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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Palo Alto and Bay Area Election Facts and Thoughts on the Implications

Uploaded: Nov 22, 2014
How Many Voted

Palo Alto has roughly

55,000 residents of voting age (not all eligible to vote)

37,000 registered voters (36,781 as of Oct 20, 2014)

20,500 votes in the November city election

Here are the top ten votes for city elections

Yes on Measure C 16,988
Yes on Measure B 15,475
Holman 11,281
Yes on Measure D 10,475
Scharff 10,149
DuBois 10,092
Filseth 9,248
Wolbach 8,235
Kou 8,100
Shepherd 6,724

One ballot measure (B) dealt with raising money for city investments. It passed with 76.3% of the vote putting Palo Alto in the mainstream of Bay Area communities that supported investing for the future.

Statewide the passage rate for local revenue and bond measures was 72% and was higher in the Bay Area. The two major transportation investment measures passed-a $500 million transportation bond in San Francisco and an increase in the sales tax for transportation in Alameda County. School bonds and parcel taxes received the usual strong vote with 19 of 23 school bonds passing in the Bay Area with a 100% passage rate on the peninsula. In addition eight Bay Area cities raised or extended sales tax increases while three failed.

Voters reversed their historic 2/3 approval support for hotel tax increases by defeating 10 of 14 measures on the November ballot. I think Palo Alto was the only one tied to infrastructure investment.

Palo Alto was one of the few Bay Area communities where the vote can be interpreted in favor of slowing growth, at least temporarily and at least for commercial development. A summary of growth initiatives in the Bay Area web link shows strong support for curbing sprawl but not for curbing development.

Berkeley's downtown development plan was upheld, the anti-development measure in Menlo Park was soundly trounced as was true in San Bruno and San Francisco voters approved a major redevelopment of Pier 70. Low density housing development outside the core city area was defeated in Dublin and Union City.

What do the Palo Alto council elections mean for growth and the economy in Palo Alto? I want to make two distinctions here. One is between housing and office development. The other is between the pace and timing of growth versus the level of growth by 2020 or 2030.

I accept that a majority of voters in Palo Alto do not like what they perceive as the rapid pace of recent commercial development. I know that staff has proposed exploring limitations on the pace of commercial growth, at least downtown, when the new council starts in January. I also know that the city is pursuing a three part strategy with regard to traffic and parking initiatives. I assume that staff will inform the new council of what can be done within the law to slow the pace of development. And it may well be a good idea to explore a much closer linkage between development in the short term and traffic/parking mitigation.

But I have not heard any council member?continuing or newly elected?say what they think the proper role is for Palo Alto in the regional economy of 2020 or 2030. So I am hopeful that the council will look at long term development in the city in the context of what we can achieve in reducing traffic and parking impacts from current and future development.

With regard to housing both the current council and both Tom and Eric have tried to make clear that they support some amount of housing growth. Tom along with Greg Schmid are leading proponents of looking at centers like downtown for more housing while cutting back the amount sited in the southern part of the city. The council has adopted the Housing Element and pledged to look as shifting more housing to downtown and the California Avenue area.

If I have mischaracterized the positions of any 2015 council members, I invite them to correct any misstatements made here about their positions.

Moreover I did not hear any of the continuing or newly elected council members come out against working hard to find sites for more subsidized housing. My own impression is that many of the Maybell project opponents are being characterized as against subsidized housing or diversity when, in fact, their argument was against the process and site of the Maybell project, not the idea of housing in Palo Alto for low income residents.

While some Town Square posters have complained about the state requirements to plan for housing, my impression is that the newly elected council members know that the state mandated housing allocation process is final for 2014-2022 and will again be examined by the 2019 council for the 2022-2030 housing planning horizon.

So I think what the next council will do about housing is an open and critical issue for the Comp Plan and one in which the community will be able to share what I know is a very diverse set of opinions about how Palo Alto should respond to the immense regional challenges of housing affordability and access. A failure to address these challenges will have a negative impact on the prosperity of the peninsula economy.

A short term pause is a far different idea than making decisions now about the level and type of commercial development for 2020 or 2030. That is the Comp Plan task that the next council will face. It is good to remember that the best growth policies for 2015 and 2016 may not be best for 2018 or beyond.

I know there continues to be a lot of talk about what the election means for the future of Palo Alto especially around issues of growth.

One, I think it means that Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth ran good campaigns and resonated with the frustrations of many voters. But so did Cory Wolbach who won the fifth seat over Lydia Kou despite being heavily outspent.

Two, the election was a sweep for the Weekly, which endorsed two of the three PASZ candidates but also endorsed Cory Wolbach and not Lydia Kou.

Three, the elected candidates got between 20% and 30% support among registered voters. Even among actual voters only Holman, Scharff and DuBois got close to 50% of the vote.

