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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Who’s leaving – and coming – amid soaring housing costs

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As news goes, this barely qualifies: Bay Area housing prices continue to rise.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index, an authoritative national assessment, reported Tuesday that housing prices nationally rose 6.4 percent from February 2017 to February 2018.

And that raises an interesting question: Would we be more or less uneasy if housing prices rose 6.4 percent on the Peninsula?

Because the same index, as reported by San Francisco Chronicle’s insightful business columnist Kathleen Pender, showed prices rose 33.6 percent in Santa Clara County and 25.7 percent in San Mateo County.

Yikes.

In the 20 cities used in the index, only three cities rose by double digits: San Francisco (10.1 percent), Las Vegas (11.6 percent) and Seattle (12.7 percent).

There is no small irony in the timing of this information, which arrives about a week after the death of the bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener that would have forced cities to build with higher density and greater height around transit corridors.

Meanwhile, people are fleeing the Bay Area and California in record numbers. Right?

Well, maybe not.

In a widely publicized report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) and based on analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 5 million people moved to California from 2007 to 2016, but about 6 million left the state – a net loss of 1 million or about 2.5 percent of the state’s total population for those of you scoring at home.

But the same report notes: “These population losses are low in historical terms.” From 1990 to 2006, “net out-migration was, on average, more than double what it was in the most recent ten years.”

So, who’s leaving and where are they going?

The LAO report says “families with kids and those with only a high school education predominate among those moving from California,” and they are moving mostly to Texas, Arizona and Nevada (which explains that spike in Las Vegas housing prices).

Remember, while 6 million left, 5 million people moved here, and that group is dominated by 18- to 35-year-olds with college degrees. Where are they coming from? New York, Illinois and New Jersey, according to the report.

That information is borne out by a less-scientific but nonetheless reliable source: the United Van Lines Annual National Movers Study. The top ten states people moved to in 2017 are: Vermont, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, South Dakota (really?), Washington (see Seattle price spike), South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado and Alabama. The top ten states people moved from in 2017: Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Kansas, Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, Utah and Wisconsin.

So, California isn’t top ten in either category, but it remains a meaningful draw to younger, college-education people.

That’s borne out by yet another study by Livability, a website that conducts an annual ranking of the 100 best places to live in America based on nine factors, including amenities, diverse demographics, economy, education, health care and housing.

Even with the cost of housing, California cities make up 20 percent of the list. Palo Alto is ranked 6th, San Mateo 29th, Redwood City 65th and Burlingame 70th.

For those who resent “techies” who keep showing up in our communities with their hoodies, their employee badges and their disposable incomes, all these reports could be fuel for the fire, I suppose.

Or, it could be seen as more of the transition that is taking place in our economy, our communities and our demographics. Change is always hard. Generational change is deeply disruptive.

Consider, though, the presence in Redwood City of Baobab Studios, a company that is leading the way in Virtual Reality animation, essentially melding VR and animated movies as an interactive entertainment venue.

It is mind-boggling, exciting stuff and they’re in Redwood City because it’s an ideal geographic location in the midst of Silicon Valley, which is helpful in attracting and retaining bright, creative employees, said Maureen Fan, co-founder and CEO of Baobab.

Fan told Political Climate in a recent interview that she is well aware of the cost of housing in the Bay Area and has had friends who have moved away “because it’s too expensive.”

But, she noted, there are still “more job opportunities in the Bay Area. If you have the technical skills, you want to come to the Bay Area.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Traffic is bad. Now what?

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Post: It’s a regional measure, by and for the whole region.

Will people do anything for traffic relief? Will they pay more? Change their habits?

The answer is yes for officials throughout San Mateo County and the Bay Area, who are prepared to commit billions of public and private dollars on projects aimed at reducing traffic and enhancing public transit.

The plans, programs and projects that will transform our transportation system are the subject of a piece I wrote that will appear in the May issue of Climate Magazine, available in various locations next week.

Two upcoming ballot measures will test the proposition that people are fed up with traffic enough that they’re willing to pay more for solutions.

Regional Measure 3 on the June ballot would raise the tolls on seven state-owned bridges in the Bay Area, including the Bay, San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges. Tolls would go up a dollar in 2019, another dollar in 2022 and another dollar in 2025. The $4.5 billion the tolls would generate will go to improvements to current highways, bridges and roads, including toll lanes on Highway 101 and various public transit projects that aim to get more people out of their cars, such as the Dumbarton rail bridge and the Dumbarton auto bridge.

A separate measure in November will ask county voters to support a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for a sweeping range of projects and programs that have at their core the conviction that we have arrived at the post-auto era of transit and transportation. The tax measure still is being written, but it is clear that one element of it will be transit that is more available, more convenient and more frequent – in other words, an alternative to the car.

In the 1970s, when Jerry Brown was in his first two terms as governor, he publicly raised the possibility of purposely forcing people from their cars through the creation of disincentives – make the car too expensive and too inconvenient and make mass transit more attractive.

He was widely criticized for the notion and, typically, he was ahead of his time, a forerunner of automobile disincentives now embraced as progressive, such as congestion pricing and central district automobile bans, and incentives such as carpool and toll lanes.

