Kou and Stone to lead city as mayor, vice mayor | January 13, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 13, 2023

Kou and Stone to lead city as mayor, vice mayor

City Council welcomes 3 new members and chooses its leaders for 2023

by Gennady Sheyner

Lydia Kou, a real estate agent who in her six years on the Palo Alto City Council established herself as a leading critic of Sacramento housing mandates and a chief skeptic on new developments, will serve as Palo Alto mayor in 2023.

She is the second Asian American woman to serve as the city's mayor; the first, Yoriko Kishimoto, was appointed by her colleagues in 2007.

In its first meeting of the year, the council unanimously voted to select Kou as its leader for the current year and also swore in three new members and bid farewell to three outgoing ones. The mayoral outcome was largely predetermined given Kou's position as vice mayor in 2022 and the city's loosely followed tradition of elevating the vice mayor to the mayor's chair.

Shortly after taking the helm, she and her colleagues voted to elevate council member Greer Stone, her friend and political ally, to serve as vice chair, putting him on the path toward becoming mayor in 2024.

Stone, who nominated Kou for the council's top leadership position, praised her "breadth of experience, her passion for work and her empathy for those whom we serve." He cited her many years as a community volunteer in emergency preparedness and her enthusiasm for helping residents get ready for storms over the past week. With the creek flooding, Stone said, Kou helped fill sandbags and knocked on doors to check in on residents in the flood zone.

"Most importantly, she doesn't do any of this to further any political image," Stone said. "She does it because she simply is a good person."

His colleagues concurred and lauded Kou for her commitment to her principles, her love for the city and her passion for assisting residents.

"I don't know of anyone with greater passion and compassion for our community," Mayor Pat Burt said shortly before Kou took over his position at the center of the dais. "And having served with many council members, I don't know of anyone who is more committed to the job, who does her preparation more thoroughly and feels greater devotion to our community than Vice Mayor Kou."

Council member Vicki Veenker also noted that it's been five years since Palo Alto has had a woman mayor (Liz Kniss filled the role in 2018).

"That is too long," Veenker said. "And it's been 11 years since we've had a person of color as mayor — and that is way too long."

In accepting the nomination, Kou said she was "blessed and proud to live in this community."

"We've had challenges in the last couple of years and we certainly still have many challenges ahead of us," Kou said. "We've been on the road to recovery over the last couple of years and we'll continue to work on community resiliency to address what we have learned from a series of atmospheric river storms, and continue our discussion on key priorities that benefit residents, small businesses and economic recovery."

With Kou's ascension to mayor effectively preordained, the only moment of drama in the largely ceremonial meeting came during selection of vice mayor. The contest came down to Stone and council member Greg Tanaka, who has spent six years on the council but has not yet held a leadership role. Stone prevailed by a 5-2 vote, with only council members Julie Lythcott-Haims and Tanaka voting for Tanaka.

Veenker kicked off the process by nominating Stone, lauding his ability to facilitate compromises and his commitment to transparency. She pointed to his status as the only council member who had voted against the Police Department's controversial policy of encrypting police radios — a policy that the department abolished under new Police Chief Andrew Binder.

"His initiative and commitment to the integrity of our policing and criminal justice practices is admirable," she said.

Lythcott-Haims followed by nominating Tanaka, pointing to his longer length of council service and his "deep passion for all of us, as regular folk in Palo Alto." She cited Tanaka's policy of holding regular office hours for constituents. She also noted that Tanaka is set to conclude his council term at the end of 2024, which leaves little time for him to take on a leadership position on the council.

"To me, tonight the pertinent question is not: 'Why Council member Tanaka for vice mayor?' but 'Why not?'"

Tanaka also made his case for taking over as vice mayor, noting that he had received more votes than Stone in 2020, when both were on the ballot.

"I bring more experience, better skills and more community trust," Tanaka said.

For Tanaka, however, the election was an uphill climb. He has often set himself apart from his colleagues for his dissents on items that require significant expenditures, for routinely voting against the city budget and for regularly criticizing his colleagues and city staff for what he deems to be excessive spending.

