Opinion: Highlights, surprises from local elections

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

On Election Night everyone was riveted on the presidential race, which is understandable, but several interesting local contests were decided too.

The big news in Palo Alto is that City Council shifted from a developer-friendly, pro-housing majority to a slow-growth or Residentialist majority.

It was predictable that Pat Burt would be the top vote-getter. He left council in 2016 after nine years. I know he’s seen by some as a slow-growth candidate and he was endorsed by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a slow-growth group. But during his time on council, he often brought together the two factions on council, and honestly I don’t know which camp I’d put him into today.

But the slow-growth side will be represented by re-elected incumbent Lydia Kou, newly-elected newcomer Greer Stone and two council members in the last half of their final two-year term, Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth.

That’s four votes, enough to carry the day on the seven-member council.

On the development-friendly, pro-housing side are re-elected incumbent Greg Tanaka and Alison Cormack, who is mid-way through her first term.

The pro-development, pro-housing side is losing two votes with the departure of Liz Kniss, due to term limits, and Adrian Fine, who decided not to run again.

The campaign was low-key this year. Covid put the kibosh on door-to-door campaigning. Mailers aren’t effective anymore because people get so many of them. They go into the recycling bin without a second glance. Zoom meetings don’t work because people are fatigued by Zoom. If you have to be on Zoom for several hours at work, it’s a chore to do another meeting at night to learn about the candidates.

I’m surprised some local candidate didn’t pass out face masks with their name on it.

IN EAST PALO ALTO, the big news was the defeat of Larry Moody, who had been on City Council since 2012 and the Ravenswood school board before that. Moody had been a fixture in EPA government, so his seventh-place showing in an eight-candidate field was surprising. And he had support from the city police union, a couple of property management companies, and political leaders like Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, Redwood City Councilwoman Giselle Hale and Santa Clara County Water District North County representative Gary Kremen, a mover and shaker in Democratic Party politics locally.

The other surprise in East Palo Alto was the defeat of Measure V to increase the hotel tax from 12% to 14%. It’s surprising because hotel taxes seem to always pass. Voters figure that they’re taxing people who live far away, and it won’t cost them anything to raise the tax. And in this case, there’s only one hotel that would be taxed, the Four Seasons. The money would have gone toward affordable housing. Plus, there was no opposition.

IN REDWOOD CITY, voters appear to have elected a Democratic Socialist to City Council. Council elections have switched from a city-wide vote to individual geographic districts. In the new district that includes Friendly Acres, incumbent Janet Borgens is losing by 26 votes to Lissette Espinoza-Garnica, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. More votes need to be counted, but if that result holds, she could be the first Democratic Socialist elected to local office in the mid-Peninsula.

Espinoza-Garnica says on her website that she’ll push for rent control and “protect my community from displacement and gentrification.” She wants to “scale back our runaway police budget,” saying the Police Department “increases harm and family separation in our community.”

She describes herself as “a first-generation queer, non-binary Chicanx.”

When I looked up her name in the Daily Post archives, I found a story from 2015 about a group of Menlo-Atherton High School boys who decided to cheer on the girls volleyball team by dressing up with the theme of “ghetto night.” Among those in the story who disapproved of the stunt was Espinoza-Garnica, who posted on Facebook, “Really guys? MA vs Menlo-Ghetto Night? Ya’ll are bogus.” While she was at MA, Espinoza-Garnica said she helped to organize a campaign to bring an ethnic studies to the school.

THE SAN MATEO COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT, which usually doesn’t get much attention at election time, drew a lot of headlines this time. And, in the end, the district will have two new trustees as a result of the election — John Pimentel of Menlo Park and Lisa Petrides of Half Moon Bay.

The election came about a year after longtime Chancellor Ron Galatolo stepped down from his $467,000-a-year job, then was given the job of chancellor emeritus that paid the same, followed by the news that the District Attorney had opened an investigation into whether Galatolo harassed an employee and misused bond measure money.

The college district’s five-member board ducked questions about the situation and then tried to distance themselves from Galatolo after years of approving virtually every idea he brought before the board.

Karen Schwarz, who has been a trustee since 1995, decided not to run again and Trustee Dave Mandelkern was defeated in Tuesday’s election.

Mandelkern lost to Trustee Maurice Goodman. The college system switched from at-large to district elections, and Mandelkern and Goodman ended up in the same district.

Pimentel ran a strong campaign promising more transparency from a district that desperately needs it.

Petrides, who was backed by the district’s employee unions, won after her opponent in the San Carlos-Menlo Park-coastside district withdrew. Eugene Whitlock pulled out of the race after the Post revealed that he had received a $2.28 million payment from the district in exchange for resigning as HR director.

