Housing and infrastructure improvements are top of mind for the three candidates for Atherton City Council this fall.
Mayor Rick DeGolia and Vice Mayor Bill Widmer, along with newcomer Stacy Miles Holland, have announced their candidacies.
Bob Polito, who is serving out the rest of former Vice Mayor Mike Lempres' term that ends in November, said when he was appointed that he does not intend to run this fall and has not pulled papers to file for candidacy. Miles Holland previously sought to fill Lempres' seat.
DeGolia, a lawyer, first joined the council in 2013 and has since served as mayor in 2021 and 2022. His entry into civic life began the same year when he served as vice chair of the Civic Center Advisory Committee.
He said he thinks the most important role of a council member is to represent voters. This has particularly come into play when approaching planning for the state's 2023-31 mandated housing element update. The town must plan for the development of 348 new housing units, which is a large jump from its designation of 93 units during the previous eight-year cycle.
He said he wants to Atherton to contribute to affordable housing in this area, especially for school staffers who travel long distances to work.
"People (in Atherton) want to be informed; they generally don't want to be involved," DeGolia said. "That dynamic has changed. It's being impacted by the potential changes that possible zoning changes would create."
The town decided to reverse course on a plan to allow for townhouses. About 85% of the 300 written comments the town received were in opposition to multifamily housing overlays.
"We really take those opinions seriously," he said. "Leadership by not just being responsive but by thinking strategically. This is a very complex problem. Exactly what the desired solution is by requiring municipalities to increase (their housing allocation) by 370% by this eight-year cycle versus the last is a big question. ... We're different than other communities; land is too expensive."
DeGolia said last week at a council meeting that he realized over the last month it's infeasible to build affordable townhouses in a place where land sells for $8 million per acre.
"Offering townhouses for $5 million a piece, that's not affordable," he said. "That's not going to help people who work in this area."
The only way you can reasonably offer affordable housing in Atherton is if you offer it on the land people already own, he said, like accessory dwelling units (ADUs), lot splits and building on school-owned properties. The town will need a robust ADU program to reach its goals, he said.
Among his accomplishments on the council are helping to create a quiet zone along the Fair Oaks rail crossing in Atherton. He hopes to also bring a quiet zone to the Watkins Avenue crossing in the next year.
He said the new civic center, long in the works before its completion this spring, is a "game changer" for Atherton that will help the town hire and retain staff. For example, the police department was previously housed in temporary trailers and a dated building that was "filthy and had rats."
"We couldn't hire," DeGolia said.
Widmer has taught at Menlo College in Atherton and has served as an executive for over 30 years. He has been on the council since 2010.
Like DeGolia, the housing element is a top priority for Widmer. The town learned through the process that they need to better engage the community.
"The job is not yet done," Widmer said. "We learned some lessons also on the housing element."
He is proud of the cost-effective building of the long planned civic center, which was completed this spring.
Improvements to the Marsh Road Channel have reduced flooding and the risk of eroding people's properties. The town is putting a "substantial amount of money" into revamping the Atherton Channel, he said.
Widmer led the effort to switch the town's garbage and recycling program service provider to GreenWaste in 2021. The town left the South Bayside Waste Authority so it could "control the impacts to resident's refuse collection and processing rates over the next 20 years."
With the spike of home burglaries in town over the last few years, the town installed automated license plate readers. Widmer said the council will bring more innovative crime-fighting solutions to the town in the near future.
He said he'd like to see improvements to Holbrook-Palmer Park, including repaving the trail with decomposed granite since much of the asphalt has been uprooted by trees. He also wants to see the Carriage House renovated, one of two local carriage houses over 150 years old that are still standing (the other in Woodside has been refurbished).
He said he played a major role in the restructuring of town staff, the benefits program and paying down the town's long-term obligations which were in the tens of millions of dollars.
Stacy Miles Holland
Miles Holland, a public relations consultant who moved to Atherton in 2018, is chair of the Environmental Programs Committee (EPC) and joined the committee in June last year. Her husband has family from Atherton, so she spent time in town before ultimately moving in.
When she applied to fill Lempres' position last fall, she said she would bring a fresh perspective to the council as a new resident and new mom. She received a vote from Council member Diana Hawkins-Manuelian at the time.
The CZU Lightning Complex fires in September 2020 prompted Miles Holland, who had a newborn son at the time, to get involved with local government.
"I had the realization that this might be how his birthdays could be every year," she said. "I thought, 'I need to get more involved and I need to start looking for ways to make a difference,' so I joined the EPC in summer of 2021 and hit the ground running."
Miles Holland said she wants to encourage more community building in town with more get-togethers (she organized the town's 2022 Earth Day event).
She said she also wants the town to establish reach codes that limit gas appliances in new buildings, which helps limit greenhouse gas emissions. She's also keen on banning gas-powered gardening equipment, which she said accounts for 7% of emissions in town.
Now that the civic center project is completed, town staff and the council have more time to work on other priorities, and Miles Holland wants to see the focus shift to bike and pedestrian safety.
She said when she was pregnant and later, with her son in a carrier, she would walk around her neighborhood every day, but now that he's in a stroller she doesn't feel safe. It's unsettling to her to see families pushing strollers through gravel to get to the library for story time. she said. There are no sidewalks in Atherton along El Camino, and she'd like to see the town push Caltrans to focus on pedestrian safety along the route. Before she was pregnant, she remembers riding her bike down Atherton Avenue and hoping no one mowed her down.
Candidates have until Friday, Aug. 12, to file candidate papers in the election.