Tonight, Diane Papan will be named mayor of the city of San Mateo at the City Council’s annual reorganization meeting. She will take over the gavel from Rick Bonilla, who will remain on the council.
Papan will be the 10th female mayor in the city’s 125-year history. The other nine include Jane Baker, Jane Powell, Donna Richardson, Florence Rhoads, Claire Mack, Carole Groom, Jan Epstein, Maureen Freschet and yours truly. The first woman elected to the council was Marion Hemingway but her peers never selected her as mayor.
Papan comes from a distinguished political family. Her father, Lou Papan, represented San Mateo County (19th District) for many years in the state Assembly and was a legendary figure. Her sister, Gina, has been mayor and councilmember for the city of Millbrae. But Diane Papan wasn’t always headed for local politics. After graduating from Capuchino High (where she was school president), UCLA and Hastings Law School, she became a commercial litigator working for bond companies involved in public works projects. She now does commercial litigation for small businesses and is self employed.
She was a first elected to the council in 2015, so is a relative newcomer to City Hall. But she was involved in school activities (she has an eighth-grader at Borel Middle School) and at one time served on the Baywood Elementary School Site Council. She also had a leadership role in the Baywood homeowners association. She and her sister run a nonprofit, John’s Closet, and a scholarship program also named for her late younger brother, the John Papan Memorial Scholarship, which provides scholarships to graduating seniors at both the Jefferson and San Mateo Union high school districts. John was a special ed student and several of the scholarships are reserved for special ed kids.
I interviewed Papan last week over coffee at one of her favorite spots, Jack’s (“owned by Greeks — my people know good food and how to cook”).
She loves being on the council, loves San Mateo even though she grew up in Daly City and Millbrae, and is very excited about becoming mayor. Her major concerns are the financial health of the city especially when it comes to unfunded mandates (pensions) and enhancing the sense of community. San Mateo faces a total of $215 million in unfunded obligations; police and fire account for $145 million. Papan wants to decrease this amount while maintaining city services.
“As mayor, my focus is on building on the strength of our community. People crave community now more than ever and I feel strongly that one’s sense of community is profoundly impacted by what their city does. A city impacts everything from the physical comfort of daily living to enhancing our opportunity to interact with each other. Our city provides excellent safety through police and fire. It has a viable Public Works Department that allows you to drive down the street without a pothole or flush the toilet and have it processed without polluting the Bay or sleep through night without a train horn by improving rail crossings. It provides access to lifelong learning through a 21st century library. It provides well-maintained parks and meaningful recreation programs.”
In a dynamic city, there is a lot going on: the replacement of the wastewater treatment plant, three new grade separations (25th Avenue under construction; 28th and 31st avenues soon to be. But don’t hold your breath. The 25th Avenue grade separation was under consideration when I first joined the council in 1993). And the important task of updating the city’s general plan with community discussions now underway. Congratulations and best of luck to the new mayor. Somewhere up in heaven Lou Papan is beaming.
Congratulations are also in order to the new CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Nicole Taylor. She formerly served as vice president of the Arizona State University Foundation and before that headed the East Bay Community Foundation. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation supports numerous worthy projects and programs in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. It’s good news to hear such a talented and well-respected individual has been chosen to lead this important institution.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.