Los Altos Hills Mayor Michelle Wu speaks in terms of highways when describing her transition from the private sector to public service. As a tech industry entrepreneur, she became accustomed to traveling along in the fast lane. Wu soon learned, however, to adjust her speed – and expectations for expeditiously implementing innovation – upon joining the city council four years ago.
“You know, when you drive 100 mph, it’s very hard to also piggyback a 20-mph slow-lane car with you,” Wu said. “You pull it so fast. And just that’s a little different mindset.”
Wu acknowledges government processes are meant to progress at a slower pace, but she’s ready to merge back into the fast lane and concentrate on her career once more. She and Councilman Roger Spreen spoke to the Town Crier last week to explain why they chose not to run for a final four-year term on the Hills’ five-person council. Their seats – and that of Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan, who is termed-out – will be filled in November by three of five contenders: Stanley Mok, Raj Reddy, Lisa Schmidt, Jay Sutaria and Linda Swan.
Like Wu, career goals factored into Spreen’s decision (he’s an independent software developer), but he said personal concerns weighed most heavily upon him; he has three children between the ages of 13 and 20 at home right now, and like many families across the country, they’re struggling to understand what online schooling will entail during the COVID-19 era.
“The family obligation is just too much for me to commit to four whole years to the town on top of the five I’ve already done. … It wouldn’t be fair to commit to something I didn’t think I could complete necessarily,” he said. “So really I’m just leaving myself flexible for my family.”
The councilman dismissed the idea that negative opinions influenced any re-election aspirations he may have harbored. He’s recently faced some criticism from residents who don’t approve of the steeper rates contained within the new contract he and town staffers brokered with garbage collection company GreenWaste Recovery earlier this year. But Spreen said a forthcoming analysis of the deal by City Manager Carl Cahill and a subcommittee will validate their efforts.
“That’s one thing I’ve learned from this job – it’s that you’re not going to make everybody happy. You may make a lot of people unhappy,” he said. “But you have to do what’s right for the town. And I think more people see that when it’s understood.”
Council members selected Spreen, a former Open Space Committee chairman, to join their ranks in 2015 after Rich Larsen resigned and moved to Carmel. Voters elected Wu, a former member of the now-dissolved Traffic and Safety Committee, into office in 2016. In October 2017, the council voted to make Spreen vice mayor, and he ascended to the central dais position in December 2018, the same time Wu became vice mayor. She became mayor this year.
A history of public service
During his council tenure, Spreen has served as the liaison for the town’s History, Pathways and Parks and Recreation standing committees and as a representative for a number of outside agencies, including the Los Altos Hills County Fire District. He’s been a vocal champion for the construction of new pathways and has expressed pride in helping the council and town staff maintain fiscal responsibility.
“Certainly the biggest joy I’ve had is working with a great staff and really discovering how dedicated they are at all levels to keeping this town running well,” he said. “And I will miss not being able to do that on a day-to-day basis. I’d like to think I’ve always been collaborative and have brought that spirit to any contentious issue and to always be listening.”
With just a few months left as a council member, Spreen said he hopes to complete the work he and Corrigan began in May by forming an ad hoc committee tasked with evaluating the town’s advisory committee structure. The pandemic has delayed some of their efforts, but their goal is to find a happy medium between encouraging volunteerism and ensuring the interest-based groups run efficiently.
Wu has served as a council liaison to the town’s Finance and Investment, Environmental Design and Protection and Environmental Initiatives committees as well as to the Los Altos-Los Altos Hills Senior Commission. She represents Los Altos Hills on the Santa Clara County Cities Association Board and the Los Altos Hills Emergency Council. Technological advancement is the principal tenet of her political career.
She advocated for the deployment of TRAKiT, a software system that helps residents submit and navigate the permitting process, and collaborated with former town public works director Allen Chen to bring SeeClickFix.com’s framework to Los Altos Hills Connect, an app for residents to report and track issues such as low-hanging wires and obstructed paths. As a member of an emerging technology ad hoc committee formed in April 2017, she pushed for improved internet connectivity but has since been frustrated by the town’s delayed interest in exploring 5G infrastructure investment.
Wu identified her goals for the next four months as preserving town safety and Los Altos Hills’ semi-rural atmosphere. She also wants to continue promoting government transparency, a task simplified by the recent necessity to keep town meetings virtual; she said the ease of their dial-in nature means more public attendees than ever.
Neither Spreen nor Wu were ready last week to specify which of the five council candidates they might rally behind, but Wu offered some words of encouragement.
“I do support everyone who said, ‘I’m going to run and I want to be the candidate,’” she said. “I just think moving the step forward to being the candidate, to be a public servant, is something that I would cherish for everyone.”