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.