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November 5, 2019 — Local Elections
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City of BurlingameCandidate for City Council

Photo of Donna Colson

Donna Colson

City of Burlingame Mayor
3,128 votes (37%)Winning
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • * Saving and investing in critical infrastructure by completing our new modernized Community Center, planning for Broadway grade separation, coordinating El Camino upgrades with Caltrain, and investing in parks, and open space.
  • * Maintaining our diversity and charm by advocating for local zoning control that balances responsible economic development and growth while prioritizing affordable workforce and senior housing to maintain our diversity.
  • * Developing a financially responsible plan to manage climate change impacts and create a sustainable model for future investment for flood defenses, energy efficiency, waste management and healthy living.



Profession:Mayor, City of Burlingame
Mayor and City Council Member, City of Burlingame — Elected position (2015–current)
Board Member San Mateo County Flood and Sea Level Rise District (North, Appointed by City/County Association of Government representatives — Appointed position (2019–current)
Member - SMC Housing and Community Development Committee - City Repres, Peninsula Division of League of Cities - Mayors from all 20 cities in SMC — Appointed position (2017–current)
Founder and President, Burlingamer LLC (Youth Sports Center) (2011–2018)
Burlingame Parks and Recreation Commissioner, Burlingame City Council Appointment — Appointed position (2013–2015)
Director of Client Service, Tukman Grossman Capital Management (1999–2012)
Board Member San Mateo County Employees' Retirement Association, Appointed by San Mateo Board of Supervisors — Appointed position (1998–2007)
Senior Vice President, Baring Asset Management (1996–1999)
Partner and Senior Consultant, Callan Associates, Inc. (1988–1996)
Analyst, Pension Realty Advisors / Spear Street Advisors (1995–1988)


University of California Berkeley Letters and Science and Haas Business School BA Political Economics UC Berkeley 1986 and MBA UC Berkeley Haas 1994, BA - Political Economics/Geography and MBA - Finance / Real Estate (1994)

Community Activities

Board Member and President (Filoli Center), Filoli Center (Filoli Garden and Estate) Woodside, CA (2004–current)
Ex-Officio Board Member, National Trust for Historic Preservation (Washington DC) (2018–current)
Founding Advisory Member and Board Member, UC Berkley Haas Business School and Haas Center for Equity Gender and Leadership (2016–current)
Board Member, Burlingame Parks and Recreation Foundation (2014–current)
Board Member and Co-President, Burlingame Community For Education Foundation and BIS/BHS Parent Group (2007–2016)


Donna Wills Colson
Mayor, City of Burlingame 

I grew up in Sacramento, California in a small home in a working-class neighborhood.  My mother was an elementary school teacher and my father worked as an engineer.  I have one sister who is now a high school teacher and a brother who is in construction.  As was typical of the day, my father coached our softball and soccer teams, my mom joined the PTA and we always hosted election voting in our small garage - partly because it paid a small stipend that helped with extras and partly because it was the patriotic thing to do.  We attended diverse schools with friends of all races and socio-economic standing.  We walked across the street to elementary school, but were bused downtown for middle school.  That experience gave me a unique perspective and deep appreciation for the richness of childhood friendships that are not yet jaded by outside life.  

When it was time to attend college, I applied to one CSU and one UC - Berkeley (despite my mother's preference for Davis).  When I was denied admittance to UCB, I secretly wrote a letter of appeal on binder paper and was accepted.  I had a small inheritance from when my grandmother tragically died when her home was destroyed in a fire and I went to college with one-year paid tuition.  My parents cried when they dropped me off.  Later I learned it was because they were not quite sure how to pay for more than my first year at Cal.  By sophomore year, I had two jobs and managed to graduate in four years.  My sister joined me the next year fortunate enough have earned a scholarship to play softball.   

