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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.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: ‘Mr. Sunshine’

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Plenty of studies show that boys don’t really become men until we are well into our late 20s. Most men I know, and most parents of boys, can pretty much confirm that.

This particular contemplation is on my mind on this date because 26 years ago Alexander Mark Simon came into the world and into my arms. I remember thinking I would never want to let go. Turns out I was right.

He’s large and furry. He has a mop of largely unkempt hair and a big, bushy beard and I wish both were more than a little tidier. Although, I notice a lot of men his age with mops of unkempt hair and big, bushy beards and it doesn’t seem to bother me, so I really ought to recognize it is what some guys do at his age and I should just get over it.

As we learned a generation ago, when we all were growing our hair long, none of that really matters much.

What really stands out about him is joy. When he was little, we called him “Mr. Sunshine” because he was always so happy. Much as he did as a child, he will burst into a room, full of noise and motion and the newest thing that excites him or makes him laugh or has got him miffed in a way that is fun and funny to watch. He can fly high and sink low, but he’s learning how to manage both and that’s a big part of growing up.

It has taken him a while to shake off the curses that constitute the teen years. His mom died four years ago and that’s never easy for anyone. He went through some rough times. Don’t we all? It’s during those times that you work as hard as you can to help him through them, only to realize he has to do the work himself. Along the way, he is learning how to do his own hard work – not just how to start, but how to stay — and that should serve him well the rest of his life.

But what has reemerged is the joy. The way he can fill up a room with noise and laughter and enthusiasm and sheer energy.

He has a wife and a 3-year-old son. It was my honor to preside at their wedding on Halloween. He was dressed as Frankenstein and his wife, Karen, as the Bride of Frankenstein. It is a privilege to watch as they work through all that is involved in being a new family. And it is inspiring to see them work through the struggles facing young families in a place where it is far from easy for young families. It’s more than a little amusing to see my son trying to be patient with his son, who recently discovered how to be uncooperative in that way so unique to 3-year-olds.

And it is more touching than I can say to see him with his own son, holding onto him like he never wants to let go.

At my age, there is more behind me than there is ahead, but it feels fine – like this is the way it’s supposed to be. There is so much ahead of him. Boys don’t become men until well into their 20s.

Anyway, this is what I’m thinking on this particular day. It was a Sunday, right around Easter. And in a hospital room, he was putting up a fuss and someone put him in my arms and I held him and rocked back and forth, trying to soothe him. It worked that day. Over the years, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But I never stopped trying.

This column isn’t very political and if you’re looking for the usual political fare, I’ll write another column. But sometimes, some days, it’s good to think about other things and that’s what I felt like doing on this day, because 26 years ago, Alexander Mark Simon came into my life.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Controversial districting process will change status quo

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Controversial districting process will change status quo

As Redwood City hits the reset button on its turbulent districting process, one thing appears certain: The city is going to end up with two districts in which Latinos will be the majority of the voting age population and a third district heavily dominated by an Asian-American voting population.

This will be distressing, no doubt, to those who want to preserve the status quo, which was well represented by the district map adopted by the council nearly a month ago by a 4-3 vote, a map now abandoned in the face of legal challenges that the council was warned were all too likely to be successful.

We can dwell on the fact that the council appeared to adopt a set of maps that was illegal. Or that in a city that is more than 52 percent nonwhite and nearly 40 percent Latino, the council managed to adopt a map that created only one minority-majority district. Or that the council, cautioned by a consultant not to negate the will of the voters who elected them, appeared much too focused on making sure that the sitting council members had a district all to themselves. Or that the consultant who gave them all this advice apparently is working on other projects now.

Not only can we dwell on these things, it appears we did.

For those of you just joining us, the reason for dividing up Redwood City into council districts is that the city is moving from an at-large system, in which all seven council members run for office citywide, to a system of seven districts, where voters elect only the council member who lives within their district. The city was compelled toward this transition under the threat of a lawsuit asserting the at-large system was systematically diluting the electoral impact of minority residents and denying the opportunity to elect more minorities to the council. The seven-member council has only one Latina.

There are those who are unhappy that the city’s political fortunes are being determined along racial lines. I can assure you there are plenty of ethnic minorities who know just how that feels.

Meanwhile, there is an expected amount of maneuvering already underway and speculation about who might run for which districts.

One of six draft maps set to be reviewed during a public hearing at Redwood City Council on April 8, 2019.

We won’t know how that plays out until after next Monday’s council meeting, where they will review new maps (which are posted online here) that have been produced by the new lead consultant and by members of the public, and, presumably, start the process of adopting one. Until then, speculation can wait.

