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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Heightened diversity in local government to inspire diversity of issues

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Here at the Political Climate International News Center, we have talked a lot about how change is affecting our region, because, you know, it is.

But the recent election and subsequent reorganizations of our various city councils is another demonstration that a more fundamental and profound change has taken place, bringing the prospect of what can be termed a political revolution.

In short, the burgeoning diversity of our community is reflected increasingly in our most basic, grassroots-level politics.

There are 20 cities in San Mateo County. Among the councils that represent those cities, 10 have a woman mayor, nine have a mayor from an ethnic minority and eight of the councils have a majority of women. Add in the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, which just elected Carole Groom as president, and 11 of the county’s political jurisdictions are led by women (not to mention the fact that two women also represent the county in Congress).

Not that long ago, the election of any woman to any city council or as mayor was a noteworthy occurrence.

When Pacifica elected an all-woman council in 1992, it was national news as the first such body to achieve that milestone.

Now, Pacifica has four women on its five-member council. So does Colma, and Redwood City’s seven-member council has six women. The extraordinary has become that status quo.

Look deeper at who is holding office and it might well be time to retire the phrase “ethnic minority” since the county now is a “minority majority” county, where Caucasians, while still the largest ethnic group, are outnumbered by the combination Latinos, Asians, African Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Indeed, consider the lineup of mayors and vice mayors of color: Daly City, Mayor Ray Buenaventura, Vice Mayor Glenn Sylvester; Colma, Mayor Joanne F. del Rosario; South San Francisco, Mayor Karyl Matsumoto; San Bruno, Mayor Rico Medina; Millbrae, Mayor Wayne Lee; Belmont, Mayor Davina Hurt; Redwood City, Mayor Ian Bain; and Foster City, Mayor Sam Hindi, Vice Mayor Herb Perez.

And then there is East Palo Alto, a council made up of three African Americans and two Latinos, led by Mayor Lisa Gauthier and Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones.

If you added in Millbrae and Foster City, there would be 12 cities with woman mayors, except in both those cities, some serious behind-the-scenes maneuvering and public snubbing denied mayor positions to two women who looked to be next in line had councils followed the customary rotation.

Ah, the job of mayor. It’s a job that, at most, is symbolic. In every Peninsula city except San Bruno, the mayor is selected by council colleagues. It’s a one-year job, except in Redwood City, where it’s two years.

It’s a job that as substantial as cotton candy. Big, puffy, colorful and tasty, but largely air, signifying nothing more than it’s one council member’s turn.

Still, some city councils manage to pick a fight over this job because some of them don’t like each other. I suppose we would have to describe that as impressive.

SO WHAT? What is the significance of all this diversity I’m ranting about?

We are opening up the halls of power to more people – specifically those who have been denied access. They will bring a different sensibility to the job and a different perspective.

Mary Hughes, leader of a statewide campaign to recruit progressive women to run for legislative office, said that expanding the range of those who hold office means a bigger agenda of issues, such as early childhood education, extended parental leave, more and easier access to college.

Women are “more likely to put issues forward having to do with real-life challenges,” Hughes said. “Women lead with a 360-degree perspective about life. There hasn’t been a consideration of the home life as part of public policy. What we see is women look at their whole lives when it comes to public policy.”

BUT NOT EVERYWHERE: Sometimes, the old lineup stays intact and it has got some people hopping mad in Redwood City.

A month ago, at its meeting to swear in recently elected members, Redwood City Council members looked to a year disagreeing civilly and to an abiding effort to work together.

On Monday, faced with their first symbolically significant decision, the council voted to appoint two middle-aged white men to the Planning Commission, which now has only one woman in its ranks. One decision apparently was easy – Rick Hunter, who narrowly lost last year’s council race, was appointed unanimously.

The other, Bill Shoe, was appointed by a 4-3 vote. Shoe is a former principal planner at Santa Clara County and he has had a low profile in Redwood City affairs, if he had one at all.

His appointment appears intended to satisfy those who want to slow the rate of growth in the city.

In the process, there are some people who are furious that the commission now is less than diverse.

And some are upset that another Council candidate, Jason Galisatus, was passed over, even though he had been assured he had the votes to win the appointment. The other significance is that while 40 percent of the city’s residents are renters, there are no renters on the Council or the Commission, a point Galisatus made while running for Council. There still isn’t.

As for who had been promised votes, Janet Borgens, who found herself in the middle of that little controversy, denied committing her vote to anyone and she subsequently wrote to Galisatus, indicating “after our last conversation, I made that clear.”

Who knows? Even better, who cares?

Perhaps it’s a holdover from a divisive campaign and all this will settle down when real issues come before the Council. Perhaps it’s a harbinger of more 4-3 votes and that the promise of working together in January was wishful thinking. We’ll find out soon enough.

We’ll leave the last word to Borgens, who told me, “We’re going to butt heads and that’s a good thing because we can learn from our differences.”Contact Mark Simon at

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Key figure in Redwood City’s building boom leaving city staff

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Redwood City Council approves salary increases for city manager, city attorney

The Redwood City Renaissance, or ruination, depending on your point of view, had many authors, but one of the key figures in the ultimate outcome of the city’s building boom announced this week he is leaving the city staff next month.

Aaron Aknin, assistant city manager/community development director, said he plans to form his own strategic consulting firm.

Aknin, 41, has been with the city for five years and has spent nearly 20 years working on the Peninsula in various planning positions, including stints at San Bruno, Palo Alto, Redwood City, Belmont and San Carlos, which, as we know, comprise the unofficial royal flush of cities.

Aknin told Political Climate his firm will focus on providing strategic consulting services and staffing to Bay Area cities, many of which are facing the kind of pressure to grow with which he dealt at Redwood City.

Aknin was at the center of the implementation of Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan, which resulted in dramatic growth in commercial and residential development, remaking the once-moribund city into a dynamic center of business and recreation.

The downtown plan projected growth over a 15- to 20-year period, but pent up economic forces accelerated the plan and much of it was accomplished in the five years Aknin was a key planning figure.

