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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Redwood City election was transformative

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Minimum wage in Redwood City set to increase

It is likely that decades from now, 2020 will be seen as a year when everything changed in Redwood City politics. Perhaps more than any election anywhere – here or across the country – the outcome of the Redwood City Council election was transformative, as sweeping as it was swift.

For the first time, a majority of the council represents the full spectrum of the city’s residents — four seats held by people of color with the return of Jeff Gee and Alicia Aguirre and the arrival of newcomers Michael Smith and Lissette Espinoza-Garnica. And, in the case of the latter two, it’s the first time the council has had two members who openly identify as gay or nonbinary.

It would not have happened without the city’s move to district elections. In a citywide race, Gee might not have not run – a decision he made in the last citywide election in 2018 — and it’s impossible to imagine Espinoza-Garnica winning citywide.

This has caused grumbling among the mainliners of the status quo, of course. There has been some online complaining from the usual suspects that the city should have fought the threatened lawsuit that prompted the creation of districts and cleared the way for the election of Smith and Espinoza-Garnica, each of whom represents minority-majority districts, and Gee, who represents a district that is substantially Asian-American.

This is what happens when the establishment loses power to a new reality, and my response to the complaints is: Tough.

We have just elected the first woman Vice President, the first South Asian-American Vice President, the first African-American Vice President. Change is coming to America. Too slowly, for some, too radically for others, too frighteningly for still others. But inevitably.

Kamala Harris represents a rising generation of young and younger Americans who will be diverse in background and ethnicity and who will see their world and the future in different ways that will break the longstanding white male dominance of this nation.

Redwood City is at the cutting edge of that change – ahead of California, ahead of America. The move to district elections, regardless of why or how, was the right thing to do.

PRACTICAL POLITICS: Two of the city’s contested seats went as could have been expected. Gee, long a denizen of Redwood Shores, easily won a new term on the council in the face of a credible challenge from Planning Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe. And Aguirre, deftly deploying all the advantages of incumbency, staved off a vigorous challenge from retired police officer Chris Rasmussen in the Farm Hills district. It is likely Rasmussen will remain a force in the community and this race may well set him for another race in the future.

The stunner was the defeat of incumbent Janet Borgens in Friendly Acres by Espinoza-Garnica. Borgens deep ties to the area looked like enough of an insurance policy against an unknown, inexperienced challenger in Espinoza-Garnica. But the pandemic clearly crimped Borgens’ campaign effort, while Espinoza-Garnica charged ahead, raising money and identifying and getting to the polls a new wave of voters. It is worth noting that turnout in this district was half that of the other districts – to the benefit of the challenger.

The new majority promises to be fascinating to watch. Espinoza-Garnica is a full-throat progressive who advocated abolishing the police. With housing and development still the dominant issues, voters elected councilmembers who were the object of dismay and unhappiness by the no-growth element of the city.

This ought to be fun.

SPOILERS: By the way, there also are those who say Mark Wolohan took votes away from Rasmussen and helped Aguirre win and, similarly, Isabella Chu took votes from Borgens and helped Espinoza-Garnica win. How do we know it’s not the other way around and Rasmussen prevented Wolohan from winning? The answer is that we don’t and to label Wolohan and Chu as spoilers is to a disservice to their candidacies.

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: It was a meaningful election for Rainbow politics. In addition to Smith and Espinoza, another openly gay candidate, James Coleman took out well-regarded incumbent Councilman Rich Garbarino in South San Francisco. … The ease with which appointed incumbent Councilwoman Amourence Lee turned back challenger Lisa Diaz Nash also speaks to the changing politics dynamics in San Mateo. Nash was heavily backed by development interests who saw Lee as a too-progressive outsider. Measure Y, the extension of San Mateo’s height limit, was losing as of this writing, but it was still too close to call and if it passes it will have a razor-thin margin – another sign attitudes are changing in San Mateo.

WELL, NO, NOT QUITE: In my last pre-election column, I made a number of guesses, and, boy, was I wrong – particularly about how well Espinoza-Garnica would do, the Lee-Nash race and the race for a San Mateo County Community College seat between incumbents Maurice Goodman and Dave Mandelkern, won by Goodman. I said Joe Biden would win a landslide and that it would be evident on election night, although I did hedge that one a bit.

The normal post-election news media analysis would be to say these outcomes were a surprise. But just because it’s a surprise to me doesn’t mean it’s a surprise to the candidates.

Yes, some races are still too close to conclude. But look at the trend lines. If the other guy’s lead is growing, that’s a bad sign.

MOVING ON: The ideal outcome of 2020 would be for everyone to take a deep breath, let it out slowly, take a look around and get new bearings.

I’d like to see those in the political arena engage each other over honest differences and stop this constant wave of suspicion and cynicism that seems to dominate our public discourse.

What brings this to mind was a late complaint from the Yes on Y forces in San Mateo that a mobile vote center had been placed at Hillsdale Shopping Center, which is owned by the Bohannon Company, a major backer of rival Measure R. “Is this one more thing that big money can buy in this election?  Shameful!” went the complaint. Well, it didn’t work, as Measure R was thoroughly trounced. Hillsdale Shopping Center is a community gathering place, which is where a mobile vote center should go. The dang thing wasn’t plastered with Yes on R stickers. It just sat there, like the inanimate object it was.

Not every action warrants outrage or suspicion. Really.

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: My best election guesses

in PoliticalClimate by
June 7 is the last day to mail in your ballot for California’s primary election

Major League Baseball pitcher Joaquin Andujar once famously offered this pearl of wisdom: “I only have one word to say: Youneverknow.”

He’s right. Youneverdo. Especially, right now, in this unique, frustrating, tumultuous and chaotic year. Decades from now, we will tell young people about 2020 and they won’t believe us.

Anyway, we’re hours away from the first election results and, in the end, no one knows what will happen. Including me. Still, as a designated pontificator, I’ll offer up my best guesses. Then, I’ll add a little more about why this election, perhaps more than any other, is the most unpredictable at every spot on the ballot.

BUT FIRST, A SLIGHT DETOUR: And the first thing I’m going to do is back off on the rhetoric about unpredictability. There are some things we know.

Joe Biden will win the Peninsula, the Bay Area and the state. It is, as they say at the sports books, a mortal lock. The only question is whether his total will be at 70 percent.

All that I’ve learned about politics in more than 40 years reporting on it at the national, state and local level also tells me that Biden will win big, perhaps a landslide and that it will be abundantly clear on election night. Still, the specter of bad polling in 2016 looms over any prediction that can be made and sows deep doubts about any judgment. As Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said to me the other day, “I feel like I’m driving around with the emergency brake on.”

