Voter's Guide: Nuances abound in supervisor runoff


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By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Former sheriff Don Horsley and small business owner April Vargas are in a runoff election for the District 3 San Mateo County Board of Supervisors seat now occupied by termed-out supervisor Rich Gordon of Menlo Park.

A runoff is necessary because, of the five candidates who ran for supervisor in the June primary election, Mr. Horsley and Ms. Vargas led the field but neither received more than 50 percent of the vote.

Mr. Horsley, 66, received 38.6 percent of the vote. He resides in Emerald Hills and has substantial experience as a local elected official, including 14 years as sheriff -- he retired in 2007 -- and four years on the board of the Sequoia Healthcare District, a special district that distributes property tax revenues in support of public health.

"I'm aware of what the community's problems are," Mr. Horsley said when asked in an interview why voters should choose him. "I'm aware of how to continue to make this county the best it can possibly be."

April Vargas, 60, is a small business owner from Montara and serves on several county governmental committees, the environmental group Committee for Green Foothills and others. She finished second in the primary with 24.2 percent of the vote.

Ms. Vargas would be the first supervisor in 40 years from the county's coastal community. "I'm definitely the outsider candidate," she said.

"I've been self-employed for 30 years and have had to learn to live within my means," she said in explaining why voters should choose her. "We really need someone (on the board) with a background in business."

Reversing a trend

Public money and how to spend it in hard times will have the close attention of the county's five supervisors. If current trends continue, by 2014 the county will have a structural deficit of $150 million.

In the 2010-11 fiscal year, which began July 1, the county plans to spend $1.8 billion, including $90 million from reserves, continuing a trend of drawing from reserves that began with the 2007-08 budget.

Mr. Horsley's view on getting expenses in line with revenues focuses on public safety and health care -- reflective of his experience, he said. Among his cost-saving ideas:

■ Have jailed pregnant women sent home where they could be electronically monitored.

■ Evaluate patients now in skilled nursing care for less expensive assisted living, and ask nonprofit hospitals to raise their intake of charity cases, given that the national average is 6 percent and locally it's 2 percent.

■ Consolidate county firefighting agencies to maintain the number of actual firefighters but lower the number of managers a savings of about $8 million, Mr. Horsley said.

Ms. Vargas agreed that firefighting management could be consolidated and proposed several other ideas:

■ With county pension obligations under-funded by about $1 billion, raise the retirement age and employee contributions to health care and pension benefits, and cap pension benefits for the highest wage earners.

■ Reduce the number of managers in county offices. San Mateo County, according to a recent county managers report that Ms. Vargas cited, leads the Bay Area with one manager for every 5.6 employees, compared to 9.6, 9.1 and 8.8 in Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, respectively.

■ Reduce the size of the county's vehicle fleet. Ms. Vargas cited a 2010 grand jury report that predicted $1.7 million in savings if drivers used their own vehicles and were reimbursed for their mileage.

Getting railroaded?

If high-speed-rail plans advance as rail authorities envision, there will be more trains running through Atherton, Menlo Park and other Peninsula communities, but they will be electric and run either above or below ground.

Does the Board of Supervisors have a say in how this unfolds?

The county owns the right-of-way and if the rail authority doesn't "do what we want, they can't come in," Mr. Horsley said. The principle issue, he said, is whether to elevate or lower the track. He said he would work toward results that are "sensible and cost-effective but at the same time won't destroy our communities."

"I am in favor of high-speed rail," he added, speaking personally. "It's good for the state of California, good for the nation, and good for San Mateo County."

As for ownership of the railroad right-of-way, San Mateo County is in a Joint Powers Authority with Santa Clara and San Francisco counties, both of which stand to gain with terminal stops in the proposed plan.

The rail authority, Ms. Vargas said, hasn't kept in mind how critical it is to include the people. She recommended that the county take the lead by organizing Peninsula communities on what to support and what to oppose.

"We need three points that we could rally around," she said. "This is a project with major impacts in San Mateo County. Citizens need input on what that looks like and how to come up with the best possible plan."

That approach seemed to work on the coast in the 1990s, she said. While "not exactly analogous," a grass-roots effort convinced state transportation authorities to forego plans for a section of highway around Devil's Slide and instead build a tunnel and protect scenic values, she said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Doug L. Chen
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2010 at 7:57 am

Interesting article on Don picking up a Tea Party endorsement.

Web Link

And does anyone remember this example of cronyism from way back in '97?

Web Link

Don has a long history with the County, and it's all worth reading about, not just the part he wants to remind us about.

Like this comment
Posted by informed voter
a resident of Woodside High School
on Oct 13, 2010 at 8:27 am

Nuances? There are huge differences in these two candidates and I put my vote to Don Horsley, hands-down and no-brainer! We need experience and leadership now more than ever. Mr. Horsley has those qualities along with integrity, compassion and brains. I don't dislike Ms. Vargas and applaud her for her community activism but she really needs some experience in order to take on a job like Supervisor.