Indeed, during the same time, there was considerable turnover in the city’s Planning Department, leaving Aknin as, in the words of one real estate developer, “a very steady hand during a time when the city had unprecedented growth.”

Aknin said the city ended up with a positive outcome as a result of the precise plan and, significantly, the public input that led to modifications of the plan as it was implemented. He described the citywide debates over growth as essential to influencing the final outcome.

“The pushbacks resulted in reductions” of some elements of the plan, but the process allowed the plan to go forward and fulfill its ultimate goal of a transformed downtown, now characterized by high-rise residential units within walking distance to the city center and to regional transit and commercial development. The growth has revitalized the downtown as an employment center.

The lessons learned from the experience, Aknin said, is “not to be afraid to listen and to make changes to the plan where it can be improved without losing the overall vision of the plan.”

He said he is fully aware that the changes were unacceptable to a segment of the city’s population. “I get people’s perspective on the role of change.” The net result is a “lot different that we’ve seen in the suburbs. But I do think we’ve done the right thing.”

The kinds of changes seen in Redwood City can be expected in cities throughout the Peninsula, Aknin said.

“You have to allow a certain amount of growth,” although other cities are unlikely to see the breadth of growth that occurred in Redwood City, which had a downtown with more space, larger parcels and a reduced amount of impact on residential neighborhoods.

One unexpected development, Aknin predicted, will be the development of a citywide transportation system that provides more transit options for residents and workers. That’s not to say the city is going to move heavily into business as a transit operator, but that the planning set in motion by the downtown plan will lead to a citywide transportation strategy that will seek to enhance mobility and reduce traffic.

Aknin had been mentioned as a possible candidate for one of several city manager vacancies in San Mateo County. Instead, he has opted to go into business for himself. His last day at the city is Feb. 13, he 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.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: As battle heightens between local and regional interests, county must unify

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San Mateo County – all 20 cities and the county – better gear up. Because it looks like the county is about to be overwhelmed.

Throughout the county, we are seeing an increased move to district elections. A valid case can be made — and more significantly, an indisputable legal case – that district elections mean more representation to those long shut out of the political process.

But district elections mean the slicing and dicing of representation. That is likely to mean a rise in highly localized politics driven by neighborhood-level, parochial interests.

It also is likely to mean increased influence of neighborhood associations as political brokers, which have not proven to be a consistently positive element of a city’s governance. Too often, elected officials who come out of neighborhood associations have limited scope, see their job as representing solely the interests of those who supported them and are deeply suspicious of city staff.

District elections are only going to mean more of the same – a narrow focus on a district’s issues at the expense of an understanding of citywide concerns. We’re seeing this already on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, where district elections have been in place for two election cycles and supervisors are focused much more closely on district issues.

As San Mateo County turns inward and smaller, the region is looking outward and larger. The region is going more regional while San Mateo County is going more local.

The most notable example, but not the only one, is the recent “nonbinding” vote by the Metropolitan Transportation Association to adopt a regional approach to housing.

The only real power directly in the hands of local government is land use. But a few leaders at a regional level think local cities have done too little to build housing and they want to take control of what they perceive, correctly, as a regional crisis.

Regional leadership, as you might expect, is dominated by San Francisco and San Jose, the two largest cities in the Bay Area. Both cities are known for their own internal political strife, but when it comes to asserting their regional interests, they have no problem uniting in a common cause, aided by the presence of a mayor, who can speak for the whole community.

The power structure of each city regards San Mateo County as a pass-through county, an obstacle that stands in the way of their own regional goals. San Jose and San Francisco each have long term plans for a major regional transportation hub and each have labeled their hub the “Grand Central Station of the West,” which gives you a flavor of their outsized ambitions.

Land use is not the only issue they want ruled regionally. Transportation is the other. That debate is playing out at Caltrain, where long-term planning could easily result in a regional transit authority that has sway over Caltrain, BART, the Capitol Corridor and Altamont rail systems and even the region’s local bus systems.

Should San Francisco and San Jose win the long-term battle, it is quite likely that Caltrain could make only a handful of stops in San Mateo County. The massive Google project adjacent to the Diridon Caltrain station in San Jose will only heighten the expectation in San Jose that Caltrain must be reoriented to serve its employees and its residents ahead of those quaint little stops in San Mateo County. And San Francisco. Well, San Francisco is always surprised by the presence of others.

Transit, even an electrified Caltrain, ultimately is a zero-sum gain. To add service somewhere, it has to be taken from somewhere else.

THE UNC0MMON NATURE OF COMMON INTERESTS: San Mateo County leaders long have been proud that its varying political jurisdictions have a history of working together. Because no single city dominates the county, everyone has to get along to get anywhere. Part of that consensus-building ability rests in respecting each city’s own interests.

The same leaders also bemoan the minimal regional impact of the county. This is, they say, because San Mateo County doesn’t have a mayor – a single, dominant political figure who can speak for the whole county through the news media and the regional political structure.

Well, I think it’s time for these same leaders to stop complaining and find a new way to do this.

The answer is to do it in that uniquely San Mateo County way – working together. There already are a couple of countywide entities – the City/County Association of Governments and the Council of Cities, each composed of a representative from each city.

And there are any number of other countywide entities – Home for All, the countywide housing initiative; the Grand Boulevard Initiative, which unites the common interests of cities on El Camino; SamTrans, the countywide transit agency; and the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, the voice of the county’s rapidly expanding business and economic interests.

Rather than wait for the election of a countywide mayor, which is never going to happen, the cities should decide on a regional strategy that best meets the common interests of each city, using one of these entities are creating a special countywide task force dedicated to asserting the county’s strategic needs regionally.

Because, let’s face it, there really is no significant difference between Redwood City, Burlingame, Belmont, Millbrae, South San Francisco or just about any other city, except in the minds of those who want to fight over nonexistent distinctions. The same kinds of people live in every city with the same kinds of concerns and interests.

And here’s the key: If this doesn’t happen, the region’s leaders are going to address those concerns and interests and they will do so in a manner that meets their own needs first.