Next came a wonderful 25-year career working in affordable housing, real estate and pension investment. I had the chance to work with pension funds in Alaska, New York, Nevada and Hawaii to name just a few.  My clients included over 20 different trade unions which made me proud since for five generations my family has been represented in the trades including my great-grandfather who was president of the elevator operator union.  He was a Cornish hard mineral miner and ran the lifts that got the men up and down the mines.  When graduate school opportunities came, I turned down elite east coast private schools to stay local and continued working, fortunate the have been accepted to the Berkeley Haas evening MBA program with a generous employer who agreed to pay if I would work full-time.  School has always been important to our family and, although my father does not have a degree, my siblings and I all have advanced degrees.  

During my "paid" career, I was fortunate to work with public employee pensions, union pension plans, and college endowments where I learned about the rhythm of government and the importance serving the public good.  The hours were long and included extensive travel to Asia, Europe and nearly every capital in the US and it was difficult as a two-income working family, but we had great neighbors, friends and help and managed to make it all work.  This is why I care so much about Burlingame.  The community is beyond compare and we have a diverse set of friends with shared values which makes this a unique place to live.  

After nearly 12 years as a renter, my husband and I bought a home and moved to Burlingame in 1998 to raise our two daughters and send them to the wonderful public schools.  For the last 22 years, I have had the opportunity to assume leadership roles in our public schools, volunteer for various groups like the Burlingame Community For Education Foundation, was appointed by then Supervisors Jerry Hill and Rich Gordon to the SAMCERA (county pension fund) board, was honored to join the Filoli Center board and become and Ex-Officio member of the National Trust For Historic Preservation in Washington, DC.  It has been my honor to serve on the Advisory Boards of both UC Berkeley Haas and the University of Wisconsin College of Letters and Science and I am proud to be an original advisory member to the Haas Center for Gender Equity and Leadership.  

After retiring from the investment world, I continued my philanthropic work and was appointed as a City Park and Recreation Commissioner where we worked hard to create more opportunities for residents and seniors to participate including starting a Foundation to help fund scholarships and the extra park equipment that exceeded the city budget.  After significant persuasion from current councilmembers, I decided to run for an open seat and won.  My husband said that I had been in training all my life and should use my skills for the community good.  It has been a wonderful four years in a fulfilling and meaningful job.  I am incredibly fortunate to have the support of my community and friends so that I can engage, listen and help lead Burlingame with a thoughtful vision for the future.   

I am running for a second term to continue our important work which I will discuss below in my personal political philosophy, but suffice it to say, it would be an honor to serve this community for another 5 years and I respectfully ask for your vote on November 5, 2019.  

Who supports this candidate?

Featured Endorsements

  • Ann Keighran - Burlingame City Council and Former Mayor
  • Michael Brownrigg - Burlingame City Council and Former Mayor
  • Ricardo Ortiz - Burlingame City Council and Former Mayor

Elected Officials (18)

  • Mark Intrieri, Trustee Burlingame School District
  • Florence Wong, Trustee Burlingame School District
  • Elizabeth Kendall, Trustee Burlingame School District
  • Greg Land, President San Mateo Union High School District
  • Marc Friedman, San Mateo Union High School District
  • Frank Pagliaro, Former Mayor of Burlingame
  • Davina Drabkin, Trustee Burlingame School District
  • Kay Coskey, President Burlingame School District
  • Jackie Speier - US Congresswoman 14th District
  • Jerry Hill, California State Senator 13th District
  • Kevin Mullin, California State Assemblyman 22nd District
  • Dave Pine, Supervisor San Mateo County
  • David Canepa, Supervisor San Mateo County
  • Don Horsley, Supervisor San Mateo County
  • Carole Groom, Supervisory San Mateo County
  • Warren Slocum, Supervisor San Mateo County
  • Sandie Arnott, Treasurer San Mateo County
  • Carlos Bolanos, Sheriff San Mateo County

Individuals (7)

  • Cathy Baylock, Former Mayor of Burlingame
  • Jerry Deal, Former Mayor of Burlingame
  • Joe Galligan, Former Mayor of Burlingame
  • Terry Nagel, Former Mayor of Burlingame
  • Rosalie O'Mahony, Former Mayor of Burlingame
  • Russ Cohen, Former Burlingame City Council Member
  • John Root, Former Burlingame City Councilmember

Political Beliefs

Position Papers

Land Use


This paper addresses land use in Burlingame based on our recently adopted General Plan update.  I am committed to responsible local control and managed growth.  


