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By Roz Rogoff

About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Election Post Mortem

Uploaded: Nov 4, 2009
There isn't much to say about the results of the City Council election, except that it proved once again that the vocal opposition is in the minority and the silent majority of San Ramon voters like the way the city is being run now. So the double-digit wins of Hudson and Livingstone came as no surprise to me.

What did come as a surprise is how well Jim Brady did and how much better he did than Doug Burr. So I will attempt to analyze why that happened.

Brady's issues, about improving "green" planning in the city and using the North Camino Ramon Specific Plan to develop an "Old Towne" neighborhood feel, probably appealed to more voters. I hope he attends Planning Commission and City Council meetings to speak on those issues when they come up.

Burr's main issue about the speed limits in Dougherty Valley was mostly taken care of by stop lights and stop signs installed in the arterial streets there over the last two years.

Both Burr and Brady questioned the cost of the new City Center; as did the Editorial in the Contra Costs Times, but most residents don't care. They like the design of the new City Center and trust the existing City Council to do what's best for the City. Maybe they shouldn't, but the case for not trusting them wasn't sufficiently made by either opponent or the newspaper.

So what were the differences in Brady's campaign from Burr's to result in an 850 vote advantage? Brady had some prior political experience, and he made himself more accessible to a wider group of voters. Burr seemed to concentrate on the constituents he built up during the stop sign fight.

Brady wrote an excellent ballot statement, Burr had none. For new candidates without a lot of money to promote themselves the ballot statement is the most important means of reaching voters.

I asked Doug Burr why he didn't have a ballot statement, and he said he would put all of his information on his website. A website requires voters to want to find out about you. I published a website on San Ramon for years and rarely got more than 3000 hits a month, mostly from the same people. You can't expect to get voters to go to your website. The lack of a ballot statement was probably the main reason Doug Burr finished so badly.

Brady also campaigned better than Burr. He had handouts outlining his experience and platform. These were nice short bullet lists with large type and easy to read; so he got his points across before the voters threw it away. Brady held events, like the one in Central Park the weekend before the election. I didn't attend, so I don't know what the turnout was, but if Doug Burr was holding events, they were not well-publicized. Burr seemed to preach to the converted.

Brady also posted responses to my comments on the Express. He made a lot of good points. Now I don't suppose a lot of voters read my columns here or care about my opinions, but if I'm saying something that the candidates want to challenge or clear up, it makes good sense to answer me in this forum.

Burr sent me several emails trying to convince me that California's speed limit rules are not as strict as the Council's interpretation of them. I told Burr to post his reasons and explanations here, but he wouldn't do it. I'm sure that not answering my commentary didn't cost Burr 850 votes, but it might have made some difference in the results.

Dave Hudson likes to say, "The voters elected me to do blah, blah, blah, and I will carry out their mandate." Dave can often be a big windbag. I could never find conclusive evidence from past elections that voters wanted him to build the City Center or put Tassajara Valley into the City's sphere of influence.

The results of this year's election give Hudson the mandate he's been claiming for years. Voters want the Mehran-built City Center, don't want Contra Costa County making Tassajara into another Dougherty Valley, and don't want to take chances again with newbie's. OK Dave, you got it now.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by SJO, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 4, 2009 at 1:46 pm

From my perspective I would agree it would seem our challengers didn't do enough of the right things to win this election. Clearly we've witnessed incumbant name recognition is really tough to overcome, especially in a local election within a (mostly) well run city. I suspect there is data out there on this, but it seems any political challenger with next to zero name recognition needs to work at least 5x as hard promoting themselves and their ideas. That didn't seem to happen early enough or often enough to build any sort of meaningful momentum for them.

The fact that the incumbants promoted themselves as a single ticket (Hudstone??), made that hill even tougher to climb for each of our very different and distinct challengers. Regardless, I heartily applaud them for stepping forward to give voters choice. Hats off.

As far as a referendum... for most voters in this sleepy election, I don't think blackening the box for the incumbant ticket was a referendum for anything other than the importance of recognized names in the absence of any real information about the differences between the candidates.

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 4, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


In my opinion there are two reasons why incumbents lose elections other than a big scandal involving sex or money. Either their performance in office isn't meeting what voters wanted, or the opposing candidate has run such a great campaign (like Obama's in the last Presidential election), that voters believe the newcomer will do a better job.

So far there hasn't been a scandal involving City Council members, and the newcomers, as you said, didn't run the bang-up campaign they needed to win.

That means voter dissatisfaction with what they have or have not been doing wasn't a big issue. So that's why I say voters tacitly approved what Hudson and Livingstone have been doing and promising.


