Burt, Kou to lead Palo Alto as mayor, vice mayor | January 7, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 7, 2022

Burt, Kou to lead Palo Alto as mayor, vice mayor

Council veteran chosen for top position for third time

by Gennady Sheyner

Pat Burt will lead the Palo Alto City Council in 2022 after his colleagues elected him on Monday as the city's mayor for the third time in his political career.

The election of Burt, a vice mayor in 2021, to the council's top leadership position was largely a foregone conclusion given the city's tradition of elevating vice mayors to the central chair on the dais. But even as most of his colleagues supported hewing to this tradition, two council members, Alison Cormack and Greg Tanaka, favored electing Lydia Kou as mayor. Both pointed to the city's growing Asian American population and the fact that the city hasn't had an Asian American mayor since 2012, when Yiaway Yeh filled that role.

"If we do not elect Lydia Kou as mayor, it will be a minimum of 10 years since we had an Asian American in this role," Cormack said.

Cormack also noted that Burt's elevation to the mayor's chair means that an entire class at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools will have gone through high school without seeing a female mayor. The three council members who had preceded Burt as mayor were Tom DuBois, Adrian Fine and Eric Filseth.

Tanaka agreed with Cormack and, citing the recent rise in hate crimes against Asian American residents, said it's a "travesty" that the council doesn't have greater diversity.

"I think representation is really important," Tanaka said. "I think that it's been a long time since we had an Asian American mayor."

The majority of the council, however, agreed that Burt is the perfect choice for the job, given his lengthy experience in local policymaking. First elected to the council in 2007, Burt served for two consecutive terms, which included stints as mayor in 2010 and 2016, the final year of his second term. Burt returned to the council in 2020 after winning the most votes in the council election.

Burt's elevation to mayor became cemented after Kou declined Cormack's nomination and moved to nominate Burt. Kou lauded his wealth of experience as both a council member and as an advocate for transportation and environmental sustainability on the regional level. She also suggested that his experience as a policymaker will serve the city well as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As the pandemic continues, health and safety are at top of the mind, and Pat has always been a step ahead in recommending ideas and solutions," Kou said.

The council voted 6-0 to elect Burt as mayor, with Tanaka abstaining. After the vote, Burt said he looks forward to leading the council in the next year as it tries to address its priorities relating to environmental protection and economic recovery.

"This has been the biggest disruption to our community in decades," Burt said, referring to COVID-19. "We're not through it yet but we're on a path to recovery.

"We're currently facing a new rough patch in the road with the omicron, but the indications are that we'll be moving past that pretty rapidly and we'll then continue to proceed on addressing the challenges that the council has set ... at the beginning of the year."

Kou, meanwhile, will likely have a chance to serve as mayor in 2023. Immediately after electing Burt as mayor, the council unanimously chose Kou as vice mayor for the coming year. Council member Greer Stone, who nominated Kou, lauded her for her fairness in running meetings and for being a "fierce advocate for issues such as sustainability, affordable housing and always offering a truly passionate voice for our city's residents."

"I think her abilities to be able to look at the complex issues, to be able to examine those issues, to be able to listen to residents and stakeholders and nonprofits and corporations and be a true coalition builder is going to mean a lot for our community ... to be able to strive forward," Stone said.

Unlike Burt, a political moderate who often wields the swing vote, Kou is a stalwart of the council's "residentialist" political camp, which favors slow-growth policies. She has been a fierce critic of recent state laws to encourage more housing — including last year's Senate Bill 9 and Senate Bill 10 — and of regional mandates on housing. She has also been a passionate advocate for strengthening the city's policies to protect renters, for addressing airplane noise and for expanding Palo Alto's tree-protection ordinance.

Kou was elected to the council in 2016 and was reelected in 2020. Kou said that as vice mayor, she intends to work closely with Burt, the council and staff to achieve the community's "shared vision of a livable Palo Alto."

"I believe there is consensus in the community around addressing our transportation and traffic issues, sensible housing growth that addresses the cost of living here while respecting the trees and the natural environment and resources," Kou said.