Burlingame is a vibrant community that is attracting more residents due to the charming town character and high quality schools.  In 2019, we approved the new Burlingame General Plan which allowed our community to plan for future growth while maintaining our character. This process took over four years to complete and included dozens of community meetings and input from thousands of constituents.  The challenge was to update and implement a General Plan that balances our current aesthetics while allowing for the incremental growth required by the State.  We must offer opportunities for affordable housing, parking, open space, additional sports fields, and other amenities that benefit the community while keeping in mind the qualities that make Burlingame a wonderful place to live and work.  I am committed to maintaining responsible local control of our zoning and land-use decisions because our Council and the Burlingame community have demonstrated a willingness to address growth in a way that works for our city.  


Support Affordable Housing – Encourage affordable housing opportunities for workforce and seniors along transportation hubs and close to commercial areas and city services. This will provide much needed housing solutions to maintain our diverse community.  Working with my colleagues we are presently reviewing or implementing the following initiatives:

Explore Diverse Business Opportunities – Provide more entertainment options and consider developing artist live/work space on Rollins Road that is close to public transportation.  We have prioritized a new specific plan for this area that will include improved streets that are pedistrian and bike friendly as well as ideas to create parks and open space.  This year our Council also hosted a Retail Summit to hear from our community about the changes we need to adopt in order to maintain vibrant retail on both Broadway and Burlingame Avenue.  We also are working to assess daycare needs in the city so that we can meet the increasing demand and provide safe local services. 

Enhance Recreational Opportunities – Focus on improving open-space along the bay front and Mills Canyon, open bike-lanes and make field safety upgrades.  While on Council and as a member of the Dog Park Task Force, we approve a new three acre natural open space park that will allow off leash dog walking.   We also turfed Murray Field to expand capacity by nearly 50% and worked with BSD to update turf on Franklin and Osberg Fields in order to accomdate increased demand from our youth sports organzations.  

Fiscal Management


Setting priorities around fiscal managment and sound budgeting to make sure we can responsbily meet our future obligations.  


Burlingame has a diverse and vibrant resident and business community that contributes to our economic growth. I would advocate for policies that support local businesses in order to generate the financial support needed to continue our tradition of providing outstanding services to our residents.  This includes keeping our innovative local green business partners such as Oh My Green and Pro-Terra, as well as long-time family owned partners such as Kerns, Studio Shop, Nuts for Candy, Wiemax, and Maloufs.  This year we worked to update zoning in our business districts to broaden the types of activities that were allowed in order to keep up with a changing retail environment.  Hotel Transit Occupancy Tax and Sales tax deliver over half our city budget and maintaining our diverse economic base is critical to the long-term financial success of Burlingame.  

Prudent fiscal management is also a top priority and my strong financial background in business and pension management make me uniquely qualified to contribute in these policy making areas. We have set aside savings to pay down increasing pension costs and make down-payments on future infrastructure needs such as grade separation and a new community center.   A strong financial position allows us to explore ways to improve our infrastructure, repair our deferred maintenance projects, finance those improvements, and continue to plan for the future.


Capital (Infrastructure) Improvements – Make sure our capital infrastructure is cared for today so that it will serve us well into the future. This includes developing strategies to pay for our long overdue facility repairs, upgrades to our sewers, sidewalks, parks, open space, bike-lanes, fields and the bay front.

