Written by: Emily Yao
Six candidates are running for four open positions on the nine-member City Council in the 2012 Palo Alto General Municipal Election. Palo Alto Mayor Yiaway Yeh and fellow council members Sid Espinosa, Patrick Burt and Greg Schmid, who were all elected to the council in 2007, are expecting their terms to come to a close this year. Because the city decided to switch its elections from odd years to even years in 2010, the council members’ four-years terms were each extended by a year.
Espinosa, who was elected Palo Alto Mayor in 2011, and Yeh both announced that they will not run for a second term on the City Council. Incumbents Burt and Schmid, newcomers Mark Weiss, Marc Berman, Timothy Gray and former council member Liz Kniss are in the running for the four open spots on the council.
Burt, the Chief Executive Officer of Vascular Access Technology who served as Palo Alto mayor in 2010, hopes to continue a second City Council term. If elected, his main goals are to increase the efficiency of the Palo Alto government and to emphasize the importance of emergency preparedness.
Retired economist Schmid, the other incumbent in the race, will use his financial background and years on the Council to his advantage. “I have five years of experience on this Council, and I have worked as an economist and planner my whole career,” Schmid said. “I would make sure our budgets are balanced in a sustainable way that will create a solid future.” According to Schmid, his five concrete goals are to make sure the city’s employee benefit obligations are sustainable, assure that the growth of housing and space maintains the quality of life in the community, work with the school district to equally distribute services provided by Cubberley to the city and schools, focus Council attention on long-term goals, including traffic and parking, and maintain things, such as parks, child care and active down, that make the Palo Alto community unique.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Kniss, who served as the Mayor of Palo Alto in 1994 and 2000, was still involved in the Palo Alto community, even while taking a decade-long hiatus from the Palo Alto City Council. She worked at City Hall by informing the council about certain issues, including the electrification of Caltrain. Kniss also proposed the switch from odd to even years for the city’s elections.
After joining the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, a group of 17 members who scrutinize and propose improvements for Palo Alto’s infrastructure, attorney Berman has a lot of experience with Palo Alto’s infrastructure problems. According to his campaign website, Berman’s main plans are to “revitalize the city’s infrastructure, maintain a sustainable budget and build a community.”
Weiss and Gray, two candidates who ran unsuccessfully in the 2009 City Council election, are back in the running this year. Weiss believes that city workers are under too much pressure and given too much responsibility for city budget cutbacks and hopes to further address the city’s infrastructure problems.
Gray, a Certified Public Accountant, will use his experience in finance to go about solving Palo Alto’s budget issues. “Palo Alto City Council, along with many other government bodies, faces financial challenges, so it is appropriate that one of the representatives would be a financial numbers person,” Gray said. “It will take a very disciplined approach to prioritizing the services the City provides, and then work to preserve the services that we collectively decide as a group we want to protect.”
Unlike most of the other candidates, Gray’s main goal for running for City Council is pure community service. He believes the City Council cannot be used as a finishing school for career politicians. “Many have used the Palo Alto City Council chambers as a stamp on their Political Passport on their way to someplace else,” Gray said. “I think my motive of simple community service provides the greatest value to the residents that trust the Council with some very important decisions that greatly shape the future of Palo Alto.”
Espinosa and Schmid noted the unusually low number of candidates for this year’s election, compared to the city’s last council elections in 2009, in which 14 candidates ran for five seats. “This is one of the smallest candidate pools that the city has seen in many decades, which is unfortunate,” he said. “I hope that more people will step forward to run in the future. It is a very rewarding experience.”
Schmid also ruminates over the paucity of contenders. “Usually there are 12 to 14 candidates, or almost three candidates per seat. The same trend seems to be holding in the School Board Election,” he said. “Maybe households are busier than they used to be. Maybe, as ‘The Daily Post’ says, ‘current Council Members are doing such a good job.’”
Espinosa’s advice to the candidates running for office is to build a strong team and do not pretend that things can be done alone. “[I advise the candidates to] get out into the neighborhoods and talk to as many people as possible,” he said. “[They] will learn something about how Palo Alto [residents] really feel about their city in every single conversation.”