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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Waddell concedes to Magee in tight schools race

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Waddell concedes to Magee in tight schools race

San Mateo County elections officials finally finished counting almost all the June 5 primary ballots yesterday and there are a few interesting details to be gleaned before we move on to November’s monster-sized ballot.

There were two local cliffhangers awaiting the outcome of the vote count – a process prolonged by an uncommonly high voter turnout due to all-mail balloting.

The race between Nancy Magee and Gary Waddell for county Superintendent of Schools was finally decided. Yesterday’s report showed Magee ahead by 1,157 votes with so few uncounted ballots left that it was clear she was the winner.

Waddell issued a gracious concession statement via Facebook late yesterday that included this uplifting comment: “Nancy and I agree on much more than we disagree. We both believe in the importance of student voice, of innovative approaches to education, and of building a County Office of Education that is forward-thinking and makes an impact in the lives of children and families. I will do everything in my power to assist Nancy in accomplishing these goals.”

The race between Magee and Waddell was a model of civility in a political environment almost entirely devoid of such qualities – positive, issue-focused and without a whiff of one candidate attacking the other.

One element of Waddell’s platform I found particularly appealing was his promise to revive the teaching of civics in our schools. I fervently hope Magee will embrace that idea.

ALMOST A SWEEP: The other close one was the proposed parcel tax in the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District, which was agonizingly short of the required two-thirds approval – until yesterday, when the latest count showed it won 67.1 percent of the vote.

The news touched off expressions of relief and gratitude among the supporters. … Of the nine school measures on the ballot – either bonds or parcel taxes – eight of them passed, demonstrating, again, that San Mateo County voters support funding for schools.

The only one that didn’t pass is a bond measure in the Half Moon Bay-based Cabrillo Unified School District. The measure needed 55 percent to pass and as of yesterday, it was at 54.91 percent.

That’s an amazing seven votes shy of passage.

GOING POSTAL: Nearly 166,000 ballots were cast in San Mateo County – a turnout of 42.7 percent, higher than was projected by county elections chief Mark Church, although given the unique nature of this election, a missed projection is understandable.

Clearly, the all-mail balloting was a huge success. With no major controversy on the local ballot, or on the statewide ballot for that matter, San Mateo County turnout was 15 points higher than 2014’s primary turnout of 27.5 percent.

In fact, it was the county’s highest turnout in a gubernatorial primary in this still-young century. A quick review of records at the California Secretary of State’s website shows it’s the highest turnout in a similar election since before 1990.

The five counties that opted for the all-mail balloting all had turnout higher than the state’s 25.2 percent. … Sacramento County was 41.4 percent, Napa County was 47.3 percent, Madera County was 44.1 percent and Nevada County was 56.9 percent.

A DIVIDED CALIFORNIA: Reviewing the statewide voting showed a state significantly divided within itself.

In all the statewide partisan races, a Democrat was the top vote-getter. But look at the maps and you see Democrats winning almost exclusively within the western, coastal counties and Republicans winning almost every county east of the narrow coastal strip.

The only exception: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who won every county in the state. A juggernaut.

The top-getter statewide? Incumbent Controller Betty Yee. Why? Why not?

For all the well-deserved disdain and criticism being heaped on Tim Draper’s proposal to split California into three, it is clear the state is as politically split as the country.

This should come as no surprise. Like the rest of the country, California is composed largely of urban and rural economies. Despite the increasingly common strains of popular culture, we still lead lives substantially different from one another.

The answer is not to further split us up, or even to touch off a statewide debate that emphasizes and hardens those differences. The answer is to seek out those things we have in common and work together from there.

That’s why Draper’s proposal is not goofy – it’s dangerous.

It seeks to move the public dialogue in exactly the wrong direction.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

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

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Redwood City’s budget woes are real

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We are at a point, it seems and to paraphrase Isaac Newton, that for every action, there is an opposite and cynical reaction.

No sooner did Redwood City mail out a report detailing the city’s fiscal woes, then it was labeled by critics as an expensive marketing piece, the implication, if not outright assertion, being that the city wasted public funds to tout an eventual sales tax measure.

For the sake of the permanent record, the “expensive” piece cost $16,000 to produce and mail to all 38,500 households in Redwood City, according to City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz.

That works out to 41.5 cents per household.

Not that actual information carries anywhere near the force of an opinion. Those intent on viewing any action by city government with suspicion cannot be deterred, unencumbered, as they often are, by what we used to call facts.

It’s quite likely that had the city proceeded with budget cuts and tax proposals and skipped the mailer, the same critics would have protested that there was too little communication to residents.

The mail piece is an understandable attempt by the city to inform its residents of some unpleasant choices ahead – millions of dollars in budget cuts and fee increases, or a possible sales tax increase to cover the shortfall.

Every city in California is facing the same problem as Redwood City in the form of pension obligations that exceed anyone’s expectations.

Widely disclosed investment losses and overly optimistic predictions of investment gains by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has forced cities to account for drastic increases in pension costs for retirees now and in the future.

This is not a function of mismanagement by the cities, but by the wizards of CalPERS, who were able to overestimate the longest sustained economic boom in recent American history. Where everybody else worried the boom might end one of these days, CalPERS saw only more good times.

For Redwood City, that means $12 million a year in additional costs for the next five years.

