Just as stability seemed to be returning to Atherton, the town has found itself in a nasty scrap over where to build a new library, which should be resolved by a Nov. 6 ballot measure.
The current City Council is hopelessly deadlocked in a 3-2 split over the library and many other issues, which could be resolved depending on who is elected to the council. Incumbent Elizabeth Lewis is seeking a second term and Denise Kupperman, Greg Conlon and Cary Wiest are hoping to win one of the two open seats. Council member Kathy McKeithen decided not to run for a fourth term.
This has not been a smooth year for the council, which is divided on some of the town's most critical issues. Mayor Bill Widmer, Jim Dobbie and the retiring McKeithen have been at odds with Ms. Lewis and Jerry Carlson, particularly on whether to build a library in Holbrook-Palmer Park, which was approved on one of the frequent 3-2 council votes.
The council dissension over the library, which will be financed by Atherton contributions to a county library fund that will reach $8 million in a few years, and other issues have spilled into the town, and the uproar was helped along by the Athertonians website, which operates under a confusingly similar name used by the town for its newsletter, "The Athertonian." Growing controversy forced the three council members who support a library in the park to relent to opponents and put the library issue on the ballot, along with questions about improvements to the Little League field in the park and funding for a new town center.
Another issue was added to this already volatile mix when the Atherton Police Officers Association sent out a robocall endorsing Ms. Lewis and Mr. Weist, implying that the other candidates might favor outsourcing police services to the county sheriff. Some residents, including council member McKeithen, considered the actions threatening, and have denounced the association's intrusion into the council race.
In this contentious environment, it is important that the two open council seats are filled by members who can reach beyond the rhetoric of the moment. Going forward the town needs all council members to pull together to implement the voters' decision on the library and other measures, and support new City Manager George Rodericks as he attempts to set a course for the coming year.
We believe Elizabeth Lewis and Denise Kupperman are the best-qualified to bring Atherton into 2013 ready to work on stabilizing town government.
Ms. Lewis gets high marks for leading the campaign to line up private funding for the new Town Center. We did not agree with her demand for a referendum on locating the library in Holbrook-Palmer Park, but she has promised she will work hard to implement whatever decision is made by the voters. We find that Ms. Lewis is a hard worker, but we hope in her second term she will make more of an effort to put petty disagreements aside and make more of an effort to find compromises with her council colleagues.
Ms. Lewis sensibly handled her endorsement by the police union by publicizing her answers to the APOA questionnaire, a good way to defuse the concerns of some town leaders about the union's intrusion into the campaign. And she joined all council members to approve outsourcing the public works and building departments last year, which has so far received good reviews.
Ms. Lewis would support installing a push-type email system so residents could be better informed about the town's business. The town can do better than just offer a website, she said. She supports limiting council members to two terms "to bring new people in," and also supports county efforts to improve transit, including providing shuttles from Caltrain to job sites.
The Almanac urges Atherton voters to return Elizabeth Lewis to the City Council.
After about 15 years of working in the financial industry, Denise Kupperman changed course and began a new career in landscape architecture, adding to her skills in management and environmental planning. For many years, she has immersed herself in the green side of Atherton, first with the Atherton Dames and the Tree Committee; she later took a leave of absence from her landscape architecture firm to write a new master plan for Holbrook-Palmer Park, which was adopted in 2005. She continues to work with the Dames to raise money for park improvements
Despite her belief that the council's 3-2 vote to build a new library in the park was within its purview, Ms. Kupperman supports the right of residents to vote on the issue. Given her knowledge of park operations, she said she is not worried about the impact of a library in the park. "I feel that a library can fit quite nicely in the site," she said.
She supports the campaign to raise private funds for a new Town Center, agreeing that the town should replace the aging facilities there, but added that "...we have to prepare ourselves on what to do if private funding doesn't show up."
Ms. Kupperman supports the town's four-year parcel tax; the tax's short term is a good way to do business because it requires the town and its leaders to account for where the money went in the prior four years. From a budgeting perspective, "the town has to stay on point," she said, adding that she would be hesitant to support more than a four-year term for parcel tax approval.
The Almanac urges Atherton voters to support Denise Kupperman for the City Council.