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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Many county races remain very much up in the air

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Now begins the slow crawl to the finish line.

If all-mail balloting means a bigger turnout – and it looks like it does – it also means a long and protracted post-election in which the outcome of many of the races on Tuesday’s ballot remains still very much up in the air.

In some of the closest races on the Peninsula, it could be three weeks before we know the final results, including the winners of the Redwood City Council race and the passage or defeat of Measure W, the half-cent sales tax to fund transit operations and transportation projects.

On the Peninsula TV Election Night show, Deputy Elections Chief Jim Irizarry said the projected turnout for this election was 191,864 votes. As of last night’s report on the county Elections website, a total of 93,706 votes had been counted.

That means less than half the votes have been counted so far, and, in some races, the results still could change dramatically.

That being said, there were some clear outcomes and some equally clear trends, the most dramatic being a changing of the old guard among Peninsula elected officials, a group suddenly rendered more diverse demographically and in terms of gender.

But the story of the moment is the uncertainty extending into the next few weeks.

In the Redwood City race for three seats, the top three finishers early last night were Vice Mayor Diane Howard, businesswoman Giselle Hale and accountant Rick Hunter. By the end of the evening, Hale had jumped ahead of Howard and Hunter had been supplanted by community advocate Diana Reddy.

The rest of the field stood in this order, as of this morning’s tally: business owner Christina Umhofer, community activist Jason Galisatus and businessman Ernie Schmidt.

Umhofer was still less than 400 votes behind Hunter and less than 500 behind Reddy. It would seem unlikely Umhofer would vault over Hunter and Reddy to land the seat, but with this many votes left to be counted, no one knows for sure.

It is all over for Galisatus and Schmidt, the latter acknowledging as much in a gracious Facebook message this morning.

But for the top four, as Hunter said this morning on Facebook, “It’s going to be a nail biter.  … We’ll all just have to hang in there.”

STILL UP IN THE AIR: There are a number of races where the outcome is still quite uncertain, although the outstanding number of ballots to be counted will have to break in a dramatically different way for some folks to come from behind.

The most prominent of these is Measure W, which elicited passionate concern among several elected officials who appeared on Peninsula TV last night.

In need of two-thirds to pass, Measure W began the evening tallies at 64 percent, but slowly crept up to, as of this morning, 66.18 percent.

It is reminiscent of a couple of races on the June ballot, which began the count losing and finished the count scraping past the two-thirds threshold.

Several city council races remain up in the air.

In Daly City, the slate put together by incumbent Ray Buenaventura still could win. Pamela DiGiovanni was in second, but the third member of the slate, Rod Daus-Magbual was 82 votes behind Gabriella Makstman as of this morning.

In Foster City, newcomers Sanjay R. Gehani and Richa Awasthi were in the lead in a race for two seats, but perennial candidate Patrick Sullivan – he has run four times – was only 136 votes shy of his long-desired promised land.

In Pacifica, Sue Beckmeyer and incumbent Mike O’Neill look like secure winners, but Vickie Flores has a tenuous grasp on the third seat. Incumbent John Keener was only 231 votes behind her.

In South San Francisco, incumbent Mark Addiego won easily. Fellow incumbent Pradeep Gupta appeared on his way to losing to newcomers Flor Nicolas and Mark Nagales, but Gupta is only 212 votes behind Nicolas and 171 behind Nagales.

DOWN ON THE GROUND: Even with all the outstanding ballots, some races were definitely decided Tuesday.

In East Palo Alto, newcomer Regina Wallace-Jones and incumbent Ruben Abrica were elected to the Council but long-time incumbent Donna Rutherford was voted off the council.

In Half Moon Bay, Council incumbents Deborah Penrose and Debbie Ruddock were easily re-elected, joined by newcomer Robert Brownstone.

In Millbrae, Council incumbents Reuben Holober and Anne Oliva easily won re-election.

San Carlos elected an entirely new Council majority in a campaign devoid of incumbents: Laura Parmer-Lohan, Sara McDowell and Adam Rak.

NEW FACES: In Menlo Park, district elections dramatically changed the political landscape: Two incumbents, Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki, were defeated by two well-established challengers, Drew Combs and Betsy Nash, with deep roots in the neighborhoods where they were running. With the victory also by Cecilia Taylor, the Menlo Park council shifts from four white and one Asian American councilmembers to a council with two African Americans.

The Menlo Park outcome undoubtedly will send shock waves through other cities that will be forced to take up the issue of elections by district, as incumbents vote on plans that could spell the end of their council tenures.

Not just in Menlo Park, but throughout the ballot, the local elections mirrored the national election in one substantial way: There was an upsurge in the number of women and minorities seeking and winning office.

It was what Congresswoman Anna Eshoo called “The Year of the Woman, 2.0.”

Look, in particular, at the seven school board races on Tuesday’s ballot and you’ll see an unprecedented number of women and minorities who were elected.

The long-term significance of this is that many city council members get their start on a local school board. The bench is deep in San Mateo County.

NOTES, QUOTES AND MOTES ON THE VOTES: It had one of the most low-profile campaigns outside of Brisbane, but the approval of its Measure JJ may have the greatest impact on the region of any measure on Tuesday’s ballot. The proposal amended the city general plan to allow the building of up to 2,200 residential units and 6.5 million square feet of new commercial space on the Baylands portion of the city. It’s a sweeping decision that can make a dent in the region’s jobs/housing imbalance and it’s a credit to the City Council, city leadership and the city’s voters that they took this step.

The Millbrae bond measure to rebuild a community center destroyed by fire was handily defeated, which is likely to force the city to re-think the whole project.

The Jack Hickey era is over on the Sequoia Healthcare District. Elected 16 years ago, Hickey has long advocated for the dissolution of the district. For the first time, the board members were elected by district. Hickey put together a slate of candidates and all of them lost, including Hickey. Maybe this will bring an end to his advocacy to end the district, but Hickey doesn’t let a little thing like defeat deter him.

