Palo Alto City Council —Candidate Breakdown

This Years Palo Alto City Council Candidates Provide A Run-down On Their Position On Relevant Issues 

Text by Anya Lassila and Anna Hickey

Election day is nearly here, and 10 candidates are running for a Palo Alto City Council seat this year. With the overwhelming amount of information circulating around election season, it can be difficult to make an education decision on the candidates you wish to elect. So to help readers in our community better understand the candidates and be confident in their vote, Anthro interviewed the City Council candidates to get their position on a variety of issues and what they plan to do if elected. Each candidate first presents the core of their campaign, followed by their stance on a number of topics currently relevant on both national and local levels. Ajit Varma, Ed Lauing, and Lydia Kou declined to respond, but we encourage you to visit their websites to get a better understanding of their positions. Please visit this page by the City of Palo Alto to find out your ballot drop-off and voting locations. Stay safe and go vote!

Photo credit to Anya Lassila.

Raven Malone

“For me, gaining a city council position means bringing voices to the table that have felt ignored. A lot of people in Palo Alto feel like they’re not being heard by our city council. For me, gaining a seat on city council means that I know that there is someone up there who is listening and who is forcing the other members to pay attention and acknowledge problems and take them seriously. I make sure to speak to as many people as possible and that everyone has a platform to share their story. I have my email address and my phone number on my website, so that anyone can reach me if they have a concern or if they have something that they feel we really haven’t been paying attention to but that they think is a really important issue in Palo Alto. I make sure to leave myself open so people can talk to me and I also reach out to as many people as I can.” 

Housing: “I want to make sure that the people who call Palo Alto home are able to call Palo Alto home. I definitely want to make it easier for developers to build housing here and encourage them to want to build housing. I want to end exclusionary zoning so there isn’t such a limit on the kind of housing that we can build here. I would like to see more density, more places for people to live, especially our central workers like teachers.”

PAPD Reform: “We have a real issue as far as accountability and transparency even in our policy department. What I would like to look at is using social services in the place of police officers where we can, and using peace officers for routine traffic stops. I would also like to extend the time that disciplinary records are valid for. They are currently only valid for 1-3 years, and then they get to go away like nothing’s happened. That in itself leaves a lot less room for transparency.”

Support for Local Businesses: “It’s important that we provide resources that help our businesses thrive even during hard times like this. I would like to 1) look at other sources of revenue so that we have a cushion so if something like this happens in the future we have the funding to help them, 2) I would like to see us build more housing near transit and near business. If we bring more people to the area, then that’s more business for those businesses. And 3) a comprehensive marketing plan and a way to really help our businesses get their name out there.”

Stance on Foothills: “We should open the park! It’s long overdue, it’s been this way for far too long. There are different ways that we can go about preserving the park without keeping everyone else out.”

Stance on Vote16: “I absolutely support Vote16, wholeheartedly. I think it’s just amazing that future generations are caring this much about the environment and politics and who’s making the rules. You guys are truly the leaders of the revolution.”

Photo credit to Anya Lassila.

Greer Stone

“I’ve been trying to provide a voice to the people who are marginalized here in Palo Alto. For me, this race represents a need for our city to not only better represent the people of Palo Alto, but to also have a closer community partnership with the people of Palo Alto, and have that really mean all people of Palo Alto. We need to bring in the voices and the perspectives of those community members who have been historically shut out of Palo Alto. So one of the big areas I’m going to focus on is affordable housing production and making sure that we’re actually providing housing for our most low-income community members as well as providing opportunities for communities of color and other groups who have been historically left out. I’m very concerned about issues of climate change as well, making sure we have city planning policies that put the environment first and recognize the need of conservation and stability.”

Housing: “My three-point plan is first, we need to stop making the jobs-housing imbalance worse. We can do that by having a stricter office cap, not allowing our current yearly office cap to roll over, and making sure that commercial developers are paying greater impact fees. …The second piece of my housing plan is focused on preserving the existing housing we have because the most affordable housing that any community has is the housing that currently exists. …The third piece of my housing plan is a true investment in affordable housing. …So having a business tax to be able to help pay for affordable housing, also …we just need to increase our inclusionary zoning in new housing developments that can be owned as well. 

PAPD Reform: “What I would do here in Palo Alto is one, immediately adopt the 8 Can’t Wait. But it’s not enough to just adopt them, we have to make sure that they’re meaningful, that they’re actually going to help. I would reverse the council’s December decision where they said issues with police personnel is an internal issue that should be resolved by HR. I would like to see Palo Alto adopt the 30 by 30 movement, which is having 30% of our police officers be women by 2030. …And then the other big thing would be reimagining our community policing, [then] reinvesting [funds] back into our police department for better training, better sensitivity training, as well as doing things like reestablishing the traffic enforcement division that was cut back in 2008, reinstated a year ago, and cut again.”

