By Derek Wilson
Women and minorities are stepping into new leadership roles from the White House to local communities in a seismic political shift. Kate Colin is impressed by the change she’s seen this year, but she’s even more excited to see what the next generation of women might accomplish.
Colin officially took office Monday, Dec. 6, as San Rafael’s first female mayor in nearly 150 years.
“Any time we can break a barrier is amazing,” Colin said. “It’s meaningful for young women in our community. I’m getting postcards from young girls writing how excited they are. After the election I got phone calls from people with stories of their daughters asking if ‘that woman’ won. And they told their daughters, ‘Yes, she won.’ They were happy.”
For the first time in history, the City Council and Mayor will be an entirely female leadership. Two newly-elected Councilmembers, Maika Llorens Gulati (District 1/South) and Rachel Kertz (District 4/North), also took office on Monday, joining incumbent Maribeth Bushey. The only asterisk is the vacancy on the council left by Colin’s election as Mayor. That vacancy is not likely to be filled until January after the council appoints a new member to finish Colin’s term from a pool of candidates.
Colin said, “Our community is well-represented by these women. They bring a good understanding of their neighborhoods. They bring a good vibe, with engagement, and they are ready to tackle the issues ahead.”
In another first, Llorens Gulati is the first elected Latino to serve on the City Council, something she does not take lightly.
“Being the first hispanic joining the San Rafael Council, I also hope to build bridges across San Rafael’s cultures and neighborhoods celebrating the great diversity that makes us unique so we have the best of all worlds and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with every family,” Llorens Gulati said.
Kertz, who has served as a trustee on the San Rafael City Schools Board of Education, is looking ahead to the challenges of her new post.
“We need to make sure our whole community is looking ahead and preparing for the future,” Kertz said. “Addressing our needs for affordable and workforce housing will be a continuing issue that will require new ideas and a willingness to look at all opportunities. … I look forward to providing as much financial transparency as possible and bringing all community voices to the table.”
Colin, who was first elected to the City Council in 2013, succeeds longtime Mayor Gary Phillips, who served in that role since 2011. He served three terms on the City Council from 1995-2007.
Colin has led San Rafael’s Homeless Subcommittee and initiated the Marin County City Council and Mayor’s Homeless Committee that is comprised of an elected official from every city and town in Marin County. In addition, she is co-chair, with Supervisor Rice, of the County’s Homeless Policy Steering Committee. She has also acted as the council’s liaison to the quarterly Climate Change Action Plan meetings and is San Rafael’s representative on the Sea Level Rise Committee.
Going forward, Colin listed a series of key issues for San Rafael, focusing on economic recovery, homelessness and housing, environmental sustainability, and racial and social justice.
“Homelessness and housing: saying one without the other is like missing half the equation,” she said. “Through task forces and nonprofits and the Marin County Housing Authority, we have helped hundreds of chronically homeless people. But we still see people in encampments. There is help. Homeward Bound is building a new permanent facility with beds and Project Homekey will provide around 40 new beds.”
Between the COVID-19 pandemic and economic woes, Colin said “we are headed into another terrible, tough economic phase for business and personal. We are plugged into nonprofits and chambers of commerce to bring elements together for economic recovery. What we’re facing in San Rafael and in Marin is what people are facing across the country.”
The expected release of a COVID-19 vaccine could herald a positive end to 2020, according to Colin, who suggested cautious optimism.
“We’ve seen the ripple effects of this pandemic,” Colin said. “Once people vaccinate, the world will still not just be life as it was before. We need to take care of each other. This year we have highlighted the social and racial inequalities in communities. We can do better and we must do better, but it will take awhile. We are taking a step in the right direction, however.”
Llorens Gulati added: “There are many challenges we are facing in the City of San Rafael and the County, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of many businesses during the holidays. Although this is necessary to stop the pandemic, being a former [business] owner in downtown San Rafael I know December is the biggest month of the year around the Holidays for small businesses. Our local small businesses are going to need a huge support from the community and also form government in order to survive. These closures not only affect business owners but also all staff members and their families. It also affects vendors serving small business, for example coffee roasters, and it will certainly affect governments and our local economy with a huge reduction in taxes affecting services, and the vitality of our cities.”
She continued, “Our underserved community in the Canal has always experienced many challenges, and COVID-19 is accentuating this situation even more. With this new closure of businesses, many residents will be affected. I am grateful for many agencies and non profit organizations that are stepping up to the challenge. But that is not enough.”
San Rafael City School Board Trustees Gina Daly (Area 1), Linda Jackson (Area 3), and Marina Palma (Area 5) will also be sworn into office along with City Clerk Lindsay Lara and City Attorney Rob Epstein.
The November 2020 election was San Rafael’s first “district” election. This means that Councilmembers and School Board Trustees were elected to represent a specific geographic portion of the city rather than at-large.