Sabrina Brennan

Sabrina's Jan 19, 2019 Speech: Women's March in San Jose

We just won the fight for Equal Pay in professional surfing.

Gender-based discrimination in pro surfing first caught my attention in 1999 when Jeff Clark founded the Mavericks big wave surf competition in Half Moon Bay. The event was named, “Men Who Ride Mountains.” Now it’s two decades later, and women athletes have still not had an opportunity to compete in the Mavericks surf contest, however that will change when the next event is held.

Let me provide a little background:  Women big wave surfers ride 25-to 68-foot waves at the most dangerous spots on earth. The largest wave ever surfed by a woman is the height of a 7-story building.

In 2015, I asked the California Coastal Commission to require that women be allowed to compete in the Mavericks surf contest. My request was supported in a 7-4 vote. 

That success got the attention of professional big wave surfers Bianca Valenti, Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, and Andrea Moller. Together we formed the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing with founding counsel Karen Tynan.

In 2016, Paige Alms made history as the first Women’s Big Wave Champion at Pe’ahi, Hawaii. The WSL paid Alms $15,000 in prize money and they paid the men’s division winner $25,000. What do you think of that? 

A year ago, in Oct 2017, Alms successfully defended her title and again was paid 40% less money than a man.

Last summer, San Francisco big wave surfer Bianca Valenti made history as the first Women’s Big Wave Champion in Latin America at the Puerto Escondido Cup. The WSL paid Valenti 75% less than her male counterpart surfing the same wave on the same day.

Six month ago, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing met with the World Surf League in Redwood City and presented a proposal for equal prize money. We told the WSL to end gender-based discrimination.  CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said NO, and threatened to cancel the entire Mavericks surf competition rather than pay women equally.

What did we do?  Back down?  Accept less?  Hell NO!  We stood our ground and went back to the Coastal Commission and demanded equal pay and equal access at Mavericks. We also got help from Betty Yee and Gavin Newsom and the California State Lands Commission staff.  

Here’s what happened next:  In Sept, the WSL announced global equal prize money for every WSL event, including the Mavericks Challenge, which may be held next month depending on surf conditions.   

Four women surfers, an activist, a lawyer and our supporters stood together, united in our demand for equality and pay equity.

And here we are today:  State legislators have taken an interest in the precedent our work has set and they are pursuing a gender equity in sports bill. Please stay tuned because we need your help educating state lawmakers about why they must pass legislation that requires equal pay!

San Mateo County Harbor Commission Stalls on California Voting Rights Act

Press Release

On March 21, 2018, the board majority denied the Harbor District an opportunity to comply with the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) before the upcoming 2018 election. Staff recommendations and legal advice was ignored and a vote to “Do Nothing” was approved. Board President Virginia Chang-Kiraly, Commissioner Tom Mattusch, and Commissioner Robert Bernardo expressed doubts about whether racially polarized voting exists in San Mateo County.

In an effort to comply with state law Harbor Commissioners Sabrina Brennan and Edmundo Larenas requested that the CVRA be placed on the March 21, 2018 agenda. Both commissioners worked collaboratively with Harbor District staff and attorney Kimon Manolius to draft Resolution 18-04-A. Counsel’s review of the resolution was cut short because Chang-Kiraly contacted Manolius and demanded that he “stop working with Brennan and Larenas.”

Minority Opinion

The Harbor District is a countywide agency funded by countywide property tax. Its five-member elected board does not adequately represent all areas of the county and hasn’t for decades. The board’s decision to “do nothing” delays the District’s ability to serve marginalized communities. 

—Edmundo Larenas, SMC Harbor Commissioner

Candidates of a protected class elected to an agency’s governing board do not negate a finding that racially polarized voting exists for that class. Under the CVRA, a class members’ successful campaign is not the only factor considered when determining the existence of racially polarized voting.

—Sabrina Brennan, SMC Harbor Commissioner

Flouting state law could put the special district on the receiving end of a demand letter.

