News

What you need to know about the 10 City Council candidates in Palo Alto and what they stand for

Change is certain with four seats at stake

From top to bottom, left to right: Pat Burt, Rebecca Eisenberg, Lydia Kou, Ed Lauing, Steve Lee, Raven Malone, Greer Stone, Greg Tanaka, Cari Templeton and Ajit Varma are running for the Palo Alto City Council this fall. Photos by Magali Gauthier.

Palo Alto voters will have a chance to dramatically reshape the seven-member City Council when they cast their ballots this fall.

With 10 candidates vying for four seats, the council will inevitably look different when new members are sworn in this coming January. Mayor Adrian Fine and Councilwoman Liz Kniss, two of the council's staunchest housing advocates, are both concluding their tenures. Their replacements, as chosen by voters, will determine whether the council's pro-growth-leaning majority will continue or whether political dominance will shift to the slow-growth-favoring "residentialists."

The two different approaches are reflected in the two council members running for reelection: Greg Tanaka, who tends to vote with the more pro-growth candidates, and Lydia Kou, the staunchest of residentialists. Both of them feel comfortable pushing back against staff recommendations, challenging their colleagues, and casting the lone dissenting vote on matters pertaining to finance (in the case of Tanaka) or land use (in Kou's case).

In other ways, they are polar opposites. Tanaka has supported relaxing limits on new downtown office space, reducing impact fees for new development and, most recently, easing ground-floor retail protections outside the city's commercial cores. He also opposed rent stabilization measures. Kou has taken the opposite stance on each of these issues.

Vying against them is a field of eight that includes City Hall veterans, community volunteers and political newcomers. Pat Burt, a former two-time mayor with a history of being a swing vote on land use issues, is planning his return to the dais. Two members of the Planning and Transportation Commission, Chair Cari Templeton and Ed Lauing, are also making a bid for council seats. Each can point to a history of listening to both sides and achieving consensus. Teacher Greer Stone and attorney Steven Lee, both of whom are former members of the city's Human Relations Commission, are hoping to join the council so that they can help build more affordable housing and reform the police department. But while Lee, like Fine, supports state legislation that would loosen zoning rules in single-family zones and transit areas, Stone fiercely opposes both approaches, seeing them as ineffective and an affront to local control of land use decision-making.

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The other three candidates, attorney Rebecca Eisenberg, engineer Raven Malone and WhatsApp product director Ajit Varma, have not served on any local commissions, but they hope their fresh ideas will help Palo Alto address some of its most intractable problems. Eisenberg, a vocal critic of the council's recent budget cuts, wants to go big on housing and proposes that the city buy land and develop hundreds of affordable units. Malone talks about ending "exclusionary zoning" and allowing more multi-family developments throughout the city, including in single-family neighborhoods. Varma wants to bring Palo Alto back to its business-friendly roots by loosening regulations, streamlining approvals and encouraging new development — both commercial and residential.

The election will be starkly different from the one two years ago, when council members Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth were both easily reelected and Alison Cormack was the only new member to join the council. This year, the turnover will be higher and change will be the only certainty. The big question facing the voters is: What kind of change?

Read our profiles of the 10 candidates:

Pat Burt: Back in the game

Rebecca Eisenberg: Swinging for the fences

Lydia Kou: Playing zone defense

Ed Lauing: A steady hand

Steven Lee: Proudly progressive

Raven Malone: Seeking social justice

Greer Stone: Keeping it local

Greg Tanaka: Following the money

Cari Templeton: Ready to listen

Ajit Varma: All business

More election coverage:

VIDEOS: Watch our debate and interviews with the 10 City Council candidates in Palo Alto

INFOGRAPHICS: Five issues, 10 approaches: City Council candidates explain how they would improve Palo Alto

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What you need to know about the 10 City Council candidates in Palo Alto and what they stand for

Change is certain with four seats at stake

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Oct 2, 2020, 6:55 am

Palo Alto voters will have a chance to dramatically reshape the seven-member City Council when they cast their ballots this fall.

