Marin’s Outgoing Mayoral Legacies

Learn historical and notable facts about Mill Valley, Sausalito and Fairfax as well as what these three mayors achieved this past year and what civil service means to them.

Jim Wickham, Mill Valley

Jim Wickham, Mill Valley

As a fourth-generation Mill Valley resident and the most senior member of the Mill Valley City Council, Mayor Jim Wickham knows the ins and outs of his town like no other. Before his first election to City Council in 2015, he served on numerous community boards and committees including the Emergency Preparedness Commission, the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival, the Tam High School Boosters, Mill Valley Soccer Club, and Mill Valley Little League, not to mention his 37-year-long career with the Mill Valley Police Department. He has since been elected to a second term on the Council, which will end in December 2024, and his term as Mayor ends this October. Wickham loves living in a family-oriented community — he has raised five children here himself — and makes use of Mill Valley’s outdoor space by biking and hiking.

Q: What motivated you to take the step to run for City Council and ultimately serve as Mayor? 

A: Back in 2015 or so, I was discouraged by the direction the city was going. I felt I should run for council because I felt there was a need for a balance between the future and our past. I’m fourth-generation [Mill Valley resident]. I went to Park School and I went to Tam, and my dad was on the City Council and was mayor back in ’64–’72. I wasn’t planning on running for City Council, but I just got to the point — I was retired, and I was frustrated with what I was seeing and hearing within staff and the community. 

Q: What have you been working on? What accomplishments are you most proud of?

A: When I was Mayor in 2019-20, the biggest thing that we were discussing was mitigating wildland fires and enhancing evacuation. I came off the Emergency Preparedness Commission and my background [is in] law enforcement here in Mill Valley. We came up with an ordinance on defensible space and spent a lot of time addressing evacuation routes and a variety of safety components. We introduced the LRAD: sirens that have a voiceover and tell people where to go. 

This next round as Mayor, the first key issue was looking for a new City Manager. In small cities like Mill Valley, it’s difficult to get highly qualified people, but the Council and myself were very fortunate to bring on Todd Cusamano from Corte Madera. I was in the selection process representing the community and working with the Council. That was probably one of my biggest highlights because the City Manager implements the policies of the council and sets the tenor for our staff, and staff is what keeps Mill Valley what it is today.

We finally finished Miller Avenue and East Blithedale. We’ve been doing a lot of infrastructure improvements on our roadways. Blithedale was a significantly long, complicated project that took us 15 months to complete. The downtown area got revamped.

We’re working on affordable housing. We’re trying to work with the community on 1 Hamilton, a potential 45-unit rental project for low-moderate income individuals. 

Climate action: We’ve hired a sustainability coordinator and just passed our foodware ordinance, which the whole county has adopted. 

Of course, we have DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion]. We got heavily involved a few years ago in recognizing our history and looking for the future and how we can improve our relationships. We have staff monitoring each of our departments on how we can keep this messaging constant. 

In the future, we’re looking at noise ordinances for downtown and the plaza expansion. Our biggest task now is exploring potential revenue streams that we can introduce to the community in the near future.

Q: Is there anything you learned about Mill Valley and/or the surrounding area that you didn’t know until you became more involved with local government?

A: I’m the most senior person here, and historically a lot of what we go through now is not my first rodeo. I’ve been very fortunate growing up here, my dad being in politics, and myself working for city government and being a volunteer my whole life. Nothing’s really surprised me, but there are politics. What I’ve learned being on the City Council is that I don’t take things personally anymore. I recognize that everyone’s going to have an opinion. You have to balance out the decision making on “that sounds good, but that’s not Mill Valley.” 

Q: What’s an interesting historical fact, fun fact or story about Mill Valley that you like?

A: The trains brought a lot of people over from the city to hike Mount Tam. The railroad itself was unique as it was considered “the Crookedest Railroad in the World” and brought thousands of people into town. We have this surprisingly great Steps, Lanes and Paths system that highlights the transition from train, walking and horses to the automobile. But we’ve maintained those SLPs, and it’s now enhanced our mobility, evacuation and encouraging people to be outside. 

Q: What should people know if they come to visit? What do tourists tend to like/do the most in your city? If you could plan an ideal day spent in Mill Valley, what would you include? 

A: You’ve got to go downtown to the plaza. We have a great business community, and the plaza is the heartbeat of the town, especially hanging out talking to residents. We have the 142 Throckmorton Theatre, the Sequoia Theater, the Sweetwater Music Hall, which has historically brought music to our community, and the Outdoor Art Club, which is historically one of the first women’s clubs. We have great restaurants, cafes and recreational facilities. 

You can’t ask for a better community if you love the outdoors: utilizing and getting out there into the watershed or state park, going to Cascade Falls, going to Old Mill Park, and recognizing the beauty that we surround ourselves with and the uniqueness of this coastal area. 

