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Redwood City Council candidates face barrage from business community

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Redwood City Council Candidates Face Barrage from Business Community

Candidates for the Redwood City Council race perhaps got more than what they bargained for when they appeared at a forum sponsored by the Redwood City Downtown Business Association on October 11.

The audience of business owners peppered current councilmember Diane Howard and aspiring councilors Margaret Becker, Alison Madden, Chris Sturken, Kaia Eakin and Jerome Madigan with complaints about downtown safety, the council’s presumed interference with police and understaffing in the police department. And that was just the beginning. Questions concerning housing and homelessness were in the mix, as well.

The candidates offered perspectives on their qualifications, housing, homelessness and the city budget before innocently opening to comments and questions.

Sen. Becker rescinds endorsement for Rod Linhares in wake of abortion controversy 

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State Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, has rescinded his endorsement for San Mateo County City Council Candidate Rod Linhares as controversy mounts over Linhares’ position on abortion rights. 

Sen. Josh Becker (Courtesy of his office)

Pro-choice activists have been critical of Linhares’ candidacy over his lack of a stated position on Prop. 1 and his role as director of development for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. 

Linhares’ role involves fundraising for the Archdiocese, which has reportedly made it a priority to defeat Prop. 1, a measure that seeks to cement the right to abortion in the California Constitution following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe V. Wade. The Archdiocese has contributed more than $50,000 to the campaign to defeat Prop. 1 as of last week. 

In a statement, Sen. Becker said he’s launching an independent expenditure campaign in support of Prop. 1, which played into his decision to “pull back” his endorsement for Linhares. 

“My endorsement of Rod puts him in a difficult position given his role with the Archdiocese of San Francisco,” Becker said. “I explained I’d have to pull back my endorsement to focus on my advocacy for Prop. 1. He was very gracious and understood. I wish him well in his race.”  

Becker’s decision came only days after the San Francisco Chronicle detailed the controversy surrounding Linhares’ candidacy in regards to abortion rights. He “dodged the question” regarding his position on Prop. 1 at a recent League of Women Voters forum, according to the Chronicle. He responded by saying he would not seek to interfere with the right to choose or the right to access contraception, but he neglected to state a definitive position on Prop. 1. Linhares similarly dodged the question when Climate pressed him on the issue one month ago. 

Activists say Linhares’ lack of a clear answer on Prop. 1 is unacceptable, particularly after the overturning of Roe V. Wade stripped away federal abortion protections, leaving the key issue up to the states to govern. In a September survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, 69 percent of likely voters expressed support for Prop. 1.  

“In a post-Roe world, it is increasingly important that candidates for any elected office are vocal supporters of reproductive freedom,” Shannon Olivieri Hovis, the California director of NARAL Pro Choice America, told the Chronicle. “And if the voters in his district don’t know that, they can’t trust him because there’s no real record or documentation that that is where he stands.” 

The issue has gone on to impact endorsements beyond Becker’s. Per the Chronicle, Planned Parenthood has endorsed Adam Loraine, who is Linhares’ opponent for the San Mateo City Council seat. 

Among Linhares’ critics has been current San Mateo City Councilmember Amourence Lee, who helped start the new organization Pro Choice San Mateo County and called Linhares the “anti-choice” candidate. 

“Leadership requires taking positions,” Councilmember Lee said. “The test of one’s values comes down to a vote for or against.”

From 7-9 p.m. Thursday, the San Mateo United Homeowners Association will host a debate among San Mateo City Council candidates in which this issue will likely be addressed. The public is welcome to tune into the debate, set to be held on Zoom. The Zoom link is here and the passcode is 2022Forum.

Photo: Rod Linhares/City of San Mateo

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

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

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

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

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

He declined to answer whether he would support Proposition 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Election Central: Mueller campaign kick-off

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

Congressional campaign office openings signal focus on Redwood City

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Congressional campaign office openings signal focus on Redwood City

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

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

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

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

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

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

District elections bring big changes to local government

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Redwood City invites community input on regulating firearm retailers in city

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Cities Comply

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Exceptions

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

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

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

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

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

“A Perfect Storm”

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

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

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

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

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

Leveling the Playing Field

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

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

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

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

San Mateo begins transition to district elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Redwood City invites community input on regulating firearm retailers in city

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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