On the San Mateo County Harbor District, Sabrina Brennan, not on the ballot, won two allies in Ed Larenas, who was re-elected, and Nancy Reyering. They now control the majority of that commission. It’s always hard to tell what Brennan’s long-term goals are for the district, but she is a disruptive force. This turn of events could hasten the efforts of her critics to dissolve the district and turn it into a county department.

All the measures on Tuesday’s ballot to tax cannabis were approved. That was not the fate for four advisory measures in Half Moon Bay that would have signaled to the City Council to go forward with allowing sale and production of marijuana in town. All four lost.

And in Redwood City, voters easily approved a measure to increase the local sales tax that would cover a budget shortfall induced by pension obligations.

But the theme of this election was and, for the foreseeable future continues to be, uncertainty.

It’s all over but the counting, and the counting is going to take some time.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo of county ballots being picked up from USPS shared by the 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.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Will voters embrace change on large ballot?

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It may not be the biggest ballot in the history of San Mateo County, but if it’s not, it’s pretty close. And change is in the air. Will voters embrace the changes that are affecting their communities, or will they vote to slow down and, in many instances, stop these changes?

In addition to races for every statewide office from governor on down, 12 statewide ballot propositions and legislative and congressional races, county voters will cast ballots in 13 city council elections and 20 school board races and on 23 city ballot measures and five school ballot measures, as well as countywide races for the Board of Education and the San Mateo County Community College District board.

This is a political year tailor-made for a run-on sentence.

And that doesn’t include the campaign we’re all watching – the race for control of the U.S. Congress and, some would say, the soul of America.

If the national race is for the soul of America, there are some who think the local races are for the soul of a Peninsula that is quieter, smaller and less crowded.

These are the sustaining themes that cut through many of the races, as we are confronted by an entirely new economic reality.

There may be no more dramatic example than Measure JJ on the Brisbane ballot, a proposal to amend the city general plan and allow construction of up to 1,800-2,200 new homes and 6.5 million square feet of new commercial development in the Baylands area.

It was put on the ballot in the face of immense regional pressure to develop what is seen by many as one of the few remaining large plots of developable land in the Bay Area. The resulting development could easily double Brisbane’s population.

In South San Francisco, big plans for downtown development has prompted the usual complaints that the nature of the community is at risk.

The same concerns are at hand in Redwood City and Menlo Park, the latter being the company town for booming Facebook.

Change, albeit on a more modest scale, is also the issue in Belmont, where a unified City Council is looking to build a new downtown center to the community.

It always strikes me as ironic that Belmont has a downtown park, but no downtown, while Redwood City has a downtown but no downtown park.

Anyway, here are how some of the races seem to be shaping up.

AROUND THE HORN: In Belmont, incumbents Julia Mates, Warren Lieberman and Charles Stone have run as a slate, hoping to collectively overwhelm challenger Deniz Bolbol, who represents the out-of-power old guard of a decade ago. A sweep by the incumbents could be a mandate for their approach to transforming Belmont.

Daly City Mayor Ray Buenaventura, up for re-election and expected to win easily, has heavily backed Pamela DiGiovanni, so the election will be a test of his influence.

In South City, three seats are up and incumbents Mark Addiego and Pradeep Gupta are running. Congressional aide Mark Nagales has the support of most of the county’s political establishment, but the uneasiness in this town could put one of the incumbents at risk.

In East Palo Alto, longtime incumbents Donna Rutherford and Ruben Abrica face five challengers, so their election will be a measure of whether there is widespread dissatisfaction in their community, driven by the traffic and gentrification spurred by the presence of Facebook.

In Foster City, the absence of any incumbents has drawn six candidates for two seats. The race has been quite heated and the outcome quite uncertain. The usual movers and shakers in Foster City politics are spread out in this race.

In Half Moon Bay – Coastside politics always are as bracing as the ocean temperature – incumbents Debbie Ruddock and Deborah Penrose should be assured of re-election, but it is notable that neither of them listed their incumbency for their ballot designation, hinting that there could be turmoil.

In Menlo Park, where they have gone to district elections for the first time, two incumbents, Peter Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith, have drawn opposition. Ohtaki appears to be the safer of the two, aided by two challengers who can split the vote. Political insiders think Keith is in some trouble. Her challenger, Drew Combs, almost won a seat citywide last election, and Keith’s high-profile approach to issues has made some city leaders uneasy.

In Redwood City, the highest-profile race in the county, the seven-candidate race for three seats is anyone’s guess. Incumbent Diane Howard would be safe under normal circumstances, but the backlash against development undermines that sense of safety.

The race will measure how widespread is the dissatisfaction with how Redwood City has changed and will continue to change. It is hard to tell. Unhappy residents are always louder.

Two candidates are running classic political campaigns, Giselle Hale and Jason Galisatus: Raise money, build a high profile, issue targeted mail and build a presence on social media that remains positive, phone bank and knock on doors. The other candidates – Howard, Diana Reddy, Rick Hunter, Ernie Schmidt and Christina Umhofer — have relied more on grassroots and a network of neighbors, although all of them have raised enough money to send out some mail pieces and, Reddy, in particular, has been a prominent presence in social media.

Reddy also has been the target of an extraordinarily aggressive opposition campaign from the California Apartment Association, which sent out six negative mail pieces, the most of anyone in this race. The election also will be a test of CAA’s ability not only to oppose rent control measures but affect a city council race.

AND SO IT GOES: As I said at the beginning, it’s a full ballot.

Six of the city ballot measures are to increase a local hotel tax and five of them are to put some kind of tax on cannabis businesses.

There are races for control of the Sequoia Healthcare District board of directors and the San Mateo County Harbor District Commission.

Two San Mateo County Community College District Trustees – Rich Holober and Tom Mohr – are running against each other in the first district elections and it’s anyone’s guess how that will turn out.

