Striving for the Senate

About the photo, above: Left to right, from first to second rows: The candidates seeking to represent District 13 in the state Senate are Josh Becker, Mike Brownrigg, Alex Glew, Sally Lieber, Shelly Masur, Annie Oliva and John Webster. Photos by Magali Gauthier.

On March 3, and in the weeks leading up to it, the voters of California’s 13th Senate district will have a tough task. With seven candidates vying to become the district’s next Senate lawmaker, voters will decide which two will move on to the November general election ballot.

And that election will determine who will represent an area that has a vibrant population of nearly 1 million and is home to many of Silicon Valley’s largest companies. The Senate seat is now held by former San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill, who is being termed out of office.

The candidate pool offers voters five Democrats, a Republican and a Libertarian, though their perspectives, when it comes to how they would tackle the issues facing the region, are more nuanced than party lines might suggest.

They have unique areas of expertise and policy goals that they aim to take with them to Sacramento, based on past career, civic, nonprofit or philanthropic efforts.

These are among the top priorities of each candidate:

Josh Becker, a Democrat from Menlo Park, wants to help California become a national and international leader in environmental innovation.

Michael Brownrigg, a Democrat from Burlingame, wants to take up the fight for an inclusive brand of local control that permits community growth.

Alex Glew, a Republican from Los Altos, wants to push the government to invest in infrastructure and get back to the basics of doing things people can’t do for themselves.

Sally Lieber, a Democrat from Mountain View, wants to dig into anti-poverty policymaking in support of society’s underdogs.

Shelly Masur, a Democrat from Redwood City, wants to tackle school funding problems and expand affordable health care access.

Annie Oliva, a Democrat from Millbrae, spurred by a family member’s experiences on the streets, wants to end homelessness in California.

And John Webster, a Libertarian from Mountain View, wants the government to get out of the way and let the free market dictate community outcomes.

Under California’s “top-two” primary system, the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, will advance to the general election on Nov. 3.

The voter registration deadline for the primary election is Feb. 18. Register to vote here.

District 13 runs from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale. (Map courtesy of the California State Senate.) 
District 13 runs from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale. (Map courtesy of the California State Senate.) 

There are 40 state Senate districts, and District 13 is particularly diverse and multifaceted. It covers 23 cities and 13 unincorporated areas from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale and along the coast between north of Pacifica and Ano Nuevo State Park. It’s home to some of the world’s largest tech companies, venture capital firms and billionaires but also to coastside farmworkers and a growing number of residents struggling to make ends meet.

Politically, it’s a Democratic stronghold. As of last October, 50.48% of the district’s voters were registered Democrats, 15.05% were registered Republicans, and 30.44% declared “No party preference,” according to the California Secretary of State Office.

About 82% of the district’s residents live in San Mateo County, though the district’s most populated city is Sunnyvale, with about 153,000 residents is in Santa Clara County.

One of the most significant tensions between Peninsula communities and their elected representatives in Sacramento has been over Senate Bill 50, a proposed law that would have required cities to have relaxed zoning standards for housing development near transit and in jobs-rich areas. Although the bill died on the Senate floor last week, it raised deep questions about governance and what should be done to fix the problems that have come with the explosive job growth and stunted housing production on the Peninsula.

Should the state intervene in local communities’ governance to ensure housing growth? To tackle homelessness? To reduce greenhouse gas emissions? If so, how, and how forcefully?

Those questions aren’t going anywhere. They remain at the heart of the District 13 race this year and ripple across the unique and varied priorities and policymaking goals each candidate hopes to take to Sacramento.

Josh Becker

‘I’m running to be not just a good vote on climate change, but to be the environmental climate leader in the state senate.’

Josh Becker, a venture capitalist for green businesses, a former CEO of the legal analytics firm Lex Machina and a philanthropist, has had a varied career path. He said it’s that very path he’s covered, one that marries experiences in the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors, that’s led him to run for office.

Fast Facts about Becker

Key issue: Environment

Age: 50

City: Menlo Park 

Education: Williams College, B.A.; Stanford University, J.D., M.B.A.

Career: former CEO at Lex Machina; founder of the Full Circle Fund; co-founder of New Cycle Capital

Years in district: 20

Family: Wife; two children

Key endorsements: Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Senator Ed Markey, state Sen. Jerry Hill.

