Espinosa selected as Palo Alto mayor | January 7, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 7, 2011

Espinosa selected as Palo Alto mayor

Sid Espinosa called both 'distinguished' and 'truly nice'

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's new mayor, Sid Espinosa, is nearly impossible to pigeonhole.

The affable and articulate policy wonk has written speeches for former President Bill Clinton, served as a close personal aide to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and, through his philanthropic efforts, helped Oprah Winfrey build a school in South Africa. But he's also taken the lead on a range of city issues, including the renovation of the Palo Alto Art Center and the massive reconstruction of libraries.

He grew up on a farm in Gilroy, where he was surrounded by ducks, rabbits and chickens and participated in the local 4-H club. But he is one of very few people who can boast of having lived at the "birthplace of Silicon Valley" — the iconic Addison Avenue home where Bill Hewlett and David Packard founded the company that bears their names.

He is an avowed environmentalist who calls himself a "big proponent of recycling." But he also on the council minority that opposes the construction of an anaerobic digestion plant at Byxbee Park — a plan city officials are now studying.

He served as a board member at the Chamber of Commerce, both in Palo Alto and Mountain View, but also picked up an endorsement from local labor groups when he decided to run for the Palo Alto City Council in 2007.

Espinosa was praised by his colleagues Tuesday for his intelligence, independence and willingness to help the city make tough decisions during sour economic times. But he was also one of few council members who opposed a business-license tax for Palo Alto — a tax that staff said was badly needed to prevent huge budget cuts.

Espinosa, who at 38 became the fourth youngest mayor in the city's history Tuesday night, doesn't speak as often as many of his colleagues and often defies expectations when he does. On the issue of composting, while others on the council stressed the need to keep operations local, Espinosa has constantly urged his colleagues to think regionally and argued that city borders are "very much artificial."

"People don't know when they drive from Mountain View to Palo Alto and Menlo Park," Espinosa said at an April meeting. "We should think regionally about our approaches to waste management and recycling."

Though his colleagues don't always agree with Espinosa's positions, they unanimously agreed that he should be the city's mayor in 2011.

Councilman Larry Klein, who nominated Espinosa for mayor, read through Espinosa's list of jobs and achievements — including his positions as a trustee at his alma mater, Wesleyan University, his degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and his job as Reno's aide — and proclaimed him "one of the more distinguished people we've ever had on the job."

Councilman Greg Scharff also applauded Espinosa's experience and compassion and called him "truly a nice guy."

"Sid really delves into details; he understands what's going on — and he makes it look so easy," Scharff said.

Espinosa was born in Santa Clara and moved to Gilroy as a second-grader. He grew up in Gilroy and says he became interested in public policy as a junior high student. As a senior at Gilroy High School, Espinosa was elected class president.

From Gilroy, Espinosa went on to Wesleyan University, where he studied government, and later to Washington, D.C. After a brief stint in the Democratic National Committee in 1994 — a dark year for Democrats — he went on to the White House and worked in presidential speechwriting. A year later, he went on to work for Reno, a mentor with whom he continues to keep in touch.

Espinosa said Reno "shaped who I've become professionally and how I think about public service."

"To have someone, while you're in your 20's, mentor you and take you under her wing — especially someone so focused on justice and on doing what's right, someone who has spent her entire career not focused on fame or recognition, but on making the society a better place — she instilled those qualities into everyone who worked for her," Sid told the Weekly.

Espinosa ultimately returned to California and was interviewed for a job at Hewlett-Packard by Gary Fazzino, a former Palo Alto mayor and the city's unofficial historian (as well as the third youngest mayor in the city's history). He got the job and went on to serve as director of philanthropy at Hewlett-Packard. He also helped the company restore the venerable Addison Avenue residence with the famous garage.

After the restoration, he was offered a chance to live at the restored house. He happily accepted.

"It's an incredible part of California, Palo Alto, really world history, and it was wonderful to be there," Espinosa said. "Every year, I felt like I was living history."

After more than three years at the famous house, Espinosa was recruited by Microsoft and moved out. He now serves as the company's "director of citizenship" — a position that includes giving the company a greater presence in Silicon Valley.