What is likely, however, is that incumbent Councilwoman Janet Borgens, up for re-election next year, is going to end up in a Latino-majority district.

It also seems clear the Latino community has some significant work to do identifying viable candidates in the new districts in which they will be the majority.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE: If Redwood City was not the first penguin off the ice floe – that was Menlo Park – the process should be an object lesson to the other cities that are likely to face similar legal challenges to their at-large election systems, most notably San Mateo, Daly City, Foster City, Millbrae and South San Francisco.

Menlo Park appointed a citizens’ commission, which functioned largely independent of city politics. There’s an important distinction to be made, by the way, between a citizens’ committee, which is appointed by a city council, and a commission, which has an inherently more independent appointment process.

Of course, the net result of the process in Menlo Park is that two well-entrenched incumbents were defeated in the first all-district election, which may not be all that attractive to an incumbent council. Interestingly, the two winners were not the top spenders.

LABORING: This weekend’s 50th San Mateo County Progress Seminar in Monterey – the annual gathering of business, government and political leaders to work on the tough issues of the day — was almost derailed by a labor dispute at the Hyatt hotel that has hosted the event for as long as anyone can remember. The hotel ran afoul of a local union, which put up pickets and put the hotel on the no-fly list.

That would be a real problem for the elected officials who were planning to attend the event and curry support from labor for their campaigns, which is almost everyone, and who aren’t going to cross a sanctioned picket line.

But credit goes to Amy Buckmaster, president and CEO of the Redwood City/San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the Progress Seminar, and Julie Lind Rupp, executive officer of the county’s Central Labor Council, who worked out a temporary solution that allows the seminar to go forward at the original site. In essence, they got a one-time waiver for the weekend.

They reached the solution quietly, without a huge fuss and by working together in a collaborative manner rarely seen in labor-business relations. That’s an outcome that is uniquely San Mateo County.

THE POLITICAL CLIMATE: That is the name of the column, after all, and there are plenty of political tidbits to share.

Belmont Councilman Charles Stone is about to declare for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors seat held by Carole Groom, who will be termed out in – 2022. Yes, she just got reelected last year. Nonetheless, Stone apparently feels compelled to start now because there are likely to be more than a few candidates for the seat. Among those who is openly saying he will run is San Mateo Councilman Rick Bonilla.

In the Groom district, San Mateo is the predominant city and Belmont is not even close. That’s reason enough, it appears, for Stone to start campaigning early and often in the hopes of gathering endorsements and money sufficient to discourage Bonilla and, presumably, anyone else. Among those also rumored as possible candidates are Maureen Freschet and Diane Papan, two of Bonilla’s colleagues on the San Mateo Council.

In San Carlos, where a Black Mountain development proposal – notably absent affordable housing – is likely to be one of the hot-button issues, incumbent San Carlos City Councilman Ron Collins is opting not to run for another term, which means the council is losing its most effective veteran. Incumbent Mark Olbert is said to be seeking a third term. The departure of Collins means the council will have four members in their first term.

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: An earlier version incorrectly stated San Carlos Council incumbent Mark Olbert is seeking his second term, when in fact he is seeking his third term. The story has been corrected.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Council changes course on district map amid opposition

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Redwood City is reopening public input and proposals for new council districts, following extensive complaints and public protests about a plan that had been adopted preliminarily by the City Council.

The council is set April 8 to hold “an additional public hearing to receive and review additional maps proposed by the demographer or the community,” according to a statement by City Attorney Veronica Ramirez.

More than 50 people, the majority of them from the Latino community, rallied outside City Hall Monday in protest of the district map that had been approved by the council on March 11 by a 4-3 vote. The council was scheduled to take a second and final vote on the map last night, but removed the matter from the agenda late last week amid mounting objection.

The reason for dividing up Redwood City into council districts is that the city is moving from an at-large system, in which all seven council members run for office citywide, to a system of seven districts, where voters elect only the council member who lives within their district. The city was compelled toward this transition under the threat of a lawsuit that asserts that the at-large system was systematically diluting the electoral impact of minority residents and denying the opportunity to elect more minorities to the council. The seven-member council has only one Latina.

Opponents of a proposed council district map rallied at Redwood City Hall during the City Council meeting Monday, March 25, 2019. (Photo: Jim Kirkland)

Opponents of the district map approved by council on March 11 say it doesn’t achieve fairness for minorities, creating only one Latino-majority district. The map, critics say, also fails to create another district in which minorities are the majority of the voting age population, despite a citywide ratio that is 52 percent non-white. The map also faces criticism for not putting the Redwood Shores neighborhood in a single district with Bair Island.