Campaign funds raised: $932,379

Independent spending: $500,000 from Reid Hoffman through the Committee for a Positive Change in Support of Josh Becker for Senate 2020.

Campaign website:

After college, he went into consulting before he left to work on the ground in war-torn Guatemala and El Salvador. There, he helped rebuild homes, open a market and build a school.

“That experience, for me, made me want to make my life about service,” he said.

He later returned to the U.S., where he worked in the Washington, D.C., political world as a press secretary before heading to Stanford, where he completed a joint law and business schools program. While there, he helped create the “Board of Fellows” program, which trains MBA students to serve on nonprofit boards.

In 2000, he created the Full Circle Fund. The fund focuses on making grants to innovative nonprofits throughout the Bay Area working on housing affordability, economic opportunity, education and technology and which now also supports health and the environmental programs.

Becker’s not new to local politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly in 2010, then started campaigning again in 2016 for the District 24 Assembly seat. He dropped out of the race after his father fell ill. His father later died of brain cancer, and afterward, Becker helped to start a biotech company to research cancer cures.

In his 2020 bid, he’s secured endorsements from Gov. Gavin Newsom, and, most recently, as his campaign announced Feb. 5, from incumbent District 13 state Senator Jerry Hill.

“Josh is well-rounded, experienced and someone who can get things done,” Hill said in a statement.  

Embarcadero Media’s endorsement interview with Josh Becker. Having issues watching the video? View it on YouTube.

He said he’s a collaborator and an innovator who, over the years, has taken on a number of varied challenges facing the state. He is a founding trustee at the University of California at Merced, serves on the San Mateo County County Child Care Partnership Council, is an appointee to the California State Workforce Development Board, and is a board member of the local environmental nonprofit Menlo Spark.

Becker said he wants to be the environmental leader in the Senate, in a state he thinks should be a leader not only in the nation but the world.

“I think what we do here has an impact well beyond our borders, if we get people like me up there who have been part of innovative technologies and innovative policy in this area,” he said.

He’s crafted a detailed environmental policy plan, saying he would push to make state agencies carbon neutral by 2030; propose incentives for people to buy the cleanest electric vehicles and disincentives to discourage people’s purchase of the worst polluting vehicles; support more bike lanes; protect “community choice” energy programs; support annual reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by cities of more than 75,000 people; and promote cleaner alternatives to freight transportation, which he said is the single largest contributor to diesel particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions in California.

He said he favors prizes and incentive programs to spur innovation.

His first policymaking priority as a senator would be to create incentives for the development of new technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as awarding contracts to innovative businesses, he said. One idea: Cement production generates about 7% of the world’s carbon emissions. The state could offer a contract to the first company to produce “carbon-negative” cement, or cement made using carbon dioxide, he said.

On the topic of housing policy, he did not support the revised Senate Bill 50 and noted that it would likely have been litigated and, as a consequence, wouldn’t have taken effect for three or four years.

He stands apart from other candidates, however, with one of the bolder proposals to address the district’s skewed jobs-housing balance: He proposes that large employers with 1,000 or more workers be required to fund one housing unit for every job created.

One reason for the imbalance, he said, is that it continues to be more profitable for cities to support commercial development over housing. He said he wants the state to help pay developer impact fees for affordable housing so that cities don’t lose out on funding for needed infrastructure.

In the area of transportation, he said he would fight for the region to secure state funding for Caltrain grade separations — projects to separate the rail line from the more than 40 Peninsula roads that cross it. It’s estimated that building grade separations at all of those Caltrain crossings would cost around $11 billion.

Becker cites Santa Clara County finance documents in stating that only 6% of locally generated tax revenue comes back to the 14 cities of Santa Clara County.

“We need that money back for Caltrain grade separations,” he said.

If elected, he said, he’s committed to carrying on Hill’s work to hold PG&E accountable and to being accessible, as Hill has been.

PG&E, he said, is disproving the concept of “too big to fail.”

“They’re too big and they’re failing,” he said.

He said he’s interested in exploring a co-op model for the utility, with PG&E potentially becoming a poles-and-wires company.

