Greer Stone, a Gunn High School history teacher and former chair of the Palo Alto's Human Relations Commission, has joined the increasingly crowded race for a seat on the City Council.
Stone currently serves as vice chair of the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission and leads the commission's Justice Review Committee, an ad hoc group charged with recommending police reform initiatives to the county Board of Supervisors. During his years of service on the city's Human Relations Commission, he has advocated for expanding social programs and services, including ones pertaining to mental health and veterans.
Over the past year, Stone emerged as a fierce critic of Senate Bill 50, which would have increased height limits and eased density restrictions for housing developments (SB 50 was ultimately defeated in the state Senate). In March 2019, he co-wrote an opinion piece with former Mayor Pat Burt opposing SB 50, which they argued would "usurp local democracy and eliminate single-family neighborhoods." He also debated now-Mayor Adrian Fine, a supporter of SB 50, in an episode of "Behind the Headlines," the Palo Alto Weekly's webcast.
Stone's Tuesday announcement means that he will be vying with Burt, and possibly Fine, for one of the four council seats that will be up for grabs. Fine, Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka are all concluding their first council terms and are eligible to run again. Kou is seeking another four-year term, while Fine and Tanaka are yet to publicly declare their intention. Councilwoman Liz Kniss will term out this year.
Planning and Transportation Commission Chair Cari Templeton and Planning Commissioner Ed Lauing also are seeking seats, as is attorney Rebecca Eisenberg, who has been a vocal critic of the city's recent budget decisions and planning policies.
Stone also ran for council in 2016 and was politically aligned with the council's "residentialist" camp, which has tended to support slow-growth policies and which includes Kou, Vice Mayor Tom DuBois, Councilman Eric Filseth and former Mayor Karen Holman, current president of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District board of directors. Dubois, Filseth and Holman are all supporting Stone's current bid for a council seat.
Stone told this news organization Tuesday that he is running because he believes the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic crisis and the national outcry over racial equality have created "a unique opportunity to have what many commentators are labeling a 'great reset.'"
"I really think Palo Alto has reached an inflection point at this moment in time, which is both caused by a pandemic and social unrest across the nation," Stone said.
The crisis, he said, creates an opportunity to rethink the challenges that have frustrated the city for decades, including traffic and housing. He believes telework, which has become widespread during the pandemic, should be emphasized as a critical strategy for managing traffic. Santa Clara County has a task force that is focusing on encouraging telework, Stone said, and Palo Alto should participate.
A successful switch to telework would also help Palo Alto meet its housing challenges. If fewer offices are needed, some of the existing commercial spaces could be converted to residential space. He said he would support looking at zoning policies that would make it easier to switch uses from commercial to residential.
Stone also penned an opinion piece in April urging city leaders to address the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on Black and Latino residents, who are more likely to be working in "essential" jobs during the pandemic and who are less likely to have easy access to affordable health care.
He also urged city leaders to address homelessness during the pandemic by designating "safe parking" locations throughout the city for vehicle dwellers and by making public land available for temporary shelters.
"Let's finally acknowledge that social determinants of race and ethnicity play critical roles in equity and design our housing, health care and other policies to reflect that reality," Stone wrote in the opinion piece. "Let's recognize the moral and practical implications of poverty and resolve to evolve these temporary solutions into permanent ones."
Stone said that, if elected, his priorities would be producing affordable housing, traffic mitigation, economic recovery and creating a closer "government-community partnership." He also rejects the notion that his opposition to SB 50 makes him, in any way, anti-housing. The bill, he said, would have been "horrible for affordable housing production for Palo Alto and across the state of California."
He disagrees with those that hold that the city needs to create much more market-rate housing, which is necessary to subsidize the affordable units. Stone argues that simply upzoning would increase land costs and make housing even more unaffordable. This is why the bill generated such opposition from human-rights groups and from advocates for low-income housing, he said.
Stone also faced criticism from several residents for his testimony at a February 2019 sentencing hearing of his half-brother, Michael Airo, a teacher who was convicted of sexually abusing his ex-girlfriend's daughter. At the sentencing hearing, Stone described Airo as a "good person" and a "caretaker."
His testimony as a character witness attracted a rebuke from Michele Dauber, a Stanford Univesrity law professor, and her husband, Ken Dauber, a member of the Palo Alto Board of Education, who told San Jose Inside in May 2019 that Stone's statements did not show adequate concern for the victim and took issue with his characterization of Airo, who was ordered to serve 15 years in state prison.
Michele Dauber told San Jose Inside that Stone's testimony should have disqualified him from the California Democratic Party convention.
When asked about the criticism, Stone said he tried his best to answer questions as honestly as possible. He called the episode a "deeply painful one" for everyone involved.
"Best I can say, I testified truthfully to the character of my brother as I've always known him," Stone told this news organization. "My duty was not only as a family member, but also as part of the litigation process, which calls for character witnesses."
A former attorney, Stone said he is excited to work on the city's effort to pursue police reforms. An important first step, he said, is firming up use-of-force policies to make them more aligned with the 8 Can't Wait platform. In some cases, it could mean changing the wording from "should" to "shall" — a change that may seem minor but that can have profound consequences.
Stone said that he plans to run a "very positive, issues-based campaign."
"I think that's something we almost lost the ability to do in the United States of late," Stone said.