Still, as I started to say before I interrupted myself, there are some sure things: Congresswoman Jackie Speier will get 70 percent in her re-election campaign because she always does and there’s no reason to think otherwise this time. Eshoo should hold off the frantically weird challenge from Democrat Rishi Kumar. And Josh Becker will win the 13th Senate District seat with similar ease, an outcome that was guaranteed when he drew a Republican opponent out of the primary.

ON THE LOCAL BALLOT: Back to my best guesses. Let’s start with Redwood City, not only because it’s the city’s first foray into district elections, but it’s also what I get paid to do. Yes, I get paid. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself.

For all the hoo-ha that attended the City Council’s tortured path to new districts, it looks as though the three contested seats are going to go to two incumbents and a pseudo-incumbent.

In District 1, Redwood Shores, Jeff Gee has been off the council for only two years. He raised the most money, had the deepest roots in the district, and, it could be argued, has been working the Shores for decades. There are definite anti-Gee (zero G?) forces in Redwood City, but district elections have diminished their impact. Planning Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe ran a credible campaign, hampered, perhaps, by her having moved into the district only a little while ago. Gee is a virtual incumbent, and voters need a compelling reason to vote out someone they have elected before. This race was never about that.

In the other two races, the same political reality prevails – two incumbents and no compelling groundswell of dissatisfaction about either of them that could be harnessed into an upset defeat. And, yes, I know neither Janet Borgens nor Alicia Aguirre is technically an incumbent – each was elected citywide and now they’re running in districts under the label “councilmember.” But this is a political column and, in that context, they have all the advantages of incumbency. Each of them could have faced difficult challenges because of the move to district elections. That’s not how it has played out.

District 3, Friendly Acres, where Borgens is running for re-election, is one of two new majority-minority districts, 70 percent Latino. She could have drawn a well-established, well-known Latino opponent who might have mobilized the community. But the reality is the historic political disenfranchisement of this part of town meant there was no bench of high-profile challengers from the Latino community. Absent that, Borgens’ long and deep ties to this district should see her through. She did draw two of the most interesting opponents. Isabella Chu, a leader of pro-growth Redwood City Forward, turned the usual campaign rhetoric on its head and advocated more height, more density and in more places. There was a fearlessness about this all-out, all-in campaign. Lissette Espinoza-Garnica was just as forthright as the most progressive candidate on any ballot in the county. Espinoza-Garnica’s affiliations with labor, the LGBTQ community, the Latinx community and the Democratic Socialists aligned with Bernie Sanders resulted in a competitive campaign treasury. Espinoza-Garnica could finish second in this race.

District 7, Farm Hills, is another example of the consequences of district elections. Aguirre is the only Latina on the council, and she lives in a district that is 70 percent white. In former community police officer Chris Rasmussen, Aguirre drew a more classic opponent – someone whose work made him a high-profile figure throughout the city. Rasmussen has ties to a core group of residents unhappy with a changing city, and who are credited with the defeat of another incumbent a couple of elections ago. Aguirre’s low-key style also made her appear vulnerable.

Rasmussen started fast and Aguirre started slow. He was up early with campaign signs, he raised a healthy campaign treasury, and he was active online, posting a particularly impressive life-story video that was notable for the passion he holds for the community. But Aguirre has been on the council since 2005 and has built deep and close ties to the county’s leading political figures. She won the endorsement battle going away and she raised a wholly competitive amount of money. Her own campaign message was that the city needs experienced leadership at this moment of multiple crises. Rasmussen’s message that it’s time for new leadership seems to have gotten less traction in this district. Mark Wolohan, the third candidate, has been a fresh and earnest voice in the district and demonstrated a grasp of key issues and some new ideas about how the city should go forward. But he self-funded his campaign and raised no money. In a non-pandemic environment, where candidates could directly engage voters, it might have been a different campaign for Wolohan’s decidedly outsider approach, but this is the season we’ve been given.

SAN MATEO: It says here that first-term incumbent Diane Papan should win and be the top vote-getter in a three-candidate race for two seats. A late infusion of independent expenditures on Papan’s behalf probably helps seal the deal. The race between appointed incumbent Amourence Lee and Lisa Diaz Nash is a tossup. The sense of it is that Nash comes out on top, also aided by more than $30,000 in late, independent money. If Lee loses, it looks like it will be because Nash was able to marshal the forces that are unhappy with a changing San Mateo. But Lee is a new face from an historically underrepresented part of town and she could benefit from a wave of new voters showing up this year because of the presidential race.

There are two ballot measures, R and Y, addressing height limits in San Mateo – Y put on by initiative and R by the city council. I think both are going to lose, putting the issue back in the hands of the city council. Really, that’s where this kind of complex land-use policy decision should be made. Thirty years ago, the first height limit was a reaction to a city council that had approved a massive project on El Camino, “going off the rails,” as one long-time observer said. The city is different, the electorate is different and the council has a dramatically different sensibility about reflecting a community consensus.

ELSEWHERE: The Caltrain sales tax measure, RR, must be close in private polling if San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine thought it worthwhile to loan $500,000 of his own money to the Yes campaign at the last minute, sending a meaningful signal to some late, big-bucks donors.  I think it wins, getting 67-69 percent of the vote. … At the San Mateo County Community College District, where three seats are being contested, John Pimentel should win over Lisa Hicks-Dumanske, aided considerably by a campaign that will exceed $200,000, almost all of it his own money. Lisa Petrides should win her race against Eugene Whitlock, who dropped out of the race amid lingering controversy over his $2.3 million settlement against the district. Still, he remains on the ballot, which means he could win, which would be both weird and would invite months of litigation. Incumbents Maurice Goodman and Dave Mandelkern are running against each other and it looks like Mandelkern should win, if only because he’s a more frenetic campaigner. … In Millbrae, incumbents Gina Papan and Ann Schneider should win but the race for a third seat clearly is between Anders Fung and You You Xue and it’s impossible to call that one. It has been nasty with a wave of campaign complaints filed by a Xue campaign aide. … In Belmont, incumbent Davina Hurt and appointed incumbent Tom McCune should win easily. The group of Belmont residents who dominated city politics for many years keep looking for someone to break the hold of the current majority, but it’s a different era now and it may be time to move on.

I COULD GO ON: But honestly, there are just too many races to track effectively. And all the preceding notwithstanding, this year is the most unpredictable since Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey in 1948, when San Mateo County’s population was about 235,000. To give that a little perspective, according to the most recent report, there are 440,005 people registered to vote in Tuesday’s election in San Mateo County.

And that last number is why this election is so up in the air, particularly at the local level.

The current registration is nearly 20 percent higher than the 2016 presidential election. Data analysts say the biggest jump is among young voters, minority voters and people who simply didn’t vote in 2016. In other words, it is an electorate of new voters, which means that their voting habits are untested. Incidentally, San Mateo County’s registered voters are 54 percent Democratic, 26 percent who express No Party Preference, and a paltry 14 percent Republican.

