Matt Grocott, the longest serving member of the current San Carlos City Council, is in his fourth term. He was first elected in 2001 after failing to win re-election on his first try. He has served as mayor twice, although at one time he was passed over for the job. He doesn’t believe in term limits, says it’s up to the voters to decide. He also shared that he gets along well with the current council, more than he did with past members. Historically, Grocott is often the one dissenting vote.
He first became involved in politics over Pacific Hacienda, an old-time garden apartment at Elm Street and San Carlos Avenue with a beautiful courtyard. The building had fallen into disrepair so the city wanted to develop it. Grocott and others fought to preserve some of its historic charm. As a residential architect, he has built several single-family homes in San Carlos. I asked if that was a conflict. When he first joined the council then city manager Mike Garvey and city attorney Bob Lanzone thought it might be but Grocott checked with the state Fair Political Practices Commission and got an OK. To date, he has not had to exempt himself because of a work-related conflict.
Grocott is originally from a small Ohio town. He was a star on the wrestling team, This helped gain admittance and a partial scholarship to the University of Florida. He spent two years there but finished college at Clemson in South Carolina. After graduating in 1981, he moved to Boulder, Colorado and worked for a landscape architect. The following year, he drove to California and in 1985 ended up in San Carlos. Today, in addition to serving on the council, he is a member of the county’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Committee which doles out federal transportation dollars to county cities. He also home schools his seventh-grade son.
I knew Grocott was a Libertarian but was surprised to find he was also active in the Tea Party. He was asked to chair the local chapter of MyLiberty San Mateo County which he did for a year. Membership ranges from 10 to 50. Last May, he was invited to be a featured speaker on Treasure Island for a Bay Area Tea Party event to talk about Agenda 21, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and show a video of a 2012 San Carlos City Council meeting where he had voted in opposition to renewing ICLEI’s contract. I had never heard of Agenda 21 or ICLEI but it’s a big issue for the Tea Party. ICLEI is a global resource for local governments on sustainability, climate protection and clean energy. Agenda 21 is a voluntary action plan agreed to by many nations, including the United States, at a U.N. sponsored Earth Summit in 1992.
Grocott explained this was an attempt by the United Nations to infiltrate city general plans. What was worse it was also the basis of state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg’s SB 375. The law requires the Air Resources Board to set regional targets for reduction of greenhouse gases and encourages housing and transportation projects which help attain these goals.
I didn’t know what to make of all this. Grocott seems like such a reasonable guy, but his talk of a United Nations plot to take over city land use planning seemed, to put it bluntly, far-fetched. I watched the video of the San Carlos meeting online. For more information see http://www.icleiusa.org/about-iclei/faqs/faq-iclei-the-united-nations-and-agenda-21.
On the video, then assistant city manager Brian Moura said ICLEI provided technical assistance on sustainability issues when asked. They had not participated in any discussions of the city’s general plan. Nor did he feel the organization was responsible for the state legislation. The council agreed with Moura’s assessment and voted to keep their $600 a year contract. Grocott voted no to the applause of those in the audience who had come to attack.
I asked Grocott if he had political aspirations beyond the council. Would he have any interest in running for the Board of Supervisors. He reminded me that he had run in the 2010 race which also included Don Horsley and April Vargas, which Horsley won. Would a Tea Party activist be an asset or a disadvantage in San Mateo County? Grocott said, “if they take away the Tea Party label which is often maligned, many may find themselves in agreement more than they think.” If that’s so, maybe Matt Grocott could be the Rand Paul of San Mateo County.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.