Election analysis: How they won — and lost

What Palo Alto's precincts map tells about Election Day 2014

With the dust still settling on Election Day and scores of provisional and hand-delivered absentee ballots still being tallied, the composition of Palo Alto's next City Council remained to some degree uncertain Thursday. The major question that remains hanging with Lydia Kou and Cory Wolbach running neck-in-neck for the fifth open seat, is whether slow-growth "residentialist" candidates will have a mere majority or downright dominance of the council.

But whoever wins (Wolbach was up by 172 votes Sunday evening), the Nov. 4 vote signaled a political shift in Palo Alto, with Karen Holman and Greg Schmid poised to give up their long-held status as members of the council minority. A precinct-by-precinct analysis of the election results (based on numbers that were available Wednesday), helps explain how this shift occurred and which neighborhoods contributed the most to the changing of the guard at City Hall.

How did the "residentialists" triumph?

The slow-growth revolt may have launched near Maybell Avenue last year, but as the geographical election results make clear, its ramifications continue to play out in just about every corner of the city. Holman, the only incumbent endorsed by the citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, emerged victorious in every neighborhood and finished either first or second in almost every precinct, from Downtown North to Adobe Meadow.

Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, who were both involved in last year's Measure D battle, also demonstrated on Election Day that their campaigns weren't rooted in NIMBY support (unless the "backyard" in the acronym refers to most of Palo Alto). Both did exceptionally well in Barron Park, where opposition to Measure D was based, but they didn't stop there.

First-time candidate DuBois, who lives in Midtown, won in his neighborhood — in one precinct with 210 votes, two more than Holman and significantly more than anyone else. Filseth, who lives in Downtown North, outperformed DuBois and most of the field in several downtown precincts (though Holman and fellow incumbent Greg Scharff at times did as well or better). In one precinct in the Duveneck area, along Embarcadero Road, Filseth received 213 votes, the same as Scharff and one behind Holman. He also performed well in his own precinct, trailing only Holman and finishing ahead of Scharff and DuBois. Though he didn't fare as well as DuBois in Midtown, he edged him out in some parts of north Palo Alto, including Crescent Park.

Holman, meanwhile, did equally well in the mansions of Old Palo Alto and the Eichlers of Palo Verde. She led the entire field in more precincts than any other candidate. Though she trailed Scharff or DuBois by a few dozen votes in one precinct or another, her base of support is disparate and extends even to the energized skeptics of Barron Park, where other incumbents were generally frowned upon.

The precinct data underscores, however, that the wave of criticism of the council is broader than Maybell. Significantly, all three "residentialists" who triumphed on Election Day — Holman, Filseth and DuBois — live outside of Barron Park.

Certainly, Tuesday evening was a triumph for Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, the city's newly energized critics of development. The results confirmed that the citizen movement, like the defeat last year of the Maybell Avenue project, isn't so much "not in my backyard" as "not in my city."

What went wrong for the mayor?

Nancy Shepherd did reasonably well downtown and in some of the Midtown precincts. Though she wasn't the top vote-getter in any of these precincts, she consistently competed for the fourth and fifth spots and in some cases edged out Kou. In one Crescent Park precinct, for instance (2065), she had 168 votes compared to Kou's 145. In another one, she finished with 161 votes, compared to Kou's 129.

Around Midtown, she picked up numbers on par with Wolbach's and Kou's, even though she consistently lagged behind winners Holman, Scharff, DuBois and Filseth.

But her fortunes soured in the southwest quadrant of the city, particularly in the Barron Park and and Greenmeadow neighborhoods that spearheaded opposition to Measure D last year. She was trounced in the precincts west of El Camino Real and just north of Arastradero Road, where anxieties about new developments have been particularly acute.

In one Barron Park precinct she picked up just 98 votes, almost three times fewer than Kou, who lives in the area and who led all candidates there with 277 votes (this was Kou's strongest precinct). Though the public's anger over Maybell extended to the entire council (with the possible exceptions of Holman and Greg Schmid), Shepherd fared particularly poorly. DuBois, Holman and Filseth all cleaned up in this Barron Park precinct (with 270, 266 and 248 votes, respectively), while Scharff received a more modest 183. Both he and Shepherd were characterized by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning as casting votes that were "resident-unfavorable" (each received a score of 30 percent on the group's scorecard, far below Holman's 85 percent).

A similar storyline held in other Barron Park area precincts, where Shepherd consistently trailed the frontrunners by a sizable margin. In one, Holman received more than twice as many votes as Shepherd. In another, the mayor was decisively defeated by Wolbach (who is in not affiliated with the Barron Park "residentialists"), 193 to 109. In yet another, Shepherd received just 54 votes, while each of the four PASZ-endorsed candidates received more than 150.

