In his decade as a Menlo Park City Council member — two of those years as mayor — Ray Mueller has learned that effective governance requires him not to run away from problems.
"When someone comes to you and tells you something's wrong, that's the job," Mueller said in an interview with The Almanac. "And so you run towards that problem to help them. If you're sitting back away from the controversy you're not really doing the job."
It's why one of Mueller's immediate tasks if elected as District 3 supervisor would be to open an office on the coast in the first week and to be in that office two to three days a week. For Mueller, it's an essential step for him because he looks at the county as a "social services backstop."
It's not just land-use issues the county supervisor is dealing with, he said. "The supervisor touches the health and hospital system, it touches children and family services ... And so it's amazing to me that if you are a farm worker on the coast or if you're a person who's working two jobs trying to make ends meet, then you have to drive all the way from the coast to Redwood City to meet with your supervisor. That has to change."
Spending most of his career as a litigator, Mueller said he was spurred to get involved in city government shortly after the Great Recession, hoping to become steeped into communitywide issues in Menlo Park.
He joined the city's transportation commission in 2010, which reviewed traffic impacts of large development projects. Mueller cited the Stanford University hospital expansion plan as one the highlights of his two-year tenure, where his advocacy helped secure more funding for Menlo Park after the advisory body urged Stanford to do more to mitigate its project's impact.
Charlie Bourne, a colleague on the transportation commission, nominated Mueller to take over his chair position.
"Afterwards, I asked him why he did it and he said, 'Because I want you to be on council,'" Mueller said. "And so I ended up running for City Council and that passion for public service that I had when I was a kid was just completely reignited."
A decade later, adding a stint working as chief of staff for Santa Clara County District 5 Supervisor Joe Simitian during his time on council, Mueller hopes to continue working with his constituents closeby within San Mateo County rather than from up north in Sacramento.
One of Mueller's six campaign priorities focuses on the economic recovery of District 3 as labor shortages continue to impact farms, restaurants, small businesses and even the start-up economy. For Mueller, this labor issue ultimately boils down to a housing issue.
"We have to build workforce housing," he said. "We have to be committed to it."
Mueller pointed to county-owned land in Pescadero as one of the areas that could start building affordable housing. He also proposed the idea of working closely with cities that may be interested in upzoning a business district or shopping center and providing those jurisdictions with grant funding.
Beyond creating more housing, Mueller said that one of the larger critiques he has of the county is its approach to affordability.
"We put people into a classification group based on how much they can afford and then we extract as much as they can afford but that doesn't allow people to save anything to build equity," he said. "So I really want to move towards a community-trust model of affordable housing that allows people to actually buy into their unit."
Some of Mueller's current constituents may consider him to be a more moderate voice when it comes to development, at least compared to his colleagues on the council, but Mueller counters that it's all a matter of practicality.
"As a policymaker I try to be practical in terms of what infrastructure exists in an area," he said.
He adds that housing needs to be built near services in such a way that can also reduce greenhouse gases, and that he has the most experience in looking at housing strategies as someone who has gone through three housing element updates and has sat on the board of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.
Another focus of Mueller's campaign is stabilizing the coastal agriculture economy. He said that he wants to look at Napa and Sonoma Valley as a model for how farms on the coast should be branded to make them a more attractive destination to shop at and visit.
Mueller is endorsed by the San Mateo County Democratic Party, Menlo Park Police Officers Association and the San Mateo County Firefighters union, among other organizations. Endorsements from elected officials include U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, Simitian and more than 60 current and former city council members. To see a full list of his endorsements, go to raymuellerforsupervisor.com.