Public employee pensions are an ever-growing weight on city budgets, but they are also a promise made to current and past employees that cannot be dismissed or diminished. At that, current employees are working under a new system where they make a significant contribution to their retirement plans.

It’s not the same as the 100 percent private sector employees typically pay, but the days are gone of public employee pensions that are 100 percent funded by government. In the interests of full disclosure, I retired last year from public employment and receive a CalPERS pension.

The mail piece lays out the problem in a pretty straightforward manner and then provides a means by which residents can vote on a series of unappetizing cuts to the budget. The problem is that public safety makes up 60 percent of the city budget, park and recreation nearly 15 percent, the public libraries 7.5 percent and community planning and development another 7.3 percent.

Meanwhile, in a June 11 budget presentation to the City Council, Diaz offered $3 million in immediate cuts for the 2018-19 budget, including $1.2 million from the Police Department, $820,000 from the Fire Department, $487,000 from Parks and Recreation and $310,000 for Community Development, where, it should be noted, approvals of housing will be processed.

She held off eliminating positions for now, while the council considers its options, the most prominent being a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot.

That would generate about $8 million a year in new revenues and “none of (the cuts) would be on the table,” Diaz said.

What Redwood City is doing has been done or will have to be done at every other city government in the state.

Of course, the ever-eager cynic would say essential services are being held hostage to a greedy city staff intent on getting more money from taxpayers.

It’s an assertion that resonates in these unusually bitter times. Remember, then-candidate and eventual Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected having promised he would eliminate “waste, fraud and corruption.”

Unfortunately, he discovered there was no Department of Fraud he could simply slice from the budget. When he was done with his second term, state government actually was larger than when he started.

Similarly, there is no easy and obvious place to cut a city budget. What’s left is stuff most of us think cities actually ought to do.

It is said people get the government they deserve. It’s hard to stand by that remark, given some of the government we’re getting at the national level these days. A case could be made no one deserves that. Or, as another saying goes, even the wicked get worse than they deserve.

In either case, it is certainly safe to say people get the government they’re willing to pay for.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

*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: Election update — Magee pulls ahead of Waddell

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Waddell concedes to Magee in tight schools race

For the first time in the June 5 election vote count, Nancy Magee has pulled ahead of Gary Waddell in the too-close-to-call race for San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools.

The latest vote count released at 4:30 p.m. today by the county elections office shows Magee with a 428-vote lead, 46,242 to 45,814 for Waddell.

Meanwhile, the outcome of the vote on a parcel tax in the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District also remains undecided, but the measure is inching closer to passage. The latest vote count shows the measure with 66.12 percent of the vote. The measure requires two-thirds approval to pass, or one vote more than 66.66 percent.

Based on prior reports from elections officials, as many as another 30,000 ballots remain to be processed, which means the outcome of either race still is undetermined.

Magee, associate superintendent at the County Office of Education, has trailed Waddell, the deputy superintendent, in the vote tallies since the results announcements began at 8 p.m. on election night.

As additional ballots have been processed, she has been steadily gaining. On June 7, she was behind by 501 votes. On Tuesday, the gap had closed to 75 votes.

The ballots being processed now were turned into the county’s drop-off locations throughout the county, and the likelihood is that these ballots were cast by voters who made up their mind late in the campaign.

Evidently, those voters leaned slightly more toward Magee.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: 40-percent voter turnout in all-mail county election

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: 40-percent voter turnout in all-mail county election

More than 70,000 ballots from last week’s statewide primary remain to be counted, according to San Mateo County elections chief Mark Church, and that means the race for county Superintendent of Schools remains very much up in the air.

But the real news might be the total number of ballots cast in the election. When everything is tallied, more than 156,000 voters will have turned in their ballots, an astonishing 40 percent voter turnout.

Among the state’s urban counties, only San Francisco, with a mayor’s race topping the ballot and a former mayor running for governor, had a higher turnout.

In San Mateo County, the schools race was the only truly contested countywide race. The race for governor, U.S. senator and the statewide offices had their share of intrigue, but all things considered, it was a low-key campaign season – certainly absent the kind of drama that draws large numbers of voters.

Statewide, voter turnout was 26 percent, according to a report posted yesterday by the California Secretary of State’s office, although there could be as many as 2 million uncounted ballots statewide.

That means the county’s experiment in all-mail balloting was a phenomenal success in drawing voters to the polls in an otherwise lackluster campaign season.

The large number of unprocessed ballots means ongoing suspense for Gary Waddell and Nancy Magee, the two candidates for county schools chief. As of last Thursday, Waddell was ahead by 501 votes, more than the tally on election night, but still too close to call.

It could be several more days before we know how this race turns out.

A Belmont-Redwood Shores School District parcel tax needed two-thirds to pass and it stands at 64.95, about 1.5 percent behind. There might still be enough votes outstanding to pass this measure, but the votes would have to break substantially for the yes side.

GEE FORCE: Redwood City incumbent Jeff Gee officially kicked off his campaign for re-election Sunday at an afternoon gathering of more than 50 friends and supporters at Angelica’s on Main Street.

The benefits of incumbency can be numerous, even in a race where the incumbent is the target, and one of those benefits was prominently on display at Gee’s launch – a lineup of leading local elected officials from throughout the county, reflecting Gee’s two-term tenure on the council and his service to two of the more prominent countywide bodies, the SamTrans and Caltrain boards of directors.

