Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 7, 2010

Yoriko Kishimoto

Finding common ground, while sticking to her principles

by Gennady Sheyner

Of the three Democrats running for Ira Ruskin's seat in the 21st Assembly District, Yoriko Kishimoto is the only one who can boast of being a "proven futurist."

It's been more than two decades since Kishimoto co-wrote the book "The Third Century," which predicted that America's entrepreneurial spirit, democratic system and tendency to attract the best foreign talent would give the nation a major long-term advantage over Europe and Japan. These days, she is struck by how many of the prophecies in the book came true.

For Kishimoto, California presents the same challenges and opportunities as the nation at large: a dysfunctional Legislature, fierce competition from abroad and an education system that's gradually slipping. But she believes that, of the three candidates, she is uniquely positioned to lead the state forward. She didn't just study the statistics about foreign workers succeeding in America, she became one.

Kishimoto, 54, sees herself as the "face of California." Born in Japan, she immigrated to America as a child, learned English, earned a master's degree in business from Stanford University and started a management-consulting business. She was elected to the Palo Alto City Council in 2001 and had what she calls her "watershed moment" six years later, when she became the city's first Asian-American mayor.

"Of the 15 mayors in Santa Clara County, five were Asian and all five were first-generation Americans," Kishimoto said in a recent interview. "That's a true testament to the robustness of our economy."

During her eight years on the council, Kishimoto never shied away from pushing for her top priorities: walkable neighborhoods, safer bike paths, a functional public-transit system, climate protection and land conservation. She routinely subjected developers and planning staff to grueling Q-and-A format sessions and voted against any project that she felt was inconsistent with the city's long-term vision.

Last year, she voted against Palo Alto's three largest proposed developments: Alma Plaza, the College Terrace Centre and the proposed hotel for the Palo Alto Bowl site. All three were ultimately approved despite her opposition.

Kishimoto has also emerged as one of the Peninsula's leading critics of the proposed California high-speed-rail system. In October 2008, she joined the City Council in passing a resolution urging residents to support Proposition 1A, which provided $9.95 billion for the project. She now says she regrets casting that vote.

Kishimoto said she still supports having a high-speed-rail system but is disappointed with the way the planning process for the new system has played out. In February 2009, she attended public outreach meetings on the project and found some of the information coming out of the meetings vague and troubling.

In the following months, she reached out to neighboring communities and helped found the Peninsula Cities Consortium, a coalition with Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame. She believes the consortium may have played a role in persuading the rail authority to eliminate the "berm" option (known locally as the "Berlin Wall") from its recent list of possible designs.

Kishimoto said a seat in the state Assembly would give her more power and influence over the controversial $43 billion project. She supports demanding a better business plan from the California High Speed Rail Authority; ensuring that the authority's work undergoes peer reviews; and making sure the system's design doesn't harm the quality of life in local communities.

"It has to be a solution that leaves the communities better and protects the walkable and livable aspects of our community," Kishimoto said.

She also supports tackling the state's $21 billion budget deficit by instituting an oil-extraction fee (a position shared by her two Democratic opponents) and raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. She also said she would support reining in pension costs for state employees and trimming expenditures, though in a recent interview she couldn't cite any specific programs she would eliminate.

She acknowledged that holding office in Sacramento would be more difficult than serving in Palo Alto but says she's up to the challenge. She recalled that when she joined the council, the body was also dysfunctional and polarized. She takes some credit for the growing spirit of cooperation and cites herself and former Mayor Bern Beecham as the two council members who were willing to cross the proverbial aisle and build constructive relationships.

Kishimoto, who lives in Palo Alto with her husband, Lee, and her daughters, Maya and Sarah, said her ability to find common ground helped her govern in Palo Alto and build alliances around the Peninsula. If elected, these same skills will help her tackle some of California's steepest challenges, she said.

"California has some very serious short-term issues and challenges that we have to face head on," she said. "But we do have the single best long-term system in the world — a system that is amazingly resilient; a system that allows us to pick up and reinvent ourselves."

Weekly Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm

svatoid is a registered user.

\I would not vote for Ms Kishimoto for a number of reasons:

1) I think her tenure on the council was completely unspectacular. Maybe someone can tell me her accomplishments during her 8 years

2) She was on the council during a number of "fiascos"--the PACT scandal, the Utilities scandal, the recent budget revelations and I do not recall her taking any responsibility.

3) Her stance on HSR--back in 2008 she was gung ho for HSR--encouraging us to vote yes on Prop 1A. A few months later she was solidily against the whole deal. What gives? Was she unaware of what HSR meant? Was it political expediency--she saw that the vocal majority of PA was against so she changed course.

4) Her stance vis a vis Stanford. She is one of the councilmembers responsible for Stanford cancelling the shopping center expansion. She is also against the hospital expansion. She has been vocally anti-Stanford for 8 years, yet expecting Stanford to shower money on the city for her pet projects.

5) She constantly complains about "too much traffic", yet supports events that bring traffic to town--Senior Games, Tour of California. She wants it both ways--money in the city coffers, but no traffic--that is not how it works.
She was also behind the disaterous closing of University Avenue a few years back to create a pedestrian mall.

Sorry, Ms Kishimoto, you are not qualified in my eyes to serve in the Assembly


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


To post your comment, please click here to Log in

Remember me?
Forgot Password?
or register. This topic is only for those who have signed up to participate by providing their email address and establishing a screen name.