When political veteran Gina Papan returns to Millbrae’s City Council next month, her sister, Diane Papan, will begin her first term on San Mateo’s City Council. This might be the first time two siblings have served concurrently on two different Peninsula city councils.
In a recent editorial, San Mateo Daily Journal Editor in Chief Jon Mays said he believed this was a first for San Mateo County.
“If someone can recall otherwise, please let me know,” Mays wrote, “Either way, their father, the late assemblyman Lou Papan, would be proud.”
The elder Papan, who died in 2007, represented the 19th Assembly District in the California State Assembly from 1972-1986, and again from 1996-2002.
Gina Papan joined Millbrae’s City Council in 2005 and served two terms. Millbrae’s term limits dictated Papan take a two-year break from the council, and her 2015 election win came despite political foes with deep pockets backing other candidates.
When Diane Papan is sworn in Dec. 7, this will be her first time holding elected office. The longtime Peninsula resident is no stranger to civic life, however. She holds leadership roles in local school, neighborhood, and homeowner associations, and has served on numerous city committees.
Lou Papan’s legacy looms large in both sisters’ lives, but they’re quick to give equal credit to their mother, Irene, who died in 2000 after battling cancer and lupus. Irene Papan co-founded John’s Closet, a nonprofit providing free, new clothes to disadvantaged school kids. Diane Papan serves as the organization’s executive director, with Gina Papan functioning as co-director.
The charity was named for Diane and Gina’s brother, John, who died of a congenital vascular disorder when he was 21. The family also launched a scholarship fund in his name, with Gina serving as secretary and Diane chairing the organization.
Diane, who was 17 when John died, said his illness and passing left an indelible imprint.
“It makes you grow up very quickly, opens your eyes, and puts you on the right path,” Diane said.
Both sisters are lawyers. Diane’s private practice represents small businesses, while Gina has been a deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice for over 20 years.
Infrastructure is among the top priorities for both Papans, but Millbrae might face bigger challenges paying for needed maintenance. While San Mateo has a population of over 97,000 and a diverse tax base, Millbrae — with a population of about 22,000– mostly relies on property and hotel taxes, and has only a small retail sector.
And parts of Millbrae’s infrastructure are desperately in need of repair, according to Gina Papan.
“While walking precincts, I was walking on some streets that were crumbling,” the councilwoman noted, “Our streets are rated as some of the worst in the county.”
When Diane Papan was asked whether some in the community have assumed her policy positions might mirror those of her slightly older sister, she said that so far has not been the case.
But, Diane said, she doesn’t expect her big sister to mince words if they disagree on any issues.
“We’re one another’s biggest cheerleaders, but we get the most honest critiques from each other too,” Diane noted.
When Gina Papan was asked what advice she might offer her sister as she embarks on her new political career, she minimized the idea Diane would need her guidance.
“She’s extremely capable in what she’s doing,” Gina Papan said, “I doubt if she’ll be calling me at every turn.”