As longtime San Mateo County Harbor District Commissioner Pietro Parravano readies to vacate his seat, the agency’s board is guaranteed to have at least one new face on it after the November election.
The board has three four-year seats and one two-year seat up for grabs as recently-appointed Commissioner Virginia Chang Kiraly is seeking a four-year seat rather than the two-year seat she now occupies.
Incumbents Tom Mattusch and Sabrina Brennan are seeking re-election to their four-year seats with Shawn Mooney also in the race.
For the two-year seat, the candidates are Ed Larenas and Brian Rogers.
The Daily Journal interviewed all six candidates and asked them the same questions during endorsement interviews.
They all disagree with recommendations by both the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury and Local Agency Formation Commission that the district be dissolved.
Kiraly is running for re-election to provide good governance and clear direction to staff, something the commission failed to do in the past, she said.
She also wants to encourage more public/private partnerships so the district can be less reliant on property taxes.
Mooney is running because he has one primary goal — to bring ferry service to Foster City.
The abandoned Werder Pier adjacent to the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge would be a perfect place for ferry service, he said.
The district, however, does not control the land around the pier but Mooney wants it to take a more active role in boosting ferry service on the Bayside.
It does own Pillar Point Harbor on the coast and operate Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco, where there is ferry service.
Mattusch, captain of the Huli Cat, has worked out of Pillar Point since 1992.
Mattusch is keen on developing a strategic plan that will guide management for years to come on what facility or infrastructure improvements should be made a priority.
“The harbor hasn’t changed much since 1992 and that’s sad,” he said about Pillar Point.
He envisions many improvements taking place there over the next 10 years.
Brennan is seeking a second term to continue the initiatives she supports such as dredging work around Pillar Point and improvements to the Coastal Trail.
“There’s still a long to-do list,” Brennan said.
Rogers is running because he has attended meetings and found them to be “entertaining.”
“The craziness is easily controlled with structure and be guided into a more organized group,” Rogers said.
Larenas is a former commercial fisherman and has worked with the Harbor District over the years as chair of the San Mateo County Surfrider Foundation.
Larenas would like to see the commission take a lead in improving water quality near its properties.
Larenas sees why dissolution was recommended in the past but said “it’s getting better.”
It would be difficult for the county Parks Department to take on running Pillar Point, he said.
Rogers agreed, saying the county has a hard enough time running the Coyote Point marina.
Even Mattusch wonders why the Harbor District does not operate Coyote Point.
“No one can manage it better,” Mattusch said.
Larenas envisions Pillar Point as one day being a “world-class destination” for boaters and tourists. The Bay Trail could also be improved at Oyster Point with a new biotech campus in the pipeline nearby.
Kiraly wants to make sure the commissioners fill the role of “guardians of public funds.”
She notes how the district now details in its budget just how taxpayer money is spent compared to its enterprise funds, which comes from leases of slips and properties.
Mattusch would like to see more recreational opportunities or other draws to attract more tourists.
He suggested a nautical flea market would work at both marinas. The pier at Pillar Point also needs to be expanded, he said.
Brennan said the district provides critical emergency response on the water that no other agency can fulfill. The thriving commercial fishing industry must be supported because fresh, sustainable seafood is a benefit to the community. She points to a recent commission vote that lowered fish-buying fees, once the highest in the state, as a way to protect the industry.
“We evaluated the concern and took action,” Brennan said.
Rogers said the role of the district is to manage the two marinas, keep them functioning and up to date.
“The district does a good job for fisherman. They went out of their way to help the crab fisherman,” he said about a shortened season.
Larenas said commissioners “need to work together” and run the harbor through the general manager.
He suggests the community take a more active role in crafting the district’s future by forming working groups.
“It will bring more transparency,” he said.
As a project leader and scientist, Larenas said he will “bring leadership to the commission.”
Rogers said that the commission currently lacks focus, however.
“They need to be reminded they have a focus and not just discuss the merits of sand volleyball that takes up half a meeting,” Rogers said.
The district’s biggest shortcomings, he said, is that “individual squabbles have gotten in the way.”
Rogers envisions, with the right leadership, that both Pillar Point and Oyster Point could be “showcase marinas.”
Kiraly credits her time on the board with helping to turn the district around. She was appointed about the same time new that General Manager Steve McGrath was hired.
“There’s been a lot of improvements since I was appointed to the board. I want to continue the momentum,” she said.
Mooney said the district needs to start taking better care of its infrastructure.
“It has deteriorating buildings that are at the end of their useful lives,” Mooney said.
He thinks the district can find lease opportunities with private parties to make improvements to Pillar Point.
“It could be like Pier 39,” Mooney said.
Mattusch said that hiring a new general manager has helped the district “turn the corner.”
Kiraly agreed and said now that the district has put a list of priorities together it is time to implement them.
She said micromanaging by the commission was a problem for the former general manager and staff.
“We need less micromanaging,” she said.
Brennan also praised the new general manager.
“It’s a whole new staff and McGrath is doing a great job,” Brennan said.
She supported beach volleyball access and wants to see more kayakers and recreational opportunities.
She also said it will be the commission’s job to keep an eye on sea level rise and what its impacts will be, especially at Oyster Point related to landfill subsidence.
Tsunami preparedness and emergency planning should also be a priority, Brennan said.
Work must also be done to address Americans with Disabilities Act requirements at the marinas, she said.
An effort must also be made to reduce water pollution, she said.
Pillar Point needs to be modernized, she said. Some buildings could be torn down and replaced with two-story buildings for restaurants to take advantage of the views.
Brennan has been proactive in taking training classes from the California Special Districts Association to become more productive on the board.
“It’s working much more productively these days,” Brennan said about the Board of Commissioners.
Mooney’s responses to all questions were that he thinks the district can help solve the horrible traffic on Highway 101 and state Route 92 by boosting ferry service on the Bayside.
He wants to see more ferry terminals in the county, not just in Foster City.
“A regional crisis is coming and ferry service will be critical for rescue and evacuation and gridlock and traffic,” Mooney said.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
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