UPDATE: As of Thursday, Nov. 19, at 4:15 p.m., Pat Burt remained in first place with 14,337 votes, or 13.4% of the votes counted; Lydia Kou held on to second place with 13,411 votes, or 12.5%. In third place, Greg Tanaka had 12,907 votes, 915 votes over Greer Stone, who received 11,992. Ed Lauing trailed with 11,156. So far, 99% of the county's ballots have been counted.
Former Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt is poised to return to the City Council and Council member Lydia Kou appears set to win a second four-year term, early results from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters show.
The preliminary results show Burt with a 1,000-vote lead over the rest of the 10-candidate field. As of Thursday evening, with about 67% of Santa Clara County's votes counted, Burt had received 11,225 votes, while Kou received 10,238 votes. Incumbent Council member Greg Tanaka and teacher Greer Stone had 9,522 votes and 9,328 votes, respectively, according to early results.
Ed Lauing, a member of the Planning and Transportation Commission, was in fifth place as of 8 p.m. Tuesday, when the polls closed, trailing Tanaka by just 225 votes for the final seat. As of Thursday morning, Lauing received 8,717 votes.
Engineer Raven Malone and former Human Relations Commissioner Steven Lee were in sixth and seventh places, with 8,717 and 8,216 votes, respectively, according to results as of Thursday evening, which reflected 28,338 ballots counted in Palo Alto.
If the results hold, the outcome would reshape the council, handing a clear majority to those who favor slower city growth, often referred to as "residentialists." Stone, who also ran in 2016, has been aligned politically with Kou and other residentialist candidates, including Vice Mayor Tom DuBois and Council member Eric Filseth. They all support increasing housing impact fees for new developments, restricting office growth and maintaining ground-floor retail protections.
Burt, a former tech CEO and two-time mayor who concluded his last term in 2016, has long been a council swing vote. His current positions, however, tend to align more with the council's slow-growth members. He and Stone had both vehemently opposed state legislation that would have required cities to permit denser housing developments in single-family residential neighborhoods. They also both opposed the council's recent moves to scale back the city's police auditor's responsibilities by removing from his scope internal conflicts within the Police Department.
As things stand, the seven-member council would have four members that have been endorsed by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a political action committee that favors slow-growth policies — Kou, Stone, Filseth and DuBois — with Burt as the sympathetic fifth member. With Councilwoman Liz Kniss terming out and Mayor Adrian Fine choosing not to seek a second term, the council's more pro-growth camp will now see its membership dwindle from four members to two: Council member Alison Cormack and Tanaka.
If Lauing, who was also endorsed by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, closes the gap and overtakes Tanaka, five of the seven council members would favor slow-growth policies.
The race was one of Palo Alto's most crowded and competitive political contests in recent years, with a diverse 10-candidate field that included a mix of City Hall veterans and newcomers. While all candidates expressed support for building more housing and better police oversight, they disagreed over specific policies, including on whether to support Sacramento legislation that would have increased density in residential areas.
Burt downplayed the differences between the council's two camps and noted that just about every candidate expressed a commitment to boosting the city's housing supply. The main difference, he said, is that candidates such as himself, Lauing and Stone, are more concerned than others about curbing office growth.
"It's really about retaining that modest office growth and working to increase the housing," Burt said. "Frankly, almost all the candidates ended up with similar positions (on housing), and with a range of perspectives on how to do that.
"I think there's a community consensus now — not unanimity — around moderating the rate of office growth and increasing housing growth at all income levels, as well as investing in transportation."
Stone told the Weekly that if results hold, the city will have a council that is "truly responsive to the people."
"It'll be a council that's going to listen to Palo Altans and take their concerns and their hopes into consideration to be able to make a city that really works for the people and not for outside interests," Stone said. "I think we're really going to be able to make a difference on moving the needle on being able to create more housing and having a focused effort on affordable housing and trying to create a more diverse and equitable community."
The three candidates with the most progressive policies — Malone, Lee and Planning and Transportation Commission Chair Carolyn Templeton — fared less well on election night and were in sixth, seventh and eighth places in the early standings. All three supported more aggressive action on housing, including zone changes that would promote density in transit corridors.
Malone, who trailed Tanaka by about 700 votes on Tuesday night, said her campaign remains hopeful, as well as proud of its work.
"I think I gave it my all, and we're hoping for the best," Malone said.
Kou, meanwhile, was relieved by the early results, having barely missed in her first run for the council, in 2014, and having narrowly won in her second attempt, in 2016. She said she believes her track record and consistent positions helped her in her bid for reelection. She also said that she expects the new council to work well together to address the city's most significant challenges.
"I think there's an opportunity for more collaboration and for coming out with some policies that are more moderate so we can advance forward — in not only coming out of COVID in a rational manner, without deregulating everything — but also in dealing with housing and all the other issues," Kou said.
Attorney Rebecca Eisenberg and Ajit Varma, director of product management at WhatsUp, were in ninth and tenth places, respectively.
This story will be updated as more results come in.