Cory Wolbach edges out Lydia Kou for fifth seat on Palo Alto council | News | Palo Alto Online |


Cory Wolbach edges out Lydia Kou for fifth seat on Palo Alto council

Legislative aide joins Holman, Scharff, DuBois and Filseth on the City Council

Cory Wolbach, a legislative aide for state Sen. Jerry Hill, has edged out emergency-preparedness leader Lydia Kou for the fifth contested seat in Palo Alto's heated City Council race, the latest ballot count from the Santa Clara County Registrar's Office shows.

The count, which was released Sunday evening, includes the last of the 14,000 provisional ballots that the registrar has been tallying for more than a week. Though the results fluctuated slightly, with Kou picking up a few dozen votes in the final days of the count, Wolbach's has consistently maintained a lead of more than 100 votes in the past week and finished 135 votes ahead. With all the mail-in votes and provisional votes counted, he had 8,235 votes to Kou's 8,101.

A resident of Palo Verde, Wolbach ran on a platform that includes expanding the city's transportation services, relaxing laws for construction of granny units on large lots, creating more specific-area plans to determine land uses for different neighborhoods and making the civic discourse more civil. He is the youngest of the 12 council candidates and the only one affiliated with the group Palo Alto Forward, a nascent organization that advocates for better options for housing and transportation.

Kou is a member of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a group that was formed last year in opposition to a housing development on Maybell Avenue and supports slow-growth policies. Two other members of the group, Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, were elected to the council on Nov. 4. Incumbent Councilwoman Karen Holman, who was endorsed by the group, easily won a second term on Election Day, ensuring that the council's slow-growth wing, which also includes Greg Schmid and, at times, Pat Burt, will have a louder voice next year.

But Sunday's result means that the group's victory, while solid, is not overwhelming. Wolbach will join re-elected incumbent Greg Scharff as the two candidates not affiliated with the slow-growth faction. In an interview Sunday, Wolbach told the Weekly that he wasn't that surprised that the final result came down to the wire.

"We knew it was likely going to be a close election for someone. It turned out to be a close one for me," Wolbach said. "I'm definitely excited to be elected."

Wolbach said that given the wide range of people elected, there isn't a clear mandate from the voters about policies. There is, however, a clear mandate about "the need to better include the residents of Palo Alto in discussions about planning for our quality of life and future," he said.

"I have always rejected, and I think the electorate rejected, the idea that this election is about one slate versus another," Wolbach said. "Given that two people from one supposed slate and three from another were elected -- I think if anything, for me that's the most gratifying thing about the election.

"I think the electorate is not pulling for polarization. I think the voters are sick of this kind of dichotomy and they sent a mix to the council."

Kou, a neighborhood organizer who has been one of the leaders of the city's emergency-preparedness program, focused her campaign on recent development trends, which she argued are damaging the city's quality of life. She has argued that reports from city staff are "biased toward special interests" and that the council "has failed to provide the leadership to change this culture"

Kou could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday evening. It was not immediately clear whether she plans to request a recount.

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5 people like this
Posted by irregularies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Does a candidate have to request a recount, or can anyone? What is involved?

3 people like this
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm

As of Friday, there were still 2,000 ballots to be counted yet these new results moved by fewer than 100.

Web Link

18 people like this
Posted by Voter
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:22 pm

It is great that there appear to be a mix of perspectives joining the Council to reflect Palo Alto. Congratulations to Cory for running such a positive campaign and working hard to engage with all Palo Altans.

5 people like this
Posted by Saddened
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:24 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Mid-Pen Neighbor
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:28 pm

There is no trigger for an automatic recount. The only time the local election official will call for a recount is if they have reason to believe that there has been a miscounting of ballots in a specific precinct.

After the "canvass" of voters has been officially certified (Dec. 2nd), any voter has five days to petition the election official for a recount on behalf of a specific candidate. However, the petitioner must give a deposit to the city to cover the costs of a recount (likely several thousand dollars), and will only get that deposit back if the results comes out in favor of the candidate on whose behalf the petitioner was seeking the recount.

@Jo Ann
Those 2000 outstanding provisional ballots were for the entire county. The share of those 2000 that actually involved PA voters was always likely to be under 200 votes, just based on the percentage of Santa Clara's registered voters that are PA voters.

20 people like this
Posted by trees
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:29 pm

trees is a registered user.

