News

Citizens panel appointed for Comprehensive Plan update

Palo Alto has selected a new citizens panel that is charged with helping the city update its land-use bible, the Comprehensive plan.

The 13-member group includes neighborhood leaders, land-use watchdogs and representatives from the city's nonprofit and business communities. Its purpose is to advise city staff on how to reach out to the public and engage residents and businesses who don't usually participate in the city's planning processes.

Its members include Elaine Uang, co-founder of citizens group Green Planning Action; College Terrace land-use watchdog Doria Summa; Human Relations Commission member Mehdi Alhassani; Cheryl Lilienstein, president of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a group formed last year in opposition to new high-density developments; and David MacKenzie, president and CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce.

Other members of what is known as the "Leadership Group" are Jackie Schoelerman of Coldwell Banker, Ellen Uhrbrock of Avenidas, Rebecca Sanders of the Midpeninsula Community Media Center, Helen Li of Fenwick and West, Catherine Ballantyne of Absolute Mortgage Banking, Michael Nelson of the Adobe Meadow Neighborhood Association, engineer and investor Hemant Bahnoo, and housing advocate Mila Zelkha.

The group is scheduled to hold its first meeting later this month. According to a report from planning staff, the group will help with community engagement "for the balance of the planning process."

The Leadership Group was appointed by City Manager James Keene based on feedback he received from the City Council in March. While it is not subject to Brown Act requirements (because it was not appointed by the council), Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said its meetings will be open to the public and advertised in advance.

The city plans to adopt a new Comprehensive Plan in late 2015.

Comments

Posted by The Scot, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

David spells his name MacKenzie and his title is President & CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce.


Posted by senor blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 9, 2014 at 11:08 am

So all the members are GROUPIES.

Why no ordinary unaffiliated citizens.

Don't we count?


Posted by Judith, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 9, 2014 at 11:31 am

Did you apply?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2014 at 11:31 am

This group of people seem to little more than the vested interests that have created many of the problems that we see here in Palo Alto today?

How many of these people have any exprience in City Planning? How many of these people have any experience in computer modelling? How many of these people own property/homes in Palo Alto? How many of these people have ever participated in any plannig exercises in the past?

Members for the Media Center, InnVision and Aviendas are totally inappropriate.

What a MESS!


Posted by To Joe, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Did you apply? If not, then this is what you get. Democracy is not a spectator sport.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2014 at 1:12 pm

> Did you apply?

Nor is democracy a governmental scheme that is obligated to commit suicide.

The City did not have to appoint anyone who happens to apply? The article doesn't provide much in the way of information about the number of people who did apply, and why those not chosen were skipped over.

The City could have thanked those that applied, and reset the clock--making it clear that it needed a wide group of applicants--not just those non-profitz that are always sucking up to the City for funding.

The last comprehensive plan exercise in the '90s resulted in the work of about 50 people--a group which represented the population much more effectively than this group of people whose goals are doubtless to find ways to increase their City-provided funding.

Not everyone has the time to attend these meetings. Moreover, it's pretty cleat that critics of the City will not be seated on these groups very often.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2014 at 1:23 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

The article says clearly that this committee's purpose is to advise the city on outreach not the content of the plan.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm

> The article says clearly that this committee's purpose

Local newspaper articles are routinely devoid of much in the way of detail, and often promore incorrect information. The Weekly is not different.

You're free to bow down to this source as a direct line to the devine, but it really a'int so!

Having any non-profits associated with any planning for the Comprehensive Plan is nothing more than shameless political maneuvering on the part of the City.



Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 9, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Pleased to see that Doria Summa and Cheryl Lilenstein are part of the group. I have noticed that both pay attention to details and I think both bring level-headed thinking to the table.

Also: I think the meetings will be open so if you want to be involved with this, ATTEND.


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Poorly written story ( what a surprise!!!). Who is exactly the "Palo Alto" that is referred to in the opening sentence. I am part of,palo,alto,and was not asked who,should be on this committee. [Portion removed.]


Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2014 at 5:07 pm


And as a " newspaperman" once said:
"Unlike national and international news, there is no substitute for locally-produced news. "

And the weekly leads in that respect-- producing g their version of the news ( and then deleting all references to what they print)

But remember to make your donations to the weekly-- it is just not fair that we should get manipulated news stories for free!!!


Posted by Its a comedy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 9, 2014 at 5:54 pm

More city flimflam. Only two people who represent residents.The rest are housing development advocates, a mortgage banker(!), the head of the Chamber of Commerce which is largely composed of developers and bankers that support them. The list is worthy of comedy.
BTW the Green Planning Action organization is composed of three, maybe four people, closely associated with Friends of Caltrain. They are PRO-DEVELOPMENT.
From Web Link

"Steady growth in downtown Palo Alto over the last 15-20 years has created challenges especially around parking and transportation.

Is it possible for downtown Palo Alto to have growth without gridlock? Other places have wrestled with similar issues and developed innovative solutions to use transit more and drive less."


Posted by Deceitful, a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2014 at 5:59 pm

What a crummy joke! The representation intensely favors developers--nothing "net zero" about that.

What this is really about is how to pull the wool over the eyes of residents.


Posted by Fool Me Once..., a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Don't nobody worry about the composition of this group. As we have seen many times before, it is only window dressing for our city staff, who in the end will front their own plan as the "consensus" of this "representative" group.


Posted by Kevin, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 9, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Kevin is a registered user.

I swear, if any people from outside the area read these comments, they'll think Palo Alto is full of cranks.


Posted by Mila Zelkha, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 10, 2014 at 2:44 am

Gennady, I sincerely hope that you contact me for a fact check in the future prior to posting my name in the paper. Although I am currently employed by InnVision Shelter Network, my participation in this important civic discussion about the future of OUR Palo Alto is solely limited to my personal views as a resident of Palo Alto and do not reflect the interests of my employer or any other organizations I am affiliated with of which there are many. For the City's part, I would like to think I was selected because I am a lifetime resident and yet I am very motivated to encourage all Palo Altans (not just those of us who have had family in town since 1954) to weigh into the civic discourse. I have understood that the goal of the committee is to increase civic engagement. My current employer is irrelevant to this story and I wish you had instead noted that I am a recent graduate of the Leadership Palo Alto program.


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2014 at 3:15 am

"Don't nobody worry about the composition of this group. As we have seen many times before, it is only window dressing for our city staff, who in the end will front their own plan as the "consensus" of this "representative" group."

Sadly, what Fool Me Once says is only too true. The only hope is getting in some candidates in November who really represent the residents, who can reorient or reorg City staff. It's more like Fool Me a Dozen Times...

Which means we need 1 or 2 more good residentialist candidates...


Posted by Elaine Uang, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 10, 2014 at 10:50 am

I'm extremely honored to be involved in the Comp Plan Leadership Group and look forward to working with the group and the community at large. My husband and I attended Stanford and have been Peninsula residents on and off for the last decade and half. We chose to live in Palo Alto because we love the vitality, so in 2006, we found a rundown house on a tiny 3000 sf lot, fixed it up, put in an edible garden, and intend to raise our two young daughters here in Palo Alto. While PA is great, it's not without challenges, and I am interested in supporting ways to improve our city, beginning with this Comp Plan Update process. I'm in my mid 30s now, so I hope to enjoy PA for another 30, 40 or heck, 50 years!


Posted by Adina, a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2014 at 11:36 am

There are hundreds of people on the Friends of Caltrain and Green Planning Action lists in Palo Alto, so that is surely more than two or three. We have hosted events with attendance ranging from 20-80 people who do not agree on all topics but are interested in discussing what factors make communities livable, and how to improve transit and reduce traffic/parking problems.

