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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.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Why Regional Measure 3 is a good idea

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

When it comes to regional transportation, the main problem is San Francisco Bay.

It’s in the way.

Of course, the world would be a very different place if we had heeded those Bay Area boosters in the 1950s who wanted to fill in the Bay so that Northern California could compete more effectively in size and stature with Southern California. As we always say, size isn’t everything.

The presence of the Bay is the answer to the question that comes up with some frequency by the most hardcore transit advocates: Why are there 27 (or 26 or 28, depending on how you count) transit agencies in the greater Bay Area? If there were one, the argument goes, it would be easier to use transit regionally.

That overly simplistic view (often the safe haven of the hardcore advocate) offers up a solution to a problem that is much more complicated financially, politically, and geographically.

But at the heart of the matter is a simple reality: Traffic is a regional problem with regional solutions that do not include filling in the Bay.

We all contribute to the problem, and we all have to help resolve it.

That’s why Regional Measure 3 (RM3) is on the ballot and that’s why it’s a good idea.

RM3 would raise regional bridge tolls by $1 in 2019, 2022 and 2025, and, yes, most of the money from the increased tolls will not go to improve, repair or expand bridges.

Opponents argue that the people paying the bridge toll will not benefit directly in the form of improved bridges.

Which would be an excellent argument if the people who drive across the bridges went no farther.

But they do. They go to jobs up and down the Peninsula and they are a major reason why there are traffic jams on Highway 101 at the approaches to the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges. These are traffic jams that occur all day, every day – weekends, after normal commute hours.

In other words, it’s a regional problem. And the money will go to regional traffic relief including toll lanes on regional highways, including Highway 101, expansion of BART to San Jose, electrification of Caltrain, extension of Caltrain to downtown San Francisco, expanded ferry service and expanded regional bus service, including new express service to San Francisco being developed by SamTrans.

If we applied the same logic as the opponents, you should pay for schools only if you have children in school and you should pay for street repairs only on those streets you use.

As comedian Jim Jeffries puts it so eloquently: “We’re not animals. We live in a society.” I’m not paraphrasing here so much as I am censoring just a little.

A FEW DOTS: Some Redwood City Council colleagues were more than a little miffed when Diane Howard recently told Spectrum Magazine she would have voted against a General Plan amendment for the Harbor View project, 1.2 million square feet of office space on the old Malibu Grand Prix site. … The amendment passed 4-2, so Howard’s absence was inconsequential. … She was on a long-planned trip to Europe and she told Spectrum a vote that important should have been held when all seven council members could be there. It struck some as campaign posturing by Howard, who is up for re-election this year. … Contacted by Political Climate, Howard said that’s not quite how she meant it. She said she asked Mayor Ian Bain and city staff if the vote could be pushed back because she thought the whole council should participate in the discussion. It couldn’t, and that was that. If it was portrayed in any other way, that was inaccurate, she said. … Howard is one of two incumbents up for re-election this year, being challenged by at least four opponents, and she declined to say if she would endorse colleague Jeff Gee. “I may not endorse anyone,” Howard said. She will wait to see who else gets into the race. “Ask me in August,” she said.

Contact Mark Simon @mark@climaterwc.com.

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

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Judge Persky recall and popularity in the judiciary

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Political Climate with Mark Simon: Judge Persky recall and popularity in the judiciary

We all have noticed how our modern social media environment almost seems to invite the strongest, even harshest, statements. These are angry times and anger never seems to be silent these days.

But one person’s angry assertion could be another’s call to action.

Locally, there may be no more complete example of how social media anger can translate into action than the effort to recall Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky because he issued a sentence in a rape trial that was widely criticized as too lenient. Remarkably, this election has become a national news story, as evidenced by the news conference Persky held yesterday, which drew dozens of TV cameras and reporters.

Two comments jumped out from Persky’s hour-long appearance. The first: “When public opinion influences a juror’s decision or a judge’s decision, it corrupts the whole system.”

That California judges at every level are subject to a vote of the public has public corruption at its root. In the earliest days of the United States, all judges were appointed for life, a circumstance that invited judicial misconduct, including bribes and favoritism. Reforms led to the election of judges and when California’s judiciary was established in 1849, the election system was adopted. On more than one occasion, California voters have rejected efforts to appoint judges rather than elect them.

