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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Housing costs scaring off high-level talent for government jobs

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Housing costs scaring off high-level talent for government jobs

The announcement that Mike Callagy had been named as the new San Mateo County manager touched off a wave of delight throughout the county.

Retiring County Manager John Maltbie had groomed Callagy for the job, naming him assistant county manager in 2016, three years after he joined the county, following 29 years with the San Mateo Police Department.

Between his high-profile position in San Mateo and his tenure at the county, Callagy built a reputation as a positive presence who relished getting things done and making county government work more effectively.

Born and raised in San Mateo County, Callagy has deep roots in the community and a wide network of those who have worked with him.

It’s always an interesting question whether it’s an advantage or disadvantage to stay with an organization and seek to move up. Familiarity can be a benefit, but a new face often is seen as fresh and, therefore, intriguing.

Insiders say the finalists included a strong candidate from elsewhere in the Bay Area, and, among other things, that’s another sign of a longstanding problem that plagues local government in the region.

Bay Area local governments are finding it nearly impossible to hire a high-level manager from outside the region. More than one public agency has recruited executives from somewhere else in the country, only to have them come to the Bay Area, take one look at the housing costs, turn around and head back.

That reality was implicit in the finalists for the county manager position, both of whom already live here.

And it means that local governments increasingly will poach from one another for the next city manager, public works director or police chief.

A FAMILY LEGACY: Many things undoubtedly will be said about San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie as his final retirement date approaches, but one of them that shouldn’t be overlooked is his ability to imbue in his family the spirit and value of public service.

John’s daughter, Jayme Ackemann, is director of Corporate Communications at San Jose Water Company, a private company with a very public mission. Before that, she worked for SamTrans and Caltrain and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, carrying on the family tradition of public service. Jayme had the burden of working for me at SamTrans and Caltrain and there is no one brighter, more innovative at communications and more dedicated to the public good.

John’s son, Jeff Maltbie, has been the city manager of San Carlos since 2010, during which he has transitioned from one of the county’s younger, up-and-coming city managers to one of the most experienced civic leaders, a steady hand in a city often struggling with change.

And now, John’s daughter-in-law, Shawnna Maltbie, has been named interim city manager of Daly City, where she has been director of Human Resources.

A LITTLE MORE ERNIE: Last week, we reported that Redwood City Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt had changed his mind since February and said he would enter the increasingly crowded city council race.

We had a chance to catch up with him and talk further about why he changed his mind.

An unsuccessful candidate for the City Council once before, Schmidt said his decision ultimately was spurred by his concern that the special character of Redwood City’s neighborhoods is under threat.

As an example, Schmidt cited a 4-1 vote on the Planning Commission approving a proposal by Mozart Development Company to tear down eight residences in the Mt. Carmel neighborhood and replace them with 17 market-rate townhomes.

Neighbors were particularly upset at the proposal, and Schmidt, the lone vote against the project, said the community outreach by the developer “really wasn’t there.” He wanted the commission to delay deciding on the matter while the developer undertook more community outreach. “I could tell he really wasn’t vested in the community,” Schmidt said.

“When we created the Downtown Precise Plan, we definitely committed to the community that the growth we were going to experience downtown was not going to change the overall character of our community. We are starting to see that it is,” Schmidt said. He is running, he said, to “create some safeguards and tools to protect our neighborhoods.”

Contact Mark Simon at

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

Photo: San Mateo County


Political Climate with Mark Simon: Early now late in declaring candidacy for local office

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Early has become late in declaring candidacy for local office

When did early stop being early?

We are still days away from the opening of the filing period for candidates seeking a city council seat on the November ballot, and yet, many candidates have declared and already launched their campaigns.

And if that doesn’t meet your definition of early, then consider the level of activity surrounding the 2020 race for the state Senate seat Jerry Hill will vacate due to term limits.

Which is somehow appropriate, given that Hill was the candidate who set this tone, running so hard, so early for, first, the Board of Supervisors, then the Assembly and, finally, the Senate, that he foreclosed would-be opposition, having rounded up endorsements and money well ahead of anyone else.

One candidate very interested in running for supervisor in 2020 recently said, “Yes, it is late,” and then later recanted, realizing how that sounded.

It is still nearly two years until the primary election.

Why is this happening?