Q: What’s your favorite go-to restaurant in Mill Valley and what do you like to order? 

A: We go to Piazza D’Angelo, we go to Bungalow 44. La Ginestra — I’ve known the family for years. I go to Boo Koo — it’s a great place to go after a hike. We have really good restaurants in town like Playa and Tamalpie down Miller Avenue. When I was Mayor in 2019, I spent a lot of time with the new owners of the Depot. It has a great location, and we have coffee and listen to live music. 

Q: What do you love most about Mill Valley? 

A: The surrounding natural area, the picturesque trials, the hikes — I love mountain biking and being outdoors. It’s a great place year-round to stay fit and be out enjoying the beauty and the history of Mill Valley and the mountain. 

Melissa Blaustein, Sausalito

Melissa Blaustein, Sausalito

Born, raised and still living in the area, Mayor Melissa Blaustein considers Marin to be “part of [her] lifeblood,” and she has been more deeply engaged with the local community and government for some time now, as well. Her passion for and extensive participation with both local and worldwide wellbeing is evident — prior to being elected for the Sausalito City Council in 2020, she was on the Sustainability Commission, the General Plan Advisory Committee and the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Housing. Blaustein additionally served both on the Board of the Sausalito Rotary Club and the Rotary Senior Housing Board. She also served as director for the city’s Chamber of Commerce and is its representative for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force. Blaustein also founded and is the CEO of Allied for Startups, which works to make sure that startups worldwide are seen and supported by their government.

Q: What do you love the most about Sausalito? 

A: The people. Waterfront communities produce my kind of people: hard-working, salty as we like to say, and really passionate. That’s me, too. I’m an open water swimmer and I love all the activities Sausalito provides: sailing, paddleboarding, looking out across the bay to see what the day is going to bring.

Q: What made you want to become mayor?

A: I have worked at pretty much every level of government — local, national, international — happily serving people behind the scenes in government and nonprofits. But after the 2016 election, just seeing how polarized our country was at the national level, I felt like it was really important to run for office and do something locally, to do whatever I could to see our community succeed. 

Q: What have you learned about the city and/or the surrounding area that you didn’t know until you became more involved with local government? 

A: I always considered myself an educated volunteer who did a lot to give back and be engaged in the community. But once you’re in the seat of mayor, you really see how much these organizations are the pillars of the community. I am just consistently inspired by the engagement of all of our organizations, like Sausalito Beautiful, the Sausalito Historical Society and Call of the Sea to name a few, and I just feel like without these major nonprofits we wouldn’t be able to function the way we do. 

Q: What would you recommend other people do to see from that perspective too? 

A: I would encourage people to engage the nonprofits in our community. Find a volunteer opportunity. I try to show up as much as possible for all of their fundraisers, engagements and events and share information on my social media and my newsletter.

Q: What’s an interesting historical fact about the city that you like?

A: My favorite is the fact that Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was recorded at the Record Plant Studio in Marinship in Sausalito. I recently got to visit the studio, which is still largely intact. A few entrepreneurs bought it and are trying to turn it back into a recording studio again. I can’t wait to see it open up for everyone in town to see it and enjoy it and be part of the next chapter of history.

Q: What should people know if they come to visit? And since a lot of tourists come to Marin, especially people from out of the country, what do they tend to like/do the most in your city? 

A: Most tourists tend to walk along our waterfront, go downtown and get an ice cream. That is a lovely experience. But I encourage visitors to move out of the well-worn touristy areas and take the ramp up to Caledonia. Stop in at Firehouse Coffee. Walk down Caledonia Street and get a pizza at Sandrino. Listen to live music at DiVino. Just move a little bit past that regular waterfront and you’ll get to see how the locals live. You’ll meet some really great people, as Sausalitans are typically really friendly. If you stop and ask us what you should go do or see, they are happy to offer advice.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do in Sausalito?

A: I love to swim in front of my house, along the Sausalito waterfront. It just makes me so happy. I get out of the water refreshed, take my dog for a walk, say hi to everybody and face the day. 

Q: What have you been working on? What accomplishment are you most proud of from throughout your career and also as Sausalito’s mayor?

A: I am focusing on back-to-basics governing: passing a budget, passing our housing element, which is our state-required housing mandates. 

I’m also really focused on building bridges between Sausalito and Marin City. We’ve been so lucky during my term as mayor to work with Performing Stars Marin on our Jazz and Blues events. I recently worked with the council to allow Marin City nonprofits to use our park and recs facilities for free. I’m also working on an inclusive business program for Sausalito that will hopefully encourage businesses from Marin City to open up shop in downtown Sausalito. 