Stone, who was the favorite for the vice mayoral position going into the meeting, had little trouble securing the majority of the votes. Like Kou, he has been a member of the council's more slow-growth wing, often referred to as "residentialists," which continues to enjoy a council majority.

Council member Ed Lauing cited Stone's service as a former chair of the Human Relations Commission and his experience as a council member in working with local commissioners and community volunteers.

"He truly wants to hear multiple points of view," Lauing said. "And that approach and that reputation is invaluable for helping our mayor lead the council and getting things done, which we all say we want to do."

The reorganizational meeting began with the swearing-in ceremony for Lauing, Lythcott-Haims and Veenker and featured the passage of resolutions in honor outgoing council members Alison Cormack, Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth. Council member Pat Burt also received a resolution of appreciation after concluding his term as mayor.

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2023 at 10:10 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I also am pleased that Kou was elected mayor (congratulations), but because she was best choice for the role and not because of her gender or race.


Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 10, 2023 at 10:43 am

Rose is a registered user.

Congratulations to Mayor Kou and Vice Mayor Stone. Thank you for your years of dedicated, careful and thoughtful leadership. I know you’ll serve us well. You bring all the qualities we need: experience, passion, attention to details, empathy, and energy. We are lucky to have you.


Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 10, 2023 at 10:49 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

Very proud to have such caring, capable and passionate citizens serving as Mayor and Vice Mayor.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2023 at 10:53 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I too am pleased with the results and and also not because of gender or race but because Ms Kou and Mr Stone are qualified, well-informed and dig deep into the issues while fighting for us, the residents.

As for JHL's question, ""To me, tonight the pertinent question is not: 'Why Council member Tanaka for vice mayor?' but 'Why not?'" there are many answers to that for anyone who's been paying attention, including the fact that PA as a city doesn't need to get into the Crypto business, that he doesn't follow through on getting answers to residents' questions and that he's never met a big development project he doesn't like

I was struck by the constant harping on which candidates have historically gotten the most vote and that there might be several reasons for that, including the big dollar backing of developers from Palo Alto and, more critically, from outsiders.

We need the most capable leaders, not ones the most money can buy.

Congratulations to Mayor Kou and Vice Mayor Stone. Well-deserved.


Posted by Palo Alto well-wisher
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2023 at 11:25 am

Palo Alto well-wisher is a registered user.

The system of passing the leadership from one person to another does not sound very democratic to me. This only encourages patting each other on the back and inter-praising, if I may use this term, as can be seen from the article above.
It remains to be seen though whether the new elected officials will deliver. Palo Alto has become more and more of a provincial town these days due, in large part, to the residentialist policies.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2023 at 11:29 am

Resident is a registered user.

Greg Tanaka's so called "office hours" are frequently live-streamed without him giving the citizen guests advanced notice of his plans to publicly broadcast their conversation. He has done this to at least two people I know - neither had advanced warning he was doing this and were asked permission on the spot while streaming. He posted one of the office hours livestreams on Next Door with a clickbaity title and unnecessarily put a spotlight on a quiet neighbor who simply had a question.
Quite unprofessional and unbecoming of a leader in my opinion.


Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2023 at 12:18 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

Happy for Lydia Kou as she is what everyone else has already stated. That being said, it's long past time for tax paying citizens to elect a mayor instead of relying on council to appoint one of their own.


Posted by property tax
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2023 at 12:53 pm

property tax is a registered user.

Both Kou and Stone elevation to Mayor & Vice Mayor are well deserved - they've shown that their first priority are the residents; Ms. Venker's comments are a distraction, and would have better kept to herself.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2023 at 1:26 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Lydia Kou, a real estate agent who in her six years on the Palo Alto City Council established herself as a leading critic of Sacramento housing mandates and a chief skeptic on new developments, will serve as Palo Alto mayor in 2023."

Maybe Palo Alto Online can explain why it's bad to criticize policies that ignore the reality of our tanking economy, the huge number of tech layoffs, the pullout of major business tenants -- like Visa from Cal Ave just today -- and mandates that don't account for droughts, floods, fires, etc. Funny how there's rarely criticism of institutions like Stanford, Google and other landlords who are displacing rent-controlled apartment complex tenants and contributing to homelessness.

