For most local residents, the Board of Supervisors is a body they know little about. Many would not be able to identify their district or their supervisor if you asked them.
We believe this would change dramatically if voters approve a new way to elect supervisors — from the current countywide elections to district elections. Under the present system, each of the five supervisors represents a specific geographic area but must run countrywide, which creates a huge visibility problem that only candidates with substantial financial resources or backing can resolve. The county has 340,000 registered voters, and one direct mail piece to reach those likely to vote can cost more than $40,000, candidates say.
Measure B could change all that by requiring each candidate for supervisor to run only in his or her own district. In that way, many more local candidates could compete for this prestigious position, often a steppingstone to higher office. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo started as a supervisor in 1982.
District elections could intensify the interest. Of the seven candidates who ran in the District 4 primary election in June, the two front runners were from Redwood City, but among the runners-up were three from Menlo Park and one from East Palo Alto. A more contained election could also attract candidates from unincorporated North Fair Oaks and Oak Knoll. District voters may have much more exposure to county issues than they have today.
Oddly, some current supervisors oppose by-district elections, claiming that each supervisor represents all county residents. We find that argument specious, given the varied landscape and development of San Mateo County, which includes maritime communities along the Pacific coast as well as densely populated urban areas adjacent to San Francisco Bay. There are distinctly different regions in the county that deserve to be represented, which has rarely happened under the present system. San Mateo County is the only one of the state's 58 counties to hold at-large elections. It is time to change this archaic system so that supervisors are much more accountable to their constituents.
We urge voters to support county Measure B, to elect supervisors by district.