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City Council advances gatekeeper process to increase development caps

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Council supports allowing developers to donate land to affordable housing nonprofits

At last week’s study session, the Redwood City Council directed to City Staff to continue to advance the gatekeeper process that would increase developments caps downtown.

The process, which was initiated in 2020, was intended to provide a framework for screening and evaluating proposed projects that would exceed the square footage limits imposed by both the Downtown Precise Plan and the General Plan. Eight mixed-use project are currently under consideration.

One critical point of the discussion centered around whether to allow projects to meet their housing requirements by donating offsite land to nonprofit affordable housing developers. Half of the proposed projects offered offsite land.

Speakers from Eden Housing and MidPen Housing, two of the affordable housing nonprofit partners, spoke favorably about allowing this option, arguing that the offsite option would allow them to secure better financing options and produce more units at deeper levels of affordability than producing housing onsite.

A majority of the council spoke favorably of granting greater flexibility for the land donation option.

“Bottom line: we need more housing, we need deeper affordability, and we need it to be done as quickly as possible,” said Councilmember Chris Sturken, who represents the downtown neighborhood. “Wherever you can find that property… I am fully supportive of getting the housing built.”

Some councilmembers expressed concern about the so-called “land reverter” options, which would give the City the option to take ownership of the offsite properties should the affordable housing not be developed within a specific timeframe.

But when Councilmember Alicia Aguirre said, “we are not on the business of building homes,” staff quickly clarified that the proposal would give the City the option to acquire the land, but not the obligation. Aguirre later stated she supported the land donation option.

The General Plan and Downtown Precise Plan amendments are due to return to the Planning Commission and City Council in July. The final entitlements and building permits for the eight projects are expected to be granted in 2025.

When it comes to local taxes, when is enough ‘enough?’

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So when is enough “enough?” It depends on whom you ask—and what it’s for.

Closing out a year marked by high inflation and economic uncertainty, San Mateo County voters went to the polls in November and passed 13 out of 14 revenue measures on the ballot. Among them were four school district bonds that will have property owners writing bigger checks at tax time. Voters in Daly City’s Bayshore Elementary School District added eight years to the life of a $96 parcel tax. Brisbane and Pacifica residents upped their sales tax rates by a half-cent. And voters in Brisbane weren’t through; they joined their compatriots in Millbrae and Belmont in approving tax hikes on temporary lodging, including hotels.

Dial back to 2016, when the county board of supervisors asked voters to “extend” a 10-year sales tax increase that had been in effect only four years. The margin for the second go-around—70.37%—was even higher than the first time, when the half-cent tax passed by 65.4%.

Does that mean county voters are pushovers for taxes? Not exactly. When the supervisors last summer considered adding a parcel tax to the November ballot to address drought, wildfire and sea level rise, they pulled back after receiving unfavorable poll numbers.

So when is enough “enough?” It depends on whom you ask—and what it’s for.

“I’m clueless as to why they are voting for these things,” says Mark W.A. Hinkle, 71, president of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association and a longtime Libertarian Party member. He is especially down on school bonds, given current test scores and declining enrollment in certain districts. “They want good-quality education but they’re not getting it … I think a lot of them do vote for these things thinking they will get better.”

Others see value. As co-chair for the Redwood City School District’s successful bond campaign, financial adviser Jessica Meunier rang lots of doorbells and was gratified by its passage in November. “Education is a big passion for me,” the mother of two young girls explains. “… I want to invest in our schools, our education, our teachers. So whether I do it by donating to the schools or by taxes, I’m probably going to do it.”

The Local Share

At least conceptually, many people say taxes are too high. For Californians, the grass can look pretty green in nearby states such as Nevada and Washington, where there’s no state income tax. Not as noticeably, though, local taxes and fees—from school bonds to sales taxes—nibble at the family budget, too. The upshot: the Golden State came in No. 8 in the Tax Foundation’s most recent national State-Local Tax Burdens Rankings.

That was in 2019, when California’s effective tax rate was 11.5%. It was actually higher—13.3%—in 1977. That was the year before voters passed Proposition 13, which dramatically lowered property taxes and enshrined rates in the state constitution.

Follow-up measures have modified or clarified Prop. 13, which initially required a two-thirds vote to increase local special taxes. In 2000, voters passed Proposition 39, which lowered the threshold to 55% for school bonds. School districts can use bond funds to finance buildings or other capital projects, and property owners’ obligation to repay the borrowed funds shows up on their tax bills until the bonds are paid off. Bond money can’t be used for salaries or other operating expenses.

This story first appeared in the February edition of Climate Magazine

Not surprisingly, Prop. 39 made it much easier for school bonds to cross the finish line. Since 2001, more than 80% of school measures that qualify for 55% have passed, according to consultant Michael Coleman, who has spent decades tracking and reporting on taxes in California.  Statewide, 209 out of 303 tax and bond measures passed last November; 100 of those were for school bonds and 71 were approved. (The tallies can be found on Coleman’s website,

Adding to the momentum, schools and local governments are expected to provide services that weren’t even on the radar screen decades ago; for government, addressing homelessness, human trafficking, sea level rise, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to name a few. Schools have had added costs for the Covid pandemic and safety in the last couple of years.

The money for all that has to come from somewhere, be it taxes on property, hotel stays or corporate payrolls. But people these days seem more sanguine than in the past about ponying up. Much of the willingness seems to follow traditional political lines; San Mateo County—where Republican registration sits at an anemic 14%—has become one of the bluest counties in a reliably blue state whose voters often favor spending.

