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Baywood's Own: An Interview With San Mateo City Council Member And Most Recent Mayor Diane Papan

December 23, 2019 | Lisa Nash

In early December, I sat down with Diane Papan, long-time Baywood resident, as she closed out her year as San Mateo’s mayor (the role of Mayor is rotated annually in San Mateo).  We spoke in the San Mateo Public Library Main Branch on 3rd Avenue because Diane is a strong advocate for our library system.

LDN: Welcome, fellow Baywood resident!  Please share with our readers your history with Baywood and how has Baywood influenced your time on the City Council.

DP: People in Baywood really take the time to get to know their neighbors.  Baywood has a great sense of community.  That’s what makes it so special and why my husband and I feel so lucky to live here and raise our daughter here.  

LDN: Did your daughter go to Baywood?

DP: Yes, and then Borel, and now Aragon.  We walked to Baywood every day, rain or shine.  I pointed out all the different kinds of trees to her on the way.  We really got to know where we lived that way.  It also led me to get involved with the Baywood Owners Improvement Association (BOIA), to help Baywood get even stronger.

LDN: You have a family history of being civically engaged.  Tell us about that.

DP: My mom ran a nonprofit and encouraged us to get involved.  So I participated in school and was high school president…

LDN: So you were involved in government even then!

DP: Guess it runs in the family.  My dad ran for Daly City City Council when I was around seven.  I remember walking the neighborhoods with him, knocking on doors and talking with people.  So I had a lot of exposure to civic engagement from both my mom and my dad, who ultimtately served in the Legislature.

LDN: Both you and your sister, Gina, are on City Council (note: Gina Papan serves on Millbrae City Council), so your parents definitely had an influence on you.

DP: For sure.  Everyone is so busy these days, but I feel it really enhances our quality of life to be involved.  We have a very involved community in Baywood, and we’re richer for it.  When I was President of the BOIA Board, for example, we revamped our Bylaws and started the Baywood Ice Cream Social*.

LDN: …which has grown to be a very popular annual event in Baywood.

DP: The big challenge in the early years was keeping the ice cream from melting, but it looks like you’ve solved that problem!

LDN: Yes, and the event is a great way for the Baywood community to get together.

DP: Sending out this electronic Baywood Bulletin newsletter is another good way to create community in Baywood.  If people can’t make a meeting or an event, they can find out what’s going on by reading the Bulletin and let BOIA know what they care about in Baywood.  It also gives me ideas about important issues to share with the Council.

LDN:  That’s good to know!

DP: One more thing about Baywood that I love is its tremendous sense of history.  I think when people move here, they really embrace that history.  Did you know that there was a case involving Baywood that went before the California Supreme Court?

LDN: No, I didn’t.  Please tell us more.

DP: There was a proposal to put a gas station on the west side of El Camino across from the Bank of America branch on 3rd.  Baywood residents didn’t want any commercial activity west of El Camino.  So BOIA filed a lawsuit and it went all the way to the California Supreme Court.  BOIA lost the suit, though, and the gas station was built.  Many years later, that gas station has been taken out and the property may be developed into an office building.  History moves on.

LDN: That’s quite a story!

DP: Baywood has a great history, but it’s not the only neighborhood with a great sense of history and community.  There are many great neighborhoods in San Mateo.  That’s one of the things that makes San Mateo such a vibrant city.  I love Fiesta Gardens, for example, where you have a mix of young families moving in alongside older residents whose kids have grown.  They look out for each other.  In North Central, you have families living in homes that have been passed down through generations.  That’s special.  And now we have Bay Meadows, which is brand new.  Its residents are creating the community they want.  It’s just cool that in San Mateo, a city of about 110,000 residents, people can feel connected because of working and living together in their neighborhoods

LDN: How has that influenced your time on City Council?  What do you think has been your biggest impact?

DP: I think my biggest impact comes from my efforts to build consensus.  We just talked about the size of our city.  Having 110,000 residents means having a lot of different points of view.  Every project is touched by many departments, commissioners, Council Members and input from the public. I work hard to ensure that we hear all sides of an issue on Council.  Then we try to come to a place where we can agree.  

LDN:  Is there an example of a project you think best reflects your efforts to build consensus?

DP: The underground storage tank that is part of our Clean Water Program comes to mind.  We looked at several places to locate it and many people had strong opinions on the subject.  It physically had to be in the lower part of the City so that water could flow down to it.  Then there was lots of input about the manner of its construction and how to keep the construction from being too disruptive to the neighborhood.  This took a long time to work out…almost 3 years, I believe.  This is an example of the Council listening hard to our residents and evolving the project so that it was effective and efficient, but also mindful of the lives of our residents.  We received public comment that had a very constructive impact on how the project developed.  By the time all was said and done, we were getting letters of support from local neighbors saying that we had done what we needed to do and that they felt listened to.  That is important to me.  That is the power of municipal government, to really work with residents on issues that have an impact on their everyday lives and show them that government can work for them.

LDN: That’s a good model for future projects as well.

DP: That’s right.  We can look back on this effort, understand what worked, what could have worked better, and how we can apply those lessons to making the next project even stronger.

LDN: So now that your year as Mayor is ending, what are your priorities as a Council Member going forward?

DP: Certainly, we will remain laser focused on our fiscal sustainability.

LDN: San Mateo’s economy has been strong these past few years.

DP: Yes, but as a local municipality, you rely on certain funding formulas at the State level to support programs like fixing potholes, so it’s not all in your control.  We need to be mindful of their actions as part of keeping San Mateo’s economic sustainability priority #1.

Train noise also is an important quality of life issue.  We will continue to work toward enhancing our crossings to see if we can create a quiet zone that reduces train horns.  Sea level rise is another regional issue I am involved with and serve on the newly created Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency Board.  This effort is critical to all our lives, and the lives of future generations.

Back on the City level, we will continue to look at our Parks and Rec Facilities Master Plan.  We have many rec centers.  We have many great parks.  We want to continue to elevate all of them.  We also lease out some of our facilities to childcare providers, but we have only begun to scratch the surface on meeting our residents’ needs for childcare.  Most San Mateo families have two working parents.  We want them to be able to live here and raise their families here.  We need to support them in many ways.  There are examples of great early childcare practices in San Mateo, like Peninsula Family Service.  We need to learn from them and spread these practices throughout our City.

LDN:  It takes a lot to make a City run well.

DP: Yes.  Working efficiently not only helps San Mateo be more fiscally sustainable, but it increases how much we can support San Mateans.  There’s an efficiency factor across our City departments that serve our residents, and it wasn’t always there.  Public Works now regularly works with Parks and Rec or the Police Department to address issues faster and comprehensively so that residents see that their concerns are addressed.  

LDN: You really see your impact on City Council every day!

DP:  That’s for sure, and I love it.  Whenever I talk with students, I always ask them how many of them walked on a sidewalk to get here.  And how many of them flushed their toilet this morning.  All this happened because San Mateo has a government that works for them.  That really engages them.  And they take those stories home to their parents.  And I might hear about it from those parents the next time I’m in the supermarket or at a gathering.  San Mateans are great about giving their Council Members feedback!

There were San Mateans 50 years ago who invested in our infrastructure so we would have what we have today.  I want us to have the same foresight so that our children in 50 years are satisfied with how San Mateo basic services function and happy with San Mateo’s quality of life.

LDN: So what parting words do you have for your Baywood neighbors?

DP: Continue to stay engaged.  Get involved in Baywood, get involved in BOIA, get involved in San Mateo.  It’s fun and we all benefit from it!


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