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Almanac

News - November 14, 2012

Mending Atherton's rifts a top priority

Victors Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest discuss their visions for new Atherton council term

by Barbara Wood

Now that the election is over, locating a new library in the park defeated, and a new council member on board, what's next for Atherton?

In interviews with new council member Cary Wiest and incumbent Elizabeth Lewis, who was elected to a second four-year on the City Council, the emphasis was on mending the rifts that have divided the town.

"Now is the time for healing the town from the conflict that we've had," said Ms. Lewis, who is vice mayor and expected to become mayor in December.

Mr. Wiest said he hopes to help set a new tone for town discussions. "I am going to try to make sure that I stay out of the sound bites," he said. Past behavior and the way people treat each other is "shocking to me," he said. "It doesn't belong here and it doesn't belong in our leadership."

The City Council "should set the example," he said. "I hope I will be an addition to making it better."

One point Ms. Lewis said she believes all Atherton residents already agree on is that "we do need to rebuild or at least renovate our library and make it more modern, make it safer — make it better for future generations."

"That's what I really want to do," she said.

Ms. Lewis said she believes the town will need to go back and do what residents had asked for a year ago: create a master plan for the town's facilities.

"What I would like to see happen is a true, objective, professionally done master plan, considering all of our civic infrastructure building needs," Ms. Lewis said. That would include the police, public works, administration, library and use of the park. "This is something that we need to kind of envision for the future," she said.

She warned, however, that a master plan is "what I would like to see happen. What council votes on is another thing."

Mr. Wiest, for one, said he will support a master plan. "The voters clearly said we want you to go in this direction and please respect our wishes," he said. A master plan is "a proper way to get a good direction in a town like ours," he said.

He hopes to involve citizens with different points of view in the process, he said, and "get opinions from all sides." Mr. Wiest said he hopes for "better planning, better participation, (and) better diversity in the groups we establish."

Another issue that will face the council is the joint powers agreement that governs the library. The council at a previous meeting had asked the city attorney to research the JPA issue and report back to the council. Ms. Lewis said she does not know if that issue will come up in November or December, and she is waiting to see the attorney's report.

Some residents have expressed concern over the pre-election endorsement by the Atherton Police Officers Association of Ms. Lewis and Mr. Wiest, and the union's campaigning for the two with signs, fliers, and phone calls.

Both say that the endorsement should have no effect on the upcoming negotiations over the contract with the union. "In my mind, absolutely none at all," Ms. Lewis said.

"My responsibility is to the health and well-being of the town and the economic well-being of the town," she said. What will matter in the negotiations, she said, is "whether we can pay for the services we're wanting to have."

The negotiations, she said, are "not going to be easy, but it never is when you talk about people's livelihoods." The town will probably have to do an analysis "of our top police services, what we can't live without," she said.

Mr. Wiest said he believes the police union members "just want to have a fair sit-down" when it comes time for negotiations. "I think they're just looking to be treated fairly."

However, "the bottom line is as a council member you're representing the interests of Atherton," he said.

Another issue that may come up soon in Atherton is the renewal of the town's parcel tax. "I am a big proponent of our parcel tax," Ms. Lewis said. She has twice in the past worked on successful campaigns to renew the tax.

Mr. Wiest said, "I think that the parcel tax has been something that has been very beneficial both to the police department and to the public works department." Without sales taxes, and with lots of non-residents using the city's streets and schools, the tax is needed, he said.

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