BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Of the seven members of Palo Alto City Council, no one seems to attract quite as much Twitter backlash as the slow-growth Councilwoman Lydia Kou.
Kou, a Residentialist and real estate agent, is frequently criticized by Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) pro-housing advocates online for opposing the development of dense housing in town.
Some have taken to tweets to accuse her of profiting off of Palo Alto’s housing crisis by blocking the approval of new apartments, condominiums and townhouses in order to maintain multimillion-dollar property values, the reasoning goes.
On Thursday night, Kou inflamed housing advocates when she posted a quote calling the YIMBY movement a “pro-density lobby in California (that) favors density in part because it promotes ‘collectivism’ — reminiscent of the urban planning orthodoxy in the late, great Soviet Union.” The quote is from the article “Restoring the California Dream, Not Nailing Its Coffin” by urban studies scholars Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox on newgeography.com. They say the housing shortage is caused by state regulations restricting urban sprawl, not local resistance to apartment buildings.
“What’s the truth, exactly? Are YIMBYs cruel capitalist neo-liberals or are we socialists?” the Twitter user @PaloAltoYimby posted. “There’s just not a clear narrative here about how YIMBYs are bad.” A Twitter user identifying himself as a Berkeley lawyer and housing advocate criticized Kou’s tweet as a “literal red-scare attempt.”
Another Twitter activist, Bob Morocco, wrote with tongue in cheek that Kou was “using the government to ban a normal market activity to fight collectivism.”
Kou, a vocal opponent of state Sen. Scott Wiener’s legislative efforts to force the approval of dense housing near public transit, told the Post yesterday that she highlighted the excerpt about Soviet collectivism because her family was familiar with “top-down kind of governance” in Communist China.
On Feb. 7, she quoted a Salon.com article calling the YIMBY movement “a pure form of neoliberal sophistry.” And on Feb. 11, Kou posted the 2012 column “Sustainable Growth: It May No Longer Be Sustainable” from the blog citywatchla.com, about Agenda 21, the 1992 United Nations action plan that called for denser, transit-oriented development to combat global warming.
Kou quoted a passage of the column that claims voters “no longer favor” Agenda 21’s densification and public transit components.
“Is there even a shred of ideological consistency in your mind between all of the Agenda 21 conspiracies, the complaints about luxury housing, the complaints about loss of affordable housing and the complaints about socialism you’ve shared in the last few weeks?” Kim-Mai Cutler, a housing advocate and venture capital partner, asked Kou on Twitter.
Cutler told the Post yesterday that Kou’s tweets don’t add up to a consistent worldview.
“I’m just very confused about what she actually believes because none of it makes sense put together. You can’t complain about gentrification and then go and list homes in East Palo Alto for $1M+,” Cutler said. “Other NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) are at least internally coherent.”
According to realtor.com, Kou and her husband John St. Clair III represented the seller of a four-bedroom house in East Palo Alto that sold for $1.2 million in August 2017.
“She tends to attack me on my job,” Kou said yesterday of Cutler. “I don’t attack people on their jobs, you know, on their livelihoods and that sort of thing.”
Kou said she doesn’t look at the replies to her tweets and invoked Michelle Obama in saying “they go low.”
“People are trying to attack me all the time,” Kou said. “If they choose to attack, they can attack.”
Others have questioned why Kou characterizes pro-housing advocates as the “control freaks,” rather than the “people who want to maintain the prohibition on apartments.”
One person identifying as a graduate student in 17th century literature, @jplmbtmsm, said it was “so embarrassing” to see “the realtor on my city council channel Joseph McCarthy because people want to build an apartment building in the middle of a housing crisis.”
“Wait til Councilmember Kou finds out about fluoridation,” the Twitter account @belmontfakemare quipped.
Kou blocks Fine on Twitter
Vice Mayor Adrian Fine, council’s staunchest development advocate, said Kou’s tweets were “out there.”
Kou blocked Fine on Twitter when the two were running for City Council in 2016. She also blocked Fine’s wife, MongoDB product marketing director Jane Fine.
Kou said she hadn’t thought about whether she would unblock the Fines. Adrian Fine said he hadn’t asked her to unblock him.
“I just think it’s funny,” Fine said. “I have to use my browser in incognito mode to see her tweets.”
Fine said that one of Kou’s most telling tweets appeared in April 2017, when she posted a San Francisco Business Journal article stating that San Francisco had doubled its supply of new condominiums.
“There’s plenty of housing, you just need a superb Realtor, like me,” Kou wrote.