Congratulations Cory! I hope you continue engaging people widely and reminding everyone that there are a lot of different people in Palo Alto, with different lifestyles, all of whom deserve to have their voices heard in a respectful manner.

20 people like this
Posted by Hooray for Cory!!
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Cory ran a great campaign-- honest, civil and full of substance. This was a well-deserved victory, and he will do wonderful things for our City Council. Three cheers for Cory!

20 people like this
Posted by Elated
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Kudos to Cory for working tirelessly to get out his message of civility, inclusiveness and constructiveness. Looking forward to seeing him join this balanced new council work hard to bring about positive changes to Palo Alto in the coming years!

5 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Here's the scorecard on how well influencers did:

Palo Alto Weekly - 5 Endorsements, 5 elected, 100% influence
Daily Post - 5 Endorsements, 4 Elected, 80%
Mercury News/Diana Diamond - 5 Endorsements, 4 Elected, 80%
Palo Alto Sensible Zoning - 4 Endorsements, 3 Elected, 75%
County Supervisor Joe Simitian - 6 Endorsements, 4 Elected, 66%
State Legislature Rich Gordon/Jerry Hill- 5 Endorsements, 3 Elected, 60%
Palo Alto for Good Government - 4 Endorsements, 2 Elected 50%
Prior Palo Alto Elected Officials - Mostly 50%

The Weekly has the biggest influence on the election.

2 people like this
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.


What Mid-Pen Neighbor said is so. For more info, here's a link to Chapter 9 of Division 15 of California Elections Code (15600 et seq), which establishes the process by which any voter can request the recount within five days of certification of the election results.

Web Link

12 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Nov 16, 2014 at 10:12 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Congratulations Cory and Tom and Eric and welcome to the council.

I hope the community can put the campaign fever and labels behind us so you all can work together with the community to make Palo Alto an even better place for our future.

9 people like this
Posted by irregularities
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Those of us who voted for Kou believe she is the better candidate, and she is certainly far more experienced working in local civic matters. Since this is a democracy, I hope people will refrain from bullying to try to get the election outcome they want rather than CIVILLY respecting the democratic process, which may include a recount or even a post-election audit (whether done by the state or not). Since the state declined to do a post-election audit, does anyone have information about how those are otherwise requested/triggered?

Recounts are actually quite common in local elections: "... several states reported that recounts are a normal occurrence at the local level. In responding to, eight states described how recounts at the local level happen on a fairly regular basis." Web Link

Given that the difference is well below the threshold that automatically triggers a recount in many states, given that the day-of counts of Kou's home precincts didn't change the difference (when she leads so handily in support, more voters voted that way, and the box in our own polling place was stuffed full before the day was half over), given irregularities right when the count flipped, and given the sudden resignation of IT chief Joseph Le the morning of the election (with questions about equipment he may have taken with him), I think fair-minded citizens would expect a recount or even an audit. This is after all the same election/group that sent out all those erroneous ballots in San Jose, as well as sending out all those double ballots.
Web Link

The Mercury News had a more damning article on Santa Clara County having almost the worst counting performance:
Web Link

"Sharon Sweeney, chair of the county's elections commission, said election night totals have come much quicker in the past using the same system." "Sweeney was also alarmed by a website glitch that happened around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday that prevented viewers from seeing updated results.

"I did not see it as a small deal," she said. "The question is, were there any ballots counted that were not sent into the website? I think there needs to be an audit of the whole system to be able to say every vote was counted. It's very possible that they were, but my gut feeling is it's much more serious.""

That's a serious statement coming from the county elections commissioner, especially considering other anecdotal irregularities.

Web Link
"Post-election audits differ from recounts. Post-election audits routinely check voting system performance in contests, regardless of how close margins of victory appear to be. Recounts repeat ballot counting in special circumstances, such as when preliminary results show a close margin of victory. Post-election audits that detect errors can lead to a full recount."

It's hard to know what circumstances might apply to know whether a recount might change the results in any local election, but Politifact confirms a candidate claim that "three of the four statewide races this century within a 300-vote margin have been overturned in a recount." Again, no relationship to this race, just pointing out that it's not unusual to recount nor is it unlikely to change the result for such a close election, and especially with SO many irregularities.
Web Link

Jocelyn Dong - Thank you for the information. Can you please explain more the difference between audit and recount, and what rights and recourse citizens and candidates may have under such unusual circumstances?

