At a rare standing-room-only meeting in the Menlo Park City Council Chambers on Tuesday, Dec. 11, the powers of the council office were transferred warmly from one set of council members to the next.
Outgoing members Rich Cline, Peter Ohtaki and Kirsten Keith were recognized for their contributions, and there were several rounds of hearty applause for new members Cecilia Taylor, Betsy Nash and Drew Combs.
The new council took care of some business, unanimously approving a nomination by Catherine Carlton to install vice mayor Ray Mueller as the city's new mayor for 2019, and a nomination by Drew Combs to install Taylor as the new vice mayor.
In his remarks as newly elected mayor, Mueller borrowed from an address he gave in 2014:
"Menlo Park is many things to many people, depending on who you ask. At the end of the day we are all just neighbors, striving to renew and preserve a place we cherish and are proud of - to raise our children in, and in which to grow old with those we love. Do we always agree on what that means and how it should be accomplished? No," he said."But in Menlo Park there is a tradition that we cherish: Our neighbors care enough to be part of the conversation."
"I'm really looking forward to drawing upon the wisdom of councils immediately and further past," he added.
Taylor's remarks were more succinct. "I'm speechless," she said.
The new council also selected delegations for some of the city's subcommittees. Nash and Mueller will serve on the city manager recruitment subcommittee; Nash and Taylor will serve on the Stanford general use permit subcommittee; and Combs and Mueller will serve on the Caltrain local policymakers' subcommittee.
The rest of the committee, subcommittee and commission assignments were rescheduled for discussion at the council's special meeting on Dec. 18.
After the three new council members took the oath of office, each gave brief remarks stating their commitment to their new roles.
"While I sit in this chair, (I will) do my best to prioritize community needs," Taylor said. "I look forward to what we can do as a council together."
"I am humbled by the faith that fellow residents put in me," Combs said. "I promise I will approach this position with all the seriousness, integrity and sincerity I have in my being."
"I want to thank Peter, Kirsten and Rich for the example they've set," Nash said. "I'm excited to work going forward in the community."
Rich Cline was first elected in 2006 and then re-elected in 2010 and 2014. He served as mayor in 2010, 2011 and 2016, according to a proclamation read by Ohtaki. Cline saw Menlo Park through land use plans for the Menlo Gateway project and the city's rezoning in its El Camino Real/downtown specific plan and the ConnectMenlo general plan update.
Ohtaki praised Cline for being a "steady keel" on the council and for his good sense of humor, sense of leadership and commitment to the council. Keith noted that Cline brought a "wealth of knowledge" to his position and is an "all-around great guy." Carlton expressed appreciation for his listening skills and ability to "cut straight to the chase." Mueller said, "I'm so proud of the commitment you've made to the community in the last 12 years."
Cline told meeting attendees, "You run the city. It's yours. We work for you. ...If you don't push this council, we won't be as good as we can be."
He mentioned the concept of the "Menlo 100" – the 100 people or so whose civic activity shapes what the council does.
"They're active ... (and) make it clear they are part of this community," he said. They can make the job as a council member harder, but they also keep the council from making decisions that don't make sense or don't "emulate the values of the community," he said.
He concluded his remarks by saying, "I'm not going anywhere – I'm just taking a different seat."
Keith was first elected to the council in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014. She served as mayor in 2012 and 2017. She has represented the city on a wide range of regional and statewide groups. She helped the city to get renewable energy for its facilities, encouraged the Menlo Park Police Department to pursue mindfulness training, supported bike infrastructure improvements and supported affordable housing in Menlo Park.
Keith's remarks highlighted the work of two groups she's represented the city on over the years, the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority and Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA). Keith said that when she was elected, the city was struggling to weather the recession. Now, it's in the middle of a "crazy amazing economy in Silicon Valley" and "traffic is a major issue," she said. She thanked her family for their support.
Several council members recognized her for her tirelessness and willingness to represent the city widely. "You do so much – I've always been amazed and impressed by that," Cline said.
"When I was first elected, you were very kind to me," Carlton said. "You took me aside and made me feel welcome." Mueller complimented her as a "strong advocate" whose "regional work is remarkable." Ohtaki complimented Keith's passion, commitment and ability to "keep things moving forward."
Ohtaki, like Keith, was elected first in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. He served as mayor in 2013 and 2018. His accomplishments include working to support fiscal responsibility in the city and addressing its unfunded pension liability. He also worked on attracting new businesses to Menlo Park, completing the city's first housing element in 20 years in 2013, and supporting emergency preparedness.
Cline complimented Ohtaki's ability to have a "higher-level intelligence on the numbers" and said he is "a really nice guy." Carlton said she appreciated his intelligence and "unflappable" sense of balance on the dais. Keith said, "You served our city really, really well," complimenting his calm and professional demeanor and knowledge of finance. Mueller said Ohtaki sat down with his competitors during the race and shared some of his knowledge about the city with them.
Ohtaki said in his departing remarks that he was "proud of the tone of collaboration we set." He shared advice to the incoming members, urging them to look for out-of-the-box solutions, to support and thank staff for their hard work, to not spend all the incoming surpluses "in one place," and to keep a sense of humor.
"I remain confident that the city (and the) new City Council will find balance to maintain a great residential quality of life while the great Silicon Valley engine grows around us," he said.