The only real choice you have is to watch Peninsula TV (Channel 26, tonight, starting at 8 p.m. There, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and I will wade through it all – national, state and, especially, local races, joined by our own analyst/expert, Melissa Michelson of Menlo College.

One thing is sure: It will be fun. Dial by.

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: Measure W is profoundly necessary

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SamTrans board approves express bus feasibility study

Tomorrow’s ballot is loaded with critical issues and elections, but none may be more important to the future of San Mateo County than Measure W, the half-cent sales tax increase that will fund badly needed transit and transportation projects.

Full disclosure: For 15 years, ending last year, I was an executive at the San Mateo County Transit District, which manages the SamTrans bus and paratransit system, the Caltrain commuter rail system and the Transportation Authority, which spends taxpayer money on transportation projects.

I am a full-throated supporter of Measure W. I was involved in its genesis and believe profoundly in its necessity.

SamTrans is more than 40 years old and needs to change to reflect a changed county that is bedeviled by traffic and spurred by economic growth that was inconceivable a generation ago.

In 1976, voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund SamTrans. At the time, it provided essential transportation to service workers who need the bus to get to work, to young people going to school, and to the elderly who couldn’t afford a car or who couldn’t drive. And it provides paratransit service for those whose independence and mobility depend on specialized vehicles and assistance.

SamTrans still needs to do all these things, but it also needs to be a central part of the solution to our traffic problems. Or those problems won’t get solved.

DOING MORE WITH MORE: Since passage of the 1976 tax, SamTrans has gotten by on that single revenue source. To do more – and we all need it to do more – it will need more money.

Without additional funds, SamTrans may not be able to keep doing what it has been doing. It certainly will not be able to do all the things it needs to do to become nimbler, more useful, more essential to us all.

We want to get out of our cars. We want a transit system made up of all kinds of vehicles, big and small, reflecting our collectively individualized needs. We want to get picked up in a convenient place, go where we need to go and do all that in a timely and affordable way.

That means “microtransit,” on-demand service using small vehicles. That means creative scheduling that looks beyond main, centralized routes to serve the complicated geography of the Peninsula. That means fuel-efficient vehicles that reduce greenhouse gases.

It means more – more service, more vehicles, more people doing more to meet our growing needs.

If Measure W passes, it will mean more of the kind of transit system all of us say we should have.

WHY DOESN’T TRANSIT WORK BETTER? Here’s why: They don’t have enough money. Pass Measure W and they will.

It is particularly disappointing that the two local newspapers came out against the measure. Their arguments suggest neither of them understands local transit, the complexities of transit funding, nor the desperate need for these funds.

One editorial was critical that not enough has been done with the money they already have. That’s a mistake – the money currently being spent on transportation projects doesn’t help SamTrans run its buses. Money spent on projects, like freeway improvements, are from the Transportation Authority.

It’s also wrong. A grade separation project in San Bruno was funded by the TA. So was the new Broadway overpass in Burlingame. So are improvements to all the Caltrain grade crossings in the county. And newly acquired Caltrain railcars were funded, in part, by the TA.

At the same time, another newspaper sharply criticized SamTrans for buying new electric buses when it’s asking for more money. The word used was “chutzpah.”

So, essentially, while it’s asking for money to do more, SamTrans should stop trying to do more.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The other side of that argument, one I made while working at SamTrans, is they needed to demonstrate to the public that the agency is not standing still. That it is working to try new things and ready to innovate and reinvent itself as a modern mobility agency if it receives an infusion of new revenue, which it hasn’t received for 40 years.

Let’s make this clear. SamTrans is trying to operate in a new atmosphere with a funding basis that dates from the Ford administration.

And it has been trying within the limits of a sharply constrained budget, producing new, innovative service to schools in San Carlos and to Woodside High School and a new “microtransit” experiment in Pacifica. And, yes, new electric buses.

It’s not chutzpah. It’s a promise to the public of what will come if Measure W passes.

There are a lot of other things in this proposal – more money for street and road maintenance, money for bike and pedestrian pathways, money for Caltrain’s electrification project. The spending plan is the result of an extended community outreach and consensus and to say it doesn’t include one thing or another is classic nitpicking.

We all tend to think of traffic in the spirit of the famous Mark Twain quote: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

Here’s a chance to do something about it.

FOOTING THE BILL: An array of the county’s business interests is lined up behind Measure W and have provided a campaign treasury in excess of $1 million. That would seem like a lot, given that there is no organized opposition, but the campaign organizers had been hoping to raise twice that much.

Measure W requires a two-thirds vote. With tax increases on a number of local ballots and the statewide measure to repeal the recent gas tax increase, Proposition 6, campaign officials are nervous that the two-thirds threshold may be too high a bar.

Nonetheless, big money has weighed in big numbers at a level that may be unprecedented in San Mateo County and reflects the reality that a place once known as solely a bedroom community now is a major economic force.

The big donors: Facebook, Genentech, the David D. Bohannon organization (owners of the Hillsdale Shopping Center and a Menlo Park business park) and the San Mateo County Economic Development Association all have come in for $100,000, and Harbor View Property, seeking to develop a major site in Redwood City, is in for $99,500.

Other big ones: Silicon Valley Community Foundation, $40,000; Herzog Contracting Group, the St. Louis-based company that currently operates Caltrain, $50,000.

The San Francisco Laborers union, Irvine-based real estate firm Nuquest Ventures, the Operating Engineers union, real-estate firm the Sobrato Organization, ambulance services company American Medical Response, Burlingame auto dealer Putnam Automotive Group, and Hanson Bridgett, the law firm that serves the transit district, all came in for $25,000 each.  The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Livermore -based bus manufacturer Gillig came in for $10,000 each. The Northern California Carpenters union came in for $20,000.

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: County could see historic voter turnout

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Latest San Mateo County election results released

A huge number of ballots already have been turned into San Mateo County elections offices, signaling what could be an historic voter turnout when all the ballots are counted from next Tuesday’s general election.