At Monday’s rally, protesters said they felt ignored after making several efforts to influence the map-making decision.

“The outreach was very little and very quick,” said Redwood City Realtor Arnoldo Arreola.

Protestors were carrying signs that read, “We Are Redwood City, Too,” and “SOY – Shame On You.”

“We want respect and we want a seat at the table,” said Yeshua Villa, a freshman at Woodside High School.

“We want an elective body that’s better reflective of our city,” said Connie Guerrero, a leader of Latino Focus and one of the organizers of the rally.

During closed session Monday, council decided to reopen public input on the map-making process. And then during open session, Ramirez made a statement about that decision, and Mayor Ian Bain urged the community “to take a close look at proposed maps and submit new ones.”

Rally organizers were pleased with the decision.

“I’m so glad they heard our voices,” said Guerrero.

She said she expected the renewed process to result in at least two districts in which Latinos are the majority of the voting age population.

Opponents of a proposed council district map rallied at Redwood City Hall during the City Council meeting Monday, March 25, 2019. (Photo: Jim Kirkland)

In the city attorney’s statement, which was issued following a unanimous vote by the council to waive the restrictions on closed-session disclosure, Ramirez said that the demographers who had been hired to shepherd the city through the districting process, “in a reversal of their previous statements … informed city staff for the first time it was possible to address the public concerns while still adhering to race-neutral districting criteria as well as criteria that the community and the council had identified as being important.

“Before the City Council continues the process of approving a final map, the city’s demographer has been instructed to determine whether there are alternative maps that both comply with all federal and state laws and additional concerns members of the community have raised,” Ramirez said.

At the April 8 public meeting, “the city may decide on a final map,” Ramirez said.

An earlier version of this column incorrectly described the makeup of the City Council. 

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Council postpones vote on district map following opposition

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Controversial districting process will change status quo

In the face of growing dissatisfaction and threats of legal action, Redwood City has put off a vote scheduled for Monday to give final approval to an ordinance establishing a new set of seven council districts that creates only one Latino-majority district, and no others in which ethnic minorities constitute a majority of voting age residents.

The creation of districts was prompted by the threat of a lawsuit asserting that the city’s at-large elections were systematically disenfranchising Latino voters and denying them fuller and more adequate representation on the Council.

But the district map approved in a 4-3 council vote on March 11 has caused outrage in the Latino community, with the Redwood City-based group Latino Focus planning a protest rally 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, just prior to the regularly scheduled Council meeting.

Mayor Ian Bain told Political Climate via email this evening: “After meeting with City staff today, we are not going to put the second reading of the ordinance on Monday’s agenda. Instead, we will conduct additional legal review and bring this back at a future meeting.”

Connie Guerrero, one of the leaders of Latino Focus, said the rally will go forward, even though the vote has been postponed.

“We are cautiously optimistic, but we continue to need to raise our voices,” she said. “The demographics of Redwood City are such that we need to be heard and a lot of people feel that way. We will have to wait and see.”

In the March 11 vote, Bain, Janet Borgens, Diane Howard and Diana Reddy voted in support of the district map, and Alicia Aguirre, Giselle Hale and Shelly Masur voted against.

But after months of discussion and debate over map details, the council could not reach a consensus that could avoid a split vote and now, in the face of rising criticism, it appears the final decision remains in doubt. It seems almost a preordained outcome for a process that seemed to get lost in a maze of conflicting and difficult decisions.

Because the council has until March 29 to approve a districting plan or face a costly and troublesome civil rights challenge, postponing the issue does not appear to be an option available to the council.

That leaves only a couple of equally distasteful choices: Launch a legal defense of the decision the council already made, and risk further alienating the Latino community, among others, or reconsider one of the districting maps it passed over.

Reconsideration would be a win for the community leaders from Latino Focus who are mobilizing in opposition to the plan approved by the Council and were urging the Monday protest rally under the title “SOY,” which is Spanish for “I am” and was doubling as an acronym, “Shame On You.”

A Latino Focus news release said the council “ignored our repeated pleas to create two majority-Latino districts” and “eliminated two coalition districts” that would have had a majority of non-white residents.

The news release expressed support for a map, titled 21d, which would create one majority-Latino district and two other districts where the majority would be composed of Latinos, Asian-Americans and African-Americans.

Latino Focus spokesman Alberto Garcia said the city should have at least two minority-majority districts. “There are so many issues facing the city – displacement, income inequality, educational issues – and as an organization we really want to hold the council responsible to create an attitude of inclusivity,” he said.

