BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Daily Post interviewed each of the 10 candidates for Palo Alto City Council. Here are the profiles of those candidates.
Former Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt has plans to reform the police department and balance the city’s budget if voters elect him to City Council again.
“Local government affects us every day; we can have a voice,” he said during an interview with the Post.
Burt, 68, left the council in 2016 after eight years. Before that, he served on the Planning Commission for nine. He says this term will be different because he has retired from his job as a tech CEO and his children are grown. That means he can finally focus all his energy on city affairs.
After guiding the city through the recession of 2009-10, Burt is confident he has what it takes to help Palo Alto recover from the pandemic. He said he was shocked that the council looked at cutting teen programs from the city’s budget during a year when kids are already losing so much.
He was also unhappy about cuts to the fire department and Office of Emergency Services. Burt said he wants to push out nonessential projects to improve the city’s infrastructure instead of cutting services. He said the city should try to get cheaper bids on such capital improvement projects because costs usually drop during a recession.
Burt wants to take on binding arbitration in the city’s police contracts so that police officers can be fired for serious misconduct.
Police Chief Robert Jonsen cited binding arbitration as one reason he can’t always dismiss officers who misbehave at a policing forum hosted by the MidPen Media Center in July. Jonsen said no police chief ever wants to be forced to rehire someone they have fired. He said in the past he has fired officers but they have gotten their jobs back through arbitration. Burt said political pressure might push the union to agree. If not, voters could decide instead.
Burt was disappointed that the city changed its police auditor contract so that internal problems aren’t released fully to the public. He said it was disingenuous of City Manager Ed Shikada to act like nothing was really changing.
Burt also spoke out against Shikada’s actions in June when he condemned the city’s 10-day COVID-19 curfew. Palo Alto canceled the curfew early after getting a letter from the ACLU.
Rebecca Eisenberg says she was voted “most likely to be president” in her high school yearbook in Wisconsin but the Palo Alto City Council candidate says she never planned to get into politics.
“I would have been much happier sitting back and trusting the local government to act in the best interest of the local community,” she said.
But the mother of two decided to run for council this year because she thinks developers and big corporations are getting unfair preference from the city government. Eisenberg, 52, was upset the council postponed putting a business tax to the voters to avoid harming small businesses. Eisenberg said tech companies like Amazon that have offices in Palo Alto have been doing well since the pandemic started. She said she wants to tax only publicly traded companies such as Tesla, Facebook and Google.
Eisenberg has lived and worked in Palo Alto at different times over the past four decades. She was a cocktail waitress at 42nd Street Bar while she was a student at Stanford. She went to Harvard Law School and returned to the Bay Area to practice.
Eisenberg worked for Pay-Pal in the early 2000s. She said co-founder Peter Thiel is much more enlightened and egalitarian than people realize.
“I respect him,” she said.
Eisenberg and her family moved to Palo Alto in part because of the school district. She said she is proud to be a renter in Palo Alto.
Palo Alto Councilwoman Lydia Kou took a bold anti-growth stance in an interview with the Post. Out of 10 City Council candidates, she was the only one to say she doesn’t think the city should focus on building more housing.
“We have been focusing on production and that has not generated affordable housing or a reduction in the cost of living,” said Kou, a real estate agent and 22-year resident.
Kou, 53, has been part of the slow-growth bloc of the council for the past four years.
She said she would prefer that the city focus on protecting and preserving existing affordable housing. She thinks the worst thing the council has done in the past two years was to allow the President Hotel to be converted from housing back to a hotel, eliminating 75 apartments from the city’s housing supply. She was the only council member to vote against the change in June.
Kou said she is distressed that small businesses she sees as “community treasures” have been run out of town, as she put it.
She blamed this change on big companies coming in for office space, causing landlords to raise the rent. She said she was upset that Shady Lane, a gift store with a location in Menlo Park, left Palo Alto.
“The treasures are given the choice of either you pay the rent I can get from somewhere else or you leave,” she said.
She said the city should control which businesses are allowed to fill property vacancies after first consulting with residents about what kind of businesses they want in town.
In her campaign statement, Kou said Palo Alto’s quality of life is declining because it is under threat from excessive development. She said developers receive undeserved exceptions and those costs are imposed on residents.
