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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.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Will state senate race remain drama-free?

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The buzz around the wide-open race for the 13th State Senate District is that there is no buzz.

There are five able and reasonably well-credentialed Democrats running to replace Democrat Jerry Hill, who is termed out next year. But the talk among political insiders is that the field is not generating any excitement and that someone else might still get into the race. It’s not entirely fair, I suppose, because “someone else” can always seem more intriguing than the people who actually are running.

The five candidates continue to soldier on, of course, raising money, gathering endorsements and holding campaign events. And even though the primary is still more than 10 months away – the filing period for the race is still six months away – the opportunity for “someone else” diminishes every day.

In about a month, the candidates will disclose their latest fundraising reports, and we can expect public interest entrepreneur Josh Becker to continue to win the money race.

We also can expect that Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur will have raised a viable amount of money – nothing like Becker’s totals, but enough to run a competitive campaign. Similarly, Burlingame Councilman Michael Brownrigg is likely to have sufficient funds on hand, although a fair amount may be his own money.

It’s hard to know how much money will have been raised by Millbrae Councilwoman Annie Oliva. She got into the race only recently and the word is that she is backed heavily by the local Realtors organizations. We’ll see if they’re ready to pony up so early in the race. As for former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber from Mountain View, she barely raised any money in the last fundraising cycle and there is no indication that is going to change this time.

Meanwhile, the candidates are scrambling to collect endorsements, and Masur appears to be leading that part of the race. Masur, it is said, has extensive ties to organized labor and that shows up in endorsements from carpenters, sheet metal workers and sprinkler fitters. Her high-profile endorsements include state Treasurer Fiona Ma, San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin and state Senator Connie Leyva, who chairs the state Legislature’s Women’s Caucus. And she has gathered endorsements from council members from Redwood City, Belmont, Burlingame, Brisbane, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Mountain View, San Carlos, Sunnyvale and Pacifica. Head of an education nonprofit, Masur also has endorsements from 36 school board members throughout the district.

Becker’s high-profile endorsements including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, South Bay Congressman Ro Khanna, Assemblymen Phil Ting, Ash Kalra and David Chiu, and councilmembers from Mountain View, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. Also endorsing: Lenny Mendonca, chief economic advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen. San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum also has endorsed Becker, as has Supervisor David Canepa, who is so full of political largesse that he also has endorsed Brownrigg.

Brownrigg also has endorsements from councilmembers from Atherton, Half Moon Bay, South San Francisco, San Carlos, San Bruno and all four of his colleagues on the Burlingame Council.

Oliva listed no endorsements on her campaign Facebook or web pages. And Lieber also listed no endorsements, which seems a little strange given her status as a past officeholder and her ties to progressive Democratic politics in Santa Clara County. Perhaps they’ll come later, or that she’s focused in other areas.

As for Facebook pages, for what it’s worth, Lieber has the most followers, 1,182. Becker has 1,035, Masur 932, Brownrigg 482 and Oliva five, although, it should be disclosed, I’m one of them because I’m following all the candidates.

NOTES, QUOTES AND EPISODES: If you thought it was too early for candidates to be running in a 2020 Senate race, cast a tremulous glance toward Belmont City Councilman Charles Stone, who last week held a high-profile kickoff to his campaign for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors seat currently occupied by Carole Groom. You may have noticed that Groom was only re-elected a scant seven months ago and still has three years to go on her current term. Yes, that means Stone announced for an election in 2022. He seems slightly embarrassed to be announcing this early. But only slightly.  And it didn’t appear to diminish the number of people who showed up for Stone’s kickoff, which included Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, who announced he has endorsed Stone. Also on hand were four members of the San Mateo City Council. This is notable because the other likely candidate for this seat is San Mateo City Councilman Rick Bonilla, who apparently will not have the support and encouragement of his council colleagues.