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: At a time of giving, consider these local nonprofits

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In “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ short novel that, in many ways, formed our collective understanding of the meaning of the season, Ebenezer Scrooge is approached by a representative of a charity, who is seeking a donation. He appeals to Scrooge, noting it is “a time of year when want is most keenly felt.”

If it is a time of giving, it also is a time of asking.

Countless charities race to the December 31 deadline to get their year-end pitch in our hands in the form of mailed appeals. Make one donation to an environmental group, for example, and you are on a dozen lists of other worthy causes.

They’re all worthy. That’s the challenge, not just for the nonprofits trying to distinguish themselves in the wave of requests, but for those of us who want to give and want to be assured that the money we donate goes to the causes we intended.

Nonprofits are held to a peculiar standard in which we expect them to do sweeping,important and challenging work with virtually no staff and a minimalist administrative budget.

A case could be made that nonprofits should have a much heftier administrative budget, particularly in the area of marketing and fund development, so that they can push to a new funding level.

That’s a debate for another day, better left to someone more versed in the topic than I.

The purpose of this column is to offer up my own endorsement of several local charities with which I am familiar or have some direct involvement. All of them do great work. Each of them has absurdly low overhead, which means the money given to them goes directly to assisting those you want to help.

THREE THAT ARE PERSONAL: I’ll start with three nonprofits on whose boards of directors I sit.

Sequoia Awards was started more than 25 years ago to provide scholarships to high school seniors from Redwood City. So many scholarships are based on athletics or academics. This one is based solely on the community volunteerism of the student. In awarding scholarships, a student’s academic record is not even considered, except to the extent that we can be assured he or she has grades good enough to get into a college – any college.

The great majority of our awardees are Latino, an even greater majority are the first members of their families to go to college. Many of them devote hundreds,even thousands, of hours doing hugely impactful community work, even as their own families are struggling to make ends meet, or even to remain together.

These are stories to stir the soul and to bring hope for the next generation.

And here’s the additional incentive: Sequoia Awards has no staff. The board does all the work.

You can find Sequoia Awards here:

Bay Area Cancer Connections also was founded 25 years ago to support women with breast cancer. The main mission then is the same now:Put women in charge of the decisions they face when confronted with a diagnosis.

My wife died four years ago from metastatic breast cancer after 23 years of fighting the disease. We have been engaged and supportive of this organization since its inception.

BACC has expanded its scope to include women with ovarian cancer and we have ambitious goals to reach more people throughout the region with services that are caring and empowering.

BACC can be found here:

Peninsula TV has been home to my TV show, The Game, for more than 20 years, but I’m also on the board of directors of PenTV. Our ambition is to become the source of news and information for our community. We have big plans, but we will need funding to make it happen.

You can find PenTV here: Because we’re overhauling the website, it’s a little more challenging than it ought to be to find the page for donations, so here it is:

ANOTHER WAY TO MAKE IT PERSONAL: Amidst all the need, how do we choose where to give?

I’ve always taken the approach that giving should be value-based.

If you love to read, give the gift of reading. Donate to Project Read, an outstanding program that helps children and adults learn to read or improve their reading skills. With programs throughout the Peninsula, it’s also clear that the tutors gain as much as the students. Or give to your local library. Despite the prediction of their demise, libraries are more dynamic than ever and still are a meaningful resource for many in our community who don’t have personal means.

If you love food, give to Second Harvest Food Bank, which is the leading provider of food to those families for whom the cost of living often forces them to choose between rent or dinner. It is always a shock to see how many people in this plentiful county go to bed hungry.

If you treasure the outdoors that are such a distinctive part of our lives, give to the San Mateo County Parks Foundation, which raises funds for projects that make our county parks more accessible to all and more enjoyable.

You get the idea.

Many of us are blessed with a roof over our heads, food on our tables and the life choices that come with an education.

Much has been given to us. Much is expected of us.

And I can promise you, it will make you feel good to find a little extra time or money or skills that can be put to good use on behalf of those for whom “want is most keenly felt.”

Contact Mark Simon

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

*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: Redwood City mayor calls for respect on new council

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Redwood City mayor calls for respect on new diverse council

All over the Peninsula, new council members are taking office, incumbent council members are taking their leave and there are efforts to move past the natural disagreeability that unfolded during the course of a campaign season. But in some instances, those disagreements are still fresh and it is not yet certain if some will be able, or are ready, to move on.

In Redwood City, newly elected Councilwomen Diana Reddy and Giselle Hale took their oaths of office last night amidst the customary ceremonial flourishes,and each of them pledged to represent the whole city, not just those voters who supported them.

For each, their election was more than a little improbable.

Hale, by her own description, was turned down for a Planning Commission appointment little more than four years ago. Yet, here she was, being sworn in as the top winner in the November election with an historic number of votes.

Reddy referenced her own history outside of elective office, seeking a voice for those who feel they are overlooked by the power structure. “I will serve Redwood City as the community organizer that I am,” she said, “by listening and by bringing people to the table.”

Hale reflected the sentiment of her now-colleagues, when she said, “Tonight is about putting the campaign behind us and uniting as one council in service to this great community.”

She said during the campaign it was clear what people wanted: housing affordability, less time in traffic, they want to “get around safely” and, “particularly for working families,” they want day care more widely available.

Addressing her opponents in the campaign, Hale said, “I know that each of us loves this city and we are committed to a prosperous and vibrant future. … My door is always open to partner with you on shared goals.”

Reddy said her campaign was “an all-volunteer, grassroots campaign that resonated with the residents of this community. … We made a covenant to this community to listen. I’m making this covenant to all residents that I will listen.”

Mayor Ian Bain, in his own remarks preceding the two newcomers, also appeared concerned that the disagreements of November might be hard to leave behind.

“We are a diverse group with a diverse set of opinions, but this is a group that is committed to modeling civil civic engagement,” Bain said. “We are going to agree to disagree. We are going to disagree respectfully and we’re going to model that behavior for the community.”

FRACTIOUS FOSTER CITY: Whatever happens at the round of installation meetings taking place this month, they’re all likely to look like a lovefest compared to Foster City.

