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Atherton: Relative unknown wins landslide council victory

(Expanded version of an earlier story)


Rick DeGolia. Dave Boyce/The Almanac
Atherton voters gave political newcomer Rick DeGolia a giant thumbs-up on election day, with 62 percent of them backing his bid for a one-year term on the City Council to fill the seat left vacant by Jerry Carlson's July resignation.

"My name was not known when I started (the campaign), but I built a very strong relationship to a lot of people," Mr. DeGolia told the Almanac when asked about his sweeping victory in the three-candidate race.

The lack of name recognition is understandable: Before January, Mr. DeGolia hadn't served on a single town committee or commission, and before the November 2012 election, hadn't participated significantly in the town's often-polarized political arena.

By contrast, one opponent -- Greg Conlon -- has not only served on town committees for nearly 10 years, but also came in a close third in a race for two council seats last year.

The county Elections Office late last week reported Mr. DeGolia winning 1,066 votes (62.2 percent); Mr. Conlon, 357 votes (20.8 percent); and Diane Sandhu, also a relative newcomer to town civic affairs, 290 votes (17 percent). The county will update those figures on Nov. 12, according to the Elections Office website.

Political observers are certain to be watching how Mr. DeGolia's presence on the dais will affect how effectively the five-person council functions during the next year. All three candidates criticized the council for not being able to conduct the town's business in a more collaborative and civil manner.

An example of how divided the council has been: All three candidates were among seven who applied in July for appointment to Mr. Carlson's vacant seat. The council had hoped to avoid an election because it would mean that a seat would be vacant for five months, and that the winner of the race would have only one year to serve before having to run again. But after failing in a series of votes to agree on a single candidate, council members were forced to call an election. Mayor Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest supported Mr. DeGolia; Jim Dobbie and Bill Widmer held fast to their vote for John Ruggeiro.

During his campaign, Mr. DeGolia touted his skills, honed from years of experience on corporate and nonprofit boards, to interact well and effectively with others and to work toward consensus.

Mr. DeGolia may have to give up his membership on the town's Community Center Advisory Committee, which he was appointed to in January, marking his first foray into civic involvement as a volunteer committee member. He serves as vice chair of that committee and also as chair of the CCAC's library subcommittee. Members of the CCAC have been studying options for building a new Town Center, using mostly private funds.

He told the Almanac that prior to becoming involved in the town, he had focused primarily on family, work, and service on nonprofit boards.

Mr. DeGolia worked for 11 years as a partner in the law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati. He currently serves as a board member and governance committee chair of the Cleantech Open, which supports "clean technology" startups; and as an advisory board member of the nonprofit Clean Coalition.

An advocate of getting more residents involved in town government, Mr. DeGolia pointed to a series of recent outreach meetings held in residents' homes to provide information and seek input from residents about what they'd like to see in the planned Town Center. "I think what the CCAC has done (in sponsoring the meetings) is a model of how we need to reach out to people in Atherton," he said. "It's kind of a town hall concept."

Mr. DeGolia said another top priority is to "bring a stronger focus to the needs of young families and of older residents," noting that the number of parents with young children continues to rise, increasing the need for the town to accommodate that population. One way to accomplish that is to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety, he said, with a priority on creating safe routes to school and better ways for people on bikes and on foot to cross El Camino Real.

Mr. DeGolia will be sworn in to office at the council's regular December meeting.

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