“I think the investor-owned utility model is broken,” he said. “They’ve lost the trust of the public, and we have to find a new model.”

He said he’s considering hosting regular “Java with Josh” events — modeled on Hill’s “Java with Jerry” sessions — in different cities. He’s also considering creating a districtwide book club to explore the history and problems facing the district — with books such as Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law,” Jessica Trounstein’s “Segregation by Design,” or Randy Shaw’s “Generation Priced Out,” he said.

“It would be an incredible district to represent,” he added.

Mike Brownrigg

‘I’m a Peninsula kid, born and raised.’

Mike Brownrigg is a former diplomat and venture capitalist who now works in social impact investing and sits on the Burlingame City Council.

Fast Facts about Brownrigg

Key issue: Local control

Age: 58

City: Burlingame

Education: Williams College, B.A.

Occupation: Burlingame City Council member, former diplomat, managing director at Total Impact Advisors (on hiatus during the campaign)

Years in district: 30

Family: Wife; four children

Key endorsements: Central County Firefighters, California Refuse Recycling Council Northern District, San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa

Campaign funds raised: $815,203

Independent spending: $460,000 from his mother, Linda Brownrigg, through Californians Supporting Brownrigg for Senate 2020

Campaign website:

He’s running, he said, because as a 30-year resident of the district, “I love this place, and I don’t think we’re on a good trajectory.”

Brownrigg grew up in Los Altos Hills before attending Williams College and later entering the foreign service. After working as a diplomat in Syria and Hong Kong, he returned to the Bay Area with wife Marty, a pediatrician, and they’ve raised their four children in Burlingame. He worked in finance and investment, most recently at Total Impact Advising, which he’s taken a leave of absence from while he’s campaigning.

Over the past 18 years, he’s become more involved in local politics, first serving eight years on the Burlingame Planning Commission before beating incumbents to gain a City Council seat. He’s now in his 10th year on the council.

His campaign strategy has involved meeting constituents at nearly 100 house parties across the district, in line with his campaign hashtag on Twitter, #NeighborhoodStateSenator.

On the City Council, he’s seen the city through times thick and thin: He talks about how, early in his tenure, during the recession, he negotiated with labor groups to defer raises to bridge the economic downturn and got the community to step up philanthropic contributions to support the library.

More recently, he said, he and his council colleagues worked to implement new zoning for a new neighborhood and supported an affordable housing development in the heart of downtown Burlingame. The city is now on target to expand its housing stock by 20% over the next decade, he said, adding, “That’s a profound accomplishment for any city.”


Embarcadero Media’s endorsement interview with Mike Brownrigg. Having issues watching the video? View it on YouTube.

Seeing Burlingame through tough times gives him an edge over competitors who have led only in times of growth, he asserted. “We’re in the 10th year of the largest bull market ever, and I think there are a certain number of legislators who have never seen hard times, and I think hard times will come,” he said.

Based on the success of his efforts to add new housing in Burlingame, he’s a vocal proponent of local control and opposed SB 50.

“Nobody will push harder for responsible local control than I will because I have 10 years of pushing back against bad ideas from Sacramento,” he said.

He said he emphasizes the word “responsible” because all stakeholders need to step up to address the housing crisis, and Sacramento needs to help. “I think local officials are not unfairly demonized, but we are made to be the only scapegoat of the housing crisis, and that’s not right.”

“If we don’t get more help to invest in quality-of-life investments, like transit, like housing, like child care, then I worry that the Peninsula that I grew up on, that’s been this home of innovation and prosperity, will erode,” he said. “And we need more help from Sacramento, not less.”

For example, he said, the state could offer jurisdictions low- or no-cost infrastructure money.

“It’s pretty tough politically to go to your residents, none of whom say, ‘I want more big buildings and traffic; sign me up for that!’ … But you can get people to the point where they realize we have to do this because we need a place for our teachers and our young people and our nurses and our working families.”

Yet it’s even tougher to follow up after residents have allowed new density by asking them for another parcel tax to support, for instance, the resulting overloaded schools or other infrastructure, he added.

The state could also help with investing in transit, specifically by supporting Caltrain’s business plan, getting BART around the Bay, getting another transbay rail line, supporting express lanes with rapid-transit buses, and developing better first- and last-mile transportation options. (“Because, newsflash, 65-year-olds are not going to get on Lime scooters to get to BART,” he noted.)