With two new council members, Richa Awasthi and Sanjay Gehani, sworn in last night, the council promptly split 3-2 in re-electing Sam Hindi as mayor, with Awasthi joining Hindi and Herb Perez in denying the post to Catherine Mahanpour. Then, they did the same thing in electing Perez as vice mayor and rejecting Mahanpour by a 3-2 vote.

A PAIR OF PAPANS: The moment has passed, but for a week or so,San Mateo County had two mayors named Papan. Diane Papan was elected mayor of San Mateo last week, and today, her sister, Gina Papan, finishes her term as mayor of Millbrae.

Their late dad, legendary Assemblyman Lou Papan, would have been thrilled.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo by City of Redwood City

*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: 2020 election campaigning begins, but there’s more to say about Nov. 6

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: 2020 election campaigning begins, but there's more to say about Nov. 6

Clean Up on Aisle 2018.

Or, put another way, there are a few leftover items from the election to note before we move on to the 2020 election.

The 2020 election?

Why, yes. In the next presidential election, California will hold its primary on March 3. That’s a scant 15 months from now, which is why the candidates running to replace Jerry Hill in the state Senate are swinging into full campaign mode already.

Interestingly, or ridiculously, depending on your perspective, there will have been four primaries or caucuses before March 3 – the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary on February 29. In South Carolina, they know how to take full advantage of a Leap Year.

Eight other states will hold primaries on March 3, including Texas, which takes some of the fun out of being early. By the end of March, 23 states will have held primaries.

HOUSING, HOUSING, HOUSING: Looking over campaign themes from the November election, housing was a big winner, and you can expect a housing building boom akin to the office/commercial/corporate building boom of the last five-plus years.

Several cities – Belmont, San Carlos, South San Francisco, Menlo Park, Burlingame and Redwood City – are working on or advancing plans to build more housing on El Camino Real or in downtown neighborhoods, or in future downtown neighborhoods, or even in under-utilized light industrial areas east of El Camino.

But you also can expect a rethinking of zoning regulations that restrict the ability of a city to add housing. There will be more “up-zoning,” in which limits are expanded on a property so that units can be added.

There is a lot more space for a lot more housing.

NOT SO TOUGH: On the subject of South City, Councilwoman Karyl Matsumoto objected to my description of the win by Flor Nicolas in that city’s three-seat race. Nicolas bumped incumbent Pradeep Gupta. I said Matsumoto should get credit for recruiting Nicolas and taking out Gupta. Not so, she said.

“Pradeep enhanced the Council’s presence with his calm and analytical demeanor and it was a pleasure to serve with him,” Matsumoto wrote in an email. “When current Mayor Liza Normandy announced that she would not seek re-election to the City Council, I recruited a woman, Flor Nicolas, to run for the ‘open’ seat created by Mayor Normandy’s decision.  All of my activities were in support of Flor’s candidacy, but never in opposition to any of the incumbents or other candidates in the race.”

Of course, it adds up the same way – incumbent Gupta is out and newcomer Nicolas is in.

MENLO, MY MENLO: An interesting note came into the Political Climate International News Center from John Woodell, husband of Menlo Park City Councilwoman Kirsten Keith, who lost her re-election bid to Drew Combs in that city’s first voyage into district elections.

District elections, based on the Menlo experience, are hyper-local. Money makes less of a difference and grassroots, door-to-door campaigning seems to be the new standard, a political imperative reinforced by all-mail balloting, in which every home is a polling place.

Here’s the note Woodell sent in to Climate: “Each candidate knocked on every door multiple times and spoke to these voters multiple times. … The word-of-mouth campaign seems to be 1) incumbents always voted for Facebook, and 2) council didn’t ask for enough in the development agreements, 3) that the general plan update was an up-zoning with no real benefit, etc..”

Woodell subsequently backed off on his own analysis, insisting he is no authority.

OH, THOSE RASCALS: Representatives with the California Apartment Association say they shouldn’t get credit (or blame) for all the mailings that targeted Diana Reddy in the Redwood City Council race.

Reddy won, which was a big loss for the CAA, but they say they only sent two of the mail pieces that made her look like a Visigoth ready to storm the ramparts. Others came from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee. I’ve heard as many as eight pieces of anti-Reddy mail hit during the campaign. I saw six. At some point, what’s the difference? They didn’t work. Or maybe they did, but not how they were intended.

The reality was that the message of the mailers may have reflected Reddy’s progressive politics, but they were in direct conflict with her campaign persona, which was calm, mature, upbeat and much more thoughtful than her opponents wanted to admit.

And, perhaps most importantly, Reddy gives every impression of being pragmatic. It is hard to imagine she is going to find any value in being on the losing end of a series of 6-1 votes on the seven-member council.

BACK IN THE SADDLE: Congratulations to Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, my TV partner, for his re-election as Assembly Speaker Pro Tem, the number two leadership post in the lower house.

The Democrats now hold 60 of the 80 seats in the Assembly, which is what an impartial observer might call a really, really big majority.

They better get some stuff done.

Mullin, on our show, which started airing today on Peninsula TV, Channel 26, said they’ll have to wrestle with a likely recession. And there’s the pension shortfall mess to address. And a crumbling infrastructure. And the highest housing prices in the country. And immigration.

And a new governor, whose preference is for bold initiatives.

Fun times.

Contact Mark Simon at

 UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify statements made by John Woodell about the Menlo Park council 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: Winners and losers in the Nov. 6 election

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It took exactly three weeks for the San Mateo County Elections Office to count all the votes and provide a definitive answer to the eternal political question: Who were the winners and who were the losers?

Of course, here at Political Climate World Headquarters, we dig a little deeper, so this is our own assessment of who were the big political winners and losers from a mid-term election with an historic turnout.

And we have to start with the voters and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (incidentally, my partner on the Peninsula TV show “The Game.”)

A BIG WIN FOR VOTERS: Voters turned out in tremendous numbers, 73 percent countywide. Four years ago, in the last equivalent statewide election, turnout in San Mateo County was 46.3 percent. Eight years ago, turnout was 65.3 percent.