At the same time, local elections have been merged with statewide elections. As I’ve referenced throughout this column, there will be thousands of voters who are showing up at the polls– waiting four years to run to the polls – to vote in the presidential election. How will they vote? No one knows. They are not steeped in local elections. By the time they get to the bottom of the ballot there will be more than a few shrugs.

The best guess is that they will tend toward incumbents unless they’ve been given a compelling reason to oust an incumbent. Really, none of these races has been an all-out attack on an already-vulnerable incumbent.

While there may be significant upheaval at the national level, here at home, even as change continues to sweep across the Peninsula, it looks like the status quo will hold for one more election.

*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: Local elections reveal a more progressive generation is on the rise

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If, as Joe Biden says, the soul of America is on the national ballot, you could make a case that the local election is entirely about trust – trust that local government will act for the broadest well-being of the community while walking the maze of highly localized neighborhood interests and well-funded business interests.

Up and down the Peninsula, there is an unprecedented number of contested races for office. A striking feature of that lengthy lineup is that incumbents are being challenged at every level, an indication that there are those who think the public has lost some measure of faith in the people currently running our cities and schools.

Many of those challenges can be tied directly to a wave of political reform that quietly has been washing over the Peninsula in the form of district elections and campaign spending caps, and which lowered the threshold for challengers. Overlaid on those reforms is a pandemic and a year of social change, as we confront our vulnerabilities and dark chapters in our history, all of which provides an emotional context for an insurgent candidacy.

All of which has led us to now and local races replete with challengers who represent a new diversity – candidates who are young, LGBTQ, minorities and female. A critic would call them inexperienced. They might respond that they are not tied to the old, ineffectual ways.

Many of them are politically quite progressive. And that hints of further political change in a region already very liberal. Meager labels aside, this much is clear: The next generation is coming. As a rule, they are dissatisfied with the job done by the folks currently in charge. As Bob Dylan wrote in another era of upheaval and division, “The old order is rapidly changing.”

On the Peninsula, all issues begin and end with land use. In the past, right up to this election cycle, land use has been about growth, development and profit. Land use will always be the central issue, but this new wave of candidates hints of such debates occurring in the context of fairness – how land use policies perpetuate everything from who lives where to economic equity and police-community relations.

So, what about Tuesday’s election? Will these changes result in a surprising upset in one of these elections? Not this time, I think. But most political careers start with an early loss. The foundation has been laid for more challenges and, in the end, some measure of success.

To quote Dylan again, and from the same song:

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

FOLLOW THE MONEY: With the final days of the 2020 campaign at hand, last-minute money has begun pouring into campaigns, and no special interest has been more active than those associated with pro-development and growth.

It confirms that amid a pandemic, disputes and discussions over race and a tumultuous presidential contest that could set the direction of our country for a generation, the dominant issue on the local ballot – in any race – remains development. If money is the mother’s milk of politics, real estate is the midwife.

In the hot, hot, hot race for the San Mateo City Council, the California Apartment Association has taken a big swing at influencing the final outcome. In the last several days, the CAA has dropped more than $31,000 in late independent expenditures on behalf of Lisa Diaz Nash, who is challenging appointed incumbent Amourence Lee and incumbent Diane Papan for one of the two seats up on Tuesday. The CAA also spent more than $14,000 on Papan’s behalf.

The odd person out is Lee, whose progressive politics clearly make the CAA folks more than a little uneasy.

In the Redwood City, the CAA, which plunged into the 2016 election with all the energy of a misguided missile, has kept a much lower profile. Still, real estate never stays on the sidelines and a partnership of like-minded entities have plunked down about $2,000 for Jeff Gee in the Redwood Shores-centric District 1. In District 3, one of two majority minority districts, challenger Isabella Chu’s enthusiasm for building more, taller and more densely, got the attention a couple of development backers to the tune of another $2,000.

The big bucks also have been rolling in late for Councilmember Alicia Aguirre, running in the Farm Hills District 7, including $1,000 from California Realtors, $1,000 from the Harbor Village Mobile Home Park and contributions ranging from $100 (former county Supervisor Adrienne Tissier) to $500 (Assemblymember Kevin Mullin).

In the last days of the campaign, the fundraising leaders in the respective districts are Gee, Councilmember Janet Borgens and Aguirre. … Michael Smith, running unopposed in District 4, raised more than $15,000 for his non-campaign. He used the money to repay the $4,000 he loaned the campaign at the outset, and made a $250 contribution to Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and $200 to Mike Espy, running for the open Senate seat in Mississippi.

NOT SO GRAND OLD PARTY: If you’re looking for the height of cynicism, look no further than our home state, where the decrepit Republican Party has been putting out phony ballot collection boxes. Party officials offered up some argle-bargle for why they did it, but all it sounded like was the noise adults make in a Peanuts movie.

Within a few years after I cast my first vote, I was covering Peninsula politics for local newspapers. Peninsula politics included smart, thoughtful, principled, pro-choice, pro-environment Republican candidates and officeholders – such impressive figures as Becky Morgan, Tom Campbell, Pete McCloskey and Ed Zschau. Reagan-style conservatism began the process of driving away moderate Reeps in the name of political purity. Trump-style whatever-ism has just about finished the job, helped considerably by the boneheads who think phony ballot boxes is a clever trick.

It’s a loss. They were good people and we were all better served by two vibrant and vital political parties. Instead, what we are facing in the next few election cycles is a hard-charging progressive wing of the Democratic Party, pushing candidates further and further toward political purity. It’s a shame that the one lesson progressives learned from conservatives is to behave more like them.

ANATOMY OF A CAMPAIGN CLAIM: Reading a flyer from Uber and Lyft in support of Proposition 22, the biggest-spending campaign in California history, even I couldn’t help but notice the front-page headline: “The vast majority of app-based drivers say yes on 22.” Out of curiosity and unrelenting political geekhood, I dove into the Yes on 22 website to find the source of this statement. In there, I also saw this: “A new independent survey released this week found that 60% of California app-based drivers support Prop 22, while only 23.6% oppose.” All I could find was some information from a blogger named Rideshare Guy, who asked his readers to respond to a survey on Prop. 22. The result was the information cited in the flyer. What the flyer doesn’t tell you is that Rideshare Guy got 619 responses. The Yes on 22 website says there are 116,000 app-based drivers statewide.

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Notes, quotes and dust motes

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

Notes, quotes and dust motes: 

WHO’S WHERE AND WITH WHOM: As campaign mailers begin showing up, you know, in the mail, their most prominent feature often will be endorsements from elected officials whose support carries meaning and influence. 

