Claude Ezran, a veteran of the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission and the founder of the city's World Music Day, announced Tuesday that he will seek a seat on the City Council in November.
In declaring his candidacy, Ezran became the first non-incumbent in Palo Alto to enter the race for the nine-member council, which could see as many as five new members next year. Councilman Larry Klein will term out this year and Councilwoman Gail Price, who is now completing her first term, said she will not be seeking a second one. Of the other three council members whose first terms are expiring this year, only Councilman Greg Scharff said he plans to seek a second one. Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilwoman Karen Holman have yet to declare their plans.
Ezran, a native of France who moved to Palo Alto 24 years ago, has recently completed his second term on the city's Human Relations Commission, which focuses on issues relating to social justice, police oversight and human services. As a commissioner between 2008 and March of this year, he helped evaluate the needs of local nonprofits seeking public grants and was a leading advocate for having Palo Alto take public stances on national issues such as campaign finance and marriage equality.
At times, his positions went beyond the council mainstream. In October 2012, Ezran urged the City Council to support a Constitutional amendment that specifies that corporations are not people. The amendment, which was spearheaded by the group "Move to Amend," was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which affirmed a corporation's right to spend on independent campaigns. Ezran argued that the decision has given corporate interests outsized influence and that the ruling is "eroding democracy" and "putting our nation on a path of gradual decline." The council ultimately voted not to support an amendment but to submit a letter voicing the city's opposition to Citizens United.
Ezran also had a hard time convincing the council to stop providing grants to Catholic Charities, a nonprofit whose parent organization faced criticism for not offering adoption services to same-sex couples. The organization faced a lawsuit in Illinois, where the state and the ACLU alleged discrimination by Catholic Charities against gay couples. Despite Ezran's urging to the contrary, both the Human Relations Commission and the council supported keeping the grants going after learning that the local chapter of Catholic Charities has not been subject to any discrimination complaints.
Ezran was far more successful in his 2009 bid to launch World Music Day in Palo Alto. The street festival has become an annual tradition, with dozens of musicians and thousands of visitors flocking to University Avenue on Father's Day. The festival is now in its sixth year and now has a staff supervisor. A native of Saint-Cloud, France, Ezran modeled the event on similar endeavors elsewhere around the globe.
In an interview Tuesday, Ezran told the Weekly that with his commission tenure now completed, he felt the time was perfect to take the next step in civic service. He praised the current council and City Hall management, saying that on the whole city leadership is doing a good job ("It's not like I'm running to 'throw the rascals out,'" he said). Still, there's room for improvement, particularly when it comes to planning for growth, Ezran said.
"Recently, history has shown that we were given probably too many benefits to developers and sometimes the city has not gotten its fair share," Ezran said.
He singled out the city's "planned community" process, which allows developers to barter "public benefits" for zoning exemptions. Last year, after years of community consternation and the failure of two controversial "planned community" proposals (a housing development on Maybell Avenue and an office project on Page Mill Road) to win approval, the council agreed to place a moratorium on this zoning designation until reforms are enacted. Ezran stressed the importance of balancing the city's needs with those of developers and pointed to the infamous example of Caffe Riace, where a plaza that was intended to be a "public benefit" for a nearby residential project was ultimately turned into a seating area for the restaurant.
"I want to balance between what the developers get and what the city gets," Ezran told the Weekly. "That means quantifying how much developers really are getting and how much the city is really getting. The in-depth analysis has not always been done and when done, not done correctly."
In announcing his candidacy, Ezran listed as his priorities "preserving the quality of life"; addressing the city's infrastructure needs (including a new public-safety building) and solving downtown's parking issues through a combination of permitting programs, better public transportation options and use of technology to better utilize existing parking spots. He also vowed to continue the city's environmental efforts and to preserve small commerce.
"University Avenue and California Avenue should not become bland shopping malls," Ezran wrote.
Ezran moved to Palo Alto shortly after graduating from Harvard Business School. He worked for Intel before taking other jobs at 3Com, Xerox and Adobe. Most recently, he has been working as a consultant to various start-ups.
This will not be Ezran's first campaign for public office. In 2007, he vied for a seat on the school board but did not win. He has also served on the city's Cable Co-Op; sat on the steering committee for Measure A, the school board's 2005 parcel tax; and held numerous positions on the Palo Alto Council of PTAs. He also serves on the board of the Palo Alto Recreation Foundation.