I find that I don't trust her based on her recent campaign attack tactics. I also find it (intentionally) misleading to state: "I've been self-employed for 30 years and have had to learn to live within my means," ... "We really need someone (on the board) with a background in business." With all due respect to small business owners, when your business has no employees and no overhead to speak of, making a statement like that insinuates that you have way more experience than you really do. Don Horsley ran an organization with budgets totaling hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of employees and he did it very well.

I have been on both sides of issues with Don Horsley and I have the utmost respect for him. He has always conducted himself professionally, he listens, he thinks (this is a big one!), and he is good at bringing people together to solve problems. We want more people like Don Horsley helping to solve problems in our community.

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2010 at 11:56 am

Horsley is just a pawn for those entrepreneurs like the Woodside poster above, who can demand a bunch of favors and special treatment like the ex supervisor, Richard Gordon, who did a disservice to all of the COUNTY by cowtowing to the rich in exchange for favors to help him climb the ladder slowly to Assemblyman....Those days are over and it is time to recognize that the majority of the people are closer to April Vargas in their economic situations.
The only people outside of the GOLDEN CORRIDOR to receive benefits, was the sheriff's department in Moss Beach according to Coastsiders who lost a fortune under Gordon and lead Half Moon Bay into bankruptcy. THAT is part of a supervisor's job.

Like this comment
Posted by nlmwrites
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Don Horsley is the best qualified person to represent voters in 3rd Supervisorial District, and he deserves our votes. April Vargas has served for many years as the political enforcer for a one-issue environmental lobbying group, seeing the world through a single, narrow perspective. Our issues - jobs, the economy, etc. are not hers.

Don Horsley has been a parent, a teacher, a law enforcement officer, and has successfully managed the budget of a very large governmental agency. He has the experience and the open-mindedness to listen to, not lecture at, his constituents.

It's a big District and we need someone who can represent ALL of our interests.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Mangini
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 13, 2010 at 11:26 pm

The Emerald Hills Homeowners Association has endorsed Don Horsley for District 3 Supervisor as the person best qualified to represent the Emerald Hills community because he has shown himself to be someone who listens to all sides of the issues and who is open to acting on behalf of the people he would represent - not just those he agrees with.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 14, 2010 at 6:45 am

If you like the status quo of the San Mateo good old boys club vote for Horsley.

Like this comment
Posted by a coastsider
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2010 at 8:55 pm

April Vargas has exercised a singular activist purpose, and that has been the environment. She lacks the acumen or talent to work with people of differing points of view. She is polarizing and is definitely not astute or experienced regarding business practices, legislation, and the judicial systems. I voted for Mr. Horsley.

Like this comment
Posted by Cass
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 15, 2010 at 4:37 pm

The idea of an ex-sheriff, with decades of cronyism and paybacks, being in a position to legislate in favor of his buddies is just chilling. People in law enforcement tend to be very cynical about their fellow citizens. We sure don't need a good ole boy on the board of supes. I'll vote for Ms. Vargas to bring in new blood, get some representation for a part of SMC that's overlooked, and look optimistically to the future of our excellent county. I won't vote for the past as represented by the old white guys.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Vargas does not have the past that Horsley has, but what she does have is a capable and innovative state of mind.

I cannot imagine Horsley thinking afresh about anything. Yes, he has a lot of public experience, but that's a formula for stale thinking. There is too, too, too much CRONYISM IN SAN MATEO COUNTY GOVERNMENT!

Out with the old!

Like this comment
Posted by a coastside resident
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:09 pm

"Old White guys". Take another look at Supervisors Jacobs Gibson and Groom. April Vargas isn't needed. Women are well represented already. Besides, April isn't capable and experienced enough. Have you ever seen her on the MCC in Moss Beach?! I live on the Coastside and my neighbors and I voted for Don Horsley.

Like this comment
Posted by questioner
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Why has April and her surrogates gotten so negative? April is stooping very low. We voted for Don Horsley.

Like this comment
Posted by PTowns
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2010 at 9:04 am

[Post removed. Looks like wholesale and unsubstantiated allegations.]

Like this comment
Posted by political observer
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I am so disappointed in the Democratic mailers, that I plan to leave the Democratic party. Don Horsley is the Democratic choice; what's up with those mailers?!

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Political observer,

I'm not sure what you mean about Democratic mailers,
The Democrat Committee endorses April Vargas.

When I ran for Supervisor this last June I refused to submit an application for the endorsement of the Democratic Committee, I did not think they as an organization did anything to assure San Mateo County citizens that nobody is above the law.

I just read a mailer for Don Horsley paid for by D.H. not the Democrats
On the back We're supporting Don Horsley for Supervisor.
3 Supervisors 2 Congresswomen. all members of Service League of San Mateo County.
No mention of Rich Gordon for some reason.
California Nurses Association which received $1,600,000 from Sequoia Healthcare District where Don Horsley is president.

Like this comment
Posted by concerned
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 25, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I think April is running a negative campaign. She keeps mentioning Don's retirement pension, which he earned! It is true that civil service pensions are being recast in many municipalities now. But I keep wondering why April has to go negative? A good candidate gives reasons for electing them. My family of 10 is voting for Don Horsley.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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