Scharff, Shepherd to lead City Council in 2013
After Scharff wins unanimous support for mayor, Shepherd beats out Holman for vice mayor job
The Palo Alto City Council ushered in the new year Monday night by choosing Greg Scharff and Nancy Shepherd as its mayor and vice mayor for 2013.
At a meeting that began with a swearing-in ceremony for four council members and ended with an emotional send-off for two others, the council voted unanimously to select Scharff as its mayor for the next 12 months. The decision was largely a foregone conclusion, given Scharff's position as vice mayor in 2012 and the city's tradition of elevating its vice mayor to the council's top position the following year.
Shepherd's election to vice mayor was more suspenseful after she withstood a challenge from Councilwoman Karen Holman. The former school-district activist was elected by a vote of 6-3, with Councilman Pat Burt, Councilman Greg Schmid and Holman herself voting for Holman.
The election to mayor completes Scharff's meteoric rise to the top of the city's political scene. He was elected in 2009 on the strength of a grassroots campaign based in large part on his opposition to a proposed business-license tax. Unlike most of his colleagues, he had not served on any local boards or commissions before joining the council.
Since then, he has emerged as one of the council's most confident and assertive voices, taking a leading role in the city's effort to curtail the rising costs of employee benefits and to promote bike-friendly initiatives. He and Holman both played a central part in the city's successful campaign in 2011 to repeal binding arbitration for public-safety workers. He was also an outspoken opponent of last year's proposal to legalize medical-marijuana dispensaries in the city — a proposal that fizzled in the ballot box in November.
Scharff also hasn't shied away from the lighter components of his position, taking part in various groundbreaking ceremonies and city functions throughout the year.
Councilman Larry Klein, who nominated Scharff, praised his ability to "keep us moving along and reach sometimes compromise solutions and sometimes better-worded resolutions." Scharff has already chaired numerous meetings, particularly those involving Stanford University, from which outgoing Mayor Yiaway Yeh had to recuse himself.
"We've seen he can do the job," Klein said of Scharff.
Klein also rejected the notion that a mayor is strictly a ceremonial position in Palo Alto. The position involves not only chairing meetings but also representing the city in other communities, in the United States and abroad.
"I think Greg has shown that he is a leader for our community," Klein said.
In his first speech as mayor, Scharff said he has much to look forward to in 2013, including the opening of the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, the implementation of the city's new Bike and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, and the city's electric utility reaching a carbon-neutral portfolio. He also said the council still has plenty of work to do, particularly when it comes to curtailing costs.
"As those of you who follow city issues know, we still have much hard work ahead and many choices that will define our community for decades," Scharff said. "That future is now. At the end of 2013, I want all of us to look back and say, 'Wow. We accomplished a lot.'"
Both Scharff and Shepherd joined the council in 2009, the last council election to occur in an odd-number year. Councilwoman Gail Price and Holman also joined the council that year, while Klein was re-elected for another term.
Price, who nominated Shepherd, lauded her respect for the colleagues, preparation for meetings and sense of humor. Shepherd has been heavily involved in the city's ongoing effort to promote youth well-being and in its decision-making process over the future of the Cubberley Community Center. A Southgate resident, she took a central role in her neighborhood's opposition to the state's high-speed-rail proposal in 2009 and has served on the council's Rail Committee.
Over the past year, the former PTA Council president has also chaired the council's Finance Committee.
"Nancy is well-versed on a wide variety of issues and prepares carefully and thoughtfully for all meetings and discussions," Price said.
In accepting the nomination, Shepherd called it "an honor" to serve on the council.
"I think we do take rigor with all of our debate," Shepherd said. "This is something we really want to get right for the community."
The council began its meeting by swearing in the four members elected last November — incumbents Burt and Schmid, former Mayor Liz Kniss and Marc Berman.
The meeting ended on a bittersweet note, as the council said its farewell to two of its youngest members, Yiaway Yeh and Sid Espinosa. The council unanimously passed resolutions in honor of Yeh and Espinosa, with each receiving a standing ovation for his five years of service on the council.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.