As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, 93,470 voters had voted – 92,190 by mail and 1,280 in person at one of the polling places throughout the county, according to county elections chief Mark Church.

The tally of returned ballots, posted with a week to go before the close of the polls, nearly equals the 97,447 ballots cast in total in the last equivalent election, the 2014 gubernatorial ballot.

This comes as no surprise, of course.

The national, statewide and local issues at stake in this election have created an uncommonly high interest in the 2018 campaign year. A national fervor has been matched by a passionate interest in local city council races, more than a dozen of which are on this ballot since the Peninsula moved its elections to coincide with even-year statewide elections.

“I’ve never seen an electorate as energized as they are right now. It’s no longer just about the national dialogue,” said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, a prime mover behind the vote-by-mail legislation. “I have not seen in my political life a non-presidential election generate this kind of energy.”

And that’s the other factor that makes it likely the turnout in San Mateo County will be at near-record levels.

In June, when the vote-by-mail experiment first was implemented, more than 172,000 votes were cast, a turnout of 44.3 percent. The equivalent election in June 2014 had a turnout of 22.5 percent.

IT’S MONEY THAT MATTERS: As Randy Newman so eloquently put it.

The most common question this late in the campaign is about who might win. In the hotly contested race for three seats on the Redwood City Council, it’s hard to say and no one really knows.

But if we follow the money, it appears development and real estate interests seem to think the race for the third-place seat has come down to university relations representative Jason Galisatus or community advocate Diana Reddy.

We reported recently on the amount of money spent by the California Apartment Association targeting Reddy, a long-time advocate of broad rent control laws that would extend to apartments and homes. It’s not just a position, as far as the CAA is concerned, it’s a battle line, which is why the money they’ve spent has resulted in five anti-Reddy mail pieces, including two co-funded by the National Association of Realtors.

On the other side of the coin, real estate and development interests have weighed in heavily on behalf of Galisatus, helping him raise more than $71,000. It’s an astonishing achievement for a first-time candidate whose background includes serving community organizations such as the Downtown Business Association, but no formal office.

Of the $37,000 Galisatus raised through October 20 more than $12,000, nearly one-third, came from real estate interests, including $5,000 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee.

This has prompted claims on social media that he is pro-development and is ready to give in to developers in future Redwood City proposals. He says he’s just demonstrated to these interests that he’s capable.

But it is more likely that these same interests simply find Galisatus a more reasonable option – someone they can work with – as opposed to Reddy, whose election they would regard as a disaster. She is the only advocate in the race, or quite likely on the City Council, for rent control and other positions they regard as anti-growth.

By the way, Vice Mayor Diane Howard also received $1,000 from the CAA and $2,500 from the California Association of Realtors.

It should be noted that the anti-Reddy mail pieces are the only overtly negative campaign mailings in this election. None of the candidates has uttered a negative word about the other in the many candidates’ forum or in the mail.

The only other exception is a local Facebook page, Redwood City Residents Say What, which has lined up aggressively behind Reddy and, to a lesser degree, business owner Christina Umhofer and where their approach to criticism of Galisatus and businesswoman Giselle Hale has been frequently harsh and more than occasionally personal.

OTHER KINDS OF MONEY: Money traces a fascinating path in the Redwood City election.

Aside from real estate and development interests, the dominant campaign donors in this race have been individuals, the most notable being Julie Pardini, a property owner and the creator and moderator of the Say What page.

She has contributed more than $14,000 to four candidates, the bulk of it to Reddy, who has received $7,540 from Pardini.

Add in Reddy’s own direct contributions to her campaign – a $5,000 loan and another $5,600 in nonmonetary contributions – and more than one-third of the $50,000 in the campaign has come from two individuals.

Pardini has given $2,999 to Umhofer, $1,500 to accountant Rick Hunter and $1,000 to businessman Ernie Schmidt.

Of the nearly $40,000 Umhofer has raised, more than 30 percent has come from two sources – the funds from Pardini and Umhofer’s own loan of more than $9,200 to the campaign, which she has since repaid or forgiven, according to her October 20 campaign report.

This is significant in that such individual donations, it could be argued, are less transparent than a “special interest” donation. We can clearly discern the interests of the real estate industry.

It is harder to precisely what interests an individual donor may have, other than what they say they are.

And there is the post-election issue of what a newly elected council member might have to do in order to pay off an outstanding campaign debt.

OTHER DONORS OF NOTE: Labor has weighed in on the race: Howard received $250 from the San Francisco Laborers Union; Galisatus has received $350 from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators, $150 from the SF Laborers, and $500 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and $1,000 from the Redwood City Firefighters Association; Hale received $1,000 from the RWC Firefighters and another $1,000 from the San Mateo County Firefighters Association; $500 from the IBEW and $1,000 from the Plumbers Union.

MEASURE RR: Development and real estate interests also have contributed heavily to the Yes on RR campaign in Redwood City, the general sales tax measure to meet city budget shortfalls. Developer Sares Regis has donated $2,000, the owner of 601 Marshall Street has donated $1,000, Harbor View Property owner Jay Paul has donated $10,000, and apartment and office developer Greystar Development has donated $5,000.

Contact Mark Simon at

— The story has been updated to include that Christina Umhofer has repaid or forgiven the loans to her campaign.

*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: Giselle Hale may have broken fundraising record

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

As California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh famously said when he ruled the roost in the 1970s, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

The milk is flowing, as the latest round of campaign finance reports have been filed covering the money raised and spent from September 23 to October 20.

It is likely businesswoman/mother/Planning Commissioner Giselle Hale has set a record for fundraising in the Redwood City Council race, or, most likely, any other Peninsula city council race – she has raised more than $95,000 in cash and nonmonetary contributions so far and she will go over the $100,000 mark in both fundraising and spending.

No one keeps records of this, but if anyone can recall a Peninsula city council race in which someone raised and spent this much money, speak up.

Hale’s next closest fundraising competitor is community activist and Stanford community representative Jason Galisatus, who has raised a total of $72,954 in cash and nonmonetary contributions.

