With the filing period concluding last week, 12 Palo Alto residents have officially entered the race for the five contested seats on the City Council.
The group of candidates is made up of three incumbents, three members of the watchdog group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a legislative aide, a retired history teacher, an engineer who wants to make the city "10 times better" and a concert producer hoping that this bid for a council seat goes better than his prior two. It also includes an advocate for the homeless community and, as of this week, an intellectual-property attorney from a major law firm.
A. C. Johnston, the managing partner in the Palo Alto office of the law firm Morrison Foerster, was the last candidate to file his nomination papers before Wednesday's deadline, joining a large and eclectic list of aspiring lawmakers. Johnston, who grew up in Chicago, has spent the past 25 years in Palo Alto, a period that was interrupted by stints in London, Tokyo and Washington, D.C.
Johnston, 68, told the Weekly that public service runs in his family. As a son of an Illinois state legislator, Johnston said he has long thought about running and has recently decided that now the time is right for him to do so. He said he has no "preconceived idea" of what the city's most burning issues currently are.
"My priority is really to talk to the citizens and find out what's on their mind," Johnston said.
Overall, he said, the biggest issue for the city is "how to maintain the quality of life in Palo Alto, which is obviously outstanding." While many of the candidates have adopted the "residentialist" label, which connotes slow-growth sentiments, Johnston stressed the city's "international reputation" and said he can't imagine the city halting growth entirely.
"Palo Alto is internationally recognized as the center of innovation," said Johnston, who lives downtown. "For us to say that we should not change in Palo Alto just seems to be contrary to everything that the city stands for."
Johnston's entry means this year's council race will have twice as many candidates as the city's last council election, which took place in 2012 this despite the withdrawal of panhandler Victor Frost and Alma Place resident Richard Wendorf, neither of whom turned in their nomination papers, according to City Clerk Donna Grider.
The field of candidates includes incumbents Karen Holman, Greg Scharff and Mayor Nancy Shepherd. It also includes three residents Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth, and Lydia Kou who have opposed "upzoned" developments and who helped lead last year's battle over Measure D, in which voters overturned a council-approved housing development on Maybell Avenue. Candidate John Fredrich, a retired Gunn High School teacher, supported the Maybell project, which included 60 housing units for low-income seniors, but he also identifies himself as a "residentialist."
Also embracing that label is Mark Weiss, who is running in his third straight election and who routinely rhapsodizes about the outsized influence of developers in local politics. Seelam Reddy, a retired Boeing engineer, has been less fixed in his positions, which range from demanding more transparency and limiting growth to preventing the closure of the Page Mill YMCA.
Cory Wolbach, a staff member for state Sen. Jerry Hill, has put his legislative work on hold so that he can seek a council seat. He also said he was concerned about Palo Alto's planning process and the parking and traffic impacts of commercial growth, though he tempers these concerns by advocating for more housing.
Wayne Douglass, who like Wolbach entered the race in the waning weeks of the filing period, said his interest in running was spurred by the council's recent actions toward the homeless population. This includes last year's ban on vehicle habitation, an ordinance that was put on hold after the courts rejected a similar law in Los Angeles.
The large number of slow-growth candidates could tilt the majority of the nine-member council toward its more "residentialist wing," currently occupied by Holman, Pat Burt and Greg Schmid. The two candidates who have been most open minded about growth, Larry Klein and Gail Price, will be concluding their terms this year. Klein will be termed out, ending a career that included about two decades of service, four council terms and three terms as mayor. Price, who is completing her first term, has opted not to run.