Forty years later, the disincentive arrived on its own in the form of this late-breaking bulletin: traffic is bad. So bad, people will give up their cars.

That’s old news at Caltrain (in the interest of full disclosure, I was an executive at SamTrans and Caltrain from 2004 through 2017).

In 2004, Caltrain introduced its first Baby Bullet express trains. By mid-2005, it was clear that the express trains were the only part of the Caltrain service that was gaining riders, and the decision was made to double the number of bullet trains.

From 2004 to 2017, ridership on Caltrain has doubled (revenue from ticket sales tripled) as thousands of people a day left their cars and the challenging commute to ride on the train. In Caltrain’s 2017 annual count, six trains are at 100 or greater capacity. All of them are express trains. The average length of the trip made by these passengers was 23 miles and those who rode express trains rode an average of 28 miles.

It’s that very reaction that county transit officials are counting on. What is clear from the Caltrain example is that in this current economic environment, people value time more than money. And this particular form of transit serves the need to get from one place to another in a timely way.

“That’s why owning a car doesn’t make any sense,” said Redwood City Councilman Jeff Gee, who serves on both the SamTrans and Caltrain boards of directors, in the upcoming Climate Magazine piece. “The peak period of car ownership has passed. Younger people have figured that out. Now the rest of us need to figure that out.”

THAT CITY UP THERE: The recent announcement by San Francisco that it was going to relocate the Caltrain railyard up there was typical of the city. You may have noticed in related news stories or the announcement by the city that no one from Caltrain was quoted. That’s probably because Caltrain doesn’t want to relocate its railyard, which, by the way, San Francisco doesn’t own.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate by Mark Simon: Housing bill’s death doesn’t kill issue

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The housing bill that roared – state Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 827 – died in committee this week, but the issue is not dead.

Wiener proposed legislation that would, in essence, require cities to put aside local height and density limits when considering housing developments at or near transit. Instead, there would be state standards that would supersede local zoning regulations and allow significantly higher, denser development.

Since the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, which took away from local government the ability to set tax rates, the only real, meaningful power remaining in local hands is land use authority, and it’s something cities have zealously guarded.

It is also one of the few ways cities can affect their own tax base, which is why for decades after Proposition 13 became law there has been a tilt toward commercial development, which can generate local tax revenue. It’s one of the factors in the housing shortage.

But the housing shortage now is a crisis, and city officials up and down the Peninsula are torn between pressures to build more housing and demands from residents to protect the character of their communities.

This political dilemma was on display last weekend at the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce’s 49th Progress Seminar in Monterey, where Wiener participated in a half-day series of panels on the housing crisis.

First, Wiener gets a lot of credit for spending his morning explaining his legislation to a rotating audience of city council members, many of whom were quite unhappy with his proposal. He was earnest, thoughtful, diligent and passionate about what the housing crisis is doing to the Bay Area and California.

“People are leaving the Bay Area, people making $400,000 a year, because there’s no future for them here,” he said, succinctly capturing the essence of the problem.

He noted the housing deficit in the Bay Area is 3.5 million – the difference between the amount of housing and the number of people who need it.

The reaction of city council members at the panel was to describe the dilemma they face. They are under pressure from housing advocates to build more housing. Neighborhood advocates don’t want higher, denser buildings near them. Throughout most cities, residents don’t want their communities to change.

Millbrae Councilman Wayne Lee said he and his colleagues are routinely buffeted by housing advocates for not building more housing.

Burlingame Councilwoman Ann Keighran said her city is a “victim of our success.” In Burlingame, the schools are overcrowded and any effort to build more housing there is met with resistance from school advocates.

She said the major employers, who are bringing more people into San Mateo County, “are not helping” and ought to make a meaningful contribution to building more housing.

All of which is why Wiener introduced his bill, he said. Local elected officials struggle to weave their way through the thicket of NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) and YIMBYs (Yes In My Backyard) who are creating crosscurrents of political consequence.

The state can “take the political heat,” he said.

It’s not a sudden and new overreach of state authority, he said. The state plays a role in any number of local issues, the schools being the most evident, Wiener said. In fact, the state has deferred responsibility for a host of issues in which it should be engaged more deeply – not just housing, but homelessness and teacher pay.

“People who say we can’t build our way out of it, I don’t agree. … We have a basic supply/demand problem,” Wiener said. “Even if it takes 20 years, that’s why we should get started now.”

When his bill died in committee, Wiener said he wasn’t surprised and that he expected it would take more than one year, perhaps more than one legislative session, for the bill to move forward.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Splitting California into 3 states divisive in several ways

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Splitting California into 3 states divisive in several ways

If splitting California into six states was a loopy idea, is splitting it into three states half-loopy?

Splitting up California is the brainchild of Tim Draper, a third-generation venture capitalist who apparently thinks smaller is better, although I suspect that is not the lesson he is teaching the budding entrepreneurs enrolled at San Mateo-based Draper University of Heroes, which puts on a nice street fair.

He has plenty of money, having invested early in Skype. Being smart at one thing appears to make him feel smart about many other things, although, it must be said, there is quite a long history in California of business executives failing miserably at politics, it being a little more difficult than it looks.

