The June primary is now just a month away.
With sample ballots already in most voters' hands, Monday is the first day Alameda County election officials will send out vote-by-mail ballots, marking the start of early voting ahead of Election Day on June 5.
Of course all elections are decided by those who vote, but citizens who choose to participate seem to carry more significance in midterm elections and primaries -- when voter turnout is typically low, especially in a non-presidential year like 2018.
The last time around, in June 2014, the Registrar of Voters' Office reported that only 25.77% of the 803,728 registered Alameda County voters cast a ballot (a county with an estimated population over 1.6 million). That turnout was about half as strong as the 49.33% reported in June 2016 in the middle of the Trump-Clinton race.
There is still time for eligible residents to sign up to have their voices heard this time, with May 21 the final day to register to vote in this primary election.
For voters in Pleasanton, there are plenty of races to decide.
In addition to the Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors election (previewed last week by the Weekly), city residents will help determine their local representatives for U.S. Congress, State Assembly and key countywide positions including district attorney, assessor and judge.
There's also a ballot measure to impose a new half-cent sales tax to support childcare and early education in Alameda County, a Bay Area bridge toll hike to fund regional transportation projects including the Interstate 680-Highway 84 interchange, five state propositions, and statewide positions led by the governor and senator races.
U.S. House of Representatives
Incumbent Eric Swalwell faces two political newcomers from the Tri-Valley -- Rudy Peters and Brendan St. John -- in his bid for a fourth straight term representing Congressional District 15, which runs from Livermore to the east, Hayward to the west, San Ramon and Castro Valley from the north and Fremont to the south.
The top two finishers in the June primary will face each other in a runoff election in November.
A former Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor, Swalwell has been a rising member of the Democratic Party at the state and national levels since taking office in 2013 at 32 years old.
"Serving my friends and neighbors in the 15th District is the greatest honor of my life, and I'm all in for another term of striving to help you," Swalwell told the Weekly.
"I know the economy isn't the stock market or the unemployment rate -- it's each of you, and whether you are doing better. It's your job, your education, your healthcare, your safety, and your freedom to dream of and attain a brighter future for yourself and your family," he added. "That's what I'm fighting for in Washington, and I hope you'll let me keep fighting."
Peters, a Republican, is a Navy veteran and owner of AARD Solutions, Inc., a systems engineering firm geared toward the U.S. intelligence industry. A married father of three from Livermore, Peters has never held elected office but previously served on the Livermore Human Services Commission.
"You will see I'm much more concerned with arriving at workable solutions than 'beating the other side,'" Peters said. "I will bring leadership that's interested in doing the right thing -- for our district, state and nation -- rather than continuing the current Washington 'standard': doing absolutely nothing except engaging in polarizing partisan politics."
"As a Navy veteran, intelligence expert and entrepreneur, I have the experience to safeguard our country and focus on jobs for Americans. I am committed to a strong economy, fiscal responsibility and affordable health care," Peters added.
The third candidate is Pleasanton resident St. John, a medical marketing executive and married father of three teenage children. St. John has no prior elected experience and is running without party preference -- two attributes he is promoting throughout his campaign.
"You deserve 100% focus and commitment from your representative," St. John said. "As a no-party-preference candidate who has rejected PAC (political action committee) donations, I can go to Washington focused on serving you, and not the party bosses or special interests."
"The Association of Bay Area Governments' and Sacramento's recent attempts to force massive high-density projects into our communities without voter approval erodes neighborhood integrity and I believe violates the 14th Amendment," St. John said. "I'm the only candidate who has pledged to work in Washington to protect our communities and fight this harmful unconstitutional overreach."
Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin) is running for her third consecutive term in the state's lower legislative house representing District 16, which includes the Tri-Valley, Walnut Creek and Lamorinda communities. She is being challenged by a lone Democrat, Orinda attorney Rebecca Bauer-Kahan.
The primary provides voters an initial opportunity to learn about the two women, but nothing will be fully decided at the polls next month. Because Baker and Bauer-Kahan are the only two candidates in the race, they will see each other again on the November ballot regardless of how many votes each receives in June.
An attorney who was a political newcomer when first elected in 2014, Baker has held tightly onto a key seat for the Republicans in the Democrat-laden Assembly. Still, her record in office includes working with legislators on both sides of the aisle, such as fellow Tri-Valley representative, State Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda).
