Doug Moran's condescending (to City Council) editorial in today's Palo Alto Weekly Web Link provides a good opportunity to compare the "new" Palo Alto, a city that is beginning to come to grips with changing times, in a way that's adaptive vs. the "old" Palo Alto, a city that took its good fortune for granted, thought the good times would last forever, and held itself back by submitting to the loud protests of small splinter groups that used public process and legal minutiae to paralyze progress.
Doug Moran 's ideas in the above article clearly represent the "old", fading version of Palo Alto's fast changing political and economic landscape.
In his latest op-ed, Moran's overly hypercritical and borderline mean-spirited prose again points an accusatory finger at Palo Alto's City Council for voting in favor of a development project on a property that is derelict- by comparison to most of Palo Alto. As a side dish, Mr. Moran takes an opportunity to insult the intentions of a local property developer, something that he has developed somewhat of a local reputation for.
Moran begins his latest missive by condescending to the entire Palo Alto City Council (not his first time) in a way that purports to give Council a lesson in negotiation principles. What's ironic about this is that Moran - however ineffectively - is pleading his case in a negotiation; he clearly wants to use his opporunity in print to affect an upcoming vote by Council on the project in question [195 Page Mill, next to the Caltrain tracks]. Yet, Moran seemingly forgets to consider that a principle component of negotiation is to refrain from belittling negotiation partners (in this case, those City Council members whose minds he is attempting to change). Moran's first misstep makes one wonder if he (Moran) should be giving negotiation lessons, or taking them.
If Mr. Moran is NOT forgetting the above-mentioned negotiation principles, one can only surmise that he is using his opportunity in print to raise personal visibility in what might be an upcoming attempt to run for City Council. This might indicate that his thrashing of the intentions of current, sitting Council members is meant to - by contrast through condemnation, lesson-giving, and condescention - place him in an elevated position in the mind of readers (many of whom vote) relative to sitting Council members. Either way, Mr. Moran's not-so-subtle and unsavory attacks on anyone who disagrees with him represent an "old" way of moving forward in local politics. Palo Alto needs more positive, uplifting voices.
In a way, I hope Moran does run for Council, because it will give Palo Altans an opportunity to get a good look at what "yesterday" looked like in Palo Alto (represented by Moran) as they (hopefully) reject "yesterday", and vote for "tomorrow".
About the project that Moran objects to: Sure, there have been manipulations engaged by the developer - no question. So, what's new? All development projects are a combination of optimizing financial leverage, timing, persistent, determined negotiation, give and take, shucking and jiving, etc. In sum, development projects almost always involve a battle between constrained parties - i.e. developers who want to maximize ROI, and municipalities who want to maximize public gain (and ROI). This is something that seems to - in this case - entirely escape Mr. Moran's perception.
What Doug Moran fails to realize is that there *has* been give and take in this process. In fact, a few weeks ago the developer, Mr. Hohbach, agreed during a Council session to even more concessions, as he agreed to increase the number of BMR (below market rate) units in the development.
In a skillful negotiation led by several Council members, those Council members in favor of the project made requests for one more concession in exchange for positive votes. It was a good moment for our City Council (even though four members disagreed, but unfortunately, they too been slammed by Moran's consistently broad and negative brush).
Moran wants to paint the the developer, Mr. Hohbach, as greedy and self-serving because he asked the city for concessions. This attribution of bad intention given to developers who are simply arguing for self-interest is the kind of misrepresentation about development, developers, and commercial progress in general that Mr. Moran and the fast declining number of Palo Altans that agree with him don't seem to understand. Commercial interests are agressively self-interested, and why shouldn't they be? It's those self-interested persons who are largely responsible for the wealth that Palo Alto has handsomely profited from.
Mr. Moran goes on to denigrate every concession that was made by the developer, as if not offering more was a sign of the evil-natured portrait of greed that Moran wants to paint of Mr, Hohbach. Moran's portrait of Mr. Hohbach is a sad personal attack, masquerading as populist appeal for fair play.
Moran even goes on to belittle the developer's plans for public art, because it doesn't quite meet his (Moran's) aesthetic, and then goes on on to use a specific example of one developer who abused the system in an effort to continue to paint his portrait of developers as greedy devils. Sadder still.
Moran then portrays the various ploys used by the developer to gain self-interest as "standard maneuvers". By implying that the latter is wrong, is somehow less than honest, Mr Moran again forgets that "maneuvers" are a part of a negotiation process, a way of getting one's way.
Moran then purports to give us his lesson on the fundamental meaning of zoning, claiming that zoning is a kind of holy grail of democratic "equal access" to landed opportunity. Give me a break, Mr. Moran!
Where have you been as zoning laws have been changed in a timely manner, or made to fit opportunity that would not otherwise grace a parcel of land? Please, Mr. Moran, take a trip to New York, San Francisco, some our smaller regional neighbors, or even here in Palo Alto to see how current zoning laws are made to fit opportunity, as long as there are concessions, and win-win in the balance. In fact, many members of the neighborhoods adjacent to this property support the Hohbach construction. At least two directors of the California Avenue Area Development Association also support this development.
Is there no benefit to the Hohback development? Mr. Moran would have us believe so. Has Mr. Moran taken the time to walk past the property on which Mr. Hohbach wants to build R&D and residential units? It's practically derelict, especially when compared to much of the rest of Palo Alto. The property in question is built out with WWII-era corrugated steel buildings, most abandoned.
