Finances, infrastructure and the city's future | October 3, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - October 3, 2007

Finances, infrastructure and the city's future

From housing growth to proposed Stanford redevelopment, City Council campaign issues show how city's changed — or hasn't — over past two years

by Jocelyn Dong

Just like two years ago, the 2007 slate of candidates for Palo Alto City Council includes an attorney, a CPA, a management consultant and an advocate for the homeless. But this year a registered nurse, several high-tech executives (one retired) and a real-estate agent are also in the running.

In total, 11 Palo Alto residents are vying for four of the nine seats on the council.

The campaign includes one of the youngest candidates ever — Yiaway Yeh at 29 — alongside faces more familiar to the civic crowd, such as Planning and Transportation Commissioner Pat Burt and former school-board member Greg Schmid.

The field also includes residents whose careers have exposed them to state governance and placed one in the White House, as well as individuals who have no prior experience in the public sector.

The civic issues worrying candidates in 2007 — a deteriorating city infrastructure and stagnant revenues among others — share some similarities to those two years ago.

In 2005, the rate of housing development and its impact on existing infrastructure had cycled back to the top of the list of community concerns. The debate over "slow-growth" versus "pro-growth" had been stoked by a number of developments planned for south Palo Alto and a feeling among some residents that the city had simply "run out of room."

Since then, construction has begun on six of the projects, from the large-scale D.R. Horton development on the former site of Rickey's Hyatt to Classic Communities' homes bordering U.S. Highway 101 in Midtown.

Plans for the much-debated Alma Plaza finally congealed as a mix of 51 homes, nearly 28,000 square feet of retail/commercial and community space, and approximately 8,900 square feet of public parkland.

For candidates who favored the preservation of neighborhood retail space, the project serves as a rallying cry for a more comprehensive city-planning process in the future.

The city two years ago was also grappling with a cloudy budget forecast.

Leaders expressed ongoing anxiety over the loss of businesses — and in particular lucrative tax revenue brought in by auto dealerships and hotels. Candidates were asked pointedly which city services they would opt to eliminate.

Since then, however, thanks to the city's correction of a "structural deficit" that had Palo Alto in the red, the forecast has brightened a bit. But revenues have not substantially picked up; in fact, the city faced the need this year to come up with $3 million to plunge into the rapidly evaporating infrastructure fund. The situation has left many residents eager to hear fresh ideas from council-hopefuls for boosting revenue.

And infrastructure itself, from talk of "exploding toilets" to ongoing complaints about "dismal" road conditions, is squarely on the minds of this year's candidates. Several have cited the city's "30-year backlog of repairs" as one of their top concerns.

New issues have also gained prominence since 2005. Stanford Medical Center and the managers of the Stanford Shopping Center have announced massive expansion plans, which have already split community sentiments in half. While one group of residents hails the benefits of the hospitals, another set worries over projected traffic increases and the need to house new employees.

Still on the table are plans for upgrading the library system and constructing a new public-safety building, with city leaders expecting both items to go out for a bond vote in the coming year. The debate about the libraries remains unresolved, however, following the rejection of former Library Director Paula Simpson's plan for consolidating the five-branch system.

And finally, one issue that gained momentum in the past two years continues to attract candidates' interest. Combating global warming became a priority for the council this year, and several candidates expressed their eagerness to help the city move toward a more sustainable future.

The candidates

Five of 11 City Council candidates discuss their hopes for a term in office

by Becky Trout

To help voters become familiar with candidates running for Palo Alto City Council and the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education, the Weekly will be profiling the individuals over the coming three weeks. This week, we feature five council candidates as determined by alphabetical order. Next week, the Weekly will profile the remaining six. The Oct. 17 edition will feature the six candidates for school board. Additional information about the election, including links to candidates' Web sites and past news articles, is available at

Pat Burt

After nearly a decade on the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission, Pat Burt is brimming with ideas he'd try to implement if elected to the City Council.