Among those at the event: outgoing Councilman John Seybert, who emceed the event, Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre and former Councilman Jeff Ira, San Mateo Mayor Rick Bonilla and Councilwoman Diane Papan, San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, Atherton Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis, Millbrae Mayor Gina Papan and South San Francisco Mayor Pradeep Gupta.

There also was a strong showing of colleagues from the transportation boards, including Burlingame Councilwoman Emily Beach, who serves on the county Transportation Authority, SamTrans and Caltrain board member and Belmont Councilman Charles Stone and SamTrans board members Rose Guilbault and Josh Powell.

Also on hand: Stacey Wagner, head of community relations for Kaiser Permanente, and Veronica Escamez, founder of the Redwood City nonprofit Casa Circulo Cultural, who spoke in support of Gee, declaring him an “honorary Latino” for all his activities on behalf of that community.

In his own remarks, Gee said he will continue to pursue his goal to “protect the quality of life for residents, ensure a strong economy for our local businesses and support financially responsible decisions that prioritize city services and public safety departments to keep our city a great, safe place to call home.”

He said the city has worked hard to provide more housing options for seniors, young families, veterans and low-income residents and he promised to look at “new innovations,” including removing “barriers to small-unit condominium development.”

He listed a series of specific priorities for the next four years: start construction on the Habitat for Humanity housing project downtown and find a fifth site, “protect our residential neighborhoods from ‘monster homes’” by proposing new floor/area ratio standards, facilitate more housing for seniors, complete construction of the Bayfront Canal, identify funding for the Highway 101/84 interchange project, complete electrification of Caltrain and execute a private/public partnership for the revival of the Dumbarton rail corridor.

He said he will continue to be forward-thinking in his service on the council and “whether it be autonomous vehicles, innovative living arrangements, high speed trains, a new bridge across the bay or things we cannot even imagine right now … we owe it to ourselves to see what may be right around the corner and to try to figure out how it may affect the quality of life in our city.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Sifting through the remains of the election

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Waddell concedes to Magee in tight schools race

The Republican Party is not dead, but only because they were helped by too many Democrats. Bay Area voters hate traffic slightly more than they hate bridge tolls.

San Mateo County is right in the mainstream of California voting, except when it comes to voting for local candidates where, it appears, familiarity breeds fewer votes.

The race for San Mateo County schools superintendent was too close to call on election night, and it will remain uncertain for days, if not weeks, to come. The same could be true for three local school funding measures.

And it appears San Mateo County’s historic all-mail election went off without any major problems, although it also spells the end to an instant and certain outcome in close races.

County elections chief Mark Church told Political Climate this morning there could be as many as 45,000-50,000 ballots that have yet to be counted – ballots that were only mailed in on election day, ballots that were only turned into voting centers on election day and those that were picked up by county officials late on election day but had not yet been processed.

“These are raw numbers we’re dealing with,” Church said, cautioning candidates awaiting a final tally that the unfolding nature of the balloting makes it hard to come up with a firm estimate.

Church said his office collected 108,000 ballots last night, but a glance at his office’s VoteTracker website shows that about 65,000 had been counted and reported by 8:05 p.m. And more ballots will come flowing in – any ballot postmarked yesterday and received by Friday will be added to the pile.

Church’s office will issue an updated count tomorrow and another one on Tuesday. He has 30 days from yesterday to certify the election results.

All of which means a sweaty time for Gary Waddell and Nancy Magee, the two candidates for San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools. The latest tally showed Magee trailing by a mere 188 votes.

Among the mail-in ballots already counted, Waddell got 1,369 more votes than Magee; among the early voters (those who voted prior to yesterday at in-person polling places), Magee got 1,181 more votes than Waddell. That would seem to suggest that the remaining mail-in ballots provide a slight lead to Waddell. Or that the remaining mail-in ballots, coming late in the day, provide an advantage to Magee. Or, in other words, nobody knows.

For supporters of three school funding measures, the most recent vote count is agonizingly close.

A Cabrillo Unified School District bond measure needed 55 percent to pass and it’s at 54.88; a Jefferson Union High School District bond measure needed 55 percent and it’s at 54.1 percent; a Belmont-Redwood Shores School District $118 parcel tax needed two-thirds and it’s at 64.8 percent.

San Mateo County voters historically have supported school measures with considerable enthusiasm and that was the case on the six other school proposals on the ballot throughout the county.

ELSEWHERE ON THE BALLOT: Sheriff Carlos Bolanos was easily elected to his first full term as the county’s top law enforcement official, getting 59 percent of the vote. Appointed in 2016, he beat Mark Melville despite an unsavory campaign by Melville, egged on by a small group whose only ongoing interests seem to be dishing dirt from a self-constructed, self-righteous perch. … All the local federal and state legislators advanced easily to the November general election, none of them getting less than 70 percent of the vote. … County Supervisor Don Horsley easily won re-election with nearly 76 percent of the vote. … Most of the county-level officeholders were unopposed. … The aforementioned Church, running against perennial challenger John K. Mooney, actually got the highest vote percentage of any candidate on the county ballot – 87.7 percent. It probably doesn’t hurt to have your name on all the elections materials mailed out to voters in the last 30 days. … Foster City voted overwhelmingly – 79.8 percent in favor – not to sink, approving a $90 million bond measure to buttress the city’s system of levees in anticipation of sea level rise.