“I think we’re fortunate to live in an area where the local residents are willing to invest in the local government and the work that we do,” says county Board of Supervisors President Dave Pine. “And I think it makes a big difference in the quality of life in our community. But we couldn’t deliver many of the services that we all value if it weren’t for taxes.”

Odds of Passage

Some are easier to pass than others.

Coleman notes that if taxes are extended or revised without an increase—as in San Mateo County when voters added 20 years to 2012’s Measure A—most pass. Hotel and business license taxes succeed more often than utility taxes, which are among the hardest to enact.

Nonetheless, Coleman says there was “some dampening” in the November election, probably because of concerns about the economy. California’s overall passage rate of 69% was noticeably lower than in the last few election cycles (topping at 83% in 2016.).

More to the point, tax hikes aren’t even being placed on the ballot in some of the redder and more rural parts of the state. The lion’s share of the tax measures, Coleman says, are in the coastal and urban areas, such as the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

But taxes do add up. To the state’s 7.25% sales tax baseline, many jurisdictions tack on their own increments. Total sales tax rates exceed 10% in parts of Los Angeles County, and most San Mateo County cities are in the “high 9s.” Caltrain, which had been out in the cold among public transit agencies without a tax source of its own, finally got a one-eighth-cent levy in a three-county vote in November 2020. (The single losing tax measure in last November’s election was a parcel tax in South San Francisco for childcare.)

Redwood City’s Measure RR in 2018—called the “Redwood City Essential Services Protection Measure”—added a half cent (okayed by a 67.6% margin). Late last year, the city issued a request for proposals to analyze potential new revenue sources—among them parcel taxes and the creation of a new tax or special district—and update current sources of funds. If voter approval is required, the goal would be to get the recommendations to the city council by this November, with the June 2024 election in mind.

Hotel taxes offer a popular way to raise local revenues, because most often they’re paid by out-of-towners. Half Moon Bay’s hotel tax (called “TOT” for transient occupancy tax) reached 15% in July. In most of the county, it’s 12% to 14%.

On the other hand, bonds and parcel taxes literally hit property owners where they live.

This year, the owner of a house in the South San Francisco Unified School District valued at $1.5 million will see a property tax increase of about $900, as a result of $436 million in just-approved bonds. The additional cost for a homeowner in the Sequoia Union High School District with that value will be around $210 to begin repaying $591.5 million in new bonds. It’s $360 more for property owners in the Redwood City School District, where $298 million in bonds were also approved in November. For those who happen to live in both Redwood City districts, that’s an extra $570 per year.

Missing in Action

To oversimplify, Republicans typically are associated with a desire for lower taxes. With today’s lopsided Democratic margin in San Mateo County, it’s not as easy as it once was for voters to hear the opposite side of a tax proposal. There no longer seems even to be a local tax-fighting association. Years ago, the county to the north was absorbed into Hinkle’s Silicon Valley group. When Hinkle, a Morgan Hill resident, can’t locate someone to write the “anti” argument for a voter pamphlet somewhere, he often does it himself, at the risk of being called a carpetbagger.

Coleman, the tax expert, laments the loss of local newspapers. He says in many communities, the only thing voters can go on is the ballot pamphlet they get in the mail. “And,” he adds, “you just hope that they’re reading that. But I think many people aren’t.”

In the last two years, civil grand juries in Alameda and Santa Clara counties have also criticized the way ballot questions are phrased. Limited to 75 words, the question is supposed to be neutral and transparent. But many are considered to suffer from “proponents’ bias” because well-meaning people with a vested interest in the outcome may use “feel-good,” misleading or irrelevant language rather than just presenting the facts.

“It’s an offense against the system that you’re printing stuff to be on the ballot that’s basically a list of arguments,” says Richard Michael, a Southern California resident who maintains a website ( about school bonds statewide.

He continues, “Everybody involved in this knows that the ballot label is the most important thing you can do because it’s the only thing that a voter will actually see when they vote. They might not hear any news. They might not see any mailers or hear any radio ads or whatever else they do, they might not even read the voter guide, which is mailed separately.”

Some critics say the odds are stacked in favor of school districts and government agencies, which can employ tools at taxpayer expense that leave the opposition outgunned—using pollsters to see what voters will support and how to frame it, sending out “informational” mailers, and then working with campaign consultants to craft arguments that hype the benefits and cloud the costs and/or duration of the tax.

Drawing the Line

“There’s really a bright line,” Supervisor Pine responds. “Taxpayers’ money can’t be used to advocate for a tax measure. But their money can be used to explore the viability of a measure and I think those are different.” More often than not, he says, polling keeps tax measures from going on the ballot. “You have to have a high degree of confidence that the electorate will support the tax. It’s expensive to go to the ballot and fail. It also positions you poorly having forced you maybe to go out a second time.”

Chris Robell, a retired corporate chief financial officer, wrote the ballot arguments against both of the Redwood City school measures on the November ballot, which he opposed because of the long-term cost of bond financing and the way he believed the measures were being presented. He posted about them on social media and produced a video explaining his opposition.

“Bonds are such an expensive way of doing financing,” Robell says, noting they’re similar to a home mortgage, which costs many times the sales price by the time the loan is paid off. Combined, he argues, the two districts’ estimate for the cost of $890 million in bonds is actually $1.7 billion, including principal and interest. He adds that soaring interest rates could create even more expense.

Robell figured there had to be a good reason to go into debt. But when he asked why the school districts needed the money, he started hearing alarm bells.

