As a retired aerospace engineer and a newcomer to Palo Alto, Seelam P. Reddy is at once a perfect representative of the city's technological might and the consummate outsider to the local political scene.
Reddy, who announced Tuesday that he plans to run for the City Council, is not at all deterred by his status as a political neophyte. He also seems to be the only candidate in the race with no strong opinions about the types of issues that have dominated City Hall conversations in recent years: parking, building density and downtown growth. He is quite confident that if elected, he'll have no trouble bringing himself up to speed and doing his part to improve the way the city functions.
Born in India, Reddy moved to the United States more than four decades ago to attend Texas Tech University. After living in Sweetwater, Texas, he moved to California in 1977 and lived in Newport Beach before arriving in Palo Alto a year and a half ago. His resume includes stints at McDonnell Douglas, Ludlum Measurements, Hughes Electronics and Boeing Company, where he spent a decade before retiring in 2010. These days, the College Terrace resident, who goes by "Sea," works as a consultant in mergers and acquisitions for VMWare while looking for ways to contribute to the city where he chose to retire.
In discussing his desire to serve, Reddy focused on his personal attributes rather on the specific issues that the city is facing. Palo Alto could use more grocery stores offering affordable goods, he said, such as a larger Safeway. He also said he supports better coordination with local corporations to provide housing for employees. It's "inevitable that the city is going to grow," he said, but the growth shouldn't be dictated by corporations.
But Reddy is also quick to acknowledge that he doesn't have any particular agenda or specific solutions in mind. ("No one person has solutions," he added.). In a broad sense, his goal is improve governance and lead the city to "10x improvement," a term borrowed from his decades in the corporate world.
"In almost every area, there's always room for improvement," Reddy told the Weekly.
Palo Alto generally does a good job, he said, but if there's one subject on which he disagrees with the council, it's taxes. He said he opposes the council's plan to raise the hotel-tax rate in November. This is consistent with his general opposition to taxes.
"We need to get money from different means," Reddy said. "I don't believe we should raise taxes for anybody. We should lower taxes."
He also said he believes the city needs "more governance than government." Rather than making new rules, the city should focus on overseeing and improving its existing operations. His believes his experience in the corporate sector, which includes work on budgets, audits, personnel decisions and numerous leadership positions, lends itself well to this task.
In May, Reddy took his first stab at civic participation when he applied for a spot on the Planning and Transportation Commission. In his application, when asked about commission issues that are compatible to his experience, he listed as an entry, "Integrating all people to work for Palo Alto to be the best place to live on Earth." And when asked about specific goals that he believes the commission should focus on, his answers included "density," "educating to succeed" and "commitment to innovate."
But his specific positions proved hard to pin down. During the interview with the City Council, Reddy stressed his experience in management and in long-term planning at Boeing but gave only a vague answer when Councilman Greg Schmid asked about the upside and downside of increasing density in Palo Alto -- a key issue in the council campaign. Reddy explained that in a capitalist society, the question of growth is a constant concern.
"You always have this give and take. How much industry do we want in this town? How many units do we need for people to live comfortably so people don't have to drive 40 to 50 miles?"
The issue is likely to take center stage in the council race, which will see five seats up for grabs. Councilman Larry Klein will be termed out at the end of the year and Councilwoman Gail Price, who is concluding her first term, said she will not be seeking a second. Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilman Greg Scharff will both try to retain their council seats while Councilwoman Karen Holman has not yet declared her decision.
In announcing his candidacy this week, Reddy became the fourth non-incumbent to enter the race and the first who hasn't had a regular presence at City Hall. He will vie for the seats with Claude Ezran, a former member of the Human Relations Commission and founder of Palo Alto's World Music Day; Tom DuBois, a Midtown resident who co-founded the citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning; and Eric Filseth, a Downtown North resident who has been a leading proponent at council meetings for solutions to his neighborhood's growing parking problems. Both DuBois and Filseth were active in last year's Measure D campaign, which overturned an approved housing development on Maybell Avenue.
Reddy acknowledged that his status as a City Hall newcomer may be a disadvantage in the council campaign, but said he doesn't care. With his experience in long-range planning and management, he believes he has the skills necessary to change the culture at City Hall and improve relations between the city and its residents.
"There isn't an immediate solution I have," Reddy said. "All I want to do is contribute."