I have walked by those properties many times in the evening, on a stroll, or on the way home - occasionally with neighbors (who are almost universally spooked by the demeanor of the current property in late evening). Unsavory characters live behind the buildings in the evening. Transients who live in their cars and vans gather near the spot. It's a derelict property that is practically a disgrace. Palo Alto Central is right down the street. If I was a parent living in that complex, I would fear for my children going out in the evening, given the look, threatening nature, and unsavory population that frequents the current property.
How many more years would Mr. Moran and those that support his latest quest to interfere with progress have those who live near this derelict property wait until it's developed? Should we wait another 2, 3, 4 or more years until a developer comes along that meets Mr. Moran's compulsively exacting standards? Should we wait ntil construction inflation has put the projected BMR requirement out of the question, or severely reduces it, forcing a less dense, less commercially and socially viable development?
What Mr. Moran forgets is that the property in question is adjacent to the California train station, an ideal place to insert small R&D and high density rental properties with significant BMR factor.
In fact, what Mr. Moran tries to portray as a taxpayer rip-off is a boon to taxpayers, as business and commercial residents of Mr. Hohbach's development will frequent nearby businesses, generating tax dollars for the city, and further diversifying the social profile of the naighborhood - all good things.
Mr. Moran further fails to see overbuilding via timely zoning manipulation as bringing any benefit at all. He uses rhetorical techniques that disingenuously marginalize the intentions of developers, attempting to paint a zero sum scenario that implies conceding benefits to a developer that exceed current zoning ordinance allows is an "illegal". Really? (even though our city attorney has given the current agreement his imprimatur - is Mr. Moran now adding perfect legal knowledge to his resume?).
Further, Mr. Moran goes on to say that Palo Alto is a built-out city. He couldn't be more wrong. Palo Alto continues to grow, with populations projected to 80,000+ by 2030, up from the current level of roughly 60,000 citizens (2000 census).
Mr. Moran's fantasy about Palo Alto's size constraints are yet another self-created cognitive barrier to thinking creatively in ways that will help our city grow.
Last, Mr. Moran presumes to know the assumptions and motivatiion of Council members in their decision-making, implying that they are naive in negotiation with the developer. In fact, it's Mr. Moran who is naive in this instance.
Mr. Hohbachs development will pay off handsomely to this community, as it adds needed rental housing _now_,; creates space for new IP-based businesses, and replaces a dangerous, run down, derelict series of corrugated steel shacks with a lively commercial/residential space. This is a good thing!
It's important to point out how wrong Mr. Moran is as he misses the mark in condemning Council. He has not shaken loose from his "old" Palo Alto thinking. He, and the (thankfully) declining number of Palo Altans that agree with him would use the minutiae of public process to create interminable delay, and thus manipulate process to gain their preference for stagnate ANY development (as they have in past years) that doesn't meet overly obsessive needs for some kind of mythical development perfection.
In closing his Op-Ed, Mr Moran plays the safe route by claiming that "bad decisions like this are easy for politicians to make". What hubris! Talk about condemning with a broad brush; Mr. Moran takes the cake. He tries to have it both ways, by claiming that bad decisiions today will not be encountered by today's politicians, when they are out of office tomorrow. This is perfect "Catch 22"-speak, and quite clever, as it insulates Mr. morann himself from being shown wrong. In fact, the same lack of long-term memory in the citizenry applies to all the wrong opinions he has held and promoted over the years. In making his statements that universally condemn our politicians, Mr. Moran takes on his familiar tone of subtly condemning in toto the intentions of all who disagree with him, as he propounds from on high.
In fact, Mr. Moran, and those that have helped him stop our city's progress in the past, have not had to account for _their_ failures, and the many tax dollars, disgraceful waste of public process, forced misuse of staff time, and lost useful progress that have been caused by his (and his supporters) ill-considered and short-sighted actions.
In a last attempt to use his print forum to gain populist appeal, Mr. Moran attempts to ingratiate Palo Alto citizens by pointing to their "over-busyness", as he positions himself into the role of public watchdog for the beleaguered citizens of this great community.
Please, Mr. Moran, forget about all the pedagogy on city process, "helping" us beleaguered citizens, your various myths about how cities grow, and your unsavory representations of developers, who are real people just like me and you.
Palo Alto is turning a new leaf; you're either with it, or not. If you're not, you (and those who agree with you) will be left behind, because as Palo Altans begin to get a taste of reality relative to the current state of development and constraint here, and how frustrating housing and other development over past years has nearly cost them their municipal future, they will begin - slowly and surely - to reject the kind of obfuscation represented by those who have helped to create the Palo Alto Process - i.e. those who would use the minutiae of public process and purposeful marginalization of anyone called a 'developer' to hurt the future of our city.
This project is good enough to meet city standards, In fact, that's what a majority of Council members and our City Attorney said at Council proceedings last week. My hope is that Council will see through Mr. Moran's transparent manipulations and attempt to shame through condescension, and vote to let Mr. Hohbach continue his development.
Last, I and many of my neighbors look forward to Mr. Hohbach breaking ground next spring, and replacing the unsightly and dangerous structures that currently lie in place with a refreshing new buiulding that will serve commercial and housing interests alike, and help take our city forward to the future. I look forward to being able to walk past Mr. Hohbach's development to hear the sounds of children playing, families living, and businesses creating. That's a standard that we can all be proud of.