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Political Climate with Mark Simon: The struggle to embrace change continues

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Housing, transportation, infrastructure – growth and change – it always seems to come back to these specific topics and those two overriding issues. And so we plunge into a number of local matters that reflect the struggle to embrace change, accommodate change and define what it means to continue to move forward.

PENINSULA NOW AND LATER: It has been a few weeks since former Redwood City Councilmen Jeff Gee and John Seybert kicked off a lobbying group named Peninsula Now at a private event. Enough questions remain that we touched base with Gee again on the organization, what he’s trying to do and why.

“This is not a platform for developers, as much as some people might think it is,” said Gee, and that’s just as well, I suppose. One reason those who consistently oppose growth and change are so much noisier is that they lack any real power or influence, except through the ability to be noisy. On the other hand, developers never seem to have trouble getting their side of the story heard, which is a pretty good definition of having power and influence.

Still, Gee is worried that the public debate is dominated by opposition. “From my experience on the council, people who are unhappy are usually the ones who show up and raise an angry voice,” Gee said, adding that he thinks the debate should not be “one-sided. … We want to create an opportunity for those who like what’s going on. …It’s not just about making sure there is more housing. It’s about making sure the consensus is not about the status quo. The status quo is not acceptable.”

The critical issues facing the region – housing, transportation, infrastructure – have to be tackled now and in earnest by a broad coalition of decision-makers and policy-influencers, he said. “If they don’t start now, they don’t have a hell of a chance,” Gee said.

He said the organization is intended as a “convener.” Peninsula Now will conduct candidate forums, for example, Gee said, including the race for the 13th Senate District seat. And the group will weigh in politically on ballot measures, candidates and issues that come before local councils. As an example, Gee said a local city council is on the verge of ignoring its own zoning regulations and city ordinances and downzoning a parcel, quite likely in violation of state law. On a regional level, Gee wants Peninsula Now to be a vigorous advocate for San Mateo County’s interests, citing the work toward a regional transit measure. “What’s really in it for San Mateo County? Are we going to get our fair share?” Gee said.

Some of this is already being done by Rosanne Foust through her leadership of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, but the county has long been overlooked as a regional player so it could be argued another voice is useful. In trying to develop a regional presence, redundancy probably doesn’t hurt.

Peninsula Now is established as an independent expenditure committee, which means it can get involved in support of candidates and on ballot measures. It also means Peninsula Now won’t have to disclose who donates to the group, although Gee, again, was a little vague about how that would work. If money is raised for a candidates’ forum, “there’d be no need to disclose who’s funding our operation,” he said.

How all this manifests itself is still pretty vague and it’s hard to tell if Gee doesn’t know yet or simply isn’t saying.

“It’s so early in the process. We want to grow and learn,” he said.

One thing is certain, he said. Peninsula Now is not a vehicle for Gee’s return to the Redwood City Council. With the advent of districts, Gee’s neighborhood, Redwood Shores, has been carved out as a distinct entity and would seem ripe for him. The council currently has no one from the Shores and won’t until the 2020 election.

“I haven’t made any decisions (about running) and that has nothing to do with Peninsula Now. … I haven’t ruled it out. I haven’t ruled it in either,” Gee said.

SAN BRU-NOPE: In referring to a city that was on the verge of a troubling housing decision, perhaps Gee was anticipating the defeat in San Bruno this week of a 425-unit housing project by the narrowest and weirdest of circumstances – a 2-1 vote with two council members recusing themselves because they owned property nearby. By any measure it’s a lost opportunity.

More than any other city on the Peninsula, San Bruno has been hungry to reinvent a largely moribund downtown, and this project would have been a huge step in that long-desired direction. And it’s absolutely the wrong message to send to those who continue to seek ways to relieve local cities of land-use authority that blocks housing development near transit.

GETTING REAL ON EL CAMINO: In another occupation (or preoccupation), it was a particular pleasure to be part of the initial efforts to form the Grand Boulevard Initiative, a regional effort to transform El Camino Real into a world class boulevard of housing, businesses, recreation and retail. One of the fundamental planning concepts described at an early Grand Boulevard brainstorming session was the creation of nodes – centralized locations of commercial business, ranging from regional centers, like the Hillsdale Shopping Center, to mid-level community centers, like many of the Peninsula’s downtowns, to neighborhood service centers, like 25th Avenue in San Mateo.

Between these nodes would be high-density, high-rise housing – apartments and condos, mostly, designed to fit into the character of an adjacent residential neighborhood. There would be greenswards and bike paths and transit would be high-frequency and take people readily and conveniently to the nodes.

One key element of this concept is development that doesn’t push right up to the curb. But if you tool up and down El Camino, that’s exactly what you’ll see – housing projects that go right up to the edge of the sidewalk. This is happening because local cities are willing to go out rather than up.

El Camino housing development can be the answer to the Peninsula’s housing quandary, but it is going to require a willingness to build up and preserve the ground level for human use and enjoyment.

IN CONTROL: Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and I were fortunate recently to interview State Controller Betty Yee on our TV show, The Game. Among the interesting tidbits from the state’s highest-ranking female officeholder: 70 percent of the state’s General Fund comes from personal income taxes, which makes the state budget extremely vulnerable to economic downturn. She said the tax structure is used to fund public services, but it’s fuller purpose should be to support economic development and growth. She said reform of Proposition 13 should be among the tax reforms up for discussion. You can see the interview here:

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.