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by Palo Alto Green
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 3, 2022 at 9:40 pm

Palo Alto Green is a registered user.

Congrats to Pat & Lydia. I'm hopeful Kou will be elected Mayor next year.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2022 at 11:25 pm

felix is a registered user.

We are in able hands with Burt and Kou at the helm.

Council Member Tanaka - give it a rest with your “travesty” talk. We know you’re just grasping at straws for your omni-present campaign.

And Council Member Cormack - democratically electing the Mayor and Vice Mayor is a good thing and a good way to avoid a rotation into mediocre leadership.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2022 at 9:01 am

Bystander is a registered user.

It is time to stop thinking of race and gender when it comes to who is most suitable. I think it is completely wrong to have a woman or an asian do anything just because they check one or other (or both) of these boxes. Counting the number of years between seems a poor criteria for choosing a candidate for anything.

I would much rather someone be chosen because it is felt they will do a good job. That should be a value we can agree on.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 4, 2022 at 9:43 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I agree with Bystander that Cormack's tokenism was wrong. I'd also add that it was totally and transparently opportunistic, seeking to create more division.

Kudos to Lydia for rejecting the "nomination" for what it was.

I was very glad to hear 3+ speakers last night criticize Cormack and Liz Kniss for suddenly objecting to how PA selects mayors wrong when of course they found nothing wrong with it when Liz was grooming her "Liz Kids" aka "The Gang of Five" for office.

Years later we're still dealing with the damage caused by "No Traffic Here" Ms Kniss, Mr. Fine etc. who never opposed a costly project or a big development project. Too bad about those office-based housing targets.

Speaking of the continued density push, I was amazed and disgusted to hear a PA "Planner" talk about how we can meet our climate goals if we ALL restrict our lives to places we can get to in 15 MINUTES by walking, public transit and biking.

Let's just ignore the almost 1,000,000 new people we're forced to add to the Bay Area to placate big tech and big developers.

Shame on Kniss/Cormack for their greedy and destructive opportunism. At least Ms Cormack failed to destroy the resident-serving amenities at Town & Country thanks to community pressure and Lydia's common sense approach of talking to the T&C retailers -- something that should have been done originally since the PA "planners" never even bothered to define Nedical/Retail or to question Cormack's laughable claim that people hurting from their medical procedures were going to go shopping!

The praise for Lydia foe doing her homework and being in touch with the community was well-deserved.

Posted by KOhlson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 4, 2022 at 11:12 am

KOhlson is a registered user.

Congratulations to Pat Burt and Lydia Kou. I look forward to their leadership.

Posted by Julie O
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 4, 2022 at 11:48 am

Julie O is a registered user.

Congratulations to Pat Burt and Lydia Kou. We are in good hands with these two!

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2022 at 11:49 am

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Online Name: thank you for your honest assessment and post.! thank you for speaking the unpleasant truth.

Kudos to Lydia for turning down Cormack's nomination.

Lydia deserved the Vice-Mayor nomination not because she is a Asian woman but because of all the hard work she has done during her 22+ years of community involvement. She listens, has time for voters and speaks honestly from her heart.

I wish Burt and Kou the best as it will be hard to dig out from all the damage of covid and the political greed and stupidity dividing our country. If anyone can do it they can.
Again, congratulations.

Posted by Palo Alto well-wisher
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2022 at 11:53 am

Palo Alto well-wisher is a registered user.

Congrats to Pat!
I do hope we can honestly revisit the Walkable Palo Alto initiative or, at least, make the changes to make Palo Alto a welcome community-driven place for everyone. Just look at Mountain View or even Sunnyvale!

Posted by AnnetteG
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2022 at 12:05 pm

AnnetteG is a registered user.

Congratulations and best wishes to Pat and Lydia. excellent choice/best choice.

I am also opposed to selection of Mayor and Vice Mayor by rotation. It will ensure mediocracy at some point for vice mayor and mayor. The "election by peers" process works. Don't change it,

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2022 at 1:07 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Congratulations to our new mayor and vice mayor. This will be a challenging year for us all. Thank you for your service, and I wish you and all of our Council Members success as you lead us through 2022.