In down-ballot elections such as the three contested district city council elections in Redwood City, which are coming during one of the most energized political years in memory, there will be many voters who are unfamiliar with the candidates. All of which makes endorsements likely to be more critical than ever. 

Year after year, private polling shows that the most impactful endorsement is from Congresswoman Jackie Speier, whose popularity and reputation can sway voters. Right behind Speier are Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, state Sen. Jerry Hill and Assemblymen Kevin Mullin and Marc Berman, followed by current and former members of the Redwood City Council and current members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. 

In the competition for names, Councilmember Alicia Aguirre, seeking re-election in District 7 (Farm Hills, west of Alameda de las Pulgas), has done well – getting the Royal Flush of endorsements: Eshoo, Speier, Hill, Mullin, and Berman, as well as all five Supervisors, and four members of the city council, Diane Howard, Shelly Masur, Janet Borgens and Giselle Hale. Aguirre also got endorsements from the San Mateo County Democratic Party and the county’s Central Labor Council. 

Aguirre’s endorsement list is a demonstration of the power of incumbency, although, since this is the first district election, she technically is not an incumbent. Nonetheless, the impact of her 15 years in office is not lost on her principal opponent, former Redwood City police officer Chris Rasmussen, whose own list of endorsements suggests he has been focusing on other areas. His prominent supporters include former Councilman Brent Britschgi, and a slim lineup of current officeholders, including San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Nancy Reyering and Pacifica Councilwoman Mary Bier. Rasmussen is endorsed by two former police chiefs, one from Atherton and one from Hollister. It has some significance, I suppose, that two other Redwood City councilmembers stayed out of this race, while endorsing in others – Ian Bain and Diana Reddy – but it’s hard to read too much into that. 

Aguirre’s other opponent, Mark Wolohan, has a handful of endorsements, none of them officeholders, and all of them personal, including Gary Riekes, founder of the Riekes Center, where Wolohan works, and local history and community activist and Climate contributor Jim Clifford. 

In similar fashion, (non)incumbent Councilmember Janet Borgens racked up a big lineup of endorsements in the race for District 3 (Friendly Acres, southern Redwood City) – Speier, Hill, Mullin and Berman. She also got endorsements from four of the county supervisors, with only Carole Groom staying off, and three Redwood City Council colleagues – Bain, Howard and Reddy. 

Borgens challenger Isabella Chu lists no endorsements on her campaign website and Facebook page. And the third candidate, Lissette Espinoza-Garnica lists only one officeholder, Santa Clara County Board of Education member Peter Ortiz, but she does have endorsements from SEIU Local 2015, a highly active union in Silicon Valley, and Planned Parenthood’s Peninsula chapter. 

The endorsements in District 1 (Redwood Shores), however, suggest, a race that might be closer than originally thought.  Former Councilman Jeff Gee has endorsements from Speier and Mullin and former City Council colleagues Jeff Ira and John Seybert, but no endorsements from current councilmembers with whom Gee served. His opponent, Planning Commissioner Nancy Radcliffe, has been endorsed by five councilmembers – Aguirre, Howard, Bain, Borgens and Reddy – and all the county supervisors but Dave Pine. 

As a footnote, Radcliffe’s campaign has been saying she will be a “fresh and honest voice,” and that her endorsers support her, “Because her character and integrity are unmatched.” Asked if she was implying a lack of integrity or honesty in her opponent, Radcliffe said no, indeed. Those were just some words her campaign team thought would reflect well on her, she said. 

WHEN THE GOING GETS WEIRD: As baseball great Satchel Paige* said, “The social ramble ain’t restful.” Neither is social media, which often can be a bit of a ramble. A recent posting on Next Door by the aforementioned Councilwoman Hale urging Latinos to participate in the 2020 Census apparently was removed – or it wasn’t – after some people objected – or they didn’t – that it constituted self-promotion. In other words, it’s a little hard to tell exactly what happened, but some people objected to Hale’s post and it was taken down by someone, and no one can agree by whom.  

They do agree one of the people objecting was Johanna Rasmussen, wife of the council candidate, who was singled out, at least in part, because she is the wife of the council candidate, in addition to being his campaign treasurer. She said in an interview, that she and 18 other “leads” on Next Door voted on the Hale posting. Rasmussen said there were objections to a “series of posts” by Hale that amounted to self-promotion, and “I was one of the votes to remove it.” Except nowhere in the Next Door policies is there any ban on self-promotion. And wandering into the thicket that is Next Door, I was assailed with a variety of opinions about Hale, my own inquiries and my skills as a reporter. Anyway, Rasmussen lately has been referring people to the city attorney. 

Yes, Hale is young and from the social media world, having had a pretty good job at Facebook, and that combination means she posts a lot on social media. In this regard, she is well above average. She also prevailed upon Assemblyman Mullin to carry a bill modernizing the laws governing public meetings and public official communications to reflect the changes wrought by social media. And, clearly, the frequency with which Hale posts annoys some people, although some of those people seem annoyed by her mere existence. On the other hand, there’s a fine line between letting people know what’s going on and making sure they know it’s you telling them. Ah, it is a brave new world. 

SPENDING, LTD.: The real reason Johanna Rasmussen called me was to respond to a brief note in another column that Chris Rasmussen had declined to accept the newly installed spending limits enacted by the city council in mid-March. On his website, he explains it at length. First, a spending limit puts him at a distinct disadvantage when taking on a 15-year incumbent with heightened name recognition and political connections (see above, endorsements). Secondeven the smallest mistake of a misplaced nickel or dime can result in “penalties quite harsh for first-time candidates who may inadvertently make a very minor mistake,” he wrote. That’s exactly what was concerning Johanna Rasmussen, who said she has never been a campaign treasurer before. “We didn’t feel it was worth the risk,” she said. And both she and Chris Rasmussen said they expect to be in the range of the spending limit anyway – around $25,000. 

CLARIFYING: Recent stories about the council races prompted two of the candidates to ask for clarification of comments attributed to them. I don’t think I misquoted them, but, what the heck, why not? 

Isabella Chu was comparing how city departments justify their budgets to the way grant applicants have to justify their requests and said the same level of scrutiny ought to be applied to the city. And, as a non-Latinx, she said she believes she can understand the concerns of that community, but she will “partner with organizations and individuals who have deep roots in the community. I would be arrogant to imagine I fully understand their experience and I would need to work hard to make sure I do.” 

Mark Wolohan said his plan for addressing the city’s significant budget shortfall includes reexamining the city’s policy of using the Utility Users Tax solely for capital projects and see if some of those funds can be redirected to operating expenses. He said the city should hold off on any capital and equipment improvement projects and should cut employee salaries only as a last resort. He said he expects the economic downturn to increase demand for city services and increasing taxes will only aggravate the problems facing business. 

