Lydia Kou and Cory Wolbach, candidates for Palo Alto City Council, have been locked in a razor-thin contest for the fifth and final seat since the first election results were released Tuesday night.
Absentee returns and early in-person voting showed Wolbach enjoying a lead of fewer than 100 votes heading into late Tuesday evening. By Wednesday morning, Kou was up by 34 votes, though provisional and hand-delivered mail-in ballots were yet still to be counted. By evening, her lead was down to 33 votes. Ballots will continue to be counted for a week or more, according to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters.
The differences between the two candidates are accentuated by the city's map of precincts. Kou's council bid received a huge swell of support from south Palo Alto, where she trounced Wolbach and most of the other 10 candidates in several Barron Park precincts, her home turf. In one, she received 277 votes while Wolbach received 170. In another, Kou received 235 votes to Wolbach's 193.
South Palo Alto saw a boom of residential construction in the years before the Great Recession and now enjoys a greater share of the city's Asian population than the north and a greater number of new residents. In one such precinct, an area west of Middlefield Road and north of Charleston Road, Kou -- a residentialist who has opposed fast-paced and oversized development -- had 173 votes to Wolbach's 116.
Wolbach, by contrast, did fairly well in just about every part of the city and did not have one particular area that came out strongly in his favor over all other candidates. In most precincts, he did better than Kou and finished in the top five.
He did well downtown and in Crescent Park, winning 217 votes in a precinct on the eastern end of University Avenue compared to Kou's 129. He also had significant leads over Kou in Old Palo Alto and in the Duveneck area, where one precinct gave Wolbach 205 votes to Kou's 145.
In Midtown, it was a mixed bag. Kou received 173 votes in a precinct west of Middlefield, while Wolbach received 116. In another Midtown precinct, Wolbach held a slim edge, 113 votes to Kou's 94. In his neighborhood near Loma Verde Avenue, Wolbach's lead over Kou was more substantial: 151 votes to 109 in one precinct; 145 to 109 in another. Overall, Wolbach edged out Kou in more precincts than she did him, but when Kou won, she won big.
The precinct map is some ways epitomizes the two candidates. Kou's campaign tended to stoke passions, particularly among neighborhoods most critical of the current council. Wolbach's tended to reach far and wide, with broad appeal but less sizzle.
Kou, a longtime neighborhood activist, worked her way into politics from the grassroots level and took part in last year's "No on Measure D" campaign. She lives in Barron Park, where passions about high-density developments run particularly deep, and ran a campaign that focused on slowing down growth and restoring the people's trust in their government.
While she, like the other residentialists during the campaign, occasionally sounded angry and frustrated in talking about the council's recent land-use decisions, Wolbach has been at his most passionate, strangely enough, when talking about civility. Though he lives south of Oregon Expressway, he received broad support from Palo Alto's political scions and elected leaders, including Anna Eshoo, Rich Gordon and Joe Simitian.
While Kou is affiliated with Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, which formed in opposition a housing development on Maybell Avenue, Wolbach is part of Palo Alto Forward, a new group that advocates for more housing and transportation options. If there is such a thing as "the establishment" in Palo Alto, Wolbach is its last hope to avoid a sweep from the PASZ candidates.
Visit the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters' Office website for more information.