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.