Meet the Candidates: Janet Abelson

Current Mayor Janet Abelson says she's running for a fourth City Council term in large part because she feels her mission to revitalize El Cerrito's main corridor is not yet complete.

If Janet Abelson wins in November -- as she is likely to do since she's running unopposed -- she will be the first woman in El Cerrito history to serve four terms on the City Council.

She's also the only councilmember who's served three terms in the past 40 years. Council terms run four years.

Only three other people, all men, have been four-term councilmembers.  The last was Leo Armstrong, who sat on the council from 1954 to 1970.  The other two -- Pete Larson and Phillip Lee -- were on the first council when the city was formed in 1917.

Two seats are up for grabs and only two candidates: Abelson, who currently holds the rotating mayor's gavel on the five-member council, and newcomer Rebecca Benassini.

Now retired from UC Berkeley, where she developed business-application computer systems, Abelson can often be seen taking an active role at public meetings and gatherings around the city.

She told Patch in an interview that she has been devoted to a range of issues on the council but that her "central reason" for seeking a council seat has focused on the city's main artery, San Pablo Avenue, and the time "when you can go from one end of San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito to the other end of San Pablo Avenue and you can see a revitalized community the whole way."

"That's why I ran in the first place and that's why I'm running again," she said.

She cites the streetwork, new trees and drought-tolerant landscaping on San Pablo as signs of progress in achieving that vision.

Her three main areas of expertise, she says, are transportation, education and the environment. She was past chair and a current commissioner of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee. She's also "held leadership roles at a number of agencies including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, BART and AC Transit," according to her biography at janetabelson.org.

A mother of five, she cites a long involvement in parent groups, including those in local schools.

She's also committed to environmental causes. She's chaired El Cerrito's Earth Day for over 10 years, and she led the establishment of city's Environmental Quality Committee, a citizen's panel that advises councilmembers and other city officials.

Her desire to see such a group began when she attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Summit in Seattle in 2007, she said. Global warming and the orientation of U.S. policy at that time alarmed her.

"I came back from that meeting feeling really unhappy," she said. She wanted to make a difference.

"I said the place I can do that is El Cerrito," she said. "So, I thought it'd be good to form a citizne group." That committee now works in tandem with another intiative developed at the same time by city staff, the city's Green Teams, on which local volunteers and businesses help on environmental projects.


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