Finally, he said, I do think the police are a necessary entity and I do not support notions of abolishing the police. However, there definitely are critical changes that must be made to create more equity, transparency, and accountability, and a citizens oversight committee can be a good start. 

*Yes, I quoted Satchel Paige in a column in August. I’ll probably quote him again. 

Contact Mark Simon 

*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: 3 in race to rep District 3 on Redwood City council

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

The race for the District 3 seat on the Redwood City Council may put to test the longstanding political truism that all politics are local.

It is one of two districts that are minority-majority – 71 percent Hispanic. It is the home neighborhood of Councilmember Janet Borgens, raised in East Palo Alto and a resident of the district for 37 years. She notes that she is not Hispanic, but argues she is deeply ingrained in the community and that her own working-class background has kept her in touch with the challenges and concerns of District 3 residents.

“This is the kind of community I was raised in. I may be White privilege, but I wasn’t raised White privilege. … My community has known what I’ve been doing for many, many years and they’ll either want that to continue or they won’t,” she said.

She is being challenged by two candidates who contend that the district residents want more bold and non-establishment leadership.

Isabella Chu, a Stanford public health researcher and founder of Redwood City Forward, has been a high-profile advocate for dramatically more housing in the city. “We need more housing,” she said. “It should go all over the city. Yes to higher density. Yes to more height.” Like Borgens, Chu is not Hispanic. “I don’t think you have to be Latino to understand them and to represent them,” she said. Her goal, she said, is to “disrupt the status quo.”

Lissette Espinoza-Garnica is a professional caregiver, self-designated as nonbinary gender and the only Hispanic in the 2020 city council race seeking an “Hispanic” seat. They grew up in Redwood City and North Fair Oaks and moved to the district’s Friendly Acres as a child. “I’ve grown up here. It’s not Jim Crow era segregation, but it’s still very segregated – where the wealth is, where the people of color are,” they said. The answer is to completely remake the status quo. “I see that the people running right now are very much establishment … I’m running because it’s a crisis and I really want to ensure security for my community, especially those who have been neglected for so long.”

District 3 is at the southern edge of the city, bounded by Woodside Road, Maple Street, Bay Road and Broadway. It includes the neighborhoods of Friendly Acres, Stambaugh-Heller and Redwood Village. Forty-six percent of residents are immigrants, 65 percent speak Spanish at home and 40 percent say they speak English “less than very well” – all categories that are the highest in the city. Forty-two percent of households have an income under $50,000, and renters outnumber homeowners almost 2-1.

If the fundamental political question is who best represents the residents of District 3, the fundamental policy question is housing. All three candidates agree that the district struggles with housing insecurity, overcrowding and housing costs that force multiple families to live together, or that force them to leave the city.

Chu wants sweeping changes to the city’s housing policies and practices. “Our built environment looks like it did in the 1950s. In the last 70 years, Redwood City has tripled in population,” Chu said. “I’m willing to see our neighborhoods adapt to the 21st century. Homeowners should be able to change their homes, have smaller setbacks” and additional stories. “Things have changed. The buildings have stayed the same.”

As an example of the kind of sweeping change she would support, Chu said the 17-story proposal for Sequoia Station, at El Camino Real and Jefferson Avenue, “is extremely modest. Come on, it’s 2020, we’re in Silicon Valley. … This is some of the most valuable land in the world. If the city had been allowed to develop organically, based on need, we’d have a ton of high-rise buildings. … most residences would be 3-5 stories.”

The city’s “shortness of buildings” is “emblematic of tremendous resistance,” she said. “There’s an idea that because a small group of people is very vocal and good at wielding power that they’re the majority. … Half the city’s population is renters. The other half own homes – 25-30 percent would be happy to add on to their homes, 25-30 percent just wouldn’t care.”

Espinoza-Garnica supports a corporate “head count” tax to raise revenues to build more housing, including public housing and more low-income housing. “It’s not enough to have only market-rate housing. We have to have secure housing, mixed, subsidized housing and definitely provide housing for all,” Espinoza-Garnica said. That includes workforce housing so “the people who work here are able to live here.”

Borgens said, “Housing needs to be built where the need is. … Look in my district, you have 3-4 families living together. Build affordable, for-sale housing in any district across town. If we can help our most vulnerable communities buy housing, that’s housing security.”

She envisions a broad range of housing – duplexes, triplexes, small units that can be added to a second story or a backyard. “Build housing where it’s needed and my district needs it,” she said, and the specific need is for family-oriented housing. “Why do we think low-income people all want to be crowded together in a high-rise apartment building?” she said. “I don’t support public housing. I support mixed housing – mix all levels of income together.”

Perhaps more than in other districts, the issue of policing is of paramount importance in the tight-packed, minority-minority District 3.

“I’m an abolitionist,” said Espinoza-Garnica, “and this platform is looking to defund the police so they’re not required to respond to the community as much anymore.” If the money spent on policing was spent on more and improved housing, higher employment, universal child care, rapid rehousing of those who lose their homes to economic difficulties and essential support services, it would reduce crime and reduce the need for police presence in a community that feels estranged from law enforcement, they said.

“I’m for descoping and divesting and defunding the police and try to limit the amount of interaction of police with residents,” Espinoza-Garnica said. “Policing is inherently racist, corrupt and is only there to punish people for being poor, black, brown, and having to survive a capitalist system. I’m all about defunding the police in order to address ways to reduce harm.”

Defunding the police is a means to end “centuries of anti-Black racism and oppression of gender and the working class” and bias toward “high-earners, business owners, land owners.”

Borgens said, “I am not a defund the police [supporter], but I understand that is the wrong phrase. I do support revisiting how we provide policing services and if those services are best served by an adding on in the mental health component.” Her focus is on transparency and cracking down on police officers who repeatedly use excessive force, but she wants to see how a citizens oversight commission might be structured before taking a position.

“I have no problem holding our police accountable and if a citizens oversight committee is the right way to go, I’m not against it. If you’re following the rules, there’s no reason you should be concerned about oversight,” she said.

“We have to weed out the bad apples.” Borgens said. “We can sit here and say with naivete we don’t have any bad apples, it’s been dealt with in-house.”

Chu said a number of police duties should be reassigned or reinvented. Traffic enforcement can be fully automated, for example, which would eliminate what she called “income bias.” The social responsibilities handled by the police – mental health issues, homelessness, domestic problems – can be handed off to the state or the county and more effectively managed by agencies designed for those purposes. “I’m perfectly willing to look at what (police) do, whether it should be done by an agent of the state and whether it can be done more cost effectively,” she said.

Chu said she supports more citizen oversight and more transparency, including tracking how police personnel are deployed. “Most police have nothing to fear from that. If they’re policing fairly, not hurting people, they have nothing to fear,” she said.

The issue likely to dominate the attention of a new council almost immediately, however, will be the city’s large budget deficit, driven by the economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and associated loss of sales tax revenues and local business declines.

