I was looking for individuals who can understand two important budgets – the capital fund and the general fund, -- the latter is close to spending almost $1 billion year now –and I wanted individuals who could analyze and control our expenditures wisely.
I fear I was being unrealistic, because I also wanted us to elect individuals who are able to think outside the box and question old habits, question whether the way the city continues to do things year after year is appropriate, and come up with new ideas.
And the seven candidates running don’t have all, or for a few running, many of these qualifications.
I wanted candidates who will not automatically do what staff recommends or the city manager suggests, but be more visionary in their approach. I also wanted candidates who can be a leaders. A few of our current council members are short on leadership abilities.
Yet in listening to the seven candidates at several council candidate forums, I started wondering how much they know about how this city works, and whether they consider how much the projects they endorse actually cost. For example, when asked what each thought about fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), most candidates quickly said they support it, and that it would be nice to have in this city, and that since the Utilities Department is doings so well, some were sure the city could easily handle providing fiber to the home. Interesting on two counts: The Utilities Department has its own problems, including the need to ramp up their transformers and transmission lines, and better handle things like four blackouts in a two-week period this summer, one caused by a squirrel.
Much more important though is that those candidates who jumped on the FTTH bandwagon did not mention that it would cost at least $100 million (or more) to get it operational, and that AT&T and Comcast already are able to supply high-speed transmissions to the home. So why spend $$$$$ for a service we already have acess to?
In fact, candidates didn’t talk much about the various demands on the budget (upgrading our electric grid, providing for smore affordable housings, which all candidates wanted, or the huge expense in improving our rail grade crossings). Maybe because that cost question was not posed to the seven candidates, i.e., no one was asked. Nor were they asked where do we get the money for all this stuff that they want, and can we Palo Altans afford all the projects that they favor?
In fact, the questions asked at a couple of the forums were almost identical at most forums, and the candidates each had well-rehearsed responses to them. Not much probing, except at the Weekly’s two-hour forum.
Given those caveats, here are my endorsements for three seats on the council. I first want to say that they all seven are competent and well-meaning, and have assets and skills that could contribute to council deliberations. They are all nice people, and I thank them for running. I want to add that is these forums, the candidates did not distinguish themselves from others running, so that’s why any of us are scratching our heads a as to who to vote for.
Ed Lauing – in my estimation, the best candidate for the council. He is bright, a man who doesn’t quickly jump to conclusions, and seems to weigh both the pros and cons of any issue. He often says “We can’t do this until we improve . . .”
For example, he warned that we can’t go ahead and get everyone to quickly convert to all-electric homes because our grid equipment first needs to be upgraded. He is aware of how much new projects will cost, and indicated some proposals should have lower priorities. He is knowledgeable about how this city functions, in part from serving several years on the Planning Commission, currently as chair.
Doria Summa – Summa also has served several years on the Planning Commission, currently as vice chair, a post where one quickly learns the intricacies and rules and regulations of city governing, particularly in applying housing and office requirements. She is an independent thinker, and is not afraid to differ with her colleagues. Her philosophy has often made her the sole dissenter on development proposals, which is refreshing.
Vicki Veenker is my third choice, with a little hesitation because of her strong advocacy for more housing. I am careful not to choose one-issue candidates, because a council member has to face a panoply of other issues on all subjects. A patent attorney and professional mediator, Veenker has decades of experience in delving into complex and contentious issues.
All three seem to have received most of their campaign contributions from Palo Alto residents, which is not true of all candidates. It shows the three do have local appeal and support
Despite my caveats, we need to select three competent people. I have tried to do that. Those who serve on the council can influence many aspects of our lives here (e.g., converting to all-electric homes), so who were elect is very important;