higher fitness standard might decrease the need by police to use force. An officer on the force for 20 years might not have the necessary level of fitness to respond incidents that require physical action, making the officer more inclined to use undue force. “If they’re more sound fitness-wise, they might have a little more confidence in handling situations, if things go south,” Wolohan said. 

Contact Mark Simon atmark.simon24@yahoo.com. 

*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: Two vie to represent Redwood Shores on council

in PoliticalClimate by

The following is the second of four columns covering the November election for City Council of Redwood City. The second installment reports on the District 1 race. The previous installment, on the District 4 election, is here.

When the Redwood City Council last year drew up the new districts that would govern the 2020 election cycle, most attention was focused, understandably, on ensuring the creation of at least two minority-majority districts.

But there was an intense and successful effort, if lower profile, to ensure that the Redwood Shores area of the city would have its own district. That would mean a single councilmember devoted to a neighborhood that is closer to Belmont City Hall, and whose residents long have felt neglected and overlooked by the denizens of Redwood City Hall.

Now, there is a Shores district, and the first election there has drawn two of the city’s longest-serving public officials, but whose tenure in the Shores stands in marked contrast.

Jeff Gee has lived in Redwood Shores for 25 years, which includes nine years he served on the City Council. Nancy Radcliffe has lived in the Shores less than two years, having moved there upon her retirement, but she has served on the Planning Commission for 19 years.

Gee says his own longevity means “I understand our Redwood Shores neighborhood.” Radcliffe says she will bring “a fresh and honest voice” to representing the area. She said the use of the word “honest” carries with it no implications and just one of any number of words she could have chosen to characterize her candidacy.

The district encompasses the entirety of Redwood Shores, bounded at its southern edge by Redwood Shores Parkway. Half the district residents are White, and 39 percent are Asian-American, the highest concentration of any district by a factor of four. Residents also are the wealthiest in the city, with 45 percent reporting a household income of $75,000-$200,000 and 32 percent reporting a household income over $200,000.

Gee announced for re-election in 2018, but dropped out, a decision spurred, at least in part, by an activist group of residents who saw him as the embodiment of the changes to Redwood City they found objectionable. Now, with a district seemingly carved out for him, Gee acknowledges “There is a lot that has happened in two years.” Those things include district elections, campaign donation limits and a voluntary fundraising limit adopted by the council, he said.

“The biggest reason is that I didn’t know we were going to have the public health pandemic and that has really changed the dynamics of who we are as a community and where we’re headed,” Gee said.

Given her length of service on the Planning Commission, Radcliffe has been urged to run for the council on more than one occasion, most recently four years ago. “But we had a lot of great candidates,” she said. “Why dilute the votes for any one of those people who could have done a fabulous job?”

Now, after the city adopted term limits for its boards and commissions, Radcliffe will be leaving the Planning Commission, and “I want to stay involved in the city. The city has great bones and I want to keep making great choices.”

Regardless of the issues council candidates may raise, the council that is seated at the end of this year will have to deal with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, which not only devastated local retail, commercial and development interests, but has left the city with a substantial budget shortfall due to losses in sales tax revenues.

“We have to be really careful with the Parks Department and the Library. Both of these serve everyone,” Radcliffe said. Filling the funding gaps that are likely to occur may require more foundations, similar to the non-profit organizations that support the library system. Those efforts also can do much to address the digital divide, an issue only made worse by the economic downturn. And she said the city has to be open to looking at city employee salaries, as the full scope of the economic downturn is understood.

Gee said he served on the council during the Great Recession of 2008-09 and that means “I know what it’s going to take to make the hard decisions. … We’re going to have to cut,” he said, and that will include “engaging our labor partners” who “were able to give back in ’08-09.” The adjustments include deferring compensation and leaving unfilled city staff vacancies. “They’ll have to share in the pain. … It’s not exclusive to Redwood City. This is going to hit everybody across the board. There is no way I can see we can tax our way out of the situation, or cut our way out of the situation.”

One budget area that might be the target of cuts is the Police Department, which is the object of a grassroots effort to redirect current funds to social services. Both Gee and Radcliffe said they were open to discussing such a change and relieving the police of responding to matters that might fall more directly to community service agencies, whether city-based or managed by San Mateo County.