How can we citizens help?

Posted by gary_f
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 4, 2022 at 4:32 pm

gary_f is a registered user.

“Council veteran chosen for top position for third time”-says it all
Same old same old - stuck in the 90s

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 4, 2022 at 4:57 pm

Annette is a registered user.

GREAT news. Pat Burt knows Palo Alto well, he is a problem solver, and I think his focus will be on what's best for the city, the environment, and the region. And Lydia Kou is easily one of the hardest working, most well prepared, most resident-focused Council members to sit on the dais. She has demonstrated her commitment to Palo Alto in numerous ways. Remember Quakeville? She's creative and dedicated. This is a promising development.

@Online Name: your comments suggest that this was one heckofa meeting. Hopefully the strengths and tendencies of this new leadership team will take us into a new era focused on accomplishing what is best for Palo Alto rather than what is opportune for one's political life or agenda.

Finally: thank you to Tom DuBois!

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 4, 2022 at 5:35 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Annette, yes, thank you to Tom DuBois and it was one incredible meeting!

If you missed it, you can watch it on Palo Alto's YouTube channel here Web Link

It's well worth watching and hearing the involved community members and CC members speak about what's important to them.

Posted by Teacher
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 4, 2022 at 6:46 pm

Teacher is a registered user.

Last night we learned a great deal about City Council. While tokenism and opportunism dimmed the evening, I look forward to Councilmember Kou eclipsing such pettiness.

Having taught in the district, I doubt more than 10% of Gunn/PALY students can name a single council member, and it was no different when Yiaway Yeh or Yoriko Kishimoto were mayor. Elevating Kou because she checks both gender and ethnic boxes is cynical, ingratiating, and racist. Some on council need reminding that we are striving for a society where leaders are not judged for the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

The good news is that Lydia Kou revealed more integrity last night than her supporters. She does her homework, listens with an open mind, and is willing to tack against convenient winds. She recognizes the value of being Vice Mayor. Serving with a seasoned leader like Pat Burt is a great opportunity that Kou appears to value. When Kou ascends to the Mayor's seat, she'll be ready.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 4, 2022 at 9:20 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Congratulations to both council members Burt and Kou. Our city will be well served.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 4, 2022 at 11:28 pm

felix is a registered user.

There is a legitimate need for balanced ethnic/racial representation on our City Council and it’s leadership. We’ve done pretty well.

The problem last night was that Cormack and Tanaka turned things into self-interested virtue signaling, having ignored Kou’s not wanting to be Mayor. Hardly the high road.

Only Liz Kniss outdid them as she suddenly parroted Cormack’s call for rotating Mayor and Vice Mayor among Council rather than elect them. This from a 3-times elected Mayor who never espoused rotating before.

Having been fined thousands of dollars by the FPPC for her illegal campaign practices, yet leading the League of Women Voters campaign finance effort, must have limbered her up to reach new heights of hypocrisy.

Posted by community member
a resident of University South
on Jan 5, 2022 at 2:53 pm

community member is a registered user.

The alliance of Kniss and Cormack continues. Kniss was very active in getting Cormack elected. Her picture was prominent in Cormack's ads.

Cormack is closely connected to big money interests. She spent a long time raising money for library demolition and reconstruction.
(Notice I did not say library improvement.) She equated bigger with better. Like Liz.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 6, 2022 at 8:37 am

Annette is a registered user.

I watched the video of the mayor/vice-mayor election. The comments by former mayor Kniss are remarkable. To use the word "balanced" to describe CC composition during most of the years that Kniss was on CC is, at best, misleading. If it had been even close to balanced the jobs:housing imbalance might not be as bad as it is. And for her to suddenly espouse rotation over election for choosing CC leadership is transparent. The approach isn't perfect, but rotation would be even more imperfect.

Also seen on the video (~ 3 minutes in) a sign low on the wall behind the dais that says CAUTION RAT TRAPS SET. So, there are rats at City Hill. Who knew?

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