Declaring a State of Emergency triggered a sequence of events throughout the State of California. With the possible effects of COVID-19 impacting everyone, a top priority for the Town of Atherton, without hesitation is public safety.
The New York Times recently stated, COVID-19 has the potential to “erode city budgets in many insidious ways.” As an experienced, fiscally savvy Council Member, I am already adept at understanding potentially hidden liabilities, or attempts at cost shifting, and can avoid such pitfalls before the Town becomes negatively impacted. For example, because of the Town’s involvement in joint agreements with multiple jurisdictions, there may be increased demand by other entities on Atherton’s fiscal resources.
With the historic development of a new Town Civic Center underway, there are still ongoing decisions to be made to assure the project stays on schedule and budget. COVID-19 could impact this project. For example, there is always a risk a manufacturer of a material will be unable to supply the material (i.e., the material comes from abroad or COVID-19 impacts production) or a supplier is unable to get materials due to a supply chain drying-up. Our contractor, site manager, and the Town Council will need to consider such impacts on decisions already made and/or discussions being had on the project.
Atherton Rail Service
As the Council’s representative on the Rail Committee and the Local Policy Maker’s Group (LPMG) for 8 years, I have an in-depth knowledge of the rail corridor and the operational components of Caltrain. In 2020, the Atherton Town Council unanimously approved moving forward in an attempt to enter into an Memo of Understanding (MOU) with CalTrain for the closure of the Atherton Station. I am presently on the subcommittee charged with negotiating the MOU, which will be brought back to the entire Council for consideration. This is a monumental effort that will further enhance the lives of our residents along the corridor. The consideration to close the station was not an easy one due to the station’s history, and because our residents are supportive of public transportation. Making the decision to close the station makes financial sense as it would allow (i) other jurisdictions with higher ridership to gain stops thus increasing an opportunity for ridership; and (ii) eliminate required upgrade costs that are necessary if the Atherton Station remains open. The closure would also further reduce noise levels with less horn blowing, the elimination of staging trains, and quicker ingressing/egressing for pass-through trains. Finally, with shorter gate times traffic across the tracks will flow more smoothly. But without a successful MOU none of this can happen.
High Density Housing
It would be short-sided of me not to mention some of the recent legislative moves (SB50) to propose high density development along the transportation corridor and more specifically operational stations. For now, allowing the closure of Atherton Station would protect the character of the surrounding community as the legislation is directed to locations where transportation is readily available. Further, it would provide the Town time to engage with residents and determine what, if any high-density development is appropriate. Because the State of California has the ability to mandate requirements that take the decisions away from all municipalities, there may be a time when the Town of Atherton will have no say about how high-density housing is developed. However, for now, we can shape it.
New Civic Center
The residents of Atherton said they wanted the Civic Center project completed with no new taxes, I supported that decision. When the project came in over budget, and all estimates, as Mayor I spearheaded sending the project back to the committee for re-evaluation. It was successfully re-bid. The new Civic Center, the largest project in Atherton’s history, is presently under construction. All Town Departments will ultimately be under one roof making access to Town services easier for residents.
With unanimous Council support, the Town obtained Certificates of Participation (COP) financing for operational purposes while the Civic Center is under construction. This has secured the Town’s financial position based on what we know today. Although we are working hard towards completion, the unpredictable environment created by COVID-19 has already caused delays and some additional expenses. We will need to closely monitor and react wisely.
The entire Council, by consensus, supported getting financial and service information from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. The entire Council then supported community education and outreach. While I supported these initiatives, my position may have been mischaracterized -- I do not support “splitting” from the Menlo Park Fire District. I have always been an advocate for first responders. That is why for 8 years I have been the liaison between the Town and MPFPD. I want to make sure our residents get the services they want and need (i.e., the vast majority of our calls are for medical service and we have requested enhanced ambulance response). I support funding ADAPT, supported the alarm testing for Walsh Road, supported installation of the hybrid beacon on El Camino Real (at Almendral Avenue), and initiated discussions offering MPFPD an opportunity to build within the new Civic Center. One of my pledges is to provide transparent government, and part of transparency is knowing how and where tax dollars are spent – in my mind, that is the only reason for the discussion – not to leave the District. The Town wants MPFPD to invest in the Town to secure our future safety (both fire and medical).
“Public Safety” is always a top priority for me. I will ensure that Atherton continues to maintain the local policing tailored to the community that it has enjoyed for over 90 years.
The Town invests considerable resources in the screening process of all police applicants, requires an extensive review process before hire and throughout the training process, mandates ongoing P.O.S.T (Police Officer Standards of Training), and adopts policies and procedures on an as needed basis to maintain the high standards our Police Department and residents expect. I am proud to have been integral in the 2017 successful, national recruitment of the Town’s Police Chief. I believed, and still believe, that the hiring of a Police Chief is so fundamental to the Town’s well-being that the Council and the public needed to be involved. Our Police Department operates with a community policing philosophy. We have exemplary leadership that leads by example. They understand the public's expectations and are constantly striving to exceed them. The Department has an open door philosophy in order to address any issues immediately. I am proud to say our officers maintain the standard of their mission --
“To Serve With Honor, Integrity, and Professionalism.”