Atherton doesn't always have a contested City Council election, but when it does, you can expect things to get lively. This year's race, between incumbents Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest and challengers Christine David and Diana Hawkins-Manuelian, is no different. In neighboring cities, the most contentious issues are the housing crisis, the pandemic and police reform. In Atherton, the pivotal issue of the Nov. 3 election is the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.
The well-regarded fire district, which also serves Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and nearby unincorporated areas, is funded by a fixed percentage of property taxes. Property owners in Atherton contribute more than their less-expensively housed neighbors, a reality that has been roiling town politics for the past few years. The debate over whether Atherton should "detach" from the fire district and contract out for emergency services is still alive and playing out in this City Council race.
As The Almanac opined on this page in March: "The notion that Atherton taxpayers, who own some of the highest-valued property in the entire country, are somehow being abused by having to bear a higher proportion of the cost for emergency services in the wider community is absurd. And sad. It rejects the widely held principles of a just society, and the values that underpin the belief in a common good that ensures that all citizens — rich or poor, and everyone in between — are entitled to equal access to education, medical care and emergency services."
Atherton would be best served by detaching from the expensive studies and pointlessly contentious process of examining its contributions to Menlo Park Fire and instead, work proactively with the district to make the town safer in fires and other emergencies.
That makes it easy to recommend reelecting Lewis, a knowledgeable, productive and reasonable member of the council throughout her four terms. Lewis consistently has spoken out against the process that has soured the town's relationship with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. We think she's the right person to mend fences with the fire district and provide leadership on other key issues facing the town, including deciding the future of the historic Caltrain station, managing town finances and representing residents on regional housing and traffic concerns.
Recommending incumbent Wiest is a harder choice in light of his history on the fire district issue. He was a key member of the narrow majority that voted for the consultants to parse the town's fiscal contributions to the fire district. And the prospect of getting some new blood on the City Council is tempting. However, Wiest's full-throated support of keeping Atherton in the fire district, and his history as a productive and dedicated member of the council in his previous two terms, tipped the balance in his favor over the more inexperienced challengers. We believe we can take Wiest at his word, and recommend voters reelect him.