BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The race for the Sequoia Healthcare District board is split into two camps this election — those who want to ultimately get rid of the district and those who want to keep it as is.
However, the election this year is a little different than usual since the board switched to district elections. The three districts up for grabs this year are: Zone E (which consists of the district west of I-280), Zone A (the district east of Highway 101) and Zone C (San Carlos and Emerald Hills).
In Zone A, retired nonprofit CEO Michael Garb, incumbent Art Faro and former Foster City Mayor Art Kiesel are running against each other. In Zone C, incumbent Jack Hickey is facing off against physician Aaron Nayfack. In Zone E, incumbent Jerry Shefren and Belmont resident Harland Harrison are running against each other.
The district was formed by voters in 1948 to fund Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City and funded with property taxes. In 1996, the hospital was sold to Catholic Healthcare West (now Dignity Health), but the district continued to collect its tax. The district’s board now hands out those tax dollars (about $9 million each year) to nonprofits that provide health services.
In 2002, Hickey ran for the board with the promise to get other people onto it who would also want to dissolve the district. He also promised to halt the property tax. Hickey has long been looking for a slate of candidates to run to help him dissolve the health care district.
Hickey, Kiesel and Harrison are running as a slate across district lines in an attempt to create a majority in favor of dissolving the district — 16 years after Hickey was first elected to the board.
Hickey would like to see the Sequoia Healthcare District either be dissolved or consolidated with the Peninsula Health Care District, which covers San Bruno to San Mateo. Kiesel said he’d like to see the matter of dissolving the district go to voters.
It has become a “grant-writing center for taxpayer funds,” which was not approved by the voters, he said.
“We established the district by vote. We approved the sale of Sequoia Hospital by vote. It would seem to make sense that the district’s fate be decided by vote,” Kiesel said in an email.
Harrison said dissolving the district would be “easy.” He said the board can decline to take any more tax money, and once that happens, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission would control the process of dissolution.
However, nearly all four of the candidates who oppose dissolving the district — Garb, Shefren, Faro and Nayfack — said the fees that are collected for the health care district would just be spread out among the other agencies that collect property taxes.
“The residents need to know that if the district was dissolved, their taxes would not be changed. Rather, that money would be distributed by the county or state, and not necessarily for health reasons,” Faro said.
Garb pointed out that the district only gets $72 from a $6,000 property tax.
“That is not much to contribute to the essential health services that the district provides to our most vulnerable citizens,” Garb said.
Nayfack said the district contributes more than $4 million a year to local schools for nurses and mental health programs.
Nayfack called the health care district “a model program that should be expanded, strengthened and hopefully replicated.”
Shefren, a former physician, said that while the focus of the district has shifted — from operating a hospital to funding programs — the main goal is the same: to keep the community healthy.
“We know that preventing health care problems and keeping people out of the hospital is the best way to make communities as healthy as they can be,” Shefren said. “So the district is continuing to do what it was always intended to do, invest a very small portion of property tax dollars to help residents lead as healthy a life as possible.”