After more than 41 years as a resident of Redwood City and nearly 25 years on city council, Diane Howard isn’t afraid to play the experience card.
Facing a post-pandemic recession, widespread understaffing, record numbers of people experiencing homelessness and an increasingly urgent climate crisis, to name a few, Howard believes the city needs a combination of new ideas and seasoned leadership.
“I'm hoping I can bring both to the table,” she said. “I feel my leadership and my experience will be very relevant and very important in helping us move forward to get Redwood City sustainable and successful and get our quality of life back on track.”
Describing herself as the “mayor of COVID,” Howard said experience as a nurse and in medical management were assets to her during the pandemic.
“It was a horrible experience for all of us. So much tragedy around it,” she said of the pandemic. “But the silver lining in it was I felt extremely prepared.”
An East Coast native and the oldest of eight siblings, Howard grew up on Long Island, New York and completed her education at the Lewis Wilson School of Nursing. She worked professionally as an orthopedic nurse, an office manager for a family medical practice and later as a liaison at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City.
Howard, a wife and mother to a former Marine, was first elected to the city council in 1994 and took a break in 2009 before running again in 2013. During her council tenure, she has been appointed vice mayor several times and mayor twice, once in 1997 and most recently in 2019. (She was succeeded in December 2021 by Giselle Hale.)
She has also been part of numerous city and regional boards and commissions, including the San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce, the Water Emergency Transit Authority Citizens Advisory Committee, the Redwood City Parks & Arts Foundation and currently serves on the city’s Communications and Utilities sub-committees.
Retired and gearing up for another race to represent Redwood City’s district 6, Howard believes her service during a “crisis environment” gives her an edge over competitor Jerome Madigan.
In her candidate statement, Howard described her involvement in various pandemic-related efforts, including raising the minimum wage, dedicating $4.8 million to support people experiencing homelessness and providing $1.8 million in COVID rental relief.
“If, God forbid, something like this ever happens again, I really feel that we have a game plan…that I could bring to the table,” she said.
Now, looking forward to another term, Howard is eyeing a revised list of priorities: housing, recycled water, economic stability, park improvements and a public ferry terminal.
A long-time advocate of affordable housing, she said she hopes to create more housing at all income levels and highlighted the Gatekeeper Projects and other new developments as key resources.
“One thing we are already doing is requiring developers big and small, who want to settle in Redwood City and do business, to come up with housing options,” Howard said, adding that the city had identified additional opportunity sites in its draft housing element.
Still, Howard has also expressed some concern around certain provisions of California Propositions 9 and 10, which “could potentially alter the character of neighborhoods,” she wrote in her candidate statement.
“I’m not looking to put tall buildings where they don’t belong,” Howard told the Pulse. “I feel the big density needs to happen in our downtown and along transportation corridors, not in our neighborhoods.” She named Woodside Road, Veterans Boulevard, El Camino Real and Broadway as several corridors ripe for housing development.
With a nod to the ongoing challenges and delays facing housing development, Howard said that patience and community engagement would be critical moving forward. But rather than “make decisions in a vacuum,” she promised to champion transparent processes within the council that would invite the public to have a voice in major developments. Disagreement might be inevitable, Howard said, but there’s value in hearing people’s perspectives and trying to reach a consensus.
While housing remains a priority, Howard emphasized the importance of continuing to invest in other community benefits, like transportation, green space and the arts. After more than two decades of advocating for it, she expects to finally launch a ferry service in Redwood City in the next two years. She also named the Magical Bridge Playground Project as an example of the “new standard” for upgrading city parks.
While Howard said she could empathize with people who questioned whether these sorts of projects were the best use of city funds, she urged residents not to underestimate their value.
“It's all important,” she said. “I did promise when I was elected: I will represent everyone in Redwood City.
“I'm not saying that I always do it correctly. I'm always open to listening to new ideas and how I could do it better. But I'm really trying to find balance.”