Election season is in full swing across Palo Alto, where campaign signs are becoming more noticeable across town.
To assist local voters in their decision at the ballot box, the Weekly asked this year's seven City Council candidates to fill out questionnaires about their qualifications, vision for the city and priorities if elected. They also explained where they stand on housing, climate change, rail crossings and policing and crime, among other topics.
The candidates' answers on all these topics have been published as separate articles. Here's what they had to say to the following question: What's one additional issue of high concern to you and what do you propose you'd do about it, if elected?
The U.S. Surgeon General recently declared a nationwide crisis in youth mental health. Youth in Palo Alto are no exception. The pandemic simply worsened a state of poor mental health that they have struggled with for some time. This has been my professional focus for over a decade and I've had the privilege of advising other communities around the nation in this area.
Guided by compassion, curiosity, and accountability, I will create a Youth Task Force on Mental Health which will truly listen to youth opinions about what it feels like to grow up in Palo Alto, and I will be brave enough to recommend and accelerate changes our youth suggest. I will engage partners including PAUSD, nonprofits (like Project Safety Net and Allcove), clinicians, parents and youth themselves to destigmatize mental health, clarify and strengthen resources, and promote access to care. I will build deep ties between city hall and our school district to ensure our youth receive the messaging and resources they need to support their journey into adulthood and to imagine a bright future for themselves, including changing the narrative around what "success" means so that our children understand that we love them not because they're brilliant but because they breathe. I will support the development of what sociologists call the "third place" — spaces and places that are neither work/school nor home but a third location where a person can drop in, hang out, and be valued. Like the bar in Cheers "where everybody knows your name."
Grade separation is an important factor here.. Experts say that when we separate the train from the road we will greatly reduce the likelihood that people will seek to take their lives there. This is another one of those things we can't change if we can't name.
I strongly believe that the residents of Palo Alto need to have their voices heard. Outside interests currently have an outsized influence on the direction for the city and this needs to change.
The City Council needs to push back against outside interests and even city staff.
Restoring high quality city services: During the pandemic, revenue shortfalls caused the city to cut back a wide array of city services. Those included police, fire, libraries, and more.
We're now using temporary funds from the federal government to restore police and fire. But in two years, we'll need to restore permanent funding because these departments must be fully staffed—for the good of those who serve and we who are served. The business tax will help. I will work to ensure that other sources of funding are identified so that these departments remain fully staffed.
In addition, we have significantly reduced our library hours. Libraries promote equity and are a beloved common space where all can gather regardless of income, race, ethnicity, or other considerations. They promote learning and support those seeking advancement, free of cost. Families often enjoy them together. Yet none of our libraries are open on Sunday and most are closed for 2-4 days per week, including our beloved Children's Library. I'll work to address budgeting, revenue, workforce, and other issues that stand in the way of greater access for all residents to these community assets.
Local, small businesses: As the epicenter of innovation, there should be no better place for small businesses than Palo Alto. After the devastating toll of COVID-19, Palo Alto's small business community needs support from its elected leaders. As a small business owner, I am able to manage a given budget for maximum benefit, recognize the importance of planning, and work effectively with others toward common goals.
In fact, look at my political campaign: I run it with the help of two young, smart, and energetic individuals, and we do most things in-house; as we have a limited budget, we don't have a scheduler, we don't have a paid campaign manager, and we don't have a dedicated person to manage our email account. We keep track of our schedules, we install most of our yard signs, we run our own digital ads, and we literally wear five hats, just like in a startup. We are endorsed by dozens of local small businesses.
We need a more vibrant downtown and California Ave and Town & Country, with more diversity when it comes to types of businesses and more safe bike routes that connect these areas to parks, schools, etc.
We also need these businesses to be connected to each other via the Chamber of Commerce, or other platforms, as they should share resources and work together towards the same goals.
I met with three board members of the Chamber of Commerce: Jon Goldman, Charlie Weidanz, and Shweta Bhatnagar: we share the same ideas and I hope I would have a chance to work with them in order to help our local community of small business owners.
I want to improve the connection between City Hall and the school district. There are many areas of joint concern, for example child care and after school programs, teen mental health, safe routes to school, middle school athletics, teacher housing, and Cubberly. Sometimes it feels like PAUSD and the City are in an adversarial relationship, when we are all part of the same community and want what's best for children and families. I plan to meet with school board members and PTA leaders to find ways to collaborate and improve.
Proactive Protection of Natural Resources
The urgency of the climate crisis appropriately gets high-priority attention. However, apart from climate change damage, it is also critically important that we consistently take actions to preserve our natural resources and biodiversity.
Thanks to visionary decision-making over the years, Palo Alto includes almost 4,000 acres of healthy, natural open space. In addition, our urban parks and tree canopy provide vital support for biodiversity and habitat corridors. As I did for seven years on the Parks and Rec Commission, I will keep stewardship of those natural resources front and center to maintain the health of our ecosystems and wildlife. For example:
Manage Access to Nature: Whenever we consider plans to expand people's access to nature (an important benefit for education, recreation, and mental and physical health), I would push for trail designs and observation points that minimize human disruption of wildlife. I would resist adding amenities that would increase food or other waste that attracts predatory species.
Preserve Trees: Our tree canopy is a vital asset that we cannot afford to lose. The updated tree protection ordinance is a start, but we should not be looking at tree maintenance (trimming and watering) as low-hanging fruit for budget cuts. It requires constant attention to keep healthy trees healthy.
Habitat Infrastructure: With more development, more of our land area will be occupied by buildings. We need to ensure that well-distributed green space remains and make the most of it by requiring landscaping palettes that support biodiverse habitat in parks, public facilities, and private developments. We also need tight regulations to control lighting from spilling into nature-rich habitat. In addition, new development should include onsite stormwater bioswales and rain gardens to increase habitat and safe paths of travel for wildlife.
I want to dedicate undedicated parklands within Palo Alto to protect them from future development. 17 important park and public spaces are currently not dedicated — it will be a priority of mine to have them dedicated.