IN THE MAINSTREAM: San Mateo County was right in step – or better — with statewide voters on the five ballot propositions. Proposition 68 (Natural Resources Bond) passed statewide with 56 percent and got 66 percent locally; Proposition 69 (Transportation Revenue Restrictions) passed statewide with 80 percent and got 85 percent locally; and Proposition 70 (Greenhouse Gas Funds Super Majority) lost statewide with 64 percent voting no and 66 percent voting no locally. … In the races for statewide office, San Mateo County tended to vote ahead of the statewide numbers. The county voted 56 percent for Gavin Newsom for governor, compared to 33 percent statewide; voted 34 percent for Eleni Kounalakis (heavily boosted by Millbrae Mayor Gina Papan) for lieutenant governor, compared to 23 percent statewide; and voted 59 percent for Fiona Ma for treasurer, compared to 43 percent statewide. … Sometimes it’s better if they don’t know you. Candidates with local roots seemed to fare less well. Atherton CPA Greg Conlon, another perennial candidate, got 14 percent of the vote locally and 22 percent statewide; Independent Insurance Commissioner candidate Steve Poizner, from the Peninsula, got 41 percent of the vote statewide and 36 percent locally. … Both Poizner and Conlon are in the November election, as of the latest count.

TOO MANY DEMOCRATS: The top-two primary was widely predicted to be a boon for Democratic candidates, who were expected to dominate the November ballot, and a blow to Republicans. But of the eight statewide partisan races on the ballot Tuesday, Republicans finished second in five of them: Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, Treasurer and Attorney General. The explanation is likely that too many Democrats were running in most of these races, undermining the chances one of them would make it into second place.

But Republicans ought to enjoy it while they can. California is still a state dominated by Democratic voters and this year is likely to continue the trend oi the past several elections in which no Republican has won statewide office.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

*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: Nobody really knows how this election will go

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It’s Election Day and in San Mateo County, no one really knows how this is going to go.

We are venturing far into the unknown in San Mateo County, one of five counties in the state that is nearly all vote-by-mail, and no one knows how many voters will turn up, and whether they will skew the political leanings of traditional turnouts.

County elections chief Mark Church told Political Climate he’s projecting a 35 percent voter turnout, a significant jump over the 27 percent turnout in 2014, the last non-presidential, statewide primary election.

But Church acknowledged that it’s all just guesswork because of the unique nature of this election.

As of this morning, about 100,000 ballots had been sent in by mail or turned into the dozens of ballot drop-off stations set up by Church’s office, with two more pick-ups scheduled. That’s nearly 26 percent of the 388,000 ballots mailed out a month ago.

In 2014, the statewide turnout was 25 percent, the lowest in the state’s history for a primary election.

If San Mateo County turnout goes up while everywhere else’s turnout is going down, that’s going to be a significant shot in the arm for those who want statewide all-mail ballots.

Meanwhile, some of these state and local races appear to be close and it’s not too late for you to fill out your ballot and drop it a number of locations. You can find them here. If you can’t find your ballot, you can vote at these places.

Either way, it’s your last chance to show up. Or as veteran Democratic consultant Richie Ross likes to say, “Shut up and vote.”

HUNTER TIPS OFF: Veteran community volunteer Rick Hunter formally began his campaign for Redwood City Council Thursday with an event at the Mount Carmel home of Jane and Paul Taylor attended by more than 50 supporters.

Positioning himself as an independent centrist, Hunter said one of his “major themes … will be balance. There are loud voices on all sides of some issues. Some think if you compromise, you’re selling out. I disagree with that. I think that working with both sides, looking for the best solutions wherever they may come from – while sticking with your core values – that’s where the hard work happens. And that’s how you solve problems.”

Hunter said he would dive more deeply into the issues facing the city as the campaign unfolds. But, while speaking in glowing terms about a Redwood City that is prosperous and “is thriving and doing great,” he did single out housing as a major problem caused by the economic boom.

“I fully embrace the call for affordable housing, but I want to go further,” Hunter said. “I want to broaden the idea to include what I call housing that people can afford.”

Hunter, and his long-active wife, Naomi, raised three sons in Redwood City. The youngest, Chris, is about to graduate from UCLA (and was on hand to introduce his father at the campaign event.) All of their sons are college-educated and face promising professional careers. None of them can afford to return to Redwood City, he said.

“We, and many of our friends, dream of them coming back here to raise their families. But as things stand now, even though their careers are off to a good start, they doubt they will be able to live here,” Hunter said.

Hunter comes to the council race with a long resume of community activism, including the Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission and treasurer of the Redwood City Education Foundation. Those on hand reflected that activism: Councilwomen Janet Borgens and Diane Howard, the latter up for re-election this year; Planning Commission Chair Nancy Radcliffe, Vice Chair Kevin Bondonno and member Ernie Schmidt; Sequoia Union High School Trustee Georgia Jack; Redwood City Elementary School District Trustee Alisa McAvoy; and former Council members Brent Britschgi and Georgi Laberge.

