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By Steve Levy

Palo Alto and Bay Area Election Facts and Thoughts on the Implications

Uploaded: Nov 22, 2014

How Many Voted

Palo Alto has roughly

55,000 residents of voting age (not all eligible to vote)

37,000 registered voters (36,781 as of Oct 20, 2014)

20,500 votes in the November city election

Here are the top ten votes for city elections

Yes on Measure C 16,988
Yes on Measure B 15,475
Holman 11,281
Yes on Measure D 10,475
Scharff 10,149
DuBois 10,092
Filseth 9,248
Wolbach 8,235
Kou 8,100
Shepherd 6,724

One ballot measure (B) dealt with raising money for city investments. It passed with 76.3% of the vote putting Palo Alto in the mainstream of Bay Area communities that supported investing for the future.

Statewide the passage rate for local revenue and bond measures was 72% and was higher in the Bay Area. The two major transportation investment measures passed-a $500 million transportation bond in San Francisco and an increase in the sales tax for transportation in Alameda County. School bonds and parcel taxes received the usual strong vote with 19 of 23 school bonds passing in the Bay Area with a 100% passage rate on the peninsula. In addition eight Bay Area cities raised or extended sales tax increases while three failed.

Voters reversed their historic 2/3 approval support for hotel tax increases by defeating 10 of 14 measures on the November ballot. I think Palo Alto was the only one tied to infrastructure investment.

Palo Alto was one of the few Bay Area communities where the vote can be interpreted in favor of slowing growth, at least temporarily and at least for commercial development. A summary of growth initiatives in the Bay Area web link shows strong support for curbing sprawl but not for curbing development.

Berkeley's downtown development plan was upheld, the anti-development measure in Menlo Park was soundly trounced as was true in San Bruno and San Francisco voters approved a major redevelopment of Pier 70. Low density housing development outside the core city area was defeated in Dublin and Union City.

What do the Palo Alto council elections mean for growth and the economy in Palo Alto? I want to make two distinctions here. One is between housing and office development. The other is between the pace and timing of growth versus the level of growth by 2020 or 2030.

I accept that a majority of voters in Palo Alto do not like what they perceive as the rapid pace of recent commercial development. I know that staff has proposed exploring limitations on the pace of commercial growth, at least downtown, when the new council starts in January. I also know that the city is pursuing a three part strategy with regard to traffic and parking initiatives. I assume that staff will inform the new council of what can be done within the law to slow the pace of development. And it may well be a good idea to explore a much closer linkage between development in the short term and traffic/parking mitigation.

But I have not heard any council member?continuing or newly elected?say what they think the proper role is for Palo Alto in the regional economy of 2020 or 2030. So I am hopeful that the council will look at long term development in the city in the context of what we can achieve in reducing traffic and parking impacts from current and future development.

With regard to housing both the current council and both Tom and Eric have tried to make clear that they support some amount of housing growth. Tom along with Greg Schmid are leading proponents of looking at centers like downtown for more housing while cutting back the amount sited in the southern part of the city. The council has adopted the Housing Element and pledged to look as shifting more housing to downtown and the California Avenue area.

If I have mischaracterized the positions of any 2015 council members, I invite them to correct any misstatements made here about their positions.

Moreover I did not hear any of the continuing or newly elected council members come out against working hard to find sites for more subsidized housing. My own impression is that many of the Maybell project opponents are being characterized as against subsidized housing or diversity when, in fact, their argument was against the process and site of the Maybell project, not the idea of housing in Palo Alto for low income residents.

While some Town Square posters have complained about the state requirements to plan for housing, my impression is that the newly elected council members know that the state mandated housing allocation process is final for 2014-2022 and will again be examined by the 2019 council for the 2022-2030 housing planning horizon.

So I think what the next council will do about housing is an open and critical issue for the Comp Plan and one in which the community will be able to share what I know is a very diverse set of opinions about how Palo Alto should respond to the immense regional challenges of housing affordability and access. A failure to address these challenges will have a negative impact on the prosperity of the peninsula economy.

A short term pause is a far different idea than making decisions now about the level and type of commercial development for 2020 or 2030. That is the Comp Plan task that the next council will face. It is good to remember that the best growth policies for 2015 and 2016 may not be best for 2018 or beyond.

I know there continues to be a lot of talk about what the election means for the future of Palo Alto especially around issues of growth.

One, I think it means that Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth ran good campaigns and resonated with the frustrations of many voters. But so did Cory Wolbach who won the fifth seat over Lydia Kou despite being heavily outspent.

Two, the election was a sweep for the Weekly, which endorsed two of the three PASZ candidates but also endorsed Cory Wolbach and not Lydia Kou.

Three, the elected candidates got between 20% and 30% support among registered voters. Even among actual voters only Holman, Scharff and DuBois got close to 50% of the vote.

Four, Measure D to reduce the council size won with more votes than any candidate except Karen Holman but was opposed by, among others, DuBois, Filseth and Kou and the PASZ President. If this was a PASZ sweep election, Measure D would not have won

It is time to congratulate the winners and move on to the hard work ahead in 2015.

The usual guidelines for this blog apply--no personal comments or put downs, Disagree all you want but keep it on ideas and be respectful, This is not a blog to rehash the election and campaigns. Town Square has plenty of open blogs for posters interested in those topics.