By Kathryn Roethel
SAN MATEO – David Lim, an Alameda County deputy district attorney, and Robert Ross, a retired police lieutenant, joined current mayor Brandt Grotte as top vote getters in Tuesday’s race for three open seats on the San Mateo City Council.
Incumbent Fred Hansson, the assistant director of finance for Stanford University’s Information Technology Department, lost his seat on the council by a margin of less than one percent. He trailed Grotte – his friend and the only other incumbent candidate – by just 130 votes.
Bertha Sanchez, a retired nurse, finished last with 17.6 percent of the vote.
The biggest issue facing the city council this year was San Mateo’s projected $4 million budget deficit. All five candidates endorsed two tax increase measures on the ballot, L and M, which would help San Mateo climb out of the hole. With this major similarity among the candidates, voters had to choose based upon other criteria.
Lim raised $23,277 and outspent competitors by a 2:1 margin. As the top vote getter, he garnered 23.3 percent of the vote. He credits his success to talking to many different individuals and groups in the community.
“I’m grateful that people in San Mateo heard and responded to my message,” he said.
Ross earned 20.7 percent of the vote and was also the second-highest fundraiser with $12,553. He said that since he’s retired, he can give his whole focus to solving the problems of San Mateo.
“I feel grateful that voters trust me and believe I can make good decisions for them,” Ross said.
Grotte and Hansson were neck and neck in both fundraising and the vote tally. Hansson’s $10,442 was slightly more than Grotte’s $9,746, but Grotte edged out Hansson in the vote, 19.4 percent to Hansson’s 18.9 percent.
Hansson said he was disappointed with his narrow defeat and did not report to work Wednesday. He responded to inquiries via e-mail, saying only, “The funny thing is how hard it has hit [my wife] Pam. She really hurts. I’m at home today but will be back at work tomorrow.”
Grotte was also unavailable for comment, but often spoke about his camaraderie with Hansson during the campaign. Their campaign signs stood side-by-side in each others yards and they both made the maximum allowable contributions to each other’s war chests.
With his reelection, Grotte, a health and safety manager in the electronics industry, will begin his second term on the city council this January.
Twenty-three percent of San Mateo’s 45,400 registered voters cast ballots in this election. That’s down from 79 percent in last November’s presidential and gubernatorial election, but on par with the 24-percent voter turnout in the November city elections in 2007 according to San Mateo County Recorder.
Sixty percent of 2009 voters cast their ballots by mail before Election Day, making it a slow day at the polls. Gelamy Ruiz, 30, voted in person after leaving work at the Health Plan of San Mateo at 6 p.m. She was the 60th person to come through the San Mateo Health Center voting precinct at 225 W. 37th Ave.
Ruiz said she voted in person because her usual mail-in ballot didn’t arrive this year, and she had a friend in the San Mateo school board race. She was also interested in voting for tax measures L and M, but said she knew less about the city council race.
“I vote in every election, but I don’t know much about the city council candidates this year,” Ruiz said. “It’s not like the presidential race where the news tells you all about the candidates for months. Here, you have to do a lot of the leg work yourself, and it’s hard to keep up with.”
Jan Busa, a 56-year-old San Mateo library employee, came to vote with her 25-year-old son, Tim. They each cast their ballots and dropped off an absentee ballot for Jan’s husband.
“[Voting in person] is our tradition,” Busa said. “I really like the experience of coming to the poll to cast my ballot. I turned 18 the year 18-year-olds got the vote, so it was a big deal to go vote then, and I’ve done it ever since.”
Tim said he was a little envious of his dad’s absentee ballot, but he was still happy to vote with his mom and honor tradition.
“It’s important to make your voice heard every year on Election Day,” Tim said. “It’s kind of sad more people don’t.”
Busa added that, as a city employee who has felt San Mateo’s budget crunch through cuts to library services, she was “very concerned that measures L and M passed.”
“I’ve been phone banking and stuffing mailers for weeks,” she said. “We need our library services to continue.”
In fact, both Measures L and M did pass with 61 and 74 percent respective voter approval.
Measure M will raise the hotel tax from 10 to 12 percent. Measure L is a one-quarter-cent sales tax increase that will last eight years, raising the San Mateo sales tax from 9.25 percent to 9.5 percent.
By voting in favor of Measure L, city residents have given San Mateo the highest sales tax in San Mateo County. (Residents of in San Carlos voted down a proposal to raise that city’s sales tax to 9.75 percent Tuesday.)
The new tax dollars will go to the San Mateo general fund, according to a written statement from San Mateo city attorney Shawn Mason. The money will provide funds for “street and sidewalk maintenance and repair, fire protection and emergency medical services, police protection, neighborhood watch and crime prevention programs, libraries, community centers, recreation programs and parks.”