Support for Local Businesses: “A business tax would not apply to small businesses. One of the things I’m excited about is bringing an economic development manager to Palo Alto. Currently we don’t have that and it’s just kind of a free-for-all, which is why our retail districts have been faltering so much. In addition, we should be making sure that we’re preserving retail. City Council just agreed to move forward on possibly repealing our retail protection ordinances, which says that ground floor retail cannot be converted to office space. That’s an important protection that we’ve had here for several years. …We’re going to lose such valuable retail space if council goes through with that decision.”

Stance on Foothills: “We need to find a way to balance the need of this community to be open and inclusive while also protecting the delicate ecosystem of Foothill Park and making sure that we can preserve it and sustain it for generations to come. I’m sure there’s a way to balance that. I’m glad that City Council back in July did vote to open it up as a pilot program, I think that’s the right way to go to be able to study this and see how we can go forward into the future making sure this is safe and equitable.” 

Photo credit to Katie Causey. Photo courtesy of candidate.

Cari Templeton

“For me, the three priorities that I’m working on are just getting through this pandemic as quickly as possible to try and get our economy back on track. So that’s the first one. And the second one is climate action, which includes housing and transportation. And the third is modernizing our city governance. What I mean by that is really looking at our government through a modern lens that does understand social justice issues. So for example, how our boards and commissions and panels are populated. That’s something we can modernize. Also we have a question around policing and what does public safety mean nowadays. Maybe we need a new definition of public safety.”

Housing: “I think we need to do a study on the challenges that people are experiencing when building their [accessory dwelling units] and procedural things that we can optimize so that it’s easier to build them. …I really want to see the state and national leadership address this broadly and find a way to do debt forgiveness so that all parties come out unscathed. We also don’t want to have a rash of bankruptcies happen at the end of this [pandemic], so we need to find a way to do debt forgiveness that doesn’t hurt the renters nor the landlords, especially the small landlords where that might be their only source of income.”

PAPD Reform: “We don’t have other social or mental health workers that are part of our public safety force right now. I want to improve that because we have a mental health crisis here in Palo Alto and we need to have people that are first responders that are trained in mental health issues. I would prefer that they not be armed, and if they need an armed person with them in their response, they could reach out to one of the armed officers to join them on the response call. I want to have public safety be the focus and that means having the kinds of trained personnel that can respond to the kinds of public safety crises that we have. So we need more social workers, [and] we need more mental health first responders.”

Support for Local Businesses: “I would like to find additional sources of revenue. What we don’t have as part of our package of funding sources is something that can be steady regardless of how sales and travel taxes are going. One of the things that has been discussed is potentially some kind of business tax. We’ve seen a lot of our neighboring cities implement something like that and they are much more stable financially during COVID than we are. …Our role in the city should be to remove barriers to boost businesses and also to make sure that there is an awareness of all the government programs that could help bridge the gap for small businesses during COVID times.”

Stance on Foothills: “I think we should open Foothills Park. The conversation now is around some of the legacy of things like redlining and other policies at the local, state, and national level that have systematically excluded people from living in Palo Alto. And when you layer that together with excluding non-Palo Altans from the park, it starts to have a different vibe. It feels exclusive and it feels uncomfortable to our modern values. So I think regardless of how the park started, it’s a policy that needs to change and I think we need to be more open.”

Stance on Vote16: “I support it.”

Photo credit to Alan Thai Photography. Photo courtesy of candidate.

Steven Lee

“The issue that I’m most concerned about is the housing crisis. We need to get serious about housing because of how it’s so inextricably tied to all of the other issues we care about. My slogan is that I believe it’s time for bold, progressive, and responsive leadership. In terms of bold leadership, I’d like to harness some of our Silicon Valley spirit and energy here at the local level to actually get things done in terms of addressing our community issues. In terms of progressive leadership, I am a strong believer in the power of local government to bring people together and make sure that no one gets left behind and that all of our needs are being served. I believe it’s time we elect true progressive democrats who are going to bring democratic values and principles to the decisions we make at the local level. In terms of responsiveness, we have so many challenging issues, but too often we come up against this ‘Palo Alto process.’ It always seems to take, as a city, a lot longer to get anything done than the neighboring cities and we always end up with more half-baked, lukewarm measures. I believe that Palo Altans are hungry for change, hungry for leadership that is more responsive. Whatever it is, whatever issues you care about, we need a council that’s going to be more responsive and rises to meet each challenge. 

Housing: “We need to get rid of exclusionary zoning. We also need to look at how we remove barriers to building denser, affordable housing along transit corridors and near jobs. Also, one of the big costs of building housing is the actual land acquisition, so if we have land already that is underutilized, [reforming] that can bring down the cost significantly and enable redevelopment. …We have a lot of faith-based communities who have quite a bit of land, and a lot of these faith-based communities would be interested in redeveloping parts of their land for affordable housing, but they don’t have the expertise nor the time to do it. Our city needs to step up and use it’s staff and it’s resources to be a more active partner with those in our community who are willing to step up.” 