Garcia said the council’s approach to the challenge of districting “was very reactive and defensive, as opposed to being more open and receptive to becoming more inclusive.”

Indeed, in public sessions and an interview with Political Climate, Mayor Bain expressed unhappiness that the city has been put into the position of drawing districts based on racial demographics. He said Redwood City residents have a history of not dividing along racial lines and of voting for the individual and not based on race.

The council also seemed, at times, overwhelmed by the number of districting map proposals it was facing – more than two dozen – and the range of considerations that had to be reviewed.

The final outcome not only energized the Latino community, but prompted complaints that the council failed to create a single district out of the Redwood Shores neighborhood, which lies north and east of the city, is physically disconnected from the rest of the city, is actually closer to Belmont and has a high percentage of Asian-American residents.

In creating a Redwood Shores district, the council also included the new development at Bair Island, guaranteeing that Councilwoman Masur would be ensconced in that district, which, it should be noted, she opposed.

Critics called it gerrymandering and noted that the council made sure that none of the current incumbents would be in the same districts and be forced to face off against one another in a future election. Councilwoman Howard expressed particular concern that putting two council members in the same district would be an affront to the voters who put those councilmembers in office, essentially disenfranchising them.

Of course, disenfranchisement is exactly what the Latino community says has been happening to them for decades.

In hindsight, it appears the council should have appointed an independent citizens commission that would have drawn a new set of districts and presented it to the council as a finalized product. Concerned it didn’t have enough time, the council tried to do the job itself.

Council members also were hoping to ride out any criticism by noting that the city will be redistricted following the 2020 census. Some admitted they saw this first set of maps as a placeholder and that some of the tougher issues can be tackled in the next round, probably by a citizens commission.

It appears that didn’t work and council is not done with some hard decisions.

“It’s really important that this be done the right way,” said Guerrero. “We want to make sure they do the citizens advisory committee. We already see it didn’t work this way. We kind of left it to the powers that be and it didn’t work out that well.”

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: Developer plans for Salt Ponds appear DOA

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that development of the Cargill Salt Ponds in Redwood City is not subject to federal environmental regulations was lacking only one thing – the sound of a starter’s pistol. Immediately, we were off to the races.

Developer DMB Associates, in a demonstration of unbridled optimism that seems distinctive to developers, announced it will engage in a lengthy process of “public engagement” to produce a project that eventually could win support and, ultimately, approval by the City Council.

Yes. Well. Good luck on that.

Just as immediately, postings began flying around in support of prior proposals by DMB dating back to 2009. That proposal called for 1,400 housing units and for half the available land (and wetlands or marshlands or sloughs or salt ponds) to be open space.

And that was before San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine convinced everyone that sea-level rise is a real concern. As far as I can tell, the last DMB plan didn’t include dikes. But it could work, if you define waterfront property as sea water up to the third floor of your eight-story condo. Or maybe something on stilts – like homes in the Louisiana bayou.

Anyway, just as immediately, postings also started flying around expressing opposition to development of the Cargill site as anything other than open space (or more wetlands or sloughs, but definitely not salt ponds). This included those who found the ruling one more thing to dislike about the Trump administration, amid the hope that DMB may suffer by association.

The council that discussed this proposal in 2009 was substantially different than the one that will consider it now, and it’s an interesting quandary for the current council, which is under a clear mandate to build more housing, but not big, new developments and not ones that might be underwater in 10 years.

DMB said it would be looking for “sustainable solutions” to all the challenges facing the area, and this is their own list: “crippling congestion, dangerous flooding, sea-level rise, housing shortages, and a deficit of necessary open space fort parks and marshlands restorations.” I don’t know about you, but I’m disappointed the list doesn’t include a power-hitting left fielder for the Giants.

Anything can happen, I suppose, and, as I said, you have to admire sustained, if not sustainable, optimism. But from this rowboat, DMB’s plans look DOA.

THE OLD COLLEGE TRY: By golly, in my day, celebrities and wealthy people didn’t have to bribe colleges to accept their under-performing kids. The colleges just let them in. Being rich and famous ain’t what it used to be.

In a more serious note, my parents took great pride, as Depression-era, native Californians and taxpayers, that the state college system was created on their watch. When they were growing up, college was for rich kids, people with connections and some athletes. That anyone could go to college and at a reasonable price – well, it was a big deal to them.

