Menlo Park Mayor Jen Wolosin got into politics with her sights set on safe streets, but she's come to realize that city governance, and all of the issues it faces, are heavily interconnected.
When Wolosin's children were young, she didn't know who to contact about making Menlo Park's streets safer, so she sent out an email blast to several different branches of the city government. She heard back from both county and city staff as she tried to navigate the jurisdictions. From there, Wolosin went on to get involved in advocating for pedestrian safety.
Wolosin founded her own advocacy group, Parents for Safe Routes, and served on the Transportation Master Plan Oversight and Outreach Committee, which brought her to Menlo Park City Council meetings for the first time.
"When you're sitting in a City Council meeting, waiting for ... your agenda item of interest to come up, other agenda items come up that perk your ears," Wolosin said. "And then I started having opinions about those, and started understanding the intersectionality of topics like safety on the streets, and transportation and land use and housing and climate."
Wolosin ran for City Council in 2020, as a safe streets advocate amid a pandemic. When talking about her priorities during her year as mayor, Wolosin stands by the values she ran on three years ago. One of the ideas she finds interesting is the "15-minute city," a concept of municipal planning where all day-to-day tasks can be accomplished by walking or biking from one's home.
"I was very clear on my priorities ... and that was first safe streets for people of all ages and abilities, kind of my bread and butter," Wolosin said. "The second was housing at all income levels throughout the city and third was bold climate action at the local level, and then doing all of this with an eye towards equity and taking care of our most vulnerable, and making sure that voices that haven't historically been in the room are elevated and strongly considered."
Wolosin states that while she has her own priorities, this year is not only about what she wants to see for Menlo Park but what Menlo Park wants to see for itself. She refers to herself as a part of an "ecosystem" of staff, residents and council members who all impact the decisions made for the city.
Menlo Park has several projects coming down the pipeline, as the city's housing element has to be submitted by Jan. 31 and several large development projects are underway, such as SRI Parkline at the research campus across from Burgess Park.
"That's the thing about Menlo Park," Wolosin said. "Our geography and our population hide the complexity and level of stuff we have going on."
Wolosin is optimistic about the coming year, saying that she has high hopes for the city as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Wolosin also names new City Manager Justin Murphy and the recent hires to fill staff vacancies as another reason to be hopeful.
Still, Wolosin says that she's ready to be nimble and adaptive as the year begins, since there's no way to know what the future holds.
"Menlo Park is so beautiful, and I think we can retain that beauty and so many of the qualities that drew us to this wonderful city, while also embracing the future," Wolosin said.
Wolosin will be hosting office hours via Zoom on Fridays at noon, and residents can sign up at this link. She will also hold quarterly in-person office hours, the first of which is Jan. 28 at Cafe Borrone at 1010 El Camino Real. Wolosin also has a newsletter that residents can sign up for at her website.