The Coastside News Group asked the four candidates vying to replace San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley to respond to three questions about their priorities and plans for District 3, which includes the Coastside, and the county as a whole. One more specific question asks how candidates would improve efficiency in public works projects such as the Miramar pedestrian bridge at a time when infrastructure repairs should increase significantly. Almost two years after closing the bridge, the Board of Supervisors approved a contract for repairs at its April 5 meeting.
Responses from Ray Mueller and Laura Parmer-Lohan appeared last week. Those of Virginia Chang Kiraly appear today. Answers have been edited slightly for consistency, clarity and length. Only basic information about the candidates’ biographies are included here. More information can be found on their websites.
Steven Booker is the fourth candidate running for the District 3 seat. He has been the political and community affairs director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 617 since 2014. The Half Moon Bay resident has not held public office but has served on various boards and committees for community organizations.
Coastside News Group contacted all four candidates at the same time in advance of last week’s edition. At deadline, Booker had not yet responded to this newspaper’s questions. His campaign website lists five issues he intends to address: affordable housing, reduced traffic congestion, internet access for underserved communities, improved police-community relations and tackling climate change.
Virginia Chang Kiraly
Virginia Chang Kiraly has served on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District board of directors since 2011 and the San Mateo County Harbor District board since 2015. She has worked in corporate financial analysis, planning and investments.
What are two of your top priorities for the district and the county if you become supervisor? What specific steps would you take to achieve your goals?
Public safety to keep our communities safe in terms of emergency response, initially focusing on developing a water rescue program for the San Mateo County coast and looking at the county’s ambulance contract so that ambulance service is being delivered in a timely manner to all county residents, especially in the rural areas for residents like the farmworkers and Coastside residents.
Public safety includes protecting and making our communities resilient to natural disasters, such as clearing public and private lands of fire fuel to protect against wildfires, and working with all relevant public agencies to support funding infrastructure projects to combat sea level rise and to meet our growing housing and transportation needs. The pandemic and CZU Lightning Fire have shown us that universal broadband is essential in our county, so I want connectivity throughout the county to be a high priority and support universal broadband.
Public health, with a focus on funding resources for mental illness and mental health, looking at ways to support caregivers and workers in this profession, and working with stakeholders to decriminalize mental illness and provide support services to those who are at risk to themselves and to the public is key. Working with nonprofits, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Mateo County, can leverage resources to provide services for mental illness and mental health.
While these are two of my top priorities, they go hand-in-hand with managing our county finances so that these priorities can be realized through better financial planning.
How would you balance the needs of the district with the priorities of other parts of the county?
As a Harbor Commissioner, I have tried my best to balance the needs of all the county residents. Because District 3 is so large, I believe its needs reflect the needs of the rest of the county at a fundamental level. District 3 is geographically and socio-economically diverse just like San Mateo County. Serving San Mateo County residents living on the bay side and the Coastside for the last 6 1/2 years, I have worked to meet the diverse needs of the residents. I would look at general goals such as ensuring that all government agencies work together to protect the county from natural disasters; ensuring that public and private open spaces, commercial spaces and residential neighborhoods are clear of fire fuel; maximizing all transportation options, including ferry transportation; and funding resources for mental illness and mental health.
All of these are countywide issues. Specific needs for the coast include enhancing farmworker housing in our agricultural areas, supporting the county’s commercial fishing industry at Pillar Point Harbor and ensuring that emergency response and communications are robust because the coast has limited ingress and egress for first responders and spotty connectivity from Pacifica down to the Santa Cruz county border.
The Miramar pedestrian bridge closed for replacement in July 2020. At the time, the county’s notice stated that the short bridge would remain closed “for at least a year.” Since then the concrete portion of the bridge collapsed, fortunately not harming anyone. Now Public Works says replacement will begin in June. How would you increase efficiency on infrastructure work for future projects?
I have had the opportunity to work on issues with the county’s Public Works Department as a task force member of the Santa Cruz Avenue Corridor Study (in West Menlo Park) and gave public input in support of the Coastal Commission’s recommendation to move forward with the Mirada Road Pedestrian Bridge Replacement and Bank Stabilization Project.
Based on my experience, I think there are two ways to help improve and increase efficiency on infrastructure work for future projects. The first is to streamline the permitting process for projects through increased staffing and having public agencies work together to avoid overlaps in permitting needs. The Harbor Board approved the Surfer’s Beach restroom project and the ADA restroom project at Pillar Point Harbor. The Harbor District has not been able to move forward with these projects in a timely manner because they are stuck in the permitting process with the city of Half Moon Bay for the Surfer’s Beach restroom project and San Mateo County for the ADA restroom project at Pillar Point Harbor. I’m sure that staff is trying its best to shepherd these projects through the permitting process, but there may not be enough staff to handle these permits, and others, in a timely manner.
The second way to increase efficiency is to start the public process with true public engagement. Inefficiencies arise when the process is flawed, and many of these flaws stem from the lack of engagement by the Board of Supervisors with the local residents and/or government agencies that would be directly affected, and by listening to one stakeholder instead of a broad set of stakeholders.
For example, in the Santa Cruz Avenue Corridor Study there was insufficient engagement of residents when parking spaces were being removed and replaced with bike lanes in an area that saw approximately 25,000 cars travel daily through this corridor. Further, some of the streets impacted are primary response routes to Stanford Hospital. Had all the relevant stakeholders been engaged at the beginning of this project, especially neighbors, residents and the fire district, then thoughtful input would have been considered to discuss the diverse needs of roads and streets.
Therefore, the most basic tenet of being inclusive of and transparent to all relevant stakeholders should be included at the beginning of the process before decisions are made at the county level that might affect neighborhoods and safety.