As Menlo Park's mayor for the coming year, Ray Mueller will play a role in shaping what gets put on the City Council's agenda and, by extension, what policymaking gets done over the next 12 months. The Almanac spoke with him to discuss his priorities for 2019.
To start, he said, the new council members have to be brought up to speed and the city needs to hire a new city manager.
While the city continues to recover from a hemorrhagic year of staff departures by making new hires, Mueller says he wants the council to focus on issues of self-governance; consider creating a policy to make council members' calendars public; and re-evaluate the city's travel policy.
Mueller said he also wants the council to consider a minimum wage ordinance and discuss how to build more affordable housing and protect existing affordable housing.
"We've gone through a number of years here in Menlo Park where it seemed there was one big, giant, massive strategic plan after another," he said. "It's time to give our staff the opportunity to focus on building our core strengths. At the same time they're doing that (there is an) opportunity for us as a council to build strength as well."
A key personal priority is to take a new look at the city's ongoing debate over grade separations – ways of separating the roadway from the Caltrain tracks so they don't intersect. A plan to separate only Ravenswood Avenue from the tracks, as opposed to multiple rail crossings throughout Menlo Park, had the support only of the three council members no longer in office.
On Dec. 17, Mueller emailed the Palo Alto City Council and indicated he is still interested in a tunnel option, which would likely cost billions. "I remain very interested in meeting with representatives of the Palo Alto City Council and other City Councils subregionally, formally, to discuss the viability of a tunnel for high speed rail in our portion of the peninsula," he wrote.
Further efforts to relieve traffic congestion, he said, will require work in neighborhoods to ease cut-through traffic and effort at the county level to ensure that the city receives funding from Measure W, the half-cent transportation sales tax that barely passed in November.
Mueller said he also wants the city to work more closely with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and local school districts, especially in communicating about new developments.
When asked whether he thought district elections would change the dynamics on the City Council, he said he was "optimistic." "When you have a more focused area you're representing, it's easier to take community feedback and understand what's happening. I see a lot of benefit in that," he said.
There may be some rough spots, initially, he said, but added, "I don't foresee it to be an issue."
Other matters coming up this year are the launch of the environmental review process for Facebook's Willow Village project and the city's Parks and Recreation facilities master plan.
Mueller said he's also exploring having a city gala instead of a "State of the City" event in 2019.