"When I ran for Assembly, I promised to be independent from partisan and interest group pressures and to get things done. I've done just that, getting real results," Baker said. "This includes passing legislation to: put our California kids first for UC admissions over out-of-state students; providing more parking at BART; extend BART to ACE in Livermore; strengthen common-sense gun control; ensure equal pay for women; protect our coasts from more oil drilling; and increase classroom funding for our local schools."
"I'm honored to be the only candidate with endorsements from Democrats, Independents and Republicans on every local school board and city council. I would be very honored to earn your vote to continue getting real results for our community," she added.
Like her counterpart, Bauer-Kahan is an attorney and married mother of two who enters her first Assembly election with school volunteer and nonprofit service experience, but no elected or local government service time, trying to offer District 16 a new type of political voice in Sacramento.
"As an accomplished attorney, mother and community advocate, I am running for Assembly to help solve our community's most pressing challenges. I have a long record of taking action to solve tough problems, protecting the environment, improving our schools and more," Bauer-Kahan said.
"Last year, I coordinated the legal response to Trump's travel ban at SFO and have been a relentless advocate for keeping guns out of our schools," she added. "In the Assembly, I will focus on getting our local schools their fair share of funding to prepare students for 21st-century careers and working to find real transportation solutions, including improving BART."
Leading the Alameda County elections is the contest for its chief law enforcement officer.
Incumbent Nancy O'Malley, who climbed the ranks in the DA's Office after starting as a prosecutor there in 1984, has served as district attorney since being appointed in 2009. She won re-election in 2010 and 2014 without opposition.
This time around, O'Malley is being challenged by Oakland civil rights attorney Pamela Price, who said she is striving to bring criminal justice reform to Alameda County while becoming the first-ever black woman or person of color to serve as its DA.
"As the first woman elected district attorney in Alameda County, it has been my honor to serve you these past eight years," O'Malley told the Weekly. "Together, we have provided rehabilitation and services to thousands of victims of crime, and have led the statewide response against human trafficking through the creation of the HEAT Watch Program, which unites prosecutors, police, service providers and communities."
She added, "Alameda County needs an experienced district attorney, who understands the balance between keeping the public safe by fighting violent crime while ensuring equality so our criminal justice system does not punish people unfairly. With your support I have been that district attorney."
Price's campaign told the Weekly, "In her nearly 30-year career, Pamela successfully argued against racial discrimination in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. She survived the foster care and juvenile justice systems and went on to graduate from Yale University and UC Berkeley School of Law."
They added, "The current district attorney, Nancy O'Malley, accepted a $10,000 political contribution from police officers (Fremont) she was investigating for murdering an unarmed pregnant teenager, and then cleared the officers of any wrongdoing. Pamela Price will not accept any campaign contributions from law enforcement when she is district attorney."
O'Malley or Price would win the DA position outright next month by garnering more than 50% of the vote.
Four candidates are vying to succeed retiring Assessor Ron Thomsen as the elected official charged with determining the taxable value of all land, improvements, and business and personal property in the county.
The ballot features Alameda resident Jim Johnson, chief of the Assessor's Assessment Services Division; Newark real estate tax attorney Phong La; Fremont certified general appraiser Kevin Lopez; and Fremont resident John Weed, an assessment appeals officer and Alameda County Water District board member.
If the top finisher next month wins by over 50%, he will be directly elected; otherwise, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff election in November.
Johnson, who received Thomsen's endorsement, told the Weekly, "I'm the only experienced candidate to effectively manage your Assessor's Office. My 26-year career in the Assessor's Office includes my current position for 10 years as the chief of assessment services."
"I pledge that politics will not play a role in our assessment decision process," he added. "Based on my opponent's political endorsements, this will not happen if he's elected. For the lowest property taxes available under the law, I respectfully ask for your vote."
La said of his campaign, "I have worked directly with the Assessor's Office and have firsthand experience with the office. As a no-nonsense problem-solver, I have successfully appealed inaccurate assessments, helping many residents and business owners keep their homes and businesses."
