Seeking to bring a fresh voice to Palo Alto's simmering debate over growth and development, Sen. Jerry Hill's staff member Cory Wolbach announced Monday that he is entering the crowded race for City Council.
Wolbach, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, told the Weekly that he decided to run after considering the city's recent discussions and recognizing that there has been a "missing voice" in the growth discussion. While many talk about the negative impacts of new development, there has been far less discussion of the city's housing challenges, particularly when it comes to seniors and young people.
"It's a voice that addresses, on one hand, the serious concerns we have about traffic, parking and a planning process that doesn't focus on the residents and, on the other hand, also recognizes that there is a real challenge for young people and seniors who want to stay in Palo Alto and find there aren't many housing options available," Wolbach said.
Wolbach, who is taking a leave from his staff position in Hill's office to pursue a campaign, is both the youngest member of the 13-candidate pool and among the most politically active. In addition to his work with Senator Hill, he has been an active member of political organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party. Wolbach, 33, is a board member at the Peninsula Democratic Coalition and the president of Peninsula Young Democrats.
While he said he recognizes that the Palo Alto council is a nonpartisan body, he said his political experience has given him valuable experience in civic engagement, which he said is one of his primary passions. He also stressed the importance of regional cooperation on issues like airport noise, traffic and, more broadly, climate change.
Wolbach is not affiliated with the slow-growth "residentialist" candidates who make up the majority of the candidates pool and who generally oppose high-density development. But even as he stresses the need for more housing, he is quick to point out that he is not running as a voice "counter to the residentialists."
"The key challenge is to first address parking, traffic and aesthetic issues and also a flawed planning process, as well as making sure that development is not impacting the schools negatively," Wobach said, a sentiment generally shared by the other candidates.
He said he would like to replace the "broken Planned Community process," which provides zoning exceptions to developers in exchange for negotiated "public benefits" (and which he said "resulted in debacles like Miki's Market," a failed grocery store at Alma Village) with area-specific development plans, much like the one used to create the SOFA (South of Forest Area) plan.
But Wolbach also said he would like to add concerns about the city's jobs-housing imbalance to the debate. Specifically, the city should focus on reducing this imbalance by adding housing, he said.
"I don't think we need a lot more office space in Palo Alto," he said. "I think we have too many jobs and not enough places for people to live. People in my generation are having a hard time finding a Palo Alto home to live in. If there is any new development in Palo Alto, it needs to focus on housing first, particularly mid-sized to smaller units that seniors and young people would find accessible."
Wolbach has already received a list of endorsements for his nascent campaign from former Palo Alto council members and school trustees, including Betsy Bechtel, LaDoris Cordell, Sid Espinosa, Vic Ojakian, Diane Reklis, Carolyn Tucher and Lanie Wheeler.