PALO ALTO — Planning and Transportation Commissioner Greg Tanaka was elected to the Palo Alto City Council on Nov. 8, finishing second out of 11 candidates with 13,436 votes (14.35 percent).
The top vote-getter was Councilmember Liz Kniss, the only incumbent in the race, with 16,836 (17.98 percent). Also elected were Planning and Transportation Commissioner Adrian Fine with 12,847 (13.72 percent) and Lydia Kou, a Citizens Advisory Committee member for the city’s Comprehensive Plan, with 12,449 (13.29 percent).
According to The San Jose Mercury News, the top three finishers were pegged as “pro-development” by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce while Kou is a “residentialist” who wants to slow down the city’s pace of growth.
Finishing in fifth to 11th place were Arthur Keller (10,931, 11.67 percent), Don McDougall (7,575, 8.09 percent), Greer Stone (7,373, 7.87 percent), Stewart Carl (4,764, 5.09 percent), Danielle Martell (2,705, 2.89 percent), John Karl Fredrich (2,412, 2.58 percent), and Leonard Ely III (2,310, 2.47 percent).
Tanaka told the newspaper that he will review development projects on a case-by-case basis, as he did as a planning commissioner. “The world is shades of gray. There’s great projects and some terrible projects. To say that all projects are good is wrong and to say all projects are bad is also wrong.”
In a statement on his campaign website, Tanaka said, “I am running for Palo Alto City Council to make City Hall work for you. My wife and I moved to Palo Alto in 2004 for our deep love of community and what it represents to raise a family. One of our first experiences was of the greeting we got from our neighbors. This first taste of the Palo Alto neighborhood experience has left a lasting impression.
“Today we have two kids attending Palo Alto schools and I am CEO of a local business [Percolata] on El Camino Real in Barron Park. I know what it means to balance family, work and community — and I will bring my experience and knowledge to work hard for you on City Council.
“Also, I currently serve as a planning and transportation commissioner, was appointed to the now completed Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, and served for four years as president of my neighborhood association. I have a deep understanding of the issues Palo Alto faces today and a strong commitment to serve this community.
“Make public transit easy — electrify Caltrain, increase commute options and make Palo Alto mobile again;
“Fiscally strong city to fund services residents expect;
“Protect our environment, parklands and strengthen sustainability and Climate Action Plan initiatives; and
“Maintain neighborhood quality of life by engaging with the community to plan for the future.
“I will make City Hall work for everyone: working families, professionals, seniors and local business owners.”
A fourth-generation Japanese American on his father’s side and second-generation Chinese American on his mother’s side, and an alumnus of Caltech and UC Berkeley, Tanaka has lived in the Bay Area since 1993 and now lives in Palo Alto’s College Terrace with his wife, son and daughter.
His civic experience started when he was elected Homeowners’ Association treasurer for his condo association in Mountain View for six terms. After moving to Palo Alto, he was elected president of the College Terrace Residents’ Association for four terms. He also served as treasurer of the Escondido PTA for one term.
The City Council appointed Tanaka to the Planning and Transportation Commission in 2010 and reappointed him to a second term.
“One of my main focuses was to ensure the vibrancy of Cal Ave. to support local businesses,” he said. “On the commission, I championed the streetscape project, which widened the sidewalks, increased the sense of community, and also created more much needed parking spaces. Today Cal Ave. is far more vibrant, and which even those originally opposed now acknowledge …
“During my two terms on PTC, I brought opposing sides together to have real dialog and resolve differences … I believe in completely understanding and having real dialog with all sides of issues, rather than having a narrow ideological position going into a hearing.
“With a focus on community participation and neighborhood impact, I’ve worked to improve proposed development projects that have come before the PTC, and taken a difficult stand against others. I am the only candidate … who voted against the infamous original Maybell project while in public office. While I strongly support affordable housing, the community wasn’t sufficiently involved in the decision-making process, and we later saw that project overturned in a referendum led by neighbors who had felt ignored by City Hall. It was the most difficult vote of my time on PTC, but I knew it was the right one. The community must be at the center of planning discussions.”
Tanaka’s honorary campaign chairs were Assemblymember Rich Gordon, former Palo Alto mayors Bern Beecham and Larry Klein, and Canopy co-founder Susan Rosenberg. Endorsers included Rep. Anna Eshoo, State Sen. Jerry Hill, Assemblymember Evan Low, former Assemblymember Paul Fong, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, Palo Alto Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilmembers Marc Berman and Cory Wolbach, and former mayors of Palo Alto, Mountain View (including Margaret Abe-Koga) and Cupertino.
Tanaka also had the backing of such groups as the California Democratic Party, League of Conservation Voters, Peninsula Young Democrats, Silicon Valley Young Democrats, Silicon Valley Asian Pacific Democratic Club, Evolve California, and Carbon-Free Palo Alto.
The first Asian American elected to the City Council was Yoriko Kishimoto, who served as mayor in 2007. She is currently board president of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.