Marcia Somers assumed duties as Los Altos city manager in April 2012. Part one of the Town Crier “e-terview,” an email interview, follows.Somers offers her account of how she stepped into a leadership position in a city bursting with activity.
TC: First off, Marcia, give us a bit of background on why you accepted this position, including where you had been working.
Somers: I have been in the Bay Area for almost 40 years and lived in San Francisco, Palo Alto and, for the last 30 years, Campbell. My good fortune has been to gain a broad range of experience working in the private, nonprofit, education and public sectors. I’ve always been drawn to jobs that are broad in scope and organizations that are known for being well managed, but I also have a desire to reach for the next level. Los Altos fit the bill.
TC: Danville, where you previously served, has certain qualities in common with Los Altos. What are some?
Somers: I had an incredibly stimulating and rewarding 19 years with the town of Danville. There are many similarities between Danville and Los Altos, including both being situated in beautiful areas of the Bay Area surrounded by hills and creeks and a unique semirural atmosphere. The residents also have a lot in common, including being well educated and interested in contributing their time and talents to the community.
TC: What were your responsibilities, and how did Danville prepare you for this undertaking?
Somers: As the community services director in Danville, I was responsible for a full range of recreation services as well as maintenance services, which included parks, roadsides, streets and facilities. As assistant town manager for the past six years of my tenure, I oversaw maintenance services, recreation services, information technology and public information and provided assistance to other departments as well as continuing to manage a number of significant parks and facilities projects and providing direct support to the city council and city manager.
TC: After a year and a half as city manager here in Los Altos, what have been your biggest surprises?
Somers: I’ve always been a big proponent of citizen involvement and participation. I have participated as a community volunteer in a number of school, city and professional endeavors. But I’m convinced that Los Altos has everyone else beat. The level of volunteer support by residents in this community is unmatched anywhere.
TC: Occasionally, some citizens have discussions about the structure of our city government, including the idea of electing a mayor for four- or six-year terms instead of the mayor simply rotating among councilmembers to serve for one year as mayor mainly just to chair council meetings. What do you think of that?
Somers: Large cities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, can benefit from directly elected mayors given the size of their cities and scope and significance of the issues they face. Small cities, like Los Altos, benefit more from the collegial, nonpolitical approach to city business as well as an annual mayoral rotation. The mayoral role tends to be very busy, as requests for his/her appearance and participation in community events is fairly significant. The rotation allows councilmembers the opportunity to experience all those extra activities.
TC: Creating a new civic center has been on the schedule for the past five years. Do you have ideas on how to proceed?
Somers: The city council indicated during its annual planning retreat last January that construction of a new community center in the first phase of civic center improvements was a high priority. We are now in the process of moving forward with planning the redevelopment of this very important community asset.
Since I have had experience planning and constructing community facilities in both my previous cities, I recognize the tremendous value that these structures offer to a community and its residents by creating central gathering places and multipurpose activity spaces for citizens of all ages.
TC: What are two or three main items on your agenda for the next year?
Somers: While there are several priority items that are important for me to focus on, the first three that come to mind are redevelopment of the Hillview Community Center, planning for implementation of initiatives identified in the Downtown Parking Management Study and continuing to enhance city staff’s communication with the public.
Part two of the Somers e-terview is scheduled to run next week.