The answer may be that there is pent-up demand, or, perhaps more precisely, a backlog of ambition.

Of the five county supervisors, only David Canepa is in his first term, having won the seat in 2016.

Carole Groom and Don Horsley both were re-elected in June to their third and final terms, but it will be 2022 before their seats are open.

Warren Slocum and Dave Pine are up for re-election in 2020, and the speculation that Pine might run for Hill’s Senate seat has touched off an early behind-the-scenes scramble for a board seat without an incumbent.

That means there are a lot of younger would-be board candidates who have been waiting eight years or more for a seat to open up.

Of course, any one of them could have taken on the incumbents, but, apparently, ambition doesn’t always pair well with risk.

Pine hasn’t decided yet whether he will run for the Senate (Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur has decided she will), but already names are in circulation about who might run for the Pine seat, including Burlingame Council colleagues Emily Beach and Ann Keighran, Millbrae Mayor Gina Papan and Hillsborough Mayor Marie Chuang.

DISTRICTS AND DOMINANCE: The race for Pine’s seat would be fascinating in that it is the only supervisorial district not dominated by a single city. In other districts, a city, such as Redwood City, San Mateo or Daly City, makes up such a large chunk of the electorate that it is hard for someone from another jurisdiction to make much headway.

Pine’s district is comprised of Burlingame, Millbrae, Hillsborough and portions of South San Francisco and San Bruno. While one town may be bigger than another, it doesn’t spell dominance.

On the other hand, there’s another issue looming on the horizon that also can affect the ability of candidates to jump from a city council to the board: District elections.

As cities move more to district elections, it will mean council members without a citywide mandate or base of support. Any candidate who campaigns outside of his or her district would be – well, the politest word I can think of is loser.

BUCKLE UP: Before the opening of filing, many of the council races are without challengers – three seats are up in Belmont and San Carlos and, right now, there are only three candidates running. … But there are some races lining up. The rumor is someone will challenge incumbent Kirsten Keith in the newly drawn Menlo Park council districts. … George Yang confirmed to the Country Almanac that he is running in Menlo Park’s District 1, which includes the Belle Haven neighborhood, where traffic from Facebook is the only issue. Yang is a Republican and self-described conservative, so we’ll see if traditional party labels matter in a nonpartisan, local race… In San Carlos, there’s a real rarity – three seats, no incumbents, which will mean an entirely new majority there. … The countywide transportation measure will be on the ballot, of course.…It appears San Mateo’s anti-growth forces have gathered sufficient petition signatures to have their measure to extend the city’s restrictive height limit put on the ballot (the issue Hill rode to a council seat). On Monday, San Mateo Councilman Joe Goethals and others are likely to propose a competing measure that preserves most of the height limit but allows greater heights in appropriate places, such as the downtown Caltrain station. That will mean a full-pitched battle between the two measures…Millbrae will put a bond measure on the ballot to rebuild the community center destroyed by fire, and early polling shows a close election for the required two-thirds approval.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Proposed half-cent sales tax aims to rescue SamTrans from fiscal jail

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Proposed half-cent sales tax aims to rescue SamTrans from fiscal jail

The San Mateo County Transit District is expected to vote Wednesday to put a 30-year half-cent sales tax proposal on the November ballot, which would generate $80 million in new and desperately needed funds.

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will follow up with a vote of their own before the early August ballot deadline, and, with that, the entirety of the county’s political establishment will be united behind a measure SamTrans officials say is critical for the future of the transit district.

Half the money, $1.2 billion over 30 years, will go to SamTrans to use for an expanded and new array of services that will put the district in the position to reinvent itself and provide transportation for a rapidly and dramatically changing region.

The money essentially gets SamTrans out of fiscal jail. The district is funded by a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1974. The San Mateo County of 1974 is virtually unrecognizable in comparison to the county that is wrestling today with 2 percent unemployment, dozens of major employers and traffic that would have been unimaginable 44 years ago.

Simply put, SamTrans needs money to do more and do better and it needs to have the flexibility to spend these new funds to use and deploy technologies that, in many cases, have not yet been rendered usable or even invented.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was an executive at SamTrans through 2017 and worked on the early efforts to develop the spending plan that will come before the voters in November.

I worked on this effort because I thought it was a good idea and essential for the future of our community. I still think so.