CORRECTION: The original column incorrectly stated that 70 percent of California’s General Fund revenues come from sales tax, when in fact 70 percent of General Fund revenues come from personal income tax. The story has been corrected.

Above photo by Getty Images: Aerial Photography view south-east of Boothbay Park, Hillsdale, San Mateo with a view of Oracle in Redwood City, Marine View Park and Belmont.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: My favorite holiday

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The Fourth of July always has been my favorite holiday.

It’s in the summer and that means long days, soft evenings and warm weather. It’s a day to be outside all day and into the night. And if I can’t spend the whole day as a kid running around the neighborhood, I can certainly feel such a day as a visceral memory.

Because it’s summer, it’s a day of the best food – pancake breakfasts and barbecues and hot dogs and hamburgers and corn on the cob and watermelon.

There are parades, always communal events, and they make all of us feel a little closer, something along the lines of what Abraham Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory.”

There are fireworks, and, really, how can anyone not like fireworks? I know, they’re hell on pets, but there is nothing like a good fireworks show and I am always grateful to the organizations that put them on.

It’s also a time of illicit fireworks and while I’m not condoning any activity that might burn down my neighborhood, it makes me think of Ed Sessler, which is always a good thought. I sat behind Ed through middle school and for some years, we were as close as two kids can be. On the Fourth, Ed always had firecrackers and he had a long-running custom of having at least one blow up in his hand every year.

One year, he had a firecracker go off in his left hand while he was throwing another one in his right hand. When I asked him what happened, he said he got so excited about the firecracker he was throwing that he forgot about the one in his left hand. Another time, he wrapped two firecrackers together by their fuses and lit them, and they both went off just as Ed remembered to drop them. Again, I asked what happened. He said he noticed one was burning faster than the other and he was waiting for the slow one to catch up.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: It’s one more reason I love the Fourth of July. I love my country, and it’s a day to celebrate being an American, with all the blessings that brings.

What can be better than independence? What country celebrates individuality like we do? What country embraces all our differences and tries to meld them into one restless, complicated and fascinating mish-mash? All our freedoms make me proud of who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s how I define patriotism.

Patriotism is a tricky word, something to mull over. It seems so many people appropriate it, or misappropriate it.

Samuel Boswell said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” and it does seem as though many scoundrels hide behind it, or embrace it for reasons that have nothing to do with celebrating that all of us start off equal before the law. Some try to dictate to us a strict and rigid definition of patriotism and if we don’t meet that definition, we must not love our country. I’m reminded of another quote from the song “Survivors” by the late folksinger John Stewart, “I believe that the flag, it was more than a rag, but the outlaws in office have shattered my life.”

My own definition is broad and inclusive and takes into account all that makes us distinctive and those differences that make us truly American. My country is not about sameness. I can support those in uniform without having to accede to a uniformity of thought or love of country. I love my country in my own way and I have the freedom to do so without the approval of others.

Conservatives seem always to be absolutist about patriotism: Love your country in my way, or you’re disloyal. During the Vietnam War, a popular bumper sticker was “My country: Love it or leave it.” I don’t know why one person’s love of country has to be expressed in forced alienation of another person’s exercise of the very freedoms we are supposed to represent, including the freedom to disagree.

It’s not about unconditional love. It’s about loving something, warts and all. Is there any more affirmative statement of American values than to go against the crowd, to disagree honorably?

As Mark Twain said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

Liberals, on the other hand, seem uncomfortable with a firm and fervent assertion of love of country, as though no one wants to impose a set of values on another. There has been a small dust-up on social media over the absence of American flags at the recent televised Democratic debates. Several of the candidates wore flag lapel pins, but no flags on the set. That might be the fault of NBC News, but it is not uncommon to go to Democratic events and observe the absence of any American flags.

If you leave patriotism to those who will cloak themselves in it, don’t be surprised if their embrace doesn’t include you. It may be more accurate to say “My country: Love it or lose it.” So much of public discourse is about the agenda – who determines the topic or the terms and conditions of the debate. When it comes to patriotism – love of country – some people seem to leave the field to others.

In the end, and for me, it’s not about who can make the biggest show, such as the way President Trump seems determined to usurp an annual, national celebration. It’s not just about who can proclaim their love of country on a single day and in the loudest voice. It’s also about who can live the American values of fairness and respect for individual rights on a daily basis.

BACK AT THE PICNIC: That’s worth a celebration. So, I’ll be there at the parade in Redwood City Thursday morning. I’ll get there early to stake out a good spot. I’ll decorate my front yard with flags and at the end of the day, I’ll find some fireworks to watch. In between I’ll eat some food that’s not on my diet and think about Ed Sessler and think about this marvelous experiment in freedom that we continue to undertake.

I’ll be a little more forgiving of those who disagree with me and a little more respectful of those who serve our country in every way possible and I’ll think being born an American is the best definition of luck I can imagine.

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: Getty Images

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Redwood City’s progress should be embraced

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These citizen 'extras' play key roles in Redwood City government

Early next year will be the 27th since the appearance of the now-legendary billboard touting Redwood City as “Palo Alto Without the Attitude.”

