The decision by incumbent San Mateo Councilman Brandt Grotte not to run has opened the door for new faces. Three seats are up for grabs. Incumbents Mayor David Lim and Deputy Mayor Robert Ross are dedicated campaigners and will probably be re-elected but the two top challengers, Planning Commissioner Joshua Hugg and Public Works Commissioner Joe Goethals, have much to offer. What a great choice for voters.
Hugg served on the city’s Community Relations Commission for four years before being appointed to the Planning Commission. He is on the boards of the Home Association of North Central San Mateo and Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center. There he has worked with the Martin Luther King Center on a youth drug and alcohol prevention program. His day job is program manager for the Housing Leadership Council, a nonprofit agency.
Hugg hails from Philadelphia. He worked in the semiconductor industry along the I-95 corridor until he was hired by Silicon Valley’s Intel. Why did he leave the lucrative tech industry for a job in the leaner nonprofit world? He developed a life-threatening auto immune disease which required a liver transplant. His sister provided a match. While on medical leave, he had time for reflection and decided he wanted to do something more meaningful now that he had a second chance at life. While his job may create a conflict of interest on certain issues — he had had to recuse himself occasionally on the Planning Commission — he plans to work out whatever is necessary, even if that means a different job assignment, if he wins election.
Hugg is endorsed by supervisors Warren Slocum and Don Horsley, San Mateo Councilman Jack Matthews and former mayor Claire Mack. He has the support of Public Works Commissioner Anna Kuhre; Parks and Recreation Commissioner Cliff Robertson; Ben Toy, president of United Homeowners Association; and several councilmembers in other cities.
Joe Goethals, chair of the Public Works Commission, where he has served for three years, is another young man, like Hugg, who wants to do good things for his city. Like Hugg, he experienced a life-changing experience when his father died when he was in high school. As the oldest of five children, he became the man of the house at a young age and threw himself into sports for solace. He coached baseball at Los Prados and played on numerous soccer and baseball teams.
A San Mateo native, he grew up on Aragon Boulevard and attended Saint Matthew’s close by. He earned a masters in public health from San Jose State University where he served as a university emergency medical technician. His goal was public health policy via a law degree from the University of Santa Clara. Instead he went to work for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. There he met Lim, who encouraged him to become involved in the community, something he was already contemplating. He later tapped into his public health training when there was an opening and he was appointed to the Peninsula Health Care District Board, a position he will give up if elected.
Goethals is endorsed by the San Mateo County Democratic Party; the San Mateo County Association of Realtors; Lim; state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo; Garrett Rice, San Mateo public works commissioner; San Mateo planning commissioners Rick Bonilla and Charles Drechsler; and several other board and commission members.
Meanwhile, Public Works Director Larry Patterson has been named interim city manager since city manager Susan Loftus is retiring Nov. 1 after five years at the top spot. She has worked in the city for 25 years. She was part of the Arne Croce, Jim Nantell triumvirate which managed city affairs so well. Staff changes at City Hall including the voluntary departure of three community development staff are due in part to the city’s controversial handling of 7-Eleven (which morphed into a lawsuit) and its aftermath. The council, with Grotte, Matthews and city manager Loftus not feeling it necessary, has hired a management consultant to see what went wrong in community development. Only Ross wanted to expand the audit to all city departments.
The legal department was also faulted for sloppy work when it provided conflicting advice. However, the city attorney reports to the council, not the city manager. You can’t blame the council for feeling let down by staff. It’s doubtful whether the audit will find a smoking gun. Everyone knows what happened, why and how it should be corrected. The audit may make a frustrated council feel productive . But it only adds to the costs of the 7-Eleven debacle.
At San Mateo City Hall through Sept. 12 and at the Main Library from Sept. 12-Oct. 21-check out the paintings of Dan Switky, retired San Mateo physician.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.