When Sabrina Brennan ran for a seat on the San Mateo County Harbor District Commission in 2012, she ran on a platform of new ideas, transparency and environmental stewardship. Hers was a refreshing voice, tempered with a certain amount of progressivism yet fiscal conservatism.
During her campaign, Brennan focused on water quality and smart development that focused on environmental quality at both the Pillar Point Harbor in Princeton and the Oyster Point Marina/Park in South San Francisco. Her ideas were out-of-the-box, creative and interesting.
As she enters her second full year on the commission, we have seen a large amount of focus on transparency, yet very little about the other ideas on which she ran. That might be because her relationship with other members of the commission has been contentious from the outset. And that’s too bad.
As with any local elected body of representatives, there needs to be majority consensus when making decisions and that is often built through teamwork, collaboration and mutual respect. It is clear that none of those attributes are present in the current makeup of the Harbor District commission. As Daily Journal reporter Michelle Durand outlined in her Feb. 8-9 story, “Harbor District caught in storm,” months of infighting and allegations have tainted the commission’s work and it seems to be at a point where it’s possible it may not recover. We know little about how Brennan’s ideas may have come to fruition because they simply haven’t gotten a chance to be presented. Whether that is Brennan’s fault or the fault of other leaders in the district is a matter of perspective.
There have been other instances in which an outsider gains a seat on an elected body and that person learns to work within the system to make it work and make their ideas clear. An example is when Matt Grocott was elected to the San Carlos City Council. A fiscal conservative, Grocott often butted heads early on with other members of the council on a variety of issues, specifically on the city’s practice of contracting out its services. In time, the city revised its practices and Grocott has grown into a knowing elder statesman who is not afraid of being contrarian and speaking freely. He also knows when to choose his battles — case in point, his recent decision to not ask for a revote on the contentious Transit Village development project. Another example is Jack Hickey’s position on the Sequoia Healthcare District Board of Directors. Hickey was elected on the platform of dissolving the district and has made that his sole focus. He constantly asks for additional information from the district and is obviously disliked by others in the district because of his questions. That does not, however, mean all his claims are without merit. It is important to note that Grocott initially ran on a platform of financial conservatism and public openness while Hickey ran on a platform of dissolving the district. Neither have swayed from those goals and both of their organizations have seemingly been able to function. Perhaps that speaks to the strength of the organizations.
At a national level, some speak ill of the tea party for its inability to work within the system and for sticking to its ideals over the established process. Others may say that the system itself is broken. And that may be the case for our little Harbor District commission. Perhaps it cannot withstand the weight of one of its members constantly asking for information and for drawing like-minded people to its meetings.
There have been questions in the past about the value of having a Harbor District. Essentially, it is to best represent the people it serves. And if that primary goal is being muddled by infighting, then there is a larger question of its value to be considered. Once again, the question is one to be considered by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors — is this another troubled district that should be absorbed by a more professional government structure?