By Diana Diamond
Vote for Burt, Lauing, Kou and Varma in PA raceUploaded: Oct 6, 2020
This is a critical year for Palo Alto's future -- and whom we vote for in the Palo Alto City Council race has become quite important. There are 10 candidates running for four seats
-- a council majority in a seven-member council, and a variety of viewpoints within the 10. Who we select will in large part determine the future of Palo Alto, especially in terms of growth, especially in commercial office space -- slow or just build more commercial, housing, retail.
We have candidates who have lived here for decades, another one who has been here for only seven months; we have politically liberal and conservative candidates (remember, though, this is a nonpartisan race); we have residents who have served on city commissions, and we have some newer in town where serving on the council will be their introduction to city government. We have four women running -- the current council had three female members (Liz Kniss's has been termed out; Alison Cormack has two more years to serve and can run for a second term.)
In thinking about endorsements, I am looking for experience, community knowledge, smarts, but maybe a fresh face, so we have some new approaches to looking at our city.
My selections are as follows:
Pat Burt -- clearly the most qualified candidate, having served nine years on the Planning and Transportation Commission and eight years on the council (two as mayor). Burt, with his knowledge of how the city works, will be the one to once again have the council control the city, rather than the city manager -- a much-needed change. The current council has deferred way too far in allowing the staff to write up reports that represent their views rather than the public view. The staff has made decisions on the police, a city auditor and an outside police auditor, and then asked the council to approve what they did. Burt can be a bit edgy at times, challenging individuals who may disagree with his view -- but council members have oftentimes followed his lead. He wants to improve things in Palo Alto -- like finalizing a plan for grade separations at the Caltrain tracks, getting more affordable housing in town and trying to ensure we have a transparent government -- important because staff has become more secretive in the last four years.
Lydia Kou -- Lydia has come a long way in her four years on the council -- rising from a shy newbie to an aggressive member in pursuit of maintaining the residential character of the city. The present council has been divided 3-4 on this issue, with the majority (Kniss, Mayor Adrian Fine, Cormack and Greg Tanaka (who is running for his second term) supporting more development and growth. In a recent debate when asked why she had not challenged City Manager Ed Shikada's attempt to control the council, she said she had fought him (presumably in private or closed metings), but not publicly because she didn't want to embarrass the city. But if there's a problem, politeness in public won't solve the issue. I've watched Kou amend her ways, and think in her second term she can be an outstanding member, since she works well with others and really cares about how residents feel.
Ed Lauing -- A man who has served the city in one form or another for years, Lauing knows the city well, and will bring a depth of knowledge and experience to council chambers. He wants data to help him make a decision, which is a nice attribute for at least one council member to have (I say that facetiously), and while deliberative, he said it's important for the council to make up its mind in a reasonably quick manner. He is a logical person and has convincing arguments. He supports affordable housing, wants better staff performance and wants to improve binding arbitration from police contracts, which is a great idea that this city needs to pursue.
Ajit Varma -- I had the hardest time trying to decide who to endorse for the fourth available seat -- it was either Varma, Greg Tanaka or Greer Stone -- and I opted for Varma. This businessman has not served on a commission, but I listened to him several times and he has done his pre-council homework. He will provide a calming influence on the council, and is an affable person. His supports increasing the number of both large and small businesses, and while I don’t support faster growth in the city, the make-up of the council will change in this election, and we probably will have a slow-growth majority. Yet businesses are important in this town -- they provide needed revenue. So it is appropriate for this city to have a business-oriented council member. Varma also supports more affordable housing. He will make a good addition to the council.
I've always respected Greg Tanaka's drive to control spending in town, his perceptive questioning of proposed new taxes and out-of-bound expenditures, and he has been more mindful of the city's budget than any other member. Yet he has failed to win any support for his budget cuts from other council members -- one council member told me he wants to do it his way, and only his way. And then there's the issue of the $70,000 or so he received from developers, which has bothered many residents, including me. And he has consistently voted with the pro-growth, four member council majority, so while I support his ideas, I can't recommend him.
Greer Stone has a lot of backing in this community, and when I read his platform, I agreed with most of what he urges. He would make a good council member, but I think Varma would be a refreshing new addition.
Raven Malone is a young enthusiast who has captured much of the public's fancy in having a brand new face on the council -- BUT she has lived here only seven months. While she said she has studied all the issues, she lacks the knowledge of this town that longer-time residents understand -- the complexity of our budgeting process, and the history and previous council endeavors to make this city work. I've also seen her in several council debates, and while her answers to questions sound knowledgeable, in fact, in my estimation, they are shallow, glib responses that could apply to any city.
So please consider voting for Burt, Kou, Lauing and Varma. It's a good team.