Tuesday’s election results echoed Marinites resounding opposition to high density housing. Fast growth candidates suffered losses:
- Bruce Anderson, Marinwood CSD incumbent (supporter of Marinwood Plaza)
- David Kunhardt, promoted density in Corte Madera
- Steve Burdo of San Anselmo, formerly of Marin Grassroots, a group that advocated for Plan Bay Area and that tried to declare a state of emergency due to opposition to urbanization
Meanwhile slow growth candidates suffered major, sometimes surprising, wins:
- Justin Kai, a complete unknown before, won the race in Marinwood CSD
- Diane Furst and Carla Condon won in Corte Madera
- Doug Kelly in San Anselmo
- Kevin Haroff in Larkspur
San Rafael – the Donation Multiplier Effect
In San Rafael Randy Warren came a respectable fourth in a race for two seats by four candidates. But his loss merits closer inspection.
Compared to other Marin cities, San Rafael represents a fortress protected by the old guard and special interests. The electorate were bombarded by the following messaging:
- Colin and Bushey Lang, the likely election winners, boasted a long list of endorsers from the old guard; they talked of their resumes which were essentially hibernation grounds for old guard candidates – the planning commission. They received considerable assistance from Chamber of Commerce members (signage placement, campaign donations). They shared endorsements from the IJ, planning commissioners, mayor and former mayor, Police and fire unions. For an apathetic voter skim reading and feeling San Rafael was being well run, but unaware of the pensions and creeping urbanization issues, they look at face value to be great choices.
- Warren did not have the political resume or old guard endorsements. Instead he talked policies and exposed the significant issues, if not crisis that San Rafael is facing in terms of pensions, homelessness and creeping urbanization
Campaign Multiplier Effect Analyzed
Call me cynical, but ultimately one cannot avoid analyzing the San Rafael election results based on the donations raised.
Here is a list of the candidate in rank order of donations raised (source Marin IJ):
1. Kate Colin – $55,532
2. Maribeth Bushey Lang – $42,311
3. Greg Brockbank – $34,585
4. Randy Warren – $15,368
Here is a list of the candidates in rank order of votes cast (as of 10am Nov 6th)
1. Kate Colin – 5,111 votes
2. Maribeth Bushey Lang -3,683 votes
3. Greg Brockbank – 3,452 votes
4. Randy Warren – 2,574 votes
Don’t they look startlingly similar? – in fact the rank order is IDENTICAL.
What seems clearly apparent is that there is a tight link between campaign donations and securing votes. It gets more interesting as you compare the $donations per vote secured:
1. Maribeth Bushey Lang $11.49 per vote
2. Kate Colin $10.87 per vote
3. Greg Brockbank $10.02 per vote
4. Randy Warren $5.97 per vote
The last figure is the most interesting. Warren’s donations drove almost double the number of votes of any of his opponents. He was a rank outsider and complete newcomer to San Rafael politics. Using his approach of opposing urbanization and addressing the pensions crisis he effectively doubled the impact of his campaign donations.
Apply “what-if” to secure a seat Warren would have needed 1,110 votes to have beaten Bushey Lang. At a cost of $5.97 per vote Warren would have needed just $6,627 more in donations to secure a seat on the council.
So why did Randy Warren’s campaign dollars go so much further? What was clear from observation was:
- all three other opponents ran principally on their resume and their endorsements
- Warren instead focused on issues such as high density housing and pensions, exposing the alarming creep and crisis that was occurring
Warren’s issue based approach was highly effective on a dollars spent per vote basis. However I suspect many voters remained unaware of these issues. In particular the Marin IJ has done criminally little to expose San Rafael’s pensions crisis. A different result would surely have ensued had San Rafael voters seen a league table of the cities with the worst pension situations in the entire Bay Area where their city headed the list at #1.
Accounting for the Civic Center PDA Rescision
One shouldn’t be so cynical as to focus entirely on money. Another major factor in the San Rafael race was the Civic Center Priority Development Area. In September the council voted 3-2 to rescind this designation. This designation had stirred up a hornets nest of concern amongst North San Rafael residents and was continuing to gain traction.
One might reasonably contend that had the PDA not been rescinded this concern would have further ballooned. I for one would have written many more articles on the topic, but throttled back having secured this win.
Ultimately though Warren did not come a distant last, he came a close last and in fact first when it came to dollars spent per vote.
This sends signals to candidates in future Marin elections.
- the most powerful way to magnify the impact of dollars spent is to focus on the issues
- housing and pensions issues really resonated with the electorate, even from a fairly unknown candidate
In summation I think this election does finally represent the turning point. Candidates supporting slow growth (opposing high density) significantly increase their chances in elections. Those who won seats who may not have been firmly in the slow growth camp can now see this damage they might do in future elections if they don’t support voters and oppose urbanization.
The affordable / workforce housing lobby certainly exists, but it had nowhere near the numbers at the polls to make a difference. Results in Corte Madera, Marinwood and San Anselmo demonstrate this.