With 10 candidates vying for four seats, the council will inevitably look different when new members are sworn in this coming January. Mayor Adrian Fine and Councilwoman Liz Kniss, two of the council's staunchest housing advocates, are both concluding their tenures. Their replacements, as chosen by voters, will determine whether the council's pro-growth-leaning majority will continue or whether political dominance will shift to the slow-growth-favoring "residentialists."

The two different approaches are reflected in the two council members running for reelection: Greg Tanaka, who tends to vote with the more pro-growth candidates, and Lydia Kou, the staunchest of residentialists. Both of them feel comfortable pushing back against staff recommendations, challenging their colleagues, and casting the lone dissenting vote on matters pertaining to finance (in the case of Tanaka) or land use (in Kou's case).

In other ways, they are polar opposites. Tanaka has supported relaxing limits on new downtown office space, reducing impact fees for new development and, most recently, easing ground-floor retail protections outside the city's commercial cores. He also opposed rent stabilization measures. Kou has taken the opposite stance on each of these issues.

Vying against them is a field of eight that includes City Hall veterans, community volunteers and political newcomers. Pat Burt, a former two-time mayor with a history of being a swing vote on land use issues, is planning his return to the dais. Two members of the Planning and Transportation Commission, Chair Cari Templeton and Ed Lauing, are also making a bid for council seats. Each can point to a history of listening to both sides and achieving consensus. Teacher Greer Stone and attorney Steven Lee, both of whom are former members of the city's Human Relations Commission, are hoping to join the council so that they can help build more affordable housing and reform the police department. But while Lee, like Fine, supports state legislation that would loosen zoning rules in single-family zones and transit areas, Stone fiercely opposes both approaches, seeing them as ineffective and an affront to local control of land use decision-making.

The other three candidates, attorney Rebecca Eisenberg, engineer Raven Malone and WhatsApp product director Ajit Varma, have not served on any local commissions, but they hope their fresh ideas will help Palo Alto address some of its most intractable problems. Eisenberg, a vocal critic of the council's recent budget cuts, wants to go big on housing and proposes that the city buy land and develop hundreds of affordable units. Malone talks about ending "exclusionary zoning" and allowing more multi-family developments throughout the city, including in single-family neighborhoods. Varma wants to bring Palo Alto back to its business-friendly roots by loosening regulations, streamlining approvals and encouraging new development — both commercial and residential.

The election will be starkly different from the one two years ago, when council members Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth were both easily reelected and Alison Cormack was the only new member to join the council. This year, the turnover will be higher and change will be the only certainty. The big question facing the voters is: What kind of change?

Pat Burt: Back in the game

Rebecca Eisenberg: Swinging for the fences

Lydia Kou: Playing zone defense

Ed Lauing: A steady hand

Steven Lee: Proudly progressive

Raven Malone: Seeking social justice

Greer Stone: Keeping it local

Greg Tanaka: Following the money

Cari Templeton: Ready to listen

Ajit Varma: All business

More election coverage:

VIDEOS: Watch our debate and interviews with the 10 City Council candidates in Palo Alto

INFOGRAPHICS: Five issues, 10 approaches: City Council candidates explain how they would improve Palo Alto

Comments

Kevin
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2020 at 7:52 am
Kevin, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 7:52 am
18 people like this

Greg is standing up for what I and many other Palo Altans believe in. He has the backbone to stand up and think about the future of our city and its economics. Many people hate on Greg for taking developer money, but he is one of the only candidates who reports all donations and doesn't take ANY PAC money. He doesn't hide the money like many of his opponents and actually listens to the community on issues. I can't wait to cast my vote for Greg next week!


anon1234
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2020 at 8:00 am
anon1234, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 8:00 am
22 people like this

Great insights from the weekly !
Thanks for your continued hard work on behalf of residents!


Listens
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 2, 2020 at 8:40 am
Listens, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 8:40 am
22 people like this

I support Tanaka. He is the only one that really listens. I am still grateful for him. He stood up for downtown north to prevent the area from getting overparked by the former Survey Monkey building. Why did Pat Burt vote for that project?


Greg is the right choice
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2020 at 8:44 am
Greg is the right choice, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 8:44 am
20 people like this

I have to agree with the other commenters. I like Greg. He goes out of his way to hold office hours and hear different perspectives. While I certainly don't agree with him on everything, no one else does that.