After Galisatus, Hale has essentially lapped the field.

The next-closest is community advocate Diana Reddy, who has raised a total of $50,646, including more than $10,000 of her own money she has spent or loaned the campaign. She also received an unusually large amount of money in nonmonetary contributions — $17,882, or 35 percent of her total campaign treasury.

Nonmonetary contributions include things such as includes donated food, campaign materials and expertise, although the actual value of the contribution is, frankly, much harder to track.

Next is Christina Umhofer, who has raised $38,966, but more than $9,000 of that is in the form of loans she has made to her campaign. She also received a remarkable amount of nonmonetary contributions — $10,608, or more than 27 percent of her campaign funds.

Business manager and Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt has raised a total of $31,142, including a $12,500 loan he made to the campaign, or 40 percent of his campaign treasury. Interestingly, earlier in the year, when Schmidt initially opted out of the race, he predicted the campaign would cost $80,000. He then said he wasn’t sure he had enough desire to raise that kind of money.

Certified Public Accountant and community volunteer Rick Hunter has raised $29,452 in cash and nonmonetary contributions.

Last in the money race is incumbent Vice Mayor Diane Howard, who has raised $28,897, including a $5,000 campaign loan from husband Steve Howard, which is equal to 17 percent of the money she has raised.

Ordinarily, you would expect the incumbent to raise the most money – donors typically want to be on the good side of someone who is likely to return to office.

Conversely, it could be argued that that Howard doesn’t need to raise money as actively as the other candidates because she is an incumbent. In a large-turnout election such as this one, voters will know less about the down-ticket races and opt for returning to office someone who has not been controversial, which can fairly be said about Howard.

Anyway, we’ll find out in about a week whether Howard’s relatively low-key campaign will be sufficient.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? If money is the mother’s milk of politics, then Hale’s campaign is extraordinarily well-financed and that should improve her chances of winning.

A local race is more complicated, however. In some cases, voters may be wary of a campaign that is too professional. I know of several candidates in different city campaigns who, over the years, purposely made their campaign materials a little less polished.

Hale has impressive business credentials and both she and Galisatus have significant experience in political campaigns, so it comes as no surprise that both of them are most effective at the nuts and bolts of running for office, including fundraising, but also campaign outreach.

In ordinary circumstances, both of them would be seen as conducting highly effective, formidable, almost classic campaigns. Are these ordinary circumstances? Most assuredly, they are not.

This local race is unusually active, and the universe of voters – due to all-mail-balloting and alignment of the election with a gubernatorial race – is virtually unknown.

That would seem to argue for raising more money to reach a larger electorate whose voting habits are largely unknown.

The best advice I can give is this: As I mentioned last week, Kevin Mullin and I are co-hosting a live Election Night show on Peninsula TV. If I were you, I’d watch.

FROM INCOME TO OUTGO: The period covered by this report was a critical one. The campaign hit full speed ahead and many of the pieces of mail you’re receiving in your mailbox – or online videos and social media messages – were paid for during this period. It is also critical to note who had money left as of October 22 for the final three weeks of the campaign.

Given her huge lead in fundraising, it is no surprise Hale has spent the most and has the most cash on hand for the final push: She has spent more than $66,000, has more than $17,000 in accrued expenses and still had $46,450 in cash on hand.

Galisatus has spent a campaign total of $72,954 and had $25,411 in cash on hand. Reddy has spent $36,670 and had $13,886 in cash on hand. Schmidt has spent $26,952 and had $3,440 in cash on hand. Hunter has spent $23,253 and had $6,199 in cash on hand. Howard has spent $18,897 and had $14,866 in cash on hand.

In the next column, I’ll dive into who gave to whom, go over some finance reports in other campaigns and discuss what’s behind the campaign contributions.

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: My ‘hit piece’ now packs a bit more punch

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Health district board member finally finds something he can support: his own benefits

It didn’t take long for Sequoia Healthcare District Director Jack Hickey to go online and complain that yesterday’s Political Climate column was a “hit piece,” which gives you the sense that Hickey’s political career has been something less than rough-and-tumble.

In any event, he’s really not going to like this follow-up column.

When I asked him several days ago how much money he receives from the district for the healthcare benefit extended to directors, he gave me the amount of money he is reimbursed. That added up to about $8,300 over the 16 years he has been on the district board.

It’s a modest amount, but, remember, this is a guy who opposes the very existence of the district, as well as its expenditures.

What he didn’t disclose is the additional $822 a month the district has to pay for his insurance premiums. Over 16 years, that adds up to more than $150,000 of district funds spent on behalf or on Hickey.

Hickey said via email that the information he provided was correct, and that the district is overstating the amount spent on his insurance premiums by calculating the current rate over 16 years. He also said, however, that he has always cost the district less than other directors.

Now, he’s put up two other candidates for the healthcare board – Harland Harrison and Art Kiesel – so he can gain a majority and shut down the district.

This can’t be said too many times – this is a guy who has opposed every expenditure the district makes, including funding for school nurses, health programs for minorities, even funding for the new Magical Playground planned for Redwood City.

So, it’s of note that he doesn’t object to the district spending money on him for his healthcare.

No doubt, he’s entitled to it, as are other board members. And he accepts the benefit, as do other board members, a fact that seems to bother him a lot, based on the flood of comments he posted following yesterday’s column.

In that morass of comments, he noted that he proposed doing away with the benefit, and was overruled by the other four board members.

His opposition to it hasn’t stopped him from accepting it.

Apparently, it is a blissful campaign for Harrison and Kiesel, neither of whom has been to a district board meeting or sought further information on the district from its staff.

I believe we call this being unencumbered by information. They are not interested in serving the district, only in dismantling it.

ON HE GOES: As clarion calls go, Hickey has been sounding the same note – get rid of the district – for 16 years and he’s not an inch closer than he was when he started this effort in 2002.