By any measure, it was a landslide win for the county’s all-mail balloting, an experiment for which Mullin strongly advocated. Certainly, there were other factors that drove voters to participate, but all-mail balloting had to be the leading factor.

Yes, it took three weeks for final results to be counted and for us to know who won in the closest races. But even in elections that were all-precinct, all-machine, close races took three weeks to clear up.

Nonetheless, the slow count did undermine the public confidence in the Elections Office, under the leadership of Mark Church. If all-mail balloting is here to stay, more resources have to be dedicated to a swifter count.

REDWOOD CITY WINNERS: The biggest winner in the county’s hottest City Council race was Giselle Hale, a planning commissioner, who set records in fund-raising and total votes that are unlikely to be broken. She cleared the 12,000-vote threshold, an unprecedented amount of support. Hale clearly has emerged as the leading spokesperson for a new and influential group of voters – new families, often needing two incomes to live in the city, and whose professional background is in the tech industry.

Vice Mayor Diane Howard won re-election, despite highly vocal dissatisfaction about development that never seemed to attach to her. She demonstrated that there is still a place for someone who has been a fixture in the community and whose amiability has made her many friends and, seemingly, no enemies. Howard acknowledged this election signaled a changing of the guard.

And Diana Reddy will bring a whole different approach to serving on the Council. She is accustomed to being outside the chambers, speaking for those who she felt were often overlooked or dispossessed by the power structure. Now, she’s part of the power structure, but she is likely to bring a well-defined political perspective not often seen on the Council.

Her narrow win – she squeaked by Rick Hunter by less than 500 votes – is hardly a mandate. But she undoubtedly will bring a grassroots cadre of supporters to critical council issues and her influence on some key policies is likely to outweigh her victory margin.

For all of her commitment to the cause of social justice, Reddy is an experienced and pragmatic political veteran and she undoubtedly will find ways to work with her colleagues.

Hunter came so close. In another era, his combination of community, school and public service would have made him an easy winner. Nonetheless, he was widely liked for his earnest, gentlemanly manner and he was a unifying figure, drawing votes from all factions of the city’s politics.

The Council would be well advised to make use of Hunter’s mediating skills and wide support. Perhaps he can serve as a special ambassador-at-large, working behind the scenes to resolve the differences that marked this election. And he’d be the ideal person to chair a citizens’ commission on developing the new districts the City Council will soon consider.

The Council has to be at arm’s length from this process, lest it seem entirely political, and Hunter has a reputation that could mark the process as fair and unbiased.

Hunter said he probably won’t run again. The remaining three candidates – Christina Umhofer, Jason Galisatus and Ernie Schmidt – said they might, particularly in an election of districts. Expect to see them again.

A REDWOOD CITY LOSER: The California Apartment Association spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to defeat Reddy, and they failed. I can’t recall a special interest getting this involved in a city council race, and it was an extraordinary effort that came up just short.

Reddy said in a post-election interview that it was “hard to say” what the impact was of the CAA’s onslaught of eight dramatically negative mail pieces. It might have hurt her, she said, but it also energized her own supporters to work even harder.

Such negative campaigning also is a new phenomenon in local campaigns and it is quite likely that it generated its own voter backlash.

HOW BIG? How pronounced was the big turnout in Redwood City?

Councilman John Seybert sent along some interesting data. The percentages in the Council race are badly skewed by the fact that voters could cast ballots for three of the seven candidates.

So Seybert took the total vote for Measure DD, the measure to create a cannabis business license tax, which was 28,404, and, using that as the total number of voters in the city election, calculated that Hale got 44.7 percent of the total votes cast, Howard 41.9 percent, Reddy 39.8 percent and Hunter 38.6.

OTHER COUNCIL WINNERS: It was a big win for the slate of incumbents in Belmont – Charles Stone, Warren Lieberman and Julia Mates – who easily brushed aside the lone challenger representing the old and out-of-power guard of that once-contentious city.

In South San Francisco, the big loser was one-term incumbent Pradeep Gupta, who lost to newcomer Flor Nicolas. The big winner there, however, was Karyl Matsumoto, who singlehandedly recruited Nicolas to take on Gupta. Matsumoto, who has been deciding not to seek re-election for at least a decade, remains a formidable power in the North County.

In Daly City, incumbent Ray Buenaventura pushed through his own slate, including Pamela DiGiovanni and Rod Daus-Magbual.

WINNING IN DISTRICTS: The results in Menlo Park, where district elections were held for the first time, undoubtedly sent a ripple of apprehension through every other city that is going to have to move away from citywide elections for this simple reason: Incumbents Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki both lost.

Based on that small sample, it appears money has substantially less impact in a district-level election. In Menlo Park, the districts were small enough that a candidate can knock on virtually every door. Not every city is going to have districts that small. Still, it’s a signal to other incumbents in other cities.

MAYBE THE BIGGEST WINNER: There may be no bigger winner in this election than Rosanne Foust, the president and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Association, who singlehandedly raised more than half the $1.1 million that was spent to pass Measure W, the half-cent sales tax increase that will fund badly needed transit and transportation projects in the county.

Since she took over Samceda, Foust has worked tirelessly to remake the group into a regional player and this election proved that she is making great strides. This matters not just for Samceda, but because San Mateo County frequently is overlooked in the play of regional politics. She is doing more than anyone to assert that the county must be given its due.

The win for Measure W came despite several prominent political “leaders” who stayed off the measure, largely because of behind-the-scenes interplay by other regional organizations.

A WIN FOR MOVING FORWARD: Measure W slipped across the two-thirds finish line in the final slug of votes processed by the Elections staff. It’s an example of an endorsement for the progress that has marked the county in the past decades and, by and large, in the Nov. 6 election.

Measure W was a do-or-die moment for transit officials, who need to reinvent the county’s transit and transportation programs to meet the needs of a county choking on traffic. Of course, now they have to deliver and that presents an interesting challenge. Transit projects take years to produce, but the expectation is for some relatively immediate relief.

