Almanac

News - August 27, 2014

Election: Three of five candidates want to change health care district

by Tiffany Lam

Five candidates are running for three open seats on the governing board of the Sequoia Healthcare District in the Nov. 4 election, including three who advocate allowing voters to decide whether the district should exist.

Incumbent candidate Jack Hickey said he wants to leave the decision to dissolve the district up to voters, and is joined on the ballot by candidates who support that position: small business owner John McDowell and retired businessman Mark J. De Paula.

Incumbent candidates Dr. Gerald "Jerry" Shefren and Arthur Faro said they think the district's programs provide a public health benefit to district residents, and want voters to return them to the board to continue this work.

Currently, the district spends $9 million a year, a portion of countywide property taxes from residents within the district, on local health projects and nonprofit health care organizations.

District funds were previously used to operate Sequoia Hospital, built in 1946. The hospital was sold in 1996 to Dignity Health, and the hospital district converted into the Sequoia Healthcare District.

Dissolving the district would not reduce taxes for district residents, but redistribute the portion currently allocated to the district to other county agencies, such as school districts and cities, according to Mark Hudak, general counsel for the district, in a 2008 memo.

Voting in favor of dissolution would begin a process involving the Local Agency Formation Commission, which would hold public hearings and issue reports to determine whether dissolution is in the public interest, according to Mr. Hudak.

The district serves 220,000 residents in central and southern San Mateo County, including the cities of Atherton, Belmont, Redwood City, Portola Valley, San Carlos, Woodside, and portions of Menlo Park, Foster City, and San Mateo.

Candidate information

Mr. Hickey is a retired research scientist and has been on the district board for 11 years. He has long campaigned for the dissolution of the district. "If it didn't already exist, would we create such a district — whose elected directors dole out tax dollars to their favorite charities?" Mr. Hickey said in his candidate statement.

Mr. McDowell said he has worked as a press secretary in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Small Business Administration. If voters support the district's current philanthropic purposes, Mr. McDowell wants the district to use its allocated funds to benefit the entire county, or to spend them on programs that are available to all taxpayers in the district, according to his candidate statement.

In response, Mr. Michelson, CEO of the Sequoia Healthcare District, said that health programs and organizations must already use district funds to provide for district residents. Also, the district requires the organizations to report on outcomes, numbers of people served, and where those people reside.

Mr. De Paula is a retired telecommunications industry worker and Vietnam War-era veteran of the U.S. Air Force. "I support dissolving the district," said Mr. De Paula in his candidate statement. "The district should not distribute tax dollars to favored special interest groups."

Dr. Shefren is a physician and president of the five-member district board. "The district grants program has improved community health," Dr. Shefren said in his candidate statement. "It expands access through free clinics for indigent residents and provides grants to not-for-profit organizations that focus on disease prevention."

Mr. Faro is vice president of the district board. He is a retired CEO of Sequoia Hospital.

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