Cory Wolbach, one of the Palo Alto City Council's staunchest housing advocates, kicked off the city's election season Monday afternoon when he stated his plan to run for a second term in November.
With his announcement, Wolbach became the first candidate to enter the race for three open seats on a council. Councilmen Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth are also completing their first terms this year, though neither has yet announced his plans for a second term. Council members Greg Scharff and Karen Holman will be concluding their second terms this year and are ineligible to run again.
Wolbach, a former legislative aide to state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who now works as a public-outreach consultant, has stood out on the council for his consistent support for the creation of more housing. Last year, he co-signed a memo from Councilman Adrian Fine that proposed a list of new zoning rules to help spur housing, a memo that prompted the council to approve a Housing Work Plan last month.
Unlike his council colleagues on the slow-growth side of the dais, Wolbach has advocated for both market-rate and affordable housing. He was one of the first council members to propose the relaxation of rules for accessory-dwelling units, and he has favored exploring the concept of housing developments with "microunits" and "car-light" policies (which provide more transit incentives and fewer parking spots) as part of the solution to the housing shortage.
On land use, Wolbach has largely been affiliated with the council's pro-growth wing, which includes Mayor Liz Kniss, Scharff, Fine and Greg Tanaka. All four are endorsing his campaign, as is Hill and state Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, Wolbach's former council colleague.
A resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood and a longtime activist in the Democratic Party, Wolbach first ran for council in 2014, when he edged Lydia Kou for the final open seat (Kou ran again and won a seat in 2016). At the time, he cited the city's housing challenges as a top priority. He also talked about the need to improve civility in civic discourse.
On Monday, Wolbach pointed to progress on both fronts. In an interview with the Palo Alto Weekly, Wolbach said that he sees the council's recent consensus on slowing down the growth of office construction and increasing the city’s housing supply (of both market-rate and below-market-rate housing) as its greatest accomplishments of the past term.
"Four years ago, that sort of consensus position didn't exist and a lot of people thought it was crazy that we needed more housing," Wolbach said. "I think we've gone together as a community and as a council, and that's reflected in our Comprehensive Plan and in the unanimous support for our Housing Work Plan."
On the civility front, it hasn't been completely smooth sailing. In January 2017, Wolbach and the five-member majority drew criticism when they supported stripping all policies from the updated Comprehensive Plan, contrary to recommendations from a citizens committee that helped craft the policies. After an uproar and an accusation by DuBois of a "hijacked democracy," Wolbach made the motion in March to reverse course and restore the policies.
Wolbach told the Weekly that when it comes to "civility," things on the council got worse before they got better. Today, he said, the council is working collaboratively to address its top priorities: a shortage of housing, the need to decide on how to separate the railroad tracks from local roads, and the need to upgrade the city's infrastructure.
In a statement, Wolbach said that as a council member, he has "delivered results on issues that matter to our community."
"I am running for re-election to continue leading on housing affordability, transportation, sustainability and the environment, and inclusive and efficient government," he said.
He also told the Weekly that he'd like to see the city continue to focus on traffic-reduction strategies, including growing the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association and pushing Stanford University to stay focused on its transportation-demand-management effort in Stanford Research Park.
While he said he fully supports the council's adopted priorities, the first phase of his campaign will focus on "really listening."
"It's something I've always prioritized, and people who've worked with me know that I've always tried to make myself accessible," Wolbach said.
An independent consultant, Wolbach is currently working with the subcontractor Louis Berger to help the San Mateo County Transit District with outreach as the district explores a sales-tax increase for transportation projects. He also currently chairs the council's Rail Committee and had served last year as chair of the Policy and Services Committee.
Wolbach will be running in a year that will see a structural change on the council, with the number of seats going down from nine to seven.
He is one of two candidates who have filed candidate statements of intent. Alison Cormack, a community volunteer who spearheaded the Measure N campaign to rebuild local libraries, also plans to seek a council seat.