Chris Robell

“There’s a long list of projects and the projects are very general,” he says. “Then they say they’re going to consult with the community and figure out what we’re going to spend it on. They also make sure in their marketing materials to highlight things that have the highest voter excitement”—items such as deteriorating roofs and lack of air conditioning. He says he’d rather see additional funds go to hiring and retaining teachers than into infrastructure.

The “yes” citizen campaign committees for the two school measures raised sizable war chests for mailers and other campaign staples. “I’m just one person,” Robell says. “I don’t have $250,000 (for a campaign). It’s not a fair fight.”

Today’s vs. Tomorrow’s Dollars

Richard Ginn, who is president of the Sequoia district board and also a CFO, says there is a time value in being able to invest bond money today that is repaid in future dollars. (A basic financial principle holds that money in hand today is worth more than the prospect of money tomorrow, because today’s money can be used now and because the future contains uncertainty such as inflation, which could reduce the money’s value and effectively make it cheaper to pay back loans.)

With that in mind, Ginn says “we have aging buildings” that need upgrades every 10 to 15 years in a continuing process. “If the government is going to provide services and public facilities, you have to pay for it.”

Ginn says he’s among many people who moved to San Mateo County because of the quality of its schools, and that also translates into higher property values. He believes that in approving Measure W last November, voters understood that the funds would be used only for capital projects. The board will have to prioritize, Ginn says, but having air conditioning for classrooms will be high on the list. “We have had several days [last year] that were not conducive to learning.”

Meunier, the co-chair of the “Yes on S” committee supporting the Redwood City School District bond measure, was thrilled when it passed since it will help pay for costly, multi-year projects she believes are definitely needed. Voters in 2015 approved $193 million in bonds under another initiative called Measure T, but Measure S supporters said it covered only about a third of the need. Many of the district’s schools, Meunier says, are still “way behind.”

She adds, “If you don’t have the right technology, building safety and back-end stuff, you will not have the best teachers, happiness for the kids, teaching for the kids and the right environment.”

Furthermore, Meunier says, new and unexpected costs add to the schools’ financial burden. She recognizes that people who don’t have schoolkids or are retired may not share her passion about education. “The word ‘tax’ has a negative connotation,” says Meunier, “but what it’s actually funding is something I know that I want to do.”

Reporting to the Taxpayer

With the lowered threshold for passage, school districts with Prop. 39 bonds are required to have audits and independent citizen oversight committees looking at how the money is spent. There are now more than 500 of them in the state, according to the California Association of Bond Oversight Committees, which was formed in 2019. The organization says the reality sometimes falls short of the promise; some committees never meet or members haven’t been appointed. The group has proposed legislation to give the watchdogs more bite.

Annual reports by the Redwood City School District’s Measure T Oversight Committee are available online and detail where the money has helped modernize and upgrade schools throughout the district. The wide-ranging list includes new kitchen equipment, lunch tables and umbrellas, as well as fire alarm system upgrades, security cameras, safety locks and fencing, new fire escape ramps and emergency “wayfinding” signs.

The Sequoia high school district’s 2015 bond ($265 million for Measure A) financed a prodigious list of big projects, among them new classroom wings at Carlmont, Woodside and Menlo-Atherton high schools, renovation of the music building and the athletic practice field at Sequoia, a new gym at East Palo Academy and the new TIDE Academy.

San Mateo County maintains comprehensive online information on the 2016 Measure K sales tax, including annual reports, lists of specific expenditures and accountability criteria. One of the chief reasons county supervisors placed Measure K on the ballot was because of calls at the time for more affordable housing. Polling indicated that a bond for housing wouldn’t pass but a 10- or 20-year extension of Measure A would win handily. It did—and the former Measure A became Measure K. In December, the county announced the award of $54 million in housing grants that included more than $23 million in Measure K funds.

As its proponents promised, there is a citizen oversight committee. It meets twice a year. Its main role is to review the annual audit from the county controller’s office, but the committee has no power to recommend to the board of supervisors how funds should be spent.

Funding A New Agency

Meanwhile, the San Mateo County Flood & Sea Level Rise Resiliency District has a tax problem. Called OneShoreline for short, the agency was formed three years ago. The county and its cities were expected to contribute to it until it secured an independent source of funds. Some of the money from Measure K was supposed to go toward addressing sea level rise, and Pine says the county has indeed drawn on that source for its own OneShoreline share.

The board of supervisors last spring was looking at putting a parcel tax on the ballot, which had “kind of morphed into a broader climate resiliency tax,” Pine explains. Residents received glossy mailers about a “New Normal” of drought, wildfire and sea level rise, and were asked to comment online. But polling showed a parcel tax wouldn’t pass—illustrating Pine’s contention that polling often keeps tax measures off the ballot.

“Polling reflected what was going on in the world at the time,” he says, “which was inflation and gas prices were at a record high. People were still feeling uneasy about Covid. And it was clear that obtaining two-thirds approval [the margin a parcel tax needs] would be extremely hard to achieve. So we passed on it.”

Where does that leave OneShoreline? Pine says it’s not at imminent risk of going out of business. But long-term, he adds, “the need still exists to figure out how to fund OneShoreline.”

Virginia Chang Kiraly, who serves on the boards of both the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and the San Mateo County Harbor District, heard a similar message when she canvassed door-to-door last spring in her unsuccessful campaign for the board of supervisors. “I didn’t once talk to anyone who was for any taxes and I didn’t even bring up the tax measure,” she says. “And they don’t know how their tax dollars are being spent. I heard this over and over again.”