Two-term San Carlos City Councilman Ron Collins, after several weeks mulling it over, has decided to run for re-election next year. “I don’t think I’m done,” Collins said. “I don’t think I’ve finished the job.” Collins has a long list of issues he still wants to tackle, including housing, transportation, commercial development and better recreational facilities for the City of Good Living. Collins also serves on the SamTrans and Caltrain boards of directors, which gives San Carlos a voice on two of the more critical regional bodies. “I’ve learned a lot in the last seven years. I not only want to continue that learning experience, but apply what I’ve learned,” Collins said. He said there is an energy in the current political environment that undoubtedly will result in several candidates for the two seats that will be up next year. Incumbent Mark Olbert also has indicated he will run again. Last year’s city council election cost candidates between $25,0090 and $30,000 and Collins said he expects his race will cost at least that much. “It’s my hometown,” Collins said. “It’s where I grew up. I love it as much as I ever have.”

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: Caltrain power struggle may derail progress

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Caltrain will operate 42 trains instead of 92 every weekday starting March 26

You had to look quickly or you would have missed the notice of a special, closed session meeting on this month’s Caltrain agenda. The significance of the short-lived notice is that there is a struggle going on at Caltrain over how the agency is managed and by whom.

And that’s a shame. Of the transit systems on the Peninsula, Caltrain has been the most effective and most efficiently run.

For decades, the Caltrain board was a model of regional cooperation and there were numerous instances when a representative from one of the three counties on the Peninsula would put their parochial interests aside in favor of what might have been the greater good for the entire Caltrain system. None of which seems to matter to people who can’t seem to leave well enough alone.

It was too good to last, I suppose, but there is no question representatives of San Francisco and Santa Clara counties are determined to assert their own interests, particularly as San Francisco and San Jose scurry to build huge infrastructure projects of which Caltrain is a central part.

They will say they are doing this under the name of restructuring Caltrain’s governance, and that they want Caltrain to be an independent agency. Putting aside how impractical – and expensive – such an independent agency would be, what they really object to is that Caltrain is managed independently from them, and they can’t stand that thought, something that was made very clear in a recent posting by one board member on the Friends of Caltrain Facebook page.

Of course, San Francisco’s track record of running transportation keeps getting worse. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority hasn’t especially covered itself in glory, either, whether it’s running bus and light rail or delivering the massive BART-to-San Jose project on time and on budget. So, certainly, let’s give them more authority over a transit system that is widely considered successful.

In the interests of full disclosure, I worked for Caltrain for more than decade, the last two years for Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett, who also is a friend of mine and whose integrity and sense of fairness are beyond question. I have not talked to him about this column, but, most assuredly, my views are a direct result of serving Caltrain.

Anyway, back to the special session, which was described as a performance review of Hartnett. The Caltrain board actually has no “performance review” authority over Hartnett. Hartnett works for the San Mateo County Transit District, which is one of three partner agencies that own Caltrain, the other two being the City and County of San Francisco and VTA.

Since 1992, when the Caltrain partnership was formed, SamTrans has been the managing partner. That means the general manager of SamTrans also is the executive director of Caltrain (and also runs SamTrans and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority – three jobs in one, managing five separate budgets and three separate boards of directors. The job is not for the faint of heart). The SamTrans board hires the general manager, and, in so doing, hires the executive director of Caltrain. The SamTrans board does the general manager’s performance review and it includes his performance as executive director of Caltrain and the TA.

When Mike Scanlon left the agency and Hartnett was hired to replace him in 2016, San Francisco representatives, in particular, were upset they didn’t get to make the decision. It’s an objection that didn’t come up when Scanlon was hired, or any of his predecessors. Only once Hartnett was hired have some board members tried to insert themselves into his performance evaluation and raised the specter of governance, which, again, is a code word for putting Caltrain in the hands of San Francisco and Santa Clara County.

They don’t care whether the agency is being well-run. They care that they don’t get to run it.

And, it should be noted, the management of Caltrain by SamTrans is an astonishing bargain.

SamTrans employees who work on Caltrain – either full-time or part-time – are billed to Caltrain, but at a rate that comes nowhere close to the amount of actual work being done.

Consider Hartnett as a prime example. He is paid an annual “stipend” of $85,000 for serving as executive director of Caltrain. That amounts to 16 percent of his total compensation. I can absolutely guarantee you that Hartnett spends more than 16 percent of his time on Caltrain. If you add the stipend to his base salary, it still represents only 22 percent. It’s the same for most of the executives at SamTrans who work on the Caltrain system.

