Almanac

News - April 13, 2011

Budget crisis top issue in supervisor's race

by Dave Boyce

There were light moments at a March 30 forum in Redwood City for the six candidates running for a seat on the Board of Supervisors for San Mateo County.

"Have a bagel and vote for Nagel," said candidate Terry Nagel, who brought raisin bagels, in response, she said, to a request to all the candidates to bring food. Ms. Nagel borrowed her slogan from her son's third-grade campaign for student government, she told the Almanac.

Some minutes later, candidate Dave Pine floated the possibility of Doughnuts with Dave. "I grew up in New England. There's doughnuts everywhere," he said. Much later, responding to a question on preserving trees, he noted: "My name is Pine. I'm for trees."

The mail-in-ballot election, now ongoing, extends through April and ends May 3.

Sharing the dais at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center with Mr. Pine and Ms. Nagel were candidates Richard Holober, Demetrios Nikas, Gina Papan and Michael Stogner. All six took questions on local issues, first from a moderator and then from some of the 40 to 50 voters who attended.

Among the big issues in the election are the county's budget crisis with an anticipated deficit exceeding $80 million in the next fiscal year; under-funded public employee pensions; the plight of the county's less fortunate; and the need to create jobs.

The open seat represents District 1, which includes South San Francisco, San Bruno and Hillsborough. While Atherton, Woodside, Menlo Park and Portola Valley are in District 3, the election still matters to local voters because supervisors run county-wide.

Leadership by example

The candidates introduced themselves and moderator Chris Balme of the Redwood City Woodside Democratic Club opened the Q-and-A by requesting evidence of leadership qualities the candidates would bring with them.

Mr. Pine, an attorney, former corporate executive and current president of the San Mateo Union School District board of directors, pointed to his financial credentials. He and one other new member arrived on the school board in 2007 when reserves were barely at the 3 percent mandate, he said. They are now over 10 percent, he told The Almanac. To trim county health care costs, Mr. Pine suggested consulting with the federal government and perhaps focusing on the sickest patients.

Ms. Papan, a deputy attorney general, said voters would see more partnerships. As Millbrae's mayor in 2008, she witnessed the opening of a power plant that runs on restaurant-provided kitchen grease. She would consider consolidating fire departments and moving county departments now leasing office space into unoccupied county-owned buildings. She also began an initiative to ban plastic bags from stores and is working on getting having the county recycle them, her website says.

Ms. Nagel, mayor of Burlingame, noted that the county avoided a deficit this year by drawing $70 million from reserves and that the board narrowly defeated a sales tax increase, an idea she said she opposed. She would "dig deeply," she said, into budget issues to create a balanced budget. With one manager for every 5.5 employees, county government is "really top-heavy" compared to Santa Clara County the ratio is 1:9, she said.

A new jail

With the county facing a major deficit and possibly a 15 percent cut in services, why build a new jail, a woman asked.

A "realignment" proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown would gradually transfer oversight from the state to the counties of offenders convicted of "non-violent, non-serious and non-sex-related" crimes.

The effect in San Mateo County: about 400 more inmates per year, but without enough supplemental funding to pay the higher costs, and alternatives for normally jailed low-level offenders.

"The women's jail is deplorable and the men's jail can become a safety hazard," Mr. Pine said. The county needs a new jail, he said, but not a "gigantic" one.

"We are in dire need of a new jail, (but) we need to ensure that funding comes with the new inmates from the governor's proposal," Ms. Papan said.

"We definitely need a new jail (and) new ideas, too, like electronic monitoring," Ms. Nagel said. She supports slowing recidivism rates by bolstering rehabilitation programs.

Give ex-cons "opportunity after opportunity to get back on track," Mr. Holober said.

Mr. Stogner said he was in favor of a new jail, but the county's fiscal crisis has changed his mind.

Wetlands or community?

The Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt Corp. is proposing to convert 1,400 acres of Redwood City salt flats into 800 acres of wetlands and outdoor recreation, up to 12,000 homes and 1 million square feet of commercial space.

The project has sparked spirited opposition from nearby communities, including Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton and Menlo Park.

Where do the candidates stand? Not infrequently, on the fence.

"I would be really upset if another city council person or county supervisor told me what to do with our town before I had a chance," Ms. Nagel said. "I think you should trust in the local officials to do their jobs."

"A project will emerge and Redwood City voters will vote on it," Mr. Pine said.

Everyone interested should allow the city's environmental review to proceed and the project receive a "proper evaluation," Ms. Papan said.

"I do have a lot of concerns about it," Mr. Holober said. He said he would like to see the salt flats restored to wetlands and that he expected the project's final dimensions to be "much smaller."

"I don't think we can go another inch" into the Bay, Mr. Nikas said.

"No, no, no, no, no," said Mr. Stogner, adding that he could easily go on like that for the entire 45 seconds allotted to him.

Saving the middle class

"We're a middle class audience," one man said during the last half hour of the forum. "We're not plutocrats. We live in a world now that favors plutocrats. How do you intend to fight this?"

"I am in favor of taxing the people who make the most money," Mr. Stogner said.

Mr. Pine noted that General Electric Corp. paid nothing in corporate taxes this time around. "As a supervisor, I can't fix that directly," he said, but said he would weigh in "very, very, very strongly" if the state proceeds with a proposed $4.5 billon cut from public school funding.

"We can't keep turning to the taxpayer for every little thing," Ms. Papen said. The questioner's complaint was a matter for state and federal lawmakers, she said.

"If you don't have any voice, you're not going to be heard," Mr. Nikas said. "Fifteen percent of the U.S. (population) is starving. They have no voice."

"I'd start with perks for managers in county government," Ms. Nagel said. "We really have to get involved with long-term living within our means. I also believe in the power of people working together to create change."

"The middle class is on the endangered species list," Mr. Holober said, then recommended an oil extraction fee on big oil companies and a temporary 1 percent hike in state income tax on people earning more than $500,000.

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