Whether this was Barron Park's way of signaling a disagreement with Shepherd's policies on development or its response to Shepherd saying at one memorable council meeting last year that she would not be "bullied" by critics, the neighborhood's overwhelming rejection of Shepherd turned what could have been a competitive bid for re-election into a Tuesday night rout.

What went right for Greg Scharff?

Scharff had a fairly pleasant Election Night, his place on the next council nearly assured when the early results came out showing him in second place (he later slipped to third, just behind DuBois, before returning to second). For his strong showing, he has the affluent neighborhoods of Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto to thank.

Crescent Park, along with the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhoods east of downtown, came out strong for Scharff, who led the entire field in one Crescent Park precinct and finished second only to Holman in another.

Though Holman also did well in these neighborhoods, at times leading the field, Scharff consistently outperformed DuBois, Filseth and Kou here. In his strongest precinct, just west of U.S. Highway 101, Scharff received 297 votes, three more than Holman and about 50 more than either DuBois or Filseth.

In one St. Francis precinct, Scharff edged out Holman for first place, 184 votes to 175, with the DuBois and Filseth taking third and fourth place, respectively.

Old Palo Alto was particularly kind to Scharff. He finished first in several precincts and, in one case, received 261 votes to Holman's 207 and DuBois' 201 (no one else was close).

The heavy support he received from Palo Altans with mansions and manicured lawns largely compensated for his less-than-stellar showings in the Eichler-dominated neighborhoods of south Palo Alto and Barron Park. These votes helped him stay on par with DuBois on Election Day.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


5 people like this
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2014 at 10:29 am

Do we need just another rehash of the Weekly's editorial and previous post-election analyses, e.g., Web Link ?

We will never know why Lydia Kou and Corey Wolbach are in such a tight race.

Is it because the Weekly endorsed Wolbach and not Kou? Strange to me, since Kou has the same message -- and the same backing -- as Filseth and DuBois. Not a slate, but certainly all saying the same things.

Is it because Kou is a woman? Because she's Asian? Because she's an Asian woman? I'd hate to think so.

The article says, "She draws her strongest support from south Palo Alto, including the area's growing Asian population."

How do we know the race of south PA voters who voted for any candidate? Isn't it a leap to make that assumption?

Hard for me to understand Wolbach's appeal, other than his tie-in to the establishment (yes, there is one), especially Senator Hill. Wolbach doesn't seem to stand for anything other than "civility." Surely a nice sentiment, but hardly a rousing platform.

Other folks have tried to analyze the outcome, e.g., at
Web Link

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
16 hours ago
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.

10 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2014 at 11:42 am

With Wolbach on the council, joined by Kate Downing on the Planning Commission, we can count on advocacy for lots of "smart growth"--i.e. construction of new condos and apartment complexes for young techies around University, California and East Meadow. Is this what we want for the future of Palo Alto??

Like this comment
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2014 at 11:52 am

Concerned-- if wolbach wins, why do you forsee such doom and gloom? The voters will have spoken one way or another. Do you not respect that? Start a recall of wolbach if you think he is so pro growth.

Pat-- I agreeably the rehash. One point the story clearly issued s how the weekly botched their endorsement against measure D. Looks like the voters overwhelmingly want a smaller council. Of interest is that the " pro growth " members-- kniss, Klein, Sheppard, supported the measure. While the " residentialist" members and candidates were against it. Seems like the voters agreed with the measure d proponents , while disagreeing with their council recommendations.
Does it mean that in general the public is fed up with the council? I am-- their foot dragging, worship of the Palo Alto process, un responsiveness to the public, continued self praise and back slapping etc.

4 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Reason is a registered user.

resident of Midtown definitely has the right approach - this elections is a treasure-trove of data.

Expanding on his example of paired-difference analysis, you can separate out some large effects from noise. Incumbency, Endorsements, and Residentialist 'slate' all were large effects. The endorsement from local politicians in the 'establishment' was not visible above the noise.

The most interesting thing is that backing out the effect of incumbents, the Residentialist 'slate' had its largest effect in the South, southeast and southwest, slowly declining in effect as you move North. While it was still a measurable effect in the North, it was much smaller there than the impact of Weekly Endorsement, or Incumbency.

A candidate who had any two effects: 'Incumbent', 'Newspaper Endorsement', or 'Residentialist Slate' was a winner. If you lacked all three, or only had one effect you had a tough night.

At the boundary, Cory has the Newspaper Endorsement, and Lydia has the Slate - and they are still neck-and-neck. These effects are about even within the noise limits measurable. Incumbency was a smaller effect, explaining why Nancy lost.