And he's glad to share those ideas in his trademark methodical manner — in between campaigning for office, serving on the planning commission, heading up the high-tech manufacturing company Acteron Corporation as its president, and being a father and husband. (If he's elected to the council, he'll resign from the commission).

He plans to encourage hotel development; study possible reconfigurations of the Palo Alto Golf Course to accommodate athletic playing fields and address flooding; and direct new development to areas of the city that are amenable to walking. He wants to reform the city's budget process to emphasize long-term planning and to shave money from employee retirement packages.

A 27-year Palo Alto resident who grew up in Gilroy, Burt attended De Anza College and the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he earned a bachelor's degree in English.

Although he's been involved in environmental efforts at the state and county levels for several decades, Burt jumped into Palo Alto politics in 1993 as a president of the University South Neighborhood Group.

Under his leadership, the group became inclusive and goal-oriented, Burt said. It created the South of Forest Avenue plan that produced a new park, childcare facility, affordable housing, historic preservation guidelines and zoning, an outcome he called "outstanding."

Burt and his family later moved to the Community Center neighborhood, to a home that's been in the family for generations.

In May, Burt was the first candidate to kick off his campaign. He's wanted to run before and even pulled the papers in 2005, but it just wasn't the right time personally, he said.

If he's elected, Burt knows what he'll do first: "I'd like to convince my colleagues that we need to create a citizens advisory group to help us come up with a long-term financial plan for the city."

He calls the city's current Web site an "abomination" that ignores the immense potential of two-way communications between city staff, elected officials and local residents and workers.

Burt, 55, supports constructing a broadband fiber-to-the-home network, finding a way to create an in-town composting facility without using parkland and retaining the airport as a city-owned asset.

He's also pledged to ensure Stanford University pitches in to help offset the effects of the Medical Center and Shopping Center expansions.

What would he consider one of his flaws?

"I tell too long ... stories when people ask me to talk about something," Burt said.

And although Burt can list many reasons he wants to serve on the City Council, one strikes him as particularly important.

"In 10 years or so, I can face my kids (Carolyn, 14 and Riley, 11) and say, 'I've done my best to make this a good place to live,'" Burt said.

Birth place: San Luis Obispo, moved to Gilroy at six months

Profession: President, Acteron, a high-tech manufacturer

Affiliation with Stanford University or other major conflicts: No

Currently reading: Ten books, including "The Starfish and the Spider: the Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations" by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom (a Palo Altan).

Favorite food: Greek

Vehicle: Bronze-colored Prius

Hobbies: Hiking, biking, skiing and discussing public policy

Web site:

How to contact:

Dan Dykwel

A longtime volunteer with local schools, Dan Dykwel doesn't want Palo Altans to be put off by his occupation as a real-estate agent.

"It's not a threat to the community; I'm not a developer," Dykwel said.

The 55-year-old Midtown resident is also a communications consultant for technology companies, president of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and co-organizer, along with his wife, Sunny, of the Palo Alto Black and White Ball, a festivity that raises money for recreation and education in the city.

Dykwel said his professional and volunteer efforts have prepared him to help the city with its tough land-use and financial challenges.

He's eager to improve conditions for local businesses, while boosting the revenue they produce for the city.

"We need to find sources of revenue and really look at the cost of and reduce what (we're) spending," Dykwel said.

"We need to push our economic development department to be innovative and aggressively recruit businesses that will provide revenue to our city," he told the Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) group, which has candidate answers on its Web site.

And while calling Palo Alto "built out," Dykwel said he supports appropriate in-fill development, particularly for seniors.

All development projects should be undertaken "very, very cautiously," he said.

The community wanted additional retail in Alma Plaza, not more housing, and the process took too long, Dykwel said.

To compensate for the effects of the major expansion at the Stanford Medical Center, Stanford will "clearly need to play a very large role, particularly with the transportation issue," Dykwel said.

He said he'll wait for the environment report to determine if Stanford needs to pitch in to provide housing.

Dykwel said he supports fiber-to-the-home, a composting facility in Palo Alto that is preferably not on parkland and maintaining ownership of Palo Alto Airport, but finding another entity to manage it.