Are there only two choices for Palo Alto, to accept any development, no matter how it detracts from the community, or to preserve all the building formats from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, including formats that were based on the retail preferences of 50 years ago and the land values of 50 years ago? Does it make sense to plan based on the amount of driving that was common in the mid-20th century, even though younger people are driving less and many older people will need to drive less?

FoC is a regional group, and land use decisions are local. We partner with local groups that are interested in policies that support the use of transit and active transportation.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Mila Zelkha omitted the fact that the group with which she would like to be identified, Leadership Palo Alto, is a program of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce.


Posted by Fool Me Twice, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 10, 2014 at 7:02 pm

What part of "no more development" don't they understand? How many times and from how many sources must it be said?
Are they deaf, or just biased against the residents they are supposed to serve?

What is needed is more low-density housing, not more big businesses. Our roads are too narrow and there is no room to widen them. This is a suburb, not an urban metropolis, nor do we want it to be. There is no room to go anywhere but up, which blocks sunlight as well as views. It is detrimental to both physical and mental health. The crowding invites crime as well.

What are they trying to turn Palo Alto into?


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Jul 10, 2014 at 7:40 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I have been to all the outreach meetings. There are many people who asked for more housing particularly if it could be less costly (smaller units ) and many people who wanted no more growth . The voices were not as one sided as these posts.

It would be helpful if readers understood that the job of this committee is to broaden the outreach and make helpful suggestions,

This committee is not asked to sdvise on the plan. That was made clear again last night atvtgecplanning commission meeting.



Posted by Its a comedy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm

The panel is a set-up. It is composed of housing advocates and their supporters, and the people who profit from building housing. No surprises in any vote.
The "Leadership Group" (who made them leaders? Mr Keene?)in addition to the head of the Chamber of Commerce, "Leadership Group" are Jackie Schoelerman of Coldwell Banker, Ellen Uhrbrock of Avenidas, Rebecca Sanders of the Midpeninsula Community Media Center, Helen Li of Fenwick and West,(law firm) Catherine Ballantyne of Absolute Mortgage Banking, Michael Nelson of the Adobe Meadow Neighborhood Association, engineer and investor Hemant Bahnoo, and housing advocate (trained by the Chamber of Commerce) Mila Zelkha.
You can't fool all of the people all of the time. We can see right through it.
It's a Shame, the city has sunk so low.


Posted by Foxes, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2014 at 10:23 pm

"The Leadership Group was appointed by City Manager James Keene based on feedback he received from the City Council in March."

AKA: The fox appointed other foxes from the area, based on feedback from the head foxes, to determine how best to guard the hen house. And now, the foxes can claim they included hen community input, because the hens are part of the same "community" as the foxes on the "appointed committee."

What a farce. And we just keep letting them get away with it.


Posted by Kevin, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 11, 2014 at 12:40 am

Kevin is a registered user.

Well, "Its a comedy", and "Foxes", what have you done? Have you applied to be on any of these bodies, or tried to get on the architecture board, or run for office? Or do you sit around and complain on the Internet?

If the people who complain on these threads are representative of the city, it should be easy to get on the council and overturn all of this.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2014 at 11:59 am

Thank you "Foxes" and "Its a Comedy" for your valuable input. Those are the two best posts together I have ever read. The two of you really nailed it!





Posted by Its a comedy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2014 at 8:48 am

Elaine Uang's "I love Palo Alto" biography left out two relevant facts. She is an architect and is in favor of increased development. That could account for her being appointed to the Leadership Group.
When people make I love Palo Alto a major part of their self-description, it is important to look for what they are leaving out.


Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2014 at 6:23 pm

I'd like to see a breakdown of costs for "Our Palo Alto" which I understand is $325,000.

Could we amend the Comp Plan for any cheaper?

I asked staff for a breakdown and got no response; I guess I have to file a formal request to City Clerk. By the way, the Grand Jury report of June 16, 2014, beyond the impropriety about staff and council dealings with a developer, says we have a problem in not responding to requests of information.

