News

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Thriving together

In Palo Alto City Council race, 7 candidates vie for 3 open seats

Julie Lythcott-Haims in Palo Alto on Sept. 14, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Check out Palo Alto Online's City Council Voter Guide for comparisons of all seven candidates' views on housing, rail crossings, sustainability and public safety.

Julie Lythcott-Haims decided to run for City Council shortly after reading a New York Times profile in June about Susan Kirsch, a Mill Valley resident and NIMBY activist who has determinedly opposed a 20-condominium development in her neighborhood.

For Lythcott-Haims, the story hit close to home. She lives near the Maybell Avenue site where a nonprofit developer tried to build a development with 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 homes only to see the plans get derailed in a 2013 referendum. Lythcott, an author, public speaker and former attorney and Stanford University dean of freshman also understands the magnitude of the local housing crisis. Even with her professional accomplishments, she needed help from her mother to afford a downpayment, mortgage and the original property taxes on her home on Maybell Way. They split the payments 50-50, she said.

"Three generations under one roof in what started as a real fixer-upper is how our Palo Alto dream came true," Lythcott-Haims said during her kick-off speech in August.

The Kirsch profile, she said, pulled her out of her malaise and showed her that there are things worth fighting for. Housing is on top of the list but also youth mental health, climate action and creating a sense of belonging for everyone in Palo Alto.

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"I don't think life is a race that one person wins," Lythcott-Haims said in an interview with the Weekly. "I don't think we win as a society unless we all make it. That makes me a pretty aggressive liberal Democrat and I believe wholeheartedly in that imperative."

Her experience in Palo Alto hasn't always been sunny and warm. When she and her husband moved into her Green Acres home in 2000 and began renovating it, they received what she called a "nasty petition" from neighbors.

'I don't think we win as a society unless we all make it. That makes me a pretty aggressive liberal Democrat and I believe wholeheartedly in that imperative.'

-Julie Lythcott-Haims, candidate, City Council

"It was a cruel process that I will never forget, and I will always be an advocate for people whose neighbors tell them they can't lead their lives," Lythcott-Haims said at a forum sponsored by the Weekly. "I tried to convince them by being on the right side of the facts and the law. What I learned as I got older was listen, be vulnerable, create space for humans to share if they're angry, if they're afraid. Let's start there."

Lythcott-Haims brings a national reputation into the local race as an author of three acclaimed books, "How to Raise an Adult," "Real American: A Memoir," and "Your Turn: How to Be an Adult," and a speaker whose TED talks receive millions of views.

Born in Nigeria to a white mother and a Black father, she described in her memoir her childhood in Reston, Virginia, a planned community near Washington, D.C., her academic journeys through Stanford University and Harvard Law School ("I believed in law as the tool that could help Blacks and people of color more broadly, and all of those who are culturally and systematically disregarded in America"), her lucrative but unfulfilling stint at the Palo Alto firm Cooley Godward ("I'd gone to law school to help other people, but I took a corporate job to help myself") and her role from 2002 to 2012 as dean of freshman at Stanford ("It is joyful work almost every single day. What I love most is showing first-generation students, poor students, students of color, queer students, and anyone who grew up feeling like ‘the other' that I believe in them, and by extension the university believes in them, even when under the rushing weight of stereotype they don't believe in themselves").

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She was not immune to these stereotypes. "Real American" includes one episode in which a white woman at Stanford Shopping Center learned that Lythcott-Haims went to Stanford and immediately asked her what sport she played and another, years later, in which a white colleague at Stanford began to play with her hair. She recalled a childhood incident in which a racial slur was written on her locker and, later, her anxieties over whether she was Black enough to take part in Stanford's community of Black students.

Lythcott-Haims wants Palo Alto leaders to "stop avoiding talking about race." During a Weekly forum, when candidates were asked about how Palo Alto can ensure "fair and unbiased policing," everyone talked about the general need to improve staffing and support the new police chief in his reform effort. Lythcott-Haims, who spoke last, said she was stunned that no one else mentioned Black people or George Floyd.

"We can't tame what we can't name. We have to be able to talk frankly about these things," she said at the Weekly forum.

She said she supports either getting rid of the Police Department's K-9 unit or limiting the dogs to drug searches. She would also institute mandatory unconscious bias training for all first responders and create "a system to track and evaluate demographic data showing whom officers stop and why, and whom neighbors complain about and why."

Like other candidates, she is prioritizing housing. Unlike most of her opponents, however, she supports recent state efforts to loosen zoning, including Senate Bill 9 (which enables split lots in single-family zones and construction of up to four homes), Senate Bill 10 (which allows cities to upzone lots for greater housing density in areas served by public transit) and legislation to support accessory dwelling units.

