Jane Parker pulls her car into what ought to be enemy territory—Seaside’s upscale Upper Mescal neighborhood. Her opponent for the District 4 County Supervisor’s seat, Mayor Jerry Smith, lives down the street. But even though she’s in Smith’s back yard, the dueling yard signs that decorate lawns, front windows and fences appear to be fairly evenly distributed—there are as many purple-and-green Jane Parker signs as there are blue Jerry Smith signs.
Like Parker, most of the voters in this precinct are registered Democrats. Here, John Kerry and Barbara Boxer lawn signs coexist with Jerry Smith signs. Many voters don’t seem to know that Smith, after winning a third term as Mayor of Seaside in 2002, turned Republican.
Others simply know the man and like him, politics aside.
But Parker will turn more than a few hearts and minds this sunny September afternoon.
She hasn’t knocked on a single door yet, but Parker’s already picked up two votes. She’s hunched over, fishing campaign brochures and voter registration lists out of the trunk of her car. A khaki cap covers her pale skin and short, red hair. Her purple and green Jane Parker button, pinned to her lapel, is barely visible.
An older man drives by; he recognizes Parker and rolls down his window. “Jane Parker,” he shouts. “Alright,” flashing her a thumbs up.
A few minutes later, a young man on a bike rides by and does the same.
It’s not bad face recognition for a relative newcomer to county politics.
After years of working on local, state and national campaigns—races for sitting Supervisor Dave Potter, former Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman, and US Senator Barbara Boxer—to name a few—serving as Monterey Peninsula College Trustee, and working as a Planned Parenthood Vice President, Parker announced her bid for Supervisor a year ago last July. She hit the ground running and she hasn’t stopped yet.
During the primary campaign, in which four candidates vied to fill Edith Johnsen’s seat—representing Marina, Seaside, Sand City, Del Rey Oaks and the south end of Salinas—Parker held more than 50 coffee-talks in living rooms all over the district, signed up more than 500 endorsements from every neighborhood, knocked on thousands of doors, and spoke to about 6,000 voters.
Smith, on the other hand, relied on TV commercials paid for with hefty checks written by pro-development Republicans, as well as endorsements from most of the mayors in the county as well as outgoing District 4 Supervisor Edith Johnsen, and, of course, his own well-earned name recognition. He wasn’t out pounding the pavement like Parker.
On Election Day, March 2, Parker forced Smith into a runoff. Smith won 44 percent of the vote to Parker’s 28 percent. The other two candidates, Darlene Dunham and Lance McClair finished with 23 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Dunham, the only candidate who lives in Salinas,’ won every precinct in the city. A lifelong Democrat, she has nevertheless endorsed Smith.
Back in March, at Parker’s election night party at Mountain Mike’s in Marina, Parker pointed to the votes for her own candidacy—as well as Dunham’s and McClair’s—as grass-roots voices for change.
“Voters want someone who is going to advocate for their issues, not special interests—that’s the message we’re seeing here,” Parker said. “When I get involved in something, action happens. People are frustrated with a lot of talk but not a lot of action.”
Since then, Parker’s been working hard to win the 28 percent that Dunham and McClair collected in the primary.
She hosts three to five coffees a week in all five of the communities she hopes to represent as County Supervisor; she attends rotary meetings, chamber of commerce events, and business women’s and other organizations’ get-togethers from Marina to Salinas. She has been making the rounds of neighborhoods, walking precincts throughout the District, since July 4.
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Back in Upper Mescal, we start up Skyview Drive. No one’s home at the first house. Parker leaves a campaign brochure under the doormat with a hand-written note: “Sorry to have missed you.”
A woman who looks to be in her 60s answers the second door. She’s has short, white hair and is wearing a pink floral robe and slippers. “You caught me with my hair down,” she says, laughing.
Parker introduces herself, and invites the woman to a meet-the-candidate coffee tomorrow night in Seaside.
“If you are interested, or if you know anyone else who is,” Parker says. “A lot of people know Jerry Smith, but they don’t know me.
“I’m running for the Board of Supervisors because I think we need a woman on the Board, for one, and I think we need to talk about the issues, like affordable housing for our families.”
“Well,” the woman replies, “I can speak to having a woman on the Board because she has ideas the others haven’t thought of.” She nods in support, and Parker continues.
“It’s a nonpartisan race, but I think it’s important for people to know that I’m the Democrat in this race.”
The woman takes Parker’s campaign literature, and takes her hand, shaking it. “It’s my pleasure,” she says. “I have seen the picture, and now I’ve met the woman.”
It continues this way for the next couple hours. Parker knocks on doors. She’s friendly and genuine and approachable. Some residents recognize her from church; others say they’ve seen her walking the neighborhood before or know her face from campaign signs.