March 21, 2018, Meeting Video

Item 12: First Motion

  • Motion by Brennan, second by Larenas to Comply with the California Voting Rights Act and Transition from At-Large Elections to District-Based Elections
  • Failed: 2-3 Vote

Item 12: Second Motion

  • Motion by Chang-Kiraly, second by Bernardo to “Do Nothing”
  • Approved: 3-2 Vote
  • Proactive Approach

On February 27, 2018, Commissioners Edmundo Larenas and Sabrina Brennan called for district based elections to save millions in property tax funds currently being wasted on a countywide at-large election system. The Harbor District paid the County $752,490 for printing and mailing ballots for the Nov 2017 countywide at-large election. Switching to district elections would improve accountability; increase citizen participation including marginalized communities, and lower taxpayer costs by decreasing the cost of printing and mailing ballots.

In 2010, Sabrina Brennan first proposed district elections as a way to reduce election costs.

Half Moon Bay Review – July 12, 2010

Resident suggests new format for harbor elections

According to Brennan, lowering the cost would not only relieve the burden on taxpayers but also encourage more qualified candidates to run for board positions.

"I'm concerned about the fact that for people who want to run, like myself … it costs a lot of money," she said, citing it would cost $7,000 for a candidate to place an optional statement onto the voter pamphlet.

Local agencies that have switched to district based as a result of CVRA challenges:

  • At least 169 school districts
  • 32 community college districts
  • Over 78 cities including the City of Menlo Park
  • San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
  • 10 water and other special districts

Due to the significant costs of defending against CVRA lawsuits, the vast majority of local agencies approved voluntarily transitions to district elections.

Examples of settlements:

  • Anaheim - $1.1 million
  • Hanford Joint Union Schools - $118,000
  • Madera Unified - about $170,000
  • Merced City - $42,000
  • Modesto - $3 million plaintiff's attorney fees and $1.7 million for its own lawyers
  • Palmdale - $4.7 million
  • Placentia - $20,000
  • Santa Barbara - $600,000
  • Tulare Hospital - $500,000
  • West Covina - $220,000 
  • Whittier - $1 million

County Harbor Commissioners Brennan & Larenas Support District Elections

Press Release

SAN MATEO COUNTY— Harbor Commissioners Larenas and Brennan are calling for district elections to save millions in property tax funds currently being wasted on a countywide at-large election system. The Harbor District paid the County $752,490 for the Nov 2017 countywide at-large election. Switching to district elections would improve accountability; increase citizen participation including marginalized communities and lower taxpayer costs.

It is time to change the Harbor District’s election system to the much more equitable District Elections.

—Edmundo Larenas, SMC Harbor Commissioner

The current countywide at-large system for electing Harbor Commissioners prevents voters from holding incumbents accountable. In Feb 2018, Commissioner Tom Mattusch admitted to sexual misconduct. A countywide recall initiative would require a staggering number of signatures to qualify for the ballot. The at-large system blocks the path for removing a commissioner. District elections empower voters to take action when the public trust is violated.

—Sabrina Brennan, SMC Harbor Commissioner

At-large elections have been abandoned by many local agencies because they favor candidates with deep pockets and politically connected incumbents, making it prohibitive for lower-income people and people of color to run successful campaigns. In 2009, the benefits of district elections were supported by the SMC Civil Grand Jury, which issued a formal recommendation to the County Board of Supervisors in favor of district elections. In Nov 2012, the voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot measure to dismantle the at-large elections system for county supervisors. In Oct 2017, the Menlo Park City Council adopted a resolution declaring the intent to transition to district-based elections.

In 2010, Sabrina Brennan first proposed district elections as a way to reduce election costs.

Half Moon Bay Review – July 12, 2010

Resident suggests new format for harbor elections

According to Brennan, lowering the cost would not only relieve the burden on taxpayers but also encourage more qualified candidates to run for board positions.

"I'm concerned about the fact that for people who want to run, like myself … it costs a lot of money," she said, citing it would cost $7,000 for a candidate to place an optional statement onto the voter pamphlet.

It’s time to eliminate at-large elections and comply with the California Voting Rights Act.

Local agencies that have switched to district as a result of CVRA challenges:

Due to the significant costs of defending against CVRA lawsuits, the vast majority of local agencies approved voluntarily transitions to district elections.

