Eric Filseth, a Downtown North resident who emerged over the last two years as a leading voice in Palo Alto's debate over downtown growth, announced Monday that he will seek a seat on the City Council in November.
A high-tech executive who has spent 25 years in the semiconductor and software industry, Filseth has recently become a vocal, if measured, critic of downtown's rapid growth and its impacts on local neighborhoods. He has been a persistent critic of new downtown developments, including Lytton Gateway and 27 University Ave., and an advocate for fixing existing parking woes.
Last year, he and his neighbor Neilson Buchanan unveiled an interactive program that maps out current parking saturation and predicts future congestion based on existing development plans. The program projected that downtown's parking shortage, which is currently estimated at 900 spaces, will grow to 1,858 in 2015 and by more than 2,500 in 2016, pushing Palo Alto's parking woes beyond downtown.
Around that time, Filseth also took part in the residents' campaign that successfully overturned the council's approval of a housing development on Maybell Avenue last year. The effort culminated in the defeat of Measure D in November and in the creation of a new citizen watchdog group, Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, of which Filseth is a member.
In recent weeks, Filseth has been addressing the council on topics related to the Comprehensive Plan and the Housing Element and urging elected officials to prioritize "livability" and sustainability of neighborhood character in the city's long-term vision documents. At the May 5 council meeting, Filseth addressed the council, arguing that significant growth is not inevitable but a "choice." Preserving quality of life should take precedent over other city goals, such as a global reputation for innovation, he said.
"I like a global reputation as much as the next guy, but I have two kids in Palo Alto High School and they both had classes with 40 kids in them," Filseth said. "That's a lot of kids in one high-school class. ... As a resident, if I have to prioritize between the city being famous and having good public schools with enough space for our kids, that's an easy choice."
A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Filseth has been living in Palo Alto for the past 23 years. He worked as corporate vice president at Cadence Design Systems and, since 2007, served as the CEO of software company Ciranova. He became more immersed in local issues in 2012 after his company was sold, leaving him with more time for civic involvement. He told the Weekly that he decided to run because of a "misalignment" between the city's and residents' visions for Palo Alto's future.
In the last few years, he said, there's been a gathering momentum for recreating the dense, big-city atmosphere of San Francisco and San Jose in Palo Alto. Most residents, however, don't want to make the trade-offs associated with this kind of densification, he said.
"I do think there's a clear misalignment between where the city wants to go -- where a lot of the leadership wants to go -- and where the residents want to go," Filseth told the Weekly. "That's a really unfortunate thing that we need to fix."
In announcing his candidacy, Filseth said he will prioritize issues such as "neighborhood quality, traffic, congestion, city infrastructure and services and a sensible zoning and development policy that considers cumulative impacts on livability in Palo Alto and the integrity of our public school system."
"Palo Altans are at an inflection point," Filseth said in a statement. "Over the next council term, we'll make decisions that shape the character of our city for many decades to come. To preserve and enhance the things that make Palo Alto a great place to live and raise families, within the context of intense regional and economic pressures, is the central challenge before us. I want to help lead this effort. I will always be an advocate for residents' concerns."
Filseth is the third non-incumbent to announce his candidacy for the City Council, which will see five of its nine seats up for grabs in November. Tom DuBois, who announced his candidacy earlier this month, is also a member of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning and a critic of the city's development policies. Claude Ezran, a former Human Relations Commissioner and founder of World Music Day, is also seeking a seat on the council.
Of the five council members whose terms are expiring in November, only Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilman Greg Scharff have said they plan to run. Councilman Larry Klein will be termed out while Councilwoman Gail Price said she will not seek another term. Councilwoman Karen Holman has not yet declared her decision.