"We need a patent office in California to get the economy rolling," said Kirsten Keith. "I heard they want to build an office in Michigan. We need that office out here."
Keith, current mayor of Menlo Park, joined five other County Board of Supervisors candidates Thursday morning in Redwood Shores for an issues forum before a group of about 50 non-profit representatives. A seventh candidate, former San Mateo County Elections Office Assessor Warren Slocum, was a no-show.
The 4th District of the county has an open seat to be filled in the June 5 election.
The 90 minute forum covered a variety of critical issues the county faces - generating revenues, dealing with debt, working out a safety net for the disadvantaged - and asked candidates what challenges and opportunities await the next board appointee.
Redwood City Planning Commissioner Ernie Schmidt saids the county has to do a better job of promoting itself. "This is something I want to tackle," said Schmidt. "I know it's difficult moving from a public provider to a county promoter." Schmidt wants others to know "San Mateo County is open for business."
San Mateo County Board of Education member Memo Morantes has similiar thoughts. "We need to make our reputation for red tape that exists outside of this county go away," said Morantes. "We need to create more incentives for small business owners."
One candidate feels issues facing San Mateo County are not of its own doing.
Menlo Park Councilmember Andy Cohen said the county did not create the problems now faces, "it inherited them." Cohen says "Supervisors need to reach out to the individual cities and encourage them to solve their own problems."
On the issue of challenges ahead, Redwood City school board member Shelly Masur said her public health background will make her uniquely qualified to deal with what she claims are "The 60,000 additional (county) people that will be eligible for benefits if President Obama's healthcare reform bill avoids Supreme Court censure."
Masure points out this is a particularly hard time for the county, that "in a time of increasing needs, we have decreasing resources."
Though the forum was absolutely devoid of candidate bashing, one candidate did choose to swim against the current when discussing the proposed new county jail.
East Palo Alto Council Member Carlos Romero opposes it. "We have to re-think the idea of building a jail," said Romero. "We have to say 'Hold on. Do we really need this now?' Anybody who wants a balanced budget has to think to themselves 'Do we need to add $40 million in additional monies to the structural deficit?'"
When asked, each of the other candidates in attendance say they support construction of the jail.
Candidates also acknowledged the valuable role non-profits play in the daily lives of county citizens, and gave verbal tips of the hat.
"Thanks for helping keeping the newly-released prisoners from realignment out of our jails," said Keith.
"Without the third sector (of nonprofits), we could be unlivable in the urban core," said Romero.
Morantes was specific: "We have the haves and the have-nots," he said. "If $44,000 is the median income in this county, you are the ones that service the have-nots. Who can live on $44,000 a year?"
The forum was sponsored by Thrive, an alliance that brings together nonprofit agencies throughout the county. Porcia Chen Silverberg is the executive director of Thrive.
"The Board of Supervisors have always been very supportive of non-profits," said Silverberg. "To us, it's absolutely critical for us to be informed and educated on who are all the candidates, and to find out who we should support."