Any reaction to Gov Newson's announcement TODAY that programs have to be cut now that years of budget surpluses have become a $22,5 Billion deficit?
Web Link

Following up on @Residents comments above, Mr. Tanaka has also listed everyone who's ever written him a letter as a supporter / endorser but to his credit he has removed the names of the people who've objected. Eventually.

I'll always remember my discussion with him about how the Middlefield bollards were backing up traffic INTO the Oregon intersection and how dangerous it was to get stuck there with multiple lanes of traffic speeding at you. He said, "Oh, my son goes to Jordan. I always wondering about those jams." Attempts to find out if he'd ever followed up or done anything to correct the problem got no where -- except my being added BACK onto his list of supporters.

Just two more "why not's" for JHL.


Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2023 at 2:41 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

This is good news - thank you to our new Mayor and Vice Mayor for their service.
- And yes, residents should come first in their prioritization of interests.


Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2023 at 2:51 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Well, Julie Lythcott-Haims having voted for Greg Tanaka for Mayor has already reinforced my decision not to vote for her. If she'd paid any attention to Greg Tanaka's self-serving time on the Palo Alto City Council, she would not have voted that way.


Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2023 at 7:02 pm

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Delighted to see Ms. Kou elected Mayor and Mr. Stone Vice - Mayor. Bodes well for 2023.

Mr. Tanaka would be a lousy, IMO, Vice Mayor or Mayor. He is not a coherent speaker and wanders in his conversations. Can not see him setting an agenda. Use to drive Jim Keane to distraction which was amusing.

Mr Tanaka is also very pro-development; whatever the cost to PA.

Length of time on the Council should not be the criteria for any Leadership position.

Dedication, interest in issues above and beyond what is "required", actually reading the Staff reports and understanding them rather than promoting a personal agenda, ability to work with colleagues, wiliness to consider all sides of an issue and listening to residents and their concerns, IMO, qualifies a person for a leadership role.

Again congratulations to Lydia and Greer.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2023 at 10:20 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Reading this report, I wondered what the reporter would have written had the outcome been other than Kou and Stone. There seems to be opinion in the report; Ms. Kou is much more than the "chief skeptic" on new developments. Those who attended the meeting heard numerous reasons why the Council voted as it did, for both Mayor and Vice Mayor. I think it is great that the top leadership positions are occupied by two Palo Altans who have demonstrated objectivity and have unassailable records of service to Palo Alto residents.


Posted by Nonsense
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2023 at 2:03 am

Nonsense is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2023 at 2:54 pm

Anne is a registered user.

I am also disappointed that Lythcott-Haims supported Greg Tanaka. I spoke to him once during his office hours and he didn't listen to me at all. He is fully committed to a pro-business, pro-developer, residents be damned approach. And as Gennady reports, he is almost always at odds with fellow council members. Lythcott-Haims showed poor judgement; let's hope this isn't a harbinger of things to come. Vicki Veenker gets it. I will miss Filseth and DuBois.


Posted by Silver Linings
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2023 at 11:47 am

Silver Linings is a registered user.

Congratulations to Lydia Kou and Greer Stone! Well deserved. I completely concur about Lydia’s motivations being about serving the community, and about the thoughtfulness that marks both Lydia’s and Greer’s service. Thank you both for your past and future service to all people of this community.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2023 at 12:14 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

I hope VP. Stone will bone up on the true, real number of PA residents living, surviving on poverty wages or of those barely living in our streets RV's . I'd like a full accounting of the data of our most recent census. An accounting of the rise in rents, fuel, foods and goods at a local level. And a better , transparent, oversight accounting of non-profit contracts between the city and Life Moves, Project Sentinel and others. Too. A full accounting of CM Shikada's over abundance of excuses during lock-downs, fires, floods and protests. "We were as unprepared as everyone else". He has used this in his city report time and time again. How much distrust for emergency preparedness is there in this statement? A lot.


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