He said he supports the city's current environmental efforts.

"The city is doing tremendous things, we need to keep doing those," Dykwel said. "We need to be innovative."

Dykwel said he believes he is capable of bridging and integrating the city's numerous constituencies and involving "nontraditional communities" in city affairs.

"Let them know the city is really interested in hearing from them, so we don't have a very small, vocal group trying to direct the council," Dykwel said.

He told PAN he doesn't support extending the Planning and Transportation Commission's restrictions on private commissioner communication with interested parties to the City Council.

"I don't see how the public can feel confident of its council members if they refuse to speak with them other than in council chambers." Dykwel said.

And his biggest mistake?

"Not moving to Palo Alto soon enough. I've been here 15 years. I wish I had been here 20 years."

Birth place: Grand Rapids, Mich.

Profession: Real estate broker, communications consultant

Affiliation with Stanford University or other major conflicts: No

Currently reading: Palo Alto 2007-09 Operating Budget & Capital Budget and "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things" by William McDonough & Michael Braungart

Favorite food: Pasta

Vehicle: Silver BMW

Hobbies: Walking, hiking, golf, hosting dinner parties, attending the symphony, visiting museums, biking

Web site:

How to contact:

Sid Espinosa

Charismatic and loquacious, Sid Espinosa says his campaign has generated a momentum of its own, attracting both supporters and donations.

"It's humbling," Espinosa said.

The 35-year-old director of philanthropy at Hewlett-Packard didn't make his connections to the community overnight, however. The Professorville resident is vice president of the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation and serves on the board of the Chamber of Commerce.

A self-proclaimed public-policy wonk, Espinosa attended Wesleyan University and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and worked as an aide to Attorney General Janet Reno.

When he returned to California, Espinosa chose Palo Alto.

"This is a wonderful city," Espinosa said. "This is a unique place. A lot of people forget that during campaigns."

His first area to focus on would be the city's aging infrastructure.

It's embarrassing that residents head to neighboring cities to visit a first-class library, Espinosa said.

"It's been 30 years since we've built a city facility and that's unheard of to go that long. ... We've just rested on our laurels," he said.

Financing the improvements to city facilities, streets and other necessities won't be easy, Espinosa acknowledged. "We need to as a city come together and think about how to get creative."

He has already worked with the city as a board member of the Art Center Foundation, which is working in partnership with the city to renovate the center.

As a council member, Espinosa said he would also try to increase revenues, control costs and make Palo Alto a center of green entrepreneurship.

"People need to start looking at the environment as an opportunity for business growth and development," Espinosa said.

Espinosa acknowledged that additional housing growth will occur and said the city needs to focus on well-planned, carefully approved projects.

Stanford Medical Center is a "world-renowned resource," Espinosa said, adding that he plans to negotiate hard to ensure Palo Altans are compensated for the consequences of the proposed expansion.

He said he hopes to tap into existing in-city talent to provide services such as the city's Web site, which he said could have been created by top-notch local designers volunteering their time. Residents should also be more involved with the development of the city's budget, Espinosa told Palo Alto Neighborhoods.

Espinosa said he's an advocate for government transparency and believer that "parkland is sacrosanct."

Espinosa loves his job at Hewlett-Packard but sometimes, he admitted, he lets himself slip into the "high-pressure, fast-paced" Silicon Valley lifestyle.

"Sometimes that's fun, but it can cause you to be in such a rush that sometimes you forget to slow down and step back and just appreciate that we live in this country and are blessed with so many things."

Birth place: Santa Clara

Profession: Director of Philanthropy, Hewlett-Packard

Affiliation with Stanford University or other major conflicts: No

Currently reading: "What is the What" by Dave Eggers

Favorite food: Ha Long Bay Soup from Tamarine, lamb chops from Evvia Estiatorio, naan bread and sushi

Vehicle: 2000 Ford Escort

Hobbies: Watching movies, scuba diving, taking photos, hiking, reading

Web site:

How to contact:

Victor Frost

Candidate Victor Frost is easy to find.

