Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, two Midwest natives who became involved in Palo Alto politics last year out of frustration with the City Council's policies on growth and development were poised to win seats on the council Tuesday night, with incumbents Karen Holman and Greg Scharff also coasting to re-election victories, early results from the Santa Clara County Registrar indicate.
The race for the fifth seat was too close to call Tuesday evening, with Cory Wolbach and Lydia Kou locked in a tight battle. Wolbach had 3,413 votes and Kou had 3,335, with 32,137 votes counted.
Mayor Nancy Shepherd and attorney A.C. Johnston followed with 2,583 and 2,173 votes, respectively.
But the big winners were Holman and Scharff, each of whom appeared to be cruising to re-election. With 14 of 43 precincts both were well ahead of the pack, 4,846 and 4,419, respectively. DuBois and Filseth also performed strongly, winning 4,300 and 4,017 votes, respectively.
While thousands of votes are yet to be tallied, results from absentee ballots indicated that the council's slow-growth wing will have a greater presence behind the dais. Holman, Filseth and DuBois had all been critical of recent dense developments and have pledged to protect neighborhood residents from impacts of growth.
If the results hold, they will spell a dramatic conclusion to one of the most crowded and rancorous council races in recent history. They will also bring another victory to Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a citizens group that was formed last year in opposition to a council-approved housing development on Maybell Avenue.
After succeeding with its referendum last November, members of the citizens group found themselves celebrating on Tuesday for the second straight year. Holman, an incumbent who is one of the council's chief proponents of slow growth and who has also been endorsed by the citizens group, began the evening with an early and strong lead over all the other candidates.
At a campaign party at the home of Janet Dafoe, Holman said she feels "gratified." She also said she feels "really like the people's voices have been heard."
"This is where the community has been for a number of years, but there hasn't been an issue that galvanized people to change the council majority," Holman said.
If the early results hold, Holman, DuBois and Filseth would join fellow development skeptic Greg Schmid on a new council that promises to be less receptive to new growth than the current one.
Filseth, a retired semiconductor executive who grew up in Wisconsin and who now lives in Downtown North, called the results "a reality check" for the current council but said he wasn't too surprised.
"To me, the best part of the campaign is that when we talked to people, most of them agreed with us," Filseth said.
DuBois, a business consultant who grew up in Ohio and who now lives in Midtown, was upbeat and said that in terms of dollars per vote, "We did pretty well." His campaign revolved around increasing council efficiency, improving transparency and (along with the rest of the "residentialist" group) curbing the impacts of new development.
"I campaigned pretty clearly on these issues, and I see this as a mandate for me to govern on these issues," DuBois said of the early results.
Though Filseth was somewhat cautious about the early results, each of the three candidates gave victory speech thanking his or her supporters.
"What I want to look to is letting our differences inspire us and inform us rather than divide us," Holman said in her victory speech. "I think it's a community that really needs to heal. We need to grow up and not pretend that everything is okay and just talk nicely about the issues.
"We need to actually recognize that it is a divided community and it's time to heal and bring people together and learn from our mistakes,, learn from our differences and bring the community together."
Scharff, a local attorney who served as mayor last year, and Shepherd have been more flexible on the topic of development and have been heavily criticized by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning. Both drew endorsements from a large group of past school trustees and council members, as well as well-known neighborhood leaders such as bicycle advocate Penny Ellson and environmentalist Walt Hays.
But even with the support from the broad political establishment, the incumbents had to withstand criticism from the community for not being as strident in their opposition to new developments as Holman and Schmid.
Scharff, who was on his way to finishing second Tuesday, also said he was pleased to see the early results. The council, he said, has worked hard to address of all the issues that citizens had long been complaining about, particularly parking and traffic. The council "pivoted" after last year's Measure D election and has launched numerous initiatives to address these issues, he said.
"I'm honored that voters have chosen to hopefully re-elect me," Scharff said.
Shepherd was more subdued after the early results came in showing her out of the top five spots. Shepherd told the Weekly she is proud of her accomplishments on the council, which she said help protect the community from high-speed rail and in helping to get the city "working well." She said she is "very grateful" for her time on the council and that she has worked hard to do what the public asked the council to do.
"I'm very grateful for the time I have spent on the City Council," Shepherd said. "I think there's clearly something that's not allowing people to see the activity that the City Council is doing."
Kou, whose team gathered at the Elks Lodge, said she was proud of her campaign, whatever happens.
"I'm very optimistic but more importantly I'm so proud of my campaign. No matter if I win or lose, the whole point is that so many people stepped up for me in the community. They believed in me."
Wolbach said Tuesday the race was too close to call but, win or lose, he is proud of his campaign, which he said has "tried to exercise civil discourse."
"Win or lose, I feel we had a positive impact on the discourse, not only in tone, but in content," Wolbach said. "There's a need for the council to creatively find solutions to the jobs and housing imbalance that is recognized by all the candidates and it must be addressed by all on the council in a creative and collaborative way."
The 12-candidate field also included retired teacher John Fredrich, three-time candidate Mark Weiss, retired Boeing engineer Seelam Reddy and Ventura resident Wayne Douglass, whose campaign focused on bringing more focus to the issue of homelessness. All four trailed the rest of the field by a considerable margin.
Palo Alto voters were also overwhelmingly supporting Measure B, an increase in the city's hotel tax to fund infrastructure projects. Early results showed more than 76 percent of the voters backing it. Measure D, which will reduce the council size from nine to seven seats effective in 2018 was also leading but by a smaller margin, with 56 percent of the absentee votes supporting the measure.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann contributed to this report