Palo Alto mayor launches bid for state Assembly seat
Palo Alto Mayor Lydia Kou is challenging District 23 Assemblymember Marc Berman for his state seat. Photo courtesy of Lydia Kou.

Palo Alto Mayor Lydia Kou stumbled into politics accidentally as an active member of her community—now she wants to run for higher office.

Kou declared her candidacy for state Assembly on Monday. She will run against incumbent Marc Berman who represents District 23, which includes Mountain View, Palo Alto, most of Menlo Park, Pacifica, Half Moon Bay, Saratoga and Campbell.

Her focus is on ending the state’s housing crisis through short-term transitional housing and long-term affordable housing with supportive services for drug addiction and mental health.

California has the largest homeless population in the nation with more than 171,000 people, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment to Congress. There are approximately 10,000 homeless residents in Santa Clara County.

Kou opposes Senate Bill 9, which ended exclusionary single-family zoning statewide and enforced a government approval process to subdivide parcels of land. She aims to tackle street safety by enforcing 90-day court-ordered treatment for homeless people who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs. Santa Clara County already offers court-ordered psychiatric treatment through its assisted outpatient program known as Laura’s Law.

“In Sacramento, the politicians keep blaming the local cities for the problem. But the cities didn’t close the mental hospitals, the cities didn’t take away the funds we once had to build affordable housing,” she told San José Spotlight.

Kou, a real estate agent, began her political career in 2014 when she ran for a seat on the Palo Alto City Council. She lost, but won a seat two years later in 2016.  She’s now in her second term, and became mayor at the beginning of this year following her role as vice mayor. Palo Alto rotates it mayoral position each year.

After seven years serving in city government, Kou said she can bring a unique perspective to the Assembly.

“I know my community well, I talked to my community,” she said.

Berman, a former Palo Alto councilmember, was elected to the state Assembly in 2016 and served six years in District 24, until redistricting redrew the lines and pushed his residence into District 23. In 2022, he ran in his new district and won the District 23 seat.

In his seven years as an assemblymember, Berman has passed legislation to make California a vote-by-mail state in all elections and helped write a bill to stop the production of new gas-powered leaf blowers beginning in 2024. He’s led calls to audit VTA in Santa Clara County related to concerns about the transit agency’s governance structure, planning and fiscal management.

“I welcome all candidates to the race for the 23rd State Assembly District who want to engage in a campaign about the issues facing our region,” Berman told San José Spotlight. “Our democracy is strongest when more people participate in it, and one of the most meaningful ways to do that is to run for office.”

Palo Alto Vice Mayor Greer Stone is a longtime political ally to Kou who first met her in 2012. He said he supports her run for state office.

“(She’s) just very attuned with what residents in this area are kind of interested and yearning for at the state level,” he told San José Spotlight.

Kou said if she wins, she hopes to change the status quo in the state Assembly.

“I think it’s a wake-up call to Sacramento to see one of their own, defeated by a people-powered campaign,” she said. “I think it will truly shake things up when they see that they just can’t get away with business as usual, that people are demanding more than promises.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.

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