Palo Alto High School's Social Activism Publication

Madelyn Castro

Mayor Lydia Kou poses for an official photo. Kou has served as the mayor of Palo Alto since January 2023. Kou’s passionate initatives range from environmental impact to the youth and elderly population of Palo Alto. Kou sees her work as mayor as a way to take care of her community. “This is where we play, this is where we live, this is our home.”

The mayor’s mission

New mayor outlines her passionate actions for Palo Alto

April 19, 2023

We sat down with newly elected Palo Alto mayor Lydia Kou in the Paly library to talk about her most passionate causes. Kou was elected in January 2023 and has several activist aims.  

One of Mayor Lydia Kou’s primary interests is the environmental impact of Palo Alto. After making progress electrifying homes, commercial buildings, and installing heat pumps, Kou has shifted to focus on Palo Alto’s natural landscape. 

“What I have noticed is that there tends to be more focus on the tech side versus looking at our natural environment and how to protect and preserve it,” Kou said. 

Her hope is to solve potential issues before they become hazardous, referencing the recent floods as a turning point. 

“With the floods that happened during this rainstorm potentially it was because we are really close to our stream but also because our bridges are older,” Kou said. “We’ve got to look at all those components.”

The concept of infrastructure as a tool for sustainability powers Kou’s ideas. As Palo Alto continues new housing projects, Kou is focusing on how to keep buildings efficient for residents.

 “I see more and more of the buildings; they’re mostly glass and steel… and we have to ask ourselves is glass really the best use, is it energy conserving or does it let in too much heat?” Kou said..

Alongside energy efficiency, Kou cites potential harm to Palo Alto’s local wildlife and scenery and is searching for possible solutions.

“Migratory birds they tend to not know and they fly into the glass and kill themselves,”  Kou said.

Buildings, which may lead to additional light pollution, draws her attention to the loss of Palo Alto’s natural features.

“I went backpacking some years ago and we went out to desolation mountain and it was so out there that at night there was no light so all you see is the stars,” said Kou,“when I go out here at night you can hardly see the stars because there is so much light that is taking away the brightness in the sky.”

At night there is an additional harm to both wildlife and humans.

“Nighttime lights that are on … actually attract a lot of the insects and the birds to it,” and leads to issues for local health due to sleep pattern disruption.

Senior social services are provided by Kou, as she has expressed concern about many elderly citizens who often don’t eat right and need housing downtown. She has started this initiative by supporting a non-profit organization funded by the city to provide seniors with hot, nutritious, affordable dining. 

“They need a place, they need a dining room, and I want to make sure they have a home downtown

— Lydia Kou, mayor

“The dining brings the seniors out of their house and into a dining room where they are served meals, where it is enjoyable, and they get to talk to each other and come out of isolation,” Kou said. 

Ms. Kou feels as if the elderly community in Palo Alto is often overlooked and not heard from as much as other populations. 

“They need a place, they need a dining room, and I want to make sure they have a home downtown,” Kou said. 

A concern for many Palo Alto citizens which is held by Ms. Kou is attracting businesses to Palo Alto, despite its high land values. Oftentimes, people have to travel outside of Palo Alto to find recreational activities and facilities. 

She also hopes to build a fun facility in Palo Alto for the youth. Ms. Kou is committed to advocating for the creation of new, fun activity spaces such as bowling alleys, arcades, and skate parks. 

“I believe that youth should be youth,“ Kou said. “I think there needs to be some fun in their lives if it’s a bowling alley, or arcade, or whatever they think is needed, we really should try to make it happen.”

Ms. Kou is eager to hear the voices of the youth and encourages anyone to reach out to her by email at [email protected].  

“I think there’s two groups in our community that we don’t hear much from which is the youth and the seniors,” Kou said. “For the youth, please let us know what we need and what you want.”

Ms. Kou takes a personal approach to her work as mayor and sees it as a way to take care of our home here in Palo Alto. 

“This is where we play, this is where we live, this is our home,” Kou said. “If someone is feeling down and just wants someone to listen, I’m open for that too.”


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