Chang Kiraly says she’s not anti-tax but that it was the wrong time to be going to the voters for more money when families were struggling to cover basic needs. She also contends OneShoreline should first try to partner with other taxpayer-supported special districts with overlapping missions to “figure out how you can expand on what they’re doing.”

Every harbor district infrastructure project, she adds, takes sea level rise into account. “How do you expand that and not have to reinvent the wheel? So it’s really about how do you become more resourceful with what you’ve got right now instead of working in silos?”

Keeping Up

Hinkle remains “baffled” why so many tax measures get approved by the people who will be paying the tab, though some of that may be because of residents who have been priced out of California and aren’t around to vote “no.”

Mark Hinkle

It bears noting that the Peninsula and Silicon Valley have some of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country. For two-earner families or tech employees receiving stock options, thousands of dollars in taxes for quality public services and good schools may seem money well-spent.

Hinkle owns a swimming pool enclosure business, and his wife is an architect. They built their home in Morgan Hill 29 years ago. The property tax started at $4,000. Despite Prop. 13, their bill today runs more than $10,000. “Last time I looked, I had something like 19 different line items,” Hinkle says, add-ons for special districts, schools and other things. “Every year the property tax goes up $400 or $500.”

He’s lived his whole life in California but says if he and his wife ever quit working, “we can’t afford to stay here because of the property taxes and the cost of living. … You’ve heard the phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts?’ Well, I’ve had 19 cuts, and I’m not sure I can afford more.”

Menlo Park City Council Delays District 5 Appointment

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The Menlo Park City Council on Wednesday delayed appointing Ray Mueller’s successor to the District 5 seat until next year, drawing concern that residents of the district will not have a say in who will be their next representative.

The City Council was expected to appoint a candidate to fill the remainder of Mueller’s term at its meeting Wednesday. Eleven residents have applied to succeed Mueller, who is departing to join the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. But after interviewing applicants, the Council decided to postpone making an appointment until Monday, Jan. 9, which is six days after Mueller’s final day on the Council.

“I think the decision was a terrible mistake, to exclude the representative of District 5 from voting who will represent the district moving forward,” said Mueller. “I have been an elected representative of this district for ten years.”

For the first time in recent memory, Menlo Park will be without a full City Council. Since councilmembers are elected by district, District 5 will have no representative on the Council.

“No resident of District 5 can even hold the other members of the Council responsible for this decision,” continued Mueller. “It is incredibly troubling.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Councilmembers Drew Combs, Cecilia Taylor and Betsy Nash advocated for continuing the meeting in order to have more time to decide on the appointment. Following Mueller’s election to the Board of Supervisors in November, the Council opted to appoint his successor rather than go the route of a special election.

Mueller was elected to the District 5 Council seat in 2020, and has served on the City Council since 2012.

District 5 borders Stanford University to the West and include the Sharon Heights and West Menlo Park neighborhoods.

This is a developing story. 

Chinese-Jewish woman is Belmont’s first elected mayor

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Chinese-Jewish woman is Belmont’s first elected mayor

In a first for Belmont, the city on December 13 installed Julia Mates as its first mayor elected at large. Mates took the gavel as the council also welcomed its two newest members, Gina Latimerlo and Robin Pang-Maganaris.

Mates’s election marked the first time in the Peninsula city’s nearly 100 years that a mayor was elected instead of appointed from the city council. It also set another Belmont milestone; Mates is the city’s first Chinese-Jewish mayor. She will serve a two-year term, also a first for Belmont.

The City’s newest councilmembers were elected by district to the five-member council. Latimerlo, a private vocal teacher from District 1, and Pang-Maganaris, a retired elementary school principal from District 3, will serve four-year terms.

At the meeting, the council selected Davina Hurt as vice mayor until December 2023.  Belmont also recognized departing councilmembers Charles Stone and Warren Lieberman, who had served for nine and 17 years, respectively.

Gina Latimerlo
Robin Pang-Maganaris
Warren Lieberman
Charles Stone

Countywide Support Grows for Amourence Lee

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Congressmember-elect Kevin Mullin, Sen. Josh Becker, and the San Mateo County Democratic Party have joined a growing chorus of community members and leaders calling upon a deeply divided San Mateo City Council to select Councilmember Amourence Lee as the city’s next mayor.

History & precedent say [Lee] should rotate to San Mateo mayor,” Mullin stated on Twitter. “She has put in the quality time & would make history for the AAPI community in SM.”

Like other San Mateo County cities, Council members select one of their members annually to serve as San Mateo’s mayor on a rotational basis. The appointment is typically seen as routine and ceremonial. Lee, who would be the city’s first Asian American mayor, is the only member on the current Council who served prior to the November election.

But in an apparent battle of opposing ideologies, two of the newly-elected San Mateo Councilmembers — Lisa Diaz Nash and Robert Newsom — broke from 128 years of city precedent by rejecting Lee’s appointment in a contentious meeting last night that ended at 3:00AM. Due to outgoing Councilmember Diane Papan’s ascension to the State Legislature, their votes caused a 2-2 stalemate, sparking concern of a governance crisis for a city without a mayor that also needs to appoint a fifth councilmember in short time.

The County Democratic party weighed in, urging Newsom and Nash, who the party endorsed in the 2022 race, to end the stalemate and appoint Lee.

