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In The News

Groom preps for election

Michelle Durand

Daily Journal, 5/13/10

When Carole Groom first joined the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in late 2008, she did so as a special appointment to fill a mid-term vacancy left by now-Assemblyman Jerry Hill.

Now a sidebar to every conversation of appointment versus special election, Groom concedes she might have been better off if voters rather than peers named her to the board. Groom had no say in the board’s decision but knows it is part of her political story, along with eight years on the San Mateo City Council, the Planning Commission and Public Works Commission.

Fast forward a year and Groom, the former mayor San Mateo, now has the chance to hear that voters want her to remain in the District Two seat. Although Groom, 65, is considered a lock on the seat — she is not only an incumbent but her only formal opponent is Daniel Kaul, a Belmont man who has refused endorsement interviews and has said he is no longer actively participating in the race — she still puts her fate in the hands of those she wants to continue serving.

“I hope I get elected,” Groom said.

If so, the current board vice president is poised to become president — no small feat for the freshman office holder. With District Three up for grabs in June and Supervisor Mark Church likely to be elected assessor-clerk-recorder and elections chief, Groom won’t be the new person on the totem pole for much longer.

Groom represents District Three, which includes the cities of Belmont, San Mateo and Foster City, but must be elected by voters countywide. She doesn’t believe elections should switch to district-only because residents deserve to have five representatives rather than simply one.

Groom is in a unique position, new enough to prevent a jaundiced eye toward county politics but seasoned enough in elected politics to know change doesn’t happen over night. When asked what she thought of the county’s finances in years past, Groom concedes not being able to judge the specifics.

“I was too busy looking at my own city’s budget,” she said.

And that is how Groom approaches most tasks — focused on the need at hand, although as a supervisor she is also excited by the idea of regional solutions.

The county’s beleaguered budget is its number one priority, she said.

The county is facing a $150 million structural deficit without action but finding palatable solutions is a challenge.

Groom isn’t ready to embrace more taxes as her first, second or third choice. She’d rather try economic development, cuts and finding new ways to be efficient before asking residents to accept another tax. The county has substantial land, such as the Event Center, which could be better developed and marketed to conference and shows that don’t burden the Fiesta Gardens neighbors with noise, she said.

She’s hopeful about 2014 when federal health reform will insure another 60,000 residents and negotiating contracts with unions is a work in progress as the county tries gaining concessions toward the bottom line.

Ancillary to the budget, children’s needs — especially funding — also takes center stage. Groom thinks it’s corny to recall her early childhood when she had a warm coat, a hot meal and parents who took her to the library. It’s about time modern children got the same treatment, she said.

“They’ve got to get a decent start in life,” she said.

In April, Groom spearheaded Streets Alive, a one-day event in which streets shut down and residents were encouraged to be car-free in public places. Groom, an advocate of a twice-failed one-eighth-cent sales tax measure for county parks, wanted to find a way to show people the mental and physical benefits of enjoying the great outdoors. Although this year’s inaugural event was met with a torrential downpour, Groom’s plans for the future are not dampened.

Groom’s future — if she is elected — will also include the same issues facing the board as a whole, such as a new jail and the regional impact of possible development at the former Cargill Saltworks site in Redwood City.

Redwood City officials continue decrying the county’s expected decision to site a new jail on the motor pool near the county government center and have recently hired a consulting firm to help them fight back. Groom said the problem is not that the county, including herself, isn’t listening but that the two sides simply disagree on the best location.

As a leader in a city which housed the homeless shelter and numerous rehabilitation facilities, Groom said she understands the city’s position and is willing to revisit the idea of placing the jail on or near the current women’s jail on Maple Street in Redwood City.

Groom is an alternative member of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and may be asked to vote on the Cargill development. She withheld specific comment because of the possibility but will say the environmental process should go forward. Opponents have asked the Redwood City Council to pull the plug but Groom believes the environmental impact review is “a tool for both sides.”

Groom said she is not adverse to tough decisions — she supported adding a child care fund fee on development while on the San Mateo City Council despite strong opposition from those who felt it would stymie business — and once headed to the library to learn about leach fields before opposing a Palomar Park land use request.

“It would have been really easy to vote yes,” she said.

Groom also thinks the county’s future could include greater consolidation of services. Peninsula cities are currently pairing up and investigating shared or outsourced services but Groom thinks there may be a role for a countywide effort. The question is just how the county makes that happen. It’s “dicey” for a supervisor to tell city leaders what they should do but thinks the county can help support the effort by gathering information and keeping everybody talking.

When it comes to talking, Groom might be the right person. Although she is admittedly humble about her skills, Groom said she doesn’t mind lugging home boxes of reports on weekends and helping others work together.

“I’m a great listener. I like to learn. I know how to filter out ideas and views. I’m a real good facilitator,” she said. “It’s always kind of a knack I had.”


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