The only reason he isn’t looking to shut down other organizations or even governments is that he couldn’t get elected to any other office, despite more than three decades of trying.

The record is clear: Voters don’t agree with his demand to close down the district. He has made that case for 16 years, has tried to manipulate the electoral process to his end and more than once run a slate of candidates. Recently, he ran for another district seat, while still holding his current one.

He contended that campaign was a referendum on public support for the continuation of the district. He lost, but he refuses to accept that the voters don’t agree with him.

His contention is that the district should not be spending tax dollars on healthcare programs, now that it no longer runs a hospital, the purpose for which the district was originally founded.

But whether he likes it or not, the district spends meaningful money on essential programs run by some of the Peninsula’s most respected nonprofit organizations.

Decide for yourself whether this is a waste of money. You can see a list of the organizations that received grants at the district website by clicking here.

THE END IS NEAR: This campaign is going to end, finally.

And On Election Night, you’ll want to turn to Peninsula TV for all the election results.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin and I will be co-hosting live coverage of the 2018 campaign on Peninsula TV. We will be the only media outlet to cover all the local San Mateo County and Peninsula races in detail, including analysis, voting results and interviews with candidates and other community leaders. We will be joined throughout the evening by Menlo College Political Science Professor Melissa Michelson as our resident expert/analyst.

We go on the air at 8 p.m.

Watch us on Comcast Channel 26, or livestreaming at

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: Health district board member finally finds something he can support: his own benefits

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
Political Climate with Mark Simon: Health district board member finally finds something he can support: his own benefits

For more than 16 years, Jack Hickey has protested every expenditure made by the Sequoia Healthcare District, the closest he has been able to come to fulfilling the promise he made when he was elected to the District board of directors in 2002 – to abolish the district.

Except there is one expense Hickey, 84, is willing to accept – the healthcare benefit reimbursement program extended to all board members.

Over the same 16 years, he has availed himself of that singular benefit.

It adds up to a modest amount of money – a total of about $8,300 or about $43 a month — based on Hickey’s own assertion that the only health benefit he has accepted has been reimbursement for Kaiser Senior Advantage and Social Security Medicare costs.

It could be seen as trivial, except that every other single expenditure by the district has been objected to and opposed by Hickey since he joined the board.

A HOSTILE TAKEOVER: Now, for the second time, Hickey is trying to gain control of the board for the purpose of dissolving the district.

Up for re-election himself, Hickey has lined up two allies to also run for the district board – Harland Harrison and former Foster City Councilman Art Kiesel, both of whom subscribe to Hickey’s hard line view that the district should be dismantled.

For the first time, Sequoia Healthcare board members will be elected by zones. Hickey is being challenged by physician Aaron Nayfack in Zone C, which covers San Carlos to Emerald Hills; incumbent Arthur Faro is being challenged by Kiesel and former nonprofit CEO Michael Garb in Zone A, which covers Redwood Shores to Foster City; and incumbent Jerry Shefren is being challenged by Harrison in Zone E, which covers Portola Valley to Belmont.

The last time Hickey tried to pack the board with like-minded candidates, only he won election.

Hickey justified accepting the healthcare benefit because he uses his own funds to fight for the dissolution of the district, while other board members spend the district’s tax revenues “to help their friends” and “granting money to their favorite charities.” He said the other board members make politically popular grants that will ensure continued support for the district’s existence.

In a similar vein, Harrison said on a recent social media post that “the board diverted $15,800,000 in taxes last year. Much of that money was wasted.”

Diversion of funds is illegal, of course, and it’s not what the district has been doing.

The Sequoia Hospital District was formed in 1946 as a nonprofit to open and run Sequoia Hospital, the first district of its kind in California. A property tax was approved by voters to finance hospital and its activities, currently about $100 per parcel.

In 1996, the hospital was sold to Catholic Healthcare West and is now owned by Dignity Health.

Without a hospital to fund, the district has continued to collect the taxes, but has shifted to awarding grants to organizations that make meaningful contributions to the health and emotional well-being of the community, including school nurses, physical education teachers, mental health counselors and programs to feed the hungry and provide rehabilitation for drug abusers.

For Fiscal Year 2018-19, the district projected collecting more than $15 million in revenue and spending more than $16 million. Among the major grants is $4.4 million for a school health program that provides nurses, counseling and preventive care to 28,000 public school children. A clinic at nonprofit Samaritan House receives a grant of $948,000, the Ravenswood-Fair Oaks Health Center a grant of $700,000 and the new 70 Strong program, aimed at enhancing health and preventive care for seniors, $658,000. Most of the grants are for a set period of time. For example, the district just completed a three-year grant program that provided support to San Mateo Medical Center, the county-operated public hospital.

The district spends $1.1 million a year on administrative expenses, which include a CEO and a staff of four.

Recently, Hickey objected to a grant by the district to help fund the Magical Playground expected to open at the end of this year, arguing that people outside the district boundaries would use the park.

Because the district has gone to elections by zone, that may improve Hickey’s chances of gaining allies on the board.

Up to now, as he seeks his fifth term, Hickey has had little success advancing his cause, neither building meaningful public support for the dissolution of the district nor gaining influence among his board colleagues. The board votes 4-1 on nearly every action that comes before it with Hickey on the losing end.

But what we know for sure is that he will remain undeterred.

When he was elected in 2002, Hickey had run for office so many times that even he had lost count. First as a Republican and later as a Libertarian, he ran for, among many other offices, the U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, the state Assembly and Senate, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, the San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo County Community College District.

In 2012, when the board was still elected district-wide, Hickey ran against two incumbents, even though he was already on the board and was not up for re-election.

At the time, he told a newspaper that if he won, it would be a clear message that the public supports his position of eliminating the district.

He lost.

Contact Mark Simon at

Photo credit: Sequoia Healthcare District

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Views on the council race from two who stayed out

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It is often the case that the issues addressed in a political campaign disappear as soon as the ballots are counted and the subsequent term in office is spent dealing with matters that never came up.