Regarding this ad hoc group, I trust Doria, Cheryl and Rebecca, but after that I am not so sure. it does look packed, by the industry.

I'd be curious to see a list of people who applied, or if seated members said how they thought to apply, or were they approached.

On the general topic, the article refers to "new Comprehensive Plan". Aren't we merely revising or updating our existing plan? Is it obsolete or is it that the industry is pressuring leadership because our plan tells us that we are already overbuilt?


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 23, 2014 at 8:55 am

" Aren't we merely revising or updating our existing plan? Is it obsolete or is it that the industry is pressuring leadership because our plan tells us that we are already overbuilt?"

The Comp Plan is fully in sync with the built environment. Every time a new project conflicts with the Comp Plan, the city spot-amends the Plan to conform. One main purpose of this exercise is to write a plan that incorporates those amendments seamlessly.


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2014 at 1:06 pm

@curmudgeon,
You're point is only too apt. One thing insurance companies do to wear down disaster survivors is to make them deal with detailed "scopes" of their lost house, in which they have people try to enumerate their loss in terms of how many square feet of sheetrock, how many lineal feet of baseboard.... And then each time they do a revision, the insurance company takes it back, rearranges everything with some reasonable sounding excuse, and dropping a lot of what was in there. They then keep those poor schmucks who just lost everything and are trying to get on with their lives busy trying to chase through all the details and figure out what is missing. If the disaster survivor asks why they can't just have an architect redesign the house and put it to bid, they're told it's too expensive and won't work with the insurance adjustment process.

My point is, if you want to do a bait and switch on that level, you keep people busy without giving them the opportunity to mess with your ultimate purpose. Obfuscation is key. So throwing out the existing plan with which we are all familiar and which we could more easily improve on and instead starting anew keeps all those people and the community busy, making them feel like they are doing what they are supposed to, while making it really easy for them to miss fixing what really should be fixed, or achieving the ultimate outcome they might ostensibly want. Especially since the new document won't be tried like the old, and employees know the implications of new provisions but residents won't. Then, like the City does over and over again, when people have trouble with the rigged output, the City employees will say, But there was all this public input, so your complaints are too late/not legitimate/only you are complaining, everyone else loves it. All this happened at Maybell, and yet, here they are at it again.


Posted by The real test, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2014 at 5:33 pm

One thing that seems certain about what the City insiders are trying to do with the CP revisions is to find a way to break the height limits for 27 University - they must be under a lot of pressure for that. I posted the following about this topic, in the a related thread Web Link

article, about testing heigh limits....

"The third concept would be more aggressive when it comes to residential growth, allowing residential buildings near transit hubs to be taller than currently allowed. This concept would also develop the site at 27 University Ave. at the edge of downtown Palo Alto into an expanded transit center with housing."

So,

Can we just call this the 27 University option?

Why all this trouble to break the height limit to accommodate 27 University? Because a simple "no" to one developer is not an option?

The comprehensive plan revision is sounding like a PC for 1 site, except it will be a "CP" for one site. What about other developers who would also want to have preferential zoning? Completely unfair. How can PA decide to favor one developer over another? I'd also like to build a three story apartment building over my own house, and make oodles of money in perpetuity.




It's a very narrow minded idea to focus on a single development anyway (shows total lack of planning) and that area couldn't sustain any more developments. If I would be planning (actually planning), I would maybe allow height far away from the already stressed traffic areas (in the middle of the box) and find a place which is closer to the highways.

27 University is the worst site to have more density. Caltrain only travels North and South, and you can't guarantee that people will travel N/S or by train. Or only bike to go East and West.

And what is the value to be gained from height increase? How does the cost to the city compare to the benefit the developer is gaining? Are there any numbers we can look at?


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2014 at 8:40 pm

@ the real test,
It's probably instructive to look across the border at the debates swirling around the citizens initiative over the specific plan on El Camino in MP. Five stories high-density going up right next to 27 university. Breaking the low-rise feel of the area. That's an Arrillaga project, too.


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