Examples of settlements:

  • Anaheim - $1.1 million
  • Hanford Joint Union Schools - $118,000
  • Madera Unified - about $170,000
  • Merced City - $42,000
  • Modesto - $3 million plaintiff's attorney fees and $1.7 million for its own lawyers
  • Palmdale - $4.7 million
  • Placentia - $20,000
  • Santa Barbara - $600,000
  • Tulare Hospital - $500,000
  • West Covina - $220,000 
  • Whittier - $1 million

Bringing SMC Harbor District government closer to home would increase countywide awareness about the following:

  • Public Harbors and Marinas
  • California Coastal Trail and Bay Trail Access
  • Wildlife and Marine Environment Education
  • Water Quality and Environmental Protection
  • Public Transportation to and from District facilities
  • Human Powered Vessel Rental and Launch Opportunities
  • Commercial Fishing Industry and Sports Fishing
  • Ocean and Bay Safety
  • Sea Rise Preparedness
  • Tsunami Inundation Evacuation Routes

California is shrinking

By Sabrina Brennan

It’s time to accept that coastal California is shrinking. A new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts chronic Bay Area flooding from rising seas as early as 2060. “Cities around the San Francisco Bay will begin to experience more frequent and disruptive flooding in the coming decades and will have to make tough decisions around whether to defend existing homes and businesses or to retreat,” said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, senior analyst in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS and a report author.

The Pacific Institute calculates that San Mateo County will lose more in property value than any other county in the state. Property damage in the county is estimated to be in the region of $39 billion, with sea level rise projected to affect more than 100,000 residents.

In July, the Mercury News reported that San Mateo and Marin Counties and the City of Imperial Beach filed a lawsuit in Marin County Superior Court. The suit alleges that, “major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry, have known for nearly a half century that unrestricted production and use of their fossil fuel products creates greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet and changes climate.”

The suit argues that 37 oil, gas and coal companies actively worked to “discredit the growing body of publicly available scientific evidence and persistently create doubt” in “a coordinated, multi-front effort.”

The suit asserts what many of us already accept as fact, that fossil fuel companies “have promoted and profited from a massive increase in the extraction and consumption of oil, coal and natural gas, which has in turn caused an enormous, foreseeable, and avoidable increase in global greenhouse gas pollution.”

Armoring the coast and building levees in the Bay will be an unimaginably expensive public undertaking, and that doesn’t include relocating highways, railways, airports, and other critical infrastructure.

Last month, the Guardian reported that Mayor Serge Dedina said that up to 30% of Imperial Beach could be affected by climate change. “As the lowest-income, highest poverty-rate city in San Diego County, we have no capacity to pay for the extensive adaptation measures.” Within 15 years flooding could affect tens of thousands of Marin County residents and cause upwards of $15.5 billion in property damage. “This lawsuit is intended to shift those costs back where they belong – on the fossil fuel companies,” says Marin County supervisor Kate Sears.

A well-funded army of lawyers is organizing to defend deep-pocketed multinationals that include San Ramon-based Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell, while at the same time the Plaintiffs continue to approve new development within sea level rise inundation areas. These new developments will add to the already huge cost of removal and replacement of hospitals, schools, airports, fire stations, police stations, ports, roads, railroad tracks, pump stations, sewage treatment facilities, power plants, utilities, hazardous material sites, and more.

As communities become dependent on costly levee systems to stay dry, and climate projections continue to worsen, we will soon be spending exponentially larger sums of money to protect development now being built in inundation zones. One good example is the 8-mile long levee do-over in Foster City that is now budgeted for $90 million. That levee must be rebuilt three feet higher or residents will be required to buy costly flood insurance.

In addition to suing oil companies our elected representatives have a responsibility to protect the public from the huge financial burden sea level rise will bring to coastal California. They can do this by using their powers to implement policies that limit development in known inundation areas and to prohibit future shoreline armoring in favor or wetland restoration.

Suing the fossil fuel companies is a great start to holding those responsible for the coming disaster to account, but that must only be a beginning. Without common sense and practical pragmatic legislating any legal action becomes nothing more than a show. If they really want to leave a lasting legacy current local legislative bodies must show through use of their powers that they have an understanding that development in inundation zones is literally pouring money down the drain. Anything less is going to be an expensive and complex disaster.

Published in the Daily Journal on Aug 14, 2017 and on the Everything South City website. Published in the Half Moon Bay Review on Aug 23, 2017.