What may be most critical, then, it could be argued, are the inherent qualities of the people elected – who they are on the most fundamental level, how they make decisions, how they learn about new issues, how they interact with others to win support and whether they can embrace new ideas and look beyond the positions they took in the campaign.

Good political leaders bring to office a determination to achieve the specific agenda they set during the campaign.

Great political leaders grow beyond their initial understanding of the job and expand their own knowledge and agendas to address not only current problems, but future needs.

This sensibility of how to lead and how to anticipate what comes next is very much on the minds of two incumbent members of the Redwood City Council who have opted to bow out of the process after nine years – Jeff Gee and John Seybert.

They certainly understand the current problems – costly and insufficient housing, congestion and traffic, development and a municipal fiscal crisis.

But their concern is what comes next and how can the city gain control over a future that is likely to be full of unexpected issues and unintended consequences.
So, when the two outgoing incumbents met with Climate over coffee in San Carlos to discuss the current campaign and the state of the city they love, their focus was not on the current roster of seven candidates seeking three seats on the City Council.

They were focused on the voters, offering advice for how they should be thinking about the election as they begin to decide who will lead the city into the next decade and beyond.

The best thing voters can do, according to Gee and Seybert, is to vote for those candidates who can look beyond the moment, who have a vision for what Redwood City should be like 25 years from now.

And look, they say, for those who can build coalitions among council colleagues, who can best work with a diverse group of local and regional leaders to address issues that are not on anyone’s agenda yet and who can reach beyond a momentary disagreement to sustain civility in local politics.

“Redwood City has always been known as a council that is looking ahead,” Gee said. “What is their vision for the city, not today, but 10, 20, 30 years from now?”

“What will it take to balance the budget in the next downturn, which will come?” said Seybert. “What tough decisions are you prepared to make?”

As an example of unintended consequences, they cite the decisions – or non-decisions — of prior councils that have contributed to today’s costly housing crisis.

“Decisions that were made in the mid-1990s are why we don’t have enough housing today,” Seybert said. “No one was building any housing.”

In 2009, said Gee, the city was the number one developer of housing, demonstrating how different the atmosphere was then, and how decisions made then could have alleviated today’s housing crisis.

Gee and Seybert were elected together in 2009 – campaigned together and have remained close friends and council allies. Each chose separately not to seek a third term on the council, Gee some weeks after he actually kicked off his campaign.

The result is a wide-open race for three council seats among a field of seven candidates with uncommonly extensive and wide-ranging experience: Incumbent Vice Mayor Diane Howard, businessman Ernie Schmidt, community organizer Diana Reddy, businesswoman/mother Giselle Hale, small business owner Christina Umhofer, university community relations representative Jason Galisatus and certified public accountant Rick Hunter.

For both Gee and Seybert, a difficult decision was influenced by a political atmosphere dominated by tweets and Facebook posts, accusations and suspicions, hints and allegations.

“The personal attacks, the drive-bys, having to put cameras on the outside of your house – it’s not worth it,” Gee said.

Even as he announced his candidacy, hanging over his campaign was a still-unresolved complaint against Gee filed anonymously with the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging he had failed to recuse himself from voting on some Stanford-related projects in Redwood City that were awarded to his employer, Swinerton. The complaint alleged Gee was financially benefiting from the projects. Gee has steadfastly asserted that he behaved appropriately and that the allegations are untrue.
Nonetheless, questions of his integrity frequently were raised on local Facebook pages and sweeping assertions were made, most of them offered without a factual foundation.

For Gee, it meant a campaign with this issue ever-present and with a cadre of local residents who would have been determined to make him the central focus of the campaign.

Gee said he opted not to run because of increased responsibilities at his job, a leadership position at Swinerton that requires extensive overseas travel.

While he insists he did not shrink from the fight he was facing, it was clear that he was expecting an entirely unpleasant experience.

“Not just this race, but politics in general has been a very toxic environment,” said Seybert. “The cost of leadership is a lot higher now. It got beyond what I was willing to pay. Most people won’t run because most people can’t stomach it.”

Both of them remain alarmed at the way accusers hide behind social media.

“Some people who attack you in social media, when they see you in person, they act like it never happened,” said Seybert. He called it “digital cowardice.”

The ability to succeed in such an environment will require council members with a willingness to withstand the slings and arrows that come with the job, and look beyond the momentary passions of a particular issue.

“Leadership isn’t a popularity contest, but an election is,” said Gee. “There will be decisions a councilmember has to make that are not popular decisions.”

“What tough decisions are you prepared to make?” said Seybert. “I look for people who will make the decisions, whether they agree with me or not. … I don’t like some of the effects of the rapid growth that has occurred. They make me uncomfortable. But I’m not doing this to be comfortable today. You don’t save for college when your kids are 2 because it’s comfortable.”

Gee and Seybert have endorsed Hale and Galisatus. Seybert also has endorsed Howard. Gee said no one else has asked for his endorsement.
“I endorsed people who have what it takes to make these hard decisions,” Seybert said.

Gee urged voters to look among the candidates for those “with the ability to learn and represent the young and the demographics who are not represented. … What do they envision Redwood City to be in 20 or 30 years? What happens when autonomous vehicles hit the road.”

He called it being able to “look around the corner” to see what might be coming.

Ultimately, Seybert and Gee said, there are some essential qualities a council member must possess.

Gee called them basic skills: Leadership, values, guiding principles, vision, working well with others, knowledge and the ability to learn, a breadth of capabilities.
He said voters should be looking for council members who have relevant work experience in day-to-day finance, in borrowing and financing, in asset management, in recruiting and retaining good staff.

Gee and Seybert said that to be effective, a council member must be able to do certain things.

Can the person win over a majority of the council – can he or she get four votes? That implies an ability to work with others and, ultimately, to compromise for the greater good.

Will the candidate represent Redwood City effectively on the many critical regional boards and commissions, winning the respect of colleagues and serving as a useful advocate for the city’s interests?

