If you had asked me how to vote in the San Rafael city council election over 18 months ago I'd have said vote for incumbents - I'd have voted on auto-pilot. But since then I have had a harsh awakening that San Rafael is not on a safe course: the old guard is starting to dominate decision making - pushing to rapidly urbanize the corner of the paradise of Marin we call home - San Rafael.
Who Would I Vote For? Randy Warren
I would vote for Randy Warren and discard my second vote as it may cause someone I don't want to be elected. If I felt a pressing need not to waste my second vote I would recommend Kate Colin, but I would have reservations. I would not vote for Maribeth Bushey-Lang or Greg Brockbank.
Here's why I'd make that choice, and insight that may help you select a different candidate that aligns with your own thinking.
Randy is new blood. We've got a lot of old blood on the city council. There's a well worn path from the planning commission to the city council festooned with monetary assistance from the chamber of commerce. This path has got us into the current high density housing mess. Randy is a reformer who wants to break this cycle.
Not a longtime politician or planning commissioner Randy was motivated to step forward after learning about Plan Bay Area and the urbanization it planned for San Rafael. He felt a duty and obligation to step up and serve. I myself considered this, but with a full time job and family I could not commit to the many hours required at this stage in my life.
Maribeth is an old guard candidate. Her campaign manager is Democratic Central Committee chair Paul Cohen who also chairs the San Rafael High School Board.
Maribeth is endorsed by the Police and Fire unions along with many old guard names including Al Boro - the man who led bringing the SMART train to Marin. Other endorsers include elected officials who have routinely voted for urbanization including Barbara Heller and Assemblyman Marc Levine.
Bushey Lang's endorsement by former San Rafael Mayor Al Boro is a red flag to me. Boro led efforts to bring SMART to Marin. Here's an excerpt from a 2006 San Jose Mercury news article:
"The mayor [Boro] proudly asserts that SMART has held "hundreds of community meetings" in its effort to sell the proposed tax increase. However, at one such meeting I attended at the San Rafael Corporate Center, which was touted as a community forum, the public was not allowed to comment in open session, presumably to silence high-profile critics such as Mike Arnold from making statements that might land in the newspaper."
Is Boro the kind of person whose endorsement should signal community support? It surely would seems like Boro is the expert on pushing through SMART regardless of Marinites views and silencing the voice of the community.
My interactions with Maribeth and her campaign manager have not seemed as fluid and responsive as other candidates - and this is prior to election (one might assume post election if a candidate wins they will be less easy and flexible). When asked about opinions on PDAs and growth Maribeth has responded that she adheres to the General Plan and it's policy of integrated affordable housing and she supports this being distributed and not concentrated. This somewhat ducks the direct question around PDAs and growth. Also the general plan places emphasis on transit-oriented development which concentrates development around transit such as SMART stations. This TOD approach would seem to contradict the even distribution Maribeth suggests that she supports.
Communications with Maribeth's campaign manager Paul Cohen have been more difficult. I emailed Paul Cohen, chair of San Rafael High School District on two occasions asking for insight into impact on schools of adding a thousand or more new students from non-profit, largely tax exempt housing so that this might be known ahead of last Friday's study session. After a week without response I emailed one of his fellow school district board members who forwarded my mail to Paul. Again no response. When Paul and I finally met he seemed to dismiss all knowledge of any of my emails. He pointed out that he spoke at last week's Civic Center council study session, alluding to non-specific school impacts and asking for more time instead of rescinding the Civic Center PDA on September 16th.
Looking at his history Paul Cohen successfully pushed through development of Redwood Villages against the wishes of the adjacent community of San Rafael Meadows. In a twist of irony Cohen ran for supervisor in 2002 and lost due to his push for development of a massive 865 housing units at St. Vincent's/Silveira. The irony is that Susan Adams (who has pushed high density Marinwood Plaza against residents wishes) beat Cohen by being against this massive development.
There's a phrase "if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck...then it probably is a duck". I'd change this to:
"if a candidate says they're not for fast growth, but their campaign manager is pro fast growth, and many of their endorsers are fast-growthers, are they likely to be rapid growth once elected?"