Climate Magazine Editor Janet McGovern, sentimental slob that she is, apparently thought the 26-and-a-half-th anniversary was more than ample reason to revisit the topic, providing further evidence that journalists have only a theoretical relationship with math. Anyway, she backtracks on the whole matter in the current edition of Climate and makes passing reference to a contest I initiated while writing a daily column for the Peninsula Times Tribune, one of many print publications I helped drive out of business. In the interests of full disclosure, I initiated several contests while writing a daily column. Writing five days a week was a constant search for topics I could milk.

The contest was based on a thorough mocking of the billboard (“Redwood City – Palo Alto Without the Attitude. Or the Restaurants. Or the Stores. Or a Vibrant Downtown” was just one of the smartass responses I wrote). I then invited people to send in their own slogans – for Redwood City and Palo Alto. The whole thing quickly got out of hand. In the pre-social media environment, hundreds of written entries were sent in by something we used to call the U.S. Mail. That number is skewed a little by one woman, Lori Rogers, who sent in 48 entries. One of hers was a winner: “Now that we have your attention.” As I recall, her win was not unanimous among the judges, but some of us would have felt badly if we rejected all 48.

The winning entry for Palo Alto was by Heather White: “This billboard must be removed (Municipal Zoning Ordinance 1,732,664),” and it’s still pretty good after all these years. Other runners up included “Palo Alto – Where process is our most important product” and “Redwood City — No attitude. No stores.” The latter reflected most of the Redwood City entries, which included “Podunk with a complex” and “Attitude without the aptitude.” There also was this entry: “Get Rid of Simon.” Unfortunately, it was sent in anonymously, or it might have won.

Interestingly, the Times Tribune offered a $100 shopping spree to each of the winning entries, and one is left to ponder what kind of shopping spree you could have had in downtown Redwood City in 1993. Some merchants opposed putting up the billboard for fear it might alienate Palo Altans and they wouldn’t shop in Redwood City. You can’t make this stuff up.

The leader of the opposition was a guy who owned a used furniture store he fancied an “antiques” store. It provided many of us with the opportunity learn the difference between an antique and something that was just old.

THERE’S A POINT IN HERE SOMEWHERE: And the point is that in 1993, downtown Redwood City was not much, on its way to nowhere special. And that reality, which seems lost by those who say they miss the “old” Redwood City, drove a group of far-sighted city leaders and staff to set in motion a new reality that is decidedly more interesting, meaningful and substantive than the array of sandwich shops and used furniture stores that defined the place.

Look at election results in the early- to mid-2000s and you see a council that was elected and re-elected by healthy margins and that was united in its determination to make Redwood City into something. This wasn’t revolutionary thinking. It was a very full and complete reflection of what the residents wanted – a there that was somewhere.

But in 1993, boy, you sure could find parking right in front of the hardware store while you ran inside to get a new key made. One of the things I learned while writing the column all those years ago is that lots of empty parking spaces is not a good indicator of a vigorous retail environment. It was easy to park there because nobody went there. Now, you hear complaints from people that they can’t find a place to park, a problem I have never had, although I do have to walk a couple of blocks on occasion to get where I’m going.

Which is what I had to do recently when I went to the Courthouse Square on a Friday night to listen to live music. And then again, the next night when I went to Angelicas to hear a jazz combo, two things so far removed from the “old” Redwood City as to invite hilarity. On the way to each venue, I passed one restaurant after another, packed to the walls with young people, who were eating and drinking and listening to music. Some of the music was loud and it reminded me of another pithy comment: “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”

This is a good thing. Vital, alive, full of energy, prosperous, youthful and incalculably better than anything you might have seen in downtown Redwood City in 1993.

THE CAPITAL OF THE PENINSULA: The aforementioned Times Tribune was a merger of the Redwood City Tribune and the Palo Alto Times by its owner, the Tribune Company of Chicago. Tribune Company since has developed quite a record of buying newspapers and killing them off with budget cuts, staff layoffs and demands for greater profit margins. I like to think the Times Tribune was at the cutting edge of this charming practice.

What the Tribune Company did here was take two 100-year-old, well-established local newspapers and merge them into one regional paper. Their view, from the Tribune tower in Chicago, was that Silicon Valley was spreading out, spewing wealth and self-importance in its path and that Palo Alto was going to become the capital of the Peninsula. They never understood that Redwood City and Palo Alto were quite different and a person who identified with one would never identify with the other. And one would not read news about the other.

Undoubtedly, it looked like sheer genius from a tower in Chicago. It didn’t work. The merged newspaper went out of business in a scant 14 years, and Palo Alto and Redwood City were without two credible and serious daily newspapers that were rooted in their respective communities, the kind of connection that can only be built over a century.

Still, at the time, it was valid to believe that Palo Alto would become, if it wasn’t already, the central city of the Peninsula, a cultural, entertainment and business hub around which the rest of the area would revolve. (Old joke: How many Palo Altans does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One – to hold the lightbulb while the rest of the world revolves around it.)

Certainly, Palo Alto is a vibrant downtown community with high-end restaurants and a thriving retail that any city would hope to emulate. But their unique brand of insularity denied Palo Alto something that Redwood City has become – the Peninsula’s gathering place. I still recall when the Super Bowl was held at Stanford two lifetimes ago, Palo Alto sniffed that this unseemly sports spectacle was being held at Stanford, not Palo Alto. The city did virtually nothing to act as the host city. Just imagine if it had been in Redwood City, which continues to retain its hometown, Main Street USA, gee-whiz brand of enthusiasm.