And though she supports 100% affordable housing units, particularly for disabled adults or unhoused individuals, she wrote in a survey response that she prefers inclusionary zoning — a requirement that market-rate developers designate 15% of their units as below-market-rate housing. That's because "it pencils out and because we need to undo the vestiges of a discriminatory past by ensuring that people of all income levels live as neighbors instead of segregating our low income neighbors (who are disproportionately of color and/or immigrants) to their own housing in ‘less desirable' pars of town."

She believes her inclusive, collaborative approach will help the city make progress on some of its most intractable issues: the renovation of Cubberley Community Center, where she wants to see a city gym and a cafe; the redesign of the rail corridor, for which she favors a viaduct for trains (an alternative that the council had previously considered and ultimately scuttled); and meeting the city's ambitious climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030, with 1990 as the baseline. She wrote in a survey that she would like the city to mandate that natural gas will no longer be in use by 2035 and to provide on-bill financing and subsidies for low-income residents to promote electrification.

Lythcott-Haims also wants the city to do more to address youth mental health. If elected, she would establish a Youth Task Force on Mental Health to engage youth about their needs and to partner with schools, clinicians and nonprofits to expand support services. On this topic, as on many others, she believes that the best way to get ahead is through honest discussions with community members whose voices have been marginalized for too long.

"We're going to have brave, heartfelt conversations," Lythcott-Haims told the Weekly. "Investing in human relationships — that's the way forward."

Read the Palo Alto Weekly's endorsements in this race.

City Council candidate Julie Lythcott-Haims talks about her views in this endorsement interview with the Palo Alto Weekly.

Palo Alto City Council candidates' debate, Sept. 13, 2022

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

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Julie Lythcott-Haims: Thriving together

In Palo Alto City Council race, 7 candidates vie for 3 open seats

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Sep 30, 2022, 8:44 am

Check out Palo Alto Online's City Council Voter Guide for comparisons of all seven candidates' views on housing, rail crossings, sustainability and public safety.

Julie Lythcott-Haims decided to run for City Council shortly after reading a New York Times profile in June about Susan Kirsch, a Mill Valley resident and NIMBY activist who has determinedly opposed a 20-condominium development in her neighborhood.

For Lythcott-Haims, the story hit close to home. She lives near the Maybell Avenue site where a nonprofit developer tried to build a development with 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 homes only to see the plans get derailed in a 2013 referendum. Lythcott, an author, public speaker and former attorney and Stanford University dean of freshman also understands the magnitude of the local housing crisis. Even with her professional accomplishments, she needed help from her mother to afford a downpayment, mortgage and the original property taxes on her home on Maybell Way. They split the payments 50-50, she said.

"Three generations under one roof in what started as a real fixer-upper is how our Palo Alto dream came true," Lythcott-Haims said during her kick-off speech in August.

The Kirsch profile, she said, pulled her out of her malaise and showed her that there are things worth fighting for. Housing is on top of the list but also youth mental health, climate action and creating a sense of belonging for everyone in Palo Alto.

"I don't think life is a race that one person wins," Lythcott-Haims said in an interview with the Weekly. "I don't think we win as a society unless we all make it. That makes me a pretty aggressive liberal Democrat and I believe wholeheartedly in that imperative."

Her experience in Palo Alto hasn't always been sunny and warm. When she and her husband moved into her Green Acres home in 2000 and began renovating it, they received what she called a "nasty petition" from neighbors.

"It was a cruel process that I will never forget, and I will always be an advocate for people whose neighbors tell them they can't lead their lives," Lythcott-Haims said at a forum sponsored by the Weekly. "I tried to convince them by being on the right side of the facts and the law. What I learned as I got older was listen, be vulnerable, create space for humans to share if they're angry, if they're afraid. Let's start there."

Lythcott-Haims brings a national reputation into the local race as an author of three acclaimed books, "How to Raise an Adult," "Real American: A Memoir," and "Your Turn: How to Be an Adult," and a speaker whose TED talks receive millions of views.

Born in Nigeria to a white mother and a Black father, she described in her memoir her childhood in Reston, Virginia, a planned community near Washington, D.C., her academic journeys through Stanford University and Harvard Law School ("I believed in law as the tool that could help Blacks and people of color more broadly, and all of those who are culturally and systematically disregarded in America"), her lucrative but unfulfilling stint at the Palo Alto firm Cooley Godward ("I'd gone to law school to help other people, but I took a corporate job to help myself") and her role from 2002 to 2012 as dean of freshman at Stanford ("It is joyful work almost every single day. What I love most is showing first-generation students, poor students, students of color, queer students, and anyone who grew up feeling like ‘the other' that I believe in them, and by extension the university believes in them, even when under the rushing weight of stereotype they don't believe in themselves").