Anyway, he is willing to spend some of that money on his pet projects. In 2000, he spent more than $23 million on Proposition 38, a measure that would have allowed the state to spend $4,000 per pupil enrolled at private and religious schools. It also restricted the state from applying academic standards to these private schools. By the way, his dad also spent $2 million on the measure. It’s nice to see a family stick together. The measure failed.

In 2014, he spent $5 million trying to get a measure on the statewide ballot to divide California into six states, but roughly half the signatures he collected were invalid and the measure never was put before the voters.

Now, he’s back with what might be called a half-measure: dividing California into three states.  It would be easy to call it silly, but it makes sense to take it seriously.

Not the proposal – it is silly. Draper’s measure, if it qualifies for the ballot, will lose, but it can still do a lot of damage. The debate it will touch off has the potential to be seriously harmful and divisive at a time when our politics are badly divided.

What we need are our leaders – in government, politics and business – to look for ways to bring us together around common values and concerns.

The proposal was dismissed for just these reasons by Paul Saffo, who was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce’s 49th Progress Seminar, the annual gathering of San Mateo County leaders, who meet in Monterey to discuss the leading issues affecting the county and, oddly enough, seek consensus solutions. Saffo is a renowned futurist from Stanford, an engaging and thoughtful thinker about society, change and the dynamics that impact human behavior.

Saffo called Draper “the clown prince of Silicon Valley” and an example of “folks who get too rich too fast and decide to make everyone else unhappy.”

The three-states measure is “extraordinarily dangerous” because it undermines “our most valuable resource: our social cohesion,” Saffo said.

There are a wide number of interests around the country and the world “who love to see California get into a fight with ourselves,” he said.

There are parts of the state – largely the more rural eastern and far northern counties — where splitting off from California long has been advocated and signs calling for the creating of the State of Jefferson are becoming more prominent. The Draper proposal will only fuel that sentiment and embolden those who want their differences to become codified, rather than resolved.

California works in many ways, and it works best when we listen to one another, “not by insulting people,” Saffo said. “The stakes are really high.”

Saffo asked the audience members to show their support for a unified California by the simple act of putting on their cars a sticker depicting the Bear Flag Republic state flag.

Draper’s principal argument is that government is too large to be effective and that people are leaving California because it doesn’t work anymore.

In reality, the only problem Draper has with government is that he can’t get it to do what he wants, whether it’s put in place a draconian voucher system that would enrich private schools at the expense of public education or eliminate financial regulations and restrictions aimed to protect the American economy from abuse.

Yes, Draper spent $23 million on that failed voucher measure in 2000, and he spent $5 million in 2014 in an unsuccessful effort to put his first split-California measure on the ballot. Maybe he spent that much this time, too.

What we do know is this: He is likely to have more impact on improving California by spending his money on resolving the problems that face the state. Imagine what a local housing nonprofit might do if it had $28 million to spend. It might enable some folks to stick around.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Sheriff Bolanos’ views on immigration enforcement

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Sheriff Bolanos’ views on immigration enforcement

We go about our day. We fight traffic and go to work. We go to lunch, go home at the end of the day. We go to the store or visit with friends or go to the movies.

We don’t worry about someone arresting us for simply going about our day. Unless we weren’t born here.

For all the time and attention focused on new buildings and traffic and housing prices, for a significant, below-the-radar percentage of the local population, what may matter most is who holds the office of sheriff of San Mateo County. It’s a position responsible for law enforcement in the unincorporated portions of the county, including those such as North Fair Oaks, which is heavily dominated by Latino residents, among them many immigrants.

Right now, that job belongs to Carlos Bolanos, who was appointed to the position by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in August 2016, when incumbent Sheriff Greg Munks stepped down for health reasons.

The board vote was 3-2, with Supervisors Dave Pine and Carole Groom objecting not to Bolanos but to the way the appointment seemed to be hurried and without an effort to seek a wider range of candidates. The county’s two congresswomen, Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier, also wrote to the board objecting to the appointment and saying an “open and transparent” appointment process should be undertaken. The board went ahead.

Now, Bolanos is up for election for the first time.  All five supervisors have endorsed Bolanos, along with dozens of local elected officials and the county’s state legislative delegation. Notably, neither Speier nor Eshoo has endorsed Bolanos. By contrast, according to his campaign web page, challenger Mark D. Melville, a deputy in the Sheriff’s Office, has four endorsements, and only one is an elected official, San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, no stranger to the contrarian public position.

Bolanos is the son of immigrants – his parents came to the U.S. from Nicaragua and he was born and raised in the Bay Area.

Ultimately, by his own description, he is a law enforcement officer, having been a police officer for going on 39 years. And in that simple answer is an indication of how complicated immigration has become as a political issue.

“I’ll enforce the laws, whether I agree with them or not,” Bolanos said in an interview. He will apply the appropriate federal immigration laws to those arrested and in his custody, who are serious and violent criminals and he will work with federal immigration enforcement officials to arrest and deport “those who prey on our community.” That being said, Bolanos added: “I hope local law enforcement will not be pulled into enforcing federal law.”

He is troubled by the anti-immigrant rhetoric emanating from Washington, D.C., which he called a “sad commentary on our country,” and he said several times that immigration reform is essential. He stopped well short of saying he would refuse to assist federal immigration officials, but he said the rhetoric – the threat of raids – is terrorizing “good people,” and he worries it will prevent people from reporting crimes, going to school or going to work because they fear it will expose them to deportation.

