Palo Alto voters were on the verge of reducing the size of the City Council from nine to seven seats on Tuesday night, with Measure D eking out an early but strong lead with the absentee ballots counted.
If approved, the number of council members would go from nine to seven, with the change taking effect in 2018.
The idea of shrinking the council size had been floating around for years before it finally landed on the ballot thanks to a 5-4 council vote in June. Championed by longtime community volunteer Roger Smith, it had won the support of dozens of past council members, neighborhood leaders and state representatives. Former mayors Sid Espinosa, Peter Drekmeier, Judy Kleinberg and Joe Simitian all endorsed it, as did Councilman Larry Klein and Vice Mayor Liz Kniss.
Reducing the size, proponents maintained, would bring efficiency to council meetings and align Palo Alto's council size with the governing bodies in communities of similar size. Menlo Park and San Mateo, for example, have five council seats, while Mountain View and Sunnyvale have seven.
Smith told the Weekly he was "very pleased" with the early results, even as he acknowledged that there are many votes left to count.
"People understand that this will save time, effort and money," Smith said. "My hope is it will make staff more effective. I've never talked to someone who prefers to have nine bosses to seven bosses."
John Fredrich, a council candidate who opposed Measure D, said he was on the "side that promotes representation and democracy."
"I wonder if Roger Smith and proponents will move on to the Supreme Court, where there's nine people and they seem to be bloviating quite a bit," Fredrich said at a special election event hosted by the Midpeninsula Media Center at City Hall on Tuesday night.
The proposal had split both the community and the council, with four members opposing even placing the issue on the ballot. Marc Berman was the swing vote.
During the campaign for Measure D, opponents of the proposal argued that Palo Alto benefits from having extra seats because it allows a greater diversity of views and makes it easier for council members to recuse themselves if they have connections with Stanford University and the council is discussing an item that has to do with Stanford. Council members Greg Schmid, Karen Holman, Greg Scharff and Pat Burt had all opposed placing the measure on the ballot. Mayor Nancy Shepherd supported sending the item to the voters but said she has no strong opinion on what the size of the council should be.
The majority of the voters appeared to back the change. With 7,483 votes counted, 4,250 were in support of Measure D and 3,233 were against it.
Palo Alto last changed its council size in 1972, when the number of seats was reduced from 15 to nine.