Both said they were open to discussing other police reforms being proposed, including a citizens police oversight commission and greater transparency in the disclosure of complaints filed against individual officers for excessive use of force. Of a commission, Gee said, “It’s all in the details, so I don’t know what that means. Radcliffe said, “It seems reasonable, like a Peninsula Conflict Resolution type of organization and that feels very open and transparent to me and both sides could benefit from it. … It’s all in the implementation.”

As for the fundamental message of change embodied in the Black Lives Matter movement, Gee noted that he has been an active leader in the Asian-Pacific Islander (API) movement to expand the reach of those communities into government. The key is a city council that is “more inclusive” when filling city boards and commissions, which commonly are a starting point for future city council candidates. He noted Redwood City is a least 40 percent White and 12 percent API, but the boards and commissions are “over 70 percent white, and have been for years.” These bodies “need to look more like the people who live in Redwood City.”

The Black Lives Matter movement was an eye-opener for Radcliffe, who said, “I had thought we had come further in our understanding of each other, and it seems I was mistaken. … I guess I was naïve in thinking a lot of the civil unrest issues were in other parts of the country but, apparently, it’s not as good as I had hoped.” She added, “We’re all in this together and it’s really important to keep everyone safer and communicating.”

Whatever might be the issue of the day, however, development, growth and housing will be perennial issues facing any city council in any year.

The housing shortage is on the minds of every candidate running for council. “I’m not sure we’ve come up with an answer,” Radcliffe said. “While I’m pro-development, I’m also pro-neighborhood. We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all community.” She said the city needs a wide mixture of housing types covering a variety of income levels.

Gee said the city needs to be ready to build more housing “Where there is land available to do it, and we’re going to have to work really hard to find land that’s available. The pandemic has shone a bright light on the absolute need for more housing.” Gee said he is encouraged by efforts at the state level and private-sector interest in partnerships that are likely to make more funding available for housing and to speed up the process of approval and the cost of construction.

One primary site for a high-rise, high-density commercial and residential development is at Sequoia Station, located, quite literally, at the city’s crossroads of El Camino Real and Jefferson Avenue. An initial proposal raised the prospect of a 17-story building on the site.

“Seventeen stories makes all of us pause,” said Radcliffe, who lamented that the current site wasn’t built with greater density and height 30 years ago. “I don’t think Redwood City has the appetite for that height at this point. I’m definitely comfortable with the 8-story range, maybe 10. It’s absolutely the perfect location for transit-oriented development.”

As for greater levels height and density, Gee said, “I think we need to take a look at it. … It’s a great place to put jobs, housing and transit together and to be able to put that together in density.” He wants a community effort to develop a consensus for what should go at the site. “There’s room for a lot of ideas.”

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

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

San Mateo City Council candidate forum set for Sept. 23

in PoliticalClimate by

San Mateo voters can get to know candidates running for their City Council in the November election at a virtual candidate forum set for Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.

Access the meeting by clicking this Zoom link.

Three candidates are vying for two seats on the City Council in the Nov. 3, 2020 Presidential Election: Amourence Lee, Lisa Diaz Nash and Diane Papan. To learn more about the candidates, click here.

The forum is hosted by the League of Women Voters. Questions can be asked during the live event, or emailed in advance to lwvncsmc.questions@gmail.com with “City of San Mateo Council Race” in the subject line.

Join the meeting via Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84932018420?pwd=QVBJZjlLcGs3amRpL3FvVkVNRE13UT09

Or join by phone: (408) 638-0968, Webinar ID: 849 3201 8420

San Mateo County Democratic Party announces endorsements

in Community/PoliticalClimate by

The San Mateo County Democratic and Republican parties have announced endorsements for the November election amid a statewide surge in voter registration.

While both parties have announced endorsements for local ballot measures, only the Democratic Party has pledged support for local candidates.

In Redwood City, which is entering into its first district elections, the County Democratic Central Committee has endorsed incumbents Janet Borgens for District 3 and Alicia Aguirre for District 7. It has also endorsed Amourence Lee and Diane Papan for San Mateo City Council; Ron Collins and John Dugan for San Carlos City Council; and Davina Hurt and Tom McCune for Belmont City Council. Each of these candidates is pictured above from left to right.

