Former mayor Dick Rosenbaum, a fiscal conservative and supporter of Palo Alto's residential quality of life, has died. He was 81.
Rosenbaum died at his home surrounded by his immediate family on Sunday, Oct. 11, after a brief illness, his son, Dan Rosenbaum, said.
The Palo Alto Weekly once dubbed Rosenbaum a "fiscal bloodhound" because of his achievements in civic service in Palo Alto, stretching back to the early 1970s. He remained vocal on city issues until shortly before his death.
Under his leadership, the city emerged from recurrent financial crises and developed a road map to energy independence at a time of deregulation of the industry.
Rosenbaum served three stints on the City Council from 1971 to 1975 and from 1991 to 1999, and one term as mayor in 1998. He was a strong representative of slow-growth, "residentialist" values, which got him elected for the first time to the council in 1971, his son said.
His opposition to the "Superblock" two 10-story buildings that would have taken up two downtown blocks swept him into office with no prior political experience, his son noted. Rosenbaum took out a full-page newspaper ad to oppose the project and formed the Citizens Committee to Block the Superblock.
Rosenbaum supported regulations that would maintain or improve Palo Altans' quality of life, including a full ban on leaf blowers. He opposed rampant dense development, and was sympathetic to the parking woes faced by residents then and now.
He was a frequent contributor to the Weekly's guest opinion page, writing about fiscal matters including the city's union labor contract, which in 2006 he called "suicide economics."
Rosenbaum was raised by a single mother in Queens, New York. A math, science and engineering prodigy, he went to Brooklyn Tech and attended Cornell University on a full scholarship, his son said. He received a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He met his wife, Ruth, at a mixer while she was an undergraduate at Simmons College in Boston. The couple moved to the Bay Area in 1961 when Rosenbaum took a job as a research scientist at Lockheed a job he held for 31 years. They moved to Palo Alto in 1963, his son said.
During the 1970s, Rosenbaum oversaw a smoking ban in the council chambers of City Hall, pushed for reduced bus fares for seniors and wanted to add low- and moderate-income units to a proposed townhouse development on Arastradero Road.
But he rejected, with other residentialists, another proposed housing project that would have added 74 low- and moderate-income housing units because the project was too dense at 27 units per acre.
Rosenbaum claimed at the time that the dense project at 574 Arastradero Road would raise the property value to an artificial level beyond its present taxable value. And it would raise the threshold for future dense developments to be built in the city, according to a 1971 Palo Alto Times story.
His interests went further than housing and finances. He supported opening Palo Alto Foothills Park to nonresidents, but he quickly withdrew council discussion of the issue because he didn't want to jeopardize a ballot measure to create a regional open-space district (what is now the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District).
He lost a bid in the 1970s to add bike lanes on California Avenue, but lived to see bike "sharrows" installed earlier this year when the city revamped the retail district.
Rosenbaum and some other council members were voted out of office after a controversial proposal to open a drug-treatment center, his son said.
"I was 11, and it made me happy when he was swept out in 1975," he said, noting that he would now have his father back after so much time away from home.
Rosenbaum was replaced on the council by Realtor Scott Carey, whose company, Cornish & Carey, frequently came before the council. Rosenbaum opposed the company on dense development projects including the Super Block.
Carey died two months ago to the day of Rosenbaum's death on Aug. 11 at age 82 in his Portola Valley home. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who knew Rosenbaum well, said that the two men were never adversarial in the way some people thought them to be.
Simitian said he had "tremendous respect and affection" for Rosenbaum, with whom he served when Rosenbaum was re-elected to the City Council in the 1990s.
"I think people who knew him (while he was on the council) didn't always realize what a wonderful, warm person he was," he said. "He could be very ... focused while on the council but he had a great sense of humor. He was very old school in a way that I found appealing."
Rosenbaum was respected for his expertise in finance and utilities. He served on the city's Finance and Policy and Services committees, but his reach went well beyond development. He was committed to the city's municipal utility system, and was the liaison to the Utilities Advisory Commission and the city's representative and eventual chairman of the Northern California Power Agency.
"He was someone with a very sharp eye and a sharp pencil, and had sharp questions to go with it," Simitian said. "He was pretty clear ... that a quality of life is what makes Palo Alto what it is."
Jean McCown, former mayor and councilwoman, also remembered Rosenbaum fondly, calling him "a great public servant."
"He always spoke thoughtfully and worked to achieve the best outcomes for the Palo Alto community. He also had a great sense of humor and a wonderful laugh. It was a personal pleasure to work with him as a colleague for many years," she wrote in an email.
After his election in 1991 and re-election in 1995, he worked with Simitian and then-Councilman Joe Huber to cut overspending. As mayor in 1998, he oversaw the challenges of the 1998 winter floodings and guided the city during energy deregulation to develop a utilities system that received power at a far lower rate than that of surrounding cities.
The city received top financial ratings under his leadership by Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investor Services, in preparation for issuing golf course bonds.
In 1997, Rosenbaum was the only council member to oppose a $960,000 renovation of the council chambers, a price tag that was three times the amount suggested by staff and which he called "unconscionable," according to a Palo Alto Weekly story.
He was also a firm believer in preserving Palo Alto's historical buildings. After he left the council, he served as both president and treasurer of the Palo Alto Historical Association, his son said.
Rosenbaum and his wife traveled widely, and he coached Bobby Sox girls' softball and was a starting pitcher on the Palo Alto Medical Foundation's softball team, his son said.
But he didn't remain silent just because he left public office. He served on the Utilities Advisory Commission for nine years, from 2000 to 2009. And when the council considered the controversial 27 University Ave. project in 2012, Rosenbaum had choice words for the gargantuan John Arrillaga project, which involved building four office towers and a theater near the downtown transit hub.
"This is a project that would've been laughed out of the council chambers a few years ago," Rosenbaum told the council during a December 2012 meeting. "Yet here it is being considered seriously. If you proceed, there will almost certainly be a referendum, and I believe it will be successful. You will save the city a lot of money if you stop this project."
And despite his recent illness, Rosenbaum took the time in a June letter, along with 23 other former mayors and council members, to support the council's efforts to save the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park.
The City Council dedicated its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 13, to Rosenbaum.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Ruth; his son, Dan Rosenbaum; his daughter, Amy Rosenbaum; and three grandchildren. According to his wishes, no services will be held.