Signaling the dawn of a new era of moderation and efficiency, the Palo Alto City Council selected on Monday its most centrist member, Eric Filseth, and its most fervent housing advocate, Adrian Fine, to serve as its mayor and vice mayor this year.
In what outgoing Mayor Liz Kniss described as a "historical night," the seven-member council made its debut Monday by passing a series of resolutions in honor of departing council members Karen Holman, Greg Scharff and Cory Wolbach and by choosing the two council members who will lead the group in the coming year. The largely ceremonial meeting also marked the first appearance behind the dais of Councilwoman Alison Cormack, the top vote-getter in the November election.
For Filseth, the election to the mayor's chair was virtually a foregone conclusion. He served as vice mayor in 2018, which made him the odds-on favorite for the council's top leadership position. The council supported him by a unanimous vote, with both Kniss and Councilman Tom DuBois lauding him as the best choice for the job.
Kniss, who made the nomination, prefaced it by citing the council's political divisions, some of which are rooted in disagreements over city growth that go back to the 1980s. She cited the council's five years of "divisiveness and rancor" and praised Filseth for working with her over the past year as the council became "a more moderate, less confrontational and a more civilized group of nine."
DuBois -- who often campaigned with Filseth in 2014 and again in 2018, when they both easily won re-election -- noted Filseth's background as a CEO of several technology firms and his fluency in crunching numbers. As a council member, Filseth has chaired the council's Finance Committee and has led the council's effort to address the city's mounting pension obligations.
"One thing I like to point out is that he has an engineering background and an engineering mindset, and there's not a lot of engineers in politics," DuBois said. "I think it's really served the city well. I think he brings a strong data-based approach to problem-solving and to his policy decisions."
Filseth, who is generally aligned with the council's slow-growth "residentialist" camp, has established himself in recent years as the council's most pragmatic and least ideological member. In accepting the nomination, he cited the long list of challenges that the council will face in the coming year, including traffic congestion, parking shortages, pensions and new infrastructure projects with rising costs -- a challenge that he said will require the council to "do some soul-searching."
"Many of these things we started this past year. We need to follow through on those with dispatch," Filseth said.
The election of Fine as vice mayor provided the only moment of mild suspense in the ceremonial meeting. Fine, the council's youngest member, joined the council in 2016 and has been one of its leaders on pushing housing production. In November 2017, he was the lead author of a colleagues memo that proposed a wide range of zone changes to promote housing. The memo prompted the city to adopt a Housing Work Plan, which culminated in a series of zone changes that the council approved last month. The council approved Fine's election as vice mayor by a 6-1 vote, with Fine's ideological opponent, Lydia Kou, casting the lone vote of dissent.
Kniss, who nominated Fine, lauded him for having "great integrity" and for being "pretty smart."
"He's a man of few words," Kniss said. "He can sum it up, he's succinct, and he can say it in such a convincing way that I think he's very persuasive in what he does."
Kou had nominated DuBois, a fellow residentialist, but DuBois quickly declined the nomination and signaled his plan to support Fine. Cormack also spoke in favor of Fine's nomination, calling him "principled and gracious" and "precise with his comments."
While the election of Fine and Filseth marked a fresh start for the council, the vast majority of the Monday meeting was devoted to celebrating the three council members who concluded their tenures in December: Holman, Scharff and Wolbach.
Each of the departing council members received a proclamation of appreciation and heard testimony from residents and colleagues who thanked them for their service.
• Learn more about Mayor Eric Filseth in this video interview about his life (September 2018)