First bids for District 4 Supe

01/14/2016

A rancher, a FEMA employee and the chair of a local planning group are among those who have taken preliminary steps to run for supervisor in District 4, a sprawling region of villages, coastline, ranches and urban centers.

Last month, Supervisor Kinsey, a Forest Knolls architect who has represented the district for 19 years, announced that he would not run for re-election. The primary is in June and if no candidate receives a majority of votes, the top two will have a run-off in November. 

For the past 45 years, two San Geronimo Valley residents—Supervisor Kinsey and, before him, Gary Giacomini—have represented District 4, which encompasses all of West Marin and portions of Novato, Corte Madera, Larkspur and Central Marin. Yet West Marin’s population represents only about a fifth of the district’s 50,000 residents, leading to concerns over who will helm an area that has no town or city councils. 

So far, six people have filed paperwork to begin collecting signatures for a potential bid for a seat. (To become official candidates, they must pay a $1,133 fee between Feb. 15 and March 16, but for every signature collected by Feb. 25, they can deduct 25 cents from the fee.) They are Dominic Grossi, of Novato; Wendi Kallins, of Forest Knolls; Brian Staley, of Woodacre; Alex Easton-Brown, of Lagunitas; Tomas Kaselionis, of Novato; and Mari Tamburo, of Mill Valley. Others are also considering bids, including David Escobar, a longtime aide to Supervisor Kinsey. 

Mr. Grossi and Mr. Kaselionis have also formed campaign finance committees.

Prospective candidates have brought up a wide spectrum of issues and interests, including the protection of agriculture and open space, the housing crisis, pesticide use and county spending. 

Supervisor Kinsey, who does not envision endorsing a candidate for the June primary, said issues are only part of the story. “I think the issues will be important, but in the first round, it’s going to be as much about public confidence in the individual, that they have leadership skills.” Raising enough money to effectively communicate with voters is also important, he added.  

Mr. Staley, a construction manager who has lived in Woodacre since 1987 and chairs the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group, said issues like tough development regulations, agriculture, open space and pesticide use—the last of which he feels could be further curtailed—are important for him. 

Mr. Staley’s tenure with the planning group has been “key” to his leadership experience, he said; his decades working with architectural firms have also familiarized him with county development code and master plans. 

Ms. Kallins, the founder and program director for Safe Route to Schools in Marin for 16 years, said it is important that “someone who understands the nature of West Marin” represent District 4. She has never held elected office, but her traffic work with Safe Route to Schools has connected her with many areas across the county. 

“The main issue was around schools, but you learn about the communities that way,” said Ms. Kallins, who also serves on the board of Sustainable Marin and the Coalition for Livable Marin.

Important issues for her include the severe shortage of affordable housing, the protection of agriculture and traffic congestion.

She said that Supervisor Kinsey was “one of the best supervisors we have had in Marin.” Though his shoes are perhaps impossible to fill, she said, “I certainly will continue a lot of his policies. I think Steve has especially been cognizant of needs of West Marin.”

A third valley resident, Alex Easton-Brown, announced his candidacy two months ago and has made a harsh critique of county spending a centerpiece of his candidacy.

Perhaps the most widely recognizable name in West Marin so far in the race is Dominic Grossi, a fourth generation rancher and a former president of the Marin County Farm Bureau. Mr. Grossi runs dairy and beef cattle in western Novato, and his extended family has helmed many ranches in Point Reyes.

He said he is seriously considering a run to “protect this place—which has been wonderful to my great-grandfather, my dad, me, my children—for future generations to come, so everyone has a chance to continue doing what they’re doing, especially in agriculture.”

He said he believes his “open-mindedness and willingness to work with both sides of the issue, regardless of political affiliation, makes me unique.” 

During his tenure as head of the farm bureau, Mr. Grossi advocated for greater flexibility for ranchers on their lands, such as in setbacks from streams and visual obstructions. Mr. Grossi also said told the Light he wanted to bring “more transparency and fiscal responsibility to the county,” arguing that “unfunded pension plans are out of control.”

Fellow Novato resident Mr. Kaselionis, a first-generation Lithuanian-American who served for four years on the Novato Fire Board, has hit the ground running with a website and a campaign video touting his work at the Federal Emergency Management Authority, where is a regional planning manager. For the past 15 years he has also been a reserve officer in the Coast Guard. 

“I came to the realization that I’ve been serving communities in need through my work at FEMA and the Coast Guard. I felt like I had the skills and ability to lead my own community,” he said. 

His work witnessing and handling the impact of both natural and manmade disasters will help prepare him to lead the district, he said. He is also “always up for a workout or some heavy Olympic weightlifting,” according to his campaign website. Mr. Kaselionis plans to invite people to get to know him during weekend surfing excursions, which he will announce through his Facebook page. Depending on ocean conditions, he surfs at Bolinas, Drakes Beach or Dillon Beach. 

“Hopefully, those who enjoy water sports will come out and join me,” he said.

A third over-the-hill candidate, Mari Tamburo, is a musician from Corte Madera who goes by the name Mari Mack. Her website describes her band, Livin’ Like Kings, as a “soulful blues rooted rock band.” 

Ms. Tamburo traces her interest in politics to a project to build a six-foot-wide sidewalk on her street in Corte Madera—funded by Safe Route to Schools, Ms. Kallins’s group—which she vociferously opposed. A number of residents opposed the project on the grounds that it was an unnecessary eyesore without adequate community input. “I just became obsessed with what I saw as gross negligence and cluelessness as to the process surrounding that,” she said.

“I believe I have the skills to thrive in the position [as supervisor]. I know how to listen,” she continued. “That was the one thing that bugged me about that situation.”

She has never held elected office. (The last time she ran for a position was as seventh grade class treasurer).

Ms. Tamburo said the biggest issues for her are overdevelopment and attendant traffic problems, a desire for thoughtful urban planning, the unaffordability of Marin and communication with local communities.  

David Escobar, an aide to Supervisor Kinsey for the past 14 years, is seriously considering a bid, too. (He said he will make an announcement next week.) 

In addition to his job at the Civic Center, he has served on boards or advisory boards of numerous organizations that focus on indigenous peoples. He helped organize the first San Francisco Bay Area Latino-Indigenous Global Warming Summit in San Rafael and helped create volunteer organizations like “Green Promontora” that support Latinos and indigenous peoples in engaging with the environmental movement. He is fluent in Spanish and partially fluent in Lenca-Poton. His civic work has also focused on the Canal, where he serves as an advisory board member to the Canal Welcome Center. 

But Mr. Escobar lives in Sonoma, so he would need to move into the district within the next month or so to be able to run.

“To tell the truth, I spend more time in Marin than I do in my own home,” Mr. Escobar said. “I know the community backwards and forwards. I just go to sleep, unfortunately, in another part of the region. But I know the concerns of the ranchers and the environmental folks. And I really want to see that the elements that made Steve’s tenure a success be continued.”