By Kathy Chouteau
Former El Cerrito City Councilmember Janet Abelson, 76, passed away peacefully Jan. 26, according to the City. Her longtime legacy of public service in El Cerrito was hailed by local leaders spanning from the City’s Mayor Lisa Motoyama to Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia to City of Richmond Crime Prevention Manager Michelle Denise Milam.
Abelson was first elected to the City Council in 1999 and provided 23 years of “thoughtful public service as one of the Bay Area’s most enduring political figures,” said the City of El Cerrito, which noted that she also served as mayor in 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2017—a record of five times.
Mayor of El Cerrito Lisa Motoyama said that Abelson leaves “a tremendous legacy in El Cerrito,” and that she was “integral to the fabric of our City.” The mayor added, “We are all here to continue the work she started and to aspire to the level of dedication Janet has shown to serving the people of El Cerrito.” The mayor had the City lower the flag to half-staff in her honor.
The City said that Abelson’s tenure on City Council was spent “championing disadvantaged populations” and advocating for issues such as transit accessibility and the Student Bus Pass Program. She believed her stand out piece of legislation as a City Council Member was the 2014 San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan, said the City.
County Supervisor John Gioia called Abelson “a great leader for transportation equity, disability rights and supporting seniors.” He expressed condolences to her family and said he will “always remember her energetic and passionate advocacy for those whose voice was not always heard.”
Abelson’s involvement in El Cerrito and regional concerns extended beyond the City Council, seeing her contribute to numerous organizations such as the West Contra Costa Transportation Authority Committee (chair); Contra Costa Transportation Authority (chair); East Bay Division, League of California Cities (chair); Chamber of Commerce (member); League of Women Voters (vice president membership); Soroptimist International of El Cerrito (president); Bayside Council of Parent Teacher Associations (vice president); PTA of Harding and El Cerrito High School (member); El Cerrito High School Archiving Committee; and California Walks (treasurer), per the City. She was an El Cerrito resident since 1970.
City of Richmond Crime Prevention Manager Michelle Denise Milam said that even though Abelson didn’t serve on the Richmond City Council, she was a “great champion of all, especially Richmond and West County.” Milam, who worked with her as an intern and at meetings, said she was “encouraging and wonderful to work with” and will be “dearly missed.”
Those with whom she had served for so long also had something to say about the dedicated supporter. “The El Cerrito City Council and the entire City staff team sends their deepest condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Janet Abelson. She is already truly missed. Arrangements are pending and will be shared by the City once they are available.”