Ed Lauing is no stranger to master plans, budget cuts and long nights spent behind the dais at City Hall.
The Palo Alto resident has spent the past decade on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning and Transportation Commission, where he is currently a member. Now, Lauing is preparing to join the race for the City Council.
Lauing, a corporate recruiter and former business executive, wants to see the city move faster on tackling its most critical issues, including housing and parking. As a planning commissioner, he has helped review and refine the city's Housing Work Plan and delved deep into the details of its strategies for enhancing downtown garages and expanding the city's shuttle system, which has just been eliminated because of budget cuts. He also has been dismayed by how long it has taken the council to actually reach solutions to these problems, Lauing told this news organization.
"My view is, by being on the council I can shape the agenda itself and the timing of the agenda," Lauing said. "I've been less than thoroughly satisfied with the pace of how projects go from the initial reading to finally getting adopted. I'm hoping I can get things to move faster."
Lauing believes encouraging below-market-rate housing is a key way to encourage diversity in Palo Alto and address some of the city's socioeconomic disparities. That, he said, should be the city's focus, rather than the council's default setting, which he characterizes as, "We need housing for all segments and it will happen." The city, in his view, has been moving too slowly.
"Obviously, that hasn't been done. If we're going to maintain local control instead of Sacramento control, we've got to take action on this," Lauing said.
The city, he said, needs to figure out the economics in each segment of the market and craft policies to address the fact that the "economic playing field" between housing and commercial developments has not been even, given that offices fetch significantly higher rents than most residential properties. Addressing this could mean contributing more money to building affordable housing or forging partnerships with local corporations that are willing to help address the problem.
"We can't just say, 'What's on the table is the only structure.' We've got to get more creative," Lauing said.
As a planning commissioner, Lauing has often talked to about the need for more housing, though he has approached the subject with more caution and less zeal than some of the commission's staunchest housing advocates, notably Michael Alcheck and William Riggs. On a commission that has been prone to splitting into factions, Lauing has often sided with those on the more slow-growth side of the aisle, including former Commissioner Asher Waldfogel and current Commissioner Doria Summa. After serving as the planning commission's chair in 2018, he made a bid to try again in 2019 but was edged out by Riggs in a 4-3 vote. Among those voting against him was Commissioner Cari Templeton, who earlier this week announced her own bid for a City Council seat.
While Lauing talks about the urgent need to build more housing, his tone as a commissioner has been less polemical and more detail-oriented than that of some of his colleagues. In 2018, for example, he was part of a narrow majority that voted to delay adoption of a new "affordable housing overlay" zone so that the city can further analyze the impacts of the policy change (others supported immediate creation of the new zone, which the council ultimately approved).
Yet he also has been an enthusiastic supporter of numerous housing projects, including a mixed-use development with 17 condominium units that was approved last year at the former Compadres restaurant on El Camino Real; and the Wilton Court development with 59 units for low-income residents and adults with disabilities, which Lauing said was exactly the kind of project that the city should be encouraging.
Before joining the planning commission in 2017, Lauing had spent seven years on the Parks and Recreation Commission, including three as the commission's chair. During that time, he helped put together a master plan for the parks system that included more dog parks and more bathrooms at local parks. He also co-wrote a memo in 2014 urging the council to pay more attention to the impacts of the city's growth policies on its parks and recreation system (the commission unanimously supported the memo).
Lauing said that over the past month, he has been concerned about the council's process for adopting a new budget, which includes about $40 million in expense cuts. Rather than clearly setting priorities and making cuts based on the city's values, the council is making major cuts in just about every critical department, including public safety and community services. He said he would have preferred to see the city delay some of its major infrastructure projects to preserve services. He also said he believes the council has been too deferential to city staff throughout the budget process. Even though numerous council members said they supported delaying some projects on the council's infrastructure plan, these proposals never came for a vote (instead, the council approved the entire capital plan with a single vote).
He also said he thinks the city has been moving too slowly on improving downtown’s parking situation, an issue that has dominated City Hall discussions before the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Why have we waited years for the installation of digital direction signs downtown to reduce congestion by pointing vehicles to garages with space? That issue first came to the planning commission three years ago," Lauing said in his candidacy announcement.
Lauing said he believes his decade of experience as a commissioner has prepared him well for serving on council, which will see four seats up for grabs in November. Councilwoman Liz Kniss is terming out, while Mayor Adrian Fine, Councilwoman Lydia Kou and Councilman Greg Tanaka are all up for re-election (Kou is the only one of the three who has declared that she is running again). Attorney Rebecca Eisenberg announced last month that she is also seeking one of the four open seats.
"I know what the job is," Lauing said. "You want someone you can trust so that when a new issue is thrown at them, they know how to respond and they have a solid and sensible approach on how to get there. The combination of my business background and my city background give me a great platform to keep making decisions on tough issues."