The Mountain View City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint Councilman Lucas Ramirez to be the city's next mayor, following a ceremonial -- albeit virtual -- passing of the gavel and leadership responsibilities during tumultuous times.
Ramirez, who joined the council in 2019, will be the third mayor to lead the city through the COVID-19 pandemic and the myriad problems it brings, ranging from public health risks and housing instability to small businesses barely staying afloat. And while Mountain View is not a "strong" mayor city, the title has nevertheless played a big role during the pandemic.
Ramirez was next in line for mayor going into the Jan. 11 council meeting and was the expected appointment, but colleagues nevertheless emphasized that he was the right person for the job. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said Ramirez has been collaborative on the council, brings new ideas and always listens to input from staff and the public.
Councilwoman Pat Showalter said she has watched Ramirez' involvement in local politics for a decade, and that he puts in both the time and research when it comes to making decisions.
"I've watched him get involved in numerous issues over that 10-year period in the city, always being thoughtful, doing lots of homework to find out what was really going on and being willing to participate in many, many meetings with stakeholders," Showalter said.
Ramirez said the country is facing one calamity after another, facing "unrelenting" challenges related to the pandemic, climate change and severe weather episodes, along with the perennial local problems of homelessness and the housing crisis. Add in recent political strife and the erosion of trust in government institutions, he said, and the path forward looks particularly daunting.
Still, Ramirez said all seven council members have been elected to represent the residents and conduct city business, and that Mountain View is fortunate to have a "stellar" roster on the council.
"I could not be more honored to serve on this team," Ramirez said.
The meeting also served as a chance to bid farewell to Ellen Kamei's term as mayor, with colleagues praising her leadership role during the second year of the pandemic. One of her first actions as mayor was helping the city and county partner up to assist in the creation of a mass vaccination site at the Mountain View Community Center, which remains a busy and critical North County location for vaccinations and boosters.
Kamei also served on numerous regional agencies representing the city's interests, including the League of California Cities, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Association of Bay Area Governments. More locally, she led the city's committee on Race, Equity and Inclusion (REI) to address police reform, and kept a close watch on the needs of youth through Mountain View's Youth Services Committee.
Councilwoman Sally Lieber praised Kamei's professionalism and optimism during a difficult year, while Ramirez hailed her efforts to help create a more inclusive city that strives to extend civic engagement to all communities, regardless of what language they speak.
"We haven't had a mayor who could speak Spanish in many years, and more than once you have stepped up to provide translation to members of our community when they otherwise would've been deprived of an opportunity to speak with their council," Ramirez said.
Several state and county elected officials chimed in as well, including State Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), who praised the city's efforts in launching interim homeless housing and standing up against hate targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The City Council also voted unanimously to appoint Alison Hicks to be the city's next vice mayor. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who nominated Hicks, said she has been on the same page with Hicks on a number of important issues and that she has a collaborative spirit and willingness to listen.
"When she joined the council I was happy to welcome her, and over the last few years we've had shared priorities of having a strong downtown, thoughtful and good planning, and fighting climate change and moving forward with sustainability projects," Abe-Koga said.
Hicks, in taking the new title, said she is eager to work on addressing housing issues -- particularly affordable housing, displacement and gentrification -- and that she believes the city can take on these problems with a strategy that works specifically for Mountain View rather than a "cookie cutter" solution.