Current Councilwoman Liz Kniss will be terming out this year, while Mayor Adrian Fine, Kou and Councilman Greg Tanaka are all eligible to seek fresh four-year terms. Fine and Tanaka are both expected to run for re-election.
Pat Burt, former mayor
Burt, a two-time mayor and one of the leading architects of Palo Alto's land-use policies and infrastructure plans, is eyeing a return to the City Council.
Burt is a City Hall veteran who served on the council between 2008 and 2016. Prior to joining the council, he had spent nine years on the Planning and Transportation Commission, including three as chair. He also worked on the South of Forest Area plan, a document that guided the redevelopment of a downtown neighborhood that was formerly occupied by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation to create housing, retail and Heritage Park.
"I've never stopped caring about the community and the issues," Burt said. "So even when I've been off the council, I've continued to be active in issues, from advocating for funding for affordable housing ? and the business license tax, to building consensus on things like grade separations."
On a council that often splintered into two factions, Burt didn't fit neatly into either camp. A policy centrist and a political pragmatist, he often took the leading role in crafting policies and cobbled together majorities from members of both camps. He helped shape major land-use policies, such as office caps in commercial areas and the city's infrastructure strategy, which relies on hotel tax revenues to pay for major projects.
Burt was part of the council that in 2013 approved a residential project on Maybell Avenue that included 60 apartments for low-income seniors and 12 single-family homes, an action that voters overturned in a referendum later that year. But while that issue pitted his philosophy against that of Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth (both of whom opposed the project and were elected to council the following year), he found himself siding with their "slow-growth" wing in the subsequent years.
Like DuBois, Filseth and Kou, Burt supported raising the affordable housing impact fees that developers are required to pay when building new projects. After the council raised the fees in late 2016, its decision was overturned in early 2017 by those on the council's more growth-friendly wing, which included Kniss, Fine and Tanaka.
Burt said he believes that decision was a mistake and argues that without the reversal, the city would have more resources to support affordable housing. He also wants to raise money for affordable housing and transportation through a business-license tax, a proposal that he has championed for years as a council member and that he continued to advocate since he left the council in 2016.
Burt believes that COVID-19 and the economic shutdown have created new social needs and that the city needs to be more proactive in forging partnerships with nonprofit organizations and private companies to address these needs.
Burt also think the city hasn't been acting fast enough when it comes to addressing outstanding issues in the Police Department. He favors the policies for police reform in the "8 Can't Wait" campaign and he disagreed with the council's decision last December to reduce the scope of the independent police auditor's contract so that internal conflicts within the department are no longer audited. Burt said he didn't find staff's arguments for the policy change persuasive and cited the vote as an example of a broader pattern within the council: its failure to push back against recommendations from city staff.
"There seems to be a pattern, in the last couple of years at least, of excessive deference of the council to staff on what are actual policy issues, which are the purview of council, and too little oversight of some of the aspects of what staff is doing," Burt said.
Ed Lauing, commissions veteran
Lauing is no stranger to master plans, budget cuts and long nights spent behind the dais at City Hall.
The Palo Alto resident has spent the past decade on the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning and Transportation Commission, where he is currently a member. Now, Lauing is preparing to join the race for the City Council.
Lauing, a corporate recruiter and former business executive, wants to see the city move faster on tackling its most critical issues, including housing and parking. As a planning commissioner, he has helped review and refine the city's Housing Work Plan and delved deep into the details of its strategies for enhancing downtown garages and expanding the city's shuttle system, which has just been eliminated because of budget cuts. He also has been dismayed by how long it has taken the council to actually reach solutions to these problems, Lauing told this news organization.
"My view is, by being on the council, I can shape the agenda itself and the timing of the agenda," Lauing said.
Lauing believes encouraging below-market-rate housing is a key way to encourage diversity in Palo Alto and address some of the city's socioeconomic disparities.
The city, he said, needs to figure out the economics in each segment of the market and craft policies to address the fact that the "economic playing field" between housing and commercial developments has not been even, given that offices fetch significantly higher rents than most residential properties. Addressing this could mean contributing more money to building affordable housing or forging partnerships with local corporations that are willing to help address the problem.
"We can't just say, 'What's on the table is the only structure.' We've got to get more creative," Lauing said.
As a planning commissioner, Lauing has often talked about the need for more housing, though he has approached the subject with more caution and less zeal than some of the commission's staunchest housing advocates, notably Michael Alcheck and William Riggs. In 2018, for example, he was part of a narrow majority that voted to delay adoption of a new "affordable housing overlay" zone so that the city can further analyze the impacts of the policy change (others supported immediate creation of the new zone, which the council ultimately approved).
Yet he also has been an enthusiastic supporter of numerous housing projects, including a mixed-use development with 17 condominium units that was approved last year at the former Compadres restaurant on El Camino Real.
Before joining the planning commission in 2017, Lauing had spent seven years on the Parks and Recreation Commission, including three as the commission's chair.
Lauing said that over the past month, he has been concerned about the council's process for adopting a new budget, which includes about $40 million in expense cuts. Rather than clearly setting priorities and making cuts based on the city's values, the council is making major cuts in just about every critical department, including public safety and community services. He said he would have preferred to see the city delay some of its major infrastructure projects to preserve services.
Lauing said he believes his decade of experience as a commissioner has prepared him well for serving on council.
"I know what the job is. ... The combination of my business background and my city background give me a great platform to keep making decisions on tough issues," Lauing said.
Cari Templeton, planning commission head
Templeton, a community volunteer and housing advocate who chairs Palo Alto's Planning and Transportation Commission, announced Monday night that she will be seeking a seat on the City Council.
Templeton, a Barron Park resident who worked as a program manager at Google until 2017, said she would like to help make the city a more inclusive and innovative place. She supports reforming the Police Department and setting "inclusion goals" in all city programs to make sure underrepresented voices are heard.
Speaking at Monday's council meeting, Templeton said she has been encouraged by how the Palo Alto community came together to face recent challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the shelter-in-place order, the tough budget discussion in which the city cut about $40 million in expenses and, most recently, the demands for criminal justice reforms, which she said she supports.
As the council was preparing to pass a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Templeton told the council that the need for police reform is a long-standing issue that did not start with George Floyd's death while in Minneapolis police custody last month or the violent arrest of a resident at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in 2018.
"What is new is that our community is now done waiting," Templeton said. "We are done waiting for leadership from members of the City Council on these matters of literal life and death. The time is now."
Templeton told this news organization that she sees a tension between the city's slow and methodical way of operating and the need for urgent action.
"I feel in this moment, we need to move faster. There are people who are suffering and we need quicker action," Templeton said. "It's one of the things I want to help with."
One of her priorities, if elected, would be to move ahead with strategies to reduce car traffic and encourage more biking. She also wants to create a voucher program to give people incentives to use public transportation, which would include waiving fares for students.
As a member of the commission, Templeton has been an advocate for more bicycling improvements and more housing construction. She typically votes with the more pro-growth faction, which also includes William Riggs and Michael Alcheck, and her votes in 2019 helped ensure that Riggs and Alcheck would serve as the commission's chair and vice chair that year. This year, however, she secured the unanimous endorsement of her colleagues in becoming the commission chair.
While often characterized as a housing advocate, Templeton said she believes it's not helpful to divide the community into two camps: YIMBY and NIMBY.
"I think most of the people in Palo Alto are somewhere along the spectrum," Templeton told this news organization. "So I think it would be better for us to reframe how we look at the housing conversation. I think it would be more productive and we'd be able to build more projects."
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