Menlo Park City Council member Drew Combs is running uncontested for reelection in District 2, seeking to serve as a "stabilizing" pragmatist on the council with an eye towards transportation upgrades and reopening the city following COVID-19.
Combs joined the City Council in 2018, previously serving on Menlo Park's Bicycle Commission and later the Planning Commission. Combs also volunteered as a tutor at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula.
Combs said he had to lobby for "advisory votes" from his own family members in deciding to run for reelection, with himself as the only vote to run for reelection. His daughter requested a trade-off of unlimited iPad time for life for her vote, a deal he didn't take.
After a first term that he calls "unprecedented" with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Combs said he is eager to continue his role as a uniting voice and a pragmatist on the council.
"I have been a key and stabilizing force on the City Council, and I think that's had a great value to the city government and to the residents," Combs said. "That is the primary reason why I'm running again."
He said he also looks forward to seeing through several projects in his district, including a redesign of Willow Oaks Park, completely funded and kicking off later this year. He also wants to see through traffic upgrades in District 2, specifically in the Willows neighborhood and Gilbert Avenue.
For some examples of how he served as a stabilizing force on the council, Combs cited his opposition to an attempt to remove the former city manager, Starla Jerome-Robinson, and his push against requiring conversion to electrification for residents in Menlo Park, instead supporting a voluntary program. Such a program would be costly to residents, he said.
Combs also opposed the council's plan to use the city's utility tax as a rebate for residents who electrified their homes, though the motion passed with a majority vote. The city has since faced a lawsuit over the matter.
He described his focus as "a certain way of pragmatism and a practical approach to my role" that really focused on trying to benefit the residents of Menlo Park and being less attached to some "macro-level trends," Combs said. "... For me, the priority has always been like, 'What's the impact to the residents of Menlo Park? How can we make their lives better?'"
In recent years, Combs took a proactive role in trying to reopen city services following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, from bringing back the gymnastics program to restoring funding to the police department.
Combs had asked the city manager to unlock the doors to the City Council chambers when the city was gridlocked over moving meetings back into city hall. He would go in with his computer and hold council meetings via Zoom from within the chambers until other city council members and city staff began to join him.
"(It's a) point of pride for me and I think (it) reflects how I've approached this ... you can discuss the alternatives and all the permutations to death. At the end of the day, you just have to act," Combs said.
Looking forward, Combs said he aims to fully restore all city services, including public access to Menlo Park City Hall and events like the Fourth of July Parade and Easter Egg Hunt.
"The trust that residents have put in me over the past four years is something that I am humbled by and take really seriously, and it is really, really important to me that ... I serve as their representative when it comes to local issues," Combs said.
Three incumbents are up for reelection this November, with Cecilia Taylor and Drew Combs running unopposed for their seats in District 1 and District 2, respectively, and incumbent Mayor Betsy Nash facing challenger Peter Ohtaki, a former council member who was voted out in 2018.