Clayton City Council departs from norm in choosing new mayor reflecting bitter campaign

CLAYTON, CA—In a surprising move, the Clayton City Council rejected the unwritten rule in which the vice mayor advances to mayor. Instead, the council voted 3-2 on Dec. 1 to name Carl Wolfe as mayor at the annual reorganization meeting.

The majority passed over Vice Mayor Jeffrey Wan, who they said had supported disinformation and negative tactics during a bitter campaign over high-density housing in downtown Clayton that played out largely over social media. Both Wan and Wolfe are two years into their first terms.

Returning Councilman Jim Diaz nominated Wan in what was expected to be a formality, but then new Councilwoman Holly Tillman nominated Wolfe. Wan, who was presiding, did not call for discussion before votes by Tillman, new Councilman Peter Cloven and Wolfe clinched it for Wolfe.

A stunned Wan then turned the meeting over to Wolfe, who nominated Cloven for vice mayor – again without discussion. There were no other nominations, and Cloven won by the same 3-2 margin.

A council divided

The council split was triggered by the city’s approval in March of a three-building, three-story apartment complex on Marsh Creek Road. Although the project met state housing mandates, many residents – including those in the small development across the street – vehemently opposed the project.

In an interview with the Pioneer, Tillman said “the treatment of other council members, voting records in regard to the best interests of our city and leadership qualities …” all figured into her decision to go with Wolfe.

Cloven was chair when the Planning Commission deadlocked over the Olivia, an 81-unit apartment complex in the Town Center set to begin construction in late spring. He said he was loath to reward anyone who benefitted from the negative tactics of the campaign.

“Personally, it was a ruthless election cycle,” said Cloven.

“The labels, lies and twisting of truths was appalling,” he added, calling the campaign a “coordinated, despicable effort that was over the top.”

Diaz, Wan dissenting

A furious Diaz said that bypassing Wan was “wrong and unacceptable and needs to be righted.”

“It was an act that further divides our already divided city,” he told the Pioneer.

“Because they did it so quickly and didn’t skip a beat, it sounded like it was scripted, preplanned with no chance for council discussion,” he said.

Wan declined to comment.

Wan and Diaz are both outspoken opponents of any high-density housing in downtown Clayton. Wan is seeking to change the zoning on existing parcels that are already zoned for multi-family housing in compliance with state and county affordable housing laws.

The Olivia likely cost Tuija Catalano her bid for reelection. Because she was mayor last year when the council approved the Olivia, many saw her incorrectly as being an advocate for high-density development.

In an guest editorial in the March Pioneer, Catalano explained that she voted to approve the project because she could find no legal grounds to deny it. She said a “bad faith” denial would have opened the city to a costly lawsuit from the state.

Emotional sendoffs

The December meeting was the last for Catalano and outgoing mayor Julie Pierce, who retired after 27 years on the council. Both were lauded for their significant contributions to the city and the community.

Pierce presented a proclamation naming March 8, 2021, Tuija Catalano Day in Clayton. March 8 is also International Women’s Day.

Watch the Pioneer for a feature story on Julie Pierce in the January 2021 issue.