3 people like this
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2014 at 4:05 pm

pat is a registered user.

Re “smart” growth (certainly not what I want), see 2 of Doug Moran’s excellent blogs:

Stupid Growth:
Web Link

Shills and Charlatans of "Smart Growth":
Web Link

Re apartment complexes for young techies, the California Association of Realtors just did a study with interesting results: Despite stereotypes that young adults mostly seek urban living, millennials said they prefer single-family homes on large lots in the suburbs, with two out of three (67 percent) indicating they plan to purchase a single-family detached home, while only 12 percent said they plan to purchase a townhome or condominium.
Web Link

10 people like this
Posted by Cory Wolbach
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 9, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Cory Wolbach is a registered user.

On Wednesday November 5, the day following the election, I contacted each of the candidates who won to congratulate them, and did the same with Lydia, Nancy, and AC. With each, we either spoke by phone, or communicated by email or text message. Despite any differences, we all had only kind words for each other. Regardless of whether Lydia or I win the fifth spot, the residents of Palo Alto will be well served by three newcomers who have poured their hearts into the campaign because of a sincere willingness to sacrifice countless hours and endure public criticism for the benefit of the city we all love. We candidates recognize this in each other. I hope all of our supporters will recognize this as well.

As for the notion that my platform consists merely of calls for civility, that is inaccurate. I have indeed passionately advocated open communication, kindness, respect, and civility, and tried to lead by example. But that's only the style side of the coin. The flip side of my message, substance and policy, has often been oversimplified, misrepresented, or ignored. Throughout the campaign, I discussed a broad range of issues,* I advocated slowing or stopping office development (hardly the status-quo "establishment" position some have claimed), and tried to make clear that my ideas are always open to criticism and better suggestions. And I will remain open to criticism throughout my future, including my time on council if my current lead holds. I will not always be right, and critical (but civil) input from neighbors who disagree will be critical for me to improve my views and positions.

*Just some of my positions which might have been missed in the oversimplifications:
- Slow or stop office development.
- Preserve our parks and expand/enhance them.
- Partner with schools regarding Cubberley, transportation, and services for youth.
- Help our homeless (thank you Wayne Douglass for your singular focus on this critical moral issue).
- Completely revamp our shuttle system (not just the inadequate tweaks being considered) by coordinating needs, ideas, and resources of City, Stanford, PAUSD, and businesses.
- Enable more in-law or "granny" units (a position supported by all 12 candidates).
- Add more small units of housing, particularly rentals, near services (a position shared by Tom DuBois, among others).
- Work with regional neighbors and other levels of government regarding airport noise, flooding, water security, and inter-city transportation.
- Establish regular neighborhood meetings with council members, not just consultants and staff.
- Make more regular use of the "specific plan" or "concept area plan" process to ensure that neighborhood futures are driven by community input.

Win or lose, please email me at to share your thoughts or questions on these or any other relevant issue.

5 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

Three cheers for Cory!

If there was ever a sign that civility is greatly needed, it is a thread like this one.

More to the point, Cory has run a highly substantive campaign. I first met Cory when he was calling dozens of people to get more deeply informed on planning-related issues. He ended up disagreeing with several of my positions, but I could not fault his approach. He does his research, and states his positions.

And it shows: I would ask everyone on this thread to compare his campaign website with all other candidates. Web Link

The level of detail on what he believes in and hopes to accomplish is not matched by anyone (although I would say that Tom DuBois comes close. No one else is near the level of specificity of these two candidates).

4 people like this
Posted by trees
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 9, 2014 at 8:36 pm

trees is a registered user.

If you ask any person on the street if they want a house - who's going to say no? I'd love my own island with a mansion on top! However, there's a difference between desiring something and then the choices we all make given the constraints we face. I'd love a 10,000 square foot home off University Ave, but if I can't have that, I'll just rent an apartment there instead.

The fact is that even if a lot of Millenials still want a house one day, as a proportion much fewer of them either want or will buy a house than their parent's generation did. The boomers uniformly saw home ownership as a sign of success in life and they grew up in a time where everyone fled the city core and there was nothing prestigious or desirable about being a city dweller - they were often poor and minorities. That was the era of white flight.

