Palo Altan Rebecca Eisenberg looks to have pulled off an upset for Santa Clara Valley Water District's District 7 seat incumbent Gary Kremen.
As of 4:41 p.m. Wednesday, Eisenberg maintained her lead, 53.6% to Kremen's 46.4% with an estimated 51% of the total ballots cast having been counted, according to the Registrar of Voters.
The energetic Kremen, who has been on the board for 12 years, was seeking a third term. Eisenberg, a Palo Altan, challenged him for the seat.
While not yet declaring victory, Eisenberg told the Weekly that she thinks her position "looks good."
"I also think that this reflects a growing understanding and appreciation by voters of how important climate change is, and how urgent it is for us to implement more sustainable measures," she said.
"If my opponent wins, it shows how hard it is to beat an incumbent, and how important shorter term limits are," she said.
Kremen at one point amassed a $272,814 war chest that was more than 10 times that of Eisenberg, funded largely by a $101,000 loan he made to his campaign and $162,440 that was rolled over from his campaign for county assessor, which was aborted earlier this year.
Eisenberg reduced Kremen's lead from 10 times to four times her campaign funding, largely with funding from individual donors and her own loans to her campaign. Through Oct. 22, she raised more than 1 1/2 times the amount from individual donors — $41,889 to his $26,317, Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) filings show.
Both candidates focused their campaigns on promises of building a sustainable future for the water district, which has faced the need to rebuild an aging infrastructure, dwindling water supplies during the current drought and concerns about a growing population thirsting for more water amid climate change.
The sheriff's race
Former Palo Alto police Chief Robert "Bob" Jonsen is ahead of Kevin Jensen in the hotly contested race for Santa Clara County sheriff, according to election results as of Wednesday afternoon.
Jonsen, who ran on the platform of being an outsider who would bring reform to the beleaguered sheriff's office, has secured 51.4% of the ballots counted to Jensen's 48.5%. The counted ballots total 30.6% of the county's registered voters; the Registrar of Voters estimates that 51% of ballots cast in this election have been counted.
Jensen raised more than twice the money of Jonsen and had the benefit of hundreds of thousands of dollars in support through union and law enforcement political action committees. He had been working to convince voters that despite serving in the sheriff's office for many years under Laurie Smith, who resigned last week, he would bring change to the office.
For the past 12 years, he has been a vocal critic of his ex-boss, who was found guilty of six counts of corruption and misconduct in a civil corruption trial on Nov. 3. Jonsen has characterized Jensen as an "insider" who would not bring the necessary reforms needed for the office, which has faced bribery scandals and lawsuits for deputies who mishandled mentally ill inmates and cost the county more than $20 million in legal settlements.
Jonsen also faced criticism regarding transparency — a major topic in the race — for his handling of police radio encryption and concerns about the behavior of some of his officers, which resulted in legal settlements related to officer brutality.
Palo Alto's business tax and utility transfer
Palo Alto voters offered the City Council a financial lifeline on Tuesday night when they overwhelmingly approved the city's business tax and emphatically affirmed its historic practice of transferring funds from the gas utility to pay for basic city services.
By approving Measure K and Measure L, in both cases by huge margins, voters have significantly brightened the financial outlook at City Hall after two years of uncertainty. Even though city revenues have largely rebounded after taking a hit during the pandemic, the current budget relies in part on one-time sources such as federal grants to fund public safety positions and other basic services.
City leaders had warned that without new revenue sources, many of the services that had been reinstated over the past year would need to be cut once again.
The two measures sailed through with ease, with Measure K, the business tax, picking up 67.1% of the vote and Measure L, the gas transfer policy, earning 77.3%, as of Wednesday afternoon.
Keith Reckdahl, who led the Measure K campaign, said the result suggests the fact that people generally trust the local government and think highly of the quality of local services.
"They think the government is doing good things for them and this is their opportunity to help with those things," Reckdahl said.
The adoption of business tax follows years of debate and intense negotiations with local and regional business leaders. The tax is projected to raise about $9.6 million annually, with proceeds split among three categories: affordable housing, improvements to the rail corridor and public safety. It would apply only to businesses with more than 10,000 square feet of space and it would tax businesses 7.5 cents per square foot, with taxes capped at $500,000.
The new tax will be far more modest than the one that the council had contemplated earlier this year, when it considered a rate of 12 cents per square foot and exemptions for businesses with less than 5,000 square feet of space. That version, which was expected to raise about $15 million, was scuttled over the course of negotiations between a committee of council members and leaders from the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. The two organizations were preparing to campaign against the new business tax but agreed not to oppose it after the measure was scaled back.
Reckdahl suggested that the compromise was key to Measure K's success. While many residents had hoped that the business tax would bring in more money, a higher rate may have jeopardized the measure with the business community preparing to spend significant sums to defeat it.
"We got some money. We would've wanted to have more, because these are good causes, but better to have a high chance of some money than a small chance of more money," Reckdahl said.
Unlike Measure K, Measure L does not direct funds to any particular program or service. Rather, it allows the city to transfer about $7 million annually from the gas utility to the general fund, which pays for most basic services not relating to utilities. The vote authorizes the city to transfer up to 18% of the gas utility's revenues to the general fund, consistent with historic practice.
The city was forced to halt the transfer practice in 2020 after a Santa Clara County judge ruled that it amounts to an illegal tax. The council then moved in August to place a measure on the ballot that would explicitly authorize the gas transfer.
Leah Russin, who ran the Measure L campaign, said the campaign had a clear message: Now is not the time to be cutting funding. The measure is particularly urgent at a time when the city is losing federal funding from the pandemic and striving to meet an ambitious climate goal of carbon neutrality.
For proponents of Measure L, it helps that the money is coming from fossil fuel that the city is hoping to discourage. And even with the transfers, Russin noted, the city's gas rates remain cheaper than PG&E.
"We didn't want to put ourselves in the position of potentially incentivizing people to keep gas appliances," she said. "That just doesn't make sense for our city's climate goals."