“Anything that terrorizes our community members concerns me,” he said. “There are a lot of good people who live and work in this county” and because of their documentation status “are being scapegoated.”

In reality, a look at the campaign web pages of Bolanos and Melville shows no significant discernible difference between them on this issue, except that Bolanos is the first Latino sheriff in San Mateo County since the county was incorporated in 1856.

Does that matter?

“I think it does,” said Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre. “It is a plus and the people in the Latino community feel comfortable with Sheriff Bolanos because he has been active in the community.

Melville, by his own initial admission to local newspapers, entered the race largely to ensure that Bolanos did not run unopposed.

San Mateo County in recent years has had a history of unopposed incumbents for offices from supervisor to sheriff to district attorney.

“Everything’s been handed down, and I said, ‘that’s wrong,’” Melville said.

UMHOFER LAUNCHES: Redwood City Council challenger Christina Umhofer formally announced her candidacy last Sunday in front of about 40 friends and family at an event at Main & Elm Coffee Shop, the same venue where Diana Reddy did the same thing a few weeks earlier. Reddy was on hand for Umhofer’s announcement, as was Rick Hunter, another challenger, who said he would make his formal announcement once he gets past tax season. Hunter has his own accounting business.

Umhofer, whose campaign slogan is “From Redwood City, for Redwood City,” offered what she said are “out of the box” solutions to the problems facing the city where she was born and raised.

In accommodating the rapid rate of growth in office and market-rate housing in the downtown neighborhood, the city council failed to exact all it should have from developers, aesthetically and to the greater benefit of the entire city, she said.

“We, as elected officials, need to have the developers present better projects with more community benefits for the residents of Redwood City,” Umhofer said.

One of those benefits would be providing the financial support necessary to attract retail to downtown, particularly redesigning Main Street as a retail corridor.

“We misstepped as a city when we allowed office use in the ground floor space of our downtown. All ground floor space should be saved for retail and/or restaurants,” she said.

In a brief post-announcement interview, Umhofer subsequently said she would support a cap on the number of restaurants in downtown, a longstanding practice in Burlingame that is credited as a factor in that city’s wealth of high-end retail.

And she cited as an example for future housing solutions how she and her husband sold a small commercial/residential complex by partnering with regional below-market housing advocates, who obtained grants to purchase the property at current market value. The Umhofers got a competitive price and the tenants got long-term leases that protect their current rent levels and allow them to stay, she said.

This is the way to break the cycle of market-rate sales followed by steep rent hikes that amount to driving tenants out, she said.

“I like solutions. I like to think out of the box to obtain solutions,” Umhofer said. “For the ones that have known me, know that I do not like nor give lip service.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Fear descends upon San Bruno

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Fear descends upon San Bruno

Fear came to our house.

It came seven weeks after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and 10 days after high school students led the nation on a march to end gun violence.

Nearly 50 years to the day, our nation’s greatest proponent of peaceful change, Martin Luther King Jr., was gunned down — an unfathomable act that left me devastated as I began to emerge from the safe, suburban upbringing of my youth in San Bruno.

San Bruno has always been an insular little town – quiet (except for the ever-present jet noise from neighboring SFO), self-contained and preoccupied. Its politics don’t tend to extend beyond its own borders and the people who live there love their town in a way that is unique among Peninsula cities.

It’s a modest town and many of the people who live there like its small-town identity.

And it is home to YouTube, in a small industrial park tucked into what was once a canyon in a northwestern corner of the town. YouTube’s presence is something of which the city is immensely proud, a company that put little San Bruno in the mainstream of the modern world of technological interconnection.

Now, San Bruno is added to the rollcall of places where someone with a gun just started shooting.

It’s a handgun this time and the number of those wounded or dead is mercifully brief, which is no consolation, of course, to those whose lives are forever changed by these immutable circumstances.

And, again, we are left with the same reality: It is just too easy to buy a gun and to use it in the most dangerous and harmful way.

As we once again are forced to confront the gun-based facts of modern America from which even high-tech companies with security checkpoints are not immune, the rally that overflowed Redwood City’s Courthouse Square a scant 10 days ago still lingers in the consciousness, even though 10 days ago now seems like a far distance.

In reaction to the San Bruno shooting and in honor of Dr. King’s memory, it is worth revisiting the numerous speeches by eloquent and passionate young people, all of them memorable, none more so, perhaps, than Francesca Battista, a sophomore at Menlo-Atherton High School whose remarks were equal parts speech and prose poem.

Her focus was on the names of the victims, noting that the names of the shooters often seem to be more often and more widely remembered.

“Names are powerful,” she said. “Names are mirrors – they reflect our experiences as human beings. … people make use of the enactor’s given names, when instead their names are murderer, terrorist, coward, evil and … shooter. … When we repeat the given names of those who inflict damage at this magnitude, we inadvertently dignify them.”