Maribeth also has a minor handicap to perform as a fully functional councilor. She is a law judge for the Public Utilities Commission. This means that she must absolve herself from any decisions involving SMART or the Marin Energy Authority. So if elected we don't quite get an entire councilor. She acknowledges this conflict of interest and confirms she would bow out of such discussions if elected.
Kate is also backed by the old guard including former Mayor Al Boro, which is what creates a dilemma. I've interacted with her several times and she seems easy to work with and reasonable - perhaps the easiest of the four candidates. But of course a cynic might say, this is before she's elected, once elected...things change. So it's again useful to look at her backers.
Kate, like Maribeth, is another planning commissioner. Again she seems open right now to the community, joining Mayor Phillips and Damon Connolly in rescinding the PDA and scaling back the Civic Center Station Area Plan.
Kate again though is backed by the pro rapid growthers. I now mark Marc Levine among this group with his troubling vote in support of Senate Bill 1 this week, an alarming piece of new legislation which has passed the state assembly and if passed later this week by the state senate would set up unelected bodies "Sustainable Communities Investment Authorities" with powers of eminent domain that can deem any suburban area within 1/2 mile of a transit hub to be an inefficient use of land, and buy it so that high density housing can be put on it. This is potentially an end around the rescinding of PDAs and local control.
In years prior I used to think "sustainability" was a good word, and it can stand for many good things, but it has been subverted into modern day Orwellian propaganda, just like the word "smart". Using either word to me is now a red flag that someone's trying to sneak something through that we probably wouldn't want - smart train, smart meters... The term has become so abused I've even become suspicious of my own dishwasher that has a "smart wash" setting.
Greg is a "sustainable" and like the outspoken Jimmy Fishbob Geraghty a director of Sustainable San Rafael. Someone who is a "sustainable" to me is a utopian dreamer. They imagine they can persuade us to adopt radical changes in housing and lifestyles, dispensing with our cars, doubling our commute times taking transit and moving into small apartments to save the planet. I'd like to see climate change reduced but such an approach is swimming upstream and in denial of everyday realities.
Greg would like to see new 5+ story high density housing go up from downtown to Civic Center. He's outspoken, putting 200+ members of the community in their place in an August meeting last year when they finally realized that high density housing plans had been snuck through. He told the council to ignore the community showing up at the last minute and undoing the great work of a 2 year committee.
To provide the water for all this new housing Greg has been an advocate of building a desalination plant in Marin. Such a plant would have to be built on Marin's beautiful shoreline. It would be expensive, consume large amounts of energy and generate greenhouse gas emissions during constriction and operation. It doesn't quite fit into my understanding of the word "sustainable".
Greg may have a long resume from politics, but of the old guard that I've interacted with, I've discovered he's antagonized this group.
Finally Greg is a very pleasant and easy going person to talk too - but that presents a concerning weakness. The many conversations I have had he panders to my concerns, seemingly flip flopping away from his previously stated positions. I just don't know which way he might vote and which statements to take at face value. Going back to his record though it's clear to me that of the four he is the strongest advocate for urbanizing San Rafael.
If you're for pro-growth and business, and you think San Rafael's already in worthy hands then Maribeth Bushey-Lang and Greg Brockbank are the two to vote for. But I certainly won't be joining you.
I would recommend:
- vote for Randy Warren to moderate growth and put a voice of reason on the council that is not from the old gaurd
- casting a second vote is dangerous, you may end up displacing Randy Warren
- if you must make a second vote then you might consider Kate Colin, she's easy to work with and a good communicator; but her backers present some very real concerns to me.
Want to do more to help Randy win? He can be reached at email@example.com and his campaign can be helped in any of the following ways:
- put a sign in your yard
- help Randy walk the neighborhoods
But most of all just simply spread the word across the community. In the next 3 days tell 3 people you know about who to vote for (whichever of the four) and tell them to tell 3 others.
I'm sure that come October when that postal ballot arrives there will be a lot of people just like me 2 years ago oblivious to what's really going on and liable to cast votes in a manner that may truly endanger our corner of paradise in Marin - San Rafael.