Responding will require more efficient use of available resources, Borgens said, citing as an example how the parks and recreation services were reinvented during the shelter-in-place requirements. She said there is likely to be a hiring freeze, although she said, “I don’t think any of our police and fire are overstaffed. Both can come to the table.”

Corporate partnerships to support some essential services may be a constructive next step, along with the possibility of finding a way to tax revenues generated in online sales, she said.

Chu said the city needs to do more to measure the effectiveness of its spending and to require city departments, in essence, to apply for their funding and justify their budgets.

“Are we getting the most value,” Chu said. The city is going to have to look for additional sources of revenue, she said. And her proposals for greater housing density allows more concentration of city services, which can save money.

Espinoza-Garnica’s view on the budget stems from a fundamental conviction that the city needs to be radically changed. The budget is a statement on the city’s priorities, they said, and the focus should be on affordable housing for all and making sure every resident is making a living wage.

“We need to reprioritize the budget to think about the most vulnerable,” Espinoza-Garnica said.

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.

Stanford faculty resolute in criticism of White House advisor’s national COVID strategy

in PoliticalClimate by

A group of approximately 100 Stanford faculty members are holding firm in their convictions criticizing White House Coronavirus Task Force senior adviser Dr. Scott Atlas’ controversial views on the pandemic, despite recent legal threats from Dr. Atlas’ lawyer.

Dr. Atlas, the former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford Medical Center and a Hoover Institution senior fellow, was appointed a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and senior advisor to President Trump in August. On the heels of an Aug. 31 report by the Washington Post that he embraced a controversial herd immunity strategy to combat the pandemic, Dr. Atlas drew intense criticism from colleagues.

Dr. Atlas denies recommending herd immunity as an option to the task force or the president, per a report in The Stanford Daily. Nonetheless, the same report said he has repeatedly upheld the strategy as one of the best ways to “eradicate the threat of the virus” in Hoover Institution virtual policy briefings, in an April op-ed in The Hill and in his remarks in May to a U.S. Senate committee.

In their initial letter addressed to colleagues and dated Sept. 9, the Stanford faculty member collective stated in regards to Dr. Atlas that “many of his opinions and statements run counter to established science and, by doing so, undermine public-health authorities and the credible science that guides effective public health policy.” The letter went on to provide five statements, drawing upon global data, offering their collective guidance on effective public health policy regarding COVID-19.

On Sept. 23, a new letter, signed by an even larger group of 105 doctors, scientists and health experts, reiterated their concern in the wake of receiving a letter threatening legal action from Dr. Atlas’ attorney. The letter demanded the Stanford collective issue a press release retracting their statements, claiming they falsely portrayed Dr. Atlas’ views and were defamatory. Despite the alleged threat, however, the growing group of medical experts say they will remain resolute in their collective criticism of Dr. Atlas.

“We believe that his statements and the advice he has been giving fosters misunderstandings of established science and risks undermining critical public health efforts,” the group said in the Sept. 23 letter. “Today, we stand by our Sept. 9 letter and reaffirm our concerns. In addition, we are deeply troubled by the legal threats that Dr. Atlas has made against us in an attempt to intimidate and silence us in the midst of a pandemic, as we speak out on important public health issues.”

The group added, “We stand together and we reiterate clearly and with great affirmation that public health policy must be guided by established scientific principles and not opinions, especially ones that could harm individuals and the health of our nation.”

Photo credit: White House

Political Climate with Mark Simon: 3 candidates, 3 different approaches in District 7 race

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

The following is the third of four columns covering the November election for City Council of Redwood City. This installment reports on the District 7 race. Previous coverage includes the District 4 election here and the District 1 election here.

Already the longest continuously serving member of the current Redwood City Council, Alicia Aguirre, if elected to her fourth full term on November Nov. 3 has the chance to serve a total of 19 years, which would make her the longesttenured councilmember in the modern, term-limits era. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that Aguirre’s longevity is a central issue in the District 7 city council race, whether as an asset, as she asserts in her own campaign materials, which say the mid-Covid crises that face City Hall call for “tested leadership.”  

Or whether her longevity calls out for change, as her opponents assert. Former Redwood City police officer Chris Rasmussen says in his own campaign materials that “it is time for NEW leadership in Redwood City.” And nonprofit program facilitator Mark Wolohan promises to bring to city government “a fresh perspective.” 

“I think we’re going through really challenging times,” Aguirre said, but the council is a positive balance “of folks who have been there a while and a lot of new people coming on the council. … I’ve been there through the (2008-09) recession, all the changes, housing concerns, transportation challenges.” 

At a time when the city went through some upheaval to create two council districts that are minority-majority, and predominantly Hispanic, Aguirre notes that she is the only Latino on the council and the only Latina on any city council in the county. “I believe that my district and the city respect diversity and inclusivity,” Aguirre said. 

“People in my district want change,” said Rasmussen, whose 30-year police career included a lengthy tenure as the department’s lead community officer, which brought him wide contact with the people and issues of the city, particularly in working with the homeless. Change, he said, takes the form of “thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo and not just rubber-stamping things that could be better or different. They want to be listened to and I’m hearing (from them) that the council isn’t listening to them. I’m a real person and not just a politician.” 

As a prime example, Rasmussen cites the city’s failure to resolve its housing crisis. “Decades of inaction have only exacerbated the problem,” he said. 

Wolohan, a lifelong renter in Redwood City who works at the Riekes Center in Menlo Park, described himself as a “fresh candidate without ties to any people or organizations acting out of self-interest.” He will wage an entirely grassroots campaign and accept no financial donations. “I think I could be of tremendous service to the community. It’s not like I’m doing this for status or power. … I want to channel a lot of voices that are maybe overlooked. … Being a person who doesn’t have any affiliation with local government is an actually an advantage. It gives me a more unbiased, clear perspective.” 

District 7 is the city’s westernmost district, essentially covering all the area from Alameda de las Pulgas to the western hills, including the Farm Hills neighborhood. It is the least diverse district – 70 percent White, only 9 percent of residents speak Spanish. It is the city’s second-wealthiest district and has the highest percentage of residents with household incomes over $200,000. Eighty-seven percent of the residences are single-family homes and 79 percent of residents are homeowners. 

Aguirre argues that her experience is precisely what is needed to see the city through the Covid-driven financial crisis that has been devastating to the local economy and caused a substantial city budget shortfall. 

As a sitting councilmember, she is participating in the discussions, spearheaded by city staff, about how the budget must be cut. “It’s difficult to say (where to cut) without knowing the (staff) recommendations,” Aguirre said. Reducing staff compensation “should be one of the last resorts,” she said. “If we’re not looking out for them, who is?” 

