Editor’s note: This is one part in a series of stories about the candidates running for the state Senate seat being vacated by Jerry Hill. Six candidates will compete in the March 3 primary and the top-two vote-getters will go on to the general election in November. This story was printed on Jan. 17.
BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
When asked about whether he agrees with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to expand government health care to undocumented immigrants, Burlingame City Councilman Mike Brownrigg, who is running for state Senator Jerry Hill’s seat, recalled the thoughts of Burlingame’s namesake, Anson Burlingame, who lived from 1820 to 1870.
Burlingame, who was a Massachusetts governor who told the federal government that no one involved in his state’s government would follow the fugitive slave law, where Northerners were obliged to return escaped slaves to the South, essentially wrote the sanctuary state creed some 160 years ago. Burlingame visited prominent banker William Ralston’s vast estate on the Peninsula. So taken with the area, Burlingame bought a swath of land where the city is now.
Brownrigg said that California is right in pushing against the current Trump administration’s immigration policies and it ought to help lead the discussion as to what sort of immigration system the country wants.
Field of six candidates
Brownrigg, a Burlingame councilman, is running against five other candidates to replace termed-out Hill, D-San Mateo, in the March 3 primary. The top-two vote-getters on March 3 will go on to the general election in November.
The 13th Senate District spans from Brisbane to Sunnyvale and includes San Mateo, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View.
Over the next few weeks, the Post will be sitting down with the candidates for Hill’s seat — Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur, Menlo Park resident and entrepreneur Josh Becker, former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, Millbrae Councilwoman Annie Oliva and Los Altos resident and Republican Alex Glew. Brownrigg was the first to interview with the Post, so keep your eyes out for future articles about the candidates.
A Peninsula kid
Brownrigg refers to himself as a “Peninsula kid” — he grew up in northern Santa Clara County, being born in Los Altos Hills and attending the now closed Fremont Hills Elementary School in Los Altos Hills and Terman Middle School (now Ellen Fletcher Middle) and Gunn High School in Palo Alto. After living on the east coast and abroad, as a legislative aide and ambassador, he moved to Burlingame in 1990, where he has raised his four children with his wife Marty, a pediatrician.
The Post asked Brownrigg about a variety of topics, here is what he had to say about some of them, including PG&E, SB50 and transit.
Asked what approach he’d take to reducing traffic congestion, he said the region needs a better transit system.
Brownrigg, who has lived in London, Washington D.C. and Hong Kong, commented that you know when you have a good transit system when you don’t have to plan around a train schedule, because you know that the next one is a few minutes away.
In order to do that, more money needs to be put into Caltrain and other transit systems like BART.
One way to get more money out of the state for Bay Area transportation projects would be by killing the high-speed rail project once and for all, and taking a portion of the $8 billion already set aside for the project, and put it into bridges (known as grade separations) along the Caltrain line. Grade separations are where a bridge or tunnel is built to separate the road from the rail road tracks, so cars don’t have to stop for trains and trains can go faster down the tracks.
Brownrigg said he’s not against fast trains, but given the limited amount of money, it’s time to “put high speed rail out of its misery.”
FASTER sales tax
However, Brownrigg is against another funding measure that is being discussed in the Bay Area — a 1% sales tax for the nine-county Bay Area, called FASTER Bay Area. Sales taxes, however, hit the poor and middle-income resident harder since a larger percentage of their income is spent on items subject to the sales tax. Instead, Brownrigg said he would like to see businesses pay more for transit. He favors changing Prop. 13 so that commercial property owners pay more. He likes the “split roll” approach that keeps tax levels the same for homeowners but changes the formula for businesses so that they’re taxed on the current market value of their properties. He feels that the money resulting from that change could be leveraged through bond financing, yielding $40 billion to $50 billion in money for transportation projects.
Brownrigg said he’d like to see BART circle the Bay Area, and another bridge across the Bay between the Bay Bridge and the San Mateo Bridge. He also expressed interest in a proposal that transportation nonprofit TransForm Bay Area has of creating bus-only lanes across the Bay Area.
Brownrigg said that while the Peninsula definitely needs to build more housing, there is no way that it can house everyone who works in the area, so in order to sustain the area’s growth and economy, it needs to have improved transportation.
“Until more recently, this area considered itself a collection of bedroom communities,” Brownrigg said. “But we’ve become small cities. And as cities insist on transit, we need to insist on good transit.”
As far as housing goes, Brownrigg touts his, and his council’s record, of approving a new plan to add 15% new homes to Burlingame in what was once a more industrial part of town.
“That would be like San Francisco adding 60,000 units. They added something like 3,000 last year. I’m tired of being told we’re not doing enough by people in San Francisco,” Brownrigg said.
Brownrigg called SB50, the controversial bill slated to increase density near transit, jobs and education centers “bad policy and bad politics.”
“Sacramento should not tell cities where to put density,” he said. “I agree with the diagnosis that we have a housing crisis and need to do something about it.”
Brownrigg said that some of the new amendments to the bill “ameliorate” some of his concerns, but said it’s still flawed policy. One change he would like to see is have the state incentivize cities that are already adding housing, by giving them money for things such as parks and schools.
As for PG&E, Brownrigg said the utility has lost its right to be an investor utility. He noted the argument that some make that the private sector will keep things better regulated.
“But there are 10 years of data that shows it’s (PG&E) is not governed well,” he said.
Brownrigg said he’d like to see the utility become government or community owned.
As for his first bill if elected? Brownrigg said he is not sure what the first bill he would introduce into the Senate would be, but said some of his policy focuses would be on climate change and quality of life issues such as housing and child care.
But he said that it’s likely that the first few bills he offers would be relatively simple ones, such as a requirement that public agencies that have a budget above $50 million record and televise their meetings.