PAPD Reform: “We need to look at which functions we transfer out to unarmed, trained [mental health] professionals and social workers; what can we move out to people who are better equipped to deal with it? Can we even move those responsibilities entirely out of the police department and move the associated funding to fund other things? …The discussion around public safety historically has focused on our police department, but public safety is so much more involved than that. Too often we are reactive and responding after something has happened, as opposed to looking earlier in the pipeline at some of the underlying causes and underlying solutions that we could be funding. So when we talk about public safety, we need to look at how we invest in minority and low-income communities, providing social services, safety nets, investment in housing and infrastructure—how can we do that earlier in the pipeline to address some of these issues before they even become something that the police have to respond to?”

Support for Local Businesses: “We own utility in Palo Alto, so we need to look at can we waive [utility] charges so that’s not a cost of business that they have to worry about? We need to look at how to expand and enhance University and California Avenue to enable folks to dine outside in a safe way. We also need to look at how we can provide rental assistance or small business loans to businesses and organizations that provide critical services to our community. …One of the ways that we can pay for that is through a business tax on the larger, more prosperous companies who are still doing okay and asking them to help us help small businesses.” 

Stance on Foothills: “I am very publicly in support of opening Foothills to non-residents. I think that it makes sense from an equity standpoint to open it up. …And environmental groups have said it doesn’t matter where you live, it’s the numbers of people. So as long as we’re under that cap, it shouldn’t make a difference where people live. Allison McCormack said something to the effect of ‘Foothills won’t be any less special if we share it with others.’ I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.’” 

Stance on Vote16: “I want to encourage you and your readers to use all of your energy and passion to get involved. .. I’ve been working very closely with Vote16, I’m a strong proponent that young people have the right to vote in local elections. …Students are not just residents of the school district, they are residents of the community, they should have a say in all of the decisions we make and our city should play a role in all of the decisions that young people care about as well.”

Photo credit to Riley Burt. Photo courtesy of candidate.

Pat Burt

“We’ve elevated the necessity to respond to all of the disruptions that have occurred from the pandemic, both the health and safety and societal disruptions, and then the economic disruptions on the city and its budget, and consequently, the ability of the city to provide services to the community that it has historically provided. The long-term focus is, how do we have an evolution as a city that has growth that is balanced? So that we have at least as much housing growth as job growth? And it’s making sure that future generations have comparable opportunities of that economic, social equity and environmental opportunities to what we have today. And lastly, within that is a great need to focus on addressing climate change.”

Housing: “[We need] protections against rent gouging and big rent spikes on people who have been here a long time. In addition, one is how do we make zoning changes to incentivize the building of housing, and in my mind, it’s housing over offices. So it’s a combination of needing to have zoning incentives, greater density, and larger housing buildings allowed. [I want to] take away the zoning [laws] so that housing doesn’t have to compete with more valuable office.”

PAPD Reform: “We really look at the systemic structural changes that we should make. One foundation is 8 Can’t Wait, …but it’s not all of the reforms that are needed. We should look at, should all emergency calls that we currently use police on be responded to by armed, uniformed officers? Our police department had already budgeted to add a mental health clinician, but it got axed from this budget and the City Council didn’t even know it had been proposed. In addition, the police union has ‘binding arbitration’ that allows them to block some reforms even if the city wants to institute them. So I think that eliminating binding arbitration for things related to misconduct should be done in the the fundamental union agreement. Also, two years ago [state law] put in a requirement that cities must release body camera footage under serious incidents within 45 days unless there is a specific, defined reason to not do so, and our city has not been living up to that over the last two years. And so it is a requirement that the City Council take the leadership role in this oversight to assure that we are fully living up to the obligations of that existing law.”

Support for Local Businesses: “Right now we’re asking every business to figure out [their outdoor dining plans] on their own, but we need to help them. And right now, there are so many [organizations] who are willing to step forward and help, but the city is not doing a good enough job of being the facilitator. And the real role of the city is to leverage those resources to bring others together, to have them problem-solve and brainstorm together. Because we have, more than most cities, a willingness for people to step forward and be engaged civically and help.”

Stance on Foothills: “I co-signed the letter supporting the Parks and Recreation commission recommendation to open Foothills Park on a moderate basis. I supported opening it, but I don’t support the accusations that this is fundamentally a racist issue. I want to have it welcoming, but there’s a tendency to accuse everything as being racist-oriented, when that wasn’t the origin, and I think it’s divisive, and it’s not accurate.”