For local ballot measures, the Democrats and Republicans are at odds across the board. As one example, the County’s Democratic Central Committee is supporting Measure RR, the Caltrain 1/8 cent sales tax that aims to provide the transit agency with a dedicated source of funding to recover from the pandemic and enhance service. County Republicans reject the measure.

To view all November ballot measure endorsements by the County Democratic Party, click here. To view all from the County Republican Party, go here.

The endorsements precede an historic election that has seen a significant increase in registered voters throughout the state, a trend that appears to favor Democrats, including in San Mateo County.

As of July 3, a record 20.9 million out of a total 25.06 million eligible voters have registered, which amounts to 83.49 percent of eligible voters, according to data provided by the California Secretary of State. That’s an increase from about 18.1 million registered voters in the 2016 presidential election, or 72.89 percent of eligible voters.

Of those registered for the November 2020 election, about 9.7 million, or 46.3 percent, are voting as Democrat, while just over 5 million are voting Republican. Another 5 million voters registered as having no party preference, and those independents now outnumber GOP voters. Another 1.2 million are in the “other” parties category, which include the Independent, Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties.

In comparison to the 2016 presidential election, the percentage of registered Democrats has increased from 45.1 percent to 46.3 percent, while the percentage of Republicans has decreased from 27.1 percent to 24 percent, the state’s data showed. Meanwhile, the number of registered voters with no party preference increased from 23.3 percent to 24 percent from 2016, while those registering in parties that are not the Democratic and Republican parties also rose from 2016 from 4.5 percent to 5.7 percent.

San Mateo County has the sixth highest percentage of registered Democrats in the state, with 54.38 percent. Only San Francisco (62.1 percent); Marin (59.93); Alameda (59.54); Santa Cruz (59.04) and Sonoma (56.19) have higher percentages.

Oct. 19 is the traditional voter registration deadline for the Nov. 3 General Election, although same-day voter registration remains an option.  Voting is set to start on Oct. 5, when all California counties will begin mailing ballots to every active, registered voter.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Council candidate Michael Smith brings fresh perspective to Redwood City

in PoliticalClimate by

The following is the first of four columns covering the November election for City Council of Redwood City. The first installment reports on the District 4 race.

In little more than a month, ballots for the November 3 election will start showing up in mailboxes, and Redwood City has an unprecedented array of contested races and candidates of widely varying qualifications, backgrounds and experiences.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing columns on each of the races. Climate Magazine also will be hosting online forums among the candidates in the three contested races. I’ll be moderating those forums.

Meanwhile, we’ll get started by taking the path of least resistance, or the least complicated, and introduce Planning Commissioner Michael Smith, who is running unopposed in District 4.

For a brief moment, the City Council considered canceling the election in this district, but decided to go forward, a decision Smith supported.

“I’m really excited the election is moving forward. Allowing the residents of District 4 to represent their choice, albeit symbolic, perhaps, is the right thing. It allows me to come in with a mandate,” Smith said in an interview with Climate.

A young professional, Smith brings a fresh perspective to the city issues. Raised and educated on the East Coast, Smith moved to Redwood City about four years ago and immediately involved himself in the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula. From there, he helped write the cannabis ordinance ultimately adopted by the city and he served on the El Camino Real Corridor Citizens Advisory Group and as co-chair of the Palm Park Neighborhood Association. He made enough of an immediate impression to win an appointment to the Planning Commission two years after he moved to the city.

In past council campaigns, the length of time a candidate has lived in the city has been a cause for concern among some of the more vocal advocates, but Smith said he has worked quickly to “create relationships with as many people as I can. … I’m a younger person who’s interested in ingratiating myself in the community.” And there is value in having a mix of residents — old and young, new and longstanding, he said. “Putting up a wall between those two demographics creates a social anxiety. I want to bridge that gap.”

The district runs from the central part of the city, south of Jefferson Avenue, to the Five Points area in the southern section of city, and a portion of the city’s eastside. The district is 77 percent Hispanic — one of two minority-majority districts created by the council last year. Only 15 percent of the residents have a college degree; 43 percent of households have an annual income under $50,000; 68 percent of residents live in multi-family households; and 80 percent are renters.

It’s also among the youngest of the city’s seven districts, with 27 percent of residents aged 19 or younger.

