Greg Scharff was born in South Africa and lived in Los Angeles, Woodstock, N.Y., Maine, New York and Berkeley before settling in Palo Alto in 1988.
An attorney with degrees from Bowdoin College in Maine and the Columbia University School of Law, Scharff has spent the past 21 years utterly charmed by Palo Alto's leafy, tight-knit neighborhoods and says he now he wants to give back. He lives in Midtown with his wife and three children.
A self-described "country lawyer," Scharff can carry on with ease and without hesitation about employee pensions, high-speed rail, land use and the proposed business-license tax, which he says is poorly designed and ill timed.
Scharff said fiscal discipline would be one of his top priorities if elected. He believes the city should narrow its projected $10 million deficit through stricter fiscal oversight and leaner employee benefits. He believes city workers should pay a share of their medical costs and supports the city's proposal to change the worker's pension formula from "2.7 percent at 55" (2.7 percent of highest annual wage for each year of service for retirement at age 55) to a "2 percent at 60" formula -- a proposal that has been bitterly opposed by the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than half of the city's workforce.
"I think it's a long-term threat to the future of Palo Alto if we have escalating health and pension benefits that we can't afford," Scharff said. "We have to rein those in to a sustainable level."
To improve its fiscal situation, the city should make a bigger effort to lure revenue-generating businesses downtown, Scharff said. At a recent candidate forum sponsored by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, Scharff proposed creating an ombudsman to assist business owners and said the city's permitting process should be streamlined.
"It should be an easy and pleasant experience to shop and do business in downtown Palo Alto," Scharff wrote in a Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) questionnaire. "Businesses should feel that they are a welcome partner in our community and that they are receiving the support necessary to make our commercial areas fun and inviting places to spend time."
Scharff vehemently opposes the proposed business tax, Measure A, which he said would hurt business owners at a tough economic time. According to city estimates, the tax would cost an average retail business $360 a year, while a professional business (doctors, lawyers, dentists and others) would be asked to pay an average pf $669 a year.
In the questionnaire, Scharff calls the tax "poorly drafted, overly broad and not consistent with the tax levels of our neighboring cities in Santa Clara County."
Scharff, who runs a law firm on California Avenue, said his legal background makes him particularly well-suited for handling the wide range of land-use issues facing the city. He said he settled in Palo Alto because he likes the "intellectual fervor" and "entrepreneurial spirit of the place." He likes the fact that smart people from Stanford University and Palo Alto go on to start successful companies all over the world. He appreciates Palo Alto's "community feeling" and says he's enjoyed meeting residents throughout the campaign and discussing major city issues with them.
He said his major goal would be to make sure the character of the city doesn't change. To him, this means assuring the city continues to oppose any high-speed rail plan that includes a wall to support elevated tracks. He said he would support either deep tunnels or a "cut and cover" trench design to minimize the impacts on neighborhoods.
Scharff also wrote in the PAN questionnaire that he strongly opposes high-density housing and "its negative impacts on our schools, parks and services in Palo Alto." The city, he said, must resist state mandates to bring more dense housing to Palo Alto.
He is also critical of the city's "planned community" (PC) zoning process -- which allows developers to build at greater densities than would otherwise be allowed in exchange for "public benefits." The process, he said, is often abused by developers. He cited the recently approved Alma Plaza, which includes among other things a grocery store, 37 homes and 15 below-market apartments. He called the project, and its abundance of housing, a "good example of this process run amok."
Scharff said his goal, if elected, would be to protect neighborhood retail and support walkable neighborhoods. The city should be particularly wary, he said, of trading retail space for housing.
"Once housing replaces our retail, hotels (Ricky's Hyatt) and other community services, that land can never be recovered," Scharff wrote in the PAN questionnaire. "We need to protect our neighborhood services and carefully scrutinize any changes of use for its long-term impact on the quality of life in our city."