Feature: Ballot box

Endorsements for North Bay races—and beyond

By Tom Gogola

A few weeks back the notoriously Trumpian sheriff of Milwaukee, David Clarke, rallied for a civil war against all things Clinton when he tweeted that it’s “pitchforks and torches time” in America. In the year of unhinged pitchfork politics, will residents up yonder in the city of Sonoma take up the rakes instead? Will they at long last vote out the leaf-blowers? The perennial fight in that city pits landscapers against low-decibel residents demanding peace and quiet, already. We all need a little of that. It’s been a too-long campaign season as it is, and hell, they’re so freaked out in Kentfield, they want to screen everyone’s license plate for signs of incoming malicious intent. It’s rough out there, but don’t send Anthony Weiner a text about it: Could get even rougher.

While the stakes in Kentfield’s wealthy Kent Woodlands aren’t as high as, say, a proposed no-fly zone over the shattered Syrian City of Aleppo, for Marin County, and around the North Bay, local measures and races this year hit at quality of life concerns, housing affordability, the encroaching sprawl, taxes and schools—with a sprinkle of good ol’ law and order. As for those leaf-blowers, this paper stands with the rake-and-a-broom crowd and against the leaf-blown whims of any voluble and efficiency-obsessed minority that might emerge from this battle, hollering about all the lost jobs. As we strive for a respectful, but universal ban on leaf-blowers, it is essential to contain the blowhards wherever possible, and create new economic opportunities of a Clinton-in-coal-country variety for the salt-of-the-earth people of Sonoma, if not Sausalito.

In the year of the pitchfork, the silent majority may after all turn out to be the quietly outraged moms of Montana who plan to vote for Hillary despite the odds in their state, and whatever their husband might think about Killary Benghazoid. Guided by that spirit, these endorsements are all offered through a metric that values and rewards a retrenchment to a core politics of kindness and decency, that amplifies against-the-odds strivers and that seeks out bona fide freaks and/or Renaissance Men (and Women) wherever possible. In the year of the pitchfork, our beloved Bay Area will lead the way as uncertain winds of Trumpian fury loom and send us scampering for the Xanax. Unleash the dogs of empathy!

As this paper offers its inevitable, if intensely wary endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, let’s remember that it will take a village to find the teachable moment when the election passes and parents and the wimpy men of the media (those were the days, Ahhhhnold!) no longer fret about what the orange creep might say on TV. The big right-wingnut gamble on Trump appears to have not paid off—despite a hair-raising, late-game Comey-over from the FBI—and my money’s on the multiple school ballots circulating around the North Bay, with a hearty-ho endorsement on all fronts from these quarters. And as we also offer the inevitable, if cautiously enthusiastic, endorsement of Jared Huffman for another term in Congress—he’s running practically unopposed, with apologies to perennial GOP cashier-candidate Dale K. Mensing, here’s a hearty endorsement for the schools-and-education tax embodied in Marin’s Measure A, and while we’re at it, here’s a shout-out to a Napa Valley College Trustee candidate: Jennifer Baker: Because she’s a librarian.

Measure A would enact a quarter-percent county sales tax for nine years, the goal of which is to raise $12 million a year “to support the health, education and safety of underserved children,” with expanded access to programs like preschool, adolescent health-care, affordable childcare, afterschool and summer learning programs. Do it for the kids.

The Measure A effort is being undertaken against a backdrop that sees the Sausalito-Marin City School Board emerge as the highest-profile battle of any local race in the North Bay. There’s a suite working its way through state court that’s looking at how the budget is allocated in the district, which is comprised of two schools, the Willow Creek Academy, a charter school in Sausalito that has about 450 students, and the Bayside Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy in Marin City, with a little over 100 students.

Over the summer, reports surfaced that the Marin City school had been chronically shorted in the school board’s budgets, with detrimental effect on the kids, many of whom hail from the poorer side of Highway 101. Now the Department of Justice has been called into the suit to render judgment unto Sausalito, and if you make an anagram of “Sausalito Marin City” in English class you wind up with “A tony-racialism suit.”

The Sausalito-Marin City board now has a 3-2 majority of charter-school connected individuals, including the head of the charter that runs Willow Creek, William Ziegler. David Suto and Debra Turner are running to replace Ziegler and board member Caroline Van Alst. A housecleaning at the school board is in order and we endorse Suto and Turner for the Marin-Sausalito School Board.

