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Candidate profile: The Protector — Wayne Douglass

 

Call him a single-issue candidate, if you want to. Wayne Douglass doesn't care.

That's because he believes his issue -- homelessness -- is important enough to warrant a candidate.

Like many of the candidates on November's ballot, Douglass became engaged (and enraged) last summer, while watching the City Council make a decision that would impact low-income residents. But it wasn't the Maybell Avenue project that brought Douglass into the council race; it was the ban on people living in their vehicles. For Douglass, a retired technical writer who lives in the Ventura neighborhood, the council's decision was unconscionable and unacceptable.

The ban has since been suspended thanks to a court ruling in Los Angeles that struck down a similar ordinance. Some people believe the issue has disappeared, Douglass said recently. He's here to remind them that it hasn't and to provide what he calls a "different point of view." The city, he believes, has acted improperly toward its most vulnerable residents.

"You don't need to vilify a group of people who have a hard enough time, anyway," he told the Weekly.

Douglass was born in Vermont and studied literature and journalism before coming to Palo Alto in 1980 and settling in a house on Matadero Road. When he bought the house back then, Douglass told his wife it was the "cheapest house in Palo Alto." It still is, he asserts, even though it's now worth three times as much.

In a crowded field of candidates, he stands out as much for his demeanor as for his talking points. He wears a baseball cap and speaks in a manner both irreverent and passionate, with a deep voice that at times trembles with indignation. When the council was considering its response to a Santa Clara County Grand Jury report that accused city officials of negotiating with a developer in a less-than-transparent manner, Douglass attended the public hearing to ask the council: "What the hell were you thinking?" He also called the council's excuses "pathetic" and argued, "No one in their right mind" would vote for an incumbent in this election.

"I'm here to express outrage," Douglass added, lest anyone missed the point.

A year prior, Douglass was even angrier. Shortly before the council was set to vote on the ban on car camping, Douglass approached the microphone to give them another piece of his mind: "It took two years, and this is what you came up with?"

He proposed an alternative: Have each council member pick a homeless Palo Altan and do whatever it takes to find a home for that person. That's what he and his wife did two years ago when they helped a homeless woman, he told the council.

"We attacked it the way you look for a job," Douglass said.

That meant getting a network going and asking around until an opportunity opened up. He found a neighbor whose housemate had recently died of cancer. Douglass and his wife convinced him to help shelter the homeless woman, who was taken in a week before the October rainy season arrived.

"That's what I did! Maybe you should try it too," Douglass told the council, earning an applause from those in the Council Chambers.

He returned to his top issue at the Sept. 30 candidates forum, when he reminded the audience of the homeless people who died of hypothermia last year.

"I certainly don't want to see that happen again," Douglass said. "I want to see people housed, if possible, and nobody dying on the streets. There is a goal worth seeking."

Douglass has a doctorate in English and considers "Don Quixote" his favorite book (both for its influence on the novel form and for its satirical, political elements). He proudly recalls the day in August 1976 when University of Florida conferred his doctoral degree. That day, he was loading trucks in Gainesville to pay for his education.

He is also proud of the fact that he didn't own a car while living in California for the first six years, which gave him ample opportunity to read and interact with the occasional stranger via mass transit.

Unlike most of the candidate field, Douglass has little appetite for discussing the issues of growth and development. Everyone else on the council seems to have strong opinions about these topics, he reasons; they should be able to deal with them. He'd rather focus on the one issue that he believes continues to be taken for granted.

"I think a lot of people think the issue of homelessness is over," Douglass said. "It's only going to come back because the City Council will have to make a decision about what to do about the current law and go through the spectacle of the so-called 'discussion.'"

• To read about where Wayne Douglass stands on issues including development, transportation and housing, see the Weekly's PDF edition.

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