“It’s a demographic in this city that is younger, moved here more recently, not necessarily engaged on the local level. But they’re here and they’re interested in the broader concerns,” Smith said.

Smith said district residents “are a group of teachers, librarians, nurses and engineers. We are parents, young singles, high school students and retirees.”

EMPOWERING YOUTH: An adjunct professor in Business at Canada College, he has spent extensive time in conversation with students, learning their challenges and concerns, which led him to make one of his campaign priorities empowering youth.

“Things are incredibly expensive, finding employment is difficult, especially a livable wage that allows them to thrive in this area,” Smith said.

He wants to enhance access among youth to public transportation. “Public transportation is a tool of the youth,” he said. He thinks the SamTrans board should have a seat dedicated specifically to a local person of youth. And he wants county youth-oriented programs expanded through partnerships with local organizations already doing work with youth, including a focus on job training.e wHe

HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT: He supports “more housing, more commercial development and the ability to develop low-income housing. “As a housing advocate, I’m extremely motivated to build,” Smith said. But he favors “thoughtful and smart development. … Despite what people might think about me, I respect neighborhoods,” including his own, which he describes as high-density and should not automatically be a target for growth.

“There is a rational basis for both sides of the argument,” Smith said. “I’m really focused on opening up the stock of housing that can be developed. I’m not interested in having monster homes in Redwood City, but I do think we should enable families that are growing to expand their homes.”

RENT RELIEF: He supports the efforts at the state level to address the issue of rising rents, and thinks the renter protections adopted by the state should be extended to small businesses.

BLACK LIVES MATTER: Even as he was preparing for the campaign, Smith said he has been working with local Black Lives Matter activists to develop a list of law enforcement reform actions for council consideration. They include creation of a police oversight committee, routine release of police records concerning use-of-force complaints, either individually or an aggregate basis, an audit of use-of-force policies and diversion of some city law enforcement funding toward mental and behavioral health services.

He said the leadership of the Redwood City Police Department has been supportive of discussions about moving beyond some of the historic elements of the department’s relationship with the community.

“I know there’s interest in moving the needle on the relationship police have with our communities, specifically communities of color,” Smith said.

“I am in support of the Black Lives Matter movement because it has sparked activism throughout the nation,” Smith said. “I believe that the Movement for Black Lives is about illuminating the social, economic, and political inequities that are institutionalized in the local and national systems Americans have supported throughout our nation’s history. Structural and systemic racism exists in nearly every aspect of American life. This fact has been articulated in dozens of volumes of academic and popular literature. Our society–– including Redwood City––must come to terms with these realities.”

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

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

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Nine candidates in RWC’s first district elections

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

Legendary baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, in his rules for how to stay young, wrote, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Alas, as we forge ahead into the 2020 Redwood City Council election, with brand spanking new districts, we must look over our shoulder just a bit to Monday evening. The current council decided unanimously to proceed with an election in District 4 and allow Michael Smith to appear on the ballot, even though he is running unopposed.

What interests me more than the decision is that the question prompted a remarkably angry denunciation of district elections as a failure and farce. I’m paraphrasing. The anger went on much longer.

Well, that’s just wrong, not to mention ridiculously premature. Not a single vote has been cast in three districts where there are contested races that promise to be vigorous. It’s like opening your first gift on Christmas morning and finding socks. And then deciding there’s no point in opening any other presents. You never know. There might be a bike hidden behind the tree.

Meanwhile, about those three districts. Yes, the pandemic response will be an issue. So will funding for police services and the economic crisis facing the city and its business community. But these are four-year seats and when it comes to political issues in Redwood City, the angle of repose is set on growth and development.

DISTRICT 1: Planning Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe versus former Councilmember Jeff Gee.

This is the district carved out for Redwood Shores. It’s the wealthiest district in the city and has the highest concentration of Asian-Americans — 39 percent, nearly four times higher than any other district.

When the council created districts, there was a widespread expectation that Gee, a longtime resident, would run for this seat. He announced for re-election in 2018 and then dropped out. Gee was targeted — sometimes on a personal level — by residents who were unhappiest with the growth and development that transformed downtown into a regional center and accommodated an increasing urbanization occurring throughout the Peninsula.

Even now, it appears the campaign is likely to be about those issues.