Along with investments in transit to curb car emissions, he said, he’s on a mission to make the power grid greener with more power storage to make a switch to all-electric power more viable. He’s pushing an ambitious goal: for the state to go carbon-free by 2030. That would require creating carbon-free energy and reducing demand for fossil fuels while taking aggressive steps to sequester carbon in the atmosphere, he said. To start, he wants to put together an 18-month blue ribbon task force to figure out how to create or store 10 gigawatts of energy in seven years.

“If the richest, greenest government in the world can’t get to zero carbon energy until 2045, then the rest of the country doesn’t get there until 2075, and the developing world, where most of these emissions will come from, won’t get there until 2100. And that’s game over for your kids and my grandkids,” he said.

He also wants to require the meetings of public agencies that spend more than $50 million to $100 million to be televised, with recordings that are searchable; create a permanent funding stream for early childhood education and early child care; and add a four-year degree program to a community college in District 13.

It’s often “a bridge too far, no pun intended,” for local working kids going to community college who then want a four-year degree to have to commute to San Jose, Oakland or San Francisco, he said.

The state’s challenges are complicated and numerous, but he believes he has the experience and track record to serve the district well, he said. He said he’s guided in his decision-making by asking himself questions such as “What is true north? What are we trying to accomplish?” and “What’s best for the kids?” — giving extra weight to the last of those questions. “That helps you make decisions. You’re not trying to solve for multiple variables,” he said.

Alex Glew

‘I’m very pro-business, but I don’t believe that there is an unbridled right to increase population just to feed workers to these entities.’ 

The sole Republican candidate in a predominantly Democratic district, Alex Glew is an engineering consultant who sits on the Los Altos Design Review Commission and is part of the South Peninsula Area Republican Coalition.

Fast Facts about Glew

Key issue: Infrastructure

Age: 56

City: Los Altos

Education: U.C. Berkeley, B.S. and Masters in Mechanical Engineering; Stanford University, Masters and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering

Career: Engineer

Years in district: 25

Family: Wife and three golden retrievers

Key endorsements: California GOP, Santa Clara County GOP and San Mateo County GOP

Campaign funds raised: $3,100

Independent spending: None

Campaign website:

He’s also not a newcomer to local politics: In 2018, he ran for the District 24 state Assembly seat and lost to Marc Berman, with Berman earning about 76.6% of the votes.

Glew said his guiding principles are his values of freedom, liberty and choice and that he believes problems should “be first addressed by the people closest to the problem.”

A big part of choice, he said, is getting to choose one’s neighborhood.

“People buy into a neighborhood and raise their kids there or retire there based on choices, but these choices are being removed for them,” he said. He said that cities should be able to control their own densities — voicing opposition to the premise of the controversial housing bill SB 50.

The state should be investing in big infrastructure projects, like dams, trains and highways, he said.

Talking about the high-speed rail project, he said: “That a government the size of California … can’t figure out how to plan for a train speaks to the inability of the government to think in a long-term and disciplined manner. … It would be laughable if it weren’t our state and our people and our problems and so much money. It’s just sort of sad.”

Sacramento, he asserted, is out of touch with what people like — cars, single family homes and lower taxes — and it spends too much time on “minuscule things that sort of pander to popular culture” rather than “the basics” of investing in transportation and water systems.

“People like cars; politicians say cars are bad. People like single-family homes; politicians say single-family homes are bad. People want lower taxes; the politicians really don’t listen,” he said.


Embarcadero Media’s endorsement interview with Alex Glew. Having issues watching the video? View it on YouTube.

The lack of investment in infrastructure, even while cities have continued to grow, he said, has worsened the quality of life and made the average commute in the Bay Area more than an hour each way.

“Now, as all of this degrades the quality of life for the people, it affects the industry and it affects the economy,” he said. “People eventually get tired of commuting two hours a day and move to Texas or another state.

“California has a net outflow of people who were born and raised here,” Glew said. “They just get fed up with the low quality of life. It attracts people who are used to a much lower quality of life, you know we have a vast number of immigrants coming here. For them, this is perhaps heaven. But for the people who are here, it’s not.”