Later in her remarks, Francesca said: “We need gun reform. We need politicians who do what they are elected to do and advocate for the protection of the people, instead of slimily slithering away from that which diminishes their status as a lobbyist’s pawn – those whose campaigns are funded by the NRA’s blood money. We need insurance, through multiple strategies of fixing this problem, that these tragedies will happen never again. Otherwise, we tell those who have died that their name is now obsolete.”

It is a long battle, Francesca acknowledged, and she said she is prepared for such a fight and for what she might tell her own grandchildren when they ask “what it was like to live through the political tumult of the 2010s, I will proudly share that, together with my peers, I exercised my American rights to ripple the waters of public attentions, by marching, by standing, by sharing and by speaking. … And when they ask whether we were afraid, I will look them directly into their eyes and say, yes, we were afraid and that’s exactly why we did it.”

As the name of the San Bruno shooter is added to the roster, Francesca’s speech brings to mind a frequent refrain of Dr. King’s: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

WHAT WE WANT: It seems simple, admitting that simple is not always easy: We want to be safe.

We do not wish to infringe on the rights of those who want to own guns because they are hunters or enjoy target shooting.

But those Second Amendment rights should not infringe on our unalienable right to be safe at home, at school, at work, on the street. None of our rights in the Constitution are absolute. They all have been modified and reinterpreted as the nature and state of our times have changed. There is no reason the Second Amendment should be immune to the changing times.

ON THE FRONT LINES: If U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein is associated with any single issue, it is the effort to restrict the free availability of the deadliest automatic weapons. She was widely excoriated some months ago for saying that she wished President Trump would do a good job, an innocuous comment that elicited the kind of partisan hostility that seems all too characteristic of these times.

In an interview published in the San Francisco Chronicle, she admitted she is growing increasingly discouraged by the unreliability of President Trump, particularly his willingness to change his positions on issues on a moment-to-moment basis.

Still, she concluded, her job is to get things done, an expectation we should all have for our elected officials.

“I’m not a name-caller. I don’t call people names. All people want to hear, it appears, are epithets about him,” Feinstein told The Chronicle. “My job is to get legislation passed or get problems solved or find money to help solve those problems.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: March For Our Lives is largest Courthouse Square assembly

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The largest crowd ever assembled in Redwood City’s Courthouse Square – officially estimated at 3,000 but appearing closer to 5,000 people – enthusiastically cheered Saturday as an array of determined high school and middle school students pledged to take the necessary political steps to bring about meaningful and effective gun control and gun reform legislation.

But amid articulate and impassioned speeches and the warm response of a crowd that overflowed the square and shut down Broadway, a question lingered: Will it actually happen? Can the fierce urgency of now translate into a continued effort that will survive setbacks, opposition tactics and the changing tides of time and circumstance?

The students say yes, and there are elements of how this one rally was organized and carried out, and how it occurred in concert with hundreds of rallies on the same day throughout the nation, that suggest they could be right.

In speeches and interviews, participants and organizers acknowledged that this could be a long fight. That was implicit in the repeated calls to vote out of office those who would resist meaningful gun legislation, the calls to register to vote, the assertion that this generation of students would soon be old enough to vote, to launch political campaigns and to run for office. And there was an assertion that the youngest students, middle schoolers, would be right behind them.

“I’ve always been really passionate about gun control and reform,” said Carlmont High School senior Sophie Penn, one of the Saturday rally organizers. “It’s upsetting that this opportunity is before us. I’m really glad to see all these students are really rising to the occasion.”

Carlmont High senior Sophie Penn addresses the crowd at the March For Our Lives event in Redwood City Courthouse Square on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

But less than a year from now, Penn will be in college, miles away from Redwood City and apart from the circle of friends and peers who staged Saturday’s successful rally. And within four years, so will all the other rally organizers.

“There have been a lot of historical movements that have been led by young people across this nation,” Penn said. One of her goals, she said, is to “inspire the next group coming along” of middle school and younger students, many of whom were evident in Saturday’s crowd.

Jordan Hanlon, also a Carlmont senior, said that when the demonstrations and protests die down, “I’ll still be fighting for the same cause.”

Holly Newman, one of the rally speakers, asked for a 17-second moment of silence, symbolizing the 17 students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Then she said, “The time for silence is over. We are ready to be heard and we are going to be heard. We will not stay silent and we will not back down until we succeed in making our nation a safer place.”

Will they?

Any student of national mass grassroots movements can tell you that each has struggled to sustain itself over the years, sometimes decades, it took to overcome the entrenched interests they were seeking to challenge and to change. Revolution takes time and makes people uncomfortable.

The civil rights movement, which some would argue still has far to go, was marked by dissent and disagreements between established leaders and young activists over tactics, targets and rhetoric, even as an older generation worried about incurring the wrath invited by confrontational behavior.

In the women’s movement, there were decades of dispute about the “proper” role of women in the home and the workplace, disputes still in evidence.

The antiwar movement of the Vietnam era generated mass demonstrations on a scale akin to the gun reform demonstrations. But demands to “end the war now” were also met with counter-demonstrations and an entrenched military-industrial-political establishment and the war continued for years. And the leadership of the movement was a mixed bag of idealist, sincere organizers, opportunists, and outlandish radicals who often dominated the attention of the news media.

So, why might this be different?

