It was a changing of the guard on Tuesday night as a trio of new city leaders assumed their seats on Mountain View City Council. Those newly elected freshmen -- Ellen Kamei, Alison Hicks and Lucas Ramirez -- were sworn in, each pledging to diligently serve the city for what looks to be a challenging year ahead.
The ceremonial Jan. 8 meeting was full of kind words, friendly handshakes and the exchanging of commemorative plaques. But the meeting also represented a significant shift in city governance as three one-term incumbents left office amid some concerns that their initiatives could be orphaned without new champions on the council dais.
It was a bittersweet night for outgoing council members Pat Showalter, Ken Rosenberg and Lenny Siegel, who spearheaded an aggressive housing push starting in 2015. Siegel and Showalter lost their bids for re-election while Rosenberg declined to seek a second term. Each had plenty of advice to offer their successors.
Rosenberg talked about an political epiphany he experienced in 2016 when he learned that 30 students were homeless at local schools. Ever since, his chief priority has been advancing human rights in Mountain View, and he urged someone on the council to take up the cause.
"Vote your values, not how your peers want you to vote," he advised. "On those rare occasions when you break from the group to vote your values, you'll sleep better at night."
There was plenty of discussion of the big-ticket challenges shared by Mountain View and other nearby cities, such as housing growth, traffic congestion and income inequality. These were the "perils of prosperity," Showalter said, and she pointed to Mountain View's work over the last four years to lead by example by taking on more of the burden to inspire its neighbors.
"We have not buried our heads in the sand, and we can't solve these things all alone," she said. "But we'll do our part and we'll stand as an example for what should be done."
But November's election may have been a sign that city voters were growing impatient with the sacrifices that came with that bargain. Mountain View isn't alone in dealing with traffic, housing or homelessness, so it made sense for the city to seek a solution in cooperation with neighboring cities, Councilwoman Hicks said. Echoing her campaign, she emphasized that the council should set its sights on keeping Mountain View as a great place to live for current residents.
"We can spark the solutions to the problems, but to solve them we have to go and speak to every city in the county," Hicks said. "When we're tackling global and regional problems, we have to remember that in the end, Mountain View is home to tens of thousands of people."
Kamei emphasized that she would take on housing as a chief priority, particularly the construction of residences for middle-income families. She was jubilant and described joining the City Council as a lifelong goal.
"Tonight the dream of a 9-year-old girl comes true to serve in the community she calls home," she said. "The story of my family started here over 70 years ago, and this is the next chapter for us."
Kamei and Ramirez add a new element to the demographics of the City Council. Both are relatively young -- in their 30s -- and rent housing, while the rest of the council mostly consists of older homeowners. In addition, both work as staffers for local politicians, and they bring a sweeping knowledge of regional policies and programs.
Joking that he learned to cut short his policy explanations, Ramirez emphatically urged everyone in the city to reach out to him with concerns or criticism.
"In the next three months, we're going to be seeing a lot of issues that are challenging and divisive," he said. "Hold me accountable when I fail you."
After the new council members took their seats, their first order of business was to elect a mayor. Vice Mayor Lisa Matichak was quickly nominated as the city's new mayor with Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga chosen to serve as the vice-mayor for 2019. It followed the city's long tradition of picking the vice mayor to hold the mayoral gavel.
The votes for both Matichak and Abe-Koga were unanimous.
"I hope we can have a collegial relationship as we work through the issues," Matichak said. "We each have our perspectives and sometimes they align, and sometimes they don't."