Races empty in 40 percent of San Mateo County elections 

Halfway through the filing period, candidates for the November elections have applied to fewer than half the open seats on municipal, school and special district boards, according to San Mateo County’s Elections Office.

“These are the contests that voters should really participate in because they affect your day-to-day lives much more than at the state or federal level,” said county Elections Manager David Tom. “But unfortunately, that’s difficult to convey.”

Applicants only have until Aug. 12 to file their candidacy with the county elections office or city clerk, but 40 percent of the races still don’t have a single contestant.

“The future and livelihood of the county depends upon the willingness of responsible leaders who step forward to offer themselves in service to the public,” chief Elections Officer Mark Church stated in a news release this month.

Many applicants will wait until the last minute to file, Tom said, but due to a lack of candidates, a number of elections will never make it to the ballot. Races in which there are fewer or the same number of candidates as open seats will not appear on the ballot, according to election code. Such uncontested seats are filled by the governing board.

For instance, not a single candidate yet seeks to serve on the West Bay Sanitary District, which has three vacancies. The district, which has oversight on sewer lines for Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Redwood City and Woodside, was recently sued by the nonprofit environmental group Baykeeper for causing sewage spills by failing to keep up its pipes.

“Unfortunately, public service is not always something that people think about,” Tom said. “It’s very noble, but … it’s a lot of work.”

Lack of interest in local races may also have to do with money.

Most of the open positions are paid, but not all, and compensation is a matter of ongoing debate, Tom said.

So far, not a single candidate has applied for any of the three unpaid seats opening up on the Midcoast Community Council, which represents some 12,000 people in the unincorporated coast and forests between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.

The 20-year-old group is considering placing ads and contacting local media to advertise the position, Midcoast board Chair Len Erickson said.

Erickson, who spends “five-plus hours a week” doing council work, said his group is important, and cited its recent success in switching the area’s public-access TV provider as evidence.

Steve Okamoto has already filed his application to run for City Council in Foster City — an unpaid position.

He’s doing it, he says, because he loves the city — where he has lived for 33 years — and thinks his background in business and finance could be of help to the council.

Okamoto, who retires in September from his 10-year position as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, has volunteered as a Little League umpire for 22 years, served as chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee and attended every budget study session in the past year.

“That’s just the way I am,” he said. “I want to give back.”

November numbers

San Mateo County municipal, school and special district elections as of July 28:

Open seats: 107
Candidates: 50
Races without candidates: 19
Races with candidates: 28
Races with candidates, but fewer candidates than open seats: 17
Incumbents who have applied to run: 30
Candidates with complete applications: 28
Candidates with incomplete applications: 22
Who can run: Anyone who lives in the district or city holding an election. There is no cost to be a candidate.

Source: San Mateo County Elections Office

nkyriakou@sfexaminer.com

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