Posted by Bob, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 5, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Roz, I think the reason that Brady and Burr did not win is that it is very hard, perhaps virtually impossible to unseat an incumbent without some overwhelming issue to back up the challengers. Remember, the times when newcomers have been elected in San Ramon have been when seats were left open because incumbents have chosen not to run.

If you recall, the genesis of the "gang of 3" was a power play engineered by some very powerful people in Contra Costa County, along with a very strong San Ramon power base, headed by Gordon Kimber, Jim Blikenstaff and other so called "save our hills/Family San Ramon" supporters. The power play started with the introduction of the CAPP initiative. This initiative provided something the Family San Ramoners could hang their hats on and springboard their candidates into several open seats. While CAPP did not win in San Ramon, a competing quasi "slower growth" initiative Measure G passed. The no/slow growth platform was very appealing to the voters back then. Couple that with the support of the District 3 supervisor at the time, strong environmental/union backing and several very prominent local politicians and their victory was pretty much sealed.

In 1999 Raab, Tatarka and Ingalls ran as a slate, pooled their supporters and resources, while the rest of us ran as individuals fishing from the same small pond of support, with Abram winning one open seat, Tatarka won the other, with Raab retaining his seat. Measure G formed the General Plan Review Commission which spawned the rise of Jerry Cambra, who ran in 2001 and won another open seat. Donna Dickey won the open seat vacated by the resignation of Raab, and the Gang of Three was complete.

While running roughshod over the city, the Gang of Three's regional power base was beginning to crumble. Their support in Martinez would evaporate with Supervisor Donna Gerber's demise, Millie Greenberg faded into oblivion and Guy Houston was elected to the Assembly. Mary Piepho was elected to the District 3 seat and Guy was re-elected several times. The environmental/union lock on San Ramon was broken, the "family san ramon' coalition faded along with Cambra, Tatarka and Dickey who saw the writing on the walls and rode off into the sunset.

For new faces to appear on the San Ramon Council, and incumbent or two would need to decide not to run, OR some scandal or crisis would have to befall the current council and they would then become vulnerable. One issue or candidates without significant backing and financial support will never be able to unseat an incumbent.

Posted by Joe Queirolo, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 6, 2009 at 4:56 am

Bob - Excellent analysis. Thanks!

Posted by Paul Mitchell, a resident of another community,
on Nov 16, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Yes, Bob, an excellent recap of history. "Friends of San Ramon" proponent Victor Peterson was another (unelected) active participant in the 2001 action, but I could never convince myself if he was working alone or in concert with the Gang's supporters. My 2010 prediction: a move to resurrect even-year elections will stir up San Ramon again. It will be fun to watch from afar...

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 16, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


The council put a measure on the 2008 ballot to switch the Mayor's terms to even years. I objected and said they put it on in 2008 to skip the 2009 election and extend their terms. Dave Hudson admitted that at one of the meetings.

I put the video of Dave saying he wouldn't even toy with the idea of shortening terms on my San Ramon Observer website. I wrote the No ballot statement, and it was co-signed by Curt and Jeanne Kinney. The measure lost by about 138 votes.

Recently Wilson has been talking about putting it on the ballot again next year. Once again they are trying to extend their terms by going to even years. I've said all along I support even years but not term extensions. If they did it right I wouldn't object.

Rowley, Hudson, and Livingstone were all opposed giving the Gang an extra year in office, but they see nothing wrong with giving to themselves. My feeling is if it is wrong for someone else, it's wrong for everyone.

You may disagree, because the Gang of Three was driving the city into bankruptcy and the current council is fiscally sound. But if they want to go to even years, they shouldn't be benefiting from the change.


Posted by Bob, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 17, 2009 at 11:51 am

I agree with you Roz. The benefit of the even year switch should go to the citizens of San Ramon, not an individual council member or the mayor. Make the switch, SHORTEN your terms, and get it RIGHT!!

Posted by Paul Mitchell, a resident of another community,
on Nov 18, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I have never agreed with extending to three years the term of a councilmember who was elected to a two-year term. I supported putting a transition plan in place that included three-year councilmember terms for the citizens to vote people into office (you have to have either one-year terms or three-year terms to make the transition to even-year elections). I wanted the citizens to elect people to three-year terms, not have incumbents extend their own terms - even if the incumbents were people I supported! I walked neighborhoods for Mayor Wilson and Councilmembers Hudson and Livingstone, but if they had moved to extend their own terms when I lived in San Ramon, I would have walked neighborhoods again to oppose their proposal - in the dark and during wind-driven rainstorms!

Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 19, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.


Now that you mention it I remember your grid with different options for changing to even years. You posted it on your website. I think there was an A, B, and C plan, but I don't remember the details anymore.

In this partisan world people don't seem to understand that what's wrong for the Democrats is wrong for the Republicans. It seems like all they do is shift seats but play the same games.


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