On the climate side, I’m working with our sustainability commission to create a resilience hub at City Hall. We are hoping to be the first city to have electric ferries and electric taxis, and we’re hopefully going to be installing chargers for electric boats as well.

I’m incredibly proud of hiring Chris Zapata as our City Manager. He absolutely deserves a shoutout and I think he’s just done so much for our town. He’s the first ever Latino city manager in Marin County and he is really a force. I think it’s so important to hire good people. 

Q: Would you say that you got any inspiration for these aspirations from other cities or do you think this will be the blueprint for other cities?

A: I was able to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors this year, even went to Puerto Rico for a mayoral roundtable. What I’ve learned from conversations with leaders from all over the country is that we’re all dealing with the same issues: housing, climate change, equity and transportation. It is inspiring to see the hard work being done around the country. We borrow ideas from each other, take home best practices, and really lean on each other as we learn.

Q: How would you convey what happens behind the scenes or the fact that these issues are the same across the board to the general public? 

A: The people of Sausalito are engaged politically. They agree on most issues and profoundly disagree on others. In order to move forward, we all have to come from a place of empathy and be willing to cross lines of difference. We have to be willing to have conversations with people we disagree with to be successful. I learn from community members so much. I love it when people email me with great ideas and suggestions. I encourage community members to keep letting us know your thoughts. Your voice is so important. You have no idea how much of a difference one letter can make, let alone ten letters. The people of Sausalito are salty, we can be quirky, and that is our strength! In the end, I am continually inspired by how this community works together to preserve and progress our magnificent seaside village

Q: What’s your favorite go-to restaurant in your town?

A: You can always find me at the bar at Angelino because they’re like family. I live right by Golden Gate Market and they have marvelous breakfast sandwiches and lattes. You can also frequently catch me fueling up at the Firehouse Coffee. And for lunch, I love a salad from the Joinery. Also, DiVino and Sandrino. For cocktails, I love Copita. 

Q: What do you like to order from Angelino?

A: The pesto pasta. 

Chance Cutrano, Fairfax

Chance Cutrano, Fairfax

A Chicago native, Fairfax Mayor Chance Cutrano moved to Marin in 2015 to work in land conservation, ultimately landing in Fairfax six years ago. His passion for the environment is evident throughout his career and volunteerism: outside of elected office, he serves as Director of Programs of the Resource Renewal Institute, Chair of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter, and Board Secretary of International Rivers. Prior to his election to City Council, he held positions on the Fairfax Open Space Committee and Volunteer Board, in addition to helping create Farfax’s 1-for-1 Volunteer Match program during the pandemic, the Fairfax Temporary Residential Rental Assistance Program, and the Fairfax Racial Equity and Social Justice Committee. 

Q: What motivated you to take the step to run for City Council and ultimately serve as mayor? 

A: I stepped up in 2020, which was a real difficult year for so many communities, but it came on the heels of the planned, or rather unplanned, safety power shutoff events. The power shutoff in Fairfax resulted in nearly a week of no power. It was so unusual that the cell tower backup batteries ran out of juice, so people couldn’t call or check in on how other folks were doing. It demonstrated that there were vulnerabilities in terms of emergency preparedness. At the same time, it was hard to know as a resident what we do as volunteers, as community leaders, to take care of each other during and after such an event. Coming out of that, and with the threat of Covid-19 rearing its head in March of 2020, I jumped into action with some of my colleagues and other community members to start creating infrastructure for checking in on neighbors, for food and medicine delivery. I felt like that was a big “aha” moment: we can look at the issues on our horizon and work to fortify our communities and become more resilient. 

Q: What have you been working on? What accomplishments are you most proud of?

A: One of the big priorities for me was addressing our town’s need to staff up our organization, especially as people expect more services. With new staff we can go after exciting grants, we can improve project management, and we can improve communications with the community. What I said when I ran was, “more oars in the water help our boat move faster in the direction we want to go.” I think that’s held true now that we’ve onboarded four or five new people, including a new town manager, a new planning director, our first deputy town clerk, our first climate action coordinator and our first standalone director of public works in over a decade. We’re assembling the A-team, so to speak, which is fundamental for good governance.

An addendum to that is addressing deferred maintenance because we had a lack of staffing. When I came into office, we were spending $200,000 a year on pavement. The budget that we just passed put $1 million to pavement — a 400% increase. In addition to that, our Council committed $170,000 to address 1,141 individual trip and fall hazards on the downtown sidewalks, which is important for making sure the community is age-friendly and ADA-compliant. We did this with a balanced budget and a healthy 25% reserve. Those are big wins. But again, all part of the fundamentals.

