Menlo Park voters may have a tough time deciding on which two of the three candidates running for seats on the City Council to cast their ballots for this November.
The two incumbents whose terms expire this year, Ray Mueller and Catherine Carlton, are seeking second terms, and their records over the last four years indicate they have served the community conscientiously and with commitment.
But a third, highly impressive candidate has emerged who promises to provide something the city has been lacking for decades – a voice for the most underrepresented neighborhood in Menlo Park: Belle Haven.
If challenger Cecilia Taylor wins her bid for a council seat, she will be the first resident of Belle Haven – the city's least affluent, largely minority neighborhood – to sit on the council since Billy Ray White served some three decades ago. This is a neighborhood experiencing quick and dramatic change from the effects of major development, such as the Facebook expansion project, and from a housing crisis that has resulted in the displacement of residents who can no longer afford to pay skyrocketing rents. This is a neighborhood that needs a voice on the City Council.
In this election, the Almanac endorses Ms. Taylor and incumbent Ray Mueller.
During his four years on the council, Mr. Mueller has demonstrated strong leadership and intelligence in his approach to addressing issues such as police surveillance and the need for regional problem-solving. He has shown fiscal responsibility, taking the lead in opposing the use of one-time revenue for ongoing costs, such as staff salaries.
A champion of equity in education, he delved into the legal and practical questions of how to help the low-wealth Ravenswood City School District find more funding to improve its schools, which include Belle Haven Elementary in Menlo Park. He has presented a working proposal, which a council subcommittee of himself and Ms. Carlton is further exploring, to create a joint powers authority, consisting of the Ravenswood district, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and San Mateo County, that would create a funding mechanism to support the school district.
His ideas for regional solutions to challenges shared across jurisdictions target problems such as affordable housing and transportation.
Mr. Mueller's leadership on key issues and his ideas for solving problems facing Menlo Park and its regional neighbors are solid, and we hope he is returned to the council.
It would be understandable, and fair, if voters ask why they should support Ms. Taylor's bid for a seat on the council. Although she grew up in Belle Haven, she returned to the neighborhood only about a year ago, when the home she and her husband were renting in San Bruno was damaged by fire. And she doesn't have the record of service on the city's commissions and committees that is considered by many to be a prerequisite to a council seat.
But voters should consider Ms. Taylor's longstanding knowledge of the city and, particularly, her own underrepresented neighborhood, as well as her commitment to strengthening the connection between what sometimes seem to be two separate communities: Belle Haven and the rest of Menlo Park, which is blessed with outstanding schools, higher property values and far better commercial services such as banks and grocery stores.
A math teacher in a Redwood City school, Ms. Taylor has served on the Ad hoc Advisory Board for the San Mateo County Housing Authority. She has no experience on city boards, but during her time in the community since moving back, she has spent many hours attending City Council, Planning Commission and Housing Commission meetings. She has absorbed much knowledge and insight at those meetings and those of the General Plan Advisory Committee, which focuses on changes to the general plan in the city's M-2 industrial area – changes that will deeply impact the Belle Haven neighborhood.
She believes that the city can find creative and effective solutions to housing, transportation and education challenges, but that the perspectives of all segments of the community are needed if that is to happen. If elected, she would be the only renter on the council at a time that many residents who don't own their homes are being driven out of their community because of out-of-control rent increases.
We strongly agree with Ms. Taylor when she says, "It's obvious that there are pieces missing on the council, and I believe that (one of them) is a voice like mine." We hope she is given the chance to be that voice.