It's election time once again, and although these midterm primary campaigns haven't generated as much intrigue as we'd see in a presidential election year, there are nonetheless a handful of important topics on the ballot for Tri-Valley voters this June.
Some local issues and offices will be decided outright, including the proposed Alameda County childcare sales tax, the Bay Area bridge toll hike and any county elected position in which the top vote-getter earns more than 50% of the vote.
On the other hand, the 15th Congressional District and 16th State Assembly District seats will automatically advance to a runoff election in November featuring the top two finishers in next month's primary. And any Alameda County seat without a 50%-plus winner would also move on to a two-candidate runoff.
There are also a variety of statewide offices and propositions on the ballot for which we will not be making endorsements. Educate yourself on all of the contests this spring and be sure to cast your ballot to have your voice heard.
Here are our recommendations for the local races:
Measure A, the "Alameda County Childcare and Early Education Measure," seeks to create an estimated $140 million annually for improved childcare and early education program quality and access by in-need residents via a new half-cent sales tax countywide for 30 years.
The need for quality, affordable childcare and early education is undeniable, but this measure is not the solution.
The funds will be used to provide "high quality child care and early education services" to low- and middle-income children and increase "wages for child care providers and early educators." Perhaps making the wording vague was intentional, to avoid limitations and restrictions before the situation is assessed. However, voters deserve more clarity on how these tax dollars will be spent.
Also, because priority will be given to low- and middle-income children, it's difficult to see how the Tri-Valley will benefit from the tax.
We encourage a No vote on this measure.
Regional Measure 3
Regional Measure 3 asks voters in nine Bay Area counties to approve three successive $1 increases in bridge tolls on all Bay Area bridges except the Golden Gate Bridge, and thereafter tolls would be increased with the rise of the Consumer Price Index. To pass, a majority of voters in each county must approve the measure.
The new tolls are expected to generate about $4.5 billion for transportation projects throughout the Bay Area. Some projects in or near the Tri-Valley stand to benefit, most notably reconstruction of the Interstate 680-Highway 84 interchange south of Pleasanton and Tri-Valley transit access improvements.
While RM3 would secure funding for those vital local projects, we believe the toll increases -- along with the implementation of inflation escalators -- ask for too much and attempt to leverage the public's frustration over bad traffic to disproportionately penalize bridge commuters, a small fraction of voters and therefore an easy target.
Funding important regional transportation infrastructure projects should ideally come through state tax revenues, which are progressive in their distribution of the tax burden. That is exactly what was achieved with the passage of Senate Bill 1 last year by the California Legislature.
Bay Area business leaders and their advocacy organizations need to work more on the root cause of our transportation problems -- the continued approvals of new commercial development without the housing needed to accommodate the employees.
Until that becomes their priority, taxpayers will continue to be pressured to pay for transportation improvements that seek the impossible: the accommodation of the ever-increasing number of workers commuting long distances from affordable housing.
Vote No on RM3.
In the race for Alameda County District Attorney, incumbent Nancy O'Malley, who has served in the role since being appointed in 2009, is being challenged by Oakland civil rights attorney Pamela Price.
O'Malley, who started in the DA's Office as a prosecutor in 1984, has risen to become a leader in bringing awareness to human trafficking and helping victims of domestic violence.
Price says she is running to bring criminal justice reform to Alameda County. She wants to make incarceration a "last resort" by expanding alternatives to incarceration and eliminating the cash bail system. Also, to end "mass incarceration," Price would stop prosecuting some crimes, like minor property offenses and other non-violent crimes.
Wanting to basically decriminalize some offenses and diminish consequences, coupled with her lack of experience as a prosecutor, emphasizes that Price does not have the knowledge or background required to be the county's top prosecutor.
Granted, O'Malley accepting a campaign contribution of $10,000 from the Fremont's police union while the DA's office was investigating two fatal officer involved shootings in 2017 gives us pause. The appearance of impropriety is not acceptable.
We support the re-election of Nancy O'Malley, but would like to see the office increase transparency in police misconduct investigations and for O'Malley to return the union money.
Superior Court Judge
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Tara Flanagan is being challenged by longtime county deputy public defender Karen Katz.
We see no need to unseat Flanagan, who has sat on the bench since 2012 and is one of only four LGBT judges on the bench, and recommend a vote for Flanagan.
Two very qualified, experienced public auditors are seeking to replace Alameda County Auditor-Controller/Clerk-Recorder Steve Manning, who did not seek re-election after one term.
