Saturday, February 28, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Suisun City had Solano’s 1st woman mayor

Vaca City Council_women

Vacaville City Council group photo with the council's first city councilwomen Carolyn Van Loo (left) and Barbara Jones (center). The two women served a single term on the council before they were defeated in the 1980 election. (Courtesy photo City of Vacaville)

By
From page A1 | March 22, 2014 |

FAIRFIELD — The first woman in Suisun City to be elected to a city council got only a single paragraph in the local Election Day coverage and her elevation to mayor six years later didn’t get much more ink.

“Suisun, for the first time, named a woman to the city council,” the April 10, 1952, Solano Republican tersely stated of the newly elected Clare McFall.

McFall was first mentioned as a Suisun City Council candidate in a March 1952 Solano Republican newspaper as Mrs. A.D. McFall, her husband’s name and the tradition of that time. She lived at the end of Line Street, according to longtime resident Guido Colla, who was working in his father’s store on Main Street when McFall would come in.

“She was a customer of Dad’s grocery store,” Colla said. “She was a very delightful, statuesque woman who always dressed neatly and she was a person who commanded a lot of respect. She may have worked for the county.”

McFall got the seat with 187 votes. Four years later, she was re-elected with 147 votes. Two years after that, her fellow council members appointed her to a two-year term as mayor, according to Suisun City Councilwoman Jane Day.

During her 1956 re-election, she was quoted as saying that the top of her list for issues to tackle in town was “the beautification of the entrance to our business district.”

McFall was the second woman in the county to be elected to a city council. She was appointed mayor from April 1958 to April 1960.

She was preceded by the election of Marion L. Randall to the Vallejo City Council in 1951. Randall stayed on the council for one term. Vallejo would not see another woman on the council until Florence Douglas became mayor in 1963 and kept the job for the next 16 years.

The honor of being the first elected woman mayor in a California city belongs to no-nonsense Sunnyvale Mayor Edwina Benner, who had already served 18 years on the Sunnyvale city council when she ran for and got the top job in 1938. Prior to that, she served two years as an appointed mayor from 1924 to 1926.

Fairfield got its first woman city council member in April 1972 when Robbieburr Berger’s campaign promise to be “an active citizen for an active council” got her elected, unseating Allan Witt.

Berger, who was born in Portland, Ore., moved here with her husband Steve in the early 1960s. A renowned harpist, she got involved with the town’s arts community. She also “became a people’s advocate,” according to former Fairfield Mayor Gary Falati.

In her campaign, she contended that government was becoming closed to average citizens and called for the establishment of an ombudsman who would not be subject to the city manager if a resident came in with a complaint.

“The taxpayer deserves expert help in dealing with government officials,” said Berger in her campaign literature. “We have to return government to the people – that’s where it belongs.”

“She felt that growth was out of control,” said Falati, and she supported only limited development in Cordelia, according to statements in pre-election forums.

Her civic accomplishments included the fight to get a directly elected mayor in the city, trying to save the old Armijo High School auditorium and serving on the Association of Bay Area Governments with now-U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

When she ran against Bill Jenkins for mayor, she lost by only 61 votes.

Berger stayed on the council for four years, but stayed involved with the arts community afterward. She was one of those who formed the Fairfield Fine Arts Council, serving as its president. She died of a heart attack in 2000 at age 75.

Benicia’s first woman council member was Mary McKay, who served from 1972 to 1980. She was also a founding member of the Benicia Historical Society.

The honor being the first women elected to the Vacaville City Council went to Barbara Jones and Carolyn Van Loo, who were both elected in 1976. Jones later sat on the Solano Community College governing board for 22 years, representing Vacaville, Dixon and Winters.

During her first meeting, Jones said that many of the constituents she talked to during campaigning wanted to see a popularly appointed mayor and asked that the city put that idea before the electorate in the next election.

Jones served for a one-year term as mayor from 1977 to 1978, selected for that seat by the rest of the council to succeed Bill Carroll. The next year, Carroll was elected to that seat by the residents.

Both Jones and Van Loo were interested in better community planning and preventing urban sprawl. This included their push to ensure that adequate infrastructure was put in to support any growth.

“There was a lack of good planning at that time,” said David Fleming, who joined Jones and Van Loo when he was elected to the council in 1978.

When Solano Community College opened its Vacaville campus, the college district’s governing board named the facility after Jones because she was instrumental in getting the 60 acres for the college extension, working with Vacaville city officials.

Fleming recalled then-Solano College board member Jones telling him, “We need to act fast to get this land and we don’t want to have to pay for it.”

Jones was among those who helped persuade the Mission Land Co. to donate 60 acres to the college as the firm was planning its North Village housing project in the early 1990s.

Both women tried to run for a second term, but were defeated by Bill Maher and John Vasquez. Jones went onto become a Solano College governing board member and later moved to North Carolina. Van Loo retired to Oregon where she lived until her death.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson has worked for the Daily Republic longer than he cares to remember. A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon, he pines for the motherland still. He covers Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base for the Daily Republic. He is an avid military history buff, wargamer and loves the great outdoors.
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