Nearly every day, he can be spotted sitting on Homer Avenue across from Whole Foods Market with a large cardboard sign and small American flag.

He's also a fixture on the Palo Alto ballot, having run for City Council in at least the last five elections.

But Frost, a large man with shaggy white hair and streetwise fashion, hasn't ever been elected.

Once an outspoken homeless representative, Frost now has his own lodging in the recently constructed Opportunity Center. That hasn't stopped him from speaking up for the less-fortunate, however.

Frost wants to streamline community meals for the homeless, which are currently scattered across the city, making it tough for people with mental or emotional difficulties to keep track of, he said.

And this year, he's particularly riled up about City Manager Frank Benest and the council's extension of a "sit-lie" ban, which was intended to prevent panhandlers and others like himself from occupying public sidewalks during busy hours.

Interestingly, the ban doesn't seem to be working — Frost and others can often be found along Homer Avenue. The city hasn't given a coherent reason for its lack of enforcement.

Nonetheless, Frost is working on a lawsuit against the city and Whole Foods, an effort he hopes will finance his retirement to a goat farm in northern California.

This year, Frost says his campaign is about constitutional rights and the oath of office taken by officials, which he believes the council members who voted for the sit-lie ban have broken.

Frost said he moved here when he was 9, after his parents died in a vehicle accident. He grew up in area group homes.

He has fond memories of Palo Alto, particularly the Duck Pond, and said he fell on tough times after he lost his job.

As a perpetual candidate and panhandler, Frost said he is in touch with the average Palo Altan and pledges to "generally improve the quality of life for all Palo Altans and develop a better democracy."

Frost says he's also a strong library supporter and an environmentalist, dedicated to organic gardening and solar power.

His stance on the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center expansions isn't particularly important, Frost said.

"Stanford will do what they want to do," Frost said.

If elected, Frost said he plans to make presentations and videos that will be accessible on the city's Web site.

He thinks public wireless is a better way to go than broadband fiber and said he won't carry a cell phone if elected.

Frost said he's most proud of the awareness he's brought to the homeless community, and he plans to continue working to improve conditions for the city's least fortunate.

Birth place: Another state

Profession: Panhandler, homeless advocate

Affiliation with Stanford University or other major conflicts: No

Currently reading: Although he doesn't read books, Frost said he's a voracious watcher of videos he borrows from the library. His favorite is "The King of the Masks."

Favorite food: Seafood

Vehicle: 1968 maroon Mercedes that needs two front seats

Hobbies: Flying kites, playing in the Trinity River, barbecuing

Web site: None

How to contact: Visit on Homer Avenue.

Tim Gray

Charleston Meadows resident Tim Gray, 47, was spurred into service by a column published in the Weekly by former Mayor Vic Ojakian, calling for additional City Council candidates.

Until then, he said, he had always been content to let others take care of city business.

An accountant and business consultant with his firm, Treasury Advocates, Gray said he can bring fresh management and fiscal insight to the city.

Gray admits he's still learning about city operations, but says he can encourage financial responsibility and additional community input if elected to the council.

"I'm running on the platform of citizen participation," he said. "When there is a sense of fairness, there can be consensus and support for action. It's not a naïve, idealistic concept."

Before his desire solidified to involve himself in city responsibilities, Gray was best known as a former financial leader at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

He spent seven years shaping the finances of the then-new Children's Hospital, where his wife is still an employee, Gray said. Because of her affiliation, he would be conflicted out of voting on Stanford-related issues if elected.

He acknowledges that he is biased about the proposed Stanford Medical Center. The expansion is much-needed and wonderful, but Stanford should still help compensate for some of its consequences, Gray said.

Gray said he's a strong supporter of environmental efforts, but will advocate ensuring programs such as the Zero Waste effort as user-friendly.

"All the idealism in the world isn't going to get people to take care of the Earth. We have to make it convenient," he said.

He's also a big proponent of cost-effective environmental efforts.

"Big Green and financial discipline are not in conflict with each other," he said.

