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Sitting down with new Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt

Pat Burt can now add mayor of Palo Alto to his extensive curriculum vitae. The long-time Palo Alto resident and president of the Acteron Corporation was elected to his new position Monday night in a unanimous city council vote.

Pat Burt was elected mayor in a unanimous decision by other Palo Alto City Council members on Monday.
Pat Burt was elected mayor in a unanimous decision by other Palo Alto City Council members on Monday.

“I was pleased and humbled,” Burt said. “But I know that there are a lot of challenges ahead.”

Standing paramount among these challenges are Palo Alto’s financial troubles, which have been compounded in the last two years by a weak economy.

“We’re going to need a combination of cutting our costs, restructuring and finding new revenue to fill a big gap,” Burt said of the city’s financial woes.

Although the details of this plan are not yet apparent, Burt said he and his fellow councilmembers will work to reform employee benefits and pensions, as well as to reorganize the city government in a more efficient manner. The council also plans to address a variety of infrastructure concerns.

“We already had long-term structural problems in underfunding our reinvestment in our infrastructure—our buildings and our streets and parks,” Burt explained.

One salient example is the Palo Alto Police Department, which is cramped for space and requires seismic-related reconstruction.

“We’ve had a long-time need to provide a more modern and safer police building,” Burt said. “Our police department has not had adequate size to function properly and to meet certain governmental code requirements.

“This is something that has been going on as a debate in the community for 15 years, and it has not gotten resolved,” he added.

Addressing this problem in the wake of a slow economic recovery “makes it doubly hard,” according to the mayor. However, he still remains optimistic. He indicated that the booming ‘cleantech’ economy presents many opportunities for Palo Alto.

“One of the things that we’re now seeing is a real convergence between the values of the city and the values of our residents in being progressive environmentally,” Burt said.

He also expressed enthusiasm for greater cooperation with Stanford University on sustainable practices.

“It’s underappreciated by many—great synergy that exists between the initiatives of Stanford and the City of Palo Alto,” Burt noted.

In the past, the University and its neighboring city have experienced numerous disagreements over construction and sprawl, but as of late, these town and gown differences have been minimized.

In a recent collaboration, Burt worked closely with Joseph Stagner, executive director of Stanford’s Sustainability and Energy Management Executive Office, to make Stanford Hospital more sustainable. Three years ago, the proposed construction plan for the hospitals was a topic of contention because it failed to incorporate green elements.

“Now [that] the plan has moved in that direction… many of the disagreements have been basically narrowed,” Burt said. “Not eliminated yet, but there’s a lot less distance between what the city is looking for and Stanford’s planning on doing.”

An environmental leader, Burt has been involved in the sustainability movement long before it became widely appreciated and practiced. He currently serves as the vice chair of Sustainable San Mateo County and has worked with the California Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’ve always had a great interest in public policy,” Burt said. “Before I was on the council, I spent nine years on our Planning and Transportation Commission and, before that, several years leading a neighborhood group.”

But Burt did not have the opportunity to seek a position on the city council until two years ago—the task of raising two kids and managing his business proved too demanding a time commitment.

Burt will serve on the city council alongside Karen Holman, Gail Price, Greg Scharff, Larry Klein, Nancy Shepherd and Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa.

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