She was not immune to these stereotypes. "Real American" includes one episode in which a white woman at Stanford Shopping Center learned that Lythcott-Haims went to Stanford and immediately asked her what sport she played and another, years later, in which a white colleague at Stanford began to play with her hair. She recalled a childhood incident in which a racial slur was written on her locker and, later, her anxieties over whether she was Black enough to take part in Stanford's community of Black students.

Lythcott-Haims wants Palo Alto leaders to "stop avoiding talking about race." During a Weekly forum, when candidates were asked about how Palo Alto can ensure "fair and unbiased policing," everyone talked about the general need to improve staffing and support the new police chief in his reform effort. Lythcott-Haims, who spoke last, said she was stunned that no one else mentioned Black people or George Floyd.

"We can't tame what we can't name. We have to be able to talk frankly about these things," she said at the Weekly forum.

She said she supports either getting rid of the Police Department's K-9 unit or limiting the dogs to drug searches. She would also institute mandatory unconscious bias training for all first responders and create "a system to track and evaluate demographic data showing whom officers stop and why, and whom neighbors complain about and why."

Like other candidates, she is prioritizing housing. Unlike most of her opponents, however, she supports recent state efforts to loosen zoning, including Senate Bill 9 (which enables split lots in single-family zones and construction of up to four homes), Senate Bill 10 (which allows cities to upzone lots for greater housing density in areas served by public transit) and legislation to support accessory dwelling units.

And though she supports 100% affordable housing units, particularly for disabled adults or unhoused individuals, she wrote in a survey response that she prefers inclusionary zoning — a requirement that market-rate developers designate 15% of their units as below-market-rate housing. That's because "it pencils out and because we need to undo the vestiges of a discriminatory past by ensuring that people of all income levels live as neighbors instead of segregating our low income neighbors (who are disproportionately of color and/or immigrants) to their own housing in ‘less desirable' pars of town."

She believes her inclusive, collaborative approach will help the city make progress on some of its most intractable issues: the renovation of Cubberley Community Center, where she wants to see a city gym and a cafe; the redesign of the rail corridor, for which she favors a viaduct for trains (an alternative that the council had previously considered and ultimately scuttled); and meeting the city's ambitious climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030, with 1990 as the baseline. She wrote in a survey that she would like the city to mandate that natural gas will no longer be in use by 2035 and to provide on-bill financing and subsidies for low-income residents to promote electrification.

Lythcott-Haims also wants the city to do more to address youth mental health. If elected, she would establish a Youth Task Force on Mental Health to engage youth about their needs and to partner with schools, clinicians and nonprofits to expand support services. On this topic, as on many others, she believes that the best way to get ahead is through honest discussions with community members whose voices have been marginalized for too long.

"We're going to have brave, heartfelt conversations," Lythcott-Haims told the Weekly. "Investing in human relationships — that's the way forward."

Read the Palo Alto Weekly's endorsements in this race.

Comments

Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2022 at 8:52 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 8:52 am

Every time I hear Ms. Lythcott-Haims speak or read about her I am struck by this thought: she would be perfect for the City's Human Rights Commission. She's obviously highly accomplished and she has lots of thoughts and ideas that would benefit Palo Alto. But for CC at this point in time I think that we will be better served by electing people with a combination of City Hall experience and land use knowledge. Of the seven candidates, Summa and Lauing are the stand-outs because they understand the Comp Plan, the Municipal Code, and the many complications of the housing mandate. Plus, they have each spent years serving the community and working with City Hall. Right now, we need what they've got.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2022 at 12:00 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 12:00 pm

Does anyone know if this article is part of a series were the Weekly highlights and gives equal weight to each candidate in turn in a similar manner? I ask only because this article is not presented as an editorial but as serious journalistic reporting. However, there appears to be nothing new that has not been in the public domain for quite some time.


HM
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2022 at 1:33 pm
HM, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 1:33 pm

The article dates from September 30. It is indeed part of the series that profiles all the candidates. When I first saw it this a.m., I thought it was a glitch. Apparently, it isn't, and the Weekly has decided to rerun a laudatory profile of this one candidate.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2022 at 1:41 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 1:41 pm

Does anyone know if this article was posted by the Weekly September 30 or soon after or was held back? It would be helpful if the Weekly included a link to the profiles that were/are part of this series that have already been published.


resident3
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2022 at 2:21 pm
resident3, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 2:21 pm

@mjh,

"Does anyone know if this article was posted by the Weekly September 30"


All candidates have a profile similar to this that were posted ahwile back.

Hamachek - Preserve and Protect

Web Link

Summa - Residents first

Web Link

Lauing - Speaking from experience

Web Link

Venkeer - Building Connections

Web Link

Forsell - Seeing Green

Web Link

Alex Comsa - In the driver's seat


This was the max URLs allowed


Parent of Two
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 31, 2022 at 2:25 pm
Parent of Two, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 2:25 pm

@ mjh. Are you part of the same group trying to suggest the newspapers are biased in their endorsements? Some fans of Nicole Chiu Wang are laughingly trying to say that the high school endorsement is more important than the two local papers. Given the involvement of Paly parents and the existing school board in her campaign, the Campanile is the endorsement worth questioning.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2022 at 2:25 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 2:25 pm

It may be a case of "Games Techies Play" to ensure the stories to their liking end up at the top of the menus. Years ago the search engines like Google were trying to solve this type of content manipulation but evidently they missed a few tricks.

In the name of accuracy, maybe the publisher could correct the tagline from "Original post made on Oct 31, 2022" to show it;'s really from September 30th.


Resident
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 31, 2022 at 2:47 pm
Resident, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 2:47 pm

I believe anyone can create their own Town Square posting. To me, this looks like a member of this candidates team or supporters has posted this article in an effort to help her campaign.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 31, 2022 at 7:18 pm
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 7:18 pm

Isn't "Thriving Together" one of Kaiser Permanente's ad campaign slogans? Pretty oblique to the issue at hand, admittedly, but these recycled word-salads are hurting authentic communication. Every time I hear "reimagining" my GI system acts up, but then again I am getting old.


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2022 at 9:29 pm
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 9:29 pm

The problem for me is that these, "affordable housing" advocates have not explained how they are going to make developers and landowners create, really affordable housing. Details, please! Otherwise, we will continue to have large apartment developments with super-small, expensive units. Check out NYC, Seattle, or Vancouver, Canada. Housing, yes. Density, yes. Open space and trees, no. Affordability, no. We will continue to have housing but not for families and not for buying, which creates wealth and stability. Only apartments or high-end condos. Stop using the word affordable. BTW, there are a ton of empty apartments all up and down El Camino and San Antonio Blvd. Why is that?


Town Square Moderator
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2022 at 10:09 pm
Town Square Moderator, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 31, 2022 at 10:09 pm

Moderator Comment:

This story was published on Sept. 30 along with profiles of all the other candidates. Because no one commented on the story until today, it didn't appear in Town Square until the first comment was made today. Whatever story most recently commented on is always shown at the top of the Town Square index and varies throughout the day as readers comment on different stories. All the stories can be found in our Election Guide at Web Link


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 1, 2022 at 12:27 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 1, 2022 at 12:27 am

Dear Moderator,

There is something going on beyond the comment today that mnved the story up to the top of Town Square.

For some reason it was the first article in my Local News / Palo Alto Section on Google News which has nothing to do with comments here on Town Square.

People saw that article on Google News this morning and were commenting on it in email groups all day until finally one person noticed that the article was a month old.


Joe in Green Acres
Registered user
Green Acres
on Nov 1, 2022 at 9:23 am
Joe in Green Acres, Green Acres
Registered user
on Nov 1, 2022 at 9:23 am

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ comments about her invariably refer to her position on the proposed 2013 Maybell project and the Maybell Referendum. It is incredibly easy to have an opinion against the Maybell Referendum if one simply doesn’t make the effort or take the time to find out what it was all about.

She lives on Maybell Way, roughly one-quarter mile from the proposed Maybell project site, but that isn’t the same as finding out, by diligent inquiry, why the 2013 Maybell project was objected to and why 56% of Palo Altos voted in support of the Referendum. The people who planned the Referendum all live nearby and would have been available if she had reached out to us, but why bother as she might learn something that would challenge her narrative as to why the Referendum was wrong. Period, end of story.

I would expect any candidate for City Council to be more inquisitive about matters she or he objects to before condemning them outright as she has done in showcase fashion about Maybell. I want my City Council members to study items in depth so as to be able to make informed decisions about them as they come before Council. Or before making public statements on matters of interest to the City (or past interest in the case of Maybell) based upon little or no information or diligent inquiry.

Julie Lythcott-Haims simply does not meet that test. In my opinion, she does not belong on City Council and I, for one, will not be voting for her.


Gale Johnson
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 1, 2022 at 4:32 pm
Gale Johnson, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Nov 1, 2022 at 4:32 pm

@Annette: I agree with you on what would be the appropriate and best starting point and training ground for Julie before she tries to be elected to a seat on CC. I applaud her for her great accomplishments…there are many and they are well deserved (I read her bio and I’ve watched her TED TALK shows) but I’ve also seen and heard her speak at the local candidate forums. She was the same person who wows the national audience, but she showed a lack of useful and important knowledge that would help solve many of our local problems and issues. The mandated housing issue is a prime example. I love her passion and energy (and her smile) but I think it’s misdirected in many ways. The dais in Council Chambers at city hall is not a stage. It’s a place to get the hard work done without retelling your own life’s struggles, including discrimination you might have suffered previously. Stay focused on present and future needs in our city. With a little training while serving on committees or commissions, and learning how to have an open mind, I would gladly vote for her in future elections. She’s got the confidence and swagger of Jagger.


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