The most significant challenge facing Palo Alto is the task of "making room for all the people that want to participate in this wonderful place," according to Gray.

He said that by encouraging resident involvement, and carefully analyzing existing plans, the city should carefully balance the effects of growth.

In particular, the community needs to make sure that additional growth doesn't harm the schools, he said.

He and his wife, Susan, know a thing or two about the schools. They adopted three children: 8-year-old Catherine and twins Michael and Julia, 5, from southern California foster homes.

"Creating a family has been something that's beyond the sum of its parts," Gray said. "Reaching out to the community is a nice and natural next step."

Gray said he also opened his wallet to a homeless man he met in downtown Palo Alto, helping the man secure a place to live in Lytton Gardens.

In the past, Gray admitted, he sometimes wanted to be right so badly he damaged business relationships. But he's wiser now.

"I learned that credit and blame are not really commodities that have any currency. It's really in the relationships and keeping positive relationships that makes life work," Gray said.

Birth place: Lewiston, Idaho

Profession: Business financial consultant

Affiliation with Stanford University or other major conflicts: Yes

Currently reading: "Feynman Lectures on Physics" by Richard Phillips Feynman

Favorite food: Salmon

Vehicle: Blue Honda Pilot

Hobbies: Golfing, stone sculpting

Web site:

How to contact: "Contact Tim" link on Web site.

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at


Posted by GSB, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 4, 2007 at 3:44 pm

Only in reading the article itself that I discovered that the first 5 candidates featured were in alphabetical order. Unfortunately, in looking at the cover of the newspaper, the absense of any of the women running is a bit disturbing. I wish another method of choosing had been done to stagger the women between the two interviewing pools.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 4, 2007 at 3:59 pm

GSB - why is that? A women needs a leg up, so she can't just take her alphabetical place in line?

Posted by Long time resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2007 at 10:02 pm

Here is what I am looking for in canidates:

No ties to big businesses and high density developers. We have and have had enough of that. Even though many or most of the council and past councils are well educated, buight and have much productive experience the city in many ways in in shambles, cahouse (sp?)and it must be because they just can't work together for the good of the entire city. They do work for what is best,good for their own neighborhood. i.e. A $5,000,000 plus tunnel under the railroad tracks, a $12,000,000 to $20,000,000 little park in the SOFA neighborhood,but no plans for new parks for the rest of the city. Also fiber to the home at about $1,000,000 with no plans for how to expand it beyound the small area it was installed.

More retail, especially in S.Palo Alto. Converting Alma Plaza,to primarly housing was or is seen as a hostile act toward the neighborhood this retail area served. Telling the people in S.Palo Alto that they "can just go to Mountain View to shop" was not a friendly statement.

An ideal (or most ideal available) space for several Auto Dealerships was rezoned to housing, etc.

A hotel site was rezoned to super high density housing.

A scoccer field was placed where where a hotel, police station, moderate cost housing for the near-by jobs or retail could have gone

The problems is which canidates will takle the tough issues that are the "Elephant "in the room.

CO2 production by the commuters is a big one.
Housing on Stanford land for the workers on Stanford land is another one.
A parcel tax on the big commercial buildings, based on sq.ft. is another idea that the corporate people will fight.

Dealing with the Flood Zone or area that gets flooded periodically is possibly a zoning, new code issue that should be addressed to protect the city,people from big ,threatened lawsuits.

I hope I don't sound discouraged, or negative about what has and will continue to happen unless things change in this city.

More comments later ,Thanks

Posted by Pollster, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 4, 2007 at 11:49 pm

It seems a fairly wide-ranging group of people, but the "locked-in" candidates are all but voted in. Money and endorsements will see Espinosa, Dykwel, Burt, and Yeh voted in.

That's a diverse enough bunch,, and they're all committed to building infrastructure. they do have some differences on development, but all appear to be measured in that concern.

Posted by no to outsiders, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 6, 2007 at 10:03 pm


What I don't like about candidate Yeh is that less than 25% of the money she has raised has come from Palo Altans from what I read in the Weekly. I am leary of people whose campaign financing comes from outside of the city. I most likely will not vote for such a person.