At the same time, he remained devoted to local issues and served on the board of the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation. While on the board, Espinosa helped the foundation reach a partnership with the city to rebuild the art center.

He also helped to lead Palo Alto's effort to rebuild local libraries, which was boosted by the 2008 passage of Measure N, a $76 million bond for library renovation.

Building libraries seems to be in Espinosa's blood. While Espinosa was helping to raise money for local libraries in 2008, his mother was doing the same thing in the Dominican Republic, where she was a library volunteer. Meanwhile, his younger sister, Tami, a principal at Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto, was working to strengthen the library in her school, he said.

Espinosa sees some humor in the parallel between his mother's library project and the one in Palo Alto, where the planning process is notoriously thorough. He noted that both he and his mother reached their fundraising goals at about the same time in late 2008.

"By the next February or March, Palo Alto was just beginning its review and approval process, which will take years," Espinosa recalled. "My mom's library, meanwhile, was already built and painted."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at


Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 5, 2011 at 7:36 am


Now, Sid, please lower taxes, cajole big, fast-growing companies to move to or stay in Palo Alto, put the fear of PA cops back into criminals, and most importantly, free PA from the grievous clutches of the liberal wealthy class that has overrun it.

Posted by J, a resident of Southgate
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:05 am

Sid, Take back our park's from out of towner's on the weekends!!

We can't even enjoy our own city park's on our timeoff... They take over our benches, our pools, our playgrounds.

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:08 am

@J: as someone who grew up in Palo Alto, I can say without question that Palo Altans stopped using the parks long before out-of-towners became the primary users of our parks.

Posted by No change, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 5, 2011 at 8:57 am

Another new year, another new mayor. Another set of "promises" and "goals". Another year of our council focusing on their pet projects and pie in the sky ideas and another year of our infrastructure continuing to crumble, while our "leaders" kowtow to "neighborhood leaders", "NIMBYists", the vocal minority and the city elite. Nothing will ever change.

Posted by More-of-the-Same, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2011 at 9:37 am

Yawn ...

Posted by Bob, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 5, 2011 at 11:29 am

> Klein highlighted Espinosa's long list of achievements,
> including his service as a trustee at his alma mater,
> Wesleyan University, his graduation from Harvard University's
> Kennedy School of Government, his time as a personal aide to
> former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, his job as a director
> of philanthropy at Hewlett-Packard and his current role as
> director of citizenship at Microsoft.

What does any of this have to do with the administration of a municipal corporation, like the City of Palo Alto? Has Espinoza ever had to "balance a budget"? Has he ever had to say "NO" to extortionate labor union demands? Has he ever actually done anything but wear a three-piece suit and "play the part"?

Posted by No change, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 5, 2011 at 11:32 am

our city has a tendency to confuse occupying a position with actually achieving something in that position. That is why they are constantly issuing proclamations thanking people for their service/achievements when they were actually just keeping a chair warm.

Posted by George, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 5, 2011 at 11:45 am

I have met and talked with Sid several times. He is an intelligent, articulate gentleman who listens and thinks clearly. I know he will do a good job - witness his efforts on the finance committee when it had to wrestle with two tough budget balancing years.

Good luck, Sid.

Posted by George, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 5, 2011 at 11:46 am

I have met and talked with Sid several times. He is an intelligent, articulate gentleman who listens and thinks clearly. I know he will do a good job - witness his efforts on the finance committee when it had to wrestle with two tough budget balancing years.

Good luck, Sid.

Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 5, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Correction: Gregg Scharff said Sid is "someone you would want to sit down AND HAVE A BEER with." Minor point, but I have to give credit to the weekly for its ongoing efforts to sanitize the news.

Sid is a great guy and I too have high hopes for some real infrastructure changes in our City in the new year. There are a couple clouds over this leadership change that we will have to watch with an open mind:

1.) Both Sid and Yiaway had their campaigns funded by the City Union (aka South Bay Labor Council), and so their independence on labor issues needs to be watched carfully.

2.) On an important labor vote, Sid was a no-show at the council meeting for obvious reasons, and Yiaway (to his credit) showed up to cast the lone vote in support of the SEIU labor position. The others stood behind Mayor Pat Burt in his noble efforts to restore some rationale to the benefits structure in the labor Union contract negotiation.