For openers, the students leading this effort are the best and the brightest – a generation of students taught to work on group projects and to speak publicly. The speakers at the rally, to a person, were remarkably poised, as if they had been doing this their whole lives. Certainly, it could be argued, their schooling had prepared them for this moment.

Spurred by parents and taught in classes with heightened expectations, they demonstrated a level of critical thinking and sophisticated political understanding that could not be innate but learned.

Brooke Bettinger, a 16-year-old from Los Altos High, carried a large tri-fold cardboard poster at the rally that read: “This used to be my brother’s science project but now it’s a protest sign because politicians think money from the NRA is more important than our lives.”

The antiwar movement of the ‘60s was led by a generation that had grown up with air raid drills, the Cold War and the reality that a nuclear holocaust could destroy everyone in a moment.

This generation has been going to school in the era of school shootings, campus lockdowns and a seemingly unending string of moments of silence and flags at half-staff.

“I’m part of a generation growing up knowing nothing but school shootings,” said Stefan Sujansky, a Woodside High School senior, rally co-coordinator and event emcee. “It’s far too normal. I’m sick and tired of having to watch school shooting after school shooting while politicians do nothing. … We should have a voice in how this issue ends.”

And this is a generation raised on technology and social media, armed with tools that facilitate networks of like-minded people.

One of the criticisms of social media is that it reduces our exposure to opposing points of view. But as a tool for unifying like-minded people interested in embracing a singular cause, it is unprecedented in American or world history as a means to that end.

As they prepared, the rally organizers sent out a call for speakers. Those who wanted to speak had to submit a Google form and a copy of their remarks to make sure their speech was in line with the overall message.

And everyone got the message. The words, the sentiment, the calls for action, the list of priorities were in sync with the speakers at the rally in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco and throughout the nation.

So, it could well be that this time is different – that the circumstances, the people, the means at their disposal and their facility in leading have come together at this time and this place and in a way not seen before.

Menlo-Atherton freshman Brynn Baker, standing with four of her friends in the crowd, put it this way: “Something needs to change and the adults are not going to change it. … In four years, we’ll all be eligible to vote.”

Stefan Sujansky, a Woodside High School senior, addresses the crowd at the March For Our Lives event in Redwood City Courthouse Square on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: San Mateo County has changed forever

in PoliticalClimate by
http://hlcsmc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/HLC2018-MovingReport-v7web-1.pdf

The San Mateo County that was simply is no more.

Once a hotbed of social rest, San Mateo County is an increasingly urbanized technology focal point in the regional, national and global economy, and there is no going back.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the San Mateo County Economic Development Association’s annual showcase of new and innovative companies.

At these events, held every year at the Oracle Conference Center in Redwood Shores, recognized companies have run the gamut from science to medicine to toys to transportation and every other iteration of the new economy imaginable. The presentations often have audience members reaching for their smart phones to look up products and stock symbols.

This year was no exception as seven companies were honored as Innovators. They included startups that are delving deeply into virtual reality animation programming, customized shopping, a convincing alternative to meat and cancer diagnostic tools requiring only the drawing of blood.

Of the seven companies recognized by SAMCEDA, five are in Redwood City, two are in Menlo Park and one is in San Mateo. More interestingly, of the 42 companies honored at this event between 2010-17, 36 still are headquartered in San Mateo County — only six have left. Combined, these 42 companies employ 17,000 people.

As SAMCEDA President and CEO Rosanne Foust told Political Climate, San Mateo County used to be known for its annual “churn” rate of 50 percent – the percentage of companies that would start in the county and then leave. Most companies, if not all, would reach a certain size and then move elsewhere, usually in seeking space for manufacturing facilities.

But then came companies that “laid the foundation,” Foust said. In the late 1970s, Oracle established its world headquarters in Redwood Shores and then Genentech opened in South San Francisco. At first, they were the only major employers from the new economy, but they were the forerunners of companies that now abound.

One key characteristic they share is that their products are virtual and don’t require physical production plants. Facebook is the most dramatic example with its plans to grow substantially in the next decade without leaving Menlo Park. At Facebook, they manufacture ideas and they need their employees to remain together, generating and executing new ideas at a clip that will maintain the company’s success.

Certainly, San Mateo County’s unique setting is an essential part of its appeal – its proximity to San Francisco, the ease of access to the redwoods and the beach. Just as crucial is the presence of Stanford University as a feeder of workers and innovators, and it’s no accident that Stanford is expanding into San Mateo County.

The net result is a reconstitution of the county’s DNA.

“There’s an energy here,” said Foust, and the world’s leading innovators sense it, understand its appeal and want to draw from it and contribute to it.

“The vitality of Redwood City in recent years has created a virtuous cycle with the diverse people and local, national and international businesses fueling an incredible ecosystem,” said Kristy Stromberg, chief marketing officer for Shopkick, one of the Redwood City companies honored at the SAMCEDA event. “It’s a great location for a tech company like ours.”

Stromberg referred to Redwood City as “being in the heart of Silicon Valley.”

There’s something no one would have said 20 years ago, or even 10.

These changes are the most profound to face this community in our lifetime. As I spend more time meeting and talking with the people who are making this change happen, I will revisit this topic with an eye to fully understanding what has happened, what will happen and why.