Regarding private sector growth, he said that the state and counties need to have clearer plans for infrastructure investment.

Cities continue to attract more jobs without creating that infrastructure, he noted. “The big companies are smarter than the local municipalities; they seem to always come out ahead on the deals,” he said. “I’m a Republican. I run a business. I’m very pro-business. But I don’t believe that there is a unbridled right to increase population just to feed workers to these entities.”

If a county doesn’t have an infrastructure plan to accommodate job growth, then another county should be eligible for that growth, he said.

He favors the state staying out of health care, preferring a marketplace approach. Citing “The Cure that Works,” a book by economics professor Sean Flynn, he supports widespread health savings accounts and more competition to give people choices about where to seek medical services. Those services should come with clear price tags to help people make decisions about how and whether to save costs in seeking health services, he added.

Some of his other policy goals include changing the state pension system to a defined contribution program that functions more like a 401(k) system and to allow PG&E to face more competition.

Sally Lieber

‘I’m not angling for higher office. My interest is in policy and trying to make the machine of government operate better.’

Sally Lieber, former Mountain View City Council member and state assemblywoman, stands out among the candidates as the only candidate with experience as an elected official in the state Legislature. She served in the Assembly from 2002 to 2008.

Fast Facts about Lieber

Key issue: Tackling poverty

Age: 58

City: Mountain View

Education: Attended City College San Francisco and Foothill College, Stanford B.A.

Occupation: Volunteer and consultant with community organizations

Years in district: 26

Family: Husband, dog

Key endorsements: National Nurses United – California Nurses Association, SEIU California, Sierra Club California.

Campaign funds raised: $252,085

Independent spending: None

Campaign website:

Her path there was a nontraditional one: She worked as a wallpaper hanger in Michigan and San Francisco for 10 years, earned a GED and attended community college at San Francisco City College and Foothill Community College before attending Stanford. She won a seat on the Mountain View City Council in 1998.

During this period, she said, the state experienced major budget shortfalls and, since funding was so lean, the Assembly was “a slaughterhouse for good bills.”

Serving in the Assembly during that time taught her that a crisis can strike and throw off one’s legislative goals. “You can have the best-laid plans and an earthquake could happen during your term of office. Experience counts for a lot.”

Still, she said, she became known as a collaborator with other Assembly members and learned from more senior policymakers such as Jackie Speier, now a member of Congress.

“Being there for six years was an education,” she said. “It taught me a lot about the policy process.”


Embarcadero Media’s endorsement interview with Sally Lieber. Having issues watching the video? View it on YouTube.

She set the stage to raise the minimum wage, worked to create the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority and authored the state’s first bill on human trafficking, the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act. That law made human trafficking a felony and assisted victims. Shifting funding from prosecuting women for prostitution to considering them to be victims of sex trafficking, she said, was one example of a policy shift that can both save the state money and yield better outcomes.

“There’s a lot of that that needs more work,” she added.

While working on statewide issues, she also focused on helping individuals in her district of about 440,000 constituents. For example, she once got Caltrans to remove tread marks on the road that a constituent believed resulted from her husband’s fatal car accident and found traumatizing.

If elected to the Senate, she said, her first bill would be an anti-poverty measure. “It doesn’t do anyone good to have so many kids growing up in poverty in our state,” she said.

Regarding housing, she said she didn’t support SB 50 because there wasn’t enough affordable housing tied to it. But she wants to focus on other policies that don’t “suck all the air out of the room.”

The service workers who are now commuting in from the Central Valley and south Santa Clara County won’t always be so willing to endure the schlep, she asserted.

“At some point, Stockton, Fresno and Merced are going to become more attractive for the support workers of our society to go ahead and work there, and we’re going to be in real trouble trying to recruit health care and home care workers,” she said. “We can’t solve all of our housing needs by having spillover into agricultural areas of the Central Valley.”

A good start would be to invest in rail infrastructure so it takes less than two hours to commute by BART to the Peninsula from the East Bay, she said. That includes a better connection to Caltrain in the South Bay to better serve affordable housing growth in communities like Gilroy and Morgan Hill.