Clearly, Californians value being able to vote on judges, although the vast majority of them run unopposed. Paradoxically, what we often say we value most in judges are integrity and independence.

On the Peninsula, judicial elections have not been popularity contests, even on those occasions when a judge made an unpopular decision or handed down a controversial sentence. Judges have been ousted at the ballot box, but at the heart of those campaigns has been questions of dereliction of duty, inappropriate conduct and unjudicial behavior. In essence, ousting a judge, particularly on the Peninsula was equated with impeachment – misconduct in office was considered a critical threshold.

As Persky suggested, should he be recalled, we will be entering a new era in which a judge is removed for following the judicial sentencing guidelines. The real problem may well be with the law, not the judge. But anger is easier to direct if the target is an individual and not a system.

The other comment by Persky that jumped out from yesterday’s news conference was this: “I was surprised at the amount of the backlash.”

And that leads us to a remarkable turnabout by our own little Palo Alto Daily Post, which began years ago as kind of spunky but has been largely grumpy and pugnaciously anti-government for the last several years.

The Post, it can be stated fairly, was happily and strongly in the vanguard of the backlash, running a headline nearly two years ago that read: “Judge Aaron Persky should be fired.”

The accompanying column lectured Persky on how he should have been thinking about this case.

The remarkable part of this came in an editorial last week in which the Post reversed itself and now opposes the recall of Persky because, while the sentencing was a mistake, “it would be an even greater mistake to give up the concept of an independent judiciary.”

The Post editorial even took a half-hearted swipe at admitting it might have made a mistake: “But we never anticipated that the campaign to remove Persky would result in a lynch-mob movement that threatens the independence of the judiciary.” Not much of an admission that they might have been wrong.

The Post gets credit for a public reversal – it could have remained quiet. But it would be more admirable if the initial call to “fire” Persky were not typical rhetoric from the Post, where thoughtfulness tends to be afterthought. Better late than never, I suppose.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Get Us Moving campaign picks up speed

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SamTrans buses may not have names as memorable as Prancer and Vixen, but they will be picking up passengers on Christmas Day. On Tuesday, December 25, SamTrans will operate on a standard Sunday schedule. Schedules for specific routes can be found here. Service on Christmas Eve will operate on the standard schedule. The administrative offices of the San Mateo County Transit District, which manages Caltrain and SamTrans, will be closed on Christmas Day. Customer Service will still be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and can be reached at 1-800-660-4287.

After months picking their way through the political thicket, the organizers of Get Us Moving San Mateo County (GUM) are preparing to move from picking their way through the political thicket into full-out advocacy. Right now, the pathway looks good.

The GUMbies are preparing a half-cent sales tax ballot measure for November and this month, they are holding a second round of public meetings to gather public comment and, not incidentally, build a base of public support for the eventual campaign that will kick into gear shortly. You can find the meeting dates, times and locations here.

A near-ubiquitous flyer is urging people to participate in a survey that would assign priorities to how the sales tax revenue should be spent. You can find the survey here.

All this is timely because next month, the SamTrans Board of Directors will hear a presentation on the first draft of the spending plan that will accompany the ballot measure. In July, the transit board, along with the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, will be asked to put the measure on the November ballot. Full disclosure: I worked at SamTrans and Caltrain as an executive from 2004-2017 and was directly involved in the planning and preparations for this effort.

The hope is this sales tax increase will help ease a number of problems, including clogged highway traffic, deteriorating local streets and roads, Caltrain’s ongoing budget struggles, and expand bike and pedestrian networks.

But the centerpiece will be funding to SamTrans, perhaps as much as half the money over the 30-year life of the measure. SamTrans needs to reinvent itself as a mobility agency and that will require new technology, new partnerships, new ideas and new money. Right now, if nothing changes, SamTrans might not survive through the next decade.

Well, there’s early good news for the GUMbies. The online survey asks participants to select their budget priorities with the constraints of the money the sales tax would generate. As of this morning, a summary of the budget submitted by the public shows roughly half the money going to public transit.

THREE-DOT JOURNALISM: Perfected by Herb Caen, weakly imitated here.