That’s just one example. Growth is taking place in Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont and South City and voters essentially endorsed changes that are remaking those communities. In Brisbane, a remarkable 55 percent approved a massive bayside project that will triple the size of that city.

And in Redwood City, a sales tax increase passed easily, suggesting that there is widespread confidence in the direction of the city.

Change is here to stay. And while most of the noise comes from those unhappy with the changes, it is clear the great majority of voters in this election are comfortable with the way the Peninsula is evolving.

HERE’S ANOTHER SIGN: Voters also passed all but one of the fiscal measures on the ballot in San Mateo County. There were five hotel tax increases, five cannabis business license taxes, four other city fiscal measures and five school fiscal measures – a total of 19 in all. The only loss was the Millbrae bond measure to rebuild the community center destroyed by fire. It needed two-thirds, and fell well short.

PENINSULA WOMEN WIN BIG: The national trend of electing record numbers of women was replicated in the county. There were 54 school board and city council seats on the ballot and 35 of them were won by women, 65 percent. On school boards, often a launching pad for higher office, there were 23 seats on the ballot and women won 15 of them, 70 percent.

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: Leo Ryan an overlooked part of the Jonestown Massacre

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

My mother, Barbara, was heavily involved in San Mateo County politics as an operative, campaign worker and campaign manager, which means I grew up surrounded by political discussion, debate, campaigns and candidates.

The first candidate I met was Leo Ryan, who was in my living room, conducting a campaign coffee, when I came home one afternoon from the fourth grade.

The 40th anniversary of Jonestown has generated an expected and understandable series of news stories about the horrendous tragedy in that distant jungle.

But it always has felt to me that Leo was an overlooked part of this story, not only because he was the catalyst for what was an inevitable march toward madness and mass murder, but because of who he was – a true maverick, a rule-breaker and a bold personality.

So, in observance of the 40th anniversary of his death, consider this a tribute to a man – frequently and flamboyantly flawed, but one of us, our congressman, our homegrown politician who was, in many ways, truly larger than life.

In addition to cluttering up my living room one fall afternoon, Leo was an English teacher at Capuchino High School in Millbrae, and he led the school’s famous marching band to Washington, where it marched in President Kennedy’s inauguration parade. My brother, Rick, was part of that expedition.

Even then, he was angling for higher office and the legend goes that while the high school band toured Washington, Leo was roaming the halls of Congress, paving the way for his future career.

He served on the South San Francisco City Council at a time when the politics of that city were thoroughly dominated by the Italian-American community, and his election remained a source of resentment among those who thought his seat should have been theirs.

This resentment extended to his election to the state Assembly, representing the northern half of San Mateo County.

By the time he was elected to Congress, he was easily the most dominant political figure on the Peninsula. In one of his elections, he secured the Democratic and Republican nominations and he appeared on the November ballot as the sole candidate.

LEO. JUST LEO: You may have noticed that I’ve been referring to him as Leo, rather than his last name or his title. Everyone knew him as Leo. He was everywhere – speaking to local groups, talking with local newspapers, and gaining headlines for his “investigative representation,” in which he would go places and confront issues.

That was his trademark. He served as a substitute teacher in Watts after the riots there, posed as an inmate at Folsom Prison, and confronted pelt hunters slaughtering baby seals in Newfoundland.

He believed that bringing attention to issues and conditions would spark public policy to address those issues. If, along the way, he gained attention for himself, well, it was only a reasonable result of the risks he was willing to take.

Only one member of Congress has come close to matching Leo’s unique ability to generate publicity that addressed critical issues and raised the member’s profile. That’s Jackie Speier, Leo’s protégé, whose own ability to pull an issue into the spotlight has made her a figure of national reputation.

Leo looked like a congressman. He had silver hair, carefully coifed, and a booming voice. He was well over six feet tall, his face had strong and distinctive features and he could dominate any room he entered.

He was not a team player in Congress and a number of insiders dismissed him as a lightweight, but he didn’t care. He had his own agenda and it wasn’t the classic mindset that you had to go along to get along.

He was proud of his local roots, however, and what was said about him locally mattered to him a great deal. He once sent a handwritten note to my mother, apologizing for a disagreement. As a political reporter, I covered his last campaign for Congress in 1978, and I recall him calling me into his office and conducting a detailed and loud critique of one of my stories.

COME TO JONESTOWN: All that means I was well acquainted with Leo, not just as a political reporter, which I was in 1978 for the Redwood City Tribune, but as a family friend.

On election nights in San Mateo County, it was customary in those days for candidates to make personal appearances at the offices of the county Elections department in Redwood City, where they could get the latest results and speak with the press.

Covering the election for the Redwood City Tribune, I bumped into Leo in the Elections office and, leaning against a row of three-drawer filing cabinets, we talked about the election.

Then he turned the topic to his upcoming investigative trip to Guyana to check on the Peoples Temple. He said something about doing so on behalf of some constituents.

Familiar with Leo’s crusading, some would call it grandstanding, I was skeptical that this was anything more than a junket, and I said as much to him.

I told him I thought he would spend an hour in Guyana and then zip off to some exotic island.

No, he said, this is serious, and he said I ought to join the group of reporters also making the trip. I told him he needed to talk to my editors.

Apparently, he called them the next day and urged them to send me on the trip. They declined. The Redwood City Tribune was a small newspaper that lacked a lot of resources, and they had spent a good chunk of change earlier in the year sending me on a two-week trip around the state with Jerry Brown and Evelle Younger, covering the governor’s race.

Some days later, of course, we got the news about Leo and the Jonestown massacre, which included the shooting of several of the reporters on the trip.

We met in the Tribune newsroom the next day and Managing Editor Glenn Brown, City Editor Bruce Lee and Editor Dave Schutz decided to send me and Bill Shilstone to Washington in time to cover the return home of Leo’s body and to do what reporting we could on those who were returning from Jonestown.

