Palo Alto History. Org

Ed Power: Palo Alto's Resident Gadfly

The city council gadfly --- it seems that every city has at least one. Are they lone, impassioned citizens boldly challenging the system or eccentric wackos jamming up the city’s busy calendar with their own personal grudges?

In Palo Alto, as in all California cities, City Council meetings begin with a half-hour Oral Communications period. During this time anyone can speak up to three minutes on any topic, as is prescribed by California law. For many years in Palo Alto, there was one citizen you could set your watch by. Ed Power never missed a chance to use his three minutes to speak. And the subject was always the same, if not a bit
forgotten --- the 1986 closing of the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor.

At times, Power’s speeches ranged from the tiresome to the ridiculous. On a number of occasions, frustrated with the laconic, always silent body language of the Council during his weekly harangue, Power would actually launch into song. “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” and "I Wander Today to the Hill, Maggie." were a couple of the old-time numbers that the Council was treated to. On one occasion Power said he hoped the singing brought a little more entertainment "than speaking to this blank-faced council." He also once compared the "immoral" closing of the harbor to the Holocaust and the council to a dog licking its private parts. And in case any of the members might miss him, he would actually inform city officials of his vacation plans so they would know why he wouldn't be in attendance at future meetings.  Power also took his message to the voters a half-dozen times in runs for City Council.  He never garnered more than 1,000 votes.

In 1998, a few city council members including Micki Schneider
--- who had recently been personally insulted during Oral communications--- tried to limit Power and a few other gadflies. They proposed pushing Oral Communications to the end of the meeting for anyone who had addressed the council within the past month. But after Palo Alto Weekly and others railed against the proposal as “abusive, punitive and undemocratic,” Schneider reversed herself. The proposal was dropped and the Ed Power weekly tongue-lashing continued unabated until 2005 when Power’s health declined. Power died in 2006 at the age of 88, often ignored, but always heard. []

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Ed Power, posing in 1989. (PAHA)

The closing of Palo Alto's Yacht Harbor was Power's signature issue. (PAHA)