HOWARD’S IN: Five-term Redwood City Councilwoman Diane Howard on Sunday formally declared her candidacy for four more years in an office she has held for more than 20 years and in a community where she has been active for more than 35 years.

She was introduced by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, who called Howard “the heartbeat of Redwood City … She holds all of the people of this community in her heart and in her hand.”

Howard held her announcement event at the well-appointed gardens of Gordon Manor, a long-established elder care facility with whom Howard has a long association.

In her own remarks, Howard promised to continue what she described as a record of addressing the toughest issues facing the city: Leading the “renaissance and revitalization of downtown Redwood City,” balancing a city budget facing severe challenges, maintaining and advancing the city’s economic and cultural diversity and championing community engagement and participation.

She specifically defended the changes to downtown Redwood City.

“Although these changes have appeared to come too quickly, the vison of what we enjoy today actually began about 20 years ago with a small group of us who saw Redwood City’s potential and moved this vision forward,” Howard said.

The result is “the wholesale change in how others view our city from … a sleepy place with not much to offer, to now, where we are the envy of the Peninsula.”

First elected in 1994, Howard served through 2009, took a break from the council, and was re-elected in 2013.

She sounded a cautionary note about the 2017 decision by the council to synch its election with this November’s statewide gubernatorial ballot.

In the early 1990s, the council moved to off-year, odd-year elections after a statewide ballot that featured 16 city council candidates. The top- vote-getters happened to be four of the five candidates listed first on the ballot, she said.

Since then, elections officials routinely alternate the order of the candidates on the ballot to avoid that kind of advantage, but Howard said the return to the statewide ballot means even harder work to avoid the same kind of outcome.

“I need your help in getting the word out to those voters who might otherwise cast their ballot by using their pen as a dart,” she said.

Between an early campaign walking piece and those in attendance, Howard is endorsed by a wide range of prominent community leaders, including Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, County Coroner Robert Foucrault, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, council candidate Rick Hunter and former mayors Brent Britschgi, Dani Gasparini, Jeff Ira and Barbara Pierce, the latter also serving as Howard’s campaign manager.

Contact Mark Simon at

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

Photo: SamTrans

Political Climate with Mark Simon: New RWC council candidate adds to one of Peninsula’s hottest races

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The Fourth of July is about the three Ps — patriotism, parades and politics — and all three were on ample display yesterday.

Since this column, by definition, is political we’ll start there.

Redwood City Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt announced via Facebook yesterday that he is running in the increasingly crowded race for Redwood City Council. His announcement was quite brief and included the promise of a campaign website and Facebook page to follow.

Schmidt said back in February that he was “50-50” about running for the City Council in this November’s election. It appears the scales have shifted.

That makes the seventh candidate to announce in what is going to be one of the hottest races on the Peninsula. Also running: incumbents Diane Howard and Jeff Gee and challengers Diana Reddy, Giselle Hale, Christina Umhofer and Rick Hunter.

All this before the candidate filing period has begun – it opens July 16. There could be even more candidates in the race by the time the period closes August 10.

Schmidt told Political Climate in February that he was decidedly uneasy about running because of the high cost of a race that coincides with a statewide election. For a City Council candidate to be heard among all the other campaigns, it could cost as much as $90,000, Schmidt said.

He also said the upcoming election is taking place in a “weird climate. The race is going to be very noisy. I don’t know if I have ear muffs strong enough for all the noise.”

Apparently, he does.

Or maybe, instead of ear muffs, he’ll opt for the red chili pepper costume Schmidt wore during yesterday’s Redwood City Fourth of July parade. He said he was pressed into service at the last minute to help out the float publicizing the annual city Salsa Festival. The original chili pepper was a no-show.

POLITICAL DOTS ON PARADE: The large crowd on hand for the annual Fourth of July parade and festival was a tempting opportunity for candidates and all of the City Council candidates to try to make their presence known. … Council members Gee and Howard were in the parade, each in a separate vintage automobile, waving to the crowd and enjoying the benefits of incumbency. … Hale volunteered at festival-related events and rode on the float of the Downtown Improvement Association. … Reddy supporters could be spotted throughout the crowd in distinctive blue T-shirts. … Hunter also volunteered at the parade. … Umhofer might have made the biggest splash. Her team passed out red, white and blue pinwheels with a campaign postcard attached and they seemed to hit almost every person who staked out a spot on the parade route.