It was a Sunday morning in the days before ATMs and we didn’t have a petty cash fund on hand, so Glenn Brown contacted his pastor at his church and he gave us the money from that morning’s collection plate. I don’t know how much it was, I just remember a lot of small bills. Shilstone, who doubled as an assistant city editor and education reporter, handled the money.

Off we went to Washington. It was a different time. I was able to get into the hospital room of an NBC sound man who had been wounded and into Jackie’s hospital room, although she was in no position to answer questions.

On the flight home, I sat with Joe Holsinger, Leo’s closest friend, as he reflected on his friend’s career. Leo had been getting ready to run for Superintendent of Public Instruction. He was going to push for a statewide ballot measure embracing charter schools. He was going to shake things up.

A UNIQUE BRAND OF FEARLESSNESS: He was always willing to shake things up. It’s what he did. He was fearless. He was convinced his office carried enough stature that it would protect him.

Who would be crazy enough to attack a member of the United States Congress? In fairness, no one knew how crazy Jim Jones was.

All Leo knew was that some of his constituents were scared, terrified for their own family members. And he was determined to do something about it. He knew Congress would do little or nothing. So he decided to take direct action.

He did what he always did. He went to see for himself. It was an act of courage. It got him killed.

As stories pour forth on the events in Jonestown, I like to remember Leo – fondly, of course, with an appreciation for how fully human he was, and with respect for a public servant who saw his job as a platform for courage.

I’m forced to ponder if we’ll ever again see anyone quite like him.

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: As Peninsula evolves, so must our attitudes toward change

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
Heads up! Broadway St. utility project to impact traffic for two weeks

In the early 1600s, William Shakespeare and a business partner sought to buy an abandoned monastery in central London and convert it into the first fully indoor theater in England.

The plan eventually fell through. Neighborhood residents rose up in protest that an active theater in their community would result in too much traffic.

Yep, those oxcart backups could be a real nuisance. Not in Ye Backyard.

In other words, there is nothing new under the sun.

As of this writing, we still don’t know the outcome of a handful of issues that were on the November 6 ballot.

What we do know from one of the most active campaign seasons in recent memory is that there are certain issues, concerns and worries that permeate our political environment. They were on display in every local race.

If this were part of the Sophoclean trilogy, right about here is where the Chorus would take the stage and recite in mournful unison: The high cost of housing, the spurt of growth and development over the last decade and the unceasingly frustrating traffic, oxcart or otherwise.

But there is something larger underlying these issues and it is the same central theme that has predominated every city from Daly City to Mountain View: Change.

It is frequently described as a curse to wish upon someone that they live in interesting times, or a time of change.

You can waste a lot of time searching for the root of that sentiment but the truth of it is universal and unmistakable – change is difficult and unsettling. It often is resisted and the resistance often comes too late.

That’s the case in our part of the world now. Anyone who fondly remembers the way things used to be probably is pretty uneasy at how things are now.

You hear it in complaints about how long it takes to get across town. Or how hard it is to find parking. Or that our adult children can no longer afford to live in their hometowns. Or the concern about the changing skyline of our once-quiet little towns.

Those are the localized complaints, of course, and they carry with them a sense that, somehow, we are victims of an unprecedented and sustained economic explosion that has wrought regional changes on our highways and in our employment centers.

That we have lost something essential about what our towns were and who we are.

In virtually every community, the dominant discussion is that we don’t like the changes that have taken place.

But here’s the reality that our political campaigns have not addressed: These changes are here to stay. Our best response – the healthiest and the one that, time and again, has proven most successful – is to embrace it.

THE WAY IT WAS: Two generations ago, the Peninsula was a hotbed of social rest – a quiet, low-key series of virtually indistinguishable suburban communities that most often elected Republicans to state and federal office.

The economy revolved around San Francisco and the peak commute hours saw the vast majority of workers driving to the city in the morning and driving back down the Peninsula in the evening.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a political transformation, first to moderate Republicans and, then, in the late 1980s, to the dominance of Democrats that prevails now.

Still, business and social life continued to revolve around San Francisco and there were few large employers and no major employment centers on the Peninsula, except, perhaps San Francisco International Airport, and that was San Francisco’s, too.

Every city had its own downtown and it was there that many of us of a certain age did our back-to-school shopping. Virtually every downtown had a drug store and a soda fountain and a hardware store and a toy store and a local market and a movie theater.

Then came the regional shopping centers, and the downtowns struggled – some withered – and, much like today, something was lost.

Many of the changes were welcomed enthusiastically.

It was around 1973 that the term Silicon Valley was coined and we attached ourselves to it with pride. It carried a cachet – the place where the future is invented – and it was dynamic and exciting and it meant more jobs and employers with national and international profiles and it seemed to fit the highly educated, cosmopolitan nature of the people who lived here.

Yet, even with the explosion of Silicon Valley, the geography most of us think of as the Peninsula – Daly City to Palo Alto – appeared to remain the same, when, in reality, it was changing slowly.

Then, one day, we looked around, and everything was different. And so it continues.

THE WAY IT IS: This is America. Change is part of our soul.

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the character Terence Mann captured it succinctly: “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.”

The point he was making, of course, is that this constant of change makes us long for those things that give us emotional solace, for those things that “mark the time.”

So, we hear in every town people longing for a community that is gone, but, in reality, probably wasn’t quite what we remember it to be.

Nostalgia is fine and it’s why we send our holiday cards with snow and one-horse sleighs and snowmen and why we go to concerts by people we loved when we were young.

But there’s no going back. There is only going forward.

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: As Silicon Valley spread, the Peninsula was an incubator for new industries and new innovations. But companies would reach a certain size and then move major facilities – typically manufacturing – somewhere else and leave a token presence, if any, here.

Now, companies manufacture ideas more than gadgets and the result is growth the likes of which we have never seen.

For the first time in my memory, an entire industry – biotech – has planted itself in San Mateo County and the massive demand for additional office space will be unrelenting.

For the first time in my memory, major employers, most notably, Facebook, Google and Apple, plan to grow in place. They are building huge campuses because they want their employees near each other, working collaboratively, generating a thousand new ideas a week in the hope that one of them will be transformative.