Prominently there was former Councilwoman Barbara Pierce, who is running Hunter’s campaign, as well as Howard’s re-election campaign. She praised Hunter for his collaborative spirit. “He knows how to come up with solutions that work for everyone,” she said.

Normally, events like these are known as campaign kickoffs, but tip-off might have been more appropriate. Unfortunate timing put Hunter’s event in conflict with the first game of the Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Final. Nonetheless. Hunter appeared pleased with the turnout, although the crowd shouted down one supporter’s attempt to provide an update on the game’s first half score.

STEVE PENNA: The publisher of The Spectrum monthly Redwood City publication was at Hunter’s event last week. Penna was recording Hunter’s remarks, standing quietly in the back, underneath a tree.

The next day, he was gone, a seeming impossibility for this larger-than-life personality. His death sent shockwaves through the community and devastated his family and his enormous circle of close friends with whom he collaborated on countless projects for the betterment of his beloved city.

He publicly wrestled with some of his own demons – his continuing fight to get his weight and his health under control, his abiding desire to partner with someone in his life. He had a definite view about what Redwood City should be and that manifested itself in his monthly column and, more tellingly, in a range of civic activities and good works that was unrivaled.

It is possible no one loved Redwood City as much as Steve Penna.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

*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: Remembering our fallen and the complexity of war

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Remembering our fallen and the complexity of war

Union Cemetery in Redwood City is an urban oasis of contemplation and consideration for those from our community who died in service go our country, dating back to the Civil War.

Each Memorial Day, the Historic Union Cemetery Association conducts a ceremony to honor those who have fallen on our behalf.

This year, was no exception and so, on Monday, about 200 people gathered at Union Cemetery to hear patriotic songs, a poem and to stand together to in remembrance. What made the event of particular gravity for me was that I was asked to deliver the keynote address. It was a chance to dig into some of the issues that have dominated my life and, I believe, the life of a generation. The speech seemed to be well received, so I provide it to you here.

MEMORIAL DAY REMARKS: Thank you for the distinct honor of speaking to you today and to be part of this day in which we memorialize those who gave, as Lincoln said, the “last full measure of devotion” in service to our nation.

I have significant doubts about my qualifications to speak to you today, having never served.

Who am I to be speaking on behalf of those who died for my right to speak – to hold our nation together, to end slavery, to save the world from enslavement?

Indeed, not only did I not serve, but I actively sought to be excluded from military service.

We are all a product of our times and my time was dominated by the Vietnam War.

My brother Rick served there, stationed at Da Nang air base where, apparently, he flew radio spy missions over China. His best friend, Mark Sprague, rather than serve in Vietnam, left the country for Canada, and never came back.

There were demonstrations and marches.  My Skyline Community College newspaper shared a print shop with the Black Panthers.

These were the times.

By the time I came of draft age in 1969, I had to face some difficult, sobering questions.

Should I serve? Should I fight? Should I find a way out?

What would it say about me as a principled human being if I avoided service, while others, often those without means, were doing the dirty work of fighting and dying?

In reality, I didn’t want to kill anyone. And I certainly didn’t want anyone to be shooting at me.

It was an uncomfortable time.

The war was wrong – misguided, dishonest, misled and unfair – and I developed an abiding sense that all war is wrong. I became, and remain to this day, a pacifist.

I decided I would refuse to serve.

I let my student deferment lapse. In a moment of significant anguish for my parents, I was prepared to go to prison rather than be drafted.

Then came the draft lottery.

I vividly recall sitting in my backyard with my best friend, Ed Sessler, listening on the radio while in Washington they pulled ping pong balls out of a basket.

My number came up – 278. At the time, they were drafting no higher than up to 60.

In an instant, the entire moral and practical dilemma passed.

I stayed in school. I studied journalism. I spent countless hours covering antiwar protests and marches – never as a participant, always as an observer.

But over the years, I pondered: What do I say to those who did serve? Did I stand aside and let them do the dirty work for me? Am I no different than those who paid their way out of the Civil War?

Well, I found some answers to these difficult questions.

I am a storyteller by nature and profession, so let me tell a few stories.

In 1982 – an incredible 36 years ago – I was in Washington, D.C., on Veteran’s Day – the day they had chosen to dedicate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

As part of the day, there was a long parade and prominently featured in it was a group of Vietnam Vets from the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital suffering from PTSD before we even knew what it was. They were in-patients at the hospital and as part of their therapy, they had formed a chorus. They were on a truck bed in the parade, singing at the top of their lungs.

I met up with them, interviewed them and got to know some of them, including an Army captain who had commanded an armored unit.

The day after the parade, the Menlo Park vets gathered together and went as brothers in arms to the memorial.

I walked toward the memorial with the captain. He began to tell me his story.

His unit had been overrun, they had abandoned their vehicles and they were running for cover.

There were five of them. First one was hit, and the four of them were carrying their wounded buddy to safety. Then another was hit and three of them were carrying the two wounded. Then another was hit and then another.

In the end, all five were hit. Wounded himself, the captain dragged each of his comrades to safety. He won the purple heart and the silver star. The others died.

At the memorial, the names are grouped chronologically in the order of the reports of their deaths.

As the captain arrived at the memorial, he saw the names of the other four, in order, one after the other. He grabbed me, buried his face on my shoulder and sobbed.