The Sausalito-Marin City fight is all about the intersection of race and equal access to educational opportunity even as the only color that ultimately matters is, as ever, green. That reality is also unfolding via a pair of Marin County ballot measures for residents of Kent Woodlands. One is a continuation of the local tax that residents pay for a sheriff’s detail in town, Measure M. The other is a new and somewhat eyebrow-raising initiative to digitally record all the license plate numbers that roll through the rich roadways of Ross, Measure K.

We’re calling Measure K the Sean Penn Memorial El Chapo Neighborhood Watch Measure, just for kicks. You may recall that Ross resident Penn wrote a long feature last year about his time hanging out with the teflon Mexican drug lord, for Rolling Stone. I liked that story; it was weird and richly detailed, but not so much that I’m going to support the monitoring of traffic in a rich town to protect Sean Penn from the twin scourge of drug lords and Rolling Stone fact-checkers. No way. So ixnay on the urveillancesay measure, but go ahead and pay for your own cop, Kenwood-Ross: Yes on Measure M; No on Measure K.

Huffman has nominal opposition from a Republican, but 10th District State Assemblymember Marc Levine is being challenged by Veronica “Roni” Jacobi, a fellow Democrat who was the second-most vote getter in the June primary, and is on the ticket thanks to California’s non-party-humping “jungle” primary system. Levine has pushed out some good and popular policies in his three terms in the Assembly—ammo-centric gun control measures, a revolving-door ban for former lawmakers to lobby their former colleagues, the renamed Robin Williams Tunnel—but Jacobi is more of our type of progressive, with a relentless focus on climate change impacts. Her supporters often highlight that Jacobi is the only candidate in the state of California who signed on with a pledge that would ramp the climate crisis to a World War II level of national action. The former Santa Rosa city councilwoman helped that town create its landmark Climate Action Plan, and she was raised by her grandparents, who were Republican Austrian immigrants. That’s kind of temptingly exotic for these parts, and seals the deal. Jacobi for Assembly!

Speaking of the power of incumbency, the race for mayor of nearby American Canyon jumped out because Leon Garcia, the long-term incumbent, didn’t have any opposition until this summer. Along came Douglas Lloyd Lindsey, my kind of meat-and-potatoes challenger, a political neophyte who says he is running to destroy the mediocrity of incumbency, and to shake off years of accumulated frustration from sitting in at too many city council meetings.

A profile of Lindsey in a local daily paper asked—with a particularly odious sniff of snooty—whether Lindsey, a retired Teamsters trucker, was up to the task of being mayor, while not coming right out and asking if he thought of himself as stupid. Sympathy vote!

I believe Lindsey when he says he could handle complex issues and would, if elected, forswear watching PBS for analyzing planning commission reports. Plus his wife is a local school trustee. He will need her, and those planning commission reports, as American Canyon continues to expand to accommodate Napa housing needs and faces the nexus of development fallout along the way: Increased traffic and taxes, pressure on the infrastructure—they’ve got a big water-storage problem in American Canyon. Lindsey is tuned in and ticked off. So make American Canyon great again, or maybe for the first time. Douglas Lindsey for Mayor.

There are a few other Napa races worthy of attention. Rosaura Segura is one of two candidates running for Napa Valley College District Area 6 Trustee. She’s a grape grower and farmer, and partner in the groundbreaking Encanto Vineyards. Encanto opened in 2011 and is one of very few Mexican-American-owned vineyards in California or the nation. Segura’s stature is commendable and especially so given the vulnerable immigrant population that does much of the heavy lift in the fields. But—Napa has enough representation from the grape sector, period; her competitor is a licensed social worker who has been in the local education trenches for years: Debbie Alter-Starr gets the endorsement. Ditto Mariko Yamada in her race for state Senate against Bill Dodd. I like Dodd—he’s a cheerful and hardworking Tim Kaine-ish sort of formerly-Republican pro-choice pro-biz dude. But Yamada is a former social worker and she’s tuned in to elder issues, and I like that her ads keep popping up on Politico even if you don’t see much sign of her anywhere else. Yamada for State Senate District 3!

Napa is known as the reddest and most conservative of the North Bay counties, but I’m happy that they put a conservatively low three measures on the ballot this year, skipping all the letters in between and offering A, B and Z to citizens. And, actually there really are only two measures, with an asterisk on A.