THE UNEASINESS OF MOVING FORWARD: There is Central Park in San Mateo, Burlingame Avenue in Burlingame, Castro Street in Mountain View and, of course, University Avenue in Palo Alto. There are gathering places all throughout the Peninsula. But there is nothing like Redwood City as a place for people from all over the region to gather for communal events and from which the downtown scene benefits in ways that were not even a vision in 1993.

All of this makes longtime residents uncomfortable and they long for a time that didn’t exist, a sense of what Redwood City must have been, but, in fact, never was. Discomfort is the price of change. But if such an idyllic time ever existed, it’s done. There is no going back. Time doesn’t work in reverse.

If 25 years ago, we had a council determined to transform downtown Redwood City, we now have a council that reflects the uneasiness of the most vocal of Redwood City’s residents. While it is unlikely the most outspoken represent the broad views of the larger community, they are the loudest and they are most politically active and they have the council they want – one that is decidedly less bold and certainly not nearly as unified behind a vision of what could be made of what this city has to offer.

What is the vision of the current city leadership? To tinker at the edges and try to minimize the impacts of the changes that have taken place? To pull the reins of change and to respond rather than initiate it?

In 1993, the mere statement – Palo Alto without the attitude – was ironical at best and simply incorrect.

The greater irony is that it is truer now than it ever was in 1993. The council that was elected on the heels of that billboard recognized that rare moment in time when change was possible and could be used to set a new course, to determine events rather than have them dictated to us. That moment still exists. The challenge now is to transform the entire community into a place that is livable and affordable – in essence, to do with housing what was done with the downtown. In that sense, Redwood City may hearken back to the place some people think it was then – welcoming, open, available to all.

The only question is whether there is a unified will to press the advantage.

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.

127 percent increase in people living in RVs in San Mateo County

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An increase in the number of homeless individuals counted during the biannual One Day Homeless Count in San Mateo County in January is largely driven by a spike in the number of people living in RVs, according to the County, citing data released by its Human Services Agency (HSA).

On Jan. 31, about 400 volunteers participating in the count identified 1,512 individuals as homeless, an increase from the 1,253 individuals counted in January 2017. Of the 1,512 homeless individuals, 901 were living on streets, in vehicles or in encampments, and 611 were living in shelters and transitional housing. Redwood City had the highest number of unsheltered homeless with 221, followed by Pacifica (116), East Palo Alto (107) and San Mateo (74).

“The overall increase is driven largely by a 127 percent increase in the number of people living in RVs (494), although simultaneously the count found a decrease in the number of people estimated to be sleeping in cars and tents,” the county said in a statement.

Unsheltered Homeless Individuals by Jurisdiction

The results reflect the high cost and low availability of housing in the county, where rents for a studio apartment increased by 47 percent from 2016 to 2019, according to HSA Director Nicole Pollack. The conditions are causing residents with low to moderate incomes to struggle to maintain their housing, and making permanent housing unattainable for current homeless individuals.

“The extremely high costs and low vacancy rates in the local housing market remain a challenge. However, we are deeply committed to our homeless populations and have made great strides,” Pollack said.

Some positives from the latest count: The numbers of unsheltered families with children, people sleeping in tents and people sleeping in cars have decreased.

The homeless count is conducted every two years as a requirement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to assess federal funding needs.

“The count is one critical tool to collect information that helps us understand more about those who are experiencing homelessness in our community and their unique circumstances,” said Pollack. “With homelessness, as with much in life, one size does not fit all and we really want to know who we are serving and what they need.”

The full report and executive summary are available at:

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Notes, Quotes and Dust Motes

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Baseball pitcher/philosopher Satchel Paige once said, “The social ramble ain’t restful.” And neither is the political ramble, which means, my dear friends, it’s time gather around the old campfire here at the Political Climate International News Center and sing songs about another edition of Notes, Quotes and Dust Motes.

PENINSULA NOW: It is a political truism that the no side always shows up on any issue. Former Redwood City Councilmen Jeff Gee and John Seybert, longtime political allies and friends, have launched a new group dedicated to making sure the yes side is mobilized and present. They’re calling the group Peninsula Now and they kicked it off recently at a small invitation-only event at the brand new Redwood City offices of builder W.L. Butler.

The invitation to the event said, “Peninsula Now is a voice that will bring to the forefront solutions that the Peninsula is facing today. Our efforts and advocacy are to find working solutions to provide relief to the issues of our aging infrastructure, traffic congestion, environment, social infrastructure and inclusion.”

At the request of Gee and Seybert, I participated at the kick-off event by asking them questions aimed at learning why they are forming the group. Because it was a private event and I accepted the invitation knowing that, I will leave to Seybert and Gee to detail in their own manner who attended.

The attendees were business and community leaders, including developers and real estate interests, and it is clear that Gee and Seybert are concerned that support is needed throughout the county for the kinds of changes that have occurred in Redwood City, changes they both supported when they were on the city council.

Gee said the organization is countywide, not limited to Redwood City, which reflects the reality that resistance to growth and housing runs through every community in the county and the opposition tends to be consistently vocal, organized and present.