Later that day, as a group, they stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and sang America the Beautiful.

Five years later, I had befriended B.T. Collins, the former Green Beret who became the first head of the California Conservation Corps, was Gov. Jerry Brown’s chief of staff, served in the state Assembly and lost a leg and an arm in Vietnam when he fumbled a live grenade.

He was a larger than life character with a hook on his right arm he liked to extend to you when you first met him. He used to describe himself as six feet two on the left and three feet four on the right.

His Assembly office door featured a poster from the move Hook.

He also was a prime mover in the funding, design and creation of the California Vietnam Veterans memorial, dedicated to the more than 5,800 Californians who died in Vietnam. It’s a wonderful memorial and if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so.

There, the names are organized by hometown and I decided to write a series of stories about the young men from the Peninsula who are listed there.

So, there I was in the living room of an East Palo Alto mother, talking to her about the loss of her son, a twin.

She said the loss never goes away. Sometimes, she said, when the front door opens, “I look up and expect to see him walk in.”

Just then, the front door opened, and her other son, the lone remaining twin, walked in. Both of us began to cry.

My generation still talks about the lessons of Vietnam, a loaded phrase that can mean widely varying things to different people.

Here’s the lesson I learned from Vietnam, from these forever-young Peninsula men, from their grieving families and their stories.

They went to war for different reasons.

Some of them had no other prospects – they couldn’t stay in school or didn’t want to.

Some thought it would be a way to change their lives. Some went out of duty and some just let themselves get drafted.

But they all served. They all went.

And they went, often, for the finest of reasons – out of duty, out of love of country, out of a desire to be of service to our nation and its ideals. And they fought and died, as soldiers always do, for their brothers in arms, for those at their side.

And this is what, ultimately, I learned and what gives me some solace as I try to reconcile their experiences with my own.

I can oppose war and still honor those who are willing to put their lives at risk to fight.

I honor their desire and their willingness to serve.

I honor their love of country and their willingness, no matter how reluctant, to do their duty.

And I believe the best way for us to honor them is to value their willingness to serve, to not squander this dedication and devotion.

That if we send our young people to fight and die for us, that we do so with honesty, with clarity of moral purpose and in the name of the finest of our values – freedom.

It has been my distinct honor to be with you here, on this day. Thank you.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

*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: Councilman Jeff Gee will run for a third term

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As expected, incumbent Redwood City Councilman Jeff Gee told Political Climate he will be running for a third term and will formally kick off his campaign June 10.

“I care about our city,” he said.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes the community really asked for 20 years ago. It’s important to make sure the rest of the city gets caught up.”

Among the unfinished work: the Bayfront Canal, the Highway 101/84 interchange and the Whipple Avenue/Caltrain grade crossing, the latter on the verge of going forward more than 20 years ago and subsequently deferred by the City Council.

Gee said he wants Redwood City to be the same place of opportunity for jobs and families that his grandparents found when they came to this country.

“Our job is to create opportunities for those who come after us,” Gee said. “I just want to pay it forward.”

Putting progress in motion is the essence of why Gee is running: Any significant change takes years, sometimes decades, which means the work has to start now.

“Everything has a different gestation period,” he said. “You have to work on all of them at the same time to get there.”

And sometimes it takes a willingness to move beyond the immediate criticism, citing the push to use recycled water for public landscaping in Redwood Shores, a decision that was quite controversial in its time. He was a leader in that effort in 2004, which helped move him to run in 2009.

Gee acknowledged that divisive and harsh attacks on the city’s progress gave him pause about running again, particularly those that have focused on his position with prominent engineering and construction firm Swinerton.

“It does give you something to think about,” he said. “It’s very difficult to have a conversation with people these days who disagree with you and want to personally attack you. I’d like to think there is a point where most of can agree or at least discuss our differences.”

NOTIONS, SUNDRIES AND DOTS: It was almost exactly a year ago that Caltrain CEO Jim Hartnett signed the agreement to receive $647 million in federal funding for the Caltrain electrification project, despite a number of “supporters” who kept telling him to give up on getting the money out of the Trump administration.  Keeping the electrification project going forward is a challenge of almost absurd complexity, given the dizzying array of partners, all of whom have their own fish to fry. The outcome from a year ago is a tribute to Hartnett’s determination. … That’s a pretty sleazy, last-minute campaign mailer from Mark Melville, the nomadic deputy who thinks he should be sheriff. It includes photos of Congresswomen Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo and 11-year-old stories about the Las Vegas episode wherein then-Sheriff Greg Munks and then-Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos were briefly detained and released outside a massage parlor they both said they went to by accident, an assertion no one has effectively disputed. Neither Speier nor Eshoo has endorsed Melville. His campaign mailer lists one of his qualities as “integrity.” Except when it comes to misleading campaign mailers. … The race for San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools between Gary Waddell and Nancy Magee is said to be too close to call. At the outset, the race was seen as Waddell’s to lose, but as time and campaigning have unfolded, insiders say Magee has rallied strongly. Waddell has a long list of impressive endorsements, while Magee has the endorsement of the two local daily newspapers. Usually, the support of prominent officeholders carries more weight than the newspapers.