Tech companies should permit more people to work remotely, she said, and there should be a clearer pathway established for how they can be involved in helping solve the problems to which they contribute. It shouldn’t be considered an act of philanthropy but rather a reliable source of funding, she said. And, just as cities today have to prove that there will be enough water available to support new growth, they should also be required to demonstrate that there is housing available before they permit new job centers to be built, she said.

She wants the state’s surplus properties, particularly the surface parking lots of public agencies, studied and considered for affordable housing development.

One place she’s wary of developing, though, is on areas that have historically been part of the Bay or will be part of it in the future.

“Compact development around Caltrain is really the answer,” she said. “We have to have the Bay wetlands as our shock absorbers for sea level rise.”

RVs, she added, are likely to remain a part of the region’s housing mix “for the foreseeable future,” so she favors the development safe parking facilities, as well as other initiatives such as Oakland’s “Tuff Shed” program to rapidly offer housing for the homeless.

Regarding health care, she said, she supports Medicare for all and expanding MediCal to cover undocumented adults. The state should also consider increasing reimbursement rates for community organizations that provide health care, she added.

“I feel like we should have the same health care security that Canadians do,” she said.

Shelly Masur

‘How we continue to build communities that value everybody and make space for everybody — that’s a challenge, but it’s something that I’m committed to, that I have worked on my whole life.’

Redwood City Vice Mayor Shelly Masur brings to the candidate pool unique credentials as an education expert with a background in public health. She holds a master’s degree in public health and worked early in her career to support women’s reproductive rights.

Fast Facts about Masur

Key issue: Education

Age: 55

City: Redwood City

Education: Macalester College, B.A.; City University of New York-Hunter College, Masters in Public Health.

Occupation: Nonprofit executive (on hiatus during the campaign)

Years in district: 21

Family: Husband; three adult children; two dogs.

Key endorsements: Scott Wiener, state senator; Marc Berman, state assemblyman; California Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus.

Campaign funds raised: $429,460

Independent spending: $5,526, Fund Her PAC

Campaign website:

As founding CEO of the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation, which she led for five years before leaving earlier this year to run for office full time, Masur said she’s built relationships in Sacramento and regionally in the education sector.

Before that, she spent 10 years on the school board of the Redwood City School District. If elected, she said, she hopes to work on the Senate’s education committee.

Education represents about half the state’s budget, she noted, adding that in the Legislature, “I think it’s important to have people who understand education policy and are able to invest and work in it.”

“I really believe that our schools are the foundation for our economy and our democracy, and we have to invest in them,” she asserted. “In California, we’ve changed almost everything in education in the last eight years. We’ve changed how we fund our schools, how we assess students, how we look at how schools are doing.”

Yet California continues to chronically underfund its schools, she said. “We’ve got to continually work toward moving from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in public education,” she emphasized.

But at the same time, rather than work on creating new education programs right now, she said, the state should continue to pay down pension liabilities for teachers and other government employees. When the state shifted pension costs to cities, school districts and employees, it created “havoc for all of us in local government,” she said. “It’s the responsibility of the state to come back and fund what it took away.”


Embarcadero Media’s endorsement interview with Shelly Masur. Having issues watching the video? View it on YouTube.

As a council member in Redwood City, a community that has become a Peninsula leader in housing production, Masur said that another key priority for her is getting affordable housing built to address the region’s housing crisis.

The intersection of housing and education strikes home for Masur: Her daughter, a first-year teacher, is currently living at home because she can’t afford the cost of local housing.

Masur stood apart from the other candidates as the sole supporter of the revised version of SB 50.

She said that the bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener, who has endorsed her, was responsive to her input and that of other leaders in Peninsula cities when he made a revision to allow cities to develop within two years their own zoning plans to allow increased housing, as well as to not exempt the less populous counties.

Another way the state could help communities to build more housing is to offer affordable housing tax credits and increased support for construction of middle-income housing, which is generally difficult to finance, she said.

To tackle homelessness, Masur said, she favors a “housing first” approach, which provides housing to homeless people without requiring that they adhere to regulations such as being clean, sober or employed.

“If you don’t have a home, how are you going to go to a regular appointment with a therapist? How are you going to make sure you take your meds every day? How are you going to make sure you have regular food? … The list is endless because you have to spend all your energy to think about where you’re going to be.”