9 people like this
Posted by Praying Cory Cares
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2014 at 12:34 am

I wonder what Saddened's post said that caused the entire post to be removed. Not a portion of the post, but the entire post.

I also wonder how differently this close race for the #5 seat would have turned out if some candidates had chosen to throw their influence and campaigning behind one of these two candidates instead of running themselves. I'm betting Lydia would have been celebrating her election right alongside Karen, Eric, and Tom over a week ago.

No offense to Cory, I'm sure he is a very smart and well meaning individual, but there is only so much you can learn by age 27 and still living with your mom. I don't think Cory has the experience to be on the City Council of Palo Alto.

I'm glad the residentialist vote was not completely diluted by the many candidates who chose to run, but I sure wish they had collaborated with the stronger candidates to ensure Palo Alto got the City Council they want and need.

Cory: Please recognize the loud voices that spoke in this campaign, including those who voted for candidates who did not win. Please hear the cries and screams from longtime residents who want Palo Alto to remain Palo Alto. Those who support urbanization and increased density should not choose Palo Alto as a place to live - there are MANY other cities that will welcome them!

Urbanization and densification of Palo Alto will just turn us into another San Jose - ruining what we are and only benefitting our neighbor cities with smarter low- or no-growth strategies.

8 people like this
Posted by Hypocrisy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 17, 2014 at 1:58 am

The Wolbach camp's hypocrisy is leaving me speechless. “Making the civic discourse more civil” was his mantra. A candidate, who’s qualification as per PA Weekly was that he was a product of the Palo Alto school system, and an Assistant to the Democratic State Senator Hill. And after he begged her 3 times, Anna Eshoo endorsed him, and that gave him the 100 extra votes he needed.

[Portion removed.] And contrary to what Anna Eshoo says, Lydia Kou had the most small contribution, the most real supporters, and the largest amount of money from the small contributions, and not from $50,000 own loans, or dark money from non-transparent committees.

Palo Alto City politics have become so contentious because so many residents have come to see the Council as not to be trusted and as not treating them with respect. The belittling of citizens who make proposals in the open session of the City Council are belittled. For example, the plea to the council to take up recent community proposals to follow, in the spirit of better community policing, other City’s examples of renovating and extending the existing fire stations to joint fire-police stations Web Link

The “voters are not going to bully me” comment from Mayor Nancy Sheperd is just the tip of the iceberg. Or the lament by Lizz Kniss, after stacking committees with young pliable members directly after the election, that the voters had stacked the City Council with residentialists. And now she would not become mayor! Imagine, those voters.

Recent immigrants from mainland China are stunned about what they perceive as an obvious corruption at City Hall. They should recognize it! They also perceive the anti-Kou rumors as racist. The person who more than anybody else is responsible that we have a bottom up, citizen managed safety plan, was accused of not wanting safe bike paths for students!

1 person likes this
Posted by Hypocrisy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 17, 2014 at 2:16 am

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 17, 2014 at 6:44 am

Kou was also listed dead-last among 12 candidates on the ballot. Yes, just a coincidence.

7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2014 at 7:49 am

Palo Alto really needs district elections.

8 people like this
Posted by revote
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2014 at 7:53 am

Kou understands that we need to change the culture in City Hall. Her
comments in the forum I saw were the most perceptive of all the candidates.
At a minimum we need a recount considering the margin and the circumstances surrounding this vote count.The best solution would be a runoff between Kou and Wolbach for the 5th Council seat. This would clear the air for the
new Council to move forward.

21 people like this
Posted by Cory Wolbach
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 17, 2014 at 8:31 am

Cory Wolbach is a registered user.

@ Praying...
& @ Hypocricy:

Please contact me at to schedule a time to meet for coffee. I would like to give you an opportunity to get to know me directly, and to discuss how we can work together.

For the record, I also found that "Reprehensible Ad" to be offensive.

A minor correction: my age is 33. I hope ageism, sexism, and racism were not factors in this election for any voter, relating to any candidate. Regarding my family, I value and love them, and am happy to have returned home recently (not "still") to help my family care for my aging father.

Lydia is a wonderful member of our community. She is compassionate, serious, smart, and civil. Many people I know voted for both of us, and I look forward to working with her on civic affairs.