Interestingly, Peninsula Now is not a political action committee but has been formed as a tax-exempt nonprofit that can make independent expenditures on behalf of candidates or on ballot issues.

All we need to complete the cycle is for someone to form a group named Peninsula Not Now.

LUCKY 13: In the race for the 13th Senate District seat being vacated by Jerry Hill, social entrepreneur Josh Becker landed a big-name endorsement: Governor Gavin Newsom. It comes just days before the June 30 deadline for fundraising, and the Newsom endorsement should help Becker boost his numbers, although, based on his performance to date, it’s not clear he needs any help raising money.

The endorsement comes with this statement from Newsom: “Josh is a long-time, dedicated community leader and I look forward to continuing to work with him on the key issues of education, housing, transportation, and the environment. Josh Becker has earned my confidence and endorsement.”

As a political reality, it’s hard to know how much influence Newsom will carry with voters, although he did get 75.5 percent of the vote in the 13th SD in his race for governor last year. It is certainly one more way for Becker to separate himself from the rest of the five-candidate field. Newsom does seem to endorse people in his own political image: younger, liberal, and with ties to tech and a substantial fundraising base.

Of course, the best endorsement, according to polling over many years, is Rep. Jackie Speier, who won re-election last year with 79.2 percent of the vote. She has not endorsed in this race.

Meanwhile, the lone candidate from Santa Clara County, former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber is in Clint, Texas, joining protests against the conditions at federal camps for migrant children. Among all the candidates, no one is going to out-left Lieber, it appears.

Millbrae Councilwoman Annie Oliva got into the campaign late and got off to a slow start, but she is beginning to post furiously about events and issues, although some of her statements are fairly general, as typified by a campaign video posting of a supporter: “I support Annie because she cares about California.” I’m glad we cleared that up.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and I have begun a series of interviews on our cable show The Game with all five candidates in the Senate race. Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur went first and you can see the interview here:

ACTUAL NOTE-TYPE NOTES: The Redwood City Council race to watch next year could well be the newly formed Latino-majority District 3, currently represented by Janet Borgens. She’s already busily engaged, which is nothing new for the energetic Borgens, but the more profound question is whether the Latino community can identify and unite behind a candidate after all the effort to get a district with a Latino majority. … The name currently in circulation as a possible candidate is Ivan Reyes Martinez, whose role as executive director of the Redwood City Police Activities League has meant a high profile in the district. … Ashley Quintana, public policy manager for Facebook’s Community Affairs department and recent appointee to the Redwood City Arts Commission, was another rumored candidate but she told Political Climate she is not running. … Negotiations continue, but the rumor is a brewpub may be coming into the vacant retail spot at the newly refurbished San Carlos Caltrain station, adjacent to the Trestle apartment project. … Trestle was intended to be a classic example of transit-oriented development – a substantial apartment project literally next door to a Caltrain station and SamTrans hub and across the street from the bustling Laurel Street downtown neighborhood. Now, it seems, San Carlos is having problems with a large number of the units being taken over by Airbnb entrepreneurs, who are leasing the units and renting them out. The city’s primary concern appears to be collecting Transient Occupancy Tax from these units. This project, which I worked on while employed at SamTrans, was supposed to help provide long-term housing to renters. Clearly, housing Aibnb users doesn’t help.

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: A life well lived, a life well loved

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We must have met for the first time at John Muir school in San Bruno, when I was in the 4th grade and Chuck was in fifth. He was Charlie then, Charlie Cline.

Before I met him, Chuck had had polio. Those were the days before we all lined up outside a local school to be given a vaccine-infused sugar cube. Just like that, one of the scourges of generations was gone. The illness left one of Chuck’s legs withered, but not his spirit. Never his spirit.

Maybe we didn’t meet in school, maybe it was at a local playground, because what I remember about Chuck from those days was that we played sports together. Not organized sports, but daylong neighborhood games of basketball or baseball, one of the ways we would fill day upon day in summers before organized camps and travel teams in time so removed from now as to feel tinged in sepia.

We played sports through high school just for the fun of it. We played even a year or two after, Chuck playing 1st Base on a rec league softball team. Chuck couldn’t run fast or jump, but he held his own and he never talked about his leg as if it was a hindrance or that he required special consideration. In fact, he didn’t talk about it all. Neither did we. Not out of any kindness. We didn’t think of Chuck as anything other than just like the rest of us. And he was, of course.

As we got older and started high school, Chuck developed into a highly talented guitarist and singer with a warm and sweet tenor voice. With two other good friends, Steve Rapalus and Ernie Sandoval, they formed a folk group, The Townsmen, and they played local gigs and school events and they were very good. Chuck remained a lifelong devotee of The Kingston Trio and Gordon Lightfoot. Chuck’s love of music was infectious and undoubtedly genetic – his sister also was an accomplished singer. By the end of high school, Chuck was voted Most Talented by his classmates, one of those senior year awards – Best Couple, Most Likely to Succeed — that rarely foretell an accurate future. In Chuck’s case, it was spot on.

Chuck made an award-winning career and a life out of music, performing with other groups and solo, often getting gigs at local night spots such as the Purple Onion. He recorded extensively, often writing his own music.

He was an avid Bay Area sports fan and his Facebook page includes a photo of Chuck singing the national anthem before a Giants game at Candlestick Park, which he said was a highlight.

