David Lim is the first Asian American to serve as San Mateo mayor and city council member. Even though Asian American Pacific Islanders (API) make up more than 25 percent of the county's population, the group is just beginning to flex its political muscle in the region and cities on the Peninsula. Lim joins a growing list of local city councilmembers: Karyl Matsumoto, South San Francisco; Wayne Lee, Millbrae; Peter Ohtaki, Menlo Park; Steve Okamoto, Foster City; Jeffrey Gee, Redwood City; Naomi Patridge, Half Moon Bay; Mike Guingona, Daly City; and Paul Seto, recently retired from the Millbrae City Council.
Lim is proud of his heritage and happy to be a role model for young students. His family history involves a memorable connection to the city in which he now lives and serves.
Lim's great grandfather came to the United States in 1903, illegally because of Chinese exclusion laws. Later his son, and Lim's grandfather, joined him. But the great grandfather urged his son to move out of San Francisco's Chinatown so he could better assimilate into American culture. The grandfather came to San Mateo where he worked in a restaurant and was later hired as a houseboy by a San Mateo family. According to Lim, his grandfather could cook great American food as well as traditional Chinese dishes. His specialty was desserts, recipes he learned from preparing delicacies for ladies' bridge groups.
The family moved to East Los Angeles where Lim's parents settled and he and his sisters grew up. Lim attended local public schools, UCLA where he majored in political science and obtained a masters in education. He taught world history for two years at a public middle school. While waiting for his application to law school, Lim worked in Washington, D.C. as an intern for the late congressman Bob Matsui, D-Sacramento. He was accepted at Hastings law school, graduated in 1999 and was hired by Alameda County's district attorney. He now works for the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. His specialty is real estate fraud.
Lim met his wife Terri on a Southwest flight from Oakland to Los Angeles. They were married in 2002 and have three children — twin girls and a new baby boy. Terri Lim is a pharmacist for Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto. Lim has a busy schedule. He is an active member of the council, is the mock trial coach at Aragon High School and has run 14 marathons to date. He tries to run three to five miles every other day. But he also tries to be a good dad and helpful husband. He limits his nights out to two to three a week, saves Friday night for the family, does his laundry and divides up some chores with his working wife
Lim started a neighborhood watch board and was appointed to the city's Human Relations Commission (now Community Relations) in 2003. He was elected to the council in 2009. In that time, Lim has been a major player in city politics. He is not afraid to take bold actions and ask tough questions. He was the councilmember who called for a special meeting on the 7-Eleven debacle, where a chain convenience store has opened up in a residential neighborhood and infuriated neighbors. It is not a done deal. The Planning Commission and City Council still have to determine whether staff improperly issued a permit to locate the chain on the site of a closed deli despite the fact that the site had been rezoned as residential and whether 7-Eleven is allowed to remain open as a non-conforming use. In the meantime, Lim has publicly questioned the role of his colleague, Jack Matthews whose firm was hired to work on the 7-Eleven project.
Lim has a full plate now but there is no question he is destined for higher political office at some future time. He is a second generation American ( his father's family came from Guangzhou, China; his mother's family is Chinese but came from the Philippines) but his ties to the Asian Pacific Islander advocacy and legislative groups is strong. He is close to state legislators Paul Fong, Leland Yee, Fiona Ma and Phil Ting. Being an Asian American is increasingly becoming a political asset in California. While San Mateo County has a long way to go before it catches up to San Francisco and Cupertino where Asian Americans predominate, 43-year-old Lim has a promising future at either the regional or state level.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.