The West Marin Chamber of Commerce hosted a debate last Tuesday between Steve Kinsey and Diane Furst, competitors for District Four’s supervisorial seat. A dozen prepared questions were discussed in the first hour, and the audience asked many others in the second half. Among the topics were the Countywide Plan and Local Coastal Program, pension reform, transportation and road repair, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), preschool education, the controversy over the Drake’s Bay Oyster Company and the increasing number of visitors to West Marin.
The candidates were limited to two or three-minute responses and ground rules penalized them for “trying to characterize the motivation or perspective of your opponent.” In part because of the restrictive format, it was difficult to form a clear picture of their differences.
But a few of the questions helped. One asked: “What are the two biggest issues where you disagree, and why?” Kinsey said he objected to Furst’s frequent complaints about a lack of transparency. He described the ways the board of supervisors encourages open government, including web broadcasts and archives of meetings; he said many county services and applications are online and that the county created an “incredibly readable budget” and held 16 hours of public hearings related to it.
Kinsey also took exception to Furst’s accusations about a proposal on the supervisors’ consent calendar from February 7 to make San Quentin a potential development area, rejecting her claim that it was a backroom deal to approve 2,100 units of housing. He pointed out that the state owned the property and the county could not approve a development project on the consent calendar. The agenda item had to do with an application to fund a planning project at San Quentin to facilitate a plan approved in 2003 by surrounding communities including Corte Madera, where Furst is vice mayor.
Furst insisted that the consent item demonstrated a lack of transparency. She claimed that part of the San Quentin property owned by the state is not occupied by the prison, and can be fast-tracked for development. She argued that there was “no logical reason” to place it on the consent calendar, though she acknowledged that it was pulled off. She maintained that the act of placing it there in the beginning shows a disregard for the public process.
Furst took issue with items on the Transportation Authority of Marin agenda that redefined a quorum and that gave the chair—Steve Kinsey—the ultimate decision on how to handle votes and meetings. Again, those proposals had been removed from the agenda.
Furst also challenged Kinsey on pension reform, asserting that “pensions are a crisis” and claiming that that the county owed between $700 million and $1.5 billion for them. She blamed this on many years of inaction: despite warnings from the grand jury and others, “the can was kicked down the road,” she said. She followed with a description/mention of some actions she felt would partly ameliorate the situation.
Kinsey responded that the pension system had been well funded through investments until the recent economic downturn, when problems emerged for virtually all government organizations. He emphasized that this was not a crisis, described a series of steps that the county has taken to address the problem, and identified further actions that are needed. In an indirect challenge to Furst’s record as vice mayor of Corte Madera, he said that the county was the only government body in Marin County to have made significant reforms in its pension program to meet the economic challenges. In order to dispel concerns about the county government’s economic wellbeing, he pointed out that Marin had the highest bond rating of any county in California.
Addressing what may be the most contentious issue raised that evening, Kinsey said he supported the continuation of Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Furst declined to take a position, but incorrectly said that this was Kinsey’s response as well.
Furst was incorrect about another matter. She said Marin was the only county in which each supervisor had a discretionary disbursement fund. Kinsey corrected her by identifying Los Angeles as a county in which supervisors each have a fund of $1 million—more than ten times the allocations for Marin supervisors.
Furst said she didn’t want to eliminate Marin’s Community Service Fund, which she acknowledged had been useful, but said she wanted its future to be decided by county employees, not supervisors.
Two months ago Kinsey looked like a shoo-in for the job, which he has held for nearly 16 years. Furst became a candidate on March 9, the last day for filing. Since then she has become a serious challenger for the seat. Although June 5 is a primary for congressional and state offices, the vote for supervisor will be final.
To listen to a recording of the May 1 debate, go to KWMR.org/news.