Rasmussen said “taking care of our people” should be the first priority. “Take care of our employees,” who are charged with taking care of the city and its residents.  He acknowledged he is “not well-informed” on where cuts must be made in the budget. “There are no easy answers.” 

Like his two opponents, Wolohan also offered no specifics. “We’ve got to look at inefficiencies and minimize them, make things more cost-efficient across the board. He said it’s unnecessary to increase taxes because the financial downturn probably means less demand on city services. And employee compensation has to be part of the discussion over cuts. “To say we’re not going to look at 70 percent of the budget is malpractice,” Wolohan said. 

Given the nature of the district’s housing, dominated by single-family homes and home ownership, It iwould be understandable that the issue of housing would be pre-eminent.  

The housing shortage cries out for converting the office buildings constructed and approved in the last decade to residential, Wolohan said. “Converting is a cheaper form of construction than starting from scratch,” he said. Cheaper also means more affordable housing for more people. “People are willing to live in units that don’t have washers and dryers, pools and granite counter tops,” Wolohan said. Such a redirection of policy will “alleviate the affordable crisis without a fiscal burden on the city.” 

Rasmussen was much more critical of the city’s “inaction” on housing. “There’s nothing happening as far as affordable (housing),” Rasmussen said. The whole city has not come out with creative ideas and moved on them. Homelessness is on the rise. What we are doing to protect our community and not drive (people) away?” The city needs to actively encourage more workforce housing and “to support the affordable housing we have” instead of “knocking them down and building monster homes for millions and millions of dollars.” He supports multi-unit buildings, approving single-occupancy units that can be placed in backyards or above a garage.” 

The race for District 7 is uniquely situated for the discussion about the city’s police, future funding, conduct and shifting of priorities. As the only Latina on the council, it is expected that Aguirre will bring an additional perspective on how the police department interacts with the city’s substantial Latino community. And Rasmussen, as the only candidate with a law enforcement background, would seem to have an additional perspective on what can be expected of the police department facing pressure to make changes. 

Rasmussen said the city needs more community policing, a law enforcement policy that puts police more directly in touch with neighborhoods and residents, beyond simply responding to emergency calls. And the department needs more standards and training, he said. 

Rasmussen said he supports the push for a citizens police oversight commission, but he is adamant that it needs to be run by an outside agency, not the city or a group of council appointees from Redwood City. It has to be run “by someone not aligned with the police department, someone completely objective, not appointed by the city manager to just brush over stuff, Rasmussen said. 

“Change is going to come from the top down. It’s going to have to be cultural. I’ve spoken up in my department about excessive force complaints. We need more officers to speak up and we need not have officers retaliated against when they do speak out,” Rasmussen said. 

Aguirre, who serves on the council ad hoc committee studying policing in the city, said, “Our community has spoken pretty loud on how we need reform and what that looks like,” she said. That would include a citizens commission and greater transparency about complaints of excessive force, she said. 

“I’m really open to looking at what oversight looks like and having the community involved in that,” Aguirre said. And she understands the push to shift away from police duties that might fall under the heading of social services. We’re looking at different options and everything’s on the table. Let’s set the model,” she said. 

Wolohan said he is “open and receptive” to a citizens oversight commission. “It could potentially create more transparency.” But, he cautioned, “I’m definitely not an extremist who thinks the police is an unnecessary entity.”  

He also suggested a higher fitness standard might decrease the need by police to use force. An officer on the force for 20 years might not have the necessary level of fitness to respond incidents that require physical action, making the officer more inclined to use undue force. “If they’re more sound fitness-wise, they might have a little more confidence in handling situations, if things go south,” Wolohan said. 

Contact Mark Simon 

*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: Two vie to represent Redwood Shores on council

in PoliticalClimate by

The following is the second of four columns covering the November election for City Council of Redwood City. The second installment reports on the District 1 race. The previous installment, on the District 4 election, is here.

When the Redwood City Council last year drew up the new districts that would govern the 2020 election cycle, most attention was focused, understandably, on ensuring the creation of at least two minority-majority districts.

But there was an intense and successful effort, if lower profile, to ensure that the Redwood Shores area of the city would have its own district. That would mean a single councilmember devoted to a neighborhood that is closer to Belmont City Hall, and whose residents long have felt neglected and overlooked by the denizens of Redwood City Hall.

Now, there is a Shores district, and the first election there has drawn two of the city’s longest-serving public officials, but whose tenure in the Shores stands in marked contrast.

Jeff Gee has lived in Redwood Shores for 25 years, which includes nine years he served on the City Council. Nancy Radcliffe has lived in the Shores less than two years, having moved there upon her retirement, but she has served on the Planning Commission for 19 years.

Gee says his own longevity means “I understand our Redwood Shores neighborhood.” Radcliffe says she will bring “a fresh and honest voice” to representing the area. She said the use of the word “honest” carries with it no implications and just one of any number of words she could have chosen to characterize her candidacy.

The district encompasses the entirety of Redwood Shores, bounded at its southern edge by Redwood Shores Parkway. Half the district residents are White, and 39 percent are Asian-American, the highest concentration of any district by a factor of four. Residents also are the wealthiest in the city, with 45 percent reporting a household income of $75,000-$200,000 and 32 percent reporting a household income over $200,000.

Gee announced for re-election in 2018, but dropped out, a decision spurred, at least in part, by an activist group of residents who saw him as the embodiment of the changes to Redwood City they found objectionable. Now, with a district seemingly carved out for him, Gee acknowledges “There is a lot that has happened in two years.” Those things include district elections, campaign donation limits and a voluntary fundraising limit adopted by the council, he said.

“The biggest reason is that I didn’t know we were going to have the public health pandemic and that has really changed the dynamics of who we are as a community and where we’re headed,” Gee said.

Given her length of service on the Planning Commission, Radcliffe has been urged to run for the council on more than one occasion, most recently four years ago. “But we had a lot of great candidates,” she said. “Why dilute the votes for any one of those people who could have done a fabulous job?”

Now, after the city adopted term limits for its boards and commissions, Radcliffe will be leaving the Planning Commission, and “I want to stay involved in the city. The city has great bones and I want to keep making great choices.”

Regardless of the issues council candidates may raise, the council that is seated at the end of this year will have to deal with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, which not only devastated local retail, commercial and development interests, but has left the city with a substantial budget shortfall due to losses in sales tax revenues.

“We have to be really careful with the Parks Department and the Library. Both of these serve everyone,” Radcliffe said. Filling the funding gaps that are likely to occur may require more foundations, similar to the non-profit organizations that support the library system. Those efforts also can do much to address the digital divide, an issue only made worse by the economic downturn. And she said the city has to be open to looking at city employee salaries, as the full scope of the economic downturn is understood.