Radcliffe, a renter who moved to Redwood Shores two years ago, has been on the Planning Commission for 20 years, which has put her in the middle of many of the decisions that have changed Redwood City. But more recently, she has tempered her support and been a more difficult vote for development.

For a person with such a long public career and service on hosts of public and community committees, she has had a remarkably low political profile. Even now, a social media search turns up little on her, other than her Planning Commission tenure. Her personal financial disclosure statement — required from every public servant — lists no reportable investments or holdings.

DISTRICT 3: Councilmember Janet Borgens versus Isabella Chu and Lissette Espinoza-Garnica.

This district covers the Friendly Acres neighborhood in southern Redwood City and is one of the two minority-majority districts — 71 percent Hispanic, 64 percent renters, 62 percent of households with an annual income below $75,000 and only 20 percent with a college or graduate degree.

Borgens, a resident for more than 50 years, is seeking her second term. She was on the Planning Commission prior to her election, and she supported many of the changes to the city’s profile. But as a candidate she said it was time to pull the reins. Now, she is looking to broaden her appeal and her candidate ballot statement is a smorgasbord of district concerns. “I’m a strong voice at City Hall of residents, including our Latino families and Millennials starting families. Addressing racism and how we truly protect our community has made my voice stronger,” she wrote.

Still, this is a district where residents might feel that the city’s economic expansion passed them by and there may be a larger appetite for development that also might bring jobs and more housing.

That turf was staked out long ago by Chu, the leading voice of Redwood City Forward, an organization that supports smart growth and expansion. She also chairs the Friendly Acres Neighborhood Association. “I believe that Redwood City residents are progressive and practical and want our city to adapt to meet changing circumstances of the 21st century,’ she wrote on her campaign Facebook page.

Espinoza-Garnica is the newcomer, a young voice, self-described in their candidate statement as a “first-generation, queer, non-binary Chicanx.” They said “our neighborhood too often is neglected,” and they openly called for a reinvestment of the city’s $48.9 million police budget and for more affordable housing in the district.

DISTRICT 7: Councilmember Alicia Aguirre versus Chris Rasmussen and Mark Wolohan.

This district, which runs west of Alameda de las Pulgas up to Farm Hill, is one of the centers of greatest resistance to development.

It’s at the other end of the spectrum from District 3. It is 70 percent White and only 17 percent Hispanic, which is of note since Aguirre is the only Latino on the council. It’s also the second-wealthiest, behind District 1, but it has more homes than any other district — 87 percent single family residences, and 79 percent of the residents are home owners.

Aguirre, a  councilmember for 15 years, is seeking her fourth full term and was part of the coalition that built the city’s downtown. She is running as someone who experienced the 2009 recession, equipping her to handle the present and future, pandemic-driven fiscal crisis.

Her principal opponent is Rasmussen, recently retired from the city police department and widely known for his high-profile work as the city’s community police officer. He has been praised, particularly, for his work with the homeless. Backed by the residentialist-inclined activists involved with the Redwood City Residents Say What? Facebook page, Rasmussen is off to an energetic start, with campaign signs already dotting the district. In his candidate statement, he said, quite directly, “It is time for new leadership” on the council.

The political newcomer is Wolohan, a lifelong resident and renter, who promises to bring a “fresh and holistic perspective’ to the council, which apparently includes an extensive effort at ending school consolidations. He also said his campaign will be “entirely self-funded, without campaign contributions from developers or anyone else.”

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

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

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Whole new ball game for Redwood City elections

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Local governments look to revise procedures in face of growing coronavirus concerns

No doubt, after five months of Sheltering In Place, you are hungry for something new and different. Well, my friends, you have come to the right place. Political Climate is back for the duration, which runs through November 3, and I’m happy to be your tour guide. My sustaining philosophy is informed by the classic line from “All About Eve,” uttered in that Bette Davis way by, of all people, Bette Davis: “Fasten your seatbelt. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Indeed. It is Redwood City’s first foray into district elections and there are four City Council seats on the ballot. Three of the seats are contested and two feature incumbents who don’t get to be called incumbents anymore because they were elected citywide, but now are running in districts. So, according to their ballot designations, we should use councilmember when referring to Alicia Aguirre and Janet Borgens. Which certainly has the same semantic effect as incumbent, but there you go. It’s a brave new world.

