During a pivotal time for the San Mateo County Harbor District, four candidates are running for seats on the occasionally dysfunctional Board of Commissioners.
Incumbent Ed Larenas is running for re-election, while challengers Henry Sutter, Sepi Richardson and Nancy Reyering are also seeking voter support to fill two available seats on Election Day. Board Vice President Robert Bernardo is not seeking re-election.
With the need to hire a new general manager, manage capital improvement projects and craft a strategic plan while operating under the looming suggestion to dissolve the agency, candidates balanced a variety of competing interests.
For his part, Larenas said he hopes to complete the work he started during his previous term under an impression that district officials have improved their productivity in recent years.
“I would have liked us to have been more productive. But I would say we have done some pretty good work, but we have some more to do,” said Larenas, who pointed to his environmental conservancy work on district subcommittees as key initiatives he’d like to complete.
Larenas said looking ahead, a significant step to accomplishing some of those goals will be possible through approving a strategic plan, which will identify priorities over coming years.
He said he would prefer to focus on crafting the plan rather than again raising the idea of dissolving the district, which has been discussed previously by critics of the agency who feel it could be run just as efficiently by county officials.
All other candidates also generally agreed they’d prefer to preserve the district as well — but Richardson’s support was conditional on the outcome of the election.
“If they continue to bring back the people who have been there, I think the district needs to be taken over by the county,” said Richardson, a former Brisbane mayor and current director for the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency.
Her position is established on the district’s reputation as a dysfunctional agency which over the years has been rife with controversy, lawsuits and frequent turnover among top officials.
Relying on her extensive background in public service, Richardson said she is among the few qualified to get the district pointed in the right direction and away from the struggles experienced in recent years.
“We need to make sure that when we bring in such qualified staff, we need to allow them to do their jobs,” she said. “Our job is making policy.”
Atop the ranks of that staff is the district general manager — a position which needs to be filled following the resignation of Steve McGrath, who announced his intent to depart earlier this year.
Sutter, a sergeant with the county’s Sheriff’s Office, said he believes the next general manager should be someone who is versed in managing district finances while balancing the demands of commissioners as well as the public.
He also lauded the work of McGrath, as well as the existing commission, for improving the district’s financial footing over recent years. With a better budget, Sutter said he would like to see work continue at Pillar Point on the coast and in South San Francisco at Oyster Point.
As it relates to Oyster Point, Reyering said she would support boosting ferry service as a means of alleviating traffic congestion and making the area a greater community asset. At Pillar Point, she said she would also focus on environmental and water quality issues while balancing the recreational and commercial fishing demands on the pier.
Reyering, a property manager, said she believes the district maintains the capacity to improve the quality of life for all county residents who appreciate watersports, interacting with the natural environment or lean on coastal access for their livelihood.
“I think the Harbor District is sorely needed and good leadership on the commission will go a long ways to changing the opinion of those who think it should be dissolved,” she said.
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