Meet Kate Colin, San Rafael’s First Female Mayor

Kate Colin (photo by Reny Huelskamp)

In an October endorsement, the Marin Independent Journal wrote that Kate Colin, who has lived in San Rafael’s Sun Valley neighborhood since 1996 and served on the planning commission for seven years before joining city council in 2013, “is poised to step into the mayor’s job. We wholeheartedly recommend her in this historic election for San Rafael.”

The editorial board wasn’t alone in that thought; the 55-year-old ended up receiving just over 86 percent of the vote replacing retiring mayor Gary Phillips, who served for nearly a decade, and made history as the first woman elected mayor of San Rafael. But the history making didn’t stop there. Colin was sworn in in December with two new women councilmembers, Maika Llorens Gulati (also the city’s first Hispanic councilmember) and Rachel Kertz, who joined a third to make the five-person council majority female. Only three women had ever served on the city council before Colin was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2013.

“After I won, I can’t tell you the number of women who had young daughters that made a point of reaching out to me and saying, ‘I have to tell you my daughter is so excited,’ and then they would say, ‘I’m excited, too,’ ” Colin recollects. “I get so focused on just doing my job that I hadn’t taken the moment to reflect that it can be inspiring and that it was on the radars of younger women in our community. That feels great.”

Colin has four key policy “buckets” she wants to work on with the council during her term: social justice and racial equity; homelessness and housing; climate change and the related issues of sea level rise and wildfires; and economic recovery.

In terms of housing, Colin says San Rafael is in a good position to meet the requirements that are coming down from the state. The city, as Colin knows from her time on the planning commission, has always been pro-housing and the mayor hopes to keep it that way for all economic levels. “I want housing in the right places in San Rafael,” she says. “It brings life and activity and people shopping, people working. There is always something going on; I want to be in a city where there is something going on.”

To help achieve equity and make sure everyone is represented as the city moves forward, Colin says it is important to work with community-based organizations like Canal Alliance and other trusted messengers in the Latinx and Vietnamese communities that call San Rafael home. “We have to have trust and relationships with the people with whom we are trying to connect,” Colin says. “How do we get people on our boards and our commissions — like new councilwoman Maika Llorens Gulati — that are bilingual and bicultural? Our work on this will never be done, we can always do better.”

Due to the effects of Covid-19 restrictions on local businesses and restaurants, Colin says the economic recovery piece may be one of the most important priorities out of the gate. “I started, along with mayor Brian Colbert of San Anselmo, a cross-jurisdictional group comprised of an elected official from every city and town in Marin County,” she says, highlighting San Rafael’s Dining Under the Lights as an example of a successful economic stimulus program shared with the group. “We started to meet virtually and compare notes on what was working.”

For now, local business owners may have seen the mayor on “Mayor Kate’s Walkabout” last month, walking up and down Fourth Street, talking with business owners and listening to what they have to say. “It’s all about building relationships, building trust and building connections,” she says. “I can’t do that from behind my computer.”