But first, Z. The proposal would put a quarter-percent sales tax toward preserving and adding to open space in the county—heck yes on Measure Z. Measures A and B are both directed at animal control efforts, making sure they are humane and that all efforts are made to keep dogs, cats and rabbits from being euthanized. And “all efforts” was the problem, at first, as the supervisors said that loose language in Measure B about using “all available resources” could break the county bank. The advocates who wrote the ballot said they were talking about animal-rescue resources, no-kill shelters and the like. The compromise is that both are on the ballot, but people are instructed to vote for A, where the budget-bust language has been scrubbed. Whatever, just stop killing the bunnies. Yes on A.

Death, and its avoidance, is on the statewide ticket, too, and bears mentioning: Proposition 62 would flat-out end the death penalty in California. The presently condemned would live out their days in prison and no new capital cases would be brought. Yes on Proposition 62.

Prop 66 would expedite the appeals process in order to kickstart the executions of roughly 750 prisoners on death row. Prop 66 is notable for containing perhaps the scariest line of any ballot measure in the state, or perhaps anywhere, this year: To get the executions flowing, the measure “Exempts prison officials from [the] existing regulation process for developing execution methods.” Gulp. Hell No on Proposition 66.

So what if both death-penalty measures should pass? The plan is to execute everyone, all 750 of them, in public. And then shut down San Quentin and turn the former death rows into cannabis orchards, while saving the historic village of San Quentin and providing jobs for the minimum-security inmates in the process.

No, come on. Whichever proposition gets the most votes, prevails.

There are measures popping up all over the North Bay, some of which get our goat more than others. How about the call for fluoridation in Healdsburg? Not touching that with a 10-foot toothbrush. But how about an increased transient-occupancy tax in same said ’burg, to take their slice from the AirBnb economy? Yes, yes, go for it: Yes on Measure R. Fairfax wants to supplement Measure A with an additional local tax to provide services in that town located at the edge of the mind-body experience known as West Marin. We’re a bunch of tax-and-spend radicals, so Yes on Measure C.

In Sonoma County it must be said that whenever the issue of community separators is raised, I burst into song and exclaim—of course we support Measure K, which further enshrines and expands on the county’s ground-breaking (to the ironic extent that no ground is broken in the undeveloped separator areas), efforts to keep sprawl at bay and maintain the rural character of the region.

In case you were wondering, the song is “Come out and Play (Keep ’Em Separated),” with its catchy, punk-lite chorus to do exactly that. Of course everyone knows the 1994 MTV hit from The Offspring was a flagrant rip-off on a riff from the Agent Orange song “Bloodstains.”

Agent Orange was a great band but it was a horrible herbicide, which brings us to Measure J. The county that has worked to rub out the Roundup from its fields is also again trying to ban, yet again, genetically modified organisms via Measure J. Despite my sincere appreciation for the majickal powers of Bayer Aspirin, the corporation’s arrival in town, along with a slew of other GMO-connected heavies—ahead of the upcoming vote was an even bigger headache to handle. Yes on the GMO ban. Yes on Measure J.  

There are a couple of other races that jumped out and that felt to be particularly keyed into the endorsement metric of kindness met with competency. Cotati has a city council race underway that features candidate Eris Weaver, who works as a “facilitator and group process consultant,” which sounds great enough until you get to her books. She’s the author of  Let’s Talk About Money: A Conversation Guide for Intentional Communities, and The Art of Apology. Not sorry to say that we’ll take that sort of art over the Art of The Deal any day. Weaver for Cotati City Council!

Lastly but so far from leastly, you’d swear this whole endorsement issue was rigged, Geoff Ellsworth. The candidate for St. Helena City Council is the designated Renaissance Man of this endorsement special. He’s an artist and musician and, just like Obama himself, a longtime community activist. Ellsworth for the artist-activist-empath win!

Close to home and digging in at the hyper-hyper-hyper local level, a couple of races jumped out. For example, the race for Strawberry Recreation District Director features three candidates vying for two seats. Cale Barrett Nichols is the incumbent running against octogenarian entrepreneur Porter Davis and Pamela Bohner. The upshot of the race was laid out in a Marin Independent Journal piece from early October that highlighted the fact that voters had twice turned back bond measures to upgrade the Strawberry Recreation Center. Now the question is whether to push another bond or figure out another way to pay for repairs. Each of the candidates has qualities worthy of an endorsement, so I’m going to take the anti-incumbent route and endorse the wise elder Porter Davis, and Pamela Bohner, identified in the IJ as a student and a stay-at-home mother of three.

