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As Palo Alto city council size shrinks, candidates vie for three spots

A profile of the candidates running in the November election

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On Nov. 6, Palo Alto voters will elect three city council members from a pool of five candidates: community volunteer Alison Cormack; current councilmembers Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Cory Wolbach; and broadcast news reporter Pat Boone.

At the same time, because of a measure passed in 2014, the council will now have only seven seats instead of nine.

Wolbach, DuBois and Filseth are each running for a second term; meanwhile, current councilmembers Karen Holman and Greg Scharff will not be eligible to run again at the end of their eight-year terms.

The platforms of all four candidates address issues related to regional population growth, ranging from the Bay Area housing crisis to traffic to the job market. Some of their platforms also address environmental protections and securing Internet access for all Palo Alto residents.

Alison Cormack

Cormack is a longtime resident of Palo Alto but a first-time candidate for the city council. She was previously the president of the Palo Alto Library Foundation and the driving force behind a $76 million library bond in 2008, which helped renovate Main and Mitchell Park libraries.

Cormack’s platform revolves around three central themes: financing large projects, such as train crossings, traffic and affordable housing; spending carefully; and building a stronger communication line between residents and local representatives.

She also hopes her campaign will inspire greater civic participation.

“I already see that happening in fundraising dinners, in endorsements and in donations,” Cormack said. “I see people in Palo Alto who haven’t been involved in local politics before beginning to participate, and I’m excited about that because, as the League of Women Voters always said, ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport.’”

One of her supporters is Palo Alto resident Renu Kathail, who said she is looking for an honest, consistent candidate — and that Cormack fits that bill the best.

“She hasn’t been in the government but she pushed for the upgrade of the Mitchell Park Library, and I really liked that stance,” Kathail said. “She is also interested in what I’m interested in, which is really creating good spaces and good services for families living in this city.”

Tom DuBois

DuBois, an incumbent, is an entrepreneur who was previously the founder and CEO of several technology companies.

He intends to focus on housing, transparent government and “sensible, balanced growth that considers cumulative impacts to traffic, parks, schools and other city infrastructure,” Palo Alto Online reported.

In order to reduce traffic, DuBois plans to introduce easily-accessible transportation through business-funded ride sharing programs and public transit as well as improve walkability and vehicular flow and promote bicycling and shuttle bus services.

In the realm of housing, DuBois will focus on leveraging government programs and developer fees and building below-market-rate housing.

Should he win, DuBois also plans to incorporate high-speed Internet into the infrastructure of the city.

“I think we should have growth but we should also respect our height limits and we need to let the city have variety,” he said. “We need places for affordable housing, and we need places for affordable business, and when it’s all near construction it’s usually not very affordable — it tends to be the most expensive.”

Palo Alto resident Amber Henninger also believes that housing is a major issue in Palo Alto and that commuting issues contribute to the lack of employees in many stores and companies.

“If you walk down main street in Palo Alto, almost every store has a ‘Help Wanted’ sign, and that’s because of housing,” Henninger said.

Eric Filseth

Currently vice mayor, Filseth is running for his second term. Filseth was part of the Finance Committee for four years and served its chair for two.

During Filseth’s first term, he was the lead author of the ‘Transparency in Labor Negotiations’ policy, which allows residents to see the wage and pension costs of labor contracts before the city council adopts them. He was also a strong supporter of the city’s major accounting reform in 2017 and 2018 to manage its $509 million unfunded pension liability.

Filseth’s platform focuses on growth issues, such as housing, parking and traffic; reducing the job-to-housing ratio; and finding funding in the face of growing construction costs. For instance, he plans on supporting projects like the Teaching Housing initiative that are meant to increase housing availability for mid- to low-income families.

Addressing environmental concerns, Filseth plans on incentivizing carpooling and reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles. Moreover, he intends to carry out major infrastructure projects, such as the construction of rail grade separations.

Cory Wolbach

Wolbach is another current council member. He previously lobbied on issues of sustainable planning, increasing funds for youth programs and creating more transparency between the local government and its constituents.

According to Wolbach’s website, his main focuses as a council member would be reducing traffic, increasing affordable housing, protecting the environment and promoting opportunities for Palo Alto  seniors and future generations.

Lauren McLaughlin ’21, who was born and grew up in Menlo Park, plans to vote for Wolbach this November. McLaughlin said she looks for candidates who share the same values as her, including a focus on sustainable development, housing and transportation.

“Everyone [at Stanford] has to live on campus because Palo Alto is so damn expensive,” McLaughlin said.

Pat Boone

Boone, who officially entered the race on July 18, has worked in broadcast news for more than 25 years. While working with NBC Bay Area, Boone reported on the recall of former judge Aaron Persky ’84 M.A. ’85, following the controversial sentencing of former Stanford swimmer and convicted sex offender Brock Turner.

As with other candidates, Boone is concerned with traffic and affordable housing in the Palo Alto area. Unlike the other candidates, however, Boone does not have previous experience on local boards commissions nor in leading grassroots efforts.

Boone moved to Palo Alto in 2016, though he has previously lived in Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento. He told Palo Alto Weekly that he started spending more of his free time socializing with people in the Palo Alto area prior to moving.

“It just feels like I’ve lived here all my life,” Boone said.

He also told the Weekly that he sees his journalistic experience as a “huge perk” for his ability to work on the council. Boone supports increasing affordable housing options — including options for public service workers — and reducing traffic by scheduling times during which some major city streets become one-way streets.

“I always listen to both sides, I think before I make a judgment and I understand the struggles of all people across every economic spectrum,” Boone said.

 

A previous version of this article did not acknowledge Pat Boone’s candidacy. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Nitya Marimuthu at nitya.marimuthu ‘at’ gmail.com