I also like how he protects the residents from increased utility rates and taxes


Vote Greg!!!
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2020 at 9:06 am
Vote Greg!!!, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 9:06 am
15 people like this

The debate was really great last night. I think I now have a better understanding of each candidate. The candidate I was most impressed by was Tanaka. He seemed to actually consider every idea without immediately ruling it out, unlike others who seem to have a hard to listening. I was curious so I did a bit more research into him and found this video he made Web Link (not sure if I'm allowed to post links so if not, remove). It gave me a better idea about who he was, and maybe give you a better idea as well. Go get em' Greg!


Resident
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 2, 2020 at 10:06 am
Resident, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 10:06 am
12 people like this

Rebecca Eisenberg is an incredibly smart, well experienced individual who will bring much needed change to the council. She doesn't just talk big, she actually walks the walk - last night, she talked about how she delivered housing for 500 service workers. That's a huge deal. [Portion removed.] Vote Eisenberg!


Paly Student
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 2, 2020 at 10:11 am
Paly Student, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 10:11 am
16 people like this

Templeton, Lee, and Malone have a vision of what Palo Alto can be that would truly make this community whole. Affordable housing and inclusivity in all levels of government cannot exist in empty words. These candidates have a record of fighting for our values, unlike other candidates who talk a good game but then turn around and vote with Donald Trump values.


Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:26 am
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:26 am
9 people like this

[Post removed.]


Meg
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:39 am
Meg, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:39 am
8 people like this

Ed Lauing- not Eric. Just alerting the daily to the mistake under the photos


Conflicts of Interest
Registered user
Greene Middle School
on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:49 am
Conflicts of Interest, Greene Middle School
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:49 am
39 people like this

Tanaka receives way too many donations from developers. He wants to loosen parking restrictions in our neighborhood- calling home owner permits elitist. Lee wants to put apartments in single family home neighborhoods claiming it won't affect schools or parking. I suggest residents look deep into what these candidates stand for. I am putting my vote behind those that don't take money from developers because they are elected to be our representatives- NOT DEVELOPERS!

I'm voting for: Kou, Lauing, Stone


Weekly's Comments on Tanaka
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:55 am
Weekly's Comments on Tanaka, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:55 am
36 people like this

The other incumbent in the race, Greg Tanaka, in spite of his intelligence, commitment to weekly meetings with the public, and penchant for pouring over staff reports looking for any detail he can question, has been neither disciplined nor effective as a council member. He has become best known as the one who takes up inordinate amounts of time asking questions on unimportant details and rarely constructively contributes to council deliberations. He has endless curiosity but doesn't organize his thoughts well enough, take clear positions or rally support from his colleagues. But most concerning, he has unabashedly sought and accepted unprecedented amounts of campaign contributions from developers and other commercial property interests.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2020 at 12:02 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 12:02 pm
18 people like this

Renters unite! Vote Lee, Malone, Eisenberg !!!!


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:26 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:26 pm
21 people like this

@Kevin

"Many people hate on Greg for taking developer money, but he is one of the only candidates who reports all donations and doesn't take ANY PAC money. "

It is illegal not to report donations and to "take" PAC money. Are you saying other candidates are hiding donations and illegally coordinating with PAC organizations?

That's a pretty big charge.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:31 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:31 pm
16 people like this

@resident
Do you know for a fact Asher Woldfagel is a "huge developer" with conflicts of interest?

Watching various PT&C meetings he certainly didn't appear to be supporting or voting for developer interests.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:49 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:49 pm
22 people like this

Thank you for providing the information on the major topics we are interested in. I am very concerned about R-1 housing being abolished. That is counter to the reason people bought here and the investment they have made in this city. The people who are for the abolishment of R-1 housing have not been here long and have no investment in maintaining one of the priorities and values of this city, and most on the peninsula. That is a concept better served by a major city like San Francisco and San Jose.

I grew up in LA in a neighborhood which would not allow their R-1 neighborhoods to be dismantled. Understand that every area of the state has their neighborhoods and wants them to be sustained as is.