CORRECTION: In reporting on Giselle Hale’s own recent campaign kickoff, I probably didn’t convey her comments on housing with the greatest of accuracy. Acknowledging the city has single-family homes and large apartment buildings, she said she will push for “the missing middle of housing – condos, townhomes and small to mid-sized rentals, where families can get started and seniors can downsize with more certainty.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

*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: The county schools chief race is the one to watch

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The race for San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools between Gary Waddell and Nancy Magee is the only truly contested campaign on the local June 5 ballot, and it’s a fascinating contrast of credentials, experience and intangibles as to who is best suited for the county’s top schools job.

Waddell emphasizes he is the only one with practical experience as a school principal and counselor, which means he understands the administrative complexities of running a school and the educational and emotional needs of students.

Magee emphasizes she is the only one with in-class experience as a teacher, which means she understands the direct impact of policies and practices handed down by policymakers and the practical requirements of both students and teachers in the classroom.

They have distinctly contrasting priorities. For Magee it’s “safe and inclusive schools,” “high-quality early learning opportunities” and “career education in the 21st century.” For Waddell it’s “world-class schools for every child,” “educating the whole child,” and “quality, affordable preschools for every child.”

You can read much more about the candidates and their priorities here.

This is part of a terrific election website, votersedge.org, a joint project of MapLight and the League of Women Voters of California. It contains everything you would want to know about the election and it’s a must-read.

The Superintendent of Schools runs the county Office of Education, which is charged with implementing the state mandates on the county’s 23 school districts, including ensuring the budgets meet all state funding formula requirements and that each district carries out the state’s unending desire to meddle in local school curriculum priorities and standards.

The job requires an ability to work with the county’s school districts in a collaborative manner, given the autonomy each both enjoys and prizes, and to have the kind of state-level connections to influence the mandates that emanate from Sacramento.

Both Waddell and Magee are in the eight-member “cabinet” established by Superintendent Anne Campbell, who is stepping down after eight years in the job.

Waddell’s title is Deputy Superintendent, Instructional Services Division, according to the County Office of Education website. But he hastens to add that he is the only deputy and he is “second in command” to Campbell, carrying with it the assertion that he has the broadest grasp of the responsibilities of the job.

Magee’s title is Associate Superintendent, Student Services Division, according to the Office website. But she hastens to add that all the cabinet members directly report to Campbell, and she asserts that she has just as broad a grasp of the broad and visionary responsibilities of the job.

One stark contrast is the endorsements each claims on their campaign websites — www.garywaddell.org; www.vote4nancy.org. Besides their websites, Waddell and Magee recently were guests on The Game, the cable TV show I co-host with Kevin Mullin. You can see the two candidates for yourself here.

Waddell’s list is remarkable for a first-time candidate and the kind of list candidates dream about, including Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier, Assemblymen Kevin Mullin, Marc Berman and Phil Ting, state Senator Scott Wiener, four of the five San Mateo County Supervisors (Dave Pine apparently did not endorse) and a long list of local elected officials and school district trustees, including five of the seven current members of the County Board of Education, to whom the superintendent reports.

Magee’s list is shorter on high-profile political figures, but includes Supervisor Don Horsley, who endorsed both candidates; countywide officeholders Treasurer-Tax Collector Sandie Arnott, Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, Coroner Robert Foucrault, Controller Juan Raigoza; former Supervisor Adrienne Tissier; and several mayors. Magee was endorsed by both local daily newspapers. And she also sports a substantial list of local officials, including school district trustees and educators.

As you would expect, both claim expertise in the other’s strongest suit.

If the job is all about impacting legislation and funding priorities, then the advantage would seem to go to Waddell, given the lineup of endorsements, suggesting that his current job has brought him in contact with the key leaders and policymakers. But Magee said she can step into that role easily. Both of them say the state needs to rework the tax code to better fund schools and, in particular, rethink Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 ballot measure that took property taxes out of the hands of local jurisdictions.

If the job is all about implementing programs at a school-district level, then the advantage would seem to go to Magee, whose job has been to develop countywide consensus on a number of priorities, the most prominent of which has been a countywide task force on safe schools that has worked to make sure the county’s 23 districts and 20 law enforcement agencies work together and communicate in a common language. But Waddell said his own experience has repeatedly called upon his abilities to coordinate policies and practices among the districts.

One of them will have to deal with an increasingly complex set of demands and challenges in the county schools.

We are raising a restless generation, made uneasy by the constant threat of gun violence, buffeted by a social interaction method that is undergoing continuous change, challenged by rapidly shifting economic demands, and whipsawed by widely varying academic demands and resources.

Waddell said he will work for a “system that is compassionate, flexible and considers the needs of kids who are not the norm.”

Magee said, “I’ve done the work to connect all these partners. I’m well-prepared to work on big, complex problems together in this county.” She wants the students of the county’s schools “to be able to see themselves in a positive way into the future.”

There is another distinctive element to the campaign, one that should not be overemphasized or ignored either: Both Waddell and Magee are openly gay.

Does it matter? It can, for very practical reasons.

In the past, Supervisors Tom Nolan and Rich Gordon, the first two openly gay countywide officeholders, became regional leaders in the LGBTQ community by virtue of their prominence in office. And they brought to the job priorities reflective of their own backgrounds, as does every elected official.

In this instance, the personal lives of Waddell and Magee provide them with an understanding of emerging issues on our school campuses, particularly bullying and the growing openness toward transgender youth.