Yes, the San Mateo County we once knew has changed forever. It’s better – more diverse, more interesting, more dynamic and economically more powerful.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com

Political Climate with Mark Simon: San Mateo County has changed forever

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by
http://hlcsmc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/HLC2018-MovingReport-v7web-1.pdf

The San Mateo County that was simply is no more.

Once a hotbed of social rest, San Mateo County is an increasingly urbanized technology focal point in the regional, national and global economy, and there is no going back.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the San Mateo County Economic Development Association’s annual showcase of new and innovative companies.

At these events, held every year at the Oracle Conference Center in Redwood Shores, recognized companies have run the gamut from science to medicine to toys to transportation and every other iteration of the new economy imaginable. The presentations often have audience members reaching for their smart phones to look up products and stock symbols.

This year was no exception as seven companies were honored as Innovators. They included startups that are delving deeply into virtual reality animation programming, customized shopping, a convincing alternative to meat and cancer diagnostic tools requiring only the drawing of blood.

Of the seven companies recognized by SAMCEDA, five are in Redwood City, two are in Menlo Park and one is in San Mateo. More interestingly, of the 42 companies honored at this event between 2010-17, 36 still are headquartered in San Mateo County — only six have left. Combined, these 42 companies employ 17,000 people.

As SAMCEDA President and CEO Rosanne Foust told Political Climate, San Mateo County used to be known for its annual “churn” rate of 50 percent – the percentage of companies that would start in the county and then leave. Most companies, if not all, would reach a certain size and then move elsewhere, usually in seeking space for manufacturing facilities.

But then came companies that “laid the foundation,” Foust said. In the late 1970s, Oracle established its world headquarters in Redwood Shores and then Genentech opened in South San Francisco. At first, they were the only major employers from the new economy, but they were the forerunners of companies that now abound.

One key characteristic they share is that their products are virtual and don’t require physical production plants. Facebook is the most dramatic example with its plans to grow substantially in the next decade without leaving Menlo Park. At Facebook, they manufacture ideas and they need their employees to remain together, generating and executing new ideas at a clip that will maintain the company’s success.

Certainly, San Mateo County’s unique setting is an essential part of its appeal – its proximity to San Francisco, the ease of access to the redwoods and the beach. Just as crucial is the presence of Stanford University as a feeder of workers and innovators, and it’s no accident that Stanford is expanding into San Mateo County.

The net result is a reconstitution of the county’s DNA.

“There’s an energy here,” said Foust, and the world’s leading innovators sense it, understand its appeal and want to draw from it and contribute to it.

“The vitality of Redwood City in recent years has created a virtuous cycle with the diverse people and local, national and international businesses fueling an incredible ecosystem,” said Kristy Stromberg, chief marketing officer for Shopkick, one of the Redwood City companies honored at the SAMCEDA event. “It’s a great location for a tech company like ours.”

Stromberg referred to Redwood City as “being in the heart of Silicon Valley.”

There’s something no one would have said 20 years ago, or even 10.

These changes are the most profound to face this community in our lifetime. As I spend more time meeting and talking with the people who are making this change happen, I will revisit this topic with an eye to fully understanding what has happened, what will happen and why.

Yes, the San Mateo County we once knew has changed forever. It’s better – more diverse, more interesting, more dynamic and economically more powerful.

OUT OF THE GATE: Diana Reddy this week became the first Redwood City Council to formally launch her campaign. This is notable in that the council election is in November and the filing period has yet to be established or opened.

Reddy announced Monday before more than 40 friends and supporters at the Main & Elm Restaurant. In brief remarks, Reddy said she has a “passion for the least of us” and that she would be an advocate for those who have been left out or pushed out by the economic boom in Redwood City.

“We have much poverty in the midst of plenty and much fear in the midst of security,” she said. She vowed “we will have a seat at the table” if she is elected.

“We need a new direction,” Reddy said, promising to “align our city’s priorities with our community’s needs.”

An advocate for rent control, Reddy told Political Climate that it was highly unlikely a rent control ballot measure will be put on the November ballot. If anyone would know, she would, Reddy said, and it’s clear there isn’t the widespread political support required to take on the interests that would be arrayed against such a measure. There are other ways to take on the issue, she said, implying that she could introduce a rent control measure if she is on the council. … Among those on hand at the Reddy kickoff was Steve Penna, publisher of the monthly magazine Spectrum. Both Penna and Reddy denied a widespread rumor that Penna had assumed a formal role in Reddy’s campaign management. Penna acknowledged that he has worked for business interests in the city, including Main & Elm, helping longtime friends with marketing services. But, he said, “I will never, ever work on a city council campaign.”

A MOMENT OF PERSONAL PRIVILEGE: Two nonprofit organizations I am honored to support held major events in the last seven days. Sequoia Awards held its annual dinner last Thursday at the Crowne Plaza in Foster City, dispersing 29 scholarships to Redwood City high school seniors for their volunteer service to our community. That’s a total of $215,000 awarded, including $25,000 to the top student, Clara MacAvoy. The Sequoia Awards also recognized Barbara Pierce and Dee Eva as 2018’s Outstanding Individuals for their work on the city’s sesquicentennial celebration and recognized the Canyon Inn and proprietors Tim and Stephanie Harrison for their constant generosity to the community. … Bay Area Cancer Connections held its annual spring benefit yesterday at Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club. Award-winning actress Camryn Manheim told the story of her own frontal assault on breast cancer with characteristic brio. I am honored to serve both of these organizations as a member of their boards of directors.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Youth seize the moment

in Community/Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate by

Hundreds, more likely thousands, of San Mateo County high school students joined millions of their peers across the country in “walking out” of school yesterday morning to protest gun violence and demand stricter gun laws.

