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Fifty-million ideas
May 22, 2014, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal

Looks like San Mateo County has some extra bucks to spend. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors accepted a $90.1 million bid for two San Carlos office towers it purchased for $40 million a few years back but ended up leasing out rather than occupying with county workers.

Step back, Jeff Lewis! This was a heck of a flip job and didn’t even require staged furniture, artfully arranged candles, a new coat of paint or the wafting of baking chocolate chip cookies in the air (rumor is some real estate agents claim this actually works).

With $50 million big ones burning a hole in its pocket, the question now is what the county should do with its windfall. The safe thing would be squirreling the windfall away in the proverbial general fund mattress to save for a rainy day but, if this current statewide drought is any indication, a forecast of future downpours isn’t very likely.

I suggest, only partially in jest, a journalist bribery fund. Let’s put it out there in the open so nobody need utilize the county whistle-blower hotline or replace SamTrans in the questioned financials hot seat.

Or a hush fund. Neighbors get huffy about putting a mental health respite center, jail facility or methadone clinic within stone’s throw — peel off a few bills and tuck it in their pocket. Problem solved. Or, maybe instead walk into traffic court one morning and pick up everybody’s tab. That’s one way to polish up the typically cranky view of government.

If, though, the pesky notions of right and wrong get in the way of those plans, spend a sliver of the funds on ethics training for anyone who even considered the option and let’s think about other alternatives.

The county could be responsible and throw the money toward its towering unfunded liabilities like employee retirement costs but it’s never as much fun paying off past expenses as racking up new ones. Perhaps the county can instead install Dyson hand dryers in every bathroom or pay for every employee to park in some city other than Redwood City and take the train to the county government center. One choice is the former FlightCar lot in Millbrae which is offering its space for lease to embattled Chinese restaurant Tai Wu. Chances are with $50 million, the county is in a pretty good position to outbid any competitor.

Goodness knows it wouldn’t take workers any longer to get there than now when they spend countless amounts of time circling in the lots looking for space. With new projects slated for the county motor pool and juror lot, the situation is only going to get worse. Money might not buy happiness but it can certainly keep the road rage to a minimum. Besides, parking is probably more practical than 24 karat grills, on-site therapy dogs or a full-scale water park.

Season tickets to the San Francisco Giants for everybody in the county employ — now that’s an idea with some legs. Consider it money well spent for organizational morale boosting. The supervisors, however, will have to decide if the perk extends to every single person under the county umbrella or only those who aren’t contract, volunteer or in any of the other new job boxes created in the workforce overhaul.

Or, maybe the county can lop a year off that Measure A half-cent sales tax. Voters passed that increase when times were tight and, while the economic picture still has its ups and downs, that extra $50 million large is certainly not something they were likely thinking about on that Election Day.

A mere $50 million is nowhere near enough to cut a check outright for the new jail, although it could cover operating costs for a year. But it could make a dent on deferred maintenance and facilities. And parks! And puppies! And children! As much as we might want instead to buy a fleet of drones and give Amazon a run for its money, nobody can say no when the outstretched hand belongs to animals and youngsters.

Not having enough money is a huge problem in government, as past lean years of cuts and reductions have shown. But having extra moolah can also be problematic because everybody has differing ideas on where the unexpected cash flow should go. Just ask Gov. Jerry Brown.

In the end, the best solution is for the county to resort to a flip of a different sort — that of a coin.

Michelle Durand's column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor:



Tags: county, million, money, every, instead, government,

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