Meet the Mayor: Gary Phillips
With its population hovering around 60,000, San Rafael is Marin County’s largest city. It is also Marin’s oldest city; the county seat; and the only municipality in Marin where citizens elect their mayor (in Marin’s ten other cities; city councils elect mayors).
San Rafael’s mayor is Gary Phillips, a 60-something former business consultant who served on the Dixie District School Board and San Rafael’s Planning Commission and City Council before being elected mayor in 2011; then re-elected in 2015. Gary and his wife Linda have lived in San Rafael since 1972, where they have raised their four children.
You’ve lived in San Rafael for more than 40 years. What’s the best way for those new to the area, or really anyone, to get more involved?
Being the largest city in Marin gives us an almost unlimited number of ways to get involved, starting with our city boards and commissions. These cover parks and recreation, our library, city planning and much more. The outstanding residents serving our city by focusing on these critical areas have a significant influence on our community’s development and direction. Join them!
There are nearly 30 neighborhood/homeowner associations that join our community members of common area and mutual interest. These associations help make their immediate community better by getting to know one another, which is both fun and critical in the case of an emergency. We are very fortunate to have a number of non-profit and service organizations looking for volunteers to help address numerous community needs, concerns and issues. There is also our Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District which add much to our business community. Finally, we have local city council elections every two years, and any San Rafael resident can run. Being on the council is one of the most impactful ways to directly serve the community in a challenging and rewarding way.
Currently, what is the most critical issue facing your city?
While we face a variety of issues on a daily basis, one clearly stands out to me – what do we want our city to become over time? I see a number of possibilities as the opportunities for San Rafael have never been greater and the likelihood of profound change is a certainty. We know the Transit Center will be relocated, BioMarin will continue to expand, various developers have strongly indicated an interest in providing housing in the downtown area, the number of restaurants and brew pubs will increase and there will be more community activities throughout San Rafael. Collectively, these and certainly others will have a significant change to our city. Because of this, we are preparing our Vision 2040 which will provide our community the opportunity to help shape San Rafael for years to come.
Name something about San Rafael many people may not know about; one that makes you proud.
Younger professionals and families are moving from San Francisco to San Rafael. They are attracted to our growing variety of amenities: transit access (the SMART train), our many restaurants and brew pubs, our specialty retailers and many cultural art offerings. We expect this trend to continue and look forward to everyone enjoying San Rafael.
In 2018, recreational marijuana will be legal in California, what are San Rafael’s plans to handle this matter?
We have taken significant steps in planning for this change. At this point, community sentiment seems to be leaning toward licensing approvals only for medical cannabis under a limited pilot program. We are reviewing actions of other cities, recommendations of a council sub-committee and comments from our community. We shall continue to receive community input on this matter before making a final decision, but more than likely we will approve a limited number of cannabis delivery operators, testing labs and manufacturing facilities. At this time, it seems unlikely we’ll approve cultivation of marijuana or retail outlets for either medical or recreational purposes.
Is homelessness in San Rafael an increasing problem? Or is it becoming less problematic?
Based on various counts, community input and my own observations, we are making significant headway addressing this issue. We have put in place a number of features to reduce the numbers and certain related impacts of the homeless, including launching of the Downtown Streets Team (that has resulted in 80 permanent job placements and housing for 40 people), hiring of mental health officer to address the mentally challenged on 4th Street, housing of 30 chronically homeless through the HOT program, clearing of numerous encampments, employing a Director of Homeless Planning and Outreach, dispersing from our downtown area certain services including mail and soon showers under a mutually developed understanding with the Ritter Center, achieving closer cooperation and support from the County and providing support for St. Vincent’s “Return to Residence” program which has arranged for over 200 homeless to return to their home of origin. In addition to these specific actions, we do see further opportunities to address this issue such as permanent supportive housing. Certainly we have more to do in this area, and we are receptive to new ideas and approaches to further our progress.
After 30 years of community involvement, where to you find the emotional and physical energy to continue serving?