In fact, SamTrans has been carrying Caltrain for years.

Aside from screwing up a well-run agency that is moving forward with revolutionary plans to electrify, this behind-the-scenes maneuvering is likely to torpedo any effort to pass a three-county sales tax and finally bring home the Caltrain holy grail – a permanent, dedicated and reliable source of revenue.

As recent polling showed, the tax measure is on the cusp of defeat. That can change for the better. Or, if the Caltrain board continues to wallow in parochial self-interests, it can get worse.

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: Flintstone House is cute, but property restrictions are bedrock law

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All the outrage over the prehistoric decorations at the Flintstone House boils down to this: It’s cute, it’s whimsical and it’s reasonable for the city to order it taken down.

The Flintstone House and its display of dinosaurs and related detritus, visible as you cross the Doran Bridge driving north on Highway 280, is the object of widespread love and efforts by the Town of Hillsborough to remove the backyard array has resulted in more than 28,000 Facebook petition signatures in opposition.

But the authority of a city to restrict what homeowners can put up on their property is, you should pardon the expression, bedrock law.

As one person commented on the Facebook petition page, “Homeowners pay property taxes and should be allowed to decorate their home and yard however they please.”

Well, no.

And for good reason. Suppose it was something not so cute. Suppose it was a display of something so fundamentally offensive that the same people signing the petition to save the Flintstone display would be rushing just as fast to sign a petition demanding it be taken down.

Suppose it was pornographic. Or offended your religion. Suppose it was a huge display extolling the virtues of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, the former more likely in Hillsborough than the latter. Suppose it was a burning cross. Or a swastika.

Yes, those last two are extreme examples, and I’m certainly not suggesting the dinosaurs are anywhere near the equivalent of such patently offensive symbols. But those examples are exactly why a city has and should have the authority to regulate what people do with their property.

Had the property owner, Florence Fang, actually sought a permit from the city, there’s a good chance she would have been allowed to decorate her yard like a modern Stone Age family. Instead, she just did it. Over months, the city has provided her the opportunity to seek a permit – sought her out and asked her to obtain a permit – and she has refused. For flaunting the law, Fang has been sued by the city, which is one of its options for enforcing the law.

And now, Fang, through her attorney, Angela Alioto, is countersuing, alleging that Fang is being singled out because she’s Asian. Irony abounds, of course. Alioto is in hot water herself for using the n-word several times at a recent San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee meeting in an apparent attempt to demonstrate how pervasive racism is in San Francisco government.

Then, there’s this additional comment from Alioto that reads like it was translated from another language. “My clients say the word. ‘The n-word’ doesn’t mean anything. You do not sugarcoat or whitewash that word when you’re in litigation mode.”

MAYOR AND OTHER MATTERS: A recent story of mine in Climate Magazine about San Mateo County’s relative stature in Bay Area politics included reference to a proposal that the Board of Supervisors be expanded from five to seven seats – six district seats and one countywide supervisor who would be the equivalent of a county Mayor or President or Grand Pooh-bah. Even before anyone has proposed the necessary legislation to make such a change, there is speculation about who might be eager to run for such a job, and the two names that popped up immediately are Supervisors Don Horsley and David Canepa. … As for Canepa, he is listed as endorsing Democrat Rishi Kumar in his race for Congress. There are many reasons why this is remarkable. First of all, Kumar, serving his second term on the Saratoga City Council, is running against Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who will be seeking her fifteenth term in 2020, and who routinely wins re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote. So, for reasons unclear, Canepa is endorsing an unknown challenger to a popular and well-entrenched incumbent. Second, Canepa’s supervisorial district includes none of Eshoo’s congressional district, so there’s no local issue that would seem to be prompting the endorsement. Third, there seems to be no other issue that would prompt Canepa to support Eshoo’s opponent. Indeed, when Political Climate contacted Canepa’s office to ask why he had endorsed Kumar over Eshoo, we were told he had no comment. As endorsements go, that is less than ringing.