“You look familiar,” says one woman, standing in her yard, raking leaves. Then the realization sets in: “You’re Jane Parker. You’ve already got my vote.”
Some agree to place lawn signs on their property.
Parker stops in front of a house on Mescal Street with a Smith sign on the fence. She double-checks the voter-registration list. “He’s a Democrat, and he’s got a Jerry Smith sign up, so that qualifies him for a visit,” Parker says.
The man admits, no, he didn’t know Smith was a Republican. He says Smith seemed like a nice guy. “But I don’t know much about him.”
“You don’t necessarily know anything about me either,” Parker says.
She rattles off her list of key issues: affordable housing, fiscal responsibility, her own background in health care and how that relates to Natividad Medical Center.
Affordable housing strikes a chord with this voter. “My kids aren’t even going to be able to live here,” he says. So Parker engages him some more.
“I have a huge difference from Jerry Smith in my approach to providing affordable housing,” Parker says. She talks about the lack of affordable housing in Seaside Highlands, where homes start at above a half-million dollars on land conveyed from the Army to the city. She points out that Smith chairs the Fort Ord Reuse Authority Board, and reminds the man that when US Congressman Sam Farr demanded that 50 percent of the new homes on Fort Ord be built affordable, Smith refused to go above 20 percent.
“People argue—and I think it’s true—Seaside deserves to have some high-end homes,” Parker says. “But they sold the land to developers for so low…”
She tells the voter about the studies that have shown that it is feasible to build 40 percent of homes below market rate and still allow developers to make a profit. The man listens.
“The city of Salinas is an example,” Parker continues. “They have found a way to get between 30 and 45 percent inclusionary housing. We need to be more aggressive. If we don’t hold people accountable, it’s never going to happen. It’s not only your kids who can’t afford to live here, it’s also teachers, nurses, who can’t afford to live here.”
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The issues in Monterey County have been the same for a decade.
People who work and live here can’t afford to buy homes. Developers want to build homes amid the Salinas Valley’s fertile farmland. Gang violence in Salinas continues to rise; the sheriff’s department continues to ask for more money to help out. The county-funded hospital is on its way to a fiscal recovery, but access to community healthcare still remains out of reach for some vital workers. Water remains in short supply.
We’re in the middle of an unprecedented budget crisis, made even worse by the state government’s own financial woes. And after five years and $5 million, County Supervisors still refuse to bite the bullet and pass a General Plan.
Currently, Supervisor Dave Potter is the only consistently progressive and conservation-minded vote. Supervisor Lou Calcagno will cast a green vote—especially if it involves his North County district. Supervisor Fernando Armenta consistently supports workers’ rights—including housing, labor issues and health-care—but he has become almost stridently pro-development.
Johnsen made the initial motion last spring to stop the General Plan Update process, and she has never met a development project that she didn’t like. She has voted for every proposal that’s come to the Board—environment, as well as state and county codes be damned.
It’s commonly assumed that a Smith supervisorial term will be more of the same: Four more years of “yes” votes to developers.
But not on her watch, says Parker.
“We need to take a step back and talk about our principles, our priorities and our values,” she says. “It needs to be not about personalities and whether you like this person or even whether you like that project. It needs to be about whether it fits a certain criteria.”
The criteria, she believes, needs to be laid out in the General Plan—a core document that the County has been struggling with for five years, and which the current board abandoned two months ago.
“It’s very hard to be firm when you don’t have that conceptual framework of what you’re trying to do and where you’re trying to go,” she says. “It becomes very ad hoc and reactive and about personalities if you don’t have an agreed-upon set of rules. And that’s what I see is missing.
“It’s not that the current Supervisors are incapable of making those decisions. They haven’t allowed themselves to step back and make the mega-rules that really help them be able to make decisions that don’t have to be so personal.
“I think part of it is that people who get into politics tend to be people-pleasers. I wouldn’t describe myself that way. I’m trying to get something done. But if you say ‘yes’ to something, often you are saying ‘no’ to something else. And often, that’s people.”
Parker uses family dynamics to explain her position.
“You have to make rules that are clear and that work for the family; and then you have to enforce them,” she says. “As much as you love your children, there are times when what they want to do doesn’t fit. It’s not good for the rest of the family, and as much as you love them you have to say ‘no’, the answer to that right now is ‘no.’”
“This is why we have the conversations be about values and the direction. What are we trying to build? Where are we going? And we don’t have enough of those kinds of conversations. We’re mostly moving the deck chairs around.”
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Smith, who takes big checks from major developers, says the Supervisors were right to kill the 20-year growth plan.
“The General Plan that was being proposed was too restrictive, and didn’t allow for maximizing better land management plan,” he says.
When asked what he means by “maximizing better land management plan,” he can’t explain himself further. “I would have to go piece by piece through the plan,” he says, and does not explain further.
