Attorney Vicki Veenker and planning commissioner Ed Lauing were in the lead position in a race for Palo Alto's three open City Council seats, with author Julie Lythcott-Haims in third place, early results from the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters indicate.
With all precincts reporting, Veenker was leading the seven-candidate field with 11,721 votes, or 23% of the total votes cast in the race. Lauing, who chairs the Planning and Transportation Commission, had the second-highest total of votes with 10,728, or 21% of the total, while Lythcott-Haims picked up 8,701 votes, or 18.8%.
Lisa Forssell, who serves on the Utilities Advisory Commission, and Doria Summa, vice chair of the Planning and Transportation Commission, were in fourth and fifth place, respectively, with 14% and 12.4% of the votes. Realtor Alex Comsa and software engineer Brian Hamachek rounded out the field, with each picking up 5.8% and 5.5%, respectively, of the votes cast.
Veenker, an attorney and mediator who picked up support from both sides of the city's political spectrum, earned the most votes after running a campaign focused at bringing people together. She said she was happy to see her message resonate with Palo Alto voters.
"You don't have to pick a side. The best thing to do is to listen to all sides and move forward," Veenker said in an interview after the initial batch of results was released.
This year's council race was Palo Alto's first since 2007 that did not feature an incumbent candidate. Two current council members, Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth, are terming out this year after two terms. Council member Alison Cormack is concluding her first term and has opted not to run.
Lauing, who narrowly missed out on a council seat two years ago, said the campaign felt different this time around. In 2020, campaigning was mostly done remotely because of the pandemic. This time, he was able to go out and meet people and he believes his interactions — and the fact that there are no incumbents running — helped him get his message across.
"I hope I came across as the most experienced and most knowledgeable about the city process and how we get things done," Lauing said in an interview during an election party downtown at The Patio.
While there were no official slates in the race, there were two loose coalitions, with housing as the main wedge issue. While all seven candidates talked about the importance of creating more affordable housing, Veenker, Lythcott-Haims and Forssell were generally seen as more accepting of growth. All three received support from various housing advocates and council members historically affiliated with the more pro-development wing. By contrast, Lauing and Summa were endorsed by Palo Altans For Sensible Zoning, a group that tends to support residential candidates.
The split was reflected on election night. Most of the candidates mingled before the election results were released at a party at the Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel that was organized by the Measure K campaign before proceeding to their own events. Lauing and Summa, who attended the Homewood Suites party early in the evening, joined their supporters at The Patio when initial results were announced.
Both sides claimed a partial victory Tuesday. Lauing said the results suggest that voters are interested in seeing a diversity of perspectives on the council and said he looks forward to civil debates with his new council colleagues, assuming the early results stand.
Veenker drew support from both political camps. DuBois and Filseth, who are typically affiliated with the more slow-growth camp, both endorsed her campaign. So has Mayor Pat Burt, who also threw his support behind Lauing and Summa.
Lythcott-Haims, an author and former freshman dean at Stanford University, said her top priority once sworn in will be to develop relationships with her council colleagues and with city staff. When colleagues know each other better, she said, they are more likely to trust each other and listen to each other's opinions.
She also said she looks forward to playing a role in the city's effort to build more housing. She noted that over the course of the campaign, she was one of two candidates, along with Forssell, who were very much in favor of following the state's housing mandate and building more than 6,000 units.
"The fact that I earned the third spot being that unambiguous about our imperative to build more housing gives me confidence that a huge swath of our community understands the imperative to build," Lythcott-Haims said. "It feels like a mandate. There are a lot of Palo Altans in agreement and I'm excited to dive in and help develop the vision."
Forssell, who has made environmental sustainability the cornerstone of her campaign, said the campaign was harder and more intense than she had expected. As the results were still being tallied, she said she plans to personally congratulate the winners.
"I have learned so much in this campaign. I take my hat off to everyone who's ever run," Forssell said.