The Palo Alto City Council elected Councilman Greg Scharff as mayor of Palo Alto for the upcoming year on Jan. 7. The nine-member council selected Scharff, who has served on the council since 2010 and as outgoing Mayor Yiaway Yeh’s vice mayor during 2012, in a unanimous vote.
“It feels great [to be elected unanimously],” Scharff said. “I have great colleagues, and we all work really well together. “
In contrast to many other councilmen, Scharff had not been involved in public service before running for City Council. He credited his rapid ascension to mayor to his dedication and perseverance in working to improve Palo Alto.
“I think [my colleagues] recognized my commitment to Palo Alto and that I am really working hard to do what I can for the city,” he said.
Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd, who was elected Scharff’s vice mayor in a 6-3 vote, agreed.
“I see [Scharff] as a good mediator of all of our interests,” she said. “Greg will be a lot of fun to work with and good representation for the city of Palo Alto. “
According to Scharff, he and Shepherd, who campaigned together and worked together on many issues over the last three years, will make an effective leadership team.
“[Shepherd and I] served on the finance committee together, we’ve worked on infrastructure issues, we’ve worked on the budget together, we worked on utility issues together. There’s been a whole range of things,” he said. “We work really well together.”
Despite their election, Scharff and Shepherd remain on fairly equal footing with their colleagues; every member of the Palo Alto City Council has just one vote, including the mayor and vice mayor. The mayor’s added responsibilities, according to Scharff, instead include “running the meetings, speaking on behalf of the city on a number of issues and advocating regionally for the city.”
Scharff has experience advocating for Palo Alto’s needs in the past. In partnership with Stanford, Scharff and the council submitted a proposal to Santa Clara County for a fund to make Palo Alto and Stanford more inviting for bicyclists – and received $10 million in funding.
“[The Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan] will make Palo Alto one of the top bike-friendly cities in the nation,” Scharff said.
In addition to implementing the bicycle plan, Scharff said the council plans to achieve carbon neutrality for the city’s electric utility, fix the city’s infrastructure issues and work toward fiscal sustainability during his tenure, though he may be limited by the brevity of his one-year term.
“I think people would always like more time to try and get stuff done. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” he said. “But, you know, you’re typically mayor for a year, and I basically feel that we need to get enough done as we possibly can.”
The reason he would likely not run for reelection is the Palo Alto tradition of the vice mayor assuming the mayor’s position at the end of the term, a tradition Shepherd hopes to continue.
“I don’t know if there’s been an experience where that hasn’t happened,” she said, “I certainly would love [to serve as mayor]. It’s an honor to not just serve on city council…but to be elected vice mayor, and to be elected mayor would be an even bigger honor…But again, it will be an independent election next year.”
The group will be losing Yeh, who will move to Nashville after five years of service. Shepherd said that the council will be hurt by his absence.
“Mayor Yeh was just a spark of innovative youth, bringing the city council perspective,” she said. “He brings a great understanding of how to move agendas forward and get consensus and build cooperation between colleagues…I will miss him; [he was] well respected by all of the colleagues.”
Still, Scharff has high hopes for the coming year.
“At the end of 2013, I want to look back and say, ‘We’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve tackled the hard issues and the lingering issues,” he said. “I want to basically say that 2013 was the year we got things done.”