When asked how she feels about Castilleja School’s controversial expansion plans, Kou declined to comment. Four families with Castilleja ties donated $35,650 to Kou during the 2016 race.
Kou said she thinks the best thing the council has done in recent years was creating a parking program for homeless people living in cars. Kou helped spearhead that initiative with Councilman Tom DuBois.
Palo Alto Planning Commissioner Ed Lauing wants to use his business expertise to make the city run more efficiently if he is elected to City Council.
Lauing, 72, said he decided to run after watching council meetings and deciding that he has what it takes to help the city get through hard times. He wants to take an active role in shaping council agendas and votes, rather than being the recipient of priorities and recommendations from City Manager Ed Shikada.
Lauing grew up in Illinois, attended DePauw University and went on to get a master’s from Vanderbilt University. He worked as a bookseller and in publishing, working at Sunset Books in Menlo Park. Lauing switched to software after deciding he liked the drive and risk-taking spirit of Silicon Valley. He is a managing partner at Equity Search Partners, where he recruits executives for companies.
Lauing, who has been endorsed by slow-growth group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, said he thinks the city does need housing but wants to prioritize affordable housing. He suggested trying to get corporate partners.
Lauing said he wants to outsource city positions that aren’t critical to save money. He said when he was on the Parks and Recreation Commission they saved $300,000 a year by outsourcing the parks’ maintenance crew.
He said he isn’t happy that traffic enforcement was decreased because of budget cuts. He said there has been “insane speeding” and people running stop signs as a result. He was the only council candidate to defend cuts to city services like library hours, saying the city needs to be realistic during a crisis and can restart services in the future when the economic outlook is better.
Lauing said the council hasn’t been able to restore public confidence. He said residents feel that the council listens to Shikada instead of residents. Lauing said the council needs to have fewer priorities that it focuses on so Shikada doesn’t end up choosing what to prioritize among hundreds of issues.
Progressive Palo Alto city council candidate Steven Lee has plans for more housing, police reform and a business tax on large companies.
Born in Seattle, Lee, 32, grew up in Cupertino and San Jose. He settled in Palo Alto after graduating from Duke Law School. He is currently single but hopes to eventually have a family here. Lee has served on the Human Relations Commission for the past three years where he has worked on police reform and gender equality.
Lee works as an e-commerce lawyer at Sony Playstation. He said it his job to be skeptical and push back when he gets “no” as an answer, and he wants to bring that energy to city hall. Lee said he is concerned that the current council has abdicated their power and allowed city management to set agendas and prioritize city decisions.
“We need an independent, strong council that will serve on behalf of residents,” he said.
Lee said Palo Alto often takes too long and spends too much money on city decisions. He thinks the process could move faster without decreasing resident input if the council did a better job telling City Manager Ed Shikada clear direction on what items to bring to them.
Lee is critical of the city’s police department and says it isn’t realistic to trust them to reform themselves. Lee cited the HRC’s disagreements with the police department about implementing Eight Can’t Wait as evidence of this.
“Eight Can’t Wait” are eight recommendations made by activists from anti-police brutality group Campaign Zero. The principals include banning chokeholds and prohibiting cops from shooting at moving vehicles. When the HRC brought recommendations to the council earlier this year about how to make the city comply with them, the police department pushed back on some of the recommendations.
Lee said Eight Can’t Wait is a drop in the bucket of reforms that are needed and it doesn’t bode well that even that conversation proved contentious.
He is in favor of a civilian oversight committee that has the power to take action over incidents of misconduct.
Lee wants to see more mental health professionals and service workers responding to calls that are currently handled by the police.
He said the city should invest more in low-income communities and social services as preventative measures to make the city safer. Lee said the cuts to community services that were part of this year’s budget hearing were a mistake.
He is in favor of cuts to discretionary spending, which is money that doesn’t have a targetted purpose set aside for miscellaneous needs, and city management salaries. He said he thinks residents should be surveyed on how well Shikada and Police Chief Robert Jonsen are doing and those results should influence their pay.
Lee also said he thinks the council’s snack fund should be eliminated.
Palo Alto city council candidate Raven Malone has only lived in the city since March, but she doesn’t see that as a hindrance. Rather, she says she is bringing a fresh perspective to the table.