Pimentel and Petrides will have an uphill battle reforming a district that has some serious problems. They’ll have to fight the bureaucracy led by Galatolo’s former right-hand man, Chancellor Mike Claire, and the remaining members of the board, who turned a blind eye to Galatolo. Good luck.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

7 Comments

  1. With the crew Palo Alto elected last week, it’s going to be a long time before any reasonably-priced housing is built. They’ll let the NIMBYs kill it every time.

  2. Dave Price states, “The college district’s five-member board ducked questions about the situation (Ron Galatolo) and then tried to distance themselves from Galatolo after years of approving virtually every idea he brought before the board.”
    Bully for Mr. Price to call it as he sees it. I questioned the Board repeatedly: 
    1. The Chancellor neither resigned or retired from his post, but “moved on up” to Chancellor Emeritus. Why?2. A Chancellor serves at the pleasure of the Board. Mr. Galatolo’s Chancellor contract expires in June 2021. Typically, when a Board removes a Chancellor the compensation is a few month’s salary (his was $38,975 per month); sometimes they are forced to pay-out the remainder of the contract. The Board wrote Galatolo a new contract for Chancellor Emeritus and extended it by nine months for an additional $350,775 plus benefits. Doesn’t the public, which is paying the bill, have a right to know the elected Board’s rationale?
    3.The separation agreement stated that the split was due to “disputes among the parties in their employment relationship.” If so, why would the Board rehire Mr. Galatolo as Chancellor Emeritus to keep him around, though he was barred from campus?
    4. The Chancellor Emeritus had one job – to develop and administer the CSU Silicon Valley campus at Cañada College. There was never a job description; never a contract specifying deliverables; never an action plan. In fact, the Board agreed to this before the CSU did its feasibility study. It was a boondoggle to throw Galatolo a bone and get him out. Why?
    5. The new contract states Chancellor Emeritus Galatolo cannot be fired by his supervisor; he reported solely to the new Chancellor and his former direct report, Mike Claire. The Board as well abdicated its authority to fire him to an outside party, the Honorable Richard A. Kramer (Ret.). This is highly unusual. Why did the Board do this?

    Who is accountable for the actions of an elected body serving the public in government office? Transparency please!

    Michael B. Reiner, PhD, is a higher education consultant and educational researcher. Previously, he was a professor of psychology and college administrator at City University of New York (CUNY), Miami Dade College, the Riverside Community College District, and the San Mateo County Community College District. mreiner32205@gmail.com  LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-b-reiner-phd-14057551/

  3. Dr. Reiner, my goodness! Retired Judge Richard A. Kramer, you say? What a small world. I had a fascinating and briefly petrifying encounter with him in 1997 when I was part of a jury venire. For whatever it’s worth, he was an impressive fellow, and I assume still is.

    http://linuxmafia.com/faq/Essays/jury-duty.html

    Judge Kramer also was the Superior Court judge who, in 2005, issued a ruling supporting the action of S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration in granting about 4,000 same-sex couples marriage licenses at City Hall, in 2004.
    https://web.archive.org/web/20051215192613/http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/archive/2005/03/14/samesexruling14.TMP

    • Dear Mr. Moen, Thanks for your comment. I referred to him as “the Honorable Richard A. Kramer (Ret.)” in recognition of his integrity. My point was not about the judge, but the Board which abdicated its role in employment to an outsider. Mr. Galatolo’s as Chancellor Emeritus reports solely to his former subordinate Mr. Claire, who can’t fire him, nor can the Board, which should be the ultimate authority at this government agency. If a disagreement materializes about termination, the next step is the courts (though most quid pro quo settlement agreements for cash preclude lawsuits). Why did Trustees abdicate responsibility to an outside party, whose decision is final? For a district which advocates equity, do any other employees have this employment protection? One has to wonder why the Board agreed to this very unusual arrangement.

  4. Dear Mr. Moen, Thanks for your comment. I referred to him as “the Honorable Richard A. Kramer (Ret.)” in recognition of his integrity. My point was not about the judge, but the Board which abdicated its role in employment to an outsider. Mr. Galatolo’s as Chancellor Emeritus reports solely to his former subordinate Mr. Claire, who can’t fire him, nor can the Board, which should be the ultimate authority at this government agency. If a disagreement materializes about termination, the next step is the courts (though most quid pro quo settlement agreements for cash preclude lawsuits). Why did Trustees abdicate responsibility to an outside party, whose decision is final? For a district which advocates equity, do any other employees have this employment protection? One has to wonder why the Board agreed to this very unusual arrangement.

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