“We, the Executive Board of the SMC Democratic Party, call on the two referenced Councilmembers to do the right thing, delay no further & appoint Councilwoman Amourence Lee as Mayor, before appointing the City’s unfilled council seat,” the organization stated on Twitter.

The division, brewing since before the November election, has now burst into public view in dramatic fashion. In a recent column, former San Mateo Mayor Sue Lempert characterized Lee’s critics as “the old guard” who are now “back in charge and seeking revenge.” Lee’s critics, who include former San Mateo mayors Maureen Freschet and Claire Mack, take issue with Lee’s challenge of District 5 Council candidate Rod Linhares position on abortion rights prior to the November election.

Freschet, who campaigned vigorously for Linhares, is rumored to be one of the candidates seeking appointment to the seat. Applications are due today at 5:00PM— just hours before the council meeting is set to begin.

Lee meanwhile faces hateful attacks on social media, such as from this anonymous Twitter account that uses vulgarity and sexist terminology.

It’s not the first time Lee has been targeted by hateful attacks in her own city. In June of 2020, a rock was thrown through a window in her home, where a rainbow Pride flag has been displayed. Lee, who identifies as LGBTQ, believes she was the target of a hate crime. A suspect was never identified.

Tonight, the Council is set to meet again on the mayoral selection process via Zoom.

Divided San Mateo council rejects city charter, protocols in stalemate on next mayor

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In a break from 128 years of precedent, two of San Mateo’s newly-elected Councilmembers — Lisa Diaz Nash and Robert Newsom — rejected installing Councilmember Amourence Lee as the city’s next mayor on Monday, even though it is Lee’s turn to hold the position according to longstanding protocol and established City policy.

Their votes, which caused a 2-2 Council stalemate due to Diane Papan’s ascension to the State Legislature, leaves the city without formal leadership, triggering a potential governance crisis with no apparent resolution in sight. But the contentious tone of Monday’s seven-hour long meeting has drawn concern over the polarized nature of a new San Mateo City Council that cannot come to agreement on what is generally considered a routine and ceremonial appointment in most San Mateo County cities.

Around 3 a.m. Tuesday, the Council decided to delay the vote to Dec. 7. The city initiated the process to select a new member to the vacant seat as early as Dec. 12.

In San Mateo, the City Charter states that the City Council is to select among its members a mayor and a vice mayor, setting up a rotation mayor system similar to most jurisdictions on the Peninsula. The Council later adopted a policy that determines the order of the rotation, which would have placed Councilmember Lee on the seat. Lee, who finished ahead of Nash in the 2020 election, is the only member of the Council who had been elected prior to the 2022 November election. She’s also the only remaining member who was elected by all city residents, prior to the transition to district elections.

Councilmembers Nash and Newsom held firm that the decision on next mayor and vice mayor should be delayed despite the recommendation from city staff to reach a decision by Monday.

Their decision drew criticism on social media, as well as from officials beyond the city’s borders. Redwood City Mayor Giselle Hale was among leaders of area jurisdictions calling upon the San Mateo City Council to abide by city policy and precedent and name Lee as San Mateo’s mayor.

Further compounding the tensions, the Council will also have to appoint a fifth councilmember to replace Papan within 30 days of the vacancy. Should the Council be unable to reach consensus on appointing its fifth member, the Mayor is tasked with breaking the tie.

The Council would enter uncharted waters— and a major crisis of governance— should the council be unable to elect a Mayor and appoint a fifth member.

This article has been updated to reflect that Belmont Mayor Julia Mates did not speak to the rotation issue. 

Chris Sturken wins District 2 City Council seat

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Planning Commissioner Chris Sturken has won the Redwood City Council District 2 race, defeating Housing and Human Concerns Committee member Margaret Becker in a close election to represent Downtown, Centennial, and parts of Mt. Carmel.

According to returns released on Monday, Nov. 21, Sturken leads by 51 votes, earning 1,090 votes to Becker’s 1,039. Local attorney Alison Madden stands at 543 votes.

While the County Elections Office has until December 9 to certify the results, it reports having only a few challenged ballots left to process in all of San Mateo County.

The outcome of the race took well over a week to determine. As reported by Climate Magazine, Sturken trailed Becker by approximately 3.5 percent in the first returns released on Election Night. He gradually closed the gap with each successive report, finishing nearly 2 percent ahead.

Sturken ran on a campaign aiming for a “safe, livable, and affordable Redwood City.” On the trail, he frequently cited his record as a housing and transit advocate and his broad base of high-profile endorsements. He currently works as an events coordinator for HIP Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit.

Diane Howard and Kaia Eakin have been elected in Districts 6 and 5, respectively. Howard defeated Jerome Madigan with nearly 75 percent of the vote, and Eakin ran unopposed.

The councilmembers will be sworn into office at the December 12 council reorganization meeting, where Mayor Giselle Hale and Councilmember Diana Reddy will depart.

Sturken, Howard, and Eakin lead in latest election returns

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Sturken, Howard, and Eakin leading in latest election returns

Today, the County released its latest vote count report. The County Elections Office has so far processed 232,495 ballots and estimates it has approximately 17,000 ballots left to count.

Turnout currently stands at 53.7% countywide and will grow as the remaining ballots are processed.

While it is unclear when the Elections Office will complete processing the remaining votes, it has until December 9 to certify the results.

At the December 12 City Council meeting, the winning candidates will be sworn in, while Mayor Giselle Hale and Councilmember Reddy will depart.

District 2

Chris Sturken significantly expanded his lead among the field of three candidates in the Redwood City Council District 2 race, according to latest election results published by the San Mateo County Elections Office today.