Amid this admissions scandal, which seems focused more on prestigious private schools, it would be nice if the controversy was a catalyst for more attention and more resources devoted to one of the great equalizing institutions in our state. A generation ago, I taught some journalism classes at my alma mater, San Jose State University. At the start of every class, I would ask for a show of hands: How many of you are the first member of your family to go to college? Routinely, 80 percent would raise their hands.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING: State Senate candidate Josh Becker, whose campaign says he should be described as a public interest entrepreneur, whatever that is, posted something in the midst of the admissions scandal that seemed an odd commentary on a system fraught with over-emphasis on test scores and getting into the “right” school. Herewith his posting: “Access to top schools is not an equal playing field – that’s why I support CollegeSpring – started by two entrepreneurial Stanford students, its mission is to provide high-quality test prep to ALL students not just those that can afford $700 classes. Please consider supporting CollegeSpring.”

INNOVATING INNOVATORS: Last week was what has become one of the more popular public events – the annual Innovators lunch put on by the San Mateo County Economic Development Association. It’s a showcase for a handful of young, up-and-coming companies that have been spawned in San Mateo County.

This year’s lineup was just as astonishing as in years past. The companies included Brava, which has developed a “Pure Light Oven” that makes the microwave look like a Model T; Etagen, developers of a new “linear generator” that is more efficient and low cost; Juntos, which is pioneering the way we connect with our financial institutions; and Zuora, which is expanding the “subscription economy” and which could mean the end to our need to own stuff. The most exciting was Mango Materials, which is converting methane gas into biopolymer products – in essence, biodegradable plastic. Not only could this be a significant answer to the problem of plastic proliferation, but the company was founded and is led by three women.

Samceda CEO Rosanne Foust said that in the 12 years since the Innovators event has begun, 49 companies have been recognized – and 42 are still headquartered in San Mateo County.

It’s a continuing theme of mine, but I don’t think it can be said enough: Tech is here to stay and it is transforming the local economy, along with everything else.

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: Who will rise to be next Hill?

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Who will rise to be next Hill?

It is tempting to think it is much too early for all the activity around the race to replace State Senator Jerry Hill.

But the 2020 primary election is less than a year away and the 13th Senate District is huge – more than 900,000 residents, more than 500,000 registered voters and a geography that runs from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale.

Which is why four of the candidates – Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur, venture capitalist/philanthropist Josh Becker, Burlingame City Councilman Michael Brownrigg and former Mountain View Assemblywoman Sally Lieber – are already working hard raising money, amassing endorsements and making as many public appearances as possible.

Perhaps it’s the size of the district or a commentary on the political mood, but among political insiders, there is the sense that the field of candidates is still unsettled. The rumor continues to circulate that San Mateo Mayor Diane Papan may get into the race. And now comes word that Millbrae Councilwoman Anne Oliva is in the race.

Those who have been at it awhile filed campaign finance reports at the end of the year and they showed a massive amount of money raised by Becker, who parlayed his extensive ties to the tech industry to report a total raised of $352,329. The number is slightly misleading. Eight of his donors doubled-up, giving him the maximum donation for both the primary and the general election, so the number of funds raised for the March election is closer to $317,000.

But it’s still a lot of money — $100,000 more than was raised by Brownrigg, who collected $195,811; six times more than was raised by Masur, who collected $52,259; and, shall we say substantially more than Lieber, who reported contributions of $2,320 at the end of 2018.

Becker received 35 contributions of $4,4,00, the maximum an individual can donate to a legislative candidate, and another 46 donations of $1,000. The donors are almost exclusively from the tech and venture capital industries. The two highest-profile donors are Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, and Steve Westly, venture capitalist and former state Controller and unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2006. Each of them gave the maximum of $4,400; Hoffman gave another $4,400 for the general and Westly gave another $1,000 toward the general.

BROWNRIGG’S BUCKS: The $195,000 raised by Brownrigg is an impressive amount given that he got into the race much later than Becker or Masur, but it’s of note that the total included a single contribution of $50,000 made by Brownrigg himself, or more than 25 percent of his funds. Brownrigg has been a venture capitalist for a dozen years, most recently as founding partner of TOTAL Impact Capital, an international firm that invests in companies that are financially and socially impactful. Add in another $13,200 from family, and it looks like it’s nice to be a Brownrigg. Like Becker, Brownrigg also collected donations for the general election, which means the money he has available for the primary is more like $142,000.

MASUR’S MONEY: Masur’s $52,259 reflects her extensive local political roots as a first-term councilmember, former school board member for 10 years and CEO of a statewide education foundation, the latter raising the possibility that she could have significant labor connections that will result in more fundraising totals. She already has received $4,700 from the Sprinklers, Fitters and Apprentices and $9,300 from the electrical workers union. Her local donors include newly minted Redwood City Councilwoman Giselle Hale (of whom Masur was an early endorser), Belmont Councilman Charles Stone, San Carlos Councilman Ron Collins and San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos. Asked about raising an amount of money that was much less than Becker’s, Masur touted her list of endorsements, which includes 59 current or former city council and school board members from the district.

AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE: Millbrae’s Oliva confirmed with Political Climate this week that she is in the race. She posted that she is running on her Facebook page on Sunday. There are not many details available yet, although her announcement seemed to generate the requisite amount of enthusiasm on Facebook. Oliva was re-elected for a second term on the council last year. She owns her own real estate firm and has been active in the California and National Associations of Realtors. … In a district as large as the 13th, Millbrae would seem to be an iffy foundation for a Senate run, but given how development issues and the jobs/housing imbalance have dominated local politics in recent elections, real estate interests could be poised to play a major role in this campaign.

SPLITTING THE VOTE: The 13th District’s voter registration is 66.5 percent San Mateo County and 33.5 percent Santa Clara County. With Oliva, there are four candidates from San Mateo County and only one, Lieber, from Santa Clara County. All five are Democrats. There is the real possibility the four from San Mateo County could split their county’s vote and tilt the outcome toward Lieber. It also means all five could divide the Democratic vote and clear the path for a Republican to make it into the general election, even though the Republican registration in the district is a skimpy 15.7 percent.

A NO-PARTY PARTY: One of the campaigns has tried to make an issue of Brownrigg’s party registration. Brownrigg is a Democrat, but, until fairly recently, he was registered Decline to State, what now is called No Party Preference (NPP) in California. He worked overseas as a U.S. diplomat for more than a decade and “in the civil service, one is highly discouraged from being partisan,” Brownrigg said, and he made the decision to register with no political party. “I’ve always been a Democrat in the polling booth,” he said.

In that sense, Brownrigg is probably like a great many voters in the district, where registration is 49 percent Democrat and NPP is 31.5 percent, twice the number of registered Republicans. “Nobody has the market cornered on good ideas and the best policies are the policies that bring people together,” Brownrigg said.

The same campaign raised questions about a single campaign donation by Brownrigg to Central Valley Republican Congressman Jeff Denham, who was ousted from office in last year’s Democratic surge. Brownrigg’s donation was in 2012 and he said he made it because Denham was one of the strongest opponents to High Speed Rail. At that time, the Burlingame City Council was hungry for allies in their own effort to stop the HSR project. “I respected his opinion on High Speed Rail. … I thought he was calling it like he saw it,” Brownrigg said.

Brownrigg also has donated to Democrats Claire McCaskill, Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton and he said those were much larger donations.

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.

Image: Map of Senate District 13 courtesy of Sen. Jerry Hill’s website

Political Climate with Mark Simon: False Facebook ID fiasco inspires Trumpian reaction in Redwood City

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As some of you noticed, I wrote a column last week about 2018 Redwood City Council candidate Christina Umhofer and her use of a false Facebook identity to harshly criticize Councilwoman Giselle Hale. In that seven-candidate race, Hale finished first and Umhofer finished fifth.

Among the many comments came a furious reaction and a flurry of counter-postings that were – what’s the right word here? – incredible. I want to go over the aftermath, not out of some desire to keep the issue alive, but because it says some unfortunate things about the current political environment and the social media atmosphere in which public officials, and even columnists, must exist.

But, first, to review: I had been researching the column for a few days and sent a list of questions to Umhofer about the fake identity – Ann Marie. She never responded to me, but she did preemptively post on her 2018 campaign Facebook page an admission that she had created the false Facebook identity.

She said she did so because she had been blocked from posting on Hale’s campaign page during the campaign. After the election, Hale unblocked her, but Umhofer admitted she continued to use the false identity to make comments on Hale’s page. She said it was an oversight. And here’s the key element of attribution to the information in this paragraph – that’s all according to Umhofer. She’s the source for this information. Not me, not my fevered imagination.

I then wrote the column, reprinting, word for word, what Umhofer had said. I also quoted Hale acknowledging that she had blocked Umhofer during the campaign, but she unblocked her after the election. I also noted a few examples of related activity by Umhofer, including that she populated the secret identity with false facts, so as to appear to be a real person. And I cited some examples where Umhofer commented directly on postings by her alter ego, calling into doubt that the continued use of the fake identity was an oversight.

And then we were off to the races.

In a related posting, Umhofer described the column as “nasty.” I didn’t expect her to like the column, but all I did was recount an activity that she admitted she had engaged in. To choose that word indicates she wanted the column to be seen as a biased attack. I invite you to go back and look at it again.

