The Politic: Can you tell us about yourself? What is your current position, and what previous positions have you had that have lead you to your current position?

I’ve been involved with community service since the early 1980’s, when I was volunteering in not just our classrooms, but also [in] the classrooms of East Palo Alto, where they have a broken school system. I also did a lot of volunteering around fundraising and adolescent counseling services where they serve at-risk teens. And then, right before I got on council, I was also operating as a voluntary bookkeeper/accountant community legal services in East Palo Alto, which serves as a legal aid group that primarily serves special licenses, housing, and immigration. They also do volunteering training programs, and I worked with their executive director. So, I’ve had a variety of activities related to education and social justice.

The Politic: Can you walk me through a typical week in your shoes as mayor of Palo Alto, CA?

On Mondays, we start doing pre-council, which means we go through the agenda for the evening. That way, we can decide if everything is still a go, and we can vote for it. Sometimes, something comes up, and we need to get more information, or not everything is lined up, and the staff wants to pull it. We also get an idea of who has been emailing us their interests in any of the items we’re taking up so we can handle any of the responses that we might get in the evening. Before that, the staff does their own agenda study so they’re prepared to go over everything with me. The city manager runs the city. I do not run the city. I do a lot of the interface, and I’m the face of the Palo Alto for my year as mayor. So, if I’m asked to do something like a ribbon cutting or to speak to a group, I will prepare comments or work with the communications director to prepare comments. The rest of it is my own agenda with what I find are the interests of the community at that time. The rest of the week [involves] doing activities like ribbon cutting or meeting with constituents. I’ll sit down and work with them to get them a better understanding of what’s happening in the city, and so we can hear their concern[s] and try to integrate [them] into the policy that comes before us.

The Politic: Palo Alto runs on a strong city manager style of government where a council appoints four officials to run the city. How prevalent is this, and how does this affect the running of the city?

In California, the smaller cities like Palo Alto usually have a rotating mayor. Large cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland elect their mayors, and that’s called the strong mayor form of government. It means that the mayors have a lot of power to enact, to sign, and to enter into contracts. I do not have the ability to enter into a contract unless the council approves that contract. It’s a form of government that is much more conservative in that some cities have gone out on a limb with their mayors doing big redevelopment projects, and then not having their revenue or receipts come in, which puts their cities into precarious financial circumstances. It would be very difficult for a city like ours to get into trouble like that because it would take a vote of the nine of us. We have nine council members, so you have to have at least five members to vote for something. Traditionally, we usually have seven or nine voting on items, it’s not typical to have five members vote for something.

The Politic: So continuing on that line, what impact can you have as mayor that no other elected official can have?

I do get to have influence. I do not get to be in charge of how it becomes operational. For example, last year, we started to realize our community was becoming very troubled by a lot the density that is coming our way. Our economy is exceptionally successful in Palo Alto, and it was very clear to me that if we did not get more directly involved with our community by doing outreach meetings and stakeholder meetings, that we might have some unintended consequences of people not really understanding what the impacts of the success of Palo Alto is having on our quality of life. There is more traffic than there used to be. A lot of industry wants to be in Palo Alto. And it’s created a real intensity that has taken us from really enjoying the success of what we’ve created in Palo Alto. So I have been able to influence the staff. The staff has gone out and has had these community conversations—finding different ways to connect to the community to try to have our town hall meetings out in coffee shops, and in our libraries, instead of making people come into Palo Alto to come to our meetings. It’s civic engagement at a very basic level of talking to people instead of emails and blogs that can end up being really nasty.

The Politic: Palo Alto was recently ranked “most livable” city in the United States by liveability.com. Do you agree with this ranking, and if so, why?

Palo Alto is spectacular. It’s a place you can have an exceptional quality of living in your home while you’re maybe a mile or two miles away from where you work. We also have good quality schools, and good quality open spaces. We have about 4,000 acres open space between our Baylands and our Foothills Park. Palo Alto has a good strong city recreation program and a good strong library system. There’s a lot right at your fingertips in Palo Alto. You do not have to go very far to have the type of experience you want, either professionally or domestically.

The Politic: And lastly, for any readers of the Politic that might be interested in visiting Palo Alto, CA, if I had only two hours to do this, what would you recommend I do? Essentially, what is the iconic Palo Alto experience?

I would recommend two main areas. You should drive through the research park, and if you could get a tour of one the companies, it would be spectacular. But if not, just seeing all the headquarters that are up there and see[ing] the campus life that they have would be spectacular. The other area you would want to visit would be our University Avenue area which will have a lot of the cafés [and] a number of startup companies down there, and that’s where you’ll see one of our largest employers – Palantir. They are headquartered right next to our train station. I think you would want the experience of being on our University Avenue during lunchtime or in the morning or in the afternoon or whenever. There are a lot of activities down there. The other part of Palo Alto that would be more recreational would be our Foothills Park. [It] has 1,400 acres of open space, and it has a lot of natural trails. The other option is to go down to the Baylands and see how we interact with the San Francisco Bay.

The Politic: What is your vision for the city for the year 2020?

I would like to keep our innovative entrepreneurship edge and our research. We have deep ties in the tech work that we do, and I would hope that we would have a really close connection with Stanford University to maintain that good balance…having an exceptional quality of life both with your profession and with your home life. That’s something that’s very important to Palo Alto, and I would like to see that maintained and adapted too. [For instance, I’d like to] see people using more transit. Palo Alto grew up really fast like L.A. We still expect to drive to work, and we have to be more nimble than that, because it’s beginning to affect our quality of life. I would like for Palo Alto to continue its good balance between work and home.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *