An invitation from across the world has led San Mateo to consider forming a new sister city relationship if the public shows enough support.
The City Council met Monday to discuss a letter inviting the mayor, vice mayor and city manager to visit Laizhou City in eastern China to consider forming a sister city contact, according to a city staff report.
Laizhou has a population of 880,000 and is known for its natural resources including gold, salt and seafood production, as well as its wind power generation plant, according to the report. Laizhou currently has two other sister city relationships in Korea and Spain, according to the report.
“I’m a humanitarian and they don’t really have quite a democracy like we do in their country,” Mayor Robert Ross said. “We’re hoping to have influence on them over there and share American ways, views and why certain things work and we believe through steward programs we might be able to share some of that information.”
The council showed interest in investigating the possibility and directed City Attorney Sean Mason to investigate if there could be a conflict with the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Mason wanted to ensure that travel expenses would be considered reasonably related to governmental purpose, according to the report. However, because Laizhou has offered to cover the costs for San Mateo’s three delegates, it may not be an issue, Councilman David Lim said.
Laizhou’s Mayor Gong Quan, who studied at San Jose University in 2009 and became familiar with San Mateo, initiated the invitation, according to the report.
“The fact that the mayor of this city picked San Mateo and reached out to us, we want to be respectful of that and it’s a great honor,” Lim said. “But we do want to be mindful of how we spend taxpayer money.”
Forming another sister city relationship is estimated to cost the city about $10,000 to $15,000 per year, depending on the number of activities and cultural exchanges, according to the report. A successful program will also rely heavily on a community organization that can assist in raising funds and organizing events, Lim said.
Currently, San Mateo has a robust 51-year sister city relationship with Toyonaka Japan, and two inactive relationships in Denmark and the Philippines, according to the report.
Two student high school student ambassadors were sent to Toyonaka over the summer and two from Japan made a visit to San Mateo, Lim said. San Mateo City Clerk Patrice Olds recently made a visited as well. Every two years, San Mateo and Toyonaka alternate hosting a little league baseball game between the sister cities, Lim said.
But the City Council still felt over the years it hadn’t contributed equally to the relationship, so in June it approved budgeting $15,000 annually toward the Toyonaka program.
Lim said although he’s interested in finding out more about the opportunity, it will need public support.
The Toyonaka relationship is promoted and run by the nonprofit San Mateo-Toyonaka Sister City Association. Due in part to the city’s increased funding, the association was able to raise $10,000 a few weeks ago between a fundraiser and $5,000 donation from AT&T, Lim said.
“I’m always supportive of creating new relationships that enhance San Mateo’s stature and create goodwill with other countries,” Lim said. “Really, to run a successful sister city relationship you need … residents who are going to be committed to the relationship and right now, I don’t think we have that.”
Lim said he would assist a grassroots effort to start a nonprofit that would oversee a new relationship.
According to the report, a relationship with China could foster economic ties by increasing cultural understanding between the two cities.
“It gives San Mateo the chance to explore and have a good humanitarian relationship with them. I’m sure there’s some things economically that we’ll be able to participate in and see what strengths and challenges both cities have and exploring those kinds of things. Also, I believe our businesses would be interested as well as the Chamber of Commerce. It could create some investments here or investments there,” Ross said.
There are more than 200 sister city relationships between the U.S. and China and it’s one of the fastest growing partnerships in the Sister Cities International network, according to the report.
Ross said if San Mateo wants to join in the benefits of creating ties with China, Laizhou’s offer is significant.
“If we don’t get in, we might get left out. It’s probably the future of that area and that country, that nation grows. So we are interested in exploring, in at least looking at a potential relationship with them,” Ross said.
Lim agreed, but said the relationship needs to be about more than just financial incentives.
“One of the reasons they gave is they want to expand economic opportunities between our two countries,” Lim said. “And I said part of the relationship isn’t just about economics, but also an exchange of ideas.”
For more information about San Mateo’s sister city program visit www.cityofsanmateo.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106