Masur, who has served as Redwood City’s representative on Caltrain’s Local Policy Maker Group, said that one of her priorities is to fund grade separations, for traffic and safety reasons

“It’s a critical piece of the puzzle in terms of getting people around and not just people who live directly on the Caltrain line,” she said.

Masur said she also wants to declare a climate crisis and move up the state’s goal to reach zero carbon emissions by 2030. She also wants to make health care more affordable and accessible.

“California is the fifth largest economy in the world. We should be able to move forward in ensuring that everyone has access to health care in some way,” she said. “We all benefit when everyone has access to health care and when we don’t defer health needs. … It’s just cheaper.”

Annie Oliva

‘It’s pretty incredible to think that it takes an IPO to put a down payment on a home today.’

Annie Oliva’s drive to run for office, she said, is inspired in part by her family’s experience with homelessness.

Fast Facts about Oliva

Key issue: Homelessness

Age: 60

City: Millbrae

Education: Notre Dame de Namur University, B.S.

Occupation: Realtor, Millbrae City Council member

Years in district: 60

Family: Husband, three adult children

Key endorsements: San Mateo County Association of Realtors

Campaign funds raised: $401,058

Independent spending: $409,000, California Association of Realtors

Campaign website:

Her son has been homeless and struggled with mental health and addiction problems.

“When those bring you down, they bring you all the way down,” she said. After her son got on board with her run for office, Oliva proposed a seven-step approach for tackling homelessness in California.

Key among these policy proposals are to expand conservatorship, through which people in some situations would be required to live in shelter or undergo treatment, and to promote transitional jail-diversion programs that give low-level offenders who are mentally ill or struggle with substance abuse the option to receive treatment instead of being incarcerated.

Homeless people in California are unsheltered at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the country, and the numbers of people experiencing homelessness are up in San Mateo County by 21% and in Santa Clara County by 31% since 2015, Oliva said.

Another component of tackling homelessness is decreasing the cost of building housing, she said. She favors streamlining permitting and project review processes at the city level to expedite development and reforming the California Environmental Quality Act to limit when people can file lawsuits over development proposals as part of the environmental review process.


Embarcadero Media’s endorsement interview with Annie Oliva. Having issues watching the video? View it on YouTube.

“It’s pretty incredible to think that it takes an IPO to put a down payment on a home today,” said Oliva, a San Bruno real estate agent who said she’s carved a niche in her practice by appealing to first-time homebuyers.

Oliva took over her father’s business, Marshall Realty, in 2012. During a 2016 audit, an investigator told her that the business was not registered under her real estate broker’s license, which she later remedied. She was also held to account for authorizing four bank transactions that year, over the phone, that the California Bureau of Real Estate characterized as careless. Her real estate broker’s license was revoked, but she has a restricted real estate salesperson license under which she continues to work.

Oliva said these incidents happened while she was visiting her son, who was receiving treatment, and the bureau reported that she took a number of steps to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again: changing business practices; taking courses in trust fund handling, ethics, risk management and office management and supervision; and getting assistance from industry professionals.

“I took this very, very seriously, and I did everything that they told me to do,” she said. “Yeah, I made a mistake, and nobody was hurt, thankfully, and we fixed it. … It was a painful time. I didn’t take it lightly. I still don’t take it lightly.”

While she’s made a name for herself supporting first-time homebuyers, when it comes to mandates from Sacramento regarding the area’s housing problems — whether it’s the specter of SB 50 or renter protection provisions such as rent control and just-cause eviction requirements that passed last year she’s not a believer.

Among the Democratic candidates, Oliva has spoken most strongly in support of preserving property rights. She opposed SB 50 and favors leaving zoning decisions up to local jurisdictions.

For example, she said, Millbrae’s height limits are, in part, tied to the city’s proximity to the San Francisco International Airport, so a “one-size-fits-all” approach to zoning doesn’t work.

She opposes the state’s new laws that set restrictions on rent increases and said the reason there are so few rental opportunities on the market is because landlords are hesitant with the new laws.

She favors investing in transportation instead — and suggested a train line recommended to her by a local business owner, to run between San Bruno and Tracy. That would allow more workers to be able to get to Peninsula jobs from the East Bay and beyond.

