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Palo Alto Likes It as It is: No to Measure A, Yes to Experience in Palo Alto City Council

By Miranda Simon | 12 Nov 2009

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PALO ALTO – Palo Alto voters prefered to play it safe at the polls Nov. 3, electing four candidates with experience in public office or community involvement, and one newcomer with a highly conservative platform.

Larry Klein, incumbent City Council member, and three-time mayor of Palo Alto, was reelected to the nine-member body with 7,315 votes (13.04 percent), the highest of the candidates. Planning and Transportation Commissioner Karen Holman was only 144 votes behind.
Gail Price, who has been city and transportation planner for 32 years, won the third seat with 12.66 percent of votes, and Nancy Shepherd, a long-time school volunteer won the fourth seat with 10.75 percent.

68,521 votes were cast for all five candidates. According to tha Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, the number of registered voters is 36, 290.

“I will work with my colleagues to make sure that the concerns that have been voiced by the people of Palo Alto are addressed,” said Nancy Shepherd. “I’m glad to continue to help Palo Alto.”

Gregory Sharff, an attorney with little experience in politics, won the fifth seat with 9.87 percent of votes, on a platform opposing the business-license tax, the high-speed rail and high-density housing. Scharff raised $23,178 in campaign contributions, the highest among the candidates.
“I am thrilled the people of Palo Alto put their faith in me and I will do the best job I can for them,” said Scharff.

The candidates will replace Mayor Peter Drekmeier, Vice Mayor Jack Morton, and council members John Barton and Yoriko Kishimoto, whose terms expire the 31st of December. The council members will serve four years, and the Mayor and Vice Mayor will serve one.

The nine losing candidates were Leon Leong, Dan Dykwel, Corey Levens, John Hackmann, Brian Steen, Timothy Gray, Chris Gaither, Mark Weiss and Victor Frost.

Measure A, the Business License tax, was defeated with 57.12 percent the vote. The measure was intended to bring $3 million in projected revenues to narrow the city’s $10 million budget gap – but was feared by critics to discourage business in Palo Alto.

Two of the winning candidates – Karen Holman, a small business owner and consultant, and Gregory Scharff – concurred with the majority of voters against the Business License Tax.

“I don’t want the business tax, I’m a small business owner,” said Anne Kramer after dropping off her ballot, “and I don’t want the high-speed rail above ground because I think it will divide our city and impact the quality of life. Greg Scharff’s positions are aligned with mine.”

By the time the unofficial results were published at 11pm Tuesday night on the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters website, the candidates were celebrating at the Garden Court Hotel in downtown Palo Alto. But the polling stations throughout Nov. 3 were not as jovial.

“These are dull elections. It’s not real tough, you just pick the top five candidates,” said voter Jerri Ream, who is retired. She pointed to the lack of voters at the University Lutheran Church on Stanford Avenue polling station. The statewide special election in May 2009 brought more activity to the precincts.

David Foster, a volunteer at the Palo Alto High School precinct on Embarcadero Road said the influx of voters had been very light throughout the day: six out of seven voters for his precinct registered as mail-in voters, he said.

The Santa Clara County Registrar’s Office reports that about 74 percent of Palo Alto voters requested mail-in ballots, and those who arrived at the precinct dropped off their mail-in vote.

Many voters and candidates said they were preoccupied with keeping Palo Alto afloat throughout the recession.

“I’m looking for common sense spending from the part of the city, cutting out waste wherever we can,” said James O’ Reilly, 56, a publisher, voting at the Stanford Avenue polling station.

The new council terms begin in January.

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