Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
Belmont Councilwoman Coralin Feierbach got her start in community activism nearly 40 years ago by helping to stop development on Sugarloaf Mountain. She is leaving the Belmont City Council this year after serving for more than 14 years.
It was almost 40 years ago when Coralin Feierbach first made a name for herself by standing up to protect open space in Belmont. She was in her mid-30s then and her daughter was just 3.
A proposal to build housing on Sugarloaf Mountain in San Mateo on the border with Belmont prompted Feierbach to fight back in an attempt to preserve the open space. She and the others who fought against the development won that fight and Feierbach has spent much of her life since protecting the Belmont Hills from development.
The San Juan Canyon area was also once slated to have 1,000 homes built there on about 30 acres but Feierbach helped successfully reduce the number of developable lots to about 375, then to 100 and now down to about 50 or 60.
She was an activist in the early days and served briefly on the city’s Planning Commission from 1985 until 1987.
Today, however, she is ready to depart the City Council after serving on it for more than 14 years. Her daughter is in her early 40s and Feierbach, 75, is now a grandmother to two.
Over the years, she, with husband Gary, has walked every block in the city introducing herself to potential voters while listening to their concerns.
The listening over the years prompted Feierbach to introduce all types of ordinances, she said, to better the lives of Belmont residents including restricting smoking, beefing up code enforcement, slowing traffic in residential neighborhoods and televising City Council meetings to gain more public involvement in city activities.
As she readies to leave the council at the end of the year, she has not endorsed any of the potential candidates now in the race to fill her seat.
It might cost them votes, she said.
In recent Belmont history, Feierbach took a lot of heat for the city’s handling of the Crystal Spring Uplands School proposal to build a middle school on Davis Drive.
Nearly two years ago, she welcomed the school but then voted against it when the council cast its final votes on the project.
That was an unpopular move for many.
She took heat again for trying to revive the CSUS project, even from some of her closest allies.
Friends and allies
Over the years, you gain friends and you lose friends while serving on the council, she told the Daily Journal.
Friends aside, when she is off the council she hopes future councils will respect all the hard work she and her colleagues have done over the years to keep Belmont more of a village and less of a city.
“The Peninsula should not be urbanized too much. We are killing what we moved here for,” said Feierbach, who was raised in San Francisco and lived in Berkeley with Gary before settling in Belmont in the early 1970s.
Her greatest ally over the years has been Councilman Dave Warden, she said.
She also counts Phil Mathewson and George Metropulos as two others she was most aligned with while serving on the council.
She respects and will miss Warden the most because they have engaged in some pretty good arguments over the years without it getting personal.
Warden will miss her, too.
“She’s been a very consistent person. She cares so much about the city. She is quite a force and I’ve seen her outlast a lot of her foes,” Warden said. “She says what she wants and she is very straightforward.”
Her role will be hard to fill on the council, he said, because she spends far more time and energy than anyone else when it comes to serving the city.
“She has been like an ombudsman, bridging the gap between residents and city staff,” said Warden, who announced Friday he will also not seek re-election to the council but instead seek a seat on the Mid-Peninsula Water District.
After Warden, Feierbach will miss the staff the most after departing the council.
Others Feierbach has worked with, however, she will not miss too much, including not just Belmont officials but those who work in San Carlos as well.
But even those who have been repeatedly on the wrong side of a vote with Feierbach still have great respect for her, such as Councilman Warren Lieberman.
“She is an extraordinarily hard-working person who fought hard for her beliefs. I’ve learned a lot from her,” said Lieberman, whose council seat is up for re-election this year as is Warden’s and Feierbach’s.
The field to join the council has thickened with Feierbach not being in the race, with Lieberman vying for re-election, there are five currently qualified in the race, including three current planning commissioners. The filing deadline has been extended to Wednesday since at least one incumbent is not running.
Feierbach sets the bar high for being tuned into the community, said Kristin Mercer, who was appointed to her third term on the Planning Commission and is running for the City Council in the November election.
“She has put forth more proposals based on community concerns than maybe anyone in Belmont’s history,” Mercer said.
Belmont ‘In her DNA’
Although Feierbach has taken issue with San Carlos officials over the years, especially when the joint fire department dissolved, she does respect Councilman Matt Grocott.
“She doesn’t go along to get along and it means you don’t always get along,” Grocott said. “She’s very independent minded.”
San Carlos Mayor Bob Grassilli told the Daily Journal that Feierbach has always put Belmont first.
“We’ve had our issues and her point of view — some don’t like — but she doesn’t care. She always pushes for what’s best for Belmont. She’s not the easiest to negotiate with but that’s not what she’s supposed to do,” Grassilli said.
Mayor Christine Wozniak suspects Feierbach will still be active in city politics even after she leaves the council, however.
“As long as she’s in Belmont, she won’t be able to stop doing what she thinks is right for the community — it’s in her DNA. Of all of the councilmembers I have known through the years, Coralin stands out as one that has worked the longest and the hardest for the welfare of our city,” Wozniak wrote the Daily Journal in an email. “I’m sorry that she’s leaving the council; she will be missed.”
Feierbach realizes the city’s demographics are changing as some longtime residents are starting to sell their homes to younger residents starting new families. But, she said, those young people are not moving to Belmont for Belmont — more for its schools.
Charles Stone, also running for council, is one of those newer residents Feierbach speaks of. Stone, 38, and father of two, was drawn into the city’s political fray last year during the Crystal Springs Uplands School application to build a new middle school in Belmont when it became clear Feierbach was turning against the school’s proposal.
“I have tremendous respect for Coralin’s lengthy record of public service and for her dedication. Being on the City Council is tough work and it takes guts to hang in there as long as she has,” Stone wrote the Daily Journal in an email. “However, we don’t see eye to eye on some issues. For instance, I disagree with her votes on the CSUS project and the Ralston Corridor Traffic Study. I congratulate her for recently changing positions on the CSUS issue but from a process standpoint her earlier reluctance to continue the dialogue may have determined the project’s fate.”
Stone, however, is a candidate that Feierbach definitely will not vote for. She would not tell the Daily Journal who she would vote for to fill her shoes but said it would not be Stone.
“Some people will be really happy when I’m gone,” Feierbach said.
She may be remembered most for helping to preserve open space but others said it was also her willingness to listen to Belmont residents that made her such a valuable asset to the city.
“When I get a call, I will do everything to help,” she said about city residents who have reached out to her about various issues.
After she leaves the council, she wants to take a music class at Notre Dame de Namur University and perhaps start a little quartet as she plays classical piano.
She also wants to spend a little more time investing and trading in the stock market.