Gee currently chairs the SamTrans Board of Directors and represents San Mateo County on the Caltrain Board of Directors, positions he obtained by a vote of his peers at every city council in the county.

These regional bodies make decisions that are critical for the region and, therefore, for Redwood City. A council member cannot assume that the issues facing Redwood City are unique and isolated, they said.

“The drawbridge doesn’t work,” Gee said. “We have to work together.”

And will the council member look beyond a council chamber full of angry residents to see the bigger issues that could face the city in the future?

“Can unpopular decisions be made and lead the city?” Gee asked.

“Can they do their homework?” Gee asked. “Will they come to meetings prepared? Do they believe in being a diverse and welcoming city? If so, what have they done? What nonprofits do they support and participate in? What and where and how regularly do they volunteer? Will they represent all parts of Redwood City or just a portion?”

“It’s not about who shows up the city council meetings,” Seybert said, describing the meetings as the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to council duties.

“Paying attention to social media is like running to the front of a crowd and yelling, ‘Follow me,’” Seybert said.

Today is last day to register to vote in Nov. 6 elections

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Latest San Mateo County election results released

Today, Oct. 22, is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 statewide general election.

And this is a big one, with jurisdictions seeing significant increases in voter registration in an election that will determine California’s next governor and three hotly contested Redwood City council seats (See Climate columnist Mark Simon’s guide on the council candidates here).

Voter registration forms sent by mail must be postmarked on or before Oct. 22. To register online, visit the San Mateo County official elections website at and click on “Register to Vote.” Registrations online must be submitted by midnight tonight.

If you don’t have a voter registration form, you can fetch one at public libraries, city and town halls, post offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles offices, and any of the county’s vote centers. The list of Vote Center locations can be found online at

Voters who miss today’s registration deadline can “conditionally” register to vote and vote provisionally on the same day at any County Vote Center, according to the San Mateo County Elections Office.

“Under this law, once the county elections official processes the affidavit of registration, determines the individual’s eligibility to register, and validates the individual’s information, the registration becomes permanent and the CVR provisional ballot will be counted,” the county said.

Vote Centers are currently open for the November Election from 8 5 p.m. at 40 Tower Road in San Mateo; 555 County Center, 1st Floor, Redwood City; 840 West Orange Avenue, South San Francisco; and 550 Bell Street, East Palo Alto. From there, five more Vote Centers will open daily beginning Oct. 27 through Nov. 2 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Thirty-nine more Vote Centers will be open Saturday, Nov. 3 through Monday, Nov. 5 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. All Vote Centers will be open Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Extra notes: Voters who move to a new address, change their name or would like to change party affiliation must re-register; you can confirm your current registration status online at by clicking on “Check My Registration;” San Mateo County residents were delayed in receiving their mailed ballots for more than a week, after a San Mateo County Board of Education race was inadvertently left off the ballot, as reported by Simon.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why ballots showed up late in county mailboxes

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why ballots showed up late in county mailboxes

Ballots finally are showing up in San Mateo County mailboxes, more than a week after they were supposed to be in the hands of voters.

The all-mail ballots are a grand experiment in democracy with a lot of things to recommend it, but the reason for the delay is mundane, problematic and potentially consequential.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that the elections officials, under the management of Mark Church, San Mateo County’s elections chief, left a race off the ballot. Specifically, it is the race for the San Mateo County Board of Education. The board members run for the seats from a district, but they’re elected countywide.

Apparently, someone thought the election was district-only, and didn’t include it in all the county ballots. A delay ensued while a separate page was prepared solely for the Board of Education, which explains why there’s a page in your ballot with a huge amount of blank space and only one item on it.

This is the second time in recent elections that something was omitted from the ballot, the other being a race for local judgeship.

Church was re-elected in June with token opposition to the post of Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, a job that puts him in charge, among other things, of all local elections. While it’s an independent office, he doesn’t have control over the size of his budget – that’s set by the Board of Supervisors.

The budget is relevant because Church has been known to assert that his office is under-funded and, therefore, understaffed.

Which could be an explanation, but it’s certainly no excuse. Particularly when San Mateo County is at the center of a huge experiment in all-mail balloting.

I’m a big fan of vote-by-mail. I like the idea of voters taking time to go over their ballots, rather than hurriedly whipping through it while standing at a voting station with other voters lined up behind.

I like to think it prompts more people to vote and that they will spend time culling through social media to inform themselves about the down-ballot races, such as city councils, school boards and city ballot measures.

Certainly, the all-mail balloting can be credited for an extraordinary voter turnout in the June statewide gubernatorial primary – 44.3 percent voter turnout compared to 27.5 percent in the 2014 June gubernatorial primary.

So, put me down as an enthusiastic supporter, assuming the people in charge of the elections do their jobs properly.

Mundane: Someone who knows what’s on the ballot should have checked it and re-checked it. Whatever Quality Assurance steps are in place weren’t good enough.

Problematic: If one of the benefits of all-mail balloting is the time voters have to go over the ballot and consider all the races, sending the ballots out more than a week late may meet some legal requirement, but it certainly doesn’t serve the larger purpose.

Consequential: Even though he has just been re-elected, there already is speculation in political circles about a challenge to Church in four years. The names making the rounds include state Senator Jerry Hill, who is termed out of office in 2020, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, whose legislative record includes substantial time and attention to election and campaign issues, including sponsorship of the bill that made it possible for the all-mail balloting, and Virginia Chang Kiraly, current member of the San Mateo County Harbor Commission and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors.

Full disclosure: Mullin and I co-host a public affairs show, The Game, on Peninsula TV. The mention of his name here was done without his knowledge and is not an attempt by him to float a trial balloon. The same can be said, by the way, about Hill and Kiraly – the trial balloon part, not the TV show part.

Shameless plug: Kevin and I will be co-hosting a live Election Night show on Pen TV from 8 p.m. until the last results are in and digested. It’s the only place devoted exclusively to the local races you’re following.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

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