Voters, while we stand in support of our new leaders, please keep your eyes open for waivers in this area. We might expect to see proposals like limiting City vendors to "Prevailing Wage" contractors as early indicators of Union paybacks. (For those who haven't followed the Labor agenda, Prevailing Wage law have nothing to do with "fair wages" but feed into a statuatory formula that creates an upward spiral--inflationary pressure on municipal projects, and is a mantipulation to concentrate Union power for the few. This can play out in Yiaway's leadership in the Utilities area.)

Also, we will see who is open to the ongoing practice of the City to raid the Utilities (at the cost of utility rate payers) with the thinly disguised "transfer" costs and "shared" costs.

Much work is needed, and Sid and Yiaway have the ability to really move the City in a positive direction.

Just remember, the entire City operations are smaller than most of the companies residents work for, and there is plenty of backup executive talent in this town if things go in the wrong direction. We just need to watch the chicken coop to make sure there isn't a fox disguised as rooster or hen.

With that caution, let the hard work begin. It is appreciated, however we are watching.


Tim Gray

Posted by Sherry, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 5, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Sid & Yiaway are the best duo and the most civic minded on the entire council.
No personal agenda but good old fashioned public service.

The problem with the structure of this city is that the Mayor is simply a ceremonial role within the confinements of 365 days. Regrettably real policy comes down from the City Manager's office.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm

> 1.) Both Sid and Yiaway had their campaigns funded by the
> City Union (aka South Bay Labor Council), and so their independence
> on labor issues needs to be watched carfully.

While there may have been some money from the SBLC, the real question is "how much"? The labor unions are often "late filers", and so their money doesn't show up until after the campaigns are over.

Espinosa was a virtual unknown in the city prior to his appearing to advocate for money for the Arts Center. Before that .. not much of a paper trail. Then, once he had announced his candidacy, he receives over $40,000 in campaign contributions from a number of non-residents, but mostly Palo Altans with deep pockets. Espinoza left virtually no paper trail during his campaign, and has not been quoted all that much in the local papers--so, what makes him "the best man for the job"?
There is little on the table to know if there is any "there there"?

Yiaway Yeh at one point had about 75%-80% of his contributions form outside of Palo Alto. How much of that money was effectively being "laundered" from labor union sources is impossible to tell, since "private citizens" can donate to City Council campaigns, just like companies can. Yeh's only connection to Palo Alto in his campaign literature was that he was a "Gunn High graduate".

Neither of these two have done any grass roots political work in Palo Alto--and it's hard not to see their being on the Council as little more than "stepping stones" in their political careers.

Posted by We're here South PA, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I wonder if Sid will pay some attention to south Palo Alto in particular the huge bumps along San Antonio Road and the overhanging trees.

Unfortunately our City pays too much attention to north Palo Alto streets in particular Stanford Avenue and El Camino and California Avenue.

Please repair San Antonio Road so the trucks can use it instead of turning down East Charleston and using other south Palo Alto streets.

Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm

What do you suppose the Director of Citizenship at Microsoft does?

Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Jan 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Hopefully he won't cowtow to Klein like some recent mayors and city manager. To long winded posters, nobody in government really reads what you write.

Posted by Bright Side, a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2011 at 9:42 am

Let's make 2011 the year of no scandals, no controversies, and no "hot button" issues involving the City of Palo Alto!

Posted by JacoP, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2011 at 10:30 am


What maybe we should just build a giant wall surrounding our town and never let anybody in to spend money at our businesses? Sound like a good idea to you?

Posted by Rachel, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2011 at 7:11 am

The Director of Corporate Citizenship at Microsoft encourages and implements community engagement, volunteerism and giving at the corporation and among its employees.

I met Espinosa at a tiny neighborhood coffee (about 6 people in attendance) when he was campaigning. He spent hours listening to us and sharing ideas and has continued to do so since he was elected. If that's not grassroots I don't know what is. But, as a PhD candidate studying social movements, the most effective work of grassroots organizing isn't done by politicians but by citizens who pressure them to make changes. So here's to citizens making their voices heard.

Thanks for your hard work Sid. Good luck!

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