It’s impossible to make an informed choice in the current election of San Mateo County Harbor Commissioners without knowing a little of the sordid history of the organization. Unfortunately, that requires hip waders and a strong constitution.
In short, the San Mateo County Harbor District is governed by people more interested in fighting among themselves than managing millions in taxpayer funding and a couple of the true jewels of San Mateo County. This has been true for decades now, over a generation of elections. The San Mateo County civil grand jury has more than once suggesting disbanding it, and the Local Agency Formation Commission has repeatedly found it has “zero sphere of influence.” The Review has pleaded with the county government to do the right thing and manage it as a government agency rather than an endless collection of bad habits. All to no avail. Only recently, there have been claims of sexual harassment generating a boatload of legal bills and settlements for employees who left in a huff. Elected leaders have routinely turned routine disagreements over meeting times and such into epic personal grudge matches.
The only rational approach for voters is to vote out the incumbents. This year, voters on the coast will have two opportunities to do so.
District 4 covers most of the Coastside population and pits incumbent Tom Mattusch against two challengers, Dawn Korth and Lee Fernandez, both of whom live on this side of the hill. District 5, to the south, includes La Honda and Pescadero in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Incumbent Virginia Kiraly-Chang is running against Menlo Park’s Kirsten Keith. We didn’t bother with interviews in District 5 since we could not in good conscience endorse Kiraly-Chang.
We did talk to all three candidates in District 4 — covering Half Moon Bay and the Midcoast. After careful consideration, we suggest Korth for the job. She has lived in the Bay Area for more than 20 years and in El Granada since 2012. She calls Pillar Point Harbor her “front yard” with good reason. Not only does she live within walking distance of one of two harbors under district control, she and her husband also own two commercial fishing vessels.
That real-world knowledge gives her an understanding of how the harbor actually functions. For instance, she argues fishermen could have safely continued to sell direct to consumers in the early days of the pandemic, when the district reflexively closed the piers and parking to the public. (She wonders why farmers markets were able to make arrangements for social distancing, but the harbor couldn’t.)
Korth understands the dichotomy of our harbors. On the one hand, they are work places, where fishermen make a living for the benefit of us all. They are also magnets for visitors looking for recreation and relief from an increasingly urbanized Bay Area. She told us, “I live in paradise. I value that (people) want to come here.” For these reasons, she favors widening Johnson Pier for the safety of all and providing better educational opportunities for students and others interested in where their food comes from.
Korth is more than a local resident with a fishing background. She holds a mechanical engineering degree and works as a product manager for a large biotech firm over the hill. She has skills that will come in handy, and, in our conversation, seemed to have the even temper that is perhaps the most appealing quality of any candidate for this long-dysfunctional board.
A final note: We do not mean to disparage the many terrific, hard-working employees of the district. The Harbor Patrol, in particular, is a point of pride for all Coastsiders. How they manage to carry on in spite of dismal leadership is beyond us.
— Editorial board