This is perhaps the main difference between the two candidiates: Parker has specific plans for dealing with the County’s woes; Smith’s proposals are much more vague.
Parker, a former small business owner and now VP of Development for Planned Parenthood, gives specific suggestions related to the County’s economic crisis: Examine the budget in a two-year cycle every year. Look ahead to Sacramento; it shouldn’t take three years for the Board to realize that Monterey County’s purse strings are pulled by the state. Give policy direction to the CAO about budget priorities instead of mouthing support for specific programs.
“It’s important that we look at the budget as a tool and a vehicle to express our priorities, instead of looking at it as something that has an existence of its own,” she says. “It’s a tool that we can use to put money where our priorities are.”
Smith says he would like to see a “performance audit” of the County budget, but when pressed for specific expenditures that he would support cutting, he says, “I would have to give more thought to that.”
During the primary, Smith failed to offer any specific suggestions of how he would address the County’s budget crisis.
When it comes to public safety—a topic that Smith should know something about—he’s getting better at giving a substantive answer. (Smith spent the last 22 years as an official at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, where he began as a prison guard and now works as a community resources manager.)
Back in July, Smith spoke to the Weekly just days before he held a Salinas meet-and-greet at Chapala Restaurant, at which, according to press releases, he would address “specific Salinas concerns,” including “housing costs and crime.”
The Weekly asked Smith, specifically, if elected, what would he do about housing costs and crime?
“Those are specific concerns that have been brought to my attention, and I think I have the experience from my role in Seaside to do something about housing and crime,” he said.
When asked the same question—specifically, if elected County Supervisor, how will he use his Seaside mayoral and peace officer experience to reduce crime and housing costs in Salinas?—twice he said: “I think my record in Seaside speaks for itself.” And then: “I’m not really in a position to go into specifics at this time.
“One, I think, specifically, crime reduction is a specific issue. I think housing is a real issue. I think my being the chair of FORA [Fort Ord Reuse Authority] has allowed me more insight into how we would develop housing.”
Now, he says: “We should use neighborhood improvement programs, and greater intelligence to identify gang members, and use greater community policing. I strongly support the sheriff’s department and the task force. I think the $3.3 million [in federal funding, sought by Sen. Barbara Boxer to fight gangs in Salinas] is a tremendous way to make an improvement, and I think my experience will allow me to provide this type of leadership.”
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Parker grew up in Monterey, but she was born in Las Vegas. Family folklore says she didn’t like the heat so her parents got in the car and drove until she stopped crying.
They arrived in Monterey in July. “So of course, it was foggy here. I stopped crying and they stopped driving and we lived here.”
Parker’s father covered education for the Herald, and her mother worked as a freelance writer and editor.
“And she was the one in our family who was the rabble-rouser,” Parker says. “She was the one who made sure we were boycotting grapes, leafleting Safeway, and protesting the Vietnam War.
“When she saw things that she thought weren’t right, it just made her mad. So I got the idea if you don’t like the way something is, you don’t just sit back; you find a way to do something about it. It’s something that is true about me as a person: I don’t usually complain much, but if there’s something I don’t like, I look for a way to do something about it.”
Parker’s a product of the Monterey public schools. Upon graduating from Monterey High she took classes at MPC and UC-Santa Cruz.
“Somewhere in there I babysat for some friends here and made, oh, I don’t know, it seemed like a lot of money at the time,” she recalls. “I said to my dad, ‘Well, shall I give this to your for school or shall I travel?’ He said, ‘You should travel.’”
So she set off to England for six months. She stayed a year and a half.
Upon returning to Monterey, Parker attended the Monterey Institute for International Studies, and graduated in 1977 with a degree in international economics. Her next plan was to go back to Paris, to study international politics and economics at the Sorbonne, but instead she became a chef.
“The whole food thing was a complete accident,” she says.
In Paris, she met a friend of a friend who ran a cooking school. Because she spoke fluent French, Parker enrolled in a type of work-study arrangement, translating for the French chefs and the English-speaking students.
She learned to cook, earned her Grand Diplome de Cuisine, and moved to Los Angeles, where her then-husband’s family lived. In LA, she worked in different restaurants, did some catering, worked as a private chef, and helped start a spa cuisine restaurant in Beverly Hills.
In the early ‘90s, Parker’s marriage ended. “I suddenly realized, hey, I don’t have to stay in LA anymore,” she says. “So I moved back here.”
Back here—by way of Asia. And Africa. Parker wanted to take a break, maybe spend some time in the Sierras, before starting a new life and a new career in Monterey.
But first she joined another friend she had met in the kitchen on a trip to Beijing to visit the friend’s mother.
“I mentioned to some of my friends, ‘I’m going to China.’ They said, ‘If you’re going to China, you must go visit our son,’ whom I used to baby-sit. He was in Africa, with the Peace Corps.”