Anyway, the reaction of Umhofer’s friends and supporters was unfortunately all too characteristic, which is to go on the attack when faced with facts and information they don’t like and that don’t suit their own particular biases. A good number of people – apparently Redwood City abounds in legal and constitutional scholars – attacked Hale for blocking Umhofer in the first place, describing it in scurrilous terms from illegal to really, really mean. It should be noted that Hale never blocked Ann Marie, so there’s that.

Turning the debate into one over blocking is a classic bait and switch tactic on social media. I guess they view that as preferable to acknowledging Umhofer had no business creating a fake identity. Indeed, some people were outraged that I’d ignored the real issue of Hale’s blocking. I didn’t, of course. It’s right there in the column. By the way, after the column posted, I was immediately blocked from the Ann Marie Facebook page. Incidentally, there also is speculation that Umhofer used another fake identity. I asked her about that in an email and she has not responded.

There are some interesting issues afoot here about the collision point between the public’s right to interact with a public official and a person’s right not to be the endless object of harassment, insults and invective. I don’t know how this sorts out and it’s certainly not settled law. It’s an issue we’re going to dive into in Climate, for no other reason than to add some facts to the wave of opinions that have been generated in reaction to this little example.

I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m astonished that blocking became the main focus point and that the same people who raised this issue glossed right over the fact that Umhofer created a fake identity just so she could continue to attack Hale.

Beyond that little sideshow, there was the usual hoo-ha that I’m a shill and that I’m only running interference for Hale and that Climate is all about some set of interests that are dark and sinister. One poster very cleverly described it as “Climate Ragazine.” I should note the prior sentence was sarcasm – I don’t really think it was all that clever. These days, subtlety seems to be in low currency. And, as an aside, I can promise you that Hale doesn’t think I’m doing her any favors.

Some folks tried to post the column on the Facebook page of Redwood City Residents Say What, a repository of people who do not like Hale and like Umhofer, and a page that says it exists for residents to post their thoughts and comments. The column was deleted twice and when someone asked why, a page administrator said it was full of inaccuracies.

Of course, no one has come forward to point out these inaccuracies. I’m puzzled by the accusation. Had Umhofer responded to the detailed questions I posed to her, she could have corrected any inaccurate information I may have had.

This episode affirms some behavioral norms that are engaged in by these folks, based on a year of occasional observation, usually when they force themselves into my consciousness. They qualify as truisms – behavior you can count on – and some of them are tried and true political truisms, many of them in use by President Trump and his voluble supporters.

They can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

Whatever they accuse you of doing, they’re doing.

They see the world as enemies and friends, which justifies anything they want to do or say.

And, the one that has been most evident: They forgive their friends everything and their enemies nothing.

As an example of the last one, just imagine how these folks would have responded had Hale created a false identity and began posting criticisms of Umhofer.

Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Ex council candidate uses false Facebook identity to criticize opponent

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

There’s no other way to describe it, but bizarre.

For the past several weeks, Christina Umhofer, former candidate for the Redwood City Council, has been using the false identity “Ann Marie” on Facebook to post harsh criticisms of Councilwoman Giselle Hale. At the same time, Umhofer has been using her own Facebook identity to criticize Hale. Sometimes, Umhofer commented on the postings put up under the fake name.

While the Umhofer posts have been relatively temperate – the key word there is relatively – the Ann Marie posts have been almost relentless, including criticizing Hale for a post praising hometown star New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman for winning the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award. The Ann Marie post referenced that “real” Redwood City residents have long been proud of Edelman.

When confronted by her actions online, Umhofer, in a post on Facebook yesterday, confirmed she had been using a fake Facebook identity.

Today, she posted another confirmation on her 2018 City Council campaign Facebook page that reads:

“Mark Simon of Climate Magazine reached out to me via my personal email yesterday indicating he will be publishing a column later today about a Facebook alias, “Ann Marie”, that I recently used while commenting on Councilmember Hale’s Facebook page. Councilmember Hale blocked me from her campaign page last year and now that she is a public official, has recently unblocked me upon request.

“In the interim,” Umhofer’s post today continued, “I had used an alias “Ann Marie” to respond to some of her recent posts on her Facebook page and I failed to explicitly state it was me. Once my name was unblocked by Councilmember Hale, I resumed using my Christina Umhofer profile to comment on her page; however, there was a brief time that I used both names when commenting, which was an oversight on my part for not paying attention to which account I was logged into. I own it, and I apologize for it.”