This campaign has never been about one person versus another. It has always been about 12 people offering their service to preserve and enhance the community we all love. I am honored by the opportunity, and thank every other candidate for their hard work and willingness to serve.

11 people like this
Posted by Good to see this end well!
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2014 at 8:51 am

Well this was the closest election I can remember (I've been through a bunch of them in my 30+ years in Palo Alto)

It was good to see Wolbach prevail. His $/vote were less than 1/2 of Kou's, and less than Filseth, Shepherd, Johnston and Scharff (who was by far the highest, followed by Kou). DuBois and Holman were both lower than Wolbach. Good to see that money alone can't buy an election in Palo Alto!

This hopefully puts the nail in the coffin that any particular group has won a "mandate" from the people of Palo Alto. There are clearly large numbers of Palo Altans that feel strongly for the "Residentialist" position, and almost equally large numbers of Palo Altans that feel strongly for the "non-Residentialist" position. More likely, most people do not divide themselves into one camp or another.

Wolbach kept repeating this mantra (that Palo Altans are not as divided as "the slate" would have you believe), and it is good to see validation. If a young fellow with limited name recognition and money can win the election, it just goes to show that we are really willing to listen to a message of constructive civil service.

Congratulations to all of the electees! Now we can get to work!

3 people like this
Posted by What they ran on
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2014 at 10:02 am

Good to see,

In one of the forums, Wolbach answered the questions that matter to Residents like everyone did, appealing to residents even though he might be what you call a non-residentialist.

One answer I recall was how he did not agree with breaching the height limits for Palo Alto.

What they ran on though I know is what they will do, exhibit Greg Scharff.

3 people like this
Posted by What they ran on
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2014 at 10:04 am

What they ran on is NOT what they will necessarily do.

I hope someone is already collecting the quotes of what they said, so we can later judge them by what they do.

4 people like this
Posted by Thanks Weekly!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 17, 2014 at 10:38 am

Congratulations to Cory.

I think the Weekly endorsement was the variable to which we can attribute this outcome. I don't believe that the Weekly gave sufficient weight to diversity in making its endorsements in the City Council race and this factor should be considered. I actually think that Kou was far more qualified on the merits as well based on her long-time community service in Barron Park and her work with e-prep. [Portion removed.]

We now have a council with 2 women (Holman and Kniss), 5 men, and everyone is white.

How that made sense to you I will never know. Perhaps if it was Lydia versus a truly superior candidate in terms of experience and credentials then we could have a different conversation. But you endorsed a white young man [portion removed] instead of an Asian woman who has years of experience in community volunteering, and who would have added a lot of diversity (basically 30% of the gender diversity and 100% of the racial diversity) to the Council.

Even if you somehow concluded that this was basically a tie, as did the voters, you should have broken the tie using diversity as a criterion.

Next time, please look at a more global version of qualifications and consider whether unconscious bias may have affected the process. Think harder about the value of diversity particularly given the changing demographic characteristics of the community. As yourself: does an all-white City Council really make sense in a city that is rapidly adding Asian and Asian-American diversity? Obviously, it does not.

3 people like this
Posted by Bleep
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2014 at 10:48 am

I thank the Weekly for its censorship in these forums which prevented informed debate on the candidates and their positions.

5 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I still have no idea what Wollbach views are on anything. His core mantra was "civility", in a city that already had too much civility on its city council, at the expense of diversity of opinions and meaningful debate. I still have no idea what qualifies him to serve on the city council, [portion removed,] lacking any meaningful real life experience [portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2014 at 11:08 am

Hello Palo Alto citizens

You have missed out by 100+ votes for not having an outstanding person 'Lydia'.

You will miss her.

I just sent a note for Lydia to ask for a recount. With a lot of staff problems at the Santa Clara county Registrar of Voters; I bet the numbers will be different.

Any how, I like Cory. He is a good man. Without Lydia; I hope the residentialist mandate will still be wishy washy?

Clean mandates are important.

However, in politics nothing is forever.

My heart goes out to Lydia if she does not go for recount. I do not know if that is even possible.

Congratuations Cory!

You got one for Jerry Hill!


5 people like this
Posted by Steve Downing
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 17, 2014 at 11:14 am

Congratulations to both Cory and Lydia on running energetic campaigns.

