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Is Government Broken? Philanthropists Discuss in South City

The South San Francisco Conference Center hosted the Silicon Valley Community Foundation's annual meeting Tuesday.

Tuesday afternoon, the Mountain View-based Silicon Valley Community Foundation held its annual regional meeting at the South San Francisco Conference Center, hosting a lively panel discussion and drawing a crowd of several hundred.

Three panelists, including a former politician, a businessman and a Latino vote activist, engaged in conversation about whether or not "government is broken," more than once talking over one another.

It wasn't clear whether Voto Latino president and CEO Maria Teresa Kumar and former assemblyman Jim Cunneen actually disagreed or if they were just over compensating for potential friction between their perspectives.

"I think if we had given them another 10 minutes, sparks would have really gotten going, but the debates are tomorrow night," joked SVCF president and CEO Emmit D. Carson, who spoke after the panel.

Most of the attendants were either donors and philanthropists who support the foundation, or representatives of non-profit organizations based on the peninsula, looking to make connections.

Following the theme of the event, "New Rules: the Changing Role of Government," answers to the question of whether government is truly broken varied between the panelists.

Kumar said she did not think that government was broken, but that it needed improvement; Cunneen and Mark Walker, Applied Materials executive and former president and CEO of United Way Silicon Valley, were less definitive about whether national and local of governments in the United States were "broken" or not.

“Under the Bush Administration,” Kumar said, a program was created to give each country a score card for its governmental aid. “We could do the same thing at the local level.”

“You have to make sure you have the right stakeholders in the room," she added, saying that when government officials make decisions behind doors is when initiatives fail.

Cunneen said that there are not enough moderate Republicans elected in California right now to reach across the aisle between parties. Yet he anticipated that in the coming election and into the next decade, more moderates will be elected to office.

“The strength of our system [of government] is all about local,” Walker said. He lauded the abilities of local agencies like city councils and boards of supervisors to make decisions on how to allocate funds on their own.

South San Francisco Vice Mayor Pedro Gonzalez was in the crowd during the event. After the panel, he told Patch he agreed that local government is important in today's challenging economic times. He added that the city council "has more room" to get things done, whereas in some ways, "the school board has its hands tied" to state restrictions.

The panel discussion remained fairly broad, touching on several topics, including the effectiveness of social media to shepherd young voters toward civic engagement, rising costs and a growing political polarization between parties.

"We need to engage people who don't think they are part of the system," Vice Mayor Gonzalez said afterwards. 

SVCF CEO and president, Carson spoke to the crowd about the organization's recent achievments.

Because of finances provided through SVCF, "6,000 students [in San Mateo County] now have access to math tutoring, 550 teachers have received additional training in how to make math fun....Last year 283 scholarships totally $680,000 were given, and this year we will break over that," Carson said.

SVCF managed $2 billion in assets last year and have given over 10,400 grants.

For a list of the organization's future events, see their website here.

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