Mountain View's first City Council meeting of the year stuck to tradition as best it could during unusual times, bidding adieu to outgoing council members and swearing in newly elected members over a virtual meeting and pre-recorded oaths of office.
And while the meeting brought the same levity and congeniality as past years -- the exhaustive list of shout-outs, thanks and kind words -- council members consistently called for civility in local politics as the country appears more divided than ever.
With the nation's Capitol recently ravaged by rioters and a peaceful transition of power looking shaky, returning and exiting council members alike urged Mountain View to come together and avoid polarization.
"We have a long tradition of civility," said returning council member Pat Showalter. "Sometimes I describe it as being excruciatingly polite, but it pays off. I'm going to work hard to maintain that tradition."
The largely ceremonial Jan. 12 meeting marked a changing of the guard for the City Council, with councilmen Chris Clark and John McAlister both stepping down after serving since 2012. It also meant the swearing in of newly elected councilwomen Sally Lieber and Pat Showalter, and a passing of the mayor's gavel to Councilwoman Ellen Kamei.
Council members voted unanimously to appoint Kamei as the new mayor, and to appoint councilman Lucas Ramirez as the new vice mayor.
Clark, who was praised at the meeting as a consensus-builder, a tech-minded civic leader and a champion for LGBT rights, said the transition of power here in Mountain View comes at a "unique moment in time." Less than one week prior to the meeting, he said, the same desks he used to work on as a Congressional page were used to block rioters who had stormed their way into the country's Capitol over the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The violent protests were against the simple counting and certification of the results of an election and the peaceful transition of power, Clark said, and amounts to a violent insurrection.
"It is something that I certainly never thought that I would see in my lifetime, and it should be a wakeup call for all of us," Clark said.
For the most part, Mountain View has been resistant to that kind of divisiveness and engage in civil debate, Clark said, but he worries that there have been signs of polarization that have crept in over the past few years.
"I've witnessed community members assuming malintent simply because they don't agree with someone's opinion, or only accepting information and ideas from people who think the same way as they do," he said.
McAlister took a similar route, insisting that the City Council is not bought and paid for by special interests and has acted with total integrity and honesty during his tenure. He bristled at activists who criticized the city council over police reform in the summer last year, and believed they were too focused on the national narrative rather than the realities of local law enforcement.
"Give (the council) the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can for you," McAlister said. "People are so quick to judge without listening."
Lieber said she would work in the next four years towards depoliticizing and depolarizing the issues facing the city, and that the city needs to be unified and focused on the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Public health principles should guide the council's decisions, she said, and extra care should be given to the residents and businesses most harmed by COVID-19.
"As I walked our neighborhood this summer and fall, often in the smoke of wildfires, I found the real face of grief and need among our neighbors," she said. "Our elderly are profoundly impacted by loneliness, families are struggling and feeling that their children's lives have been changed forever."
Kamei, now elected this year's mayor, said she has been moved by the compassion of her neighbors, local businesses, first responders and essential and frontline workers over the course of 2020. She also touted historic participation in the 2020 census, and the strong groundwork laid by the previous council for youth wellness and school funding plans.
Kamei said the city must also heed the call to end systemic racism and stand up against injustices, and that she is committed to protecting residents of all backgrounds and socioeconomic status.
"I feel renewed hope for 2021 because of our community," she said. "The road ahead is still long and there is much work to be done, no doubt there will be difficult times and it will take us time to recover, to heal and to make progress."