I did, indeed, reach out to Umhofer via email yesterday with a series of questions about her use of the Ann Marie identity. I asked her to reply to the questions by 2 p.m. She has not done so. The questions asked for much more detail than Umhofer provided in her posting today, including an explanation of why she was so harshly criticizing Hale.

In an interview today with Political Climate, Hale said that she had blocked a number of people, including Umhofer, during the campaign and that she lifted the block after she was elected to the council.

“In 2018, a record number of women were running for office, and many of these women experienced harassment – more than male candidates. The unfortunate reality is that I faced the same thing,” Hale said.

But once she was elected, her public communications are subject to public-access laws, she unblocked everyone, Hale said.

When she received notification from Umhofer that she continued to be blocked, Hale took the step of specifically ensuring Umhofer could post comments.

But blocked or unblocked, Umhofer “was always able to reach me by email or phone,” Hale said, “She didn’t need to create a false identity.”

Several times, in Facebook responses to postings under the name Ann Marie, Hale offered to meet with her over coffee to discuss the concerns being expressed. It’s “surprising and a little sad that a person I had invited to coffee turned out not to be a real person.”

Hale said the postings were meant as “intimidation and harassment … intended to bully someone” and that shouldn’t be a part of the public debate.

“I feel we had a robust public debate (during the campaign). The public spoke. The public voted,” Hale said. “We need to focus on the issues facing the community.” She said she would rather be talking about the issues facing the city, rather than this matter.

“I’m more than willing to work with people with differing opinions,” Hale said.

As for Umhofer’s post today, there are gaps in the explanation she offers, starting with using Ann Marie as an “alias.”

The Ann Marie Facebook page contained information that appeared intended to mislead and to convey that this was a distinct individual. That included a listing that she recently took a position at “Beauty company” and that she was married in 2009. Those details contradict information that had been posted on Umhofer’s personal Facebook page, which, incidentally, appears to have been deleted.

Umhofer also used both her real Facebook identity and Ann Marie at the same time on several occasions. In her posting today, she described that as an “oversight” but there are several instances of Umhofer actively “liking” or commenting on a posting by Ann Marie. In one instance, Umhofer asked Hale why an Ann Marie posting had been deleted.

Ultimately, the usage of both names at the same time prompted other posters to confront Umhofer. Some of them cited a photo of a leaping dog that appeared on both the Ann Marie and Umhofer Facebook pages. One poster noted that Umhofer appeared to be struggling to keep her two identities straight.

Umhofer’s posting today does not address why she has been such a harsh critic of Hale, either as herself or Ann Marie. Umhofer was an opponent of Hale’s in last year’s city council race. Hale received the most votes in a seven-candidate race for three seats. Umhofer finished fifth, nearly 3,300 votes behind Hale and more than 1,500 votes behind third-place-winner Diana Reddy.

Roughly since the beginning of the year, Hale has been posting consistently on city-related issues on an official Facebook page titled Councilwoman Giselle Hale and on a page named “I Love Redwood City” that she has been using for several months.

If there are any consistent themes to Umhofer’s postings, it is that they appear to call into question Hale’s legitimacy as a representative of the city. The postings attempt to label Hale as a hypocritical newcomer who doesn’t understand local issues or have genuine local roots.

In a posting on the issue of providing “middle housing” to protect the presence of the middle class in Redwood City, a position Hale took at her campaign kickoff, Umhofer, posting as Ann Marie, demanded to know Hale’s solution, and then criticized her for not providing details. In the string of comments, Umhofer also weighed in from the account using her real name, crediting herself for a project that met the definition of “middle housing.”

In a posting on Hale’s I Love RWC page about the Redwood City Education Foundation, a community-supported nonprofit that provides financial support to local schools, Ann Marie commented: “Giselle, we both know that RCEF is a sham. When you are sitting at one of the Board meetings, why not tell the rest of the Board to stop using the Latino-based students for RCEF’s propaganda. RCEF’s ‘leadership’ needs to stay in their lane and concern themselves with the children of our district and not promising unbridled development.”

In a posting on efforts by local school districts to build teacher housing, Ann Marie said, “Giselle, what you post, what you say, and who you received money from speak different stories.” Donations Hale received show “you compromised your decision-making.”

In an I Love RWC posting about $500 million for housing from a fund spearheaded by the Redwood City-based Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Ann Marie dismissed the money as a “dismal number.” Umhofer subsequently demanded to know why the Ann Marie post had been deleted and did not disclose that she was posting under the name Ann Marie.

Most, if not all, of the Ann Marie postings have been deleted, apparently by Umhofer. While the Ann Marie page still can be found, all information and photos on it have been deleted.

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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