ANOTHER ANNOUNCEMENT: Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur Miller last week announced via social media what had been widely regarded as likely: she is running for the state Senate that will be vacated in 2020 by incumbent Jerry Hill, who is termed out. … Still undecided: San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, who has yet to be heard from on the race. … Miller and Pine share some political advisors and it was thought she opt not to run if the higher-profile Pine got into the race. It appears she decided not to wait any longer.

A GRAND DAY: Congratulations to the Peninsula Celebration Association and all its volunteers for a wonderful parade and festival.

Many cities put on Fourth events, but Redwood City, with its Courthouse Square and Main Street USA-style downtown, really is the setting for these kinds of events.

There were two moments, among many, that stood out.

The chalk art that covered Courthouse Square was dazzling and kudos to the artists.

For sheer entertainment, it was hard to beat the Cal Aggie Marching Band from University of California, Davis, and the Incomparable Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, who gathered together for a battle of the bands that lasted well over an hour. It was joyous.

AND SOME PATRIOTISM: As we were setting up for the parade, my son asked me what I think about on this day, knowing that it’s my favorite holiday.

It’s this: I love my country. I love what it aspires to be. I love the virtues it represents. I love that we come from all over the world – often with nothing in our pockets but dreams in our hearts – seeking the chance for a better life. I love that we’re messy and argumentative and complicated and that we disagree and that freedom is difficult. I love that we are a people and place of hope.

I also love fireworks, summer, parades and watermelon.

Contact Mark Simon at

*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: Harbor district commish jumps ship before vote

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The San Mateo County Harbor District Commission, with five elected members, may be the most low-profile countywide governmental entity on the books.

Maybe that can explain the recent behavior by one of its commissioners, Sabrina Brennan, elected in 2012 on a platform of ending the decades-long “old boy network” that was running the harbor.

Faced with two time-critical issues at its June 20 meeting, Brennan walked out, leaving the commission without a quorum and unable to act.

Brennan was on hand at the beginning of the meeting when, due to vacations, only three of the five commissioners met in closed session to discuss the threat of litigation unless the harbor district moved from countywide elections to elections by district.

As soon as the closed session ended, she left, leaving Commission President Virginia Chang Kiraly and Vice President Robert Bernardo at the dais next to Brennan’s empty chair.

It wasn’t just any meeting. It was a special meeting specifically called because of two critical deadlines: The Commission had less than a week left to respond to letters threatening litigation if it didn’t begin the process of moving toward election by district. And the deadline for passing the Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget was only 10 days away.

Chang Kiraly, in Facebook posts, said Brennan “intentionally broke a quorum so that harbor district business could not get done” and that Brennan “shirked her duties as an elected official … so that we couldn’t pass our budget and other financial items.”

The commission met in another special session a week later, on June 27, passed the budget and voted to proceed to by-district elections for 2020, which is when Brennan happens to be up for re-election.

She wasn’t at that meeting either.

We left a message on her phone asking her to call for comment, but she has not responded.

The commission oversees the county’s two major public harbors – Pillar Point in Princeton by the Sea, north of Half Moon Bay, and Oyster Point Harbor in South San Francisco, the site of the county’s only ferry terminal.

It has an annual operating budget of $9.3 million and a capital budget of $10.4 million.

MALTBIE MOVES ON: San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie told county employees in an email last week that he will retire on Nov. 3, bringing an end to a career that spanned nearly 27 years leading the county government. Maltbie had announced last year that he would retire at the end of this year. He now has a firm date.

County sources say the Board will pick Maltbie’s replacement this week and they have narrowed the field of candidates to two, but the supervisors have done a good job of keeping close the names of the two finalists.

For Maltbie, the next three months will be spent finishing up the Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget and putting in place a couple of new programs, as well as providing any necessary transition assistance to his replacement.

Maltbie retired once before in 2008 and came back at the request of the Board of Supervisors in 2011.

He said he is “ready and excited” about retirement. He and his wife, Greta Helm, a longtime executive at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, will move to El Dorado Hills, east of Sacramento.

“Life is good,” Maltbie said.

FOR THE SAKE OF CLARITY: Math was never my strong suit, so I want to make sure I’m clear about some of the details in a recent column on Redwood City’s budget woes.

