City Council to lose its two youngest members | July 20, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 20, 2012

City Council to lose its two youngest members

Yeh, Espinosa decline to seek second terms

by Gennady Sheyner

The race for four seats on the Palo Alto City Council further opened up this week after Mayor Yiaway Yeh announced that he would not seek a second term.

Yeh, who this year became the second-youngest mayor in Palo Alto's history, made his announcement just days after his friend and mayoral predecessor, Sid Espinosa, said he would not run again. Both Yeh and Espinosa joined the council in 2007. Councilmen Pat Burt and Greg Schmid were also elected that year, and both have said they intend to seek fresh terms on the nine-member council.

The announcements by Yeh and Espinosa could create opportunities for new candidates to jump into the race. The city's most recent council elections, in 2009, attracted 14 candidates, only one of whom (Larry Klein) was an incumbent.

So far, only two new candidates have opted to enter the race. Former Mayor Liz Kniss, who is concluding her final term on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, announced her decision in January. She served as mayor in 1994 and in 2000.

Kniss was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2000 and was re-elected in 2004 and 2008. Despite her more than decade-long hiatus from the council, she has remained a familiar figure at City Hall, updating the council on various regional issues, most notably Caltrain.

Kniss has twice served as president of the Board of Supervisors (most recently in 2010) and has chaired various committees focused on health and land-use policies.

She also encouraged the city last year to switch the council elections from odd to even years to save money and spur greater voter participation. The council put Measure E on the 2010 ballot, and it passed overwhelmingly.

More recently, attorney Marc Berman declared his candidacy. At 31, he could inject some youth into a council that is about to lose its two youngest members. While he doesn't have Kniss' political experience or name recognition, he has been gradually building a broad base of support through various volunteering efforts. He served in 2010 on the campaign committee for Measure A, the school district's successful parcel-tax proposal. Last year, he was a member of the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Task Force, a citizens group that surveyed the city's infrastructural needs and recommended ways to pay for the needed repairs.

Berman's fledgling campaign has already received the support of dozens of local attorneys, professionals and residents and more than $22,000 in cash contributions. His list of contributors includes venture capitalist Steve Westly, former Mayor Gary Fazino, former school board member Carolyn Tucher and current Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd.

Yeh's announcement Tuesday came five days after Espinosa said he won't be running again. In announcing his decision, Espinosa called serving on the council "one of the most rewarding experiences of my life." He also encouraged other candidates to run for what he called an "important and rewarding job."

Espinosa, a Microsoft executive who directs the company's philanthropic efforts in Silicon Valley, said he is weighing various opportunities in the private and public sectors and plans to spend some time between now and the end of the year figuring out which of these to pursue.

Yeh, a Gunn High School graduate who in his five years at the dais emerged as the council's leading expert on energy issues, put his own stamp on the largely ceremonial mayoral position this year by launching a series of "Mayor's Challenge" sporting competitions to bring neighborhoods together. Yeh, who previously worked as assistant city auditor for the City of Oakland, has also been a strong supporter of the city's efforts to engage local youth and a leading proponent of the city's aggressive green-energy programs.

In his announcement, Yeh listed issues the city needs to focus on in the coming months: repairing the city's infrastructure, holding "constructive stakeholder dialogues" on tackling the city's long-term financial liabilities, deepening the city's engagement with the innovation community, supporting the city's "Friends" groups and pursuing a carbon-neutral electric portfolio.

Yeh, who is the first Chinese-American mayor in Palo Alto's history, called serving as mayor and councilman "an adventure and honor."

Meanwhile, Burt and Schmid decided to try to keep their respective council adventures going. Schmid, an economist, emerged in recent years as one of the council's most outspoken opponents of regional housing mandates. The soft-spoken and methodical councilman has even authored a white paper challenging the census projections that the Association of Bay Area Governments is using to support these mandates.

Schmid was also a leading force behind the recent colleagues' memo addressing the subject of the city's pension and health care liabilities. The council earlier this month voted to hold a broad and public conversation to address these topics in September.

Burt, who co-authored the recent memo (along with Schmid, Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman), served as Palo Alto's mayor in 2010 and has been a central player in the city's opposition to high-speed rail and the regional effort to improve flood protection near the San Francisquito Creek.

Burt told the Weekly that if re-elected, he plans to pursue his primary goals in transforming the city government into a leaner and more efficient organization; establishing Palo Alto as an environmental leader; and boosting the city's emergency-preparedness efforts.

Burt represents Palo Alto on the Peninsula Cities Consortium, a coalition of cities working on high-speed rail issues, and serves as board chair of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, an agency that aims to improve flood control around the volatile creek in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

Burt called emergency-preparedness a priority that's "not particularly glamorous but extremely important."

In terms of creating a "more efficient and innovative city government," Burt said: "Over the past four years, we've made great progress, but there's more work to do."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


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