A recent column described the conflict between two members of the San Mateo County Community College District – Tom Mohr and Richard Holober – who live in the same election district and are running against each other this November. They’re not the only ones. Trustees Dave Mandelkern and Maurice Goodman are both up for re-election in 2020 and they live in the same district. Mandelkern told Political Climate he is planning to run again and “I’m not contemplating moving at this time.” … South San Francisco Mayor Liza Normandy, whose day job is running the South City Chamber of Commerce, is telling people she won’t run for re-election this year. … At Redwood City’s Courthouse Square last week, a full complement of San Mateo County law enforcement officers conducted a solemn and dignified annual memorial honoring the 28 of their ranks who have died in the line of duty. Three names jumped off the program page for me: Hillsborough Police Eugene A. Doran, killed in 1959, and for whom the Highway 280 bridge was named; San Mateo Police Sgt. Gordon Joinville, killed in 1968, and for whom the city’s swimming facility is named; and Redwood City Police Sgt. George Garrett, killed in 1981. It’s always good to be reminded of how our local landmarks got their names and to renew our desire to honor these dedicated officers. Garrett was someone I knew personally – a larger-than-life, hard-charging cop, and whose memory I still hold treasure.

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

 

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Design concept for county building draws protest

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In this era of instant opinions, the unveiling of a little information can cause some people to react like a group of chipmunks in possession of a brand new acorn. A group of chipmunks is called a scurry, which seems appropriate.

The scurry might explain the flurry, and, in some instances fury, of reaction to the recently circulated picture of the proposed County Office Building 3 (COB3) building at the San Mateo County government center in Redwood City.

You can see an architect’s conception of what the building could look like by going here.

Now, that preceding sentence had a lot of prevarication in it. The look and design of the building is just a concept. As in, idea or notion.

None of which stopped social media posters from immediately protesting that the building was completely out of synch with what Redwood City residents want. This led, inevitably, to further postings criticizing the county as heavy-handed. Then we were off to the races about what’s wrong with government and how life in the city is going to hell in a handbasket.

But let’s start by saying a few things, which might even qualify as that ever-elusive thing we call fact.

There is no design, only a proposal to build a 121,000-165,000 square foot office building on existing county land.

The unveiling of the proposal actually signaled the beginning of the public comment process and cooperation between the county and the city, not the end.

Anything new and modern on this site would be an improvement over the aged Hall of Justice, which sits next to the site, and is a sad building, above and beyond the justice meted out inside it.

The conceptual drawing is actually impressive – kind of a spinoff of the landmark Guggenheim Museum in New York City. It’s utterly undeniable that there are no buildings that look like that in Redwood City.

If there were anyone with cause to be upset, it would be Redwood City Council members, some of whom apparently were taken by surprise at the disclosure of the building proposal when it was described recently to the Board of Supervisors.

That prompted Mayor Ian Bain to write to the county, noting that the publication of the proposal in the San Mateo Daily Journal “was the first time that I had seen this drawing, and I have confirmed with our staff that Redwood City staff has not been involved in the process of designing County Center, despite assurances from County officials that we would be.”

Well, you’ll be pleased to know peace has prevailed. City staff, county staff, Supervisor David Canepa and Mayor Bain met this week and they’re all on the same page: The design process is just beginning, there will be a minimum of three community meetings, the public will have a chance to weigh in on the design and the city will have ample opportunity to influence a project that will have significant impact on the surrounding community.

“I’m much more at ease,” Bain said in an interview.

Deputy County Manager Mike Callagy, heading up the effort, said the county wants to provide a total package – an environmentally advanced building that is a good place to work, a good setting for the public who uses it, and is an asset to the community, with a park-like setting and open, public space.

Final design is a year away, Callagy said. Meanwhile, everyone is supposed to meet again next week.

ON THE TEAM: Speaking of Canepa, he was among the dissenting votes on a 10-6 vote approving Highway 101 toll lanes by the City/County Association of Governments.

That prompted some to speculate that Canepa was forging a role as an outsider on the Board of Supervisors. Not so, said Canepa in an assertive, almost combative, interview.