What is a concern is that the section of El Camino between Oregon and Charleston has old, one story commercial businesses that no one talks about. Why is that? Are they owned by someone who is untouchable? Is everyone here trying to say that a homeowner can be rolled over easier than a commercial owner who has done little to upgrade their property? You have to know that those people are not paying property tax of any value. Time to focus housing energy on that segment of the city which is an eyesore.


The Perfect Choice
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:51 pm
The Perfect Choice, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 1:51 pm
8 people like this

We need Greg on Council. He is the only candidate that hears our concerns and cares about what we have to say. Palo Alto is in a crisis and I know Greg can take the charge to get us through it. VOTE GREG TANAKA on November 3rd


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2020 at 7:04 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2020 at 7:04 pm
19 people like this

Obviously Tanaka can be a bit scattered, and his asking an inordinate amount of questions during meetings under the guise of showing interest and concern can wear you down a bit, and he is probably taking WAY too many donations from developers as mentioned here by previous posters, but due to his obvious intelligence, he is the best candidate overall and he has got my vote.

I am currently debating between Eisenberg, Lee and Stone. I am leaning toward Eisenberg and Lee. Not that there is anything wrong with Stone so I am a bit torn. I feel all 3 of these candidates are qualified and professional but they don’t necessarily “excite me.” I may come back later and announce my decision, but just assume Eisenberg and Lee.

Now for the candidate that truly excites me! The real winner here is Raven Malone! I am throwing my full support behind her. Raven has lived here for less than a year and has absolutely no experience. So what? Everyone deserves a chance! Her fight for social justice will give her enough experience to prepare her for a position on our city council. Her fresh ideas and fresh perspective will help change PA for the better. She’s exciting and her vision for improving and changing PA is a fantastic vision of the future! PA is in desperate need of fresh ideas. Raven will easily be on that city council now. Congrats Raven!

“Are you saying other candidates are hiding donations and illegally coordinating with PAC organizations?/ That's a pretty big charge.”

Yes. Kevin didn’t say that directly but that was EXACTLY what Kevin was implying! Good catch.
I read it the same way. I think he was just trying to be a little sneaky here.


Ummm...Watch the debates.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2020 at 11:29 am
Ummm...Watch the debates., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 3, 2020 at 11:29 am
22 people like this

Greer Stone and his wife are public school teachers who are renters. In his words, they "struggle to pay the rent every month. " Watch his video. I'm pretty sure he understands the challenges.

Watch Pat Burt's video. He understands both the comprehensive community effects of zoning change and the nut and bolts of doing it right. Pat Burt has clear plans to fund affordable housing and to implement thoughtful zoning change to allow more housing...and address traffic, school and community services impacts.

What was pretty clear to me is that the budget is not being highlighted by most of the candidates because they don't seem to understand it. Pat was mayor during the Great Recession. He was on Finance Committee through the city's recovery from that crisis. We are going to need his financial acumen and creative problem-solving as we navigate Covid and its economic impacts. Ditto for PAUSD candidates--the failure to talk about the BUDGET in the BOE forums is another mistake. We need to know which candidates have experience managing complex budgets. Money is going to be a huge challenge this cycle. More cuts are coming.


merry
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2020 at 9:28 am
merry, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 4, 2020 at 9:28 am
8 people like this

Why is there so much focus on housing. Not everyone can live in Palo Alto. Why isn’t Atherton
Under pressure for more housing?


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 4, 2020 at 9:41 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 4, 2020 at 9:41 am
12 people like this

Reading the Mercury News recommendations in the Sunday Opinion Section - Who writes this Stuff?
1. Cari Templeton is an ex-employee of Google. The tax base of Google is Mountain View. The fact that they dominate the local scene in Mountain View does not by definition create a tax base benefit to the city of Palo Alto. Housing is her topic but increase in residents in this city creates a drain on our tax base to support the increase in residents. The tax base benefit is in another city.

2. The Comprehensive Plan that says we have to provide "3,545 - 4,420" new housing units. That number needs to be re-evaluated - we have lost two major employers for the city. Businesses that are in the Stanford Research Park are on SU property and support the tax base of SU. SU has a huge amount of land that should be used for the increase in housing for their tax base companies.

