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

CBS KPIX: Sexual Harassment Investigation—Harbor Commissioner Tom Mattusch Accused of Mailing Lewd Photos

Watch the news segment:

It's a case making waves in the San Mateo County Harbor District where two commissioners have conflicting takes on graphic photos sent by e-mail. Katie Nielsen explains. (2-22-18)

My remarks to the joint Assembly and Senate Committee on Sexual Harassment Prevention & Response

State Capitol, Sacramento— My remarks to the joint Assembly and Senate Committee on Sexual Harassment Prevention & Response. It’s a sub-Committee of the Rules Committee under both houses. Joint Committee Agendas and Packet documents.

Click the video below to hear my remarks to the Joint Committee.


Joint Sub-Committee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response

Thursday, Feb 15, 2018

I'm Sabrina Brennan, a Harbor Commissioner in San Mateo County, and I’m speaking today as a member of the public. I can tell you from personal experience that complaints and investigations are severely mishandled at the countywide special district that I represent.

Thank you for your service and for the opportunity to make the following remarks: 

There should be uniform anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation policies, laws, whistleblower protections, education, and training across State and Local Agencies.  

In depth anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation education and unconscious bias training should be a requirement for all elected and appointed representatives and government employees.

  • Current training lacks information about best practices for conducting independent investigations once a complaint is made.

All harassment, discrimination, and retaliation complaints should be investigated and the findings should be transparent.

Types of inappropriate behavior should be clearly described and consequences should be well defined.  Doing this would help move cultural norms in a positive direction. 

A panel of three or more people should select investigators and the panel must include both women and men. 

The complainant and complainee should be provided with copies of all investigation reports.  

A panel or a review board that includes both women and men should make recommendations about disciplinary action.

  • A commission or a statewide elected board might be a logical option for reviewing investigations and determining outcomes.
  • An appeal board could review decisions in the event a complainant or complainee was dissatisfied with an investigation or the outcome of an investigation. 

Recently I’ve been in conversation with Neil McCormick, Director of the California Special District Association about the need for anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation training that includes best practices for conducting unbiased and independent investigations.  

However I’d like to point out that it’s not reasonable to expect that local agency associations like CSDA, the League of Cities, or an overburdened state oversight agency such as the Fair Political Practices Commission will be able to correct the long history of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. And it’s worth noting that many of those organizations lack gender diversity, racial diversity, and sexual orientation diversity in management positions, organizational governance, consultants hired to provide training, and newsletter, website, and social media content. 

This pandemic has been overlooked for far too long. A comprehensive statewide plan for addressing these complex problems must be thoughtfully developed, prioritized, and funded.   

It’s critically important that workplaces throughout California be safe and free from harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. I applaud your effort to search for creative solutions. Thank you.

spectrum of sexual misconduct

Kathleen Kelley Reardon, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, University of Southern California Marshall School of Business spoke at the joint committee hearing.  Read her paper on the spectrum of sexual misconduct.