After everyone went back to class, a group of Redwood City students from the four high schools serving the city stayed out, marching through downtown to City Hall and the San Mateo County courthouse before a dozen or so ended the day at the corner of Broadway and El Camino Real in front of the gate to Sequoia High School.

As a chill winter’s wind rushed by, they held up signs: “Thoughts and prayers are not enough”; and shouted messages: “A life. A life. Our lives are on the line” and “Your kids’ lives matter.” As they demonstrated, passing cars honked and drivers and passengers waved.

Between talk about why more of their peers didn’t stay out of school all day and possible consequences for their own actions, they expressed an understanding that the fight to change America’s gun laws is not a short-term undertaking.

“If we were only (staying) on campus, it defeats the purpose. We want to be heard,” said Ethan Aronson, a sophomore.

“Adults are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, so we have to step up,” said Grace Bartz, a sophomore.

Darcana Pacheco referred to the “butterfly effect,” in which one small action ripples into a sweeping impact, and Milo Kemper, a senior, said the day’s activities are “baby steps. … It’s going to be a different world.”

The most vocal in the group said they were prepared for the long effort it takes, but they also held an understandable hope that the massive numbers that marched yesterday will generate a more immediate political will to get something done.

And there was a sentiment that what has been awakened among a generation of high school students will continue to manifest itself.

“Parkland opened up the door for us, it made it possible for us to be heard,” said Grace Bartz.

By 3 p.m., when the school day was over, they had dispersed, going their separate ways.

But many, if not all, who occupied the Broadway/ECR corner will be at a march and rally in support of gun reform scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in Redwood City as part of a national day of marches. Participants will meet at the Caltrain station and march to a rally at Courthouse Square.

A news release says the “student-led” rally is being organized by Belmont Councilman Charles Stone, Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur, Carlmont High School Journalism Advisor Justin Raisner and students Sophie Penn from Carlmont, Holly Newman from Menlo-Atherton and Ria Calcagno from Woodside.

Said a Facebook post: “This is not a venue for politicians or adults to speak (though they are welcome!) This is about local high school students joining together with high school students across America to express their outrage and demand change.”

More information can be found at the Facebook page SM County March/Rally For Our Lives, at the Twitter page @NeverAgainRWC or on Instagram @marchforourlivesrwc.

RACING TO JUNE: Filing has closed for the June 5 primary, and only a few countywide officials face a challenge. Supervisor Carole Groom, who decided to run for re-election after weeks of speculation she might not, ended up without an opponent. Supervisor Don Horsley, who always intended to run again, drew opposition – Pacifica Planning Commissioner Dan Stegink. This may be a textbook example of irony. Or political shrewdness on Groom’s part. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Certainly, district elections are supposed to make it easier for a challenger to take on an incumbent, but as a political base, it’s hard to imagine the Pacifica Planning Commission is going to be much of a launching pad.

Incumbent Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder Mark Church is being challenged by John K. Mooney in what is becoming a perennial contest. Mooney, from Redwood City, has run twice against Church, the last time in 2014. Church won, 86 percent to 14 percent.

Appointed incumbent Sheriff Carlos Bolanos is being challenged by Mark Melville, whose career can best be described as peripatetic. A deputy sheriff in San Mateo County, he has been a police officer in Brisbane, Half Moon Bay and Patterson (in Stanislaus County); a city councilman and chief of police in Gustine, (Merced County); city manager and director of Public Safety in Livingston (Merced County); an adjunct professor at Modesto Junior College; and owned his own investigatory consulting business.

With Anne Campbell’s decision not to run again for county Superintendent of Schools, two of her employees are running: Associate Superintendent Nancy Magee and Deputy Superintendent Gary Waddell.

And then there’s the energetic Bridget Duffy of Pacifica, who has run for the City Council there but has not been discouraged by a lack of success. She is running for governor, U.S. Senator, Congress, state Assembly and county supervisor. She lists her occupation as homemaker, a job title you just don’t hear all that much anymore.

VACANCIES: With the announcement this week that Larry Patterson will step down in December as city manager of San Mateo, the number of current or would-be vacancies on the Peninsula is reaching historic levels.

Marcia Raines is leaving as city manager of Millbrae, Magda Gonzalez left the same job at Half Moon Bay (which Raines held before Gonzalez), Pat Martel is leaving Daly City, Connie Jackson is leaving San Bruno and John Maltbie is leaving his post as San Mateo County manager. There might be one or two other city managers also looking to retire, as well.

For decades, the county was known for stability in its city manager ranks. Several served for more than two decades in a job where everyone is one election from being dumped by a new council majority.

One name insiders are saying should be considered for these positions is Aaron Aknin, Redwood City’s assistant city manager/Community Development director.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

 

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