TRACKING POLL: As Climate Online recently reported, a three-county survey shows a sales tax increase to fund Caltrain operations and programs has a tough road ahead. To quote from the report by EMC Research to the Caltrain board: “Support for a revenue measure is just below two-thirds today, with Caltrain riders more supportive than other voters. … Support is solidified at just about the two-thirds level with additional information, although there is some evidence that the measure would be vulnerable to opposition.”

The matter starts off at 63 percent approval, below the two-thirds needed for passage. In the world of tax measures, a proposal usually has to start at about 70 percent to be assured passage – support tends to diminish over the course of a campaign. Even when likely voters are given all the reasons to support a measure – traffic stinks, Caltrain service takes cars off the road and reduces pollution – the measure still barely clears the two-thirds threshold. And given a list of reasons to oppose it – taxes already are high, including a recent gas and sales tax increases for transportation – voter support drops to 55 percent.

It is likely the Caltrain board will go ahead – having worked at Caltrain for more than 13 years, I can guarantee they need a steady and sustainable source of money to keep operating the revenue. The farebox and contributions from the three partner agencies – SamTrans, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency and San Francisco – aren’t enough to cover Caltrain’s annual operating budget.

Still, the latest polling is not the only problem facing a Caltrain ballot measure. Last time we checked, Carl Guardino, president & CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, was pressing ahead with his own Caltrain measure – he actually wanted to do one in 2018 and had to be talked into waiting until 2020. You can expect some behind-the-scenes interplay for control over the measure. VTA faced a similar challenge over a ballot measure in 2016.

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: Getty Images

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Big cities wrong about San Mateo County’s commitment to housing creation

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

It might be easier to get behind the regional effort to force more housing on the San Mateo County cities if it didn’t feel like bullying from a bunch of arrogant officials who just happen to represent big cities.

And yes, they are arrogant, fully invested in their own self-righteous view of who has been doing the most to resolve the widely acknowledged housing crisis.

None more so than Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who, I’ve been told, recently lectured the county Council of Cities on their obligations to the region, as he appears to see them.

Or San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who recently told KQED radio: “The reality of the political calculus is, we know an awful lot of suburban voters already have got theirs. Right? They own their homes. Those homes are appreciating rapidly in value. … We’ve got 99 cities and towns in this Bay Area. And right now the three large cities — Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose — are leaning in hard on trying to get more housing built. We’re not going to make progress with just three cities. We need everyone pushing together.”

Of course, nobody likes to get pushed around.

The temptation to launch into a rant about this is almost overwhelming. Something along these lines: If he’s so hot to build more housing, Liccardo can rip up the city’s Rose Garden district and put in as many apartment buildings as he wants. Or bulldoze all those homes in the eastern hills, around which the city put development restrictions years ago. No one’s stopping Ting from whipping right through the Sunset, taking out all those single-family homes and building high-rise, below-market apartments. They want to be big cities, let them go right ahead.

Or how about this: In 2018, Liccardo backed a San Jose ballot measure that would extend the city’s “greenbelt” and, in the words of his own opinion piece, “protect our hillsides and open spaces from sprawl and choking traffic by strengthening the city’s ability to deny such projects in our environmentally sensitive, outlying areas.” Gosh, quoting Mayor Liccardo, is kind of fun.

Anyway, the problem is that if you look past the arrogance – it’s a struggle — there are two fundamental realities that cannot be ignored. The first is that the cities of San Mateo County are building more housing than Ting or Liccardo understand, not that they bothered to find out.

The second, and more important reality, is that they’re right: San Mateo County cities need to build more housing than they already are.

First, the facts, which don’t fit the narrative of the big cities. An analysis by the staff at the City/County Association of Governments (C/CAG) of San Mateo County, shows more than 6,000 housing units were built in the county from 2014 through 2018. Another nearly 4,000 housing units currently are under construction. Another 3,400 housing units have been granted permits to begin construction. And another 8,900 units are in the planning pipelines of 18 of the cities.

Add it all up and 22,375 units have been built or are somewhere in the construction pipeline. Assuming all of it is built, that will mean a total number of housing units of 300,294 in San Mateo County, an 8 percent increase since 2004. As of the latest census figures, San Mateo County’s population was 771,410. Assuming a standard of 2.8 persons per new household, that’s an additional 62,000 residents, also an 8 percent increase.