He said he supports the June regional ballot measure to raise tolls on the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges, even though some of the money could go to funding the toll lane project. He said he supports the sales-tax increase that eventually will go on the ballot in November to fund transit and transportation projects, including, possibly the toll lane project. He also supports Senate Bill 1, the legislation passed last year that raised the gas tax and could help pay for the toll lane project.

All those funds “can be programmed in other ways,” he said, hence his vote against toll lanes, which he doesn’t like at all. “I don’t think it’s good for the area.” He said toll lanes are inequitable and give preferential treatment to some drivers. “I don’t think people should move ahead of others,” Canepa said.

Canepa also said he works well with his board colleagues, none of whom endorsed him in 2016, that he has worked on legislation with each of the other supervisors and that he has voted with his colleagues in all but a very small number of times.

“On my end, it’s all cool. On their end it’s all cool,” he said. “This is the best job I’ve ever had. I love this job. I thoroughly enjoy my job.”

Contact Mark Simon at mark@climaterwc.com.

Political Climate with Mark Simon: Mohr to run for reelection despite unexpected opponent

in PoliticalClimate by

This November, the San Mateo County Community College Board of Trustees will become the second county-wide body to elect its members by district, joining the county Board of Supervisors, which moved to district elections in 2012.

It was easy enough for the Board of Supervisors – each member already represented a district.

At the Community College, however, the matter is more complicated. Three of the trustees, Maurice Goodman, Dave Mandelkern and Rich Holober, lived in District 3, which includes South San Francisco, San Bruno, Millbrae, Burlingame and Hillsborough.

Yes, lived, as in used to live there.

Holober, the second-longest-serving member of the board, elected in 1997, has moved out of District 3 and into District 4, which includes San Mateo, Foster City, Belmont and Foster City. He has moved from Millbrae to San Mateo.

The fuller significance of this is that Holober moved into the same district as fellow trustee Tom Mohr, and both are up for re-election this year. And, I am told, as Holober has been seeking endorsements, he also has been discussing with others that Mohr has been fighting cancer, that he has not been well and that he might not run again.

Asked about this, Holober said, “I don’t think I’m yet really asking people for endorsements.” He added, “People ask me (about Mohr’s health) and I say he seems fine. That’s really his business, not mine.”

Well, Mohr said he definitely is running. And the normally reserved Mohr is more than a little angry at Holober.

“Yes, I’m going to run again,” Mohr, elected in 2013 and seeking his second term, said, “I’ve handled this (cancer treatments) for two years. I think I’ve handled it pretty well.”

He also confirmed he has been told by others that Holober is seeking endorsements and “He is mentioning that I have this disease.”

That was confirmed by fellow trustee Goodman, who commented about it at a recent board meeting.

“The underlying expressions I’ve gotten within the county, in talking to other elected officials” is that Holober “is asking for endorsements and using Tom Mohr’s health,” Goodman said.

The decision by both Mohr and Holober to run for re-election this year is complicated by the realities of the new districts approved last June by the trustees. Only Mohr and Holober are up for re-election, and elections will be held this year only in Districts 2 and 4.

But that means if Holober was going to move, he could have chosen to move into District 2, which includes Broadmoor, western San Bruno near Skyline College, Colma, Brisbane and Daly City. Instead, he opted to move into the district where Mohr lives.

Holober said both he and Mohr have had to move since the adoption of the new district election process. He said Mohr moved last spring. Holober confirmed he moved more recently and into the same district as Mohr.

Mohr took umbrage at the implication that his ongoing battle with cancer might leave him unable to fulfill his duties as trustee.

Mohr said any of the leaders at each of the district’s three colleges would confirm he is one of the most active board members and a frequent presence at campus events.

In addition, Mohr is one of the most beloved figures in the county, having served to wide acclaim for more than 50 years as an educator and administrator on the Peninsula, including superintendent of the Sequoia High School District and, after retirement, as president of Canada College in Redwood City for six years.

His fight with cancer “doesn’t mean I can go 100 miles an hour,” but, Mohr said, he is more than able to fulfill the duties of a trustee, which do not include day-to-day management of the college district.

As for a showdown between two incumbents, Holober indicated he’s staying in the race. “I’m going to focus on myself. I’m going to focus on my own record. Every one of us is free to run.”

Mark Simon can be reached at mark@climaterwc.com.

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