"As your assessor, I want to ensure Alameda County is a better place to live. Alameda County residents want to live in neighborhoods with safe streets and great schools. My goal is to ensure this government agency is fair to all and does not overcharge our community," La added.
Lopez said his priorities are "to track the trends of the local real estate market to look for signs of decline in the market. A downturn would trigger an immediate review of all eligible property and in turn save Alameda County property taxpayers hundreds to thousands of dollars. (And) advocate to increase in the homeowner's exemption to give needed tax relief to the residential homeowners."
Weed said, "My experience and education are ideally suited for Alameda County assessor to help achieve lowest property taxes. For the past eight years, I have served on the Alameda County Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board, for both evaluation and legal issues ... My pledge to you: act with integrity, (improve) county services to the Tri-Valley and achieve the lowest property taxes."
Two experienced public auditors are bidding to replace Auditor-Controller/Clerk-Recorder Steve Manning, who did not seek re-election after one term in the role that dually oversees county accounting and budget audit as well as maintains recordable public documents such as birth and marriage certificates.
The race features Piedmont resident Melissa Wilk, the chief deputy auditor-controller who has been with Alameda County for more than 15 years, and Castro Valley resident Irella Blackwood, who works as chief auditor for the city and county of San Francisco.
In addition to Wilk's years serving the county, her campaign credited her for being "a key member of the finance team that helped Alameda County attain the rare 'Triple-Triple' of AAA credit ratings from all three rating agencies. All three credit rating agencies praised the county's strong management team and adherence to sound financial management policies and commitments."
Blackwood told the Weekly, "As a lifelong Alameda County resident and taxpayer, I've grown increasingly concerned that these audits of county operations are nowhere to be found, or infrequent on Alameda County's website without public transparency of the results."
"If elected, I will apply my knowledge of economics and public finance as well as trusted leadership to this critical role; ensuring that every tax dollar from Alameda County residents are maximized, and that all audits performed will be made available for the public via the county website," she added.
Superior Court Judge
One Alameda County Superior Court judgeship is being contested this June, as Judge Tara Flanagan -- who has sat on the bench since 2012 -- has been challenged by longtime county deputy public defender Karen Katz.
"For the past six years, I have had the honor of serving as a judge on the Alameda County Superior Court. With nearly 90 judges endorsing me, my colleagues know that I am a good judge -- fair, impartial, effective and compassionate. Prior to my election, my legal career focused primarily on helping the victims of domestic violence seek justice, and I am one of only four LGBT judges on the bench," Flanagan said, counting the Pleasanton Police Officers Association among her endorsements.
Katz said, "Alameda County deserves a judge who respects the fundamental constitutional right to pretrial liberty. I will not worsen inequality by setting an unaffordable bail for someone who is not a danger to public safety."
"I disagree with the court's current plan, endorsed by my opponent, to make Alameda County jurors travel to distant courthouses to hear misdemeanor trials," she added. "Thirty years as an Alameda County public defender has given me compassion for everyone involved in the court system. I will not favor either side."
The "Alameda County Childcare and Early Education Measure" seeks to create an estimated $140 million annually for improved program quality and access by in-need residents via a new half-cent sales tax countywide for 30 years.
The county's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to place the tax measure on the ballot. It needs approval from two-thirds of voters to pass.
Specifically, the ballot question asks voters, "To expand access to childcare and preschool for low- and middle-income families; help homeless and at-risk children, including help preventing child abuse and neglect; attract and retain quality childcare workers; and add spaces for childcare at locations throughout the county, shall the County of Alameda enact a 30-year 1/2% sales tax providing approximately 140 million dollars annually with citizens' oversight, public disclosure of spending, and mandatory annual audits?"
The new funding would support thousands of new scholarships for childcare and early education for Alameda County families as well as improvements to the programs and increased wages for employees, according to the proposed plan.
Those arguing in favor of Measure A on the ballot say, "Alameda County is facing a childcare crisis. Limited access to safe, affordable, quality child care and early education is taking its toll on families, educators and communities across our county. Vote Yes on A to ensure a prudent, responsible, long-term solution."
"Research shows that a child's brain develops most dramatically during the first five years of life, yet over half of our children do not arrive to school kindergarten-ready," they added.
The official argument against the measure, authored by county voter Marcus Crawley, contends, "The listed benefits of this Childcare Measure are so vague that the new sales tax could be spent in practically anything, making accountability impossible."
