Alison Madden is perhaps best known in the community as an outspoken advocate for Docktown, the floating community embroiled in a many-years standoff with Redwood City. But, she said, that’s not why she’s running for city council.
“Docktown is ironically the only thing I can’t advocate for,” she said. “My run is not about that.”
A candidate to represent Redwood City’s district 2, which includes much of downtown as well as Bair Island and the surrounding bayfront communities, Madden will face off against Margaret Becker and Chris Sturken in the November election.
A long-time resident of San Mateo County, Madden, 58, has lived in Redwood City for the last decade and has long aspired to work in public service.
“Even when I went to law school, I really did believe that I would go into policy and politics a lot sooner,” she said.
As a single mother of two sons, however, she took her law degree from U.C. Hastings into the private sector, working in-house at a number of technology companies throughout the Bay Area. But after 15 years in the tech industry, Madden, who had since moved into one of Docktown’s floating homes, became one of many facing eviction by the city.
“I became motivated to become more politically involved,” and, in 2018, opened her own law practice, she said.
“I was already interested in housing law and policy,” she said. But with the closing of Pete’s Harbor and the existential threat to Docktown, she “got more and more interested in representing tenants, land use and policy, floating homes, marinas and the California Relocation Act.”
She announced her candidacy two months after the end of an unsuccessful bid for California State Assembly against opponents including Diane Papan and Mayor Giselle Hale. Never having held public office, a self-described housing and tenant advocate, Madden said she’s ready to step full-time into public service.
“With my kids grown and having already had two careers, I feel really postured to just be of service,” she said.
Madden said her district—“where the land meets the water”—is particularly unique and talked about the challenges that come with being a place for business, high-density housing, bayfront communities, and commuter traffic, among other things.
As a council member, Madden said she would bring a new perspective and a fearlessness in taking action on important issues.
“I really think that this council in particular needs a lot more bold action and vision…people that are just willing to try things and to try them fast,” she said. “We’re really behind the hour when it comes to climate and housing.”
While “every high-end luxury development gets built,” she criticized the current council for a lack of imagination and courage in exploring new, creative housing solutions.
If elected, Madden said she would pursue a wide variety of solutions to “find as much land as possible” for moderate, low and extremely low-income housing. She said she would consider additional RV safe parking lots, safe camping spaces, “old school shelters,” and, of course, floating homes.
“It was something really successful that never needed to go away. Of course, it's up to the marina owners to make that happen, but I feel like that’s almost 100 affordable units right there,” she said of the Downtown liveaboards.
Madden believes that her experience as a lawyer will be a boon to the council. Describing a lack of “executive leadership” on the part of current council members, she said that she would be much more hands-on, giving clearer direction to the city manager and other staff in terms of how to direct the city’s resources in addressing critical needs.
She also said she supports the repeal of California’s Article 34, which prevents the construction of public housing without voter approval, and a referendum for social housing.
“We’re at a crisis—a climate crisis, a crisis of democracy and also a housing crisis,” she said. “And when you're in a crisis, you act like it.”
As to how she’d address the city’s multi-million dollar deficit, Madden said she would “look for every opportunity” for revenue, including grants or other incentives at the state or regional level. She described former Council member Michael Smith as an “expert source” and said she’d reach out to him for advice.
Madden said she was confident that, with determination and creative thinking, she would be able to find the necessary funds.
“I would find money for people and for housing,” she said, assuredly.
“The public employees are really hurting,” she added. “There are assertions that there's no money to hire, and yet there are reserves. So I would look at our reserves.”
Among her other priorities are building new spaces for engaging Redwood City’s youth, leveraging new developments for community benefit projects, creating a greener downtown area and more eco-friendly transportation, and bringing new, overlooked voices to the table.
“People not only need to be heard, they need to be listened to and responded to,” she said. As a council member, she would have an “open-door policy” and said that the at-risk communities—the elderly, veterans, and low-income residents—were top of mind.
As to what distinguishes her from her opponents, Madden said it was her “creative thinking” and willingness to stand up to the status quo.
“Sometimes I think groups work well together when somebody is willing to challenge or take a divergent view,” she said. “You need to get somebody in there to roll up their sleeves.”