Stance on Vote16: “Well, I met with the Vote16 folks and it was an interesting conversation. They got me to consider it more. I’m hesitant to do it. I’m interested in and will, in all likelihood, support the state initiative to allow the 17 year olds to vote in the primary election if they will be 18 when the general election happens, but I think that 18 is probably the correct age, it’s when we really recognize adulthood.”

Photo credit to Todd Burke. Photo courtesy of candidate.

Greg Tanaka

“I think the core of my campaign is really this recovery plan. How do we recover from the public health crisis point of view? From the economy point of view? As well as from the affordability point of view? I think there’s not too many people like me [running for Palo Alto City Council] who really grew up poor and struggled and had to save everything and had to try to get a good education. To me, it’s unconscionable to take money away from our schools, because most people, like my family, we move here for the kids, for the great schools. There’s no fiscal restraint, or fiscal responsibility, so that’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m running again.”

Housing:  “We have an eviction moratorium or rent. So we’re trying to protect the people who are most vulnerable. A big challenge though is it’s a bit of a chain reaction. So, we have to kind of think this thing, fully through so that small landlords aren’t unfairly hurt. But the main thing is getting the economy restarted, that’s the ultimate solution.”

PAPD Reform: “We instituted the 8 Can’t Wait, and we also are looking at making the department much more transparent and open. I’m also part of the ad hoc committee to look at how do we restructure the police department. And so I think to make the change, we need to look at the data to see which [police program] is truly better, so that we can make sure that we keep the city safe, but we also keep it transparent, and we keep it bias free.”

Support for Local Businesses: “I did several things already. One of them is, we did the eviction moratorium. We gave small business grants. They helped you know 50 small local businesses. There’s a bit of an affordability crisis. The cost of food in our city is outrageous, utility bills are really high. And so all this stuff has to be kind of dealt with, because a lot of people are being squeezed. And that’s really affecting the socio-economic diversity in our city.“ 

Stance on Foothills: “I voted to do the pilot. There were concerns about how to pay for it, so one of the things I did was I made sure that it is revenue neutral. And then, it’ll be up to the voters to decide based on the data we have, if it is worth it or not [to open to park]. But I don’t view it as a racism thing because whatever ethnicity you are or if you’re a resident of Palo Alto or not, you can go there. There’s only a few hours that you have to actually be accompanied by a Palo Alto resident.”

Stance on Vote16: “So, I’ve had office hours with [Vote16] a couple of times. I think it’s an intriguing idea because politics in our city is really dominated by seniors.”

Photo credit to Rachel Osband. Photo courtesy of candidate.

Rebecca Eisenberg

“I’d like to make our Palo Alto government more transparent and accountable, and more responsive to the community. It just seems that regular people aren’t getting a say. The second thing I’m focusing on is really this growing divide between the wealthy and the poor. And the third is social justice and racial justice. All these are related. …I never intended to run for office. But when I saw in March, the City Council actually removed the business tax from the ballot at the exact worst time for them to do this. The worst time being a time when individuals and families, working families, young people, seniors are going to need the most help, I knew I had to run.”

Housing: “We need to lift our restrictions on ADUs. We also need to allow people in R1, in single family home lots, to subdivide. …[We need to look at] the three P’s of housing: production, preservation, and protection. The preservation is that we need to make sure that affordable housing exists and doesn’t get turned into high end housing or commercial use. Protection is ensuring that landlords cannot use increases in rent as a way to evict their tenants. …We also need to extend the eviction on moratoriums. We need to protect the tenants, and while we’re doing that we need to scale up this building, and allow people to put it to subdivide their lots and to put their ADUs up.”

PAPD Reform: “I’m a believer in defunding the police movement. And by defunding the police, I mean taking a big chunk of their budget and moving it to better places. I favor 8 Can’t Wait, but 8 Can’t Wait is just the smallest thing. Now, where should we take that money? Here’s what we can invest in, that would be so much more important for our community: mental health services.”

Support for Local Businesses: “Taxing of the big profitable businesses is a great way to actually provide funding for small businesses. Retail and restaurants are suffering and now, and [many] are gone because [of] our own city government. We can’t treat it “one size fits all.” Restaurants and retail serve our community. Tesla does not. People often say that a business tax will harm jobs. There’s zero evidence for that. And there are multiple studies that say the opposite. …I’ve got many plans to protect jobs, and to help keep jobs in Palo Alto.”

Stance on Foothills: “It needs to be opened. It needs to be opened with a huge apology. And if the city actually fights the [ACLU and NAACP] lawsuit, I think there will be more lawsuits. Because that’s using city money to fight against racial justice. There’s no right to discriminate. 

Stance on Vote16: “I love Vote16. First, all the studies show, without exception, that 16 and 17 year olds are mentally, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically capable of making these decisions. Second is the fact that 16 and 17 year olds, especially in your generation, are exceptionally well educated about current events, and about the climate crisis, about racial justice. I strongly strongly support Vote16.”