District 2 includes Downtown, Centennial, and portions of Mt. Carmel.

After trailing Housing and Human Concerns Committee Chair Margaret Becker in the days following the election, Planning Commissioner Sturken now leads the field. With 962 votes for Sturken and 933 votes for Becker, 29 votes separate the two candidates. Sturken currently has 40.51% of the votes, while Becker has 39.28%.

The first returns on Election Night showed Sturken approximately 3.5 percent behind Becker. He narrowed the gap in nearly each of the successive returns. While the race remains too close to call, the trend has consistently favored Sturken.

A third candidate, Allison Madden, currently stands at 20.21% with 480 votes.

District 6

District 6 includes portions of Mt. Carmel, Eagle Hill, Roosevelt, and Woodside Plaza.

Councilmember Diane Howard resoundingly won re-election to her seventh council term with 74.96% of the vote. John Madigan, a local pastor, stands at 25.04%.

Madigan has conceded the race.

District 5

Kaia Eakin ran unopposed in District 5, which includes Redwood Oaks and parts of Palm Park. She secured 2,013 votes.

San Mateo Council Candidate Rod Linhares break silence: announces opposition to Prop. 1 

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San Mateo Council Candidate Rod Linhares Break Silence: Announces Opposition to Prop. 1 

Following several weeks of controversy over his refusal to state a definitive position on abortion, Rod Linhares, candidate for San Mateo City Council, at last revealed his position.  

He opposes California Proposition 1, which would enshrine abortion rights into the California constitution in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which stripped away federal abortion protections and left the issue up to states to govern. 

In Mark Simon’s latest column for the San Mateo Daily Journal, Linhares is quoted as saying: 

“While I would certainly uphold all the laws of California, given my personal experience I just cannot support Prop. 1. I was the product of an unwanted pregnancy. My biological mother wanted to abort me in the final trimester. My issue with Prop. 1 is the fact that it allows abortion in the last three months. If Prop. 1 was in place then, I wouldn’t be here. Thus, I cannot support Prop. 1.”  

The controversy over Linhares’ position on the issue, first reported by Climate Magazine, surfaced after San Mateo Councilmember Amourence Lee surveyed all council candidates on their Prop. 1 stance. Linhares, who works as director of development for the Archdiocese of San Francisco – which has contributed to the campaign to defeat Prop. 1 – was evasive on the issue on multiple occasions, including when pressed by Lee, the media and during a candidate forum.  

Pressure to clarify his position further grew as regional media outlets, such as the SF Chronicle and KQED, covered this race, publications which rarely cover city council races on the Peninsula.  

Linhares’ stance, or lack thereof, sparked backlash from members on council and among pro-choice advocates, including representatives of Planned Parenthood, prompting State Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park) to rescind his endorsement for Linhares. 

Following his announcement, pressure continues to mount for supporters to abandon their support for Linhares. Today, the Peninsula Young Democrats and LatinX Democratic Club called in an open letter addressed to Linhares’s endorsers to join Senator Becker in rescinding their endorsement. At the time of publication, no further endorsers have withdrawn their support.

Peninsula housing a central issue in November 2022 election

in Community/PoliticalClimate by

If any single Peninsula community is ground zero for the tensions that come with change, it’s Redwood City. The building boom of a decade ago transformed the town into a central gathering place for the region and shook off the mantle of suburbanism that prompted many to think of the Peninsula as a “hotbed of social rest.” But the transformative boom has caused significant alarm among many residents, precisely because it was transformative. They objected that the changes in Redwood City came at the cost of the community’s fundamental character. It was—still is—common to hear some people lament that they miss the Redwood City of 20 or 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, people on either side of Redwood City—in Menlo Park and San Carlos—frequently recoiled at the seeming explosion of high-rise, high-density commercial and residential development, centered, but not limited to, the city’s downtown core. It often is said in those other communities that “we would never do what Redwood City did.”

While this debate was evolving, a housing crisis unfolded and has proven just as much of a threat to the character of these local communities as any building boom. Similar battle lines were drawn between those who wanted to guard against a community’s becoming an enclave solely for the wealthy and those who wanted to preserve the suburban character that drew them here.

But the 2022 local election cycle may be the year when a middle ground has emerged.

With changing demographics, increasingly unforgiving state mandates and the growth of district elections, this year’s crop of candidates—new and returning—seems prepared to accept that more housing must be built, while still asserting that it can be done in a manner that retains the atmosphere many residents find fundamental.

With changing demographics, increasingly unforgiving state mandates and the growth of district elections, this year’s crop of candidates—new and returning—seems prepared to accept that more housing must be built, while still asserting that it can be done in a manner that retains the atmosphere many residents find fundamental.

Virtually all the candidates for the Redwood City and San Carlos city councils have adopted that sort of language. Menlo Park, however, remains a battleground. There, Measure V—a citizen-sponsored initiative that some consider draconian—could revive all the old conflicts. Measure V essentially takes away the city council’s land-use authority and requires a vote of the public to rezone single-family properties into multi-family lots. The effect could be to preclude higher density in residential construction.

Behind the measure is a sentiment by residents that they have been ignored by a progressive majority on a council that frequently splits 3-2 in favor of changes that many consider radical. If the initiative passes, it could spur similar attempts in other cities by residents who feel bypassed. If it fails, a new era of expanded housing may be in store for the Peninsula.

The controversy makes it worth remembering that the major changes that created today’s Redwood City encountered their own resistance.