New state pension requirements are going to cost the city $12 million over the next five years. In anticipation of those costs, the city already has proposed $3.7 million in immediate cuts, many of them impacting public safety funding.

The City Council will consider a half-cent sales tax increase that would generate about $8 million a year. If it passes, the new revenue means the city, in the words of staff, “would avoid the cuts most impacting the community,” including reductions in library hours and filling vacant public safety positions.”

Contact Mark Simon at

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

Photo: San Mateo County Harbor District

Political Climate with Mark Simon: These local ‘YIMBYs’ want constructive online debate

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The hesitancy felt by some candidates for office this election year is a reflection of how our local dialogue has been infected by a national discourse that is distasteful, uncivil, personal and harsh.

Certainly, negative and outlandish accusations frequently trump the more positive attempt to focus on facts and positive discussion, but there are local efforts underway to influence this election cycle to be fact-based and to have disagreements that are policy-driven.

Redwood City Forward was launched in 2015 as a Facebook page and has evolved into a small group of people best described as YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), who seek ways to advocate and influence policies. It is part of a loose network of such groups – there’s a Bay Area Forward and a Palo Alto Forward, to name a couple. You can find their web page here.

But in their advocacy and on their Facebook page, they are focused on the specifics of policies and are absent ad hominem attacks that descend into the personal or suspicious.

Started and led by Isabella Chu, an associate manager for the data center at the Stanford Center for Population Health Science, she described RWC Forward as an “organization that wants to advocate for evidence-based policies in Redwood City with an eye toward health, prosperity and reducing inequality.”

RWC Forward will not endorse candidates in the upcoming election, although its members are free to do so as individuals.

“We endorse policy, not politics. Good policy really bridges the political divide,” she said.

Good policy is defined by RWC Forward as building more and more dense housing that translates into a wider range of opportunities for a wider swath of the community and a healthier lifestyle centered around transit, biking and walking.

Chu, who relies on a bicycle for her commute, said she has been concerned for some time that Redwood City’s land use policies and, therefore, health and inequality, have been driven only by those who make the most noise.

“The only high-level engagement was a group of people very upset about the changes and seemed to want Redwood City to go back to 1978,” Chu said. “Restricting housing only helps the financial well-being for anyone over 50.”

On transportation, RWC Forward advocates for a city that is easier to use for pedestrians and cyclists, which means a city where high-density housing is close to a center city that is served by a vibrant, high-frequency system of transit options, and not dependent on the automobile or weighted down by parking.

On housing, RWC Forward advocates policies that encourage small developers, who are capable of building an 8- or 10-unit apartment complex.

“NIMBYs have made sure the only people who can develop are the big-time developers,” Chu said.

WE VOTE RWC: Chu was among those on hand at the kickoff last Thursday at the Club Fox of a nonpartisan, independent and grassroots voter registration drive named We Vote Redwood City and aimed at dramatically increasing voter participation in the November city election.

Mayor Ian Bain opened the event and serves as honorary co-chair.

“The City Council makes decisions every day that touch the lives of our residents. We want to hear from the public and the best way to hear from the public is at the ballot box,” Bain said.”

The event and the drive have been organized by civic activist Jason Galisatus, who said the voter registration effort is the starting point for the goal of voter turnout in the November election, where local races are likely to be overwhelmed by statewide campaigns and ballot measures, and citizen engagement beyond the election. The coalition in support includes Bay Area Forward, RWC Forward, Casa Circulo Cultural, the Redwood City Downtown Association, neighborhood associations from Woodside Plaza and Mt. Carmel.

“We couldn’t care less who people vote for,” Galisatus said, “but it’s important that they vote.”

An extensive outreach is planned, including setting up registration tables at public events and contacting people directly through social media.

Kickoff attendees represented a cross-section of the community, including Council members, John Seybert, Shelly Masur, Janet Borgens and competing Council candidates incumbent Councilman Jeff Gee, Diana Reddy, Giselle Hale and Christina Umhofer.

POSITIVE VOICE: When a discussion on a local Facebook page devolved into angry exchanges and unsupported accusations, Umhofer posted this message: “As a candidate for Redwood City City Council, I am asking that we, as residents of Redwood City, focus on the positives of the candidate/s that you support and not the negatives of the ones you do not support. Regardless of who wins, we are all still residents of Redwood City. We are in this together. Use this page for good.”

