This week the Palo Alto Weekly had a live two-hour Zoom debate among all seven candidates running for three seats. No, it was neither boring nor exhaustive, it was a great way to learn about who we want to vote for in November to serve four years on the council. It also helped me understand what their views were on some of this city’s most important issues.
That said, the debate opened with a why are you running question. They responded, paraphrased, I-am-running-because-I-love-this-city statements. I am glad you do, but that is not, to me, a reason to vote for you. Lots of us love this city.
I’ll use the word SAMENESS to describe what disturbed me about their responses. Nearly all the answers from the seven were so similar that it seemed they were all on the same politically correct bandwagon. They all applauded so many city ideas and project proposals, no matter how expensive they could be or how realistic they were. That’s scary. Unanimity on the city council is not a desirable goal. Differences are needed to better represent all of us.
A new city gym? Great idea and all for it. Renovating the Cubberley Community Center? Of course! All-electric homes – with some minor additions, they all indicated it was something we must do – at least for three-fourths of residences. Get rid of natural gas use in homes, even for or gas stoves and water heaters? Yes. Electric vehicles? Get them was what I heard from several of them.
Let me pause here to say that a couple of candidates put in caveats and said things like, “I am for it but it must include” or “I’m not sure but I think the city should pursue this idea,” etc. But when it comes down to votes on the council. I sensed most would not change because they were already dedicated to things we need to do if we care about climate change.
But there’s more: Fiber to the home? Six-to-one on that, with one candidate saying she was snot sure what it was all about, but she supported it. Business tax? Yes. More housing in town, particularly affordable housing? Absolutely. More businesses offices? No. Caring more for renters’ concerns? Yes. Keeping Cal Ave permanently closed to cars? Some hesitation by two of the candidates.
I wasn’t sure whether all this apparent agreement was there because they were agreeing to whatever they thought residents might want, and thus garner those votes or because they just supported everything. I guess they are already would-be politicians, but that’s not unusual and I accept that. Candidates want to get elected.
So back to the headline of this blog: What do I want in a candidate?
I’ve watched lots of council meetings for years and I offer the following:
• Someone who is bright and can easily grasp and understand the complexities of this city.
• A candidate/council member who has reasonable knowledge about how city hall works, and all the subtleties. No experience is not a particularly desirable qualification for election.
• Also, someone who understands that the council is primarily responsible for this city – not the city manager nor the staff. The council is in charge of policy, the staff implements their ideas and works on the everyday functions of the city.
• Someone who can read, understand and QUESTION the items in our nearly $1 billion (!!) annual budget and sieve through additional proposed expenditures by city staff. A lotof hidden expenditures can be buried in a proposed budget, one that the council has to approve. And, if it approves the budget, it also okays those expenditures.
• If a city project is taking a long time, as in too long, and City Manager Ed Shikada responds, “Well, we’re working on it,” don’t let that answer suffice. Probe further. And give deadlines.
• I really would like to see council members who have new, interesting ideas elected -- not people who can’t think outside the box or are all in the same politically correct parade.
So, Palo Altans, we are now left to decide who we want to vote for. I recommend watching the entire debate on this paper’s website, PaloAltoOnline.com. And candidates, I hope you each can find ways to distinguish yourself from your competitors. That, too, is the way this political game is played.
NOTE: Thank you, Weekly, for putting on this wonderful debate. Of course, I post my blog on this Weekly site, but my hurrahs are unbiased. Editor Jocelyn Dong and reporter Gennady Sheyner kept the candidates on alert – tactfully and pleasantly, and they kept up my interest in what the seven of them were saying. Since each candidate had only a very limited time (15, 30 or 60 seconds for an answer) they all managed to make their point and did just fine!