Editorial: Election results signify an inflection point in local politics


In a shifting of the power dynamic in our community not seen for more than 40 years, Palo Alto's traditional political movers and shakers suffered a humiliating defeat this week as unhappy voters expressed their desire for change, more transparency, broader representation, less arrogance and greater accountability.

The realization that voters would opt for a new direction set in among political insiders during the final days of the campaign, mostly as a result of feedback candidates were getting as they talked to voters door-to-door.

Incumbent Karen Holman, whose strong concern about growth and development has put her on the losing side of many council votes and who is often marginalized by her colleagues, was the big winner.

She was not only the top vote-getter among the 12 candidates, but substantially out-polled her colleagues Greg Scharff (currently in third place) and Mayor Nancy Shepherd (seventh).

With the election of neighborhood activists Tom DuBois (currently second) and Eric Filseth (fourth), those who favor tougher restrictions on development will make up a majority of the new council come January.

The fifth seat is currently too close to call and may take days to settle. Lydia Kou, a Barron Park resident and Realtor who has been active in emergency-preparedness efforts and opposed the Maybell development proposal last year, is about 30 votes ahead of Cory Wolbach, a Palo Alto native who is an aide to state Sen. Jerry Hill and whose campaign focused on bridging political divides in the community and moving forward with greater civility in addressing issues.

The election results were an embarrassing blow to two officials who weren't on the ballot: Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilman Larry Klein.

Each of them worked hard to recruit and campaign for candidates they felt would most closely replicate the political perspectives of the current council.

Klein, who is termed-out and will leave the council, even spearheaded an independent campaign committee of previous council members and other well-known city leaders to support a slate of four "independent" candidates: Scharff, Shepherd, Wolbach and attorney A.C. Johnston (who finished eighth).

Ads placed by the group, calling itself Palo Altans for Good Government, criticized the use of political labels such as "establishment" and then attacked the "slate" of candidates (DuBois, Filseth and Kou) as advocating no-growth and asserted that, if they were elected, it would mean no new public safety building, fewer new housing opportunities and a "serious hit to our economic vitality."

Kniss similarly attempted to energize her political boosters to support these same four candidates, in part because her ambition to be elected mayor in January hung in the balance. Now, in a remarkable turnaround, it is likely that Karen Holman will be elected mayor and lead the newly constituted council majority.

Perhaps the most interesting and surprising result from the election is the decisive passage of a measure reducing the size of the City Council from nine to seven beginning in 2018.

The proposal hadn't generated much interest nor was there any opposition campaign, but civic activist and former Silicon Valley Bank founder Roger Smith single-handedly (and at his own expense) waged an effort first to get it on the ballot and then to convince voters the reduction would save the city money and improve the efficiency of city government decision-making.

The measure's passage is especially surprising given the concerns raised during the council campaign that Palo Alto politics is overly dominated by a relatively small and insular group of insiders. Some viewed the council-size-reduction measure as designed to preserve this structure.

But voters seemed to be more motivated by their unhappiness with the inefficiencies of having a nine-member council, long-winded discussions and meetings that go late into the night. The reduction will directly affect the five candidates elected this week because when they reach the end of their terms in 2018, only three seats will be available.

Palo Alto elections rarely center around meaningful differences on issues, instead tending to focus on the touting of resumes and endorsement lists. This year, voters seem to be emphatically saying they want more than well-meaning, likable candidates. They want people who are running to fix problems, broaden community engagement and transparency, and preserve the qualities that make Palo Alto unique.

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7 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2014 at 2:27 pm

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 7, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Citizen, I second that. I know that three of the mail in ballots will be counted for Kou. Fingers crossed for her election.

4 people like this
Posted by Barron Park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2014 at 2:59 pm

"....moving forward with greater civility in addressing issues."

What an embarrassing campaign platform.

Why not just come out and say that you don't want to rock the boat, and you support the current council behavior and attitudes toward the public.

5 people like this
Posted by Just Listenimng
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm

I agree with Citizen and Cur in all areas! The change can't happen fast enough.

2 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2014 at 3:25 pm

If people hate the council so much, Ho do you explain Scharf doing so well. He was spoke of in the same manner as Sheppard, Klein and price. And just so people understand none of darlings that the posters are cooing about are " no growth"

4 people like this
Posted by Befuddled
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2014 at 3:33 pm

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Post Removed
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 7, 2014 at 3:47 pm

They may have "suffered a humiliating defeat," but that didn't stop them from rushing to name their buddies who oppose the slow-growth policies that the voters "humiliatingly" defeated as commissioners.