Gee said he served on the council during the Great Recession of 2008-09 and that means “I know what it’s going to take to make the hard decisions. … We’re going to have to cut,” he said, and that will include “engaging our labor partners” who “were able to give back in ’08-09.” The adjustments include deferring compensation and leaving unfilled city staff vacancies. “They’ll have to share in the pain. … It’s not exclusive to Redwood City. This is going to hit everybody across the board. There is no way I can see we can tax our way out of the situation, or cut our way out of the situation.”

One budget area that might be the target of cuts is the Police Department, which is the object of a grassroots effort to redirect current funds to social services. Both Gee and Radcliffe said they were open to discussing such a change and relieving the police of responding to matters that might fall more directly to community service agencies, whether city-based or managed by San Mateo County.

Both said they were open to discussing other police reforms being proposed, including a citizens police oversight commission and greater transparency in the disclosure of complaints filed against individual officers for excessive use of force. Of a commission, Gee said, “It’s all in the details, so I don’t know what that means. Radcliffe said, “It seems reasonable, like a Peninsula Conflict Resolution type of organization and that feels very open and transparent to me and both sides could benefit from it. … It’s all in the implementation.”

As for the fundamental message of change embodied in the Black Lives Matter movement, Gee noted that he has been an active leader in the Asian-Pacific Islander (API) movement to expand the reach of those communities into government. The key is a city council that is “more inclusive” when filling city boards and commissions, which commonly are a starting point for future city council candidates. He noted Redwood City is a least 40 percent White and 12 percent API, but the boards and commissions are “over 70 percent white, and have been for years.” These bodies “need to look more like the people who live in Redwood City.”

The Black Lives Matter movement was an eye-opener for Radcliffe, who said, “I had thought we had come further in our understanding of each other, and it seems I was mistaken. … I guess I was naïve in thinking a lot of the civil unrest issues were in other parts of the country but, apparently, it’s not as good as I had hoped.” She added, “We’re all in this together and it’s really important to keep everyone safer and communicating.”

Whatever might be the issue of the day, however, development, growth and housing will be perennial issues facing any city council in any year.

The housing shortage is on the minds of every candidate running for council. “I’m not sure we’ve come up with an answer,” Radcliffe said. “While I’m pro-development, I’m also pro-neighborhood. We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all community.” She said the city needs a wide mixture of housing types covering a variety of income levels.

Gee said the city needs to be ready to build more housing “Where there is land available to do it, and we’re going to have to work really hard to find land that’s available. The pandemic has shone a bright light on the absolute need for more housing.” Gee said he is encouraged by efforts at the state level and private-sector interest in partnerships that are likely to make more funding available for housing and to speed up the process of approval and the cost of construction.

One primary site for a high-rise, high-density commercial and residential development is at Sequoia Station, located, quite literally, at the city’s crossroads of El Camino Real and Jefferson Avenue. An initial proposal raised the prospect of a 17-story building on the site.

“Seventeen stories makes all of us pause,” said Radcliffe, who lamented that the current site wasn’t built with greater density and height 30 years ago. “I don’t think Redwood City has the appetite for that height at this point. I’m definitely comfortable with the 8-story range, maybe 10. It’s absolutely the perfect location for transit-oriented development.”

As for greater levels height and density, Gee said, “I think we need to take a look at it. … It’s a great place to put jobs, housing and transit together and to be able to put that together in density.” He wants a community effort to develop a consensus for what should go at the site. “There’s room for a lot of ideas.”

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.

San Mateo City Council candidate forum set for Sept. 23

in PoliticalClimate by

San Mateo voters can get to know candidates running for their City Council in the November election at a virtual candidate forum set for Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m.

Access the meeting by clicking this Zoom link.

Three candidates are vying for two seats on the City Council in the Nov. 3, 2020 Presidential Election: Amourence Lee, Lisa Diaz Nash and Diane Papan. To learn more about the candidates, click here.

The forum is hosted by the League of Women Voters. Questions can be asked during the live event, or emailed in advance to with “City of San Mateo Council Race” in the subject line.

Join the meeting via Zoom:

Or join by phone: (408) 638-0968, Webinar ID: 849 3201 8420

San Mateo County Democratic Party announces endorsements

in Community/PoliticalClimate by

The San Mateo County Democratic and Republican parties have announced endorsements for the November election amid a statewide surge in voter registration.

While both parties have announced endorsements for local ballot measures, only the Democratic Party has pledged support for local candidates.

In Redwood City, which is entering into its first district elections, the County Democratic Central Committee has endorsed incumbents Janet Borgens for District 3 and Alicia Aguirre for District 7. It has also endorsed Amourence Lee and Diane Papan for San Mateo City Council; Ron Collins and John Dugan for San Carlos City Council; and Davina Hurt and Tom McCune for Belmont City Council. Each of these candidates is pictured above from left to right.

For local ballot measures, the Democrats and Republicans are at odds across the board. As one example, the County’s Democratic Central Committee is supporting Measure RR, the Caltrain 1/8 cent sales tax that aims to provide the transit agency with a dedicated source of funding to recover from the pandemic and enhance service. County Republicans reject the measure.

To view all November ballot measure endorsements by the County Democratic Party, click here. To view all from the County Republican Party, go here.

The endorsements precede an historic election that has seen a significant increase in registered voters throughout the state, a trend that appears to favor Democrats, including in San Mateo County.

As of July 3, a record 20.9 million out of a total 25.06 million eligible voters have registered, which amounts to 83.49 percent of eligible voters, according to data provided by the California Secretary of State. That’s an increase from about 18.1 million registered voters in the 2016 presidential election, or 72.89 percent of eligible voters.

Of those registered for the November 2020 election, about 9.7 million, or 46.3 percent, are voting as Democrat, while just over 5 million are voting Republican. Another 5 million voters registered as having no party preference, and those independents now outnumber GOP voters. Another 1.2 million are in the “other” parties category, which include the Independent, Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties.

In comparison to the 2016 presidential election, the percentage of registered Democrats has increased from 45.1 percent to 46.3 percent, while the percentage of Republicans has decreased from 27.1 percent to 24 percent, the state’s data showed. Meanwhile, the number of registered voters with no party preference increased from 23.3 percent to 24 percent from 2016, while those registering in parties that are not the Democratic and Republican parties also rose from 2016 from 4.5 percent to 5.7 percent.

San Mateo County has the sixth highest percentage of registered Democrats in the state, with 54.38 percent. Only San Francisco (62.1 percent); Marin (59.93); Alameda (59.54); Santa Cruz (59.04) and Sonoma (56.19) have higher percentages.

Oct. 19 is the traditional voter registration deadline for the Nov. 3 General Election, although same-day voter registration remains an option.  Voting is set to start on Oct. 5, when all California counties will begin mailing ballots to every active, registered voter.

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