Four, Measure D to reduce the council size won with more votes than any candidate except Karen Holman but was opposed by, among others, DuBois, Filseth and Kou and the PASZ President. If this was a PASZ sweep election, Measure D would not have won

It is time to congratulate the winners and move on to the hard work ahead in 2015.

The usual guidelines for this blog apply--no personal comments or put downs, Disagree all you want but keep it on ideas and be respectful, This is not a blog to rehash the election and campaigns. Town Square has plenty of open blogs for posters interested in those topics.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 22, 2014 at 7:32 pm


Your comments and analysis are interesting. Rather than these statistics, do you have any comparisons with voting percentages in places like Mountain View?

Interesting about the number of registered voters v the number of age appropriate residents? It might be worth considering how many of our residents are not US citizens. We definitely have a lot of Europeans, Asians of all kinds and even starting to see many Australians in the city. It is quite possible that these are green card holders and not citizens which means they are not qualified to vote.

Another interesting comparison might be between this year and the last mid term election. Many voters pay more attention to elections with Presidential interest, or when there is a hot topic and/or bond measure being proposed. Even a gubernatorial election was rather more a non event this past election.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how some of these nearly elected do next time round. As an example, Ken Dauber was in a tight race last time for school board, but this time he was the out and out favorite.

The old cliché that a day in politics is a very long time, but in election terms, from one election to the next some things are very fresh in memory and can make a huge difference in a two year time span.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 22, 2014 at 8:15 pm

I draw a different conclusion - voters are against the granting of variances, exceptions, zoning change to "PC - Planned Community" either commercial or residential. The PASZ candidates ran on this message, as did Scharff.

The most charitable thing I would say about Measure B - Palo Alto voters are for raising taxes on someone else; and although it was advertised helping to pay for infrasture, there is nothing in the actual statue that says the money will be dedicated to infrastructure spending, or that money that was forecasted to be spent on infrastructure won't be reallocated to other purposes - much like the Utility Users Tax (UUT) passed in the 1980's was advertised to pay for the city to lease Cubberley, but now the UUT brings in more money than needed to pay for the city to lease Cubberley.

Posted by nice analysis, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Nov 23, 2014 at 9:03 pm

This is a useful summary.

The notion of overwhelming support for the "PASZ Slate" seems wrong, based on this. ~50% of residents didn't have Holman, Filseth or Dubois in their top five candidates. It seems that the only true "people's mandate" was for Measures B and C. No one "group" on the council should pretend that they somehow have won a mandate-- the numbers simply do not support this.

I agree with the other poster that the 2016 election will be fascinating. Young people do tend to vote in national elections, and they will likely hold sway. That means that the "Progressives" (like Berman) will likely do well, while those seen as "Conservative" (like Burt) will likely do less well. The pendulum could swing back the other way.

I hope that everyone on council recognizes this and tries to work constructively together. The charged tone of this election was not reflective of the underlying sentiments in Palo Alto.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 23, 2014 at 11:26 pm

My reading of the election is quite different. Of the 5 council members elected, 4 of them ran on an implicit platform of slowing undesired growth ... and they didn't distinguish between commercial and residential development impacts. (Portion deleted) The only candidate who didn't talk about limiting zoning exceptions and developer favors as a significant good was Wolbach ... and he squeaked out a win by the slimmest of possible margins (portion deleted)

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Nov 24, 2014 at 4:19 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On percentages of voters who voted for particular candidates:
The Registrar of Voters hasn't provided a count of the number of ballots cast in the various Palo Alto precincts, so the closest proxy is the number of ballots cast for measure with the highest vote total (yes and no) and that was Measure B, where the total is 20,287. Holman's vote is 56% of that; Scharff's is barely over 50% of that and DuBois barely under.

With 75,510 votes cast for Council candidates, that is an average of 3.72 votes per ballot based on the proxy. There were 36,258 votes cast for School Board candidates for an average of 1.79 votes be ballot (the proxy over-estimates the PAUSD ballots because a small part of the city is not in PAUSD -- Monroe Park and ?).

Posted by Some People, a resident of Mountain View,
on Nov 24, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Douglas Moran: "The Registrar of Voters hasn't provided a count of the number of ballots cast in the various Palo Alto precincts..."

(Portion deleted)Doug, Go on to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters' November 4 election summary website Web Link and press the "Map" icon. Then press the enlarge map icon on the top left corner, and it will display the vote count by precinct.

Posted by Some People, a resident of Mountain View,
on Nov 24, 2014 at 2:15 pm

To add on an important detail: You have to run your cursor over the individual precincts displayed on the map to get the vote counts per precinct.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 25, 2014 at 11:15 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Interested readers can look at registration, voting and age data. Registered voter data can be found at [Web Link registered voters]. Election results for Santa Clara and San Mateo counties can be found at [Web Link santa clara] and [Web Link san mateo].

The turnout on for the Nov 4 election was reported to be the lowest in recent history. For Santa Clara County, turnout was 50.18% of registered voters and in San Mateo County the turnout was 46.3%. So Palo Alto at near 55% was above average in voter turnout as was Menlo Park.

