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Q&A with newly-elected Palo Alto Mayor Karen Holman

Compiled by Janet Wang

The Oracle: You laid out six initiatives for the coming year. Which of these is most important to you?

Karen Holman: They are all based on the same principle: respect. Whether that’s respect for the built environment, respect for the services that are delivered to the community, respect for the local independent businesses that we’re trying to support…the initiatives are all about the same thing, so it’d be hard to say that one is more important than the other, and that’s why I listed six.

TO: How much pressure is it to be the 13th woman mayor?

KH: I don’t look at it as pressure. I look at it as an opportunity. And as it so happens this is also my 13th year combined as an appointed or elected official for Public Service, so I really look at it as an opportunity more than pressure. It’s also an opportunity to encourage other women to get involved and to be involved. Public service is an opportunity to have a positive effect and influence in the public’s best interest.

TO: How will you attempt to account for teen concerns in the following year?

KH: One of the things I think is really important for the Council to do, as elected officials, is to set a tone. Again, it goes to respect: how we communicate with each other, how we communicate to the public and with the public. Our communications set a tone for the community and set an example for the teens. For example, if we’re talking about bullying, it needs to be really clear that we’re communicating with each other in ways that are fair and respectful with each other, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to agree. We won’t always agree, but we can address issues in ways that don’t demean another person but does respect their views. We are then also more likely, although not always, to come to common solutions.

TO:How do you hope to bring this community together?

KH: Communication is a large piece of that. Communication- how we communicate and listen to each other. When I ran for Council, my slogan was “Your voice matters.” That’s always and continues to be my view and focus during this year as mayor. It goes back to the word respect….once again. It’s listening to people and being respectful in our communications. For people to be, for any of us, whether you’re a council member, or a mayor, or a teen, or a business owner, for any of us to be the most effective, we have to communicate in ways that don’t alienate the other person. That means that we communicate in ways that don’t judge or demean another person.

TO: How have you seen the city council develop over the past 5 years?

KH: I’d say in the last five years, well I served eight years on the Planning Commission prior to City Council and so when I joined Council, even with my background, I was surprised at how much work it is. So I would say that the biggest change I’ve seen is probably how devoted and hardworking council members are. The amount of time it takes and commitment it takes has grown.

TO: What are you looking forward to most as Palo Alto mayor?

KH: One of the things is changing the tone of discourse in the community in any way I might be able to effect that in a positive way. Being able to present some recommendations, along with colleagues, on how to improve our architectural review process to deliver better built projects to the community. Being able to take steps to preserve our local independent businesses and to be able to take steps to ensure that we do the best we can to make sure that we’re doing due diligence to deliver good projects, good services and good plans for the future of Palo Alto. For instance, California Avenue: I want to us to deliver best plans for what this area might be by taking best advantage of and utilizing the best potentialities that we have. One of the things we need to be cognitive of that we are both stewards and entrepreneurs in this community. The past is a moment ago and a hundred years ago, and the future is the next moment and the next years. Where we are right now, this moment in time, we should recognize and appreciate we have a lot of things that have been handed to us like our own City utilities, dedicated parkland, our ice skating rink, Gamble Gardens, any number of things. All of those things have been delivered to us and respecting that heritage while we also look forward to how we might take the City into the future on the shoulders of those accomplishments, that’s one of the things that is most important for the Council to do, and for me to do as mayor.

TO: What do you like and are looking most forward to serving the Palo Alto community?

KH: One of the things I would like to do, this has to do with Paly and Gunn both, is to get the Youth Council more involved. We meet once a year with the Youth Council, but we don’t really utilize that body enough, and I think we would be better informed and better directed if we were to communicate and engage with the Youth Council, for instance. That is something that is important to me.

TO: What are some goals you have set for the upcoming year and how do you plan on achieving them?

KH: Well the goals I laid out in the six points, there’s other low hanging fruit that support the six points, but the six points are six pretty ambitious things I want to accomplish. Those plus the communication component I mentioned earlier.

TO: Is there anything you’d like to change in Palo Alto schools?

KH: Again, setting the tone of how we treat each other, examples that we set, those are things that we definitely can set for all Palo Alto schools, not just the high schools. The Council supports Project Safety Net. We support, sadly, when it’s necessary, Track Watch. We support the “no bullying” policies. I think that maybe another way the Council and I as Mayor can set some kind of example is making clear that we are not all alike, and so if there’s some way that we can express to the whole community, but certainly to students, that they do the best that they can that not everybody is going to achieve to the same goal in the same areas. That each of us has our own inner guidepost and that guidepost is going to help us determine where we achieve. We are not all cut from the same cloth, and I hope each of us as individuals can recognize that we don’t have to achieve the level that someone else has set in a given area, and that that will take some pressure and stress off the students.

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