“If we can accomplish better public transportation for people that need to come into the district, and they can use that other than a car, I think that would be great for the environment as well,” she said.

For Oliva in particular, the call to reform PG&E carries personal resonance. In the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that gutted a neighborhood and killed eight people, several of her childhood schoolmates died and three of the agents in her San Bruno real estate office were displaced, she said.

“My mom (lives) about a half-mile away from the explosion,” she added. “It was horrific. It was scary as all heck. So you can only imagine from the experience we had that night how I feel about PG&E. … I can’t forgive PG&E for what happened. People that died in that explosion I went to grade school with. They need to be watched.”

When asked what should be done to reform the utility, she said, “I don’t want to comment on what I think the solution is. I think right now there’s revisions and that’s definitely moving in the right direction.”

If she were elected, the average resident in the district would be unlikely to see many changes except, perhaps, an accentuation of positive aspects of Peninsula life, she said. She identifies her politics as “very moderate.”

“Common sense, I guess, would be the biggest change,” she said. “There’s just so many laws that come into effect that don’t make sense, and I’d like to be the one that listens to everybody.”

John Webster

‘It’s just as evil for the government to steal money from the rich and successful to sprinkle free benefits on everybody else as it is for me to steal money.’

Libertarian John Webster is running because he wants to dramatically change the way the state government is run. His belief, he said, is that “it’s just as evil for the government to steal money from the rich and successful to sprinkle free benefits on everybody else as it is for me to steal money.”

Fast Facts about Webster

Key issue: Big government

Age: 74

City: Mountain View

Education: University of Washington, BSEE; Santa Clara University, Masters in computer science.

Occupation: Software engineer

Years in district: 12

Key endorsements: Not listed

Campaign funds raised: None

Independent spending: None

Campaign website:

He didn’t have concrete responses to a number of proposed laws, like SB 50, because, as he put it, “Since I’m not actually in the Legislature now, I don’t get the wording of intended laws.”

At nearly every level, he favors letting the free market dictate outcomes for people’s lives. Webster said he doesn’t think homeowners should pressure the government to restrict the housing supply to elevate costs so that they benefit.

Instead, he favors making zoning easy to change and letting supply and demand play out.

His positions include: People should have the right to build backyard granny flats and rent them out. People should be allowed to build cheaper housing or mini-houses. Taxation should be based on people’s uses of government services. Families should pay tuition for their children’s schooling. Parents should be the ones to decide at what age vaping is appropriate for their children.

And the environment? He’s concerned about trash in the ocean, but “as far as the human-caused impact of carbon dioxide, I think that’s being totally overblown,” he said.

Things he opposes include rent control, health care for all, taxes and “too much democracy.”

According to his website, he also appears to oppose enforcement of child pornography laws.

He writes: “The original justification for punishing a person who purchased (or possessed) kiddy porn was that he was supporting an industry that abused children to produce the pictures. Once those laws were in place, they were used to severely punish people that took or enjoyed pictures of teenagers in sexy poses, etc.. In other words, those laws were used to enforce our culture’s standard of what is an appropriate depiction of children, even where there was no real ‘Child Abuse’ involved.

“The Law Enforcement agencies should be going after the people that committed the original abuse, if indeed there was actual abuse, and not wasting time and taxpayer’s money on enforcing what amounts to ‘thought’ crimes.”

In addition to his overall anti-government stance, he appears to have some personal grievances with law enforcement. He was arrested in 1990 in a sting operation for what he calls “talk-thought crimes.” In a series of tape-recorded conversations with a female undercover police officer, he discussed running away with her, raising children and “arranging pleasant sexual experiences” for them within the family, he said.

“I have a 15% chance of actually suing the government for millions,” he said. “If I did that, then maybe I could encourage a young lady to run off with me and start a family again.”

A debate between seven candidates for state Senate District 13 on Feb. 5 was co-sponsored by the Palo Alto Weekly, Palo Alto Online, the Almanac, Mountain View Voice and CalMatters. Video by Embarcadero Media. Having issues watching the video? Watch it on YouTube


What issues do you think are at the center of this year’s race for the state Senate District 13 seat? Share your comments by posting on community discussion forums on the Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Online websites.