Well done.

Contact Mark Simon at

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

Photo credit: City of Redwood City

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Waddell concedes to Magee in tight schools race

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Waddell concedes to Magee in tight schools race

San Mateo County elections officials finally finished counting almost all the June 5 primary ballots yesterday and there are a few interesting details to be gleaned before we move on to November’s monster-sized ballot.

There were two local cliffhangers awaiting the outcome of the vote count – a process prolonged by an uncommonly high voter turnout due to all-mail balloting.

The race between Nancy Magee and Gary Waddell for county Superintendent of Schools was finally decided. Yesterday’s report showed Magee ahead by 1,157 votes with so few uncounted ballots left that it was clear she was the winner.

Waddell issued a gracious concession statement via Facebook late yesterday that included this uplifting comment: “Nancy and I agree on much more than we disagree. We both believe in the importance of student voice, of innovative approaches to education, and of building a County Office of Education that is forward-thinking and makes an impact in the lives of children and families. I will do everything in my power to assist Nancy in accomplishing these goals.”

The race between Magee and Waddell was a model of civility in a political environment almost entirely devoid of such qualities – positive, issue-focused and without a whiff of one candidate attacking the other.

One element of Waddell’s platform I found particularly appealing was his promise to revive the teaching of civics in our schools. I fervently hope Magee will embrace that idea.

ALMOST A SWEEP: The other close one was the proposed parcel tax in the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District, which was agonizingly short of the required two-thirds approval – until yesterday, when the latest count showed it won 67.1 percent of the vote.

The news touched off expressions of relief and gratitude among the supporters. … Of the nine school measures on the ballot – either bonds or parcel taxes – eight of them passed, demonstrating, again, that San Mateo County voters support funding for schools.

The only one that didn’t pass is a bond measure in the Half Moon Bay-based Cabrillo Unified School District. The measure needed 55 percent to pass and as of yesterday, it was at 54.91 percent.

That’s an amazing seven votes shy of passage.

GOING POSTAL: Nearly 166,000 ballots were cast in San Mateo County – a turnout of 42.7 percent, higher than was projected by county elections chief Mark Church, although given the unique nature of this election, a missed projection is understandable.

Clearly, the all-mail balloting was a huge success. With no major controversy on the local ballot, or on the statewide ballot for that matter, San Mateo County turnout was 15 points higher than 2014’s primary turnout of 27.5 percent.

In fact, it was the county’s highest turnout in a gubernatorial primary in this still-young century. A quick review of records at the California Secretary of State’s website shows it’s the highest turnout in a similar election since before 1990.

The five counties that opted for the all-mail balloting all had turnout higher than the state’s 25.2 percent. … Sacramento County was 41.4 percent, Napa County was 47.3 percent, Madera County was 44.1 percent and Nevada County was 56.9 percent.

A DIVIDED CALIFORNIA: Reviewing the statewide voting showed a state significantly divided within itself.

In all the statewide partisan races, a Democrat was the top vote-getter. But look at the maps and you see Democrats winning almost exclusively within the western, coastal counties and Republicans winning almost every county east of the narrow coastal strip.

The only exception: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who won every county in the state. A juggernaut.

The top-getter statewide? Incumbent Controller Betty Yee. Why? Why not?

For all the well-deserved disdain and criticism being heaped on Tim Draper’s proposal to split California into three, it is clear the state is as politically split as the country.

This should come as no surprise. Like the rest of the country, California is composed largely of urban and rural economies. Despite the increasingly common strains of popular culture, we still lead lives substantially different from one another.

The answer is not to further split us up, or even to touch off a statewide debate that emphasizes and hardens those differences. The answer is to seek out those things we have in common and work together from there.

That’s why Draper’s proposal is not goofy – it’s dangerous.

It seeks to move the public dialogue in exactly the wrong direction.

Contact Mark Simon at

*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: Redwood City’s budget woes are real

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We are at a point, it seems and to paraphrase Isaac Newton, that for every action, there is an opposite and cynical reaction.

No sooner did Redwood City mail out a report detailing the city’s fiscal woes, then it was labeled by critics as an expensive marketing piece, the implication, if not outright assertion, being that the city wasted public funds to tout an eventual sales tax measure.