Is that smaller or slower than San Francisco, which doesn’t mind cramming people on top of each other, or San Jose, which has been the model of suburban sprawl since the 1950s? Perhaps. But for a county that didn’t grow at all for decades, this is the most dramatic surge in housing and population in San Mateo since the post-World War II boom.

So, 8 percent is pretty good. But there’s a need and an opportunity for the cities to do better.

That’s not just my opinion. You may have noticed some of the local cities have opposed Senate Bill 50, the legislation by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, that is the vehicle for forcing local cities to build with greater height and density at or near transit systems and transportation hubs. What you may not have noticed is that opposition to SB 50 is not gaining widespread support among the county’s most prominent leaders, who are largely quiet about this bill.

That’s because they know the right thing to do is to build at Caltrain stations, at SamTrans hubs, at BART stations and all along El Camino Real. In a column two decades ago, I advocated that the solution to our looming housing crisis was to build higher and with more density on El Camino. I was worried it would be a lost opportunity, killed by local resistance to any kind of meaningful height or density.

A few years later, I was working at SamTrans and colleague Brian Fitzpatrick and I tried to get the San Carlos City Council to approve a 5-story apartment complex at the San Carlos Caltrain station. In the face of vocal and hostile opposition from eastside residents, who represented a minuscule portion of the city’s residents, the council approved a 3-story project. It was a lost opportunity and it is the perfect poster child for anyone concerned the San Mateo County cities will never make the hard decisions that will ease the housing crisis.

Former Assemblyman Rich Gordon, unconstrained by elective office, was quite direct about this issue in a recent interview for a longer story I wrote for the May edition of Climate Magazine:

“San Mateo County is built out, which means we have to build up,” he said. “We’re never going to build high rises in the hills. We’re not going to further develop the coast, which doesn’t have the transportation or water capacity. We will have open space. We’ll have a protected Bayfront.”

What that means is that the cities have to build where they can and in ways they have resisted.

“I do think that communities in San Mateo County need to have greater density. I think what Redwood City has done, which scares a hell of a lot of people, is what San Mateo County will look like if we do the right thing,” Gordon said.

And that is to build along transit and transportation corridors, the only way to resolve the challenges presented by the county’s geography. And the even steeper challenge of changing how things are 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.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Could Cañada College become CSU Silicon Valley?

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Dozens of employers to attend Cañada College internship fair

Two Peninsula legislators are proposing a study to establish a California State University, Silicon Valley, at Cañada College in Redwood City. If ultimately approved, it would be the first community college in the state to become a four-year state college.

State Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, have written to the Senate Budget committee and subcommittee chairs asking for $1 million “for an independent feasibility study and plan for the creation and successful implementation of a permanent CSU, Silicon Valley” at Cañada.

The letter notes that the county has no public four-year university, leaving students to transfer to San Francisco State University, San Jose State University or CSU East Bay.

“Though geographically close in proximity, the realities of severe transportation congestion and increased housing scarcity and insecurity … particularly on the Peninsula … make accessing these universities difficult for many students and for many others simply impossible,” the letter states.

Community College Board President Maurice Goodman described traffic, housing challenges and the cost of living as “barriers” that have prevented students from transferring and attending the nearest four-year state universities.

“I’ve seen students get accepted to San Jose State or CSU East Bay who couldn’t go,” Goodman said. “The cost of housing and transportation is almost like going to college around the state or out of state.”

Said Hill: “The congestion and the cost of commuting have made San Francisco State and San Jose State unviable options.”

Fifteen of California’s community colleges offer officially sanctioned four-year degree programs, including Skyline College, where a student can obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in Respiratory Care in cooperation with San Francisco State. Cañada offers four-year Bachelor’s degrees in Human Services, Business Administration and Arts in Psychology. But those degrees are awarded by Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. Cañada provides the facilities. Other degrees were offered at Cañada stating in 2002, but funding cuts forced the program to close in 2008.

Hill called the Cañada campus “a perfect location and perfect campus,” a sentiment echoed by Goodman, who said the campus can accommodate the growth in student population that would come with a four-year college.

