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January 05, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, January 05, 2005

GUEST OPINION: Insider Nevin gets SamTrans seat GUEST OPINION: Insider Nevin gets SamTrans seat (January 05, 2005)

By Steve Schmidt

San Mateo County Supervisor Mike Nevin of Daly City is officially termed off the board as of this Monday, but that has not stopped him from finding a way to maintain his public visibility.

Public visibility is important to Mr. Nevin because he is apparently planning to run for Jackie Speier's state Senate seat in 2006 and there's no political hell like the hell of holding no office. While Mr. Nevin has been on the Board of Supervisors for the past 12 years, he has held seats on the SamTrans board that operates the bus system, the joint powers board that operates Caltrain, and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. Only his holding a seat on the SamTrans board enables him to stay on as a member of these other boards. And stay on he will, thanks to his cronies on the SamTrans board.

Maybe you are asking why you should care. On the surface, these boards may look like small potatoes, but look again: In 2000 the SamTrans board was responsible for "lending" BART approximately $71 million for the San Mateo County BART extension to Millbrae, while bus service was reduced all over the county. The loan is to be repaid if SamTrans turns a profit on the extension, but the projections look poor. Don't hold your breath for the repayment of the money.

So how did Mr. Nevin keep a seat on the SamTrans board? Conveniently, career politician and board fixture Al Teglia of Daly City agreed to step down, allowing the board to hand Mr. Nevin Mr. Teglia's seat, one that is officially reserved for a member of the public.

The nine-member SamTrans board was originally structured to ensure a board of diverse interests and geographical balance. In practice however, the board has been dominated by the Board of Supervisors and Daly City. The rules give the supervisors control over three appointments. Another three appointments must be council members chosen by the cities of the county (one appointment each from the northern, the central and the southern judicial districts). The last three seats are public members. Mr. Nevin has taken a page from Mr. Teglia's playbook: Mr. Teglia has served on the board for 20 years, the last six years as a public member.

As a SamTrans board member for five years ending in 2002, I was a witness to the shenanigans used by the perennial board majority in order to enforce loyalty and predictability. There's something wrong with a county board being dominated by a politician whose primary goal is to advance his own career.

I was never certain as to why the board leadership resorted to such insular tactics in order to guarantee loyalty and minimize discussion of such issues as countywide bus-service levels and details of the BART extension into San Mateo County. I do know that in my eight years of elected public service I never witnessed a culture of allegiance and intimidation such as that displayed by the SamTrans board and Mr. Nevin.

Finagling a public seat on the SamTrans board so as to keep his persistent presence in the county is evidence that nothing much has changed in the last 10 years. Were the county supervisors elected by district, as they are in 56 of the 58 counties in California, it would be possible to break this ongoing monopoly by a supervisor and his cronies from Daly City. Daly City has the largest population in the county and their voters can swing a countywide election, including the supervisor seat for District 4, Menlo Park's district.

It should come as no surprise that Mr. Nevin's replacement as supervisor is Adrienne Tissier of Daly City. Of course, Ms. Tissier ran unopposed for Mr. Nevin's seat. It was more of a hand-off than an election.

Steve Schmidt is a former Menlo Park City Council member who served on the SamTrans board for five years.

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