As to why Greg Scharff got re-elected, ask those endorsing him while stifling any discussion of the issues on these boards.

1 person likes this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2014 at 3:50 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2014 at 3:51 pm

They haven't appointed anyone yet. This will happen on Monday:
Web Link

I will agree with you that open discussion, criticism of certain candidates and any comments dealing with voter preference were summarily removed by the editors, probably in a very obvious attempt to stifle discussion during the run up to the election. Truly reprehensible behavior.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2014 at 4:39 pm

This election is quite a treasure of data to compare what effect money, establishment endorsements, and newspaper endorsements can have on voters.

Compare for example Tom DuBois & Eric Filseth - the only significant difference I can discern is that Tom got Simitian's endorsement - and the difference in vote count is about 600 votes.

Compare as another example Kou, DuBois & Eric Filseth - Kou had about 30% more money, but did not have the Weakly's newspaper endorsement - net difference 800 - 1400 votes.

Compare Scharf & Shepard - both incumbents, with similar endorsements, similar voting records. Scharf had $80,000 + the Weakly, Post & Daily News newspaper endorsement; Shepard had $30,000 & no newspaper endorsements - net difference 2,300 votes.

Compare Wolbach & Shepard - novice vs incumbent, similar endorsements, similar money. Wolbach has the Weakly's endorsement - net difference is 900 votes.

Compare Wolbach & AC Johnston - novice vs novice, similar endorsements, similar money. Wolbach has the Weakly's endorsement - net difference is 1800 votes.

Crunching the numbers, the Weakly's endorsement is worth about $8,000 - $10,000 in campaign contributions.

Establishment endorsements about $3,000 - $5,000 in campaign contributions.

Scharff with his big campaign contribution of over $80,000 was just overwhelming; and then add in his incumbency advantage, and 3 newspaper endorsements, and its like he had $100,000 campaign budget vs the $30,000 - $40,000 for the other candidates.

That's why Scharff did so well.

9 people like this
Posted by Ruth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Finally, Liz Kniss and Larry Klein might temper their arrogance.
Liz Kniss has manipulated so much, including the Council election year, for her own benefit.

5 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Resident-- maybe scharff did so well because the voters agreed with him and thought he was a good councilmembers. Certainly Palo Alto residents are well educated, intelligent and did their homework this election. Maybe Scharf is not as bad as people on this forum claim.

Ruth-- agree with you 100% about kniss. [Portion removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Biggest of them All
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 7, 2014 at 6:03 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by SWE
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm

SWE is a registered user.

Scharff did so well because he claimed he was turning over a new leaf, and flogged endorsements by neighborhood leaders like Bob Moss and Art Lieberman. Bob apparently was never asked for permission to use his likeness for the advertising,.

2 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 8, 2014 at 12:11 am

Rainer is a registered user.

If we now give our advertisement $ to anybody but the anti-immigrant, anti-woman PA Weekly, we will really have reached an inflection point. [Portion removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Cory Wolbach
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 8, 2014 at 12:43 am

Cory Wolbach is a registered user.

[Now that the election is over, I will speak more about this without fear of being accused of trying to turn tragedy into a political advantage.]
In Palo Alto, we need to change our culture, and not just at City Hall. There are multiple reasons I have emphasized how we treat each other. It matters not just because it is inherently right and leads to better policies. Community leaders - in and out of office - have a moral obligation to treat each other well, model good behavior, and foster an inclusive, welcoming environment that accepts imperfection. From a Gunn grad to a current student, thank you, Martha. You are a leader.

Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2014 at 2:00 am

Sea REDDY is a registered user.

Dear citizens

Palo Alto is a heaven on earth. 14950 citizens have spoken. They want 'residentialist' candidates to be on the council.

So, the current council members that are not up for reelection, now; need to respect the message of the citizens.

As far as I am, I was a candidate; did not spend much money, only $600 total. I pleaded my case; I was a resdientialist +; no growth-slow growth and no tall buildings; etc., I got 896 votes;

So I have 896 + friends. THANKS WITH GRATITUDE.

I will plead my case again DEMAND INTEGRITY AND INNOVATION.


3 people like this
Posted by staygreen
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2014 at 9:34 am

staygreen is a registered user.

Good for you sea! We appreciate your effort and hope you will stay involved as a citizen.