The economic forces at work are not going to leave. There may be downturns – some say it is an inevitable certainty. But entire industries are not going to be wiped out and this new generation of companies is planning for growth.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? As I said at the outset, the only way to manage change is to embrace it.

And to stop fighting it. Sometimes it seems as though the local debates are dominated by people inclined to stand at the ocean’s edge and order the tide to stop.

In many cities, we have new council members and, in some cases, new majorities on the councils.

They are the product of some of the most contentious campaigns in more than a decade.

But the campaign is over and it’s time for us to find ways to work together.

We need to listen to one another. We need to see issues in something other than black and white. We need to grant to others that which we want ourselves – the benefit of the doubt and the assumption that each of us has the best interests of our community at heart.

We need to stop vilifying one another. We need to seek common ground. Individually, none of us occupies the moral high ground but collectively, all of us can.

During the just-completed campaign, more than one friend or acquaintance complained about the toxic nature of our public discourse. They expect our elected officials to find common ground and to put aside individual prejudices for a consensus that embraces the common good.

Our community leads in innovation, in new ideas and in love for the natural wonders that make this a special place. We are the nation’s model in these ways.

Let’s be the nation’s model in our public debate, in how we move forward to manage the change that undoubtedly will be the one true constant in the lives of our community.

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: Why it takes so long to count election ballots

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
Reddy inches closer to council victory

We’ve become people who stand in front of a microwave oven, muttering, “Hurry up.”

Not an ideal mindset for an electoral process that requires patience.

Patience. What a concept. It comes in handy when you’re waiting in traffic or standing in line at Disneyland or, say, counting ballots.

Such as counting ballots in San Mateo County’s November 6 election, which is taking much longer than some people seem to think it should.

In a world of instant gratification, elections often are neither instant nor gratifying, although often not for the same reasons.

And for the sake of the permanent record, I want to state unequivocally that they should take their time and make sure to count all the ballots, even if it means waiting for the final outcome.

Yes, we’re used to election results on election night, but it’s not like that. Not this time. Not anymore.

COUNTING THE REASONS: There are a number of reasons why the count for this election is taking a while, most of them valid, some of them worthy of further question.

First, a lot of people voted in this election. As of 10 p.m. last Friday, the absolute deadline, a total of 271,704 ballots had been received by the county Elections office.

That’s a voter turnout of nearly 68 percent, higher than the 65 percent projection from Elections officials. That’s more than 20 points higher than the turnout in 2014, the last gubernatorial election. That’s higher than the 65.3 percent turnout in 2010, when 226,000 voters cast ballots.

That’s also more than 20 points higher than the statewide turnout. When all the votes are counted, San Mateo County will be among the highest-turnout counties in the state, and among the top five highest in urban counties.

As of yesterday’s 4:30 p.m. update, Elections staff already had counted 144,000, nearly as many as the total number of votes cast in 2014 – and they still have another 127,000 ballots to count.

In other words, there was a huge turnout. The more ballots, the longer it takes to count them.

We are used to knowing the results right away. And why not? The run-up to the election took months of ads and mail pieces and all kinds of conversations. Why should we have to wait to know what happened?

And the answer is that this isn’t sports – we don’t always know the outcome the instant the clock runs out. To quote Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

And there’s another reason – it’s not just a huge turnout, but many of the local races are close.

Back in the days of all-machine voting, under the most normal of circumstances, some of these races were so close that we didn’t know the outcome until the end of November.

And these are hardly the most normal of circumstances.

AND BY THE WAY, WE DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE: The county has been shifting steadily away from voting by machine to voting by mail, or what used to be called absentee voting.

Then, we switched to this election’s all-mail balloting experiment.

Far from a great leap forward technologically, in reality, we went to a technology that more closely resembles voting in the 19th century, when voters made a mark on a paper ballot and stuffed it in a box.

In other words, we went from voting by machine to voting by hand.

When we voted at our local fire station, we slid our ballot into the machine and it was counted – right there, on the spot. We signed a book and no one checked the signature to make sure we were us. At the end of the evening, someone hit a button and the totals were instantly available.

Now, we vote by hand in our homes, sign and seal the envelope and deliver it, by mail or in person, to the Elections officials and we can mail it on Election Day.

Then, the mail has to be delivered, and someone has to open the envelope, cross-check the signature, and then manually slip the ballot into a machine that counts it.

It’s not quite that laborious – a lot of it is done by machines and scanners. But someone has to do the work we all used to do ourselves when we went to our precinct voting place.

It takes time to do it right.

THE BIG TRADE-OFF: The trade-off is more and better voting.

The evidence is plain, a huge number of voters turned out this year in the June and November elections. By any measure, that’s more voting and the assumption in elections is that more is better. Period.

Better voting comes in the form of a better-informed electorate.

Even with the shortened window of time during which the ballots were available in this election, voters had time to go over the ballot, research the often-confusing measures, find out a little more about the candidates and make deliberate, unhurried decisions.

If the cost is that it takes longer to tally all the ballots, it’s a trade-off worth making.

WE CAN DO BETTER: Still, there are some lingering questions about whether the San Mateo County Elections Department was prepared for the onslaught of ballots.

Interestingly, on the Peninsula TV election night show, Chief Elections Deputy Jim Irizarry brought some slides for his interview and one of them shows staffing levels in the Elections offices of the nine Bay Area counties.

San Mateo County is eighth, ahead only of Solano County.

There has been a lot of turnover in the Elections Department. Let’s be generous and assume it has been due to retirements.

I know from talking to people who have worked in the department that it takes two or three election cycles before a newcomer really has a handle on how it all works.

I don’t know if Elections Chief Mark Church failed to make a pitch to the Board of Supervisors, which includes his predecessor, Warren Slocum, for more funding for the Elections Department.

I don’t know if the Board failed to fund the department sufficiently, either at Church’s request or on its own initiative.

And I don’t care.

Moving forward, the department can do better and it needs to have adequate funds to hire the right number of people and to bring on board people with a level of experience that our elections system demands.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo courtesy of San Mateo County Elections Division

*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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