Crawley adds, "After this Measure is revised to be limited to a few specific purposes, it can then be resubmitted to the voters ... This Childcare Measure needs major revisions."
The childcare tax comes on the heels of county voters four years ago expanding and augmenting the transportation sales tax to one cent through 2045 as well as approving a $580 million affordable housing bond in November 2016.
Regional Measure 3
Voters across all nine Bay Area counties will decide the fate of Regional Measure 3, which proposes toll increases on the region's seven state-owned bridges to help fund $4.45 billion worth of transportation and transit projects in the Bay Area, including the Tri-Valley.
The Regional Measure 3 plan was developed last year by the State Legislature in conjunction with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, as a way to deal with congestion issues and pay for highway and transit improvements.
If approved by a combined majority of voters in the Bay Area, the toll hikes would begin with a $1 increase on the seven bridges beginning Jan. 1, 2019, followed by a $1 increase in January 2022 and another $1 increase in January 2025. (The Golden Gate Bridge is not included as it is independently owned and operated.)
Projects in or near the Tri-Valley on the list include reconstruction of the Interstate 680-Highway 84 interchange south of Pleasanton ($85 million), Bay Area corridor express lanes, BART expansion cars and Tri-Valley transit access improvements ($100 million).
U.S. Senate: Four-term incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein faces 31 challengers, including nine Democrats, 11 Republicans and 11 third-party or no-party candidates. The most-recognizable challenger comes from within Feinstein's own party: Kevin de León, a state senator from Los Angeles.
For state seats, the top two candidates, regardless of party, advance to a runoff election in November.
Governor: There are 27 candidates running to succeed termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown, a list led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), San Diego businessman John Cox (R), State Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and State Treasurer John Chiang (D).
Lt. Governor: With Newsom also termed out this year, 11 candidates are vying for lieutenant governor, including former U.S. ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich (D), Pasadena businessman Cole Harris (R) and State Senator Ed Hernandez (D-San Gabriel).
Attorney General: Incumbent Xavier Becerra, appointed last year after predecessor Kamala Harris' election to the U.S. Senate, is running for a full term against outgoing state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones (D), Los Angeles attorney Eric Early (R) and retired South Lake Tahoe Judge Steven Bailey (R).
Secretary of State: One-term incumbent Alex Padilla faces two Republicans, one Democrat and four third-party challengers, including Walnut Creek attorney Mark Meuser (R).
Controller: Incumbent Democrat Betty Yee is being challenged by Republican Konstantinos Roditis and Mary Lou Finley of the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP).
Treasurer: With Chiang running for governor, five candidates are in the race for state treasurer: Board of Equalization Chair Fiona Ma (D), Greg Conlon (R), Vivek Viswanathan (D), Jack Guerrero (R) and Kevin Akin (PFP).
Insurance Commissioner: Leading the four-candidate list is former insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, who served 2007-11 as a Republican but is running now without party preference. Also in the race are State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), Asif Mahmood (D) and Nathalie Hrizi (PFP).
Superintendent of Public Instruction: A non-partisan position, four candidates are on the ballot: Steven Ireland, Lily Ploski, State Assemblyman Tony Thurmond and Marshall Tuck.
Board of Equalization: Four candidates are running for the District 2 seat being vacated by Ma: Republican Mark Burns and Democrats Barry Chang, Malia Cohen and Cathleen Galgiani.
Proposition 68: The "Parks, Environment and Water Bond" would authorize $4 billion in state general obligation bonds for parks, environmental protection and water infrastructure projects.
Prop 69 would require Senate Bill 1 funds to be spent on transportation projects and exempt SB 1 revenues from the state appropriations limit.
Prop 70 would require a one-time two-thirds vote in each State Legislature chamber in 2024 or later to pass a spending plan for revenue from the state's cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.
Prop 71 aims to change the date for when voter-approved ballot measures take effect from the day after the election to five days after the secretary of state confirms the election result.
Prop 72 is Glazer's proposal to exclude new rainwater capture systems from property tax reassessments.
Editor's note: The Weekly asked each candidate for a 100-word statement to Pleasanton voters for this preview story. The full statements provided by candidates can be view here.