Parker says she bought an around-the-world ticket, and planned to travel for three or four months. She was gone for a year.
During her travels, Parker visited China, Tibet, Thailand and India.
“I didn’t mean to go to India, but when I was in Tibet, so many people said, ‘Oh, are you going to see the Dali Lama?’ They couldn’t; they weren’t free to travel. I felt like they were pinning their hopes on me, so I said, ‘Okay, yes, I’m going to see the Dali Lama. So I did.’”
After spending a few weeks in India, Parker headed for Africa, spending five months in Kenya, Zaire and Zimbabwe. “At a certain point, I was in Zimbabwe, and I said, ‘Okay, I want to go home.’”
Parker returned to the Peninsula in 1991, and started a one-woman business, a meal preparation and delivery service called Dine In. A few years later, Parker says, she “started getting grounded in issues affecting the community.”
Then-Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman appointed her to the county social services commission. Parker also campaigned for US Senator Barbara Boxer in ‘92, and coordinated coffees for Strasser Kauffman in her unsuccessful bid for state Assembly against Fred Keeley. (Both Keeley and Strasser Kauffman have endorsed Parker for Supervisor.)
Parker was involved in the first Tellus Project; she served as the volunteer coordinator for the Carmel Bach Festival for its ‘96 season; “and I was just about to sign on to be Dave Potter’s campaign manager,” she says. “The next day, I got a call saying ‘this is so-and-so from Planned Parenthood Mar Monte.’”
In the summer of 1996, she started working at Planned Parenthood, where she’s now vice president for development. She’s also served for four years as a Monterey Peninsula College trustee.
Parker’s currently on leave from her day job and says if elected to the board, she will work as County Supervisor full-time.
Parker’s backed by a long list of teachers, health-care workers, local, state and national politicos, activists, and other progressive-minded folk. US Congressman Sam Farr and state Assemblyman John Laird top the list, which also includes Jyl Lutes, Salinas City Councilwoman; social worker Wren Bradley; Natividad Doctor Pedro Moreno; Helen Rucker, former Mayor Pro Tem of Seaside; Carl Pohlhammer, who chairs the Monterey County Democratic Central Committee; Marina Planning Commissioner Chris Fitz; County watchdog Julie Engell; Salinas community leader Kalah Bumba; MIIS professor Bill Monning; and Dina Eastwood, journalist and activist, and wife of Clint. (Her husband’s a Smith supporter.)
Councilmember Lutes, like so many of Parker’s fans, says the key difference between the two candidates is that Parker sees the big picture, and is able and willing to make tough choices.
“She’s a consensus builder,” Lutes says, “but more than that, I think she is willing to make a difficult decision, and I’m not seeing the Supervisors doing that.”
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It’s a recent Jane Parker Coffee Night. The candidate is sitting in a Marina living room, surrounded by a handful of supporters and curious onlookers, talking about herself and her politics.
“One of the things I do is bring a fresh approach to county politics,” she says. “There’s a pattern of decision-making on the Board of Supervisors that is very reactive. Situations turned into problems and problems turned into crises.
“For example, Natividad. It wasn’t new circumstances. They had been there for decades—they just hadn’t been dealt with.”
At this event, like most of the coffees, Parker says, people want to talk about Natividad. “Everybody feels one paycheck away from disaster when it comes to healthcare,” she says.
For the coffee attendees, Parker launches into a detailed discussion. Parker talks about the changes Natividad has made that enabled the county-funded hospital to end the fiscal year in the black.
She’s clearly got a firm grasp on the issue and can talk in great detail about it—in a way that her opponent can’t.
This difference is apparent online. On Parker’s Web site, www.electjaneparker.com, she lists the usual—her biography, her endorsements, her top priorities if elected. But then she also posts comprehensive position papers, on affordable housing, the budget and the General Plan.
She knows the issues Monterey County faces, she’s able to articulate practical solutions, and she understands that all of the problems—and solutions—are interconnected.
“Law-enforcement and intervention and good policing are critically important,” she says. “But again, just like we can’t pave our way out of bad land use, we can’t police our way out of poor social policy.”
She explains that gangs have found fertile grounds in Salinas with multiple families living in single-family homes.
“It’s the affordable housing issue. It’s our main industries that pay minimum wage. We have to have strong methods to intervene.
“At the same time, we need to work hard to make sure that folks have not just good educational opportunities but also a lot of support to make sure that they are able to be successful in their schooling. And then we’ve got to make sure we’ve got jobs that pay more than minimum wage. It’s all interrelated. It’s something that we’ve all managed to create.”
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Parker and Smith will face off in a candidates forum, 7pm on Oct. 14, at the Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Avenue in Seaside. The forum is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Monterey Peninsula, The Hispanic, Seaside and Marina Chambers of Commerce and the Southwest Voter Registration Project.