Malone, 29, is pro-housing and has ideas for reforming the police and expanding bus lines.
Originally from Alabama, she is a systems engineer at government services company Perspecta. She and her fiancé moved to the Bay Area in 2018.
She said they often came to Palo Alto for brunch or to go to the farmer’s market. Now that they call Palo Alto home, Malone wants to help the city make decisions that will ensure everyone feels welcome in Palo Alto. She said she wants to make city streets safer for bikes and push for dense housing to protect open space from being developed.
Malone wants to reimagine police services. She thinks there should be mental health workers available so police are only being called for things like robberies or murders, not because of homeless people. Malone said information on police stops should be publicly available. She said she wants more accountability for officers with a history of excessive force or racism.
The city has had several recent high-profile misconduct incidents. Julio Arevalo filed a claim against the city for $3.8 million in November. He said he was “violently attacked” by Agent Thomas DeStefano on July 10. In November, the city agreed to pay $572,500 to Palo Alto resident Gustavo Alvarez, who was beaten by a Palo Alto police officer in a Feb. 17, 2018, incident caught on video. In the settlement, Alvarez also got an apology from former Sgt. Wayne Benitez, who allegedly slammed Alvarez on the hood of a car and mocked him for being gay.
Malone said she thinks the best things the city council has done recently was to start the conversation about opening Foothills Park and implementing Eight Can’t Wait.
“Eight Can’t Wait” are eight recommendations made by activists from anti-police brutality group Campaign Zero. The principals include banning chokeholds and prohibiting cops from shooting at moving vehicles.
Malone started a Chang.org petition in July asking Mayor Adrian Fine to protect the city’s Black Lives Matter mural by putting protecting coating on it so cars and rain won’t ruin it. Malone said she was not involved in the mural’s creation. In her petition, Malone said seeing the mural made her feel like she belongs in Palo Alto.
“This mural symbolizes the beginning of a conversation about racism in our city and signals that we might be ready to take the first step in addressing systemic racism,” she wrote. “The art itself acts as a beacon to those who have been here their entire lives, but never felt like they belonged.”
Malone said she wants to see more affordable housing and would look for revenue sources to fund it like external grants or a small property tax. She said she is pro-housing in general and also supports the creation of market-rate housing.
Malone said she wants to see more shuttle stops in Palo Alto. She thinks local cities should work together to create a unifying bus network.
Palo Alto teacher Greer Stone wants to reform the police department and prioritize low-income housing if he is elected to the City Council this November.
Stone, 31, grew up in town and graduated from Palo Alto High School. Now he works as a teacher and student activities director at Paly. Stone has a law degree from Santa Clara University and worked as a law clerk in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
Police reform is a big issue for Stone, who previously served on the city’s Human Relations Commission. He said he took ride-alongs with Palo Alto officers and saw them pulling over people in beat up cars, and a disproportionate number of them were driven by minorities. Stone said he respects policing and thinks most officers are well-trained but said bad apples on the force aren’t acceptable.
“There are certain professions where bad apples are not tenable,” he said. “You don’t want to get into an airplane and have them say, ‘Hey we’ve got a lot of bad apples and one of them is your pilot.’”
Stone said the city shouldn’t “clench up” documents about arrests in which there may have been misconduct.
He said he wants more women in the police department because departments with more women often have fewer shootings and less misconduct. Stone is interested in having social workers and mental health professionals on call to take over some tasks handled by police.
Stone, who has been endorsed by slow-growth group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, said he thinks the city is doing well with market-rate housing but very poorly with low-income housing.
He said he wants a no-net housing loss policy that forces developers to replace housing that they destroy.
Stone also wants to tax second homes, which people from elsewhere buy as investments, in the city heavily to get money for low-income housing.
Greer said he supports the city’s 50-foot height limit but would be willing to negotiate with developers using the limit as leverage.
Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka, who often blows the whistle on what he believes is excessive city spending, says he will support businesses and work for a service-oriented city if he gets another term on council.
During budget cuts this year, Tanaka, 46, opposed service cuts and spoke out in favor of cutting management salaries and capital improvement projects. He told the Post he thinks the city needs fewer PR people.