If you did the math, one district seat is uncontested, and congratulations to Planning Commissioner Michael Smith. In fact, the City Council is meeting Monday for the sole purpose of conceding the seat to Smith and bypassing the election. It’s supposed to save a modest chunk of change, but it’s an interesting way to initiate the new districts over which the council labored so. I think if I were Smith, I’d want to have my name on the ballot — start off that political career with an affirmation from the voters. But that’s just me.

Smith will represent District 4, which takes in the Five Points area and is one of two minority-majority districts: 77 percent of residents are Hispanic, 80 percent are renters, and education and income levels are among the lowest in the city.

Smith has been in the Bay Area only four years and is only two years into his first term on the Planning Commission. But he has established himself quickly as a community activist, serving a wide range of city and neighborhood organizations. Apparently, that was enough to discourage opposition in a district that could have been expected to attract a Latino candidate.

It is understandable, however, that a community denied a fair share of representation on the council and city boards and commissions will need some time to build up a bench of eventual candidates. Meanwhile, Smith brings a fresh energy to a district where residents long have felt overlooked.

A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME: The other three districts not only are contested but promise to be competitive campaigns. The 2018 city council campaign also was competitive —  seven candidates running for three seats. But it was a citywide election, which meant it was difficult for some candidates to separate themselves from the crowd. It also was a testy election, a proving ground of factional disputes over development and growth that often became quite personal, particularly behind the scenes. In that citywide election, oddly enough, the agenda was dominated by a small group of advocates.

The new political setting will be quite different and the ability to influence the council or the election is spread out, which was the idea. Residents of District 1, the Redwood Shores district, are going to have priorities, including views on development and housing growth, that differ dramatically from residents in the Farm Hill area of District 7 or the Friendly Acres area of southernmost District 3, not to mention such issues as rent control or sea level rise.

And all of this is overlaid by Covid-19 and a community still under quarantine — to devastating effect on the city’s economic well-being. Candidates can, and will, run on a variety of issues that are also highly localized. But whatever issues they raise, whatever promises they make, the council that convenes in December is going to spend most of its time making budget cuts and frantically seeking ways to bail out a city with an annual shortfall of $10 million.

The fiscal effects of the pandemic not only will dominate the new city council — with, possibly, a brand new majority — but it will have a huge impact on the campaign, or, more precisely, how the candidates will campaign. One of the benefits of districts is that candidates can knock on every door, sometimes more than once. Campaigns are much more personal, and, likely, much less costly. A pandemic would seem to make face-to-face campaigning less inviting. Mask-to-mask campaigning?

NEW LIMITATIONS: That would tilt 2020 campaigning toward mail and online messages, which take money. But the other new wrinkle is a campaign donation limit of $1,000, which took effect in mid-March, right around the time most of us were being told to go home and to stay there.

The donation limit already has made its presence felt in the form of hurried-up contributions.  Julie Pardini, the prime force behind the residentialist-inclined Facebook page of Redwood City Residents Say What?, has given $5,000 to Chris Rasmussen, the retired cop who is challenging Aguirre in District 7.

The donations by Pardini to Rasmussen were made on February 4 ($1,000) and March 1 ($4,000).  The new donation limit took effect on March 11. Rasmussen said the donations were legal at the time and that makes them acceptable to him.

Borgens also got $2,000 from Pardini on March 9, just two days before the new law took effect. But Borgens returned $1,000 with a note on her campaign finance report that Pardini “already contributed the maximum amount.” Borgens acknowledged she didn’t have to give back half the money, but she said she served on the council committee that recommended the limit and she felt she should observe the spirit of the new law.

Rasmussen also received two contributions totaling $2,000 from Christina Umhofer, a losing council candidate in 2018. The first donation was on January 24 ($1,000). The second was on May 28 ($1,000) from her 2018 council campaign committee.

The cumulative donations are legal, according to City Attorney Veronica Ramirez, speaking through city Communications Director Jennifer Yamaguma. The first donation occurred prior to the new law and does not count as part of the aggregate amount contributed by Umhofer.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW: The goal of moving to district elections — whether coerced or by choice — is to invite more diversity among candidates, not just demographically, but politically. Certainly, there are new faces in the three contested districts, but also some familiar ones. And there is a new electorate, if you will. From the analytical work done in creating the new districts, we know something about population and voting trends from past elections. What we don’t know is how true that will be this time.