Waddell said he has been openly gay for many years and says his personal background “is an asset” that allows him to “build an empathy and helps me understand the issues we need to work on.” He adds, “I’m not a single-issue guy.”

Magee “came out later in life,” after a marriage of 11 years and the birth of two sons. “I went through that experience, changing my identity to divorced, single woman who is gay.” In the end, she said, “It’s really not about being gay. It’s about being yourself.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

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

The above photo is courtesy of the San Mateo County Office of Education. Gary Waddell is pictured on the left and Nancy Magee on the right.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Campaigns uncertain as homes become voting booths

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Superintendent of Schools race still too close to call after latest Election update

Two weeks from today is Election Day, which used to be a major civic event with people streaming (or trickling) to their polling places to cast their votes.

This time, it’s different, and it’s much more complicated and uncertain for those brave souls on the ballot.

San Mateo County is one of five counties in California (Napa, Nevada, Madera and Sacramento are the others) that will vote almost entirely by mail. In fact, voting began May 7, when ballots were mailed to all registered voters.

And there’s where the uncertainty comes in.

As noted often by my friend and TV partner Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, who pushed for all-mail voting in the county, a candidate in a typical election would obtain a list of likely voters – usually those who voted in the last three or four statewide or national elections.

Then, the campaign would focus almost exclusively on contacting those households – by phone, by mail, in person – where likely voters resided.

By implication, all other registered voters were, in reality, people unlikely to vote. They couldn’t be bothered to leave their homes go to their local polling places, so skip them – no mail, no phone call, no in-person visit by the candidate.

But this time home is the voting booth. The universe of likely voters is likely to change.

And if he were going door-to-door in a tough re-election campaign, that would be just enough to give Mullin pause.

“How do I walk past a home, knowing there is a ballot in there?” Mullin mused recently. And should a candidate knock on the door and remind the resident there is a ballot at hand, does that cause the voter to actually vote – perhaps in gratitude to the candidate who made the effort?

Or does the disciplined candidate ignore this temptation and stay with the plan?

In fact, we are in uncharted territory. We don’t know who will vote, how big the numbers will be or whether the universe of voters will be significantly different.

LAUNCHING HALE: A day after her 39th birthday and with husband Brian and children Lula, 4, and Viva, just shy of 2, at her side, Giselle Hale kicked off her campaign for the Redwood City Council in front of about 100 friends and supporters Sunday at Cyclismo Café.

Hale, a marketing director at Facebook, a planning commissioner since 2014 and a veteran Democratic organizer, made clear her focus will be on the future of Redwood City as a place for families and the increasingly diverse population of the city.

“I am running to be a strong voice for all residents of Redwood City and a much-needed one for families and children. I want our children to grow up in a place where they can make friends for life and return home as adults,” she said.

Hale noted the average age in Redwood City is a surprisingly young 36, suggesting that the demographic shift to younger residents with school-age children is more pronounced than it might appear in the public debates over growth and housing. She said the largest demographic in Redwood City is the 0-14 age group.

“Redwood City is diverse, inclusive and multi-generational, all qualities worth protecting. We need entry points for all generations at all income levels to preserve the diversity that makes this city what it is,” Hale said.

She called for “a variety of solutions” in housing, including more affordable housing, inclusionary zoning, more single-family homes and “large apartment buildings” – in essence, more family housing. She said a review of Zillow last week showed only seven three-bedroom units for rent in the city.

Hale said she supports the city’s El Camino Real master transit plan, and she said she would tackle the issue of quality child care, of which there is a significant shortfall in Redwood City: “I want to see more developer community benefits directed toward our schools,” Hale said.

Hale’s campaign event was heavily populated with a wide swath of established political and community leaders.

Councilman John Seybert emceed the event and said Hale’s candidacy was a major factor in his decision not to seek another term this year. He repeatedly called Hale “the next generation of leadership in Redwood City.”

Also present were City Councilwoman Shelly Masur, who wrapped up the event with a pitch for money for Hale’s campaign; incumbent Councilman Jeff Gee, who is running for re-election this year; former Councilman Jeff Ira; incumbent Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, seeking election on June 5; Assemblyman Marc Berman; and community leaders Lori Lochtefeld, Daniela Gasparini, Adina Levin of the Friends of Caltrain; Connie Guerrero; and Jason Galisatus. Also on hand: Sequoia Union High School Trustee Georgia Jack; Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian; Menlo Park Councilwoman Kirsten Keith, also up for re-election this year; former Mountain View Councilwoman and Assemblywoman Sally Lieber; and the ubiquitous Belmont Councilman Charles Stone, also up for re-election this year.

DOWN AND DOTTY: Amid this long list, Lieber seems the odd person out, having had little or no political profile on the Peninsula for years. Ah, but take note: She has announced she is running for the state Senate seat to be vacated by Democrat Jerry Hill in 2020. … Lieber ran for the same seat in 2012, losing to Hill. … Masur also is running, of course, and both Lieber and Masur already have campaign Facebook pages up and running. … That may be enough to prompt some activity by the other rumored candidates, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and, a new name in the mix, Burlingame Councilman Michael Brownrigg.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

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

The above photo is courtesy of the San Mateo County Facebook page.

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