“We’re a monopoly, I don’t feel we need it,” he said, regarding the city’s four-person PR corps. “I would rather have firefighters.”
Tanaka, who has a son at Paly and a daughter at Greene Middle School, frequently spoke out against what he saw as excessive government spending during his tenure on the council.
He was the only council member to criticize City Manager Ed Shikada’s plan to spend $719,000 on art for the new police station planned for 250 Sherman Ave. He was also an outspoken critic of the city’s proposed business tax that the council had planned to put on the November ballot but pulled in March because of the pandemic.
Tanaka says he wants to make the city’s police department more transparent. He said he struggled to get information about a June 3, 2019, incident in which a police sergeant delayed medical treatment for a woman suffering a stroke. Police mistakenly believed the woman had been drinking or was on medication.
He said he couldn’t get information about the case even though he’s a councilman, and was forced to file a California Public Records Act request.
He said he has been displeased that the city has had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle police brutality incidents. But Tanaka didn’t have an answer when asked why he hasn’t raised those concerns at meetings.
He said he regrets supporting changes to the city’s police auditor contract in December that allowed the department to keep internal problems from the public. He said he supports researching different policing models.
Tanaka, who was previously on the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission, founded Percolata, which uses AI to help companies improve their marketing decisions.
Planning and Transportation Commission Chair Cari Templeton hopes to increase transit ridership if she is elected to Palo Alto City Council.
A mother of two, Templeton said she spends a lot of time moving her kids between school and their activities. She said the city can reduce traffic and improve its emission levels if more people take the bus. She wants to get free bus services for students and seniors. If kids get comfortable with transit now, they will keep using it as they age, she said. She said the city can partner with private bus services or adjust city bus schedules as the budget allows.
Templeton wants to prioritize housing creation near transit lines, according to her website. She is also interested in allowing duplexes and Accessory Dwelling Units in more neighborhoods.
Templeton is focusing on her family and city affairs instead of work for now, but she worked at Google from 2006 to 2017. She has lived in Palo Alto for 15 years.
During an interview with the Post, Templeton wouldn’t answer when asked what she thinks the worst thing is that council has done in the past two years. She said her goal isn’t to criticize the current council.
When asked what she would cut from the budget if the recession hits the city harder, she said she would trim a little from everywhere while trying to protect youth services. She said she thinks the city is already running with as little extraneous spending as possible.
Templeton said she wants to get a diversity of opinions onto city boards and commissions. She said that means people of all ages, ethnicities and economic backgrounds.
On her website, Templeton says she wants to make high-quality masks freely available to people who live and work in Palo Alto to protect them from COVID. She also wants childcare for essential workers and more testing.
Increasing Palo Alto’s housing stock is a big priority for council candidate Ajit Varma, who is director of product management for Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
Varma, 40, lived in Palo Alto for a decade starting in 1999 before moving to San Francisco. He came back to Palo Alto in 2016 to raise his family. Varma said he is concerned that the rising cost of living means opportunities in the city are diminishing.
“It’s not fair that having an IPO is a deciding factor in if you can live here,” he said in an interview with the Post.
He said he wants to increase growth in the city “quite a bit” while preserving neighborhood character by pushing for housing along El Camino Real or on San Antonio Road. He said he is in favor of more density and increasing the city’s 50-foot height limit. Varma said he does not support broad state bills like SB50 because he thinks cities should solve their housing problems independently.
In order to make the economics work, Varma favors mixed-use housing. He wants to see more housing in every price range.
Varma is also pro-business and said he is concerned that city red tape for permits and approval makes things harder for small businesses. He said encouraging more business and growth will help the city raise revenue amid the recession.
He said he doesn’t want to change people’s opinions, he wants to represent people who share his views. He said it is important to have diverse perspectives on council so people on both sides of issues can come up with compromise solutions.
Varma said he is prepared to demand more from Castilleja School if he is on council when its project comes up for approval. He said it isn’t clear what benefits the city gets from the current project given that the school doesn’t pay taxes. Varma suggested the school offer benefits like scholarships or spots specifically for Palo Alto residents.
“If there is a desire to expand I think there should be benefits to the city,” he said. “I think it’s also fine for Castilleja to remain the same size.”