Atherton: New mayor shares 2017 priorities

Mike Lempres voted mayor by fellow council members

Atherton's newly appointed mayor, Mike Lempres, said "2017 is going to be a busy year" for the town as he laid out his priorities for the coming year at the Wednesday, Dec. 7, council meeting.

Mr. Lempres, who was elected to the council in November 2014, was unanimously chosen as mayor by his fellow council members. Cary Wiest, who last served as mayor three years ago, is the new vice mayor. He was also chosen unanimously.

Mr. Wiest and outgoing Mayor Elizabeth Lewis were sworn in on Dec. 7 to begin new four-year terms, the second for Mr. Wiest and the third for Ms. Lewis. The election was canceled and they were appointed after no other candidates filed to run for their seats.

Mayor Lempres said in the coming year Atherton will "continue to implement plans we laid out as a community." Among those plans is the town's new civic center.

The council heard on Dec. 7 that it is scheduled to give final approval to the civic center plans in February. That would allow the town to put the project out for bids over the summer and begin construction about a year from now, City Engineer Marty Hanneman told the council.

The funding for the civic center is still in question, however, and Mayor Lempres said the council will have to figure out an answer early next year.

In 2012 Atherton voters approved a measure requiring the town to build the civic center primarily with private donations. The measure also allows using building fees or grants, but not general fund or parcel tax money.

Atherton Now, the group formed to raise donations for the civic center, has admitted it is not going to be able to raise the approximately $25 million needed. The group's current goal is to raise $10 million by the end of the year.

"Let there be no doubt we need a new civic center," Mayor Lempres said, citing the unsafe and deteriorating facilities the town's police department and other employees now occupy.

Atherton Now has done a great job, he said, but "we must acknowledge that Atherton Now will not raise all the money we need to build the civic center."

The council and town must shape a new public private partnership, he said. "We will build a town center that strengthens our community and that we will be proud of."

Other topics Mayor Lempres said the council will tackle in the coming year are "a safer and better El Camino Real," the railroad quiet zone, high-speed rail, air traffic noise, and hiring a new police chief. The council will also have to decide in 2017 if it wants to put a parcel tax measure on the ballot, he said.

Mayor Lempres said he plans to work with Atherton's neighboring communities "to help increase communication on development projects that have direct impacts on Atherton." Currently he said, Atherton often learns about projects that will affect the town only after they are nearing final approval.

"We are a good team, I feel fortunate and proud to be part of it," he said of the council. "I feel fortunate to represent the town and proud to be part of this council.

Before handing over the gavel to the new mayor, outgoing Mayor Elizabeth Lewis talked about some of her favorite memories of the past year. She cited throwing out the first pitch for the Little League season, giving awards out for an Atherton Library reading program, and starting the hunt at the annual Holbrook-Palmer Park Easter festivities.

She said she felt she had made progress on her three top priorities: the civic center, fiscal management of the town, and the health and safety of Atherton residents.

Installation of the pedestrian-activated stoplight on El Camino Real at Almendral Avenue, the completion of the rebuilding of the Marsh Road drainage channel, and progress on the civic center plans were cited by Ms. Lewis as major accomplishments.

"I have no delusions that I was responsible for any of this," she said. "It was because of our staff," she said and then went on to name nearly every town employee, including City Manager George Rodericks, who she said is "the man (who) never sleeps, he's always on his computer."

She thanked her council colleagues for "thoughtful discourse and collaborative consensus" even though they did not always agree.

"It really, truly has been a joy and a privilege to serve the town of Atherton as your mayor," she said.

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