As for people who don't seem to understand the need to regulate growth and stop the rampant and arrogant abuse by developers, go take a look at Alma Plaza and watch the traffic on San Antonio and 101 in the evening. The backup goes way onto 101S and onto the interchange on 101N. I've used that intersection for the last 15 years and never seen this.

The traffic studied being done are either incompetent or plain bogus. At the least, they're not taking into account the growth in surrounding cities..

Good job in taking back the city from special interests Palo Altans!!

3 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2014 at 9:54 am

Online Name is a registered user.

And Embarcadero and Charleston, in fact any road accessible from 101.

Keep up the pressure on our Transportation Czar Mr. Rodriquez who's deaf to issues like traffic and gridlock and who thinks bike safety is our only issue.

6 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

I'm not sure I buy this narrative.

Certainly, there has been a "pull up the ladders" movement that has been building and organizing since the Measure D campaign. The folks behind that movement have done a very effective job organizing, and that has carried into this election. Several "residentialists" (Holman, DuBois, Filseth) did very well. Lydia Kou ran an excellent campaign, and may or may not get elected. Other "residentialists" (Reddy, Weiss, Friedrich) did less well.

The most likely outcome as of this writing is that two "pragmatists" (Wolbach and Scharff) will get elected, vs. three "residentialists" (Holman, DuBois, Filseth). This is certainly a change from previous elections, but hardly the inflection point or "stinging defeat" that was presented.

I think that one of the main things to come out of this series of contests up and down the peninsula is that people who are looking for a more inclusive city that can accommodate a portion of the growth of the region are beginning to organize too. We saw that in Mountain View (through "Balanced Mountain View") and in Menlo Park (through the "No on M" campaigners). Palo Alto will also move forward with a more strongly organized group of residents who also happen to hope that their city moves towards a rational housing and transportation policy.

3 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

> city moves towards a rational housing and transportation policy

Eric, please explain what that statement means to you. For example, does it mean that you support even more subsidized housing? If so, will you agree to support that housing in Downtown North?

Like this comment
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 9, 2014 at 5:53 am

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

There are censored remarks on this exchange.

And there is no "button" to say one agrees with a particular comment.

What I am curious about: Who are the 60% of the voters who didn't vote and why didn't they vote?

And for those of you who don't know, but for Larry Klein and the actions of informed voters in Palo Alto, we would not have Foothills Park and Arastradero Reserve, we would look like Los Angeles on steroids.

Like this comment
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 9, 2014 at 6:04 am

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

I see: you have to be registered to be able to press the "like" buttons which only appeared after registering. This is what makes media social?

1 person likes this
Posted by Town Square Moderator
online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Nov 9, 2014 at 9:00 am

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

@Alice Schaffer Smith,

You don't need to be a registered user or logged in to click on "like this comment," however once you like a comment our system prevents you from liking it again to keep from making multiple votes. That's why the small "+" box disappears.

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm

pat is a registered user.

@Alice Schaffer Smith,
What did Larry Klein have to do with Foothills Park and Arastradero Preserve?

2 people like this
Posted by wmartin46
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 9, 2014 at 1:30 pm

wmartin46 is a registered user.

The Arastradero Preserve came about because of a "takings" on the part of the 1971-ish City Council. The Arastradero Company, which had purchased the property from its previous owners with the intention of building homes there, was stymied by various zonings of the Council that effectively made it impossible for them to build where they wanted to.

The Arastradero Land Company (basically two guys) sued the City, subsequently. The law suit was finally resolved around 1976, when the court gave each party a partial victory. The court awarded the Arastradero company about $15M in compensation, but did not overturn the ordinance(s) that make their project impossible.

The City eventually settled for about $7.5M, which included a transfer of the Arastradero property to the City. The Arastradero people had actually offered the property to the City around 1973-ish, for about $3.5M, in order to settle the suit. The City arrogantly refused their offer--assuming that they would prevail in the end--which they did not, given the size of the settlement (the City budget was about $26M in those days).

Don't remember seeing Larry Klein's name in any of the newspaper, and City records, of the time. Perhaps Ms. Shaffer can help us out here, and fill us in on Klien's participation in this matter.

1 person likes this
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 9, 2014 at 9:16 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

The land that is now Foothills Park was acquired by the City from Russell V. Lee, the founder of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, around 1960 ....

My error: mixed my districts up: Larry Klein was one of the nine co-founders of the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District which started in 1970 and the key election to create the District was in 1972. Since then MidPen has acquired more than 60,000 acres of land in the hills to be preserved as open space.

I can't comment on litigation. I don't know of any litigation relating to Foothills Park.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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