Gary Waldeck lived as many residents of Los Altos Hills – content with a successful career but not particularly interested in politics. But when several town councilmembers cornered him at a party several years ago and asked him to run for city council, he began to reflect on his leadership potential.
“It was very flattering to one’s ego, but to be truthful, I didn’t know if I had the history or knowledge of town to run for office,” Waldeck, the town’s new mayor, said.
An accomplished aerospace engineer and a member of the Purissima Hills Water District Board, he reviewed the situation and reasoned that he had the energy, time and leadership and problem-solving skills necessary to serve.
Relying on a circle of friends and community members, Waldeck launched his campaign for city council in 2010. Determined to meet as many residents as possible, he purchased a motor scooter and set out to visit every house in town. Although the town is only 8.6 square miles, Waldeck recorded more than 1,000 miles of travel on his scooter. He recalls his door-knocking adventure as one of the most satisfying experiences of his life.
“Although they didn’t know me from Adam, many people invited me in to talk,” he said. “I learned about the issues important to people, and it gave me a pretty good understanding of where (the town of Los Altos Hills) needed to go moving forward.”
After a successful campaign, it didn’t take long for Waldeck to resolve issues that frustrated residents. Among the first actions he took was meeting with the town’s planning staff to improve communications with residents and clarify the planning process for future building-permit applicants.
As a result of his initiative, prospective permit applicants can now easily identify codes and understand rules through an interactive Site Development Process Road Map, available on the Planning and Building Department’s webpage.
After serving as councilman for a year, Waldeck assumed the position of mayor of Los Altos Hills last week. He said he expects to sustain the “approachable and congenial” tone fostered by the council in recent years but also hopes to challenge town leadership to be more creative in engaging residents.
Waldeck highlights the collaborative partnerships forged by the Water Conservation Committee as an example for other committees to begin examining the bigger picture. Tackling climate change is among his top priorities, and he discusses the importance of the town’s leading by example, emphasizing best practices and new technologies for bolstering conservation in preparation for the future – drought or otherwise.
“Over the next 10 years, the environment is going to change quite a lot,” Waldeck said. “We should already be thinking about how it will impact us.”
Waldeck said he plans to focus on emergency preparedness, specifically developing cohesion among the individuals and groups preparing for potential disasters. Although there is no way to predict such crises, a devastating earthquake or major fire is not implausible.
“Individually, they’ve been training for years, but what they haven’t done is train together,” said Waldeck of the town’s emergency responders. “That’s where we need to connect the lines.”
Waldeck termed his leadership style “nonhierarchical” and said he values all opinions equally before making decisions that impact the community. With his life experience and resolve, he plans to confront issues as diverse as improving public roads and balancing the town’s budget.
“We’ve had the opportunity to bring up difficult topics,” he said of his experience on the council. “We don’t always agree, but what’s really important is that the majority have a say.”
Continuing a tradition started by the previous mayor, Waldeck plans to share his thoughts in a monthly column published in the Town Crier.