The last several years have included some tough health issues, complicated surgeries. But he was always – it’s impossible to exaggerate this – always upbeat and positive and optimistic. He usually came out of the hospital praising the staff and the care they gave him. His optimism was native – there was nothing forced about it. One of those online quizzes scored him 220 percent passionate. He was a dedicated Christian in the best sense. He was kind and loving and cared about others and was a soul at peace, forgiving of his friends’ foibles and flaws.

It’s hard to know whether his faith was a natural extension of who he was, or whether who he was led naturally to his faith. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose.

As his health issues mounted and it became more difficult for him to move around, Chuck became a poster boy for the positive value of Facebook. It was his community, how he stayed in touch. He would post astonishingly beautiful scenery pictures, just because they were beautiful and he thought people would like to see them. He posted jokes and photos from his life and photos of friends and family. He would send holiday greetings. And always, he would post music – by The Kingston Trio, by groups, that carried on their tradition, by Gordon Lightfoot and by himself. In an era when social media seems to give license to every negative impulse, Chuck never said a negative or critical word about anyone. His friends came to look forward to the next picture he would post. They were always beautiful. So was Chuck.

I’m sure by now you can tell from the tone and the verb tense what’s coming. Chuck Cline died Monday night shortly after being diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, his family standing vigil over this warm and wonderful and kind soul who never wore his courage on the outside. A life will lived. A life well loved.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate with Mark Simon: An unexpected controversy surrounding motherhood

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The beauty of baseball, it is said, is that at every game you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. Even as 19th Century political philosopher Mr. Dooley observed that “Politics ain’t beanbag,” we can safely assert a 21st Century corollary: City Councils ain’t baseball.

Which is to say, far from seeing something you’ve never seen before, the famous assertion about baseball, the more likely city council scenario is that the status quo will be played out, over and over, in all its mind-numbingly status quo-ness.

Still, rescuing the status quo can come in surprising forms. Which brings us to the surprise provided us this week by the Redwood City Council, which split right down the middle on motherhood.

Lest you rush to judgment and assume it was the same old male-dominated political structure again refusing to acknowledge a changing world, this is a seven-member council with six women, all of whom were at the meeting, while the lone male, Mayor Ian Bain, was absent.

The split unfolded – it might be more accurate to say it spilled out – when the council took up the issue of whether new mothers should get special consideration when serving on local boards, committees and commissions. The clear message from half the council was that child-bearing women need not apply. These boards, commissions and committees, it should be noted, include the Housing and Human Concerns Committee. I reviewed all of this year’s committee meeting agendas, and not once did they take up the issue of motherhood.

The council was trying to set some rules for attendance on these boards, commissions and committees – miss a quarter of the meeting and you’re gone. Into the fray rode newly elected Giselle Hale, mother of two girls, who only several days ago was outraged that a woman had to sit on the floor of the restroom at the state Democratic convention and express milk from her breasts. Hale noted at the council meeting that when the breasts get too full, it’s painful and women are advised to tap the keg.

Hale proposed that new mothers be given a three-month leave from a board, commission or committee seat. A maternity hall pass, as it were. In fact, Hale would like it to be six months because the American Pediatric Association recommends newborns should nurse for six months.

This touched off a discussion that can only be described as an interesting display of how the status quo asserts itself.

Councilwoman Janet Borgens went first and because she’s such a genuinely likable person, a viewer might watch this with a mixture of amazement and sympathy.

In lengthy and somewhat meandering opposition to the Hale proposal, one comment by Borgens jumped out:

“I do respect the rights of a mother who has just given birth and has to nurse. I sit up here before you having gone through the same thing. But I made a decision during that time what my priorities would be. It wasn’t to take on something that was going to put me in an uncomfortable situation.”

Too late, it appears.

Here at Political Climate, we like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it sure looks like Borgens was saying new mothers who want to serve on these boards, commissions and committees have the wrong priorities.

Other comments didn’t approach Borgens’ level of fascination, but Vice Mayor Diane Howard did speak about how the city has more applicants than slots for all these boards, commissions and committees, and aren’t we lucky? In essence, don’t sign up if you can’t meet the exacting standards of this entirely voluntary activity, we have plenty of people who will be more than happy to take your place.

The council burbled about other seemingly related matters involving single fathers or parents who want to get home to see their kids and get restless when a Board of Building Review meeting runs past 10:30 p.m. and unconscionable delays to the city business because sometimes these boards, commissions and committees fail to have a quorum.

The central message was clearly that, even as a new, young generations asserts itself in Redwood City, the status quo is not ready to make accommodations for young mothers.

In the end, it was clearly 3-3, with Borgens, Howard and Diana Reddy uneasy about making exceptions for women with newborns, and Alicia Aguirre and Shelly Masur siding with Hale.

At Howard’s suggestion, the council put the matter off until Mayor Bain can return and add his voice to this discussion. Yes, they’re waiting for the lone man to come back and resolve this matter.

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: Notes, quotes and random motes

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San Mateo County supes to consider moratorium on evictions of small businesses

When it comes to politics, it is often said we live in a bubble of liberal tolerance.

“Not a bubble,” says Rob “Birdlegs” Caughlan. “An oasis.”

And with that, we commence another episode of Notes, Quotes and Random Motes, as we survey the ever-restless political scene.

