Danville Express

Newsfront - February 16, 2007

Mary N. Piepho goes to Washington with hat in hand

Supervisors lobby on county health and environmental issues

by Natalie O'Neill

District 3 Supervisor Mary N. Piepho met with Bay Area delegates in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to lobby on health, quality of life and environmental issues in Contra Costa County.

Piepho and District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover met with congress members Jerry McNerney (D., District 11) and Ellen Tauscher (D., District 10) as well as Sen. Barbara Boxer on an official four-day trip funded by the county. The trip was made in conjunction with local mayors who were attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The supervisors asked for federal funds to decrease mercury in Marsh Creek, to improve dredging from San Pablo Bay to Stockton to transport imported items, to set up a cross-county radio system for emergency preparedness, and to improve library materials at the Juvenile Hall facilities.

"In Washington they call these requests 'pork,' I call it a return on our investments," Piepho said, noting that Contra Costa County contributes a lot of "matching dollars" and deserves a strong national voice.

It was the first time Piepho and Glover have gone in person to Washington to voice Contra Costa's needs. In the midst of the chaotic competition for national funding, face to face requests are more effective, Piepho said.

"You have to think about it in terms of any interaction or relationship. Does the man who asks you to marry him send his friend to do it - or does he get down on his knee and ask you himself?" she said.

Piepho also addressed the south county rumor circulating that she visited Washington for the purposes of furthering her political career, rather than for the betterment of the county.

"It's actually quite offensive. We worked our tails off," she said, adding that her days were packed with meetings and that she spent ample time "running back and forth between buildings."

Those claims were unfounded, she said, considering that she has no intention of running for the 10th District congressional seat. She said she plans to run for supervisor again in 2008.

"We've got other great candidates like Assemblyman Guy Houston," she said.

In terms of lobbying for issues that directly effect the south county population, dredging for shipping imports will decrease congestion along I-580, she said.

By deepening areas of channels by five feet along the stretch from San Pablo Bay to Stockton, more imports will be able to come in via ship. As a result, the amount of imports that come in via Oakland would be reduced and the shipments that clog I-580 during weekday rush hour traffic would be limited.

"It releases pressure from the Oakland port," Piepho said.

The project, including studies in preparation for dredging, is estimated to be about $9.6 million.

Deceasing mercury levels at Marsh Creek in Mt. Diablo State Park is also a vital county issue as it could severely impact the health of residents and have a negative impact on wildlife.

But this is a complicated issue, Piepho said, because if the county begins cleanup efforts it could potentially become the county's liability.

"The county has been poised to help mitigate but ... agencies will look anywhere to find someone culpable," she said.

In Washington, Piepho said she took steps to abate the problem and clarify that the county would be deemed a non-responsible party. She asked for federal funding in the amount of $1 million for that project.

Other lobbying issues included a push for $200 million in funds for an interoperable radio to be used among Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco and San Mateo counties in times of emergency.

"We live in a very vulnerable area. It's not question of if we need it, it's when we'll need it," she said.

And on a smaller scale, she pushed for $100,000 to improve library facilities in juvenile detention facilities. She said while youths are there, they should be encouraged to get an education.

"They are an important segment of our society," she said.

Overall, she said representatives in Washington responded with support, recognizing that many of the issues they presented were of regional significance.

Now, it is up to Contra Costa County lobbyists to continue to check in and remind representatives in Washington of the county's needs, she said.

"There is a huge competing interest (in Washington), and Contra Costa County needs to have a voice in the discussion," Piepho said.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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