Goodbye Janet Abelson

The passing of former-Mayor and Councilmember Janet Abelson has been a big deal for our town.

The event at the El Cerrito Community Center on February 25, brought together a full house of regional leaders and public admirers to celebrate her 23 years as a public servant here.

Earlier this month the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee honored Janet Abelson for her more than 20 years on WCCTAC. As El Cerrito’s present WCCTAC director, I said at the time that it wasn’t easy following someone with all her transportation achievements and efforts to assure greater ADA compliance.

Janet Abelson in wheelchair

But I also said, it has never simply been easy to follow Janet ANYWHERE – around town and the East Bay and beyond – where she caught buses, rode BART, took trains to Sacramento, flew to conferences, waited at bus stops and sped along the Ohlone Greenway in her wheelchair.

She was the very symbol of our town, everyone knew her and asked about her – and her endorsement worked miracles for those campaigning for council. In the past she only had to put her name on the ballot to win.

I was one of those lucky enough to get her endorsement in 2016 – but not before years of her trying to convince me to run. I had plenty of excuses then about why I shouldn’t – but finally I ran out of reasons – and I thanked Janet at our last meeting together for never giving up..because this has been the challenge of my life. A challenge that she made look so easy over more than 2 decades.

For those more than 20 years, Janet worked to highlight environmental sustainability, worked to upgrade San Pablo Ave. with a specific plan, supported TOD, fought for and achieved greater bus service, helped establish Earth Day festivities…..and was the key advocate for ADA goals and policies.

No wonder those on the El Cerrito City Council, WCCTAC or CCTA listened closely to her comments, suggestions and ideas about transportation services for so many years – especially on how to apply ADA solutions for people with physical disabilities.

The end of Janet’s Council tenure was sad, but we all thought this would not be the true end of an era – because she had post-council plans to devote more time to the events planned by the League of Women Voters, and other goals.

Janet’s peaceful death changed those plans – but not before she was able to really hear what this community thought of her – with many resolutions and public accolades before her death.

Mayor Abelson was an inspiration in the ways she made our city better and spurred others to public service.

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