PARTY LIKE IT’S 2022: On the subject of restlessness, speculation already is rampant who might run for the Board of Supervisors seat currently held by Don Horsley. He’s termed out and the prospect of an open seat is catnip to the lineup of people who have wanted to seek higher office but don’t want to challenge an incumbent. Yes, Horsley doesn’t vacate the seat until 2022, but that gives you an idea of the pent-up demand. Before that happens, some folks need to get re-elected to their city council seats, including Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller, who is among those whose candidacy for the Horsley seat is the object of speculation. Also in the rumor mill for the Horsley seat: San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan and San Carlos Councilman Adam Rak. … Maybe all this activity has been spurred on by Belmont City Councilman Charles Stone’s early – really early – declaration for the board seat held by Carole Groom, also termed out three years from now. The rumor is that San Mateo Councilman Rick Bonilla wants to run for the same seat, but no movement from him yet. … Meanwhile, despite rumors otherwise, Supervisor Warren Slocum tells Political Climate that he intends to run for re-election next year. And there are plenty of rumors about who might run for the seat held by Dave Pine if he opts not to run for re-election to a third term. Among the names in circulation: Burlingame Councilwoman Emily Beach, seeking re-election this year, Hillsborough Councilwoman Marie Chuang and San Bruno Mayor Rico Medina.

IT’S MY PARTY: The aforementioned Sabrina Brennan appears determined to cut a bold swath through Peninsula politics, and there may be no better example than a posting of hers concerning historically nonpartisan nonpartisan offices, such as city councils and school boards. During the 2018 campaign, she posted this: “I’m sick and tired of Democrats who endorse Republicans. I’m talking about Jerry Hill, Kevin Mullin and Jackie Speier. During past elections, I’ve sat quietly and observed all three of them endorse Republicans for local elections in San Mateo County. … San Mateo County Democrats must get their priorities in order and work on building a farm team at home. Stop doing political favors for the Republican Party.”

Of course, there are no Democrats or Republicans in local elections, and that includes the Harbor District, where Brennan serves. No one runs for these seats with a party affiliation. It’s true that candidates for partisan office usually start at a local, nonpartisan office. Should these offices be seen solely through a partisan prism at a time when more and more people are choosing not to affiliate with a political party? And what difference does it really make? While there are Republicans on local councils and district boards, when was the last time one of them was elected to any partisan office on the Peninsula? When was the last time one of them got more than 30 percent of the vote? Still, that particular debate aside, it’s a bold move to “call out” the three most influential officeholders in the county.

JERRY MEANDERING: The busiest local race is for the state Senate seat soon to be vacated by Jerry Hill. No one has been more present in this county over the past 20 years than Hill, who clearly has been willing to go anywhere and meet anyone. But term limits mean it is winding down for him, and if you ask him what he plans to do next, it is clear he has no immediate plans.

“I don’t know,” Hill told Political Climate. “It’s a little scary, it’s kind of exciting – not having a plan.” Since he first ran for the San Mateo City Council, and then the Board of Supervisors and then the state Assembly and then the state Senate, Hill always has had what he called “this trajectory” of thinking about the next office. Now, he has to think about what’s next – out of office. “It’s a little exciting and a little scary,” he repeated, “and maybe there’ll be nothing.” It seems unlikely that Hill’s next step will be nothing, or that it will be purely political. “I’m a little cynical about politics, the money in politics and the decision-making that goes around that money. It’s in a lot of ways disgusting,” he said.

OH, PIONEERS: I have been remiss in not taking note of the passing of three true pioneering women in Peninsula politics. Maureen Ryan was a key staff leader in the congressional office of Pete McCloskey at a time when women rarely held top spots. East Palo Alto matriarch Gertrude Wilks was a groundbreaking leader in educational opportunities and a key figure in the creation of East Palo Alto as an independent city. Nita Spangler was a newspaper columnist for the Redwood City Tribune and for decades was a keen observer of Peninsula government and a paragon of ethical standards. Finally, I want to pay tribute to Paul Shepherd, who also recently passed. He was the land manager for Cargill’s San Francisco Bay Area properties. But, much more than that, he was a model of a community-minded corporate executive who felt a responsibility to be a leader. It wasn’t pro forma – he was genuine and thoughtful and caring.

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: Warren ‘specific,’ O’Rourke ‘disappointing,’ Buttigieg ‘a clear favorite’ – locals weigh in on convention

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The Peninsula was heavily represented among the delegates at last weekend’s California Democratic Party convention San Francisco, as was the Democratic field of presidential candidates. Of the 24 candidates now running, 14 put in some kind of appearance at the convention, most of them speaking in a parade of speeches that did not include a talent portion.

That this many candidates showed up for an off-year convention is a tribute to Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, who was the prime sponsor of the legislation that moved the California presidential primary to March of 2020, instead of its customary spot in June.

In addition to drawing the candidates to the convention, the early primary prompted a number of national news media stories talking about the key role California will play in sorting out the field early in the nomination process. In past cycles, California has been irrelevant to the nomination, except as a source of campaign money. Mullin also was interviewed a number of times by some major news outlets.