Today cities are booming again and young people are flowing in more than ever before. They are now generally more desirable on the whole than the suburbs. How do we know this? Because in most places the cities are much more expensive than the suburbs- or at the least more expensive than the majority of their surrounding suburbs. Palo Alto is an exception to that, but only because it's the must urban city between San Francisco and San Jose and it's got a huge collection of jobs as well as retail/restaurants, etc. Palo Alto's urban-ness is exactly what attracts young people here instead of, say, Los Altos or Sunnyvale - hence why our prices are higher. And we also know that there's been no net outflow from the cities - Web Link That's probably because to the extent that any families with young kids seek backyards (which are a smaller and smaller portion of the population because fewer Millenials are having kids and waiting longer to have them), there are huge numbers of boomers actually moving back into the city, too. Web Link

In any case, Millenials aren't the only ones who want or need more apartments. As the elderly population grows, they won't be able to drive as much and the ability to walk to the store or the pharmacy will become more valuable and it'll be the difference between continuing to be independent or needing to rely on friends and relatives for all the little errands in life. It's also going to be the difference between being isolated on a cul de sac with the nearest community center or even friend too far to walk to (assuming you can still walk), and having a social life in old age.

This also has little to do with techies who actually make up a smaller portion of the Bay Area economy today than they did in 2001. Web Link. This concerns people in all professions and the ability to rent or buy a smaller unit at a smaller price is a boon to people across the industries - in fact more so to the people who don't have the high salaries often associated with tech - like teachers and firemen.

Construction in East Meadow actually doesn't make much sense because it's nowhere near a Caltrain, but it does make sense on University and California Avenue. As our population grows, people have kids, etc. we need more housing. It's just a fact of life and it's also the law - we're mandated to zone for housing in our city as way of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions that result from sprawl and people driving long distances to get to work. So where is it going to go? If you put it near public transit at least some of the people in those homes will use the public transit and not drive. If you put the housing far away from public transit we know for sure that 0% of those people will use public transit and they will contribute to the traffic and parking problems we already have. So yes, that's exactly what I want for this community if the goal is to minimize environmental impacts, as well as traffic and parking problems.

Change and development is coming and it has always come across this country over the entire history of this country. Cities either have more jobs and grow or they lose jobs and they whither. Stasis is actually really rare - Palo Alto did experience a long stretch of years with very limited growth, but that makes it an outlier when it comes to city development trends, not the norm. Palo Alto's stasis also came at the price of sprawl as our workers had to find housing further away and drove up housing prices in the areas that they moved into. It was maybe good for Palo Alto, depending on how you feel about growth and change, but it didn't come for free. It came by a price paid by people outside of our community and at the price of all the extra greenhouse gases put in the environment from people driving here instead of walking or biking to work.

You can either be in denial about it and spend your energy tilting at windmills or you can get serious in thinking about the ways that we can plan for it and the things that we can do to make sure it has limited impact on our quality of life. But if you fail to think about it proactively because you're too busy denying the possibility you will most certainly end up with a worse result.

3 people like this
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2014 at 11:13 am

pat is a registered user.

Corey, thank you for your post and details of your platform. I did look at your website prior to elections. Whether you pressed "civility" hardest or whether the press focused on it, that's what came across over the course of the campaigns.

I support Lydia Kou because of her service to the community over many years, whereas you have had very little involvement in Palo Alto issues.

As for Anna Eshoo's endorsement (mentioned in today's Post), without your past involvement in Palo Alto, there's really little for her go on other than that you're an upstanding individual (certainly a good thing).

Anna (whom I greatly respect) also endorsed Nancy Shepherd. I wrote to her mentioning some of the problems I saw in Shepherd's council actions. Anna wrote back, saying her endorsement was based on the candidate’s “willingness to work collegially on local, county, state and federal issues.”

From Anna's perspective, that's fine. But I think endorsements should be made on a candidate's record in his/her bailiwick. I want a candidate who’s going to do the most good in my own back yard.

Thus, I put little stock in politician endorsements. But I do respect you, Corey, and if you win in the final count, I think you will approach the job with good intentions.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

I happen to notice the quote from Wolbach about Eshoo in the Post today - that Eshoo would have a hard time recognizing him. I recalled seeing a couple from Palo Alto endorsing Ana on her election website with the same name, Wolbach, Web Link so there would at least be name recognition, if there is no relation.

2 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 10, 2014 at 5:08 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

In my opinion, Nancy Sheperd lost for two reasons. She was unabashedly pro-development, which turned to slow growth voters against her. When D was defeated, She seemed on the verge of hysteria.

Based on various statements by her over time, she seemed, and I'll try to be very diplomatic in order not to get censored [portion removed] way over her head [portion removed.]

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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Chick-fil-A quietly starts delivering out of DoorDash kitchen in Redwood City
By Elena Kadvany | 48 comments | 8,704 views

By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 2,545 views

Palo Altans and their Virtue Signaling
By Sherry Listgarten | 19 comments | 2,023 views

Differentiating Grief from Clinical Depression
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,924 views

Anonymous Sources: Facebook and YouTube suppressing important questions and discussion
By Douglas Moran | 23 comments | 1,209 views