In Menlo Park there were 17,737 registered voters and at least 10,071 votes (the number for Measure M) for at least a 56.8% turnout. In Mountain View there were 32,521 registered voters, less than in PA despite Mountain View?s larger population. If all voters voted for three council candidates, there would have been approximately 14,000 voters or less than a 50% turnout.

It is certainly true that Silicon Valley cities have a large share of foreign born residents, some of whom are not eligible to vote. But that does not explain the low turnout of eligible voters.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 25, 2014 at 11:17 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

For age profiles, I used the 2011-13 ACS files can be found at the American Factfinder site[Web Link ACS] and searching for table S0101 for the 2011-13 period.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Nov 25, 2014 at 11:31 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Dan. You wrote

"Of the 5 council members elected, 4 of them ran on an implicit platform of slowing undesired growth ... and they didn't distinguish between commercial and residential development impacts."

I do not believe this is accurate and invite council members to clarify their positions.

First, the council including the two reelected incumbents, adopted the Housing Element unanimously.

Second, council members joined by newly elected member DuBois, supported examining more housing near services and shopping in exchange for reducing sites along San Antonio and the southern part of El Camino.

Third, I do not know of any council member, old or new, who believes the city should not pursue finding sites for subsidized housing, As I said there was a sharp difference of opinion about the Maybell site but I believe all council members do not interpret the Maybell vote as a vote against subsidized housing in Palo Alto.

Fourth, I know of no council member who is not concerned about expanding options for Palo Alto seniors to remain in the community if they want/need to leave their single family home but stay near family and friends.

I know that newly elected members DuBois and Filseth expressed dissatisfaction with the process for giving Palo Alto housing planning targets. They will get their chance to argue for a different process if they win reelection and serve on the 2019 council when the next RHNA process starts.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 25, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I think the days of rubber stamped PC zone waivers (and upzoning) are gone with this new council...thankfully so.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Nov 25, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@"Some People"

There is a difference between "Registered Voters", "Ballots Cast" and "Votes Cast". The "Ballots Cast" is not in the per-race spreadsheets from the ROV, only "Registered Voters" and "Votes Cast".

I subsequently found this data in the XLS workbook provided by the ROV -- it has 114 worksheets and the one tracking "Ballots Cast" is (misleadingly( entitled "Registered Voters".

Because Palo Alto's 41 precincts are not continuous among the county's 1066 precincts (and IDed only by number in this worksheet), extracting that info requires non-trivial effort and care.

Additionally, if you are looking at incremental counts, the ballots can be counted as received well before the votes on them are counted (received involves things such as verifying the signature).

Posted by Some People, a resident of Mountain View,
on Nov 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm

@Douglas Moran: Is "Thank you" too much for you to muster?

Posted by factchecker, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Nov 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Steve - Measure M in Menlo Park was not anti-development. It allowed the same amount as the adopted downtown plan. What it would have done, however, was limit the amount of office space to the amount that was studied when the plan was adopted.
This is a big difference.

(portion deleted)

Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 25, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

Thanks Doug and "some people" for the information on reading the election results. I ask that any more back and forth between the two of you be taken to Doug's blog as it is getting personal.


I will leave your first comment about measure M up but request that any additional comments on M occur on an Alamanac blog, not here.

Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Nov 26, 2014 at 5:56 pm

@Some People & @factfinder

Steve Levy is a diehard practitioner of comment censorship with a long history of doing so.

In almost all cases, he doesn't not give a reason for the censorship. In many cases I've witnessed (both my comments as well as those of others before his deletion), it appears that people are simply expressing an opinion contrary to his own. In quite a few of those cases, the commenter provides ample evidence of why Steve is wrong.

Steve hates this.

Posted by Steve Levy, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Steve Levy is a registered user.

@ Jay Park

The guidelines I use are pretty clear. One deletion was a personal comment to another poster, not me. The other deletion was an unsubstantiated allegation of illegal activities by a neighboring city.

No disagreements with me have been deleted, even yours.

Posted by Some People, a resident of Mountain View,
on Nov 26, 2014 at 6:37 pm

@Jay Park: Steve Levy is correct. While there have been deletions here and there, he has been restrained otherwise. And he has, in fact, allowed for an actual discussion to take place here -- which is quite welcome these days.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Mountain View,
on Nov 29, 2014 at 6:51 pm

@Steve & @Some People:

While I wouldn't be surprised if your IP addresses were the same, I will stand by my comments that Steve is an unrepentant comment censor.

He has shown this over years of practice, not just this particular article. I am simply warning people that you do not make a contrarian comment on a Steve Levy post with a high risk of deletion.

Embarcadero Media should be put on the record of supporting propaganda-style blogging. Steve should be welcome to present his opinions as he wishes, I just don't understand why a local media outlet is supporting this sort of censorial practice.

Happy Thanksgiving, gentlemen.

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