Two Peninsula attendees were Redwood City Councilwoman Giselle Hale and Palo Alto travel agent and online bon vivant Janice Hough, who offers witty comments about politics and sports. They sat through most of the speeches at the convention and posted their thoughts. Here are some excepts:

On California Sen. Kamala Harris:

Hale: “Her speech was too focused on Trump and lacked in energy.”
Hough: “Clearly popular but her speech, to me, felt like more Trump-bashing and less promoting herself and her ideas. She seemed a bit flat.”

On Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

Hale: Whoa energy! She got the crowd fired up and appeared very comfortable. She was specific in pointing to what needs fixing and what she would do (for a 7-min speech).”

Hough: “Woke everyone up. One of the most inspirational policy wonks since Bill Clinton, and she’s getting better. Lots of details packed in. Almost hard to keep up. But yes, whatever it is, she has a plan for that. Found myself thinking she will take a lot of Bernie voters.

On Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke:

Hale: She edited her original post on the speeches “because I FORGOT HIM. Which sums up his speech. But it was in Spanish. That I remember.”

Hough: “Huge disappointment. Bilingual but boring.”

On New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:

Hale: “Unremarkable. She didn’t answer ‘why should you give me the job.’ ”

Hough: “Kind of meh. Talked about winning in red districts but didn’t mention that she used to have a lot of more conservative positions.”

On Mayor Pete Buttigieg:

Hale: “Wowowow! Clearly answers ‘why vote for me’ and makes a damn good case for why playing it safe is a losing strategy. Only candidate who created a hush over the audience that was hanging on his every word.”

Hough: “He grabbed the crowd back. Clearly a favorite, although he (is) more moderate than the average delegate: ‘The economic normal has failed a working and middle class that powered America into a new era of growth, only to see the amazing wealth that we built go to a tiny few.’ “

On California Rep. Eric Swalwell:

Hale: “If your high school quarterback ran for president.”

Hough: “Not sure I remember anything on the speech except he seemed like a nice young man. But he’s no Mayor Pete.”

On Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

Hale: “Grit. Not sure if I’d vote for her but I’d have a drink with her. She would spice up the debates.”

Hough: “Impressive as hell. A bit hoarse maybe, but she was grounded, detail oriented and FUNNY. And you could definitely see delegates warming to her.”

On New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker:

Hough: “Best speech of the day. And getting the attention of thousands of people who’ve been sitting through six hours of speeches is almost impossible. He did that.”

Contact Mark Simon at

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Democratic presidental hopeful U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during the California Democrats 2019 State Convention at the Moscone Center on June 01, 2019 in San Francisco, California.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: New Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus formed on Peninsula

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In yet another sign of how the Peninsula has changed, a group of local political leaders has formed a new Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus with the intention to mobilize politically what is one of the area’s booming demographic groups and the second-largest racial category in San Mateo County.

Coordinated by Jeff Gee, former Redwood City Councilmember, and Millbrae Mayor Wayne Lee, the caucus will raise funds, endorse candidates, engage in voter education and call attention to issues critical to the community.

“The API voice in San Mateo County is not there,” Gee said. “It’s not present,” nor is it unified and “everyone is doing their own thing.” The formation of the caucus is intended to be a means by which “all the Asian and Pacific Islanders come together. It’s time to raise our vision together.”

According to updated 2017 U.S. Census data, more than 31 percent of the county’s 763,000 residents are Asian American, either solely or in combination with other races; 2 percent are Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. In some cities, Asian Americans are the largest demographic – nearly 50 percent in Millbrae, 55 percent in Daly City.

The largest demographic in the county is white at 52 percent, followed by Asian, then Hispanic at 25 percent and African American at 2.4 percent. By next year’s census, San Mateo County will be a majority minority county.

The impending census was a significant prompt for the formation of the API Caucus. Gee said Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders may be the “largest undercounted demographic in the county.” He said many members of these communities are not sufficiently informed about the census and opt not to participate or simply don’t know they should.

Gee acknowledged it’s not entirely clear how many APIs are in elective office in the county – there are 13 on city councils and several on local school boards, particularly the San Mateo-Foster City, Belmont-Redwood Shores and Jefferson Elementary districts.

Gee said there is an opportunity for growth and he wants to focus on “pipeline building,” identifying future prospective candidates and providing them training on how to build a campaign organization. “The progress people have made, they have made on their own,” he said. A coalition can multiply influence, both within the community and as the caucus partners with other political interests, such as the Latino and the LGPTQ communities, Gee said.

Gee said the caucus has a modest goal of raising $5,000 for its activities, which he described as “very, very modest.”

He also said the group will address what he described as “subtle racism.” He cited an effort by some Millbrae residents to limit the number of Asian restaurants, contending it was “too many” and was over-dominating the city’s dining scene. Gee also cited a recent letter to the editor in which the author complained about the Asian American label, asserting that those who use the term should define themselves either as Asian or American.

As I noted at the beginning, it’s another signpost on the road to a different San Mateo County, a changing of the guard, as it were. San Mateo County simply is not the homogeneous, mostly white, mostly middle class community it was two generations ago.

There will be some who object to “racial politics” that distinguish between races, but racial differences often can spell societal and economic differences. And most assuredly, they tend to lead to reduced political power. The differences long have been drawn, to the detriment of minority communities – those on the outside of the political status quo.

Unifying in the name of common interests is the essence of coalition politics and it’s as American as apple pie.

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: San Mateo County API Caucus Facebook page.

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