With November elections still more than seven months away, there's already been interest expressed by some non-incumbants that may result in contested Menlo Park council elections this year.
"I think the conversation about district elections has got people energized. (They) want to at least start getting organized early," said Clay Curtin, Menlo Park's interim city clerk.
This year, three council members' terms are up: Rich Cline, Mayor Peter Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith. Mr. Ohtaki and Ms. Keith have confirmed they plan to run again, while Mr. Cline told The Almanac he does not intend to run again.
So far, three people have filed preliminary forms showing "intention" to run in November, Mr. Curtin told The Almanac on March 23: council incumbent Kirsten Keith, and newcomers George Yang and Sarah Staley Shenk. The Candidate Intention Statement or "501" form signifies that a candidate may intend to run, and permits fundraising and spending up to $2,000.
The matter of who will ultimately even be able to run, and how the dynamics of candidates' campaigns operate, may change dramatically with the introduction of districts in this year's elections.
Following recommendations from the city's advisory districting committee, the City Council voted March 20 that three of the city's five districts would be up for election: District 1, which covers Belle Haven and the city east of U.S. 101; District 2, which covers the Willows, Suburban Park and Flood Triangle; and District 4, which covers downtown Menlo Park, Allied Arts and a southern segment of El Camino Real. That leaves out District 3, which would have no representation until 2020, and District 5, which would have two representatives: council members Ray Mueller and Catherine Carlton, who were both re-elected in 2016.
Peter Ohtaki and Rich Cline both hail from District 4, while Kirsten Keith is in District 2.
Of the other potential candidates, Ms. Staley Shenk lives in District 2, and Mr. Yang lives in District 1. Jennifer Wolosin, a resident of District 3, has filed the candidate intention form but won't be eligible to run until 2020.
Mr. Ohtaki said he's looking forward to running again.
"I actually have very much enjoyed and continue to enjoy serving on City Council," he said in an interview. "We don't agree on everything, but we do get things done, and I think that's important."
When asked how he might campaign differently for a district versus an at-large election, he said he'd probably "focus on my particular district," noting, "I hope the council representatives from the different districts will continue to work like this council."
In a written statement, Ms. Keith said, "I look forward to working with all residents to continue to make Menlo Park a great place to live, work and play." Her priorities, she said, are working on the Dumbarton Corridor plan to reduce traffic congestion, and supporting new affordable housing, bike infrastructure and environmental advancements.
Mr. Cline, who is currently in his third term, said he ended up running again in 2014 because he wanted to see the projects he'd been working on through. By now, he said, the gig comes with a sense of deja vu, and he feels he's done "what you never want to do" become an institution. "It's counterproductive to what a new group of active community members wants," he said.
Serving on the council, he said, is a "good amateur job. It should be preserved that way."
Sarah Staley Shenk, a resident of Suburban Park who characterizes herself as a working mom, said in an interview that she hasn't yet decided if she will run for council, but filed the initial paperwork to be transparent and compliant with the campaign process. She's currently conducting a "listening tour" to hear from District 2 residents and is planning to decide whether or not to run in the next month.
People interested in talking to her can contact her at [email protected]
"I love Menlo Park," she said, noting she is "increasingly concerned ... that what we value about Menlo Park is eroding nearly to the point of (an) unrecognizable landscape."
When asked how she might feel about running against Councilwoman Keith, she said, "Kirsten has demonstrated an incredible resume of dedication to the city of Menlo Park. ... It appears to me she comes to this with true heart for the city."
George Yang, a member of Menlo Park's Sister City Committee, could not be reached for comment by press time.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story listed the incorrect email address for Ms. Shenk. It has been corrected above.