City Budget and Pension Issues – I have a 25 year background in pension management and finance that will help me to evaluate budget issues, collaborate with other Council members, and work with City staff to make sure our current financial obligations are supported while planning for a sustainable long-term future. My pension background is unique and important as these benefits can contribute significantly to city costs and require prudent oversight and funding. I have done the heavy lifting needed in both my professional career and in my volunteer work and left every organization that I served with a better financial outlook.

Vibrant Business Community – As a local business owner, I have first-hand experience with how our commerce generates the revenues needed to sustain our high quality city services and pay for our capital needs. I also understand what it takes to manage a business and have experience with the planning commission and permitting. We also need to work with our local business owners and our hotels to entertain ideas and develop strategies to attract hotel guests to our city.  We also need to work with our local businesses to make sure we plan for transportation and responsibly manage growth.  

Community Building for A Sustainable Future


This paper covers the ways that Burlingame is working to create a long-term sustainable future for our residents.  


Burlingame is a small community and our needs are often best addressed by bringing together diverse interests to achieve common goals. My experience with local business and past work with public officials, combined with my school and city volunteer positions provide me the unique perspective needed to collaborate and move projects forward to completion.


Community Center (FUNDED AND STARTING 2019) – As a Park and Recreation Commissioner and member of the Community Center CAC, I have had the chance to work with our City staff and many esteemed citizens to plan for the updating of our community center facility and most importantly, ways that we would be able to focus our programming to benefit seniors, toddlers and youth, provide theater options, a grand gathering space and increase underground parking for safety and to take the pressure off our neighborhood street parking.  We are also working toward implementing a sustainable net zero energy building that could be a model for our community and show others the way.  With the successful passage of Measure I, we now have a dedicated funding source to build the new Community Center, repair potholes and add another police officer.

Affordable Housing - Over the past four years, Burlingame Council has committed city land to build a new 132 unit workforce and senior housing project that is breaking ground fall of 2019.  Additionally, we have gathered community support for residential and commercial affordable housing linkage fees and explored renter support programs, renovation programs, accessory dwelling unit revisions and other ways to create responsible housing options - we presently have over 1,500 units of transit oriented multi-family housing permitted or under construction of which about 20% are affordable for various income levels.  

Disaster Planning – Burlingame has done excellent disaster planning work and I would continue that along with efforts to understand the impact and manage sea-level rise and other environmental issues that will effect us for the next 20 years.  I will work to secure a permanent funding source to manage risk to our bayshore and build the infrastructure we need for the next 50 years.

School and Community Relationships – We have worked to build strong relationships with our schools (both Burlingame School District and the San Mateo Union High School District) and other community partners to collaborate on facilities agreements, cost sharing and other important issues that impact every Burlingame resident.  We helped to fund field upgrades at Franklin and Osberg schools and are finalizing an agreement to repair the BHS pool for continued community use.  

Sustainability and Climate Action – Burlingame recently completed a four year community driven General Plan update that envisions a 20 year plan for growth and opporutnity in Burlingame. We used community engagement sessions facilitated by our Home For All work to bring diverse perspectives together around housing, transportation, our retail district and sea level rise.  We also have our new Climate Action Plan that brings together work on GHG reduction strategies and we couple that with our new Sea Change Burlingame working group so that we can develop a scientific based, properly engineered response to flooding, anticipated sea level rise and the coordinated development of defenses to protect our bay front and low lying neighborhoods.  We supported Peninsula Clean Energy  here in Burlingame so that residents can opt to have green energy options for their homes and businesses.  In 2019, we began a new sub-committee focused on addressing issues of Sea Level Rise in Burlingame and will be working with the County to develop a long-term strategic plan for infrastructure and a sustainable financial model to pay for improvements.  We are also working on new Green Building Codes as well as ways that we can work to increase EV usage and electrification througout the city.  

All of these actions taken together create critcal communty dialogue that helps us to prioritize our goals and steward our resources to focus on the critical work that we need to do to keep Burlingame a high service, well managed city.   

Videos (4)

— September 3, 2019 PenTV
— September 3, 2019 Pen TV
— September 3, 2019 Pen TV

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