Where does that number come from? Who determined that number and on what basis? The article starts with the argument that when COVID is over the increase in traffic will be "horrible". So what is the rationale to increase the headcount of the city when they will be commuting to a different city?

In this election year the media is printing assumptions as thought they were facts and those "facts'" are then used to leverage a political outcome. Reality is that number is meaningless and has to be calibrated to reality. This city has a defined tax base for businesses and right now that would be hotels. We have a lot of hotels but I don't think they qualify as part of the comprehensive plan. Tesla's main operation is in Fremont. Musk the person has his main operation in SOCAL with Space-X. Palantir has left the scene for Colorado. Other companies have moved their operations to the northern San Jose complex of buildings.

Bottom line is we are not a housing place for companies whose tax base is supporting a different city. The Comprehensive Plan numbers are meaningless - they have no definition as to what they represent and how they were derived. They are there to create a false imperative that provides no benefit to this city.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Oct 4, 2020 at 6:25 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Oct 4, 2020 at 6:25 pm
7 people like this

Merry,

Atherton has been assigned housing goals as well. You live in a Palo Alto bubble where you only hear like-thinking neighbors. Most of the Weekly endorsements are likely to get elected this year. But the results will show that the strength of the old guard is slipping away, and some of the challengers will do surprisingly well.

Neither the Daily Post nor the Mercury News are endorsing the re-election of Kuo or Tanaka. Unlike the Weekly, they realize the council needs new blood.


ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2020 at 8:23 pm
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 4, 2020 at 8:23 pm
19 people like this

Why is it that Greg Tanaka does not answer simple yes or no questions at the forum hosted by Hilary Freeman and by the Palo Alto Weekly. I have found his consistent devotion to the desires of developers to be blaring and not what residents want. He is repetitive and does not express himself clearly. He wanted to cut services including fire from the budget. Yes he holds office hours but he is no Joe Simitian.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 4, 2020 at 9:53 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 4, 2020 at 9:53 pm
13 people like this

Watching Elon Musk on Jay Leno's Garage show. Elon and his cars, trucks, space=x are in Hawthorne, CA. What ever the comprehensive plan says his operation is not in this city. How much of that housing goal is attributed to his operations? What other company are they touting in that plan? Did ABAG come up with that number? What a total joke. A newspaper it pushing a goal that has nothing to do with reality. And worse it is being used as political leverage. Get to work number crunchers - we will send the state auditor after you - and you know what she does to UC on a regular basis.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 9, 2020 at 6:45 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2020 at 6:45 am
3 people like this

Watched the show last night 10/08. Noted the following:
BUSINESS TAX:
- Eisenberg wants to tax Tesla and Palantir. Palantir is GONE - moved to Colorado. Tesla has only a skeleton crew here in PA - his auto facility is in Fremont. But his main operation is in Hawthorne, CA - SOCAL. Google is based in MV. FB is based in MP. You have companies in Stanford Research Park. That is SU property. SU property is carved out from the city. WE are providing the security services - police? There is your other issue - POLICE - what is the tax covering.
- They talked about taxing based on floor space. Suggest that number of people working at this location should be considered.

POLICE: What is the business tax paying for? What are the residents paying for? I am not interested in a bunch of people "reimagining" the police force. We are paying for a standard form of police force. A budget is carved by union supported functions. The police force is a union supported function. Who is reimagining union supported functions?

HOUSING: We cannot have people investing in homes in R-1 neighborhoods then have "new" people plunking down duplexes and bigger in the middle of neighborhoods. Multi-plex housing needs to be located in transportation areas - El Camino, border fringe areas like San Antonio, West Bayshore, East Bayshore, Shopping centers, commercial locations. Height limit is another issue - RWC has higher that 3 stories - what is the point of height limits if in the middle of the city?

Reading what is going on in other cities there are groups of "challengers" who all have the same story and line of changes. It is like spreading the place with chunky peanut butter - no definition of cities. Not buying that. Not buying the story line that goes with that.

COMPREHENSIVE PLAN - where do those numbers come form? what is the basis of the calculation? the number keeps growing - however the companies that start here move out when they need more facility space. WE need a breakdown of how that number is calculated and what specifically happens when companies leave. ABAG is not dictating numbers until they can explain how they derived the numbers.


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