By Cam Lippincott
Graphic by Emma Cypressi
On December 1st, the Walnut Creek City Council unanimously appointed Councilmember Kevin Wilk Mayor of Walnut Creek, in accordance with the traditional rotation of Walnut Creek Councilmembers in the position as Mayor. Wilk’s mayoralty follows Councilmember Loella Haskew when she served as Mayor from 2019-2020.
Wilk’s term as Mayor comes after a highly contested City Council race between 8 candidates. Wilk obtained the most votes with 20.2% of the vote, followed by Cindy Darling and Loella Haskew, who obtained 19.8% and 15.8% of the vote respectively.
Wilk described the job of Mayor as “above and beyond what their role as a council member normally would be,” and outlined the responsibilities of the mayor, saying, “The mayor has no extra vote, no extra power. What they do is they help set the agenda with the city manager for the meetings. They run the City Council meetings, and then [are] the face of any media.”
Combating the coronavirus pandemic is Wilk’s number one priority, as he wants to “[get] ahead of the pandemic and then [be] able to have an economic rebound recovery effort with these businesses, especially restaurants and retail.” Another priority of Wilk’s is combating climate change, saying, “We’re going to be updating our climate action plan for 2030 and also be involved with different acts for sustainability that will have Walnut Creek continuing to be a leader in combating climate change throughout the region…we’re going to see some additional electric vehicle charging stations at new buildings, new residences and some other areas that will also increase our ability to combat greenhouse gas emissions.”
There has been much discussion lately in the city about a 24/7 Mental Health Crisis Response Team for Walnut Creek replacing the police in situations where someone is having a mental health crisis. Wilk hopes that this will be in effect by summer 2021, adding, “this is not a decision that is solely in Walnut Creek’s purview. The County has to come up with the plan and they have to come up with the estimation of what the costs will be. And then Walnut Creek has to be able to fund it…we have to first get the plan from the county, and then we can move forward with that discussion. But I’m hopeful that it will be within the next six months.”
Wilk also gave an update on the hiring of a new Chief of Police and whom he wants them to be: “I’m looking for somebody to be a community resource officer, somebody that works with the community…to be a bridge between law enforcement and the community itself. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what I hope to see.” Wilk also noted that it is not the City Council, but City Manager Dan Bukshi who makes the hire.
Walnut Creek has gone through much social unrest since a Black Lives Matter protest on June 1st. Many activists have called for the police department to be defunded during protests and City Council meetings, while many residents of the city have said the police are not responding to some protests strong enough. To these concerns, Wilk said, “We all want justice. We also, I believe, want peace…our police department is now responding differently, based upon the needs of what that protest is. So what happened on June 1st, you haven’t seen that kind of police response with multiple agencies getting involved.” Wilk called for the community to lower tensions: “I would just ask everybody. Let’s just take a breath and allow the process that we’re now working on, through the response units, unarmed police responses, and the different new measures that have come into place. Let’s allow them to do the work that they were intended to do.”