In the wake of the Beachwood lawsuit and the resulting financial storm that threatened to upend Half Moon Bay, the city has shed departments and employees to make a streamlined City Hall to fit its budget. As a consequence, the role of local government has also changed.
The job of leading Half Moon Bay is put in the hands of five City Council members, who share voting power for all major decisions. Two of those seats are up for election this November, and four city residents have stepped forward as candidates. Here’s an introduction:
A City Council member since 2003, Marina Fraser casts herself as the experienced candidate who has built the relationships and know-how to get things done for Half Moon Bay.
The 53-year-old describes the city as better-off, more functional, and more engaged than when she first took office nearly a decade ago. To illustrate that claim, she points to the city’s success in obtaining grants to improve local road and trails along with hashing out a land swap that gave the city ownership of Smith Field.
These things don’t come quickly, she said.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s patience,” she said. “We’ve been working on making connections with our county counterparts; it’s taken time to build that up and we’re seeing the fruits of that.”
Fraser, a project manager at Genentech, first became actively involved in small-town politics when she joined the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission in the late 1990s. She ran for council unsuccessfully in 2001, but tried a second time two years later and won the most votes of any candidate. She ran unopposed in 2007.
For her prospective third term, Fraser says she would put a priority on trying to secure funding to rebuild the local library branch, a goal that has eluded city officials for years. As a sitting member of the San Mateo County Library Joint-Powers Authority, she says she would make a concerted effort to obtain more community funding and grants.
Earlier this year, Fraser distanced herself from her council colleagues by being the lone vote against placing Measure J on the November ballot. It is a half-cent sales tax that would go to pay for infrastructure. That was a different stance from 2010, when she supported a one-cent tax to provide more money for city services. That effort ultimately failed.
Explaining her decisions, Fraser said she couldn’t support putting Measure J on the November ballot because she didn’t think the city was facing a financial emergency. The two situations were completely different, she said.
“That was an extreme financial situation to raise sales taxes to keep police and city services; we needed that sales tax,” she said. “I just don’t feel this is the right time for a sales tax.”
John Charles Ullom
A neophyte in the halls of government, John Ullom nonetheless has made a name for himself as a different sort of political animal.
Writing as “skygizmo,” “Soda or Pop” or more recently as himself, Ullom has established himself as one of the most active and opinionated bloggers on the Coastside, authoring hundreds of posts on the Review’s Talkabout Web forum covering things as disparate as local politics and the new paint-job at the Stone Pine Shopping Center.
City Hall officials know the 52-year-old as a skeptic. Last year, he filed more public records requests than anyone else in town, seeking information on the city’s building projects and expenditures. Ullom says a confluence of factors pulled him from being an armchair quarterback on city politics and entering the council race.
Describing himself as a libertarian who still believes in government, he first became interested in local politics in 2010 by actively opposing Measure K, a sales tax measure that was ultimately defeated. That snowballed to further involvement. This year, he has been working to prevent the Coastside Fire Protection District from severing its ties with the state fire agency CalFire. He decided to throw his hat in the ring as a way to raise awareness of a series of city missteps he says were mostly ignored by the public.
At the top of his list are concerns about the city’s newly finished emergency operations center — a $1.1 million building he describes as unnecessary and illogical. He also questioned recent hiring practices and expenditures, saying it has become increasingly difficult to get answers to how the city is spending taxpayers’ money.
“It seems they’re not being straight with us and respecting our intelligence,” he said. “I think hard questions don’t get asked by anyone in charge.”
Living in the city, off and on, over the course of 17 years, Ullom has worked as a “jack of all trades” computer specialist. If elected, he hopes to make transparency his foremost goal. He would like to see almost all city records available online and accessible to the public without a formal request.
A lifetime Coastside resident, John Muller has served as mayor, water board president and sewer director — but he is best known around town simply as “Farmer John.”
The 66-year-old pumpkin grower has served on the City Council since being appointed in 2006, but he counts more than four decades of political experience. Before joining the council, he served the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and 11 terms with the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board. After all that, he said he’s raring to do more.
“I have a proven track record of strong leadership, and I have the energy to give four more years,” he said.
His guiding principles for leadership, he says, are to show dedication, share his time generously and most importantly, always show respect to others.
“I’m not perfect, but I work really hard to be nice to people,” he said. “Sometimes that’s hard because people aren’t nice to you back.”
As a result of his efforts, he has reaped many rewards for Half Moon Bay, he said. Being an honest and courteous partner, he said, helped the city acquire Smith Field and helped build a friendly relationship with a family of landowners who later gave the city the 12-acre Glencree property.
After years of tough decision-making and staff reductions, Muller foresees a positive future for Half Moon Bay, saying the city will prosper as it sees more tourism. With the Devil’s Slide tunnel set to open, he said the city must put emphasis on upgrading its aging infrastructure to be safe and reliable.
For that reason, he hopes local voters will also approve Measure J, a half-cent sales tax that would help pay for road repairs, sewer renovations and other capital improvement projects.
A local for 14 years, Harvey Rarback wants the best future for Half Moon Bay. And that, he says, is why the incumbent council members have got to go.
A retired physics professor and scientist, Rarback says a pattern of bungled projects and “poor decision-making” should be proof for voters that the city needs new leadership. As evidence of poor management, he points to the city’s “wasteful” emergency operations center, the hiring of a public-relations firm and the loss of a civil lawsuit over the Kehoe ditch-clearing project. At the center of those troubles, he says, are old-guard council members who have controlled the power in the city in recent years.
As an alternative, he presents himself as an “intelligent-growther” candidate, committed to controlled development and appropriate permitting.
“I would try to govern more intelligently,” he said. “(The old guard) think they’re doing a fine job, which should make you worry.”
“I’ve had some bad experiences with the existing old guard,” he said. “Finally I had the time to do something on the dysfunction in the City Council.”
If elected, Rarback says he would push city staff to make extra efforts to comply with coastal land-use rules and endangered species protections. As goals, he would like to lay the groundwork to build a halfway house for the disabled and some kind of athletic space.
A newcomer to the political realm, Rarback spent most of his life studying and teaching physics. He earned a Ph.D. in physics at Stony Brook University in 1983, writing his dissertation on the development of an X-ray microscope. Out of the university, he spent years as a research scientist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and later as an application developer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
Politics and science, he said, should not be mutually exclusive.
“Because of my training, I think logically,” he said. “Now I have to apply that logical thinking to governing.”