It's been 15 years since Mickie Winkler concluded her term on the Menlo Park City Council but she hasn't stopped thinking about the issues that had preoccupied her as mayor and council member: aged infrastructure, excessive red tape and the influence of employee unions on public affairs.
Winkler, who now lives in Palo Alto, also hasn't been shy about expressing her opinions. Over the past year, she has penned numerous opinion pieces devoted to local affairs and most recently published a satirical book that includes her thoughts on municipal topics such as the city's heritage tree ordinance, resistance to new developments and labor negotiations.
On a more serious note, Winkler wants to be the next California governor. As such, she has joined a list of contenders that includes businessman John Cox, Olympic decathlete-turned-socialite Caitlyn Jenner and dozens of lesser-known personalities in a race to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom, should California voters choose to recall him in November.
Just like her writings, which tend to call out City Hall over excessive staffing and high employee costs, Winkler's gubernatorial campaign is taking aim at public sector unions.
"We all know — and despair about — the power of the police unions," Winkler wrote in her campaign statement. "Teachers, city, county and state workers cannot be fired, no matter how badly they perform. They are the only part of the State that is fire proof."
As governor, Winkler said, she will "call out every bill that is union inspired, and I will call out every legislator who introduces such a bill."
"I just think we have to be aware of their huge power. I don't think the public employee unions are viable. I don't think they should exist," Winkler said in an interview.
She also believes public sector unions and excessive red tape hinder Sacramento's ability to respond to the most critical issues of the day: the statewide drought, the rising threats of wildfires and unreliable electric infrastructure. These issues, she said, "threaten the health and well-being of all Californians and we must face them much more seriously than we're facing them now." She wants to see more state investment in water storage (to account for floods) and recycled-water systems (to protect from droughts).
"There are many places in the world that reuse their water and even drink it," Winkler said. "I think we have a huge budget surplus now and we need to start dedicating money."
She also wants to see more housing get built — a goal that she believes is hindered by the California Environmental Quality Act. She can rattle off anecdotes about developments that were stuck in limbo for years because of legal challenges and permitting snags.
"We need a major rethink," Winkler said. "CEQA was not designed to address the building projects that we have now. It's irrelevant to the building projects we have now but it delays anything you want to do by two years and increases the building costs enormously."
Another problem, she said, is "NIMBYism." Residents need to become more community minded, less litigious and less self-protective, she said.
"When you buy a house, you do not buy the airspace next to your house," she said. "I think we really need to make that clear in our zoning.”
While Winkler favors constructing more housing, she does not support state bills like Senate bills 9 and 10, which aim to promote more housing density. That's because these bills, by focusing exclusively on housing, fail to consider related issues such as transportation and infrastructure when considering residential development.
"We look at housing as separate from transportation, as separate from water supply and power grids, but we need to incorporate them — take them out of their pockets and put them all in one place," she said.
In her guest opinion columns, Winkler has criticized Menlo Park for employing too many city workers and Palo Alto for failing to hold its police officers to account. Her skeptical stance toward unions extends to California's education system, an area that she sees as ripe for major changes. The system, she wrote in her campaign statement, "exists to benefit the Teachers Union, not the students."
"I think many teachers will agree. Money is not the main problem. The system is — and begs for reform," she wrote.
Her boldest proposal on education is abolishing tenure rules for teachers, possibly by bringing a ballot measure to the voters. Teachers who get secure jobs for life are "gumming up the system," she said. Doing so, she noted, may require bringing a ballot to the voters. Guaranteed tenure for teachers, she said, "is one huge impediment to change."
"We need meritocracy — bright new thinkers," Winkler said.
In a crowd of mostly Republican challengers, Winkler is running as an independent, she said. And while she says she's not a big fan of Newsom, whose regular term expires in 2022, she isn't particularly enthusiastic about the recall effort.
"When they're one year away from the end of term, I think we really need solid reasons to recall someone — not because they attended a party and were a hypocrite," she said.