“If you look with some historical perspective, we wouldn’t have had the Farm Hill area built out with housing,” says former Redwood City Mayor Jim Hartnett. “We wouldn’t have had Redwood Shores built. What does that mean about the changing character of our community? What it means is that change is constant.”

The degree of change local residents will accept is driving many city council races throughout the region. As election campaigns head into their final month, how will voters decide among candidates whose positions differ widely in some cases and relatively little in others?

Redwood City Council

District 2

Redwood City’s District 2 is currently represented by Councilmember Giselle Hale, who is not seeking re-election. The district includes downtown Redwood City and the large developable parcels east of Highway 101.


Margaret Becker, retired health professional; member, Redwood City Housing and Human Concerns Committee.

Alison Madden, housing attorney/businesswoman.

Chris Sturken, nonprofit events coordinator; member, Redwood City Planning Commission.

All three candidates are pro-housing. That befits a district where much building has taken place in the last 10 years, and where more could be on the way. The city’s housing plan, which carries the slogan, “Welcome Home, Redwood City,” has identified potential new homesites there.

Of the three, Madden may be the most outspoken on the issue, asserting that state housing mandates, as ambitious (or onerous) as they may seem, could be doubled. Reflecting her history living among and representing the quasi-transitory houseboat tenants of Redwood City’s Docktown, Madden’s emphasis is on homes for purchase.

“Home ownership must become a reasonable prospect; as a renter for over two decades and single working mother, I am committed to making progress on this goal,” Madden says.  She adds that she will encourage “small, moderate-sized developers to build things that are available for affordable home ownership.”

If Becker and Sturken seem less aggressive, it’s by a matter of degrees.

“There is a misperception that we’re building too fast,” Becker says. “But we’re required [by the state government] to build to some extent, and we have got to get there somehow.”

Becker believes the challenge is to find a strategy that meets the state’s directives but also satisfies those who worry that the city’s housing plans represent too much change. The current city council has committed to 6,882 new units by 2031, which is 150 percent of the state’s requirement. The present situation will require “some sort of compromise, and consensus is going to have to be a part of it,” Becker says. “A lot of this has to do with very clear, open communication and making sure people feel heard. [But] not everyone gets what they want.”

Sturken’s focus is on making sure the whole city is part of the housing solution, “and not just in District 2.” Other neighborhoods can absorb more housing without damaging their local ambience, he says. The answer, as Sturken puts it, is “the path of least resistance:” Small, one-room units, known as Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, in backyards.

“There are ways to make additional homes blend with existing structures … prioritizing or messaging it as homes for families, for teachers, for aging relatives and reminding residents that it won’t change the look and feel of their neighborhood,” Sturken says.

“Change is good,” he adds. “With anything, when it comes to messaging and marketing, people need to hear it seven or more times before it finally sticks. It’s taking time for people to adjust after so many years of not increasing density.”

Or of height. Sturken says he is “comfortable” with buildings higher than five stories—which seem to be the upper limit in some cities—in the transit corridors of El Camino Real and Woodside Road.

District 5

The district straddles Woodside Road from Woodside Plaza to El Camino and extends to Redwood City’s southern border.


Kaia Eakin, nonprofit executive.

In the pre-district elections era, when candidates ran citywide, Eakin would have been the quintessential “establishment” candidate with connections and credentials from decades of civic and nonprofit activism. Probably for the same set of reasons, she is unopposed in this new district.

“The strength of Redwood City,” Eakin says, “has always been its diversity, from our founding days in the 1860s. … It always has been working class and it has always been welcoming and inclusive.” She adds that, historically, 30 percent of the city’s residents have been immigrants.

This story first appeared in the October edition of Climate Magazine

Eakin says she understands and shares the concerns of those who fear losing the essential Redwood City, but adds that there are ways to “be smart about where you can build.” El Camino and the Woodside Road corridor seem well-suited for high-rise, high-density residential buildings, she says.

Much of the city’s current profile stems from the postwar building boom of the 1950s, when a car-oriented lifestyle was supreme and one-story commercial and residential construction dominated a landscape notable for its abundant, inexpensive land.  But today, Eakin notes, open fields available for construction are increasingly the stuff of nostalgia.

“I love milkshakes and ‘Happy Days’ reruns,” Eakin says. “But I think a lot of people realize it’s not the 1950s.”

District 6

The district is bounded generally by Whipple Avenue, Alameda de las Pulgas, Woodside Road and Hudson Street.


Diane Howard, city councilmember and nurse.

Jerome Madigan, minister and businessperson.

Howard is seeking her seventh term, and is running in a district for the first time. She was elected initially in 1994, served four terms and left the council in 2009. She was again elected citywide in 2013 and re-elected in 2018. She was part of the council that pushed through the reinvention of Redwood City’s downtown area and the construction of high-rise housing in the area.

As the city grapples with commercial and housing growth, Howard says experience is crucial. Of her six council colleagues, two are leaving at the end of this year, another will depart in two years, one is a first-year member and a fifth was appointed to fill a vacancy last month.

She is, she says, someone “who understands how things have been done and [is] open to change.” There are “all these little things” about which she believes she can mentor new councilmembers, such as the importance of serving on regional boards and commissions, how a council meeting is conducted and how to work with city staff.

“There is going to be a learning curve, and I want to help us come together and move forward,” she says. “I’m willing to listen and bend a little. … I feel like I’m a really important piece of this city at this point.”

Madigan has served as a pastor at several local congregations, currently at First Baptist Church in San Carlos. He has worked with youth groups throughout the community, and is also a licensed Realtor.