For the sake of the permanent record, the “expensive” piece cost $16,000 to produce and mail to all 38,500 households in Redwood City, according to City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz.

That works out to 41.5 cents per household.

Not that actual information carries anywhere near the force of an opinion. Those intent on viewing any action by city government with suspicion cannot be deterred, unencumbered, as they often are, by what we used to call facts.

It’s quite likely that had the city proceeded with budget cuts and tax proposals and skipped the mailer, the same critics would have protested that there was too little communication to residents.

The mail piece is an understandable attempt by the city to inform its residents of some unpleasant choices ahead – millions of dollars in budget cuts and fee increases, or a possible sales tax increase to cover the shortfall.

Every city in California is facing the same problem as Redwood City in the form of pension obligations that exceed anyone’s expectations.

Widely disclosed investment losses and overly optimistic predictions of investment gains by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has forced cities to account for drastic increases in pension costs for retirees now and in the future.

This is not a function of mismanagement by the cities, but by the wizards of CalPERS, who were able to overestimate the longest sustained economic boom in recent American history. Where everybody else worried the boom might end one of these days, CalPERS saw only more good times.

For Redwood City, that means $12 million a year in additional costs for the next five years.

Public employee pensions are an ever-growing weight on city budgets, but they are also a promise made to current and past employees that cannot be dismissed or diminished. At that, current employees are working under a new system where they make a significant contribution to their retirement plans.

It’s not the same as the 100 percent private sector employees typically pay, but the days are gone of public employee pensions that are 100 percent funded by government. In the interests of full disclosure, I retired last year from public employment and receive a CalPERS pension.

The mail piece lays out the problem in a pretty straightforward manner and then provides a means by which residents can vote on a series of unappetizing cuts to the budget. The problem is that public safety makes up 60 percent of the city budget, park and recreation nearly 15 percent, the public libraries 7.5 percent and community planning and development another 7.3 percent.

Meanwhile, in a June 11 budget presentation to the City Council, Diaz offered $3 million in immediate cuts for the 2018-19 budget, including $1.2 million from the Police Department, $820,000 from the Fire Department, $487,000 from Parks and Recreation and $310,000 for Community Development, where, it should be noted, approvals of housing will be processed.

She held off eliminating positions for now, while the council considers its options, the most prominent being a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot.

That would generate about $8 million a year in new revenues and “none of (the cuts) would be on the table,” Diaz said.

What Redwood City is doing has been done or will have to be done at every other city government in the state.

Of course, the ever-eager cynic would say essential services are being held hostage to a greedy city staff intent on getting more money from taxpayers.

It’s an assertion that resonates in these unusually bitter times. Remember, then-candidate and eventual Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected having promised he would eliminate “waste, fraud and corruption.”

Unfortunately, he discovered there was no Department of Fraud he could simply slice from the budget. When he was done with his second term, state government actually was larger than when he started.

Similarly, there is no easy and obvious place to cut a city budget. What’s left is stuff most of us think cities actually ought to do.

It is said people get the government they deserve. It’s hard to stand by that remark, given some of the government we’re getting at the national level these days. A case could be made no one deserves that. Or, as another saying goes, even the wicked get worse than they deserve.

In either case, it is certainly safe to say people get the government they’re willing to pay for.

Contact Mark Simon at

*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: Election update — Magee pulls ahead of Waddell

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Waddell concedes to Magee in tight schools race

For the first time in the June 5 election vote count, Nancy Magee has pulled ahead of Gary Waddell in the too-close-to-call race for San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools.

The latest vote count released at 4:30 p.m. today by the county elections office shows Magee with a 428-vote lead, 46,242 to 45,814 for Waddell.

Meanwhile, the outcome of the vote on a parcel tax in the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District also remains undecided, but the measure is inching closer to passage. The latest vote count shows the measure with 66.12 percent of the vote. The measure requires two-thirds approval to pass, or one vote more than 66.66 percent.

Based on prior reports from elections officials, as many as another 30,000 ballots remain to be processed, which means the outcome of either race still is undetermined.

Magee, associate superintendent at the County Office of Education, has trailed Waddell, the deputy superintendent, in the vote tallies since the results announcements began at 8 p.m. on election night.

As additional ballots have been processed, she has been steadily gaining. On June 7, she was behind by 501 votes. On Tuesday, the gap had closed to 75 votes.