Vying for the role, which oversees county accounting and maintains recordable public documents, are Melissa Wilk of Piedmont, the chief deputy auditor-controller who has been with Alameda County for more than 15 years, and Irella Blackwood of Castro Valley, chief auditor for the city and county of San Francisco.
Both have impressive backgrounds and accomplishments, but we feel Wilk's success and depth of experience in the office as chief deputy gives her the edge over Blackwood.
Alameda County is one of only two counties in the state with the highest possible 'Triple-Triple' designation of AAA credit rating from all three reporting agencies. The agencies praised the county's "strong management team and adherence to sound financial management policies and commitments," as well as its proactive approach to managing pension liabilities.
Blackwood has questioned transparency in the office because performance audits are not available on the county's website. Wilk responded to our question about that by saying while there is a standard in county governments to make financial audits available online, there is no consistent practice for operational or performance audits and "it is not atypical for counties to not include all of those (audits) on their websites."
"There's never been a question or concern," she told us. "But now that it's been raised, I have no problem putting all those performance and operational audits online."
Wilk's institutional knowledge that will keep the county on its current successful path, a holistic vision for both departments of the office, and a commitment to make more information available to the public online make her the best candidate.
Four men are vying to succeed retiring Assessor Ron Thomsen: Jim Johnson, Phong La, Kevin Lopez and John Weed. Because the candidates have varied levels of experience and name recognition, we find it highly unlikely that a winner will be decided in this primary.
We prefer candidates Johnson and La, and expect to see them facing each other in a runoff election in November.
Johnson has 26 years of experience with the Assessor's Office, including the past 10 years as its assessment services chief. He offers key leadership experience that would be vital in the position, and he vows to do all he can to keep politics out of his decision-making -- which can be a plus in this type of elected office.
La is a real estate tax attorney from Newark, and while he doesn't work for the department, he certainly has plenty of experience working with the Assessor's Office from the other side of the counter. That knowledgeable outsider's perspective, as well as offering ideas for improving the usability of the department's services for all county residents, make him a standout candidate.
Weed, who sits on the county's Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board, also has elected service experience on the Alameda County Water District and formerly Ohlone Community College District, but he has failed to promote a detailed vision for his specific plans for the office.
Lopez is a certified general appraiser who has 23 years of experience working for the Assessor's Office, but he lacks the managerial experience critical to this elected position.
Still, all four candidates will garner some votes, making it difficult for any one to receive more than 50% of the vote needed to win the seat outright now. With a runoff likely, we think it's premature to commit preference to a single candidate in the primary, but we hope to see Johnson and La on the November ballot.
U.S. House of Representatives
Incumbent Eric Swalwell is competing for his fourth term representing District 15, which includes Pleasanton. The 37-year-old Democrat, a former Dublin councilman and county prosecutor, continues to be a strong voice for the Bay Area in Congress whose star continues to rise within his party and yet he remains active within the district.
We prefer Swalwell in the primary. His legislative record is unmatched in this election.
Challenger Rudy Peters, a Republican from Livermore, is a Navy veteran and owns a systems engineering firm, but he has no elected service experience and on a local level only served on the Livermore Human Services Commission.
The other candidate is Pleasanton resident Brendan St. John, a medical marketing executive running without party preference. We commend St. John's enthusiasm and interest in the position, but if he really wants to effect change, we urge starting with local elected office and building from there.
The top two candidates will advance to a runoff in November, and it would be great to see St. John's name next to Swalwell's on that ballot.
Seeking a third term as District 16's assemblywoman, Republican Catharine Baker has demonstrated a commitment to supporting Tri-Valley priorities (most recently, helping secure $20 million for a county-owned parking garage at Dublin-Pleasanton BART) while also working across party lines on certain issues that really should be bipartisan.
Baker is a devoted advocate for the Tri-Valley, remains actively involved in our communities and has the backing of all but five city/town council members in the whole Tri-Valley.
Facing Baker is a political unknown, Orinda attorney Rebecca Bauer-Kahan. The Democrat has school volunteer and nonprofit service experience but no elected or local government service time -- a very similar resume to Baker when she first ran for Assembly and earned an upset victory.
We like Baker based on her record as a strong Tri-Valley representative in Sacramento.
But we also acknowledge little will be decided in the Assembly race this June -- other than some momentum heading into November's general election, where both women will appear on the ballot again. We look forward to watching the next six months of campaigning closely, including solidifying our plans to co-host an Assembly candidates' forum in early fall.