Signaling a philosophical and political shift in City Hall, Palo Alto's new City Council on Monday night elected Karen Holman and Greg Schmid as its mayor and vice mayor for 2015.
With a crowd of more than 200 people filling up every bench, folding chair and standing-room spot in the newly refurbished Council Chambers, the council swore in five members, bid farewell to three and handed over the leadership positions to two people long accustomed to casting minority votes.
Both Holman and Schmid have distinguished themselves in recent years by their skeptical and at times adversarial positions toward new developments and by slow-growth philosophies that made them popular with the city's "residentialists."
By unanimously electing Holman as mayor, the council broke with a long-held tradition of having the prior year's vice mayor assume the mayor's chair. In this case, it was outgoing Vice Mayor Liz Kniss who nominated Holman, who was sworn in earlier in the meeting to her second council term after emerging as the leading vote getter in the November 2014 election.
Kniss observed that Holman would be only the 13th female mayor in the city's history and said she believes Holman can be "a very effective next woman mayor." Before nominating Holman, Kniss noted that the city has just gone through "a really difficult election," a time when "our community became divided" and when "neighbors actually stopped chatting with each other and lots of conversations around the community became uncomfortable and awkward."
The city, she said, now has the "right person" to bring the community together. Councilman Pat Burt, who has often voted along with Holman on land-use issues and who served with her on the Planning and Transportation Commission, quickly agreed and added his voice to the nomination.
"She is a voice that's trusted and respected by those who agree with her and those who do not," said Burt, who had nominated Holman for vice mayor in both 2013 and 2014 but could not muster majority support in either year.
In accepting the nomination, Holman said she plans to focus the next year on reforming the city's architectural-review process, improving staff reports to make information "better and easier to understand," increase retail opportunities and strengthening neighborhoods.
"As your new mayor, I will provide inclusive leadership to address these and other issues," Holman said.
Schmid's election was far more suspenseful, with the retired economist edging out Burt by a single vote for the second leadership position. Greg Scharff nominated Schmid for the vice mayor spot, with Kniss, Marc Berman, Cory Wolbach and Schmid himself joining in with votes of support. Holman, Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Burt cast their paper ballots in favor of Burt.
Both Burt and Schmid were elected to the council in 2007 and were re-elected to second terms in 2012. But while Burt had served as mayor in 2010, Schmid has not held a leadership position until now. Both Schmid and Burt have been associated with the "residentialist" camp and Burt said in a brief statement before the vote that he believes Schmid would "serve well as vice mayor."
While Filseth nominated Burt, his choice fell one vote short. With each candidate receiving four votes, the final paper ballot, cast by Wolbach, had Schmid's name on it.
In nominating Schmid, Scharff lauded his "encyclopedic knowledge," commitment to transparency and work ethic. He also praised Schmid's role as past chair of the council's Finance Committee and Regional Housing Mandate Committee.
"Greg is one of the most hardworking council members we have," Scharff said. "He just knows every detail on everything in the packet."
In brief remarks before the vote, Schmid focused on the role of the City Council and said there are two "great and unique things" about local government.
"It's easy for the public, for individuals, to participate," Schmid said. "And two, it may take a long time, but in contrast to other levels of government like the state and federal, it always produces a decision."
The meeting began with a swearing-in ceremony for the five members who won council terms last November: incumbents Scharff and Holman and newcomers DuBois, Filseth and Wolbach.
The meeting was also the swan song for three outgoing members, each of whom received a standing ovation and a resolution of appreciation in his or her honor. Councilman Larry Klein concluded on Monday a council career that spanned nearly two decades and three terms as mayor. Klein, who served on the council in the 1980s before returning in 2007, was termed out at the end of last year.
Gail Price concluded her first term last year but chose not to run for another term. Nancy Shepherd did run for a second term but could not win re-election during a heated race in which voters handed the council majority to proponents of slow growth.