by Peter Gauvin
Officially, a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is a nonpartisan position. But it's become increasingly evident from this year's District 5 race that it is anything but that. With a few exceptions, a look at the candidates' endorsements shows the hotly contested runoff between Barbara Koppel and Joe Simitian has become a Republican-versus-Democrat dogfight. Even Vice President Al Gore has jumped into the fray, endorsing Simitian, because Koppel had issued a campaign mailer during the primary with a photo of her shaking hands with Gore.
Simitian is also supported by Rep. Anna Eshoo, state Senator Byron Sher, and outgoing Supervisor Dianne McKenna, who is being forced out by term limits after 12 years on the board.
Koppel is endorsed by moderate Republicans, including Congressman Tom Campbell, former state Senator Becky Morgan and Assemblyman Jim Cunneen. She is also supported by several law enforcement groups, while Simitian has more environmental and open space groups behind him.
"There is no Republican sitting on the board now, nor has there been for the past decade," Koppel, a former Cupertino City Council member and mayor, said earlier this year.
The race, too, has been notable for the time it has spent in the courts and in front of the county's Ethics Commission, which is charged with enforcing the county's strict two-year-old campaign finance laws.
Simitian, one year into his second term on the Palo Alto City Council, first won a Superior Court judgment against Koppel for making "false and/or misleading" statements on her ballot statement, including a barb that tried to label Simitian as a "developer." He then brought several allegations of illegal campaign funding against Koppel to the Ethics Commission, which found Koppel in violation on four counts and fined her $2,000.
Koppel has returned fire with her own campaign finance allegations against Simitian. The commission was expected to issue a ruling on those charges this week.
There are approximately 175,000 registered voters in District 5, which stretches from Saratoga to Palo Alto. Koppel won the March 26 primary, 46 percent to Simitian's 40 percent.
On Nov. 5, Simitian will need to do better in the southern part of the district if he is to win. In the primary, Koppel won every city except Palo Alto, which Simitian won by a landslide.
Whether Koppel or Simitian wins, the biggest challenge for supervisors will be how to stretch the county's $1.9 billion budget, after several years of severe cuts, to provide for health care to the indigent, welfare, mental health services, law enforcement and jails.
Occupation: former Cupertino City Council member
Background: Cupertino council member from 1987-'95; mayor 1990-91, 1993-94. Served on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board 1993-Feb. 1996, Santa Clara County Transportation Commission (six years), Santa Clara County Congestion Management Agency and Santa Clara County Local Transportation Authority; former president, Santa Clara County Cities Association; chaired successful 1994 measure to keep county libraries open.
Where she stands: To deal with funding shortfalls for county services, Koppel said: "We're going to have to look at doing business differently at the county." She said she would like to bring in a "brain trust" from the outside to study the issue. "I don't pretend to have all the answers."
She said she would work "to move people off welfare into mainstream society" by creating a partnership with Joint Venture Silicon Valley, chambers of commerce, and the county to help welfare recipients find jobs.
Koppel said it's time to reevaluate how the county's jails are run, but did not offer any specifics. "The board should look at the situation at the jails. There are some serious problems, including low morale, that need to be addressed," she said.
Koppel has been criticized for refusing to say whether she supports a county domestic partners registry. She now says, "I would not have voted for it as written. I don't want to mix gays and lesbians, common law couples and seniors. . . . But I would not vote to rescind it."
She also supports youth intervention programs for troubled kids and preservation of parks and open space areas.
Residence: Palo Alto
Occupation: Attorney, Palo Alto City Council member
Background: Simitian grew up in Palo Alto and graduated from Palo Alto High School. He received his law degree and a masters in city planning from the University of California, Berkeley. He served on the Palo Alto school board from 1983-'91, including as president. He was first elected to the City Council in 1991 and was re-elected last November. He served as mayor in 1995. Has served as president of the Santa Clara County School Boards Association and chair of the Santa Clara County Intergovernmental Council.
Where he stands: To help deal with the county's funding woes, Simitian would like to revamp the budget to show the cost of providing services, not employees and supplies, as was done with Palo Alto's budget last year. He says that would make it easier to see where opportunities for greater efficiency exist and where cuts can be made, if necessary.
"I think the board needs to follow through on management audits that have been performed but not implemented," he added. "One example is the $17 million a year the county spends on renting and leasing office space in more than 100 different locations. A county audit suggests we could save $7 million a year if we built or purchased our own space. That money could then go back into services that people really need in their local communities."
He would like to expand the county's school-linked services program "to bring social services directly to local schools to reduce costs, provide services to more kids and families, and take some of the burden off of our classroom teachers."
Simitian supports a county domestic partners registry, since it would not confer any legal rights to couples, it would be paid for by users, and it would be open to anyone, no matter what their sexual orientation. It is modeled after a similar registry that he helped pass as mayor of Palo Alto last year.
He said he would work with cities to protect urban growth boundaries and keep development out of the foothills.
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