Council member Laura Macias says farewell
After eight years on the job, City Council member Laura Macias went to her final council meeting last week and is now saying goodbye to the intense civic life she's become accustomed to.
In January, Macias and fellow member Tom Means will both reach the end of their terms and be replaced by new members, John McAlister and Chris Clark.
"It's pretty amazing. It's an honor in the sense that you represent the people," Macias said of her time on council. "They vote for you for a reason. Certainly not everyone will be happy with everything you do. Certainly people trust you to make the best decisions you can."
Looking back, Macias said one of her proudest accomplishments was helping lead the fight against the Home Depot proposed for San Antonio Shopping Center.
"I'm really happy the year I was mayor, in 2007, we did not let Home Depot come in and build where Sears was," Macias said. "If you think about how that would have manifested itself and what we're getting now — a whole new shopping center — I just think that's a big win."
The story gained national media attention.
"I felt like a leader in that," Macias said. "I was insulted by Rush Limbaugh. So there you go, I must have been doing something right if Rush Limbaugh hates me," she laughed.
Macias, who came to Mountain View from Arizona in the 1980s and whose grandparents came from Mexico in the early 1900s, is only the second Latina to serve on the Mountain View City Council. Pat Figueroa was the first. For most of her term she was the only council member who was not retired or married.
When asked if it seemed like the job was made for retired people, she said, "I think it is," because of the need for a second income. A council member's monthly stipend of $600 amounts to $5 an hour if council members work 30 hours a week. Macias said she worked between 20 and 40 hours a week as a council member, sometimes more as mayor.
"I think it is a real job, I think people should be paid for it," she said.
She recalled that residents "solidly rejected" a pay raise for council members in a 2008 ballot measure required by the city charter. "I just think times have changed. It is a real position," Macias said.
"Once you are on council, in order to be effective, you have to be all in, you can't be asleep at the wheel. You have to ask the right questions. If you want people to take it seriously, we should (raise council member pay)."
"We keep on getting fewer and fewer people running for office because it's like, 'How many people are this crazy?'" she said.
Macias and the developing city
Macias has long been known for opposing development projects more often than other council members. She was motivated to become involved when she bought a townhouse at the Old Mill and became concerned about the development of row houses at the Crossings next door. She'd often spar with former council member Greg Perry, who was flabbergasted in one meeting by her lack of support for higher density housing projects, and finally asked if there was any place in the city she might support it. Her answer: El Camino Real.
Macias says the city can't afford to grow at a rapid pace.
"People talk about, why can't you be another San Francisco," Macias said. "I'll tell you why: we don't have the revenue."
She added that "because of Proposition 13, we're limited" in revenue. She said she wants reforms to the controversial tax law to increase commercial property tax revenue to keep city services from never-ending cuts.
"As long as the construct is that the cities make money off retail (through sales taxes), it's going to be really tough for cities to be successful," she said.
Earlier this month in a meeting on North Bayshore, home to Google and the city's office district, Macias said she was shocked by how many jobs are being considered for the area, now estimated to have 15,000.
"When you go from 15,000 jobs to 28,000 jobs to 48,000 — forget it — it's just a whole different experience," Macias said. "They had at least three more freeway ramps coming off 101. I was blown away. The impact of what they were suggesting was so incredible, it's hard to imagine it wouldn't affect the entire city."
Macias said city officials fought hard to make sure North Bayshore got designated as a wildlife corridor.
"Like it or not, we've got wildlife there," she said. "And actually, I do like it and I think we need to find a way to live with them. And we're not going to do it by tripling the amount of people that work there."
Macias was not impressed with goals of reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips by only 20 percent in North Bayshore. "In my perfect world, I want to see us ban cars in North Bayshore," she said.
Macias has long been supportive of environmental causes. As mayor in 2007 she signed the city onto the U.S. Mayor's climate protection agreement, which calls on cities to reduce emission to below 1990 levels. As a parks and recreation commissioner with council member Ronit Bryant, she helped come up with the formula the city uses to determine park space needs, helped start a program that provides free trees to residents and made Arbor Day an annual event again, things that "now have a life of their own," she said. In one of her final council meetings, she called for a discussion on bike and pedestrian safety and supported the construction of special buffered bike lanes like she had seen used in Long Beach, to the delight of bicycle advocates.
Macias has spent the last six months unemployed, other than serving on the council. "I really wanted to enjoy the last six months," she said. She called it being able to take a "farewell tour," going to luncheons and events she would have otherwise had to pass on.
She will now have the title "former mayor," which always seems to stick.
She laughed when she saw that two other former mayors happened to be on the Le Boulanger on Castro Street while she was giving this interview, Jim Cochrane and Nick Galiotto.
"Now I know what I'm supposed to do on a Monday afternoon, hang out at Le Bou," she said.
"Sometimes I think I'll come back and run again in two years. Then I think, 'No, that's only for crazy people,'" she laughs.
Email Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org