“The state of our facilities is excellent, it’s a beautiful campus with land to build on in the heart of Silicon Valley,” Goodman.

The legislators and Goodman noted that a CSU at Canada would save the state the cost of building a new CSU campus, estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hill said he thought a CSU campus at Cañada could mean an estimated 5,000 students at the Redwood City campus, which currently has an enrollment of about 7,000, according to the most recent data.

A data sheet included with the Hill-Mullin letter “confirms that thousands of students are graduating from community colleges throughout the Peninsula with nowhere to go.”

From 2012-2018, 13,490 students earned degrees or professional certificates from the districts three colleges, but 7,112, or 52.7 percent, did not go on to enroll at a four-year institutions, according to the data. Those students who did not continue on to college and a four-year degree “were more likely to be members of marginalized and underserved communities of color, with 1 in 3 also being first-generation students,” the data sheet reports.

“There is an unmet need for public, four-year university education in San Mateo County,” the letter concludes.

Hill said if CSU, Silicon Valley, ultimately is approved, it would take three to five years for the new university to be up and running.

He said he is optimistic that the proposal will be welcomed by the Senate and Gov. Gavin Newsom. “This is the kind of innovative, out of the box thinking that is typical of this governor,” Hill said.

To see the letter sent by Hill and Mullin and associated data sheets, see below.

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: Cañada College

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Unwise to sell valuable Crestmoor High site

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It is not difficult to understand why the San Mateo Union High School District trustees are exploring the possible sale of the Crestmoor High School site atop a windy hill in San Bruno.

The potential cash payout from the sale of 40 acres of land (pictured in part above) available for residential development is an understandable temptation in an overheated real estate market that is likely to get even hotter with the wave of IPOs expected this year.

But those who have watched other school districts dispose of surplus property will tell you the same thing I would: Don’t sell the property. Find some way to make it work, build teacher housing, but hold onto the land. As Will Rogers once said, “All my money’s in land ’cause they ain’t makin’ any more of it.”

This is not just the urgent plea from a Crestmoor graduate (Class of 1969 – Go Falcons), but a practical point of advocacy.

I can assure you that the folks who sold the San Carlos High School site in the 1970s wish they hadn’t. And some former Palo Alto officials will admit that selling off the Cubberley High site was one of the worst decisions they made.

At the time those decisions were made, no one had any idea what was going to happen to the real estate market on the Peninsula.

The SMUHSD trustees have the benefit of experience. It seems like a pretty straightforward reality. Once the land is gone, it’s gone. If they hold onto it, it is an asset that will only grow in value and potential revenue.

WHERE THE LIVING IS EASY: Apparently, San Carlos Councilman Ron Collins was surprised to read here that he wasn’t going to run for a third term. He told Political Climate that he has been deciding whether to retire from his insurance business or from the council and he still hasn’t decided. His musings — “At first, I was thinking of not running,” he said — seem to have sent the rumor mill into full spin. But, he said, “I enjoy the council stuff more than I enjoy my insurance business,” which certainly sounds like someone who is going to run. Maybe we ought to just wait until he decides.

THE DISTRICT SHUFFLE: As the Redwood City Council nears the finish line of what has turned into a marathon effort to draw new racially reflective districts, one consistent question keeps coming up: Why was this so difficult?

Drawing district lines is so old that the term for manipulating them – Gerrymandering –  is more than 200 years old.

The source of the difficulty is evident — most of the council, not all, turned the process into a political one in which the principle objectives seemed to include protecting incumbents and providing help to friends and allies who might want to run under the new system.

Some council members described the districting process as having a steep learning curve, but that still doesn’t explain why the council opened up the map-drawing process so substantially to the public, essentially inviting candidates and their supporters to lobby for their own political purposes. In essence, they are giving equal weight to maps drawn by residents as those drawn by the districting expert hired by the city.  Indeed, the expert and city staff have been directed to”fix” any issues that may have rendered resident maps void.

Districting can be a non-political process. Allow the public to have input on the criteria, but name an independent citizens’ commission to draw the final lines and have the council act only to approve the new districts. It’s an object lesson for the other cities that will have to do this in the near future.

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.

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