And, so, we are off to the races. Ordinarily, campaigns avoid too much activity until after Labor Day, but these certainly are not ordinary times. I’ll dive into the contested races in my next missive. Meanwhile, and to tide you over, remember that old saying, “May you live in interesting times.”

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

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

Glew, Becker leading in State Senate District 13 race

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The San Mateo County Elections Office said the Tuesday night results included all ballots cast at vote centers. The results also included vote by mail ballots the Elections Office had received in the mail by Monday, and vote by mail ballots turned into Vote Centers and Drop Boxes by Sunday. The results, however, do not include mailed ballots received by the Election's Office after Monday, or ballots dropped off at Vote Centers or Drop Boxes after Sunday. The results also don't include conditional voter registration or provisional ballots. The Elections Office will release another update on results today at 5 p.m.

With still many ballots to count, Alexander Glew, the Los Altos mechanical engineer and lone Republican aiming to succeed District 13 State Sen. Jerry Hill, currently leads the seven-candidate race with 21.92 percent of the vote. Former venture capitalist, CEO and Menlo Park resident Josh Becker is close behind at 19.01 percent, according to results released after the polls closed on Election Day Tuesday.

In California, the top two vote-getters move on to the November elections, regardless of party.

Redwood City Councilmember Shelly Masur is in third in the State Senate District 13 race with 17.72 percent of the vote. Millbrae city councilmember Annie Oliva (14,722), Burlingame city councilmember Mike Brownrigg (13,516), former state Assemblymember and Mountain View resident Sally Lieber (12,347) and lone Libertarian John Webster (2,256) round out the preliminary ranking.

Also, supporters of several school district measures and bonds are optimistic with the preliminary results:

Measure N (San Carlos School District) has garnered 68.35 percent approval to increase the district’s annual parcel tax from $246.60 to $334.60 for the next eight years. The measure needs two-thirds approval to pass.

Measure M (La Honda-Pescadero Unified) has garnered 68.82 percent approval to increase the district’s annual parcel tax from $100 to $130 over seven years. Two-thirds approval is needed to pass.

Measure P (Portola Valley School District) is thus far just short of two-thirds approval at 63.46 percent in favor of renewing the district’s annual parcel tax of $581 per parcel with a 3 percent increase every year.

Measure J (Jefferson Union High School District) has so far garnered 61.06 percent approval for a $27 million bond issue to fund upgrades to schools and other district facilities. Fifty-five percent voter-approval is needed to pass.

Measure O (Burlingame Elementary School District) has 57.14 percent approval for a $97 million bond issue to fund school facility upgrades. Fifty-five percent approval is needed to pass.

Measure K (Brisbane School District) has 58.97 percent approval for a 27 million bond to make safety, security and facility upgrades in the district. Fifty-five percent approval is needed to pass.

Measure P (Portola Valley School District) has 63.46 percent approval in renewing the current $581 per parcel tax, with 3 percent annual increases, raising at least $1,200,000 annually, for eight years. Fifty-five percent approval is needed to pass.

Measure L (San Mateo Union High School District) currently has 54.15 percent approval for a $385 million bond measure aimed at upgrading schools and facilities and modernize classrooms. Fifty-five percent approval is needed to pass.

Still ballots left to count:

Tuesday as come and gone, but the primary election is not over as plenty more ballots remain to count, according to the San Mateo County Elections Office. The results released Tuesday included all ballots cast at vote centers. The results also included vote by mail ballots the Elections Office had received in the mail by Monday, and vote by mail ballots turned into Vote Centers and Drop Boxes by Sunday.

The results, however, do not include mailed ballots received by the Election’s Office after Monday, or ballots dropped off at Vote Centers or Drop Boxes after Sunday. The results also don’t include conditional voter registration or provisional ballots.

The Elections Office will release another update on results today at 5 p.m.

San Carlos State of the City to be delivered at brewery

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Talk about a “City of Good Living.”

San Carlos Mayor Ron Collins will deliver the State of the City address at Devils Canyon Brewery on March 12. The free event will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the brewery at 935 Washington St. Titled “Change and Reinvention,” the State of the City updates residents on the city’s affairs.

The event requires advanced registration. To register, click bit.ly/2SJpnca.

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