Similarly in Pt. Reyes Station, three candidates are vying for two seats on the Mesa Park Recreation District. Amber Distasi is the incumbent director facing off against Nolan Godfrey, athletic director at Novato High School, and Toby Nemec, a contractor from Bolinas. Another tough call. Everyone’s just so darned qualified, and decent! No offense to Godfrey or the fine town of Novato, but Distasi is also a resident of Bolinas, as is this writer—going with the home team on this one. Distasi and Nemec for Mesa Park Recreation District Director!

Proposition 64

Recommendation: No

“Legalize it” has long been a stoner dream. “Imagine all the money we could save by redirecting law enforcement resources away from pot busts and the money we could make by taxing the cannabis trade,” goes the thinking. At last, the day to vote on legalization and end costly prohibition has come with Proposition 64. But we’re not ready.

The support for Proposition 64 is telling. Most of the big money comes from, well, those with big money who see cannabis as a financial juggernaut. And it may well be. But in the North Bay and farther north, the many small growers working in the shadows fear the impact of legal pot. Without a well-crafted plan to bring these growers into the fold and keep corporate, vertically integrated companies at bay, we could be looking at severe and painful socioeconomic disruption on the North Coast.

This isn’t about protectionism. Like it or not, cannabis is the economic mainstay of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. If falling prices and over-taxation drive these small growers out of business, we’ll be looking at a spike in poverty and other socials ills that will look like Appalachia West.

And meanwhile, efforts to regulate the medical cannabis industry are barely off the ground. Adding a legal recreational market on top is simply too much too soon. Let’s legalize, yes, but let’s do it right and we think that means letting the legislature craft a bill. That’s messy and slow but it will probably, hopefully, come closer to serving the greater good. And it may help keep the feds off our backs, too.

Pacific Sun staff

Superior Court Judge—Office 2

Recommendation: Mike Coffino

Well this is a tough one. Mike Coffino, a Marin Deputy Public Defender since 2003, and Sheila Lichtblau, a Deputy County Counsel who has worked for Marin since 2006, both bring long lists of experience to the table in the race for the seat being left open by exiting Judge Faye D’Opal.

Coffino, raised in Mill Valley and a civil and criminal lawyer for the past 20 years, has represented indigent people including the homeless, those with mental illness, military veterans and immigrants. Lichtblau, a Bay Area native, has represented the poor, schools, businesses large and small, the county and the state.

Lichtblau, though currently serving both as a Superior Court Judge Pro Tem and federal mediator, lacks the courtroom experience that Coffino boasts. And we worry a bit about any political connections that she may have. Coffino, with more than 50 jury trials under his belt, has dedicated his career to defending the constitutional rights of California’s most vulnerable populations.

Coffino stresses the fact that Marin County is the only county in the Bay Area that lacks a judge with prior public defender experience. We believe that he would bring a balance of perspective to the bench.

On top of Coffino’s courtroom experience, we were impressed by his calm demeanor, and his compassion for all people when we heard him speak recently. He emphasized the importance of taking the time to listen to the stories of those he works with, and we could sense his stellar listening skills and empathy.

Pacific Sun staff

Marin County Supervisor—District 4

Recommendation: Dennis Rodoni

The race for Marin’s District 4 Supervisor is an equally tough one to endorse. Dominic Grossi, a rancher and business owner and Dennis Rodoni, director of the North Marin Water District, agree on many of the same points, and both seem ready and willing to tackle the biggest issues facing the county: Traffic, affordable housing and homelessness, to name a few.

When we interviewed the two candidates for our recent ‘Moderate Marin’ story, we found that both have deep local roots, and both are open to new ideas for problem-solving.

Grossi, 43, was endorsed by the Marin Independent Journal because of “his youth and fresh perspective.” Although we think that a fresh perspective is great, we admire Rodoni’s 20-plus years of public service. The 64-year-old has been re-elected to office five times since first being elected in 1995, and served on the boards of multiple community and governmental organizations. His priorities include opposing out-of-scale development, addressing coastal flooding and reducing the county’s carbon footprint, while protecting Marin’s small town way of life.

We must admit that we were a bit turned-off by Grossi’s voter registration switch from “Republican” to “decline not to state” before the primary. Grossi says that this was due to being tired of labels, and because he wanted everyone to know that he wants to work with everybody. We can’t be sure.

In the end, we’re going with Rodoni. And an added bonus: We like that he has been endorsed by the Sierra Club for demonstrating a commitment to environmental issues.

Pacific Sun staff

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