Residents are the big winners here. Our incoming council members have a wide diversity of perspectives and residents' interests are well-represented.

Cory, thank you for making positivity and problem-solving a focus in your campaign.

4 people like this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2014 at 11:14 am

What does this tell us about Cory winning

CONNECTIONS and MONEY is what it takes to win.

Palo Alto is no different than other parts of the country.


Hope they have it in their DNA that are current council members and future council members.


5 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2014 at 11:23 am

Very unfortunate - Kou had an old Palo Alto mindset. No big buildings etc.
Look at the horrendous building they are thinking of building downtown...ridiculous!

4 people like this
Posted by Bleep
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2014 at 11:36 am

Even Cory said some of his endorsers wouldn't recognize him but that sure didn't stop him from trumpeting their names. I guess that's the new "civility" but I'd prefer substance.

I never got an answer to my repeated question on his stance on ABAG mandates.

8 people like this
Posted by Enid Pearson
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

We have strong residential votes on the new council. Kou is now well known and we know what we have
lost. In two years Lydia Kou can run again and will win. I know Lydia will stay involved which will keep her
as a front runner in 2016. thank you Lydia.

11 people like this
Posted by eric rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Congratulations to Cory (and the other council electees).

Cory ran a strong campaign-- both his substance and his commitment to integrity and civility were deep. I think that he will be a valuable member of a council that needs his pragmatism, energy and intelligence. Palo Alto is lucky to have a strong group of fellow citizens who are willing to shoulder this load.

For those commenters critiquing Cory, he has offered on numerous occasions to have a direct dialogue with you: I suggest that you take him up on it. He is sincere in his desire to listen and learn, and is one of the hardest working individuals I have met.

3 people like this
Posted by gale johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Congratulations, Cory, for a win and taking the high ground in doing it. I know there are some who would like you to get down in the gutter and wallow around with them, but I know you won't. And yes, if those candidates who really didn't campaign seriously or never had a chance of being close would have spoken up and dropped out early, I think Lydia would have won. But they didn't and she didn't. It's over. I'll let you catch your breath, but then I'll take you up on your offer to meet and discuss the future of PA sometime soon. It sounds like you'll have to hit the ground running and be ready to cut your teeth on the new proposed project for Shady Lane. I have lots of questions on that one.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bleep
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Request a RECOUNT!

We need a clear MANDATE!

No Tall Buildings!
No career politicians!


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Like Bleep, I would civilly request that Cory and/or his supporters spell out what his position is on ABAG mandates.

2 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 17, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Rainer is a registered user.

@Steve Downing
“”Cory, thank you for making positivity and problem-solving a focus in your campaign.”

Really Steve? There was no executable focus in anything he said, I thought it was mostly mother hood and apple pie issues anybody would agree on: clean air, more affordable housing, but none of the difficult problems like how to stop the developers taking over the city even more.

@gale Johnson
“Congratulations, Cory, for a win and taking the high ground in doing it. I know there are some who would like you to get down in the gutter”.

And this ad, Gale, which Wolbach did not disavow before the election, is not the gutter? Judge for yourself:
Web Link , -> click Print Edition, -> click Current Edition, double click download pdf (takes 20 seconds) , in Acrobat forward to page 19.

1 person likes this
Posted by RV a PA resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 17, 2014 at 10:32 pm

RV a PA resident is a registered user.

I agree with irregularities.
The gap is very small and there are too many causes of concern in the counting process.
Lydia, please request a recount!

5 people like this
Posted by Wim
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Wim is a registered user.

Congratulations to Karen, Greg, Tom, Eric, and Cory. You are duly elected. I wish you wisdom in your deliberations and decisions. Palo Alto needs a council that has a holistic view of the city and its future. I also hope that you will rise above the less thoughtful posts listed here.


Like this comment
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 18, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.


I've received more information from the Registrar of Voters on recounts and audits. There is actually an automatic audit of 1 percent of the precincts that is conducted as part of every election. The audit began today (Nov. 18) and typically takes a week to complete.

The results of the audit must be included in the Registrar's final certification of election results, which is scheduled for Dec. 2.

Note that this audit is distinct from the Registrar's earlier call on the Secretary of State for an independent review of procedures, which the Secretary declined to do.
See Web Link

Re: recounts. Again, any voter can request a recount of votes cast for a candidate but must put down a deposit for the cost. See Web Link

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