Housing policy, safety and celebrating the town's 100th birthday are all top of mind to Atherton's new mayor Bill Widmer.
Widmer, who stepped into the role in December, expects 2023 to be a busy year. To start the year, the council will be onboarding a new council member, Stacy Miles Holland, plus it's Vice Mayor Diana Hawkins-Manuelian first time serving in that position.
He said Miles Holland will need to get up to speed on the town's seven goals, which were approved in 2021. They are: maintain fiscal transparency, preserve the town's small town character, expand the town center and library's use, manage traffic and improve safety, strengthen community engagement, be forward thinking, and be prepared for emergencies.
The biggest topic in town is housing, as the town is running up against a Jan. 31 deadline to submit a compliant housing element to the state.
"January is absolutely packed with housing meetings," Widmer said. "Hopefully we'll get the community engaged."
The town is banking on residents renting out accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in its state-mandated plan for creating new housing, so the town is working to gather records from residents about their ADUs. The town plans to work with the nonprofit HIP Housing to help match residents with potential renters.
"We could fulfill the housing issues with renters from the schools, Menlo College, as well as Stanford," he said. "There are graduate students or Ph.D. students staying in ADUs in the area and many students at Menlo College lived far away (when I was teaching here)."
This was the first holiday season in the recent past in which the town was not hit with a residential burglary spree. In 2020, there were 31 residential burglaries, which resulted in losses of at least $1 million, and 45 residential burglaries reported in 2021 causing losses of at least $301,000. In 2022, there were 16 residential burglaries, with losses of $206,000 and no burglaries at schools or construction sites.
Widmer credits new automated license plate readers (ALPRs) and signs warning of the ALPRs for the decreased burglaries in Atherton.
In the fall, the town decided to pursue using drones (the Paladin Knighthawk) and is finalizing the details of the program to assist police with surveillance and crime prevention. The drone would be flown to a site when an alarm goes off at a home. It would turn on infrared cameras and send information to officers.
"I thought it was a good operation," he said. "I saw the results and encouraged the (police) chief to put together a staff report.
Widmer noted that the town will be one of the earlier adopters of a drone program (police in Houston and New Jersey have similar programs).
The proposed drone program was described as "a cost-effective force multiplier which provides critical aerial overwatch to help protect residents who are in harm's way, as well as dramatically improving safety for officers responding to an in-progress incident or emergency," according to an October staff report for the drone program.
The City Council accepted a resident donation to fund the start of the program and its operation for one year.
Widmer admitted there have been few leads on past burglaries and he thinks the drones can help nab burglars.
Since people have begun to gather more than during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Widmer said he would like to see more community engagement.
For example, he'd like to see a council study session moved to different neighborhoods in town as long as there's a facility available for the meeting.
He also envisions concerts and activities in Holbrook-Palmer Park and the new civic center.
Council members Rick DeGolia and Elizabeth Lewis formed a council subcommittee in December to come up with a plan for the town's 100th anniversary in September.
"It's a big deal for the town and we want to have a series of events," Widmer said.
So far, the town's survey shows that people saying they'd like to have a celebration with meals at civic center or the town's park.
Widmer's office hours are Tuesdays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at City Hall in Conference Room 1011. No appointment is needed but residents may request one for a different day and time by contacting Widmer at [email protected]