Madigan says he respects Howard and what she has done for the city, “but we’re looking at many years of a budget deficit, [and] we need new and innovative ways to find revenue. I think it’s time for a new voice. The world has changed so much that it’s time for a fresh approach.”

Howard says she already has a record of supporting the housing projects that have been built or are under construction, adding that she remains sensitive to established neighborhoods and residents who want to protect them.

“You almost have to look neighborhood-by-neighborhood,” she says. “Where can we find space, where can we find room for ADUs? … Some neighborhoods are bungalows, Crafstman, and a predominant number are both styles. Is there something that would complement the neighborhood? How can we make a neighborhood more cohesive?”

She says she supports building in transit corridors and constructing high-density housing on remaining major sites, including Sequoia Station and the location of the former Mervyn’s department store, east of El Camino. Still, she says, “I’m not looking to fill every nook and cranny in Redwood City with housing.”

Madigan says he wants to build “thoughtfully, sustainably and with the community in mind. I’m neither pro- or anti-development. I’m anti-bad development.”

He also believes the city can demand more improvements from builders. “We need to negotiate great deals with developers. … I don’t feel like we’ve done a great job of that,” he says.

In addition, he says, he “would not put height off the table. … I’m not in a rush to take away height restrictions. But as I look at the long view of the Peninsula, we have to see that up is one of the only directions we can go.”

Menlo Park City Council

San Carlos and Menlo Park are at either end of the district election spectrum, and the salient debate of the day over housing.

Menlo Park was one of San Mateo County’s first cities to enact district elections. In a sweeping turnabout four years ago, a status-quo majority was cast aside by what many observers consider one of the most progressive majorities on any council in the county.

Councilmembers Cecilia Taylor (District 1) and Drew Combs (District 2) are unopposed, leaving Mayor Betsy Nash the only incumbent with a challenge—from former Councilmember Peter Ohtaki. He lost to Nash four years ago in a 25-point landslide. Since then, Ohtaki has twice run unsuccessfully for the state Assembly as a Republican.

He is hoping to catch a presumed wave of dissatisfaction with a Nash-led 3-2 majority that has been criticized for its policies on housing growth, as well its reluctance to fully fund the police department and its attempt to repurpose the city’s utility user tax, among other complaints. Ohtaki has embraced Measure V on Menlo Park’s ballot as an expression of discontent that includes a sense among some that their concerns are not being heard.

San Carlos City Council

In San Carlos, five candidates are running for three seats. San Carlos still operates under a citywide election system, which might seem to favor incumbents Sara McDowell and Adam Rak, each seeking a second term. That leaves three challengers—Pranita Venkatesh, John Durkin and Alexander Kent—fighting for the remaining seat.

Venkatesh operates a local daycare center and serves on the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee. To some, she fits the mold of an establishment insider more closely than the other two candidates.

Durkin works in finance and accounting in retail corporate offices. He also has been an active volunteer in a host of city traditions, including the recently revived Hometown Days.

Kent declined to be interviewed for this story, although he did offer to speak anonymously after the election. Kent ran for the Burlingame City Council in 2013 and was rejected in a bid for the Belmont Planning Commission in 2016.

All four candidates who consented to interviews described similar opinions about housing—more needs to be built, but the community’s character must be preserved—and no one is wandering off the beaten path in the City of Good Living.

“We must balance quality of life with the need to increase the housing supply and affordability,” Venkatesh says. “Our housing is not sustainable if teachers, police officers, retail employees, even biotech workers can’t afford to live in San Carlos.”

Durkin says, “I do wonder how much impact I [would] have on housing as a councilmember. I do question the big houses that are being built” and how they affect traffic congestion and the character of neighborhoods. He says he would support partnerships with local nonprofits that identify empty bedrooms as opportunities for rentals.

The Parlance of Politics

Admittedly, these are political campaigns. Candidates try to win over voters, not alienate them. The common course of action is to seek a rhetorical middle ground. Campaigns do have the capacity to gloss over more deep-seated disagreements.

There is a fair distance, for example, between Howard’s desire to avoid filling “every nook and cranny” and Sturken’s assertion that all of Redwood City, and not just District 2, needs to share the burden. His support of ADUs seems to be precisely a strategy of filling available nooks and crannies. But beyond that, there appears much agreement, at least at a high level, because San Mateo County has been changed profoundly and irreversibly by an intractable economic reality.

A county that once boasted little more than bedrooms and hometown retail stores has become a juggernaut—a center for employment at the highest levels as measured by sheer numbers of workers and their average incomes. Residents have enjoyed the prosperity that has come with the county’s economic transformation. And many have acquired considerable wealth through the county’s tenfold increase in home values over approximately the last 40 years.

Today, many homeowners and landlords are fearful their property values—sometimes leveraged into other investments and often inflated by anti-growth policies that have restricted the supply of housing—will be undermined by an increase in residential construction. Others rue the potential loss of a suburban lifestyle that grew out of low-density neighborhoods filled with one-family homes. Still others oppose (and frequently moved away from) “bigness” in general, preferring the village-like feel of small houses and the one- and two-story businesses that still predominate in shopping districts such as Laurel Street in San Carlos and Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park.

Nonetheless, for a growing number of leaders along the Peninsula, the question no longer appears to be whether to build or not to build.  It’s how, and how much. This November, amid all the rhetorical back-and-forth, the real issue on the ballot may already have been acknowledged—the reality that change is always a constant.

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