Posted by vote watcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2007 at 11:54 am

It is true that the candidates you indicated have the money and the endorsements but are they really the right candidates for Palo Alto? Unfortunately a vast majority of the residents do not read about the issues and compare between the candidates. Only 150 people attended the League of Women Voters forums, and some of the questions were brain dead type. No one asked specific questions that required a Yes or No answer.

I think we deserve the council members we get, they do not represent the majority, simply because the majority do not want to spend the time to decide, so they let the endorsements decide for them.

By the way, Yiaway is a male and not a female.

Posted by Pollster, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 7, 2007 at 12:11 pm

vote watcher, Palo Alto's political culture mitigate against making politics more inviting here - in a way keeps involvement down. That said, this is pretty much the case in most municipalities.

Here, we have a "quiet" demeanor to politics; this is quite common in upper-middle-class communities. But again, municipal elections are too often very staid affairs.

Our political structure is consensus driven; it's not "leader" driven. Thus, one sees and hears pretty much the same things from most candidates, with slight variations.

To your question: I would disagree that the folks running don't resonate with Palo Altans. We all have ideas about what the majority of Palo Altans want. My bias is that most of us want to be able to continue current service levels, and create a city that is growing in a measured way, and sustainable (including its institutions) into the future.

The four candidates I mentioned above, combinhed with who is currently on Council, seem to me to create the best combination of persons who can thrive in a *focused*, consensus-driven environment.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2007 at 12:26 pm

It is good to have specific places to see all the candidates, but I really appreciate the candidates who come out into the community and actually meet the voters. I was at my son's ayso soccer pictures today and Claude Ezran (granted running for school board, but the principle is the same) was there in his vote for Claude t shirt, handing out information and speaking to people. This is the type of candidate I like to see, someone who is not afraid of getting into conversations with people and meeting people where they are at, not waiting for them to come to him. I am sure he spoke with many people who were previously unaware of who he was, but now are interested enough to find out more and perhaps vote for him. Good for you Claude.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2007 at 4:13 pm

Pollster, you say, “most of us want to be able to continue current service levels, and create a city that is growing in a measured way, and sustainable (including its institutions) into the future.”

I think our city is going downhill fast. Infrastructure is crumbling and in spite of a staff larger than most nearby cities, I wouldn’t say services are great.

As for “a *focused*, consensus-driven environment,” there’s not much of a focus when every new mayor sets his/her priorities when taking office. We have too much consensus and not enough discussion and analysis.

Please see comments at: Web Link

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2007 at 12:01 pm

pat, Palo Alto maintains the highest service levels - in terms of number of services - than any of our municipal neighbors. Many of us take these services for granted.

Most of the people I know in Palo Alto like it here, and are mostly pleased with city services.

Yes, there are some challenges inPalo Alto, but these challenges will be overcome with the right leadership, and a more concerted effort to engage our citizenry.

I believe we have to frame our political challnges in terms of opportunity.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2007 at 12:23 pm

We have a great opportunity to guide the city in a new direction with the upcoming bond elections.

By turning down the library and police bonds, we'll be telling the city establishment that they have to learn to spend our generous city revenues more responsibly, that they'll have to make choices and prioritize when budgeting, and that they'll have to start saying no to some of the regular special interest pleaders in town.

Mike is right. Our challenges are not insurmountable as long as we say "no more business as usual".

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Chris, nice spin, but no cigar.

See you at the polls, where an 80-85% MAJORITY will pass the upcoming bonds (all of them) and thus set the stage for Palo Alto's sustainable future.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2007 at 1:46 pm

We'll never have a sustainable future as long as the establishment thinks they can come running to us for more money when their profligacy gets them into trouble.

And I don't smoke - cigars or otherwise. I think the Council made them illegal in town when they should have been focusing on our finances.

Posted by Benjamin, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 8, 2007 at 2:32 pm

"the establishment"??

I thought terms like that went out in the 60's.

Blaming people for our problems really gets old

I'm with Mike, leys more forward

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