One of the other big things has been seeking creative solutions to our housing affordability crisis. Over the last 18 months,  I’ve been working with the community and our Town Council on strengthening renter protections to avoid displacement of our low income neighbors. Those policies ensure that roughly 40% of Fairfax’s residents aren’t priced out or forced to pack up due to excessive rent increases or arbitrary evictions. And earlier this year, working with the County Board of Supervisors, we were able to bring in 4.2 million dollars to Fairfax for an opportunity to preserve our largest apartment complex, Sherwood Oaks, and turn those 80 units into permanent affordable housing. 

Q: I understand your term ends in December. What’s next for you after that? 

A: I’ll still be on Council, and I’ll be up for reelection next year. I plan to do my part to continue to move forward on all of these priorities. There are many irons in the fire: storm drain improvements, significant road repairs, making Fairfax and the Marin more bikeable and walkable — it’s all on my mind. So is emergency preparedness — from fire to flooding to poor air quality. I serve as a Director of the Ross Valley Fire Department where I  plan to remain closely involved in the process to renovate our fire stations as we transition to a three person engine company. The Town is also in the process of turning our Town facilities into a microgrid/resiliency hub to ensure our residents have a place to go in the event of a disaster.  Finally, I see some really exciting opportunities for land conservation and biodiversity and floodplain restoration here in Fairfax; that kind of work is my bread and butter and I’m excited to work with the community on those initiatives in the year ahead.

Q: What have you learned about Fairfax and/or the surrounding area that you didn’t know until you became more involved with local government?

A: My experience on the Town Council has been absolutely incredible. It’s humbling, it’s fulfilling, and I learn something new every day. One thing I’ve learned is that government can work. You know, on the outside, so many people say government’s broken, or democracy is broken, and you look at the national level and you see the gridlock and it can be so discouraging. I’ve always believed that we can make a difference. Getting elected at the local level, I now know it to be true. We can figure out how these systems work. With the right team, and with the support of the community, we can address some of the most challenging issues of our time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mayor or whether you’re even on the Town Council or not. Everybody has a role to play — democracy is a team sport. 

Q: What should people know if they come to visit? What do tourists tend to like/do the most in your city?

A: Let’s say somebody comes out on the weekend — what I would invite someone to do is go to Amelie in the morning to have an espresso and an almond croissant. Then, come play a pickup game of ultimate frisbee at Lefty Gomez. (People can reach out to me directly if they want to join and I’ll plug you into the community.) After frisbee, cool down with an acai bowl at Mana Bowls. Maybe there’s an opportunity for a hike in there: either Deer Park or Loma Alta Open Space Preserve, hiking or biking, or a more quiet walk around Elliot Nature Preserve. For dinner, stop by Stillwater for an amazing drink and burger in the parklet or out back by the fireplace.. Drop into Peri’s if there’s music going on, and if not, there’s definitely going to be music, comedy, or something at Mac’s at 19 Broadway to close out the night. Say that isn’t for you — go across the street to the Wu Wei Tea Temple for a lovely evening of music and poetry and an eclectic open mic, from folks playing out for the first time to Grammy-award winning artists. 

Q: What’s your favorite go-to restaurant in your city and what do you like to order?

A: Too many to choose! Stillwater is sort of my watering hole. Mas Masa has amazing al pastor tacos if you can get them before they run out–their a wonderful women-run business. My recent lunchtime guilty pleasure is Bah Mi Ba, which is a new Vietnamese-French cuisine corner store in the center of downtown. I love going to get the Korean Fried Chicken banh mi and sitting in the little plastic chairs on the corner and street and getting to see the hustle and bustle of our little Town. How could I not mention the renowned Village Sake: there’s just so much goodness: Village Roll, Scallop Roll, Tai Crunch Roll, Pork Belly Skewers, Miso Glazed Black Cod. That’s a must at some point. Oh, and HenHouse Brewing has just opened up a microbrewery and kitchen called the West County Pub here in Fairfax. Top notch chicken sandwich, sustainable brews, great outdoor vibe.

Q: What do you love most about Fairfax?

A: Fairfax is one of those special places in the U.S. that’s been able to really hold its charm. It’s been able to hold out as a place that’s still relatively affordable, that has live music seven nights a week, that prides itself in being a bit different. It has good activist energy. It seemed like the right place for me to land — the environmental ethic, the desire to celebrate and protect the artistic fabric of our community, the commitment to “place.” It wasn’t just a shell of this former self; there were still real efforts to maintain that funkiness, that grooviness that come with a vibrant place like Fairfax. We have an embarrassment of riches in terms of good food, amazing retail shops, and welcoming people. All of us in Marin are blessed with access to open space; but Fairfax really is the gateway to West Marin’s open spaces. It is incredible that I can get on a trail and Fairfax and walk all the way to the Pacific Ocean. 

Both as mayor and as a community member, if people want to come to town, grab a coffee and take a tour, I am happy to show them why I think this is one of the coolest places in the world. My door is always open.