The ballots being processed now were turned into the county’s drop-off locations throughout the county, and the likelihood is that these ballots were cast by voters who made up their mind late in the campaign.

Evidently, those voters leaned slightly more toward Magee.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate with Mark Simon: 40-percent voter turnout in all-mail county election

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: 40-percent voter turnout in all-mail county election

More than 70,000 ballots from last week’s statewide primary remain to be counted, according to San Mateo County elections chief Mark Church, and that means the race for county Superintendent of Schools remains very much up in the air.

But the real news might be the total number of ballots cast in the election. When everything is tallied, more than 156,000 voters will have turned in their ballots, an astonishing 40 percent voter turnout.

Among the state’s urban counties, only San Francisco, with a mayor’s race topping the ballot and a former mayor running for governor, had a higher turnout.

In San Mateo County, the schools race was the only truly contested countywide race. The race for governor, U.S. senator and the statewide offices had their share of intrigue, but all things considered, it was a low-key campaign season – certainly absent the kind of drama that draws large numbers of voters.

Statewide, voter turnout was 26 percent, according to a report posted yesterday by the California Secretary of State’s office, although there could be as many as 2 million uncounted ballots statewide.

That means the county’s experiment in all-mail balloting was a phenomenal success in drawing voters to the polls in an otherwise lackluster campaign season.

The large number of unprocessed ballots means ongoing suspense for Gary Waddell and Nancy Magee, the two candidates for county schools chief. As of last Thursday, Waddell was ahead by 501 votes, more than the tally on election night, but still too close to call.

It could be several more days before we know how this race turns out.

A Belmont-Redwood Shores School District parcel tax needed two-thirds to pass and it stands at 64.95, about 1.5 percent behind. There might still be enough votes outstanding to pass this measure, but the votes would have to break substantially for the yes side.

GEE FORCE: Redwood City incumbent Jeff Gee officially kicked off his campaign for re-election Sunday at an afternoon gathering of more than 50 friends and supporters at Angelica’s on Main Street.

The benefits of incumbency can be numerous, even in a race where the incumbent is the target, and one of those benefits was prominently on display at Gee’s launch – a lineup of leading local elected officials from throughout the county, reflecting Gee’s two-term tenure on the council and his service to two of the more prominent countywide bodies, the SamTrans and Caltrain boards of directors.

Among those at the event: outgoing Councilman John Seybert, who emceed the event, Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre and former Councilman Jeff Ira, San Mateo Mayor Rick Bonilla and Councilwoman Diane Papan, San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, Atherton Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, Millbrae Mayor Gina Papan and South San Francisco Mayor Pradeep Gupta.

There also was a strong showing of colleagues from the transportation boards, including Burlingame Councilwoman Emily Beach, who serves on the county Transportation Authority, SamTrans and Caltrain board member and Belmont Councilman Charles Stone and SamTrans board members Rose Guilbault and Josh Powell.

Also on hand: Stacey Wagner, head of community relations for Kaiser Permanente, and Veronica Escamez, founder of the Redwood City nonprofit Casa Circulo Cultural, who spoke in support of Gee, declaring him an “honorary Latino” for all his activities on behalf of that community.

In his own remarks, Gee said he will continue to pursue his goal to “protect the quality of life for residents, ensure a strong economy for our local businesses and support financially responsible decisions that prioritize city services and public safety departments to keep our city a great, safe place to call home.”

He said the city has worked hard to provide more housing options for seniors, young families, veterans and low-income residents and he promised to look at “new innovations,” including removing “barriers to small-unit condominium development.”

He listed a series of specific priorities for the next four years: start construction on the Habitat for Humanity housing project downtown and find a fifth site, “protect our residential neighborhoods from ‘monster homes’” by proposing new floor/area ratio standards, facilitate more housing for seniors, complete construction of the Bayfront Canal, identify funding for the Highway 101/84 interchange project, complete electrification of Caltrain and execute a private/public partnership for the revival of the Dumbarton rail corridor.

He said he will continue to be forward-thinking in his service on the council and “whether it be autonomous vehicles, innovative living arrangements, high speed trains, a new bridge across the bay or things we cannot even imagine right now … we owe it to ourselves to see what may be right around the corner and to try to figure out how it may affect the quality of life in our city.”

Contact Mark Simon at

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