Upside: Brisbane defines public service

BRISBANE, California – There’s this city tucked in the bosom of San Bruno Mountain that’s buzzing with activity for every generation.  You wouldn’t know unless you turned out of Interstate 101 between San Francisco and Millbrae or snaked up from Guadalupe Canyon in Daly City to find yourself standing above lush greenery while staring at San Francisco Bay nearby and Mount Diablo across the water.

This is Brisbane.  Supposedly this north San Mateo County city resembles the port city Down Under but earned its name change from its previous “Visitation City,” which echoed a nearby district of San Francisco.  Pronounced “Bris-bayn” unlike the Aussie “Brisb’n.”  Another theory is that its name honors a journalist – a rare recognition of folks who really belong behind the scenes, if true.

Its leaders want you to know Brisbane is a city, not a town – though California law does not distinguish between a city and a town – and even if it has that charmingly intimate aura about it.  In 1939 it labeled itself “City of Stars” because of residents’ tradition of displaying stars outside their homes during Christmas and Hanukkah. 

Did they learn that from Filipinos, who officially ring in the holiday season with “parol” or lantern shaped like a star – as in the one that guided the famous three wise men to the sacred birth site?  Could be.  About 4,800 call Brisbane home, according to city stats, with Asian Americans accounting for the next most populous group after Whites.  Median age is 48.5, household income is $115,000, media property value is $926,500, before the recent inflation, of course – what’s not to love?

I’ll tell you what’s endearing about this special municipality.  Its leadership: They respond.  Heartily.

Four years ago I rang up the Mayor, a cold call, to let her know about an affordable transportation program San Mateo County-based organization Peninsula Family Service was expanding for people 70 years and older.  Would she be interested in telling her residents about it, I inquired. 

Mayor Terry O’Connell replied enthusiastically, offered to put the announcement on the agenda for the upcoming City Council meeting.  She hailed Got Wheels!, the program that provides participants up to 6 one-way rides a month at $5 each one-way ride through 12 cities in San Mateo County. 

Then-Communications Manager Caroline Cheung shortly after contacted me for more information to include in a PSA on their website.  Now-Assistant to the City Manager Cheung, whose employment in Brisbane spans 17 years, has been advocating for services for residents and especially so for older adults that from 7 “members,” 34 are able to get up and get around to date, free from loneliness and isolation.  With encouragement and support from the City leaders.

That’s how public service looks like: prompt, sincere, sustained.


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