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Publication Date: Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Interview Interview (August 29, 2001)

Weekly: How has being a City Council member changed in the last two dozen years?

Fazzino: There is a significant amount of anxiety in the community now that didn't exist 23 or 24 years ago. I think it has to do with larger socioeconomic factors and I think those factors are manifested in issues such as historic preservation or single-family review.

But the anxiety has less to do with those issues, per se, and much more to do with socioeconomic trends and developments that are beyond our control. A greater degree of anger and frustration is directed at us than was the case 24 years ago.
Weekly: Does that mean it's more difficult on a personal level? Fazzino: I think is much more personal, for a variety of reasons. It's more difficult for people to clearly define what they're troubled by than was the case 25 years ago. Even though the population hasn't changed, it was a much "smaller community" in many respects 25 years ago. You had a larger middle class and a lower-middle class 25 years ago.

They are CEOs, venture capitalists, world-renowned consultants. They are used to controlling other aspects of their lives and I think that when they are not able to control something here locally it frustrates them.

And I think the issues are more regional in nature. They're more intractable, more difficult to deal with because, I would argue, this area has experienced the most extraordinary set of economic circumstances in the entire world over the past 25 years.

Look at what happened here between 1995 and 2001. It was extraordinary.
Weekly: Of all the issues you've had to deal with, is there one that ends up in your mind, for one reason or another, that was just the toughest for you to figure out the right thing to do? Fazzino: I'd say historic preservation, without question.
Weekly: Because of how many families and homeowners were affected? Fazzino: Well, that's only a small part of it. Sure, you've got the issue of the number of interested parties, but it was tough because there were very legitimate arguments on all sides of that issue.

On one hand, I certainly agreed with the need to preserve some wonderful old historic structures in the community.

Would I have done it differently? Yes, we could have done some things differently. In 1996, when (former Councilwoman) Liz Kniss and I put the demolition moratorium on the agenda, we were thinking in terms of a very limited number of homes and modest controls. We weren't thinking in terms of people being beaten up over window treatments.

Unfortunately, the staff mismanaged that situation to such a degree that they turned off a major segment of the community on the issue and we never really recovered from that. And if, right from the start, we at the council had been clear that we were talking about a limited number of homes and that we needed to focus on financial voluntary incentives, I think that would have gone a very different route.
Weekly: Do you ever want to take back a vote that you have made?
Fazzino: Yes.
Weekly: Do you want to say which one it was? Fazzino: No. [Laughs.] Let me say this. I think there was a personnel decision that I probably would have changed. I'll leave it at that.
Weekly: Intriguing. Fazzino: I've been threatened, after a council meeting. I had someone call me once and say, "If you don't change your vote on this particular issue, I'm coming after you."
Weekly: Any reflections on Stanford's General Use Permit? It seems we are entering a new era of county government actively overseeing Stanford lands. Fazzino: I believe that Stanford in time should either be annexed to Palo Alto or should incorporate. I do not believe that Stanford should remain unincorporated.
Weekly: There is a proposal to annex the faculty housing to Palo Alto. You're talking about the core campus itself? Fazzino: Yes, I think the entire campus. Given the nature of California's land-use law, the local fiscal structure and the increased difficulty for counties to manage urban areas, Stanford needs either to incorporate as a city or be annexed to Palo Alto.
Weekly: Have you mentioned this to the Stanford officials? Fazzino: Oh, yeah, they know that, for a long-term goal.
Weekly: How did they respond? Fazzino: Well, their view is if the residential parts of the university want to become part of Palo Alto, fine, they'll support that. I doubt they would ever support having the core campus become part of Palo Alto.

In time, they might support incorporation, although again that would mean giving up control to others. They always want to be in control. You know, until (former supervisor, now Assemblyman Joe) Simitian came along, Stanford was pretty much free to do what it wanted.
Weekly: What are your reflections today about the level of cooperation that exists between the three cities, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto? Are you satisfied with it? Do you think we've backed off somewhat from that? Fazzino: When I look back over my career, I am probably proudest of my role in building a better relationship with East Palo Alto and contributing toward the development of its economy. It was the first time we really internalized the fact that "their" drug problem, and the resultant homicides, was a regional issue -- every bit as much a Palo Alto issue as an East Palo Alto issue.

I really focused on the fact that, even though the drugs were being sold on East Palo Alto street corners, most of the purchasers came from this side of the freeway. So, it was a regional issue. And you know there was tremendous support for that within the community.

I always said police support was only the first step and maybe not the most important. We put planning resources into the effort, we provided them with some public works help. With respect to both major developments that have been completed or are on the verge of being completed, we worked closely with them.

Weekly: Are you satisfied with where things are right now? Fazzino: I believe that in time, hopefully before I am gone, there should be a multi-jurisdictional service agency here in the Midpeninsula, which includes Stanford, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park -- because so many of the services and issues are regional in nature.

I think we're moving in that direction. We have joint policing with Stanford, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto are tied together on fire. We've got the Joint Powers Authority effort on San Francisquito Creek, and many Palo Alto and Menlo Park systems can be merged I think.

So, we've got some opportunities. It's happening, it's emerging. Regardless of whether or not we talk about it at a political level, the fact of the matter is we are doing more in the way of joint services. I believe that leaders should continue to meet on a regular basis and identify opportunities for more cooperation and joint programs.
Weekly: Each of these communities has a very distinct identity and, for good reason, people are proud to be a Menlo Park resident or East Palo Alto resident or Palo Alto resident. Fazzino: Right.
Weekly: Is this kind of home-town, parochial identification of residents a possible impediment to getting to greater regional cooperation? Fazzino: I think when you are dealing with neighborhood issues it can be. And I think it's very important that each community retain its unique identity. At the same time, many of these services are regional in nature, so we should focus on those services themselves and in time....
Weekly: Why did you decide to become a Democrat? The timing (just months before the Republican victory in the last election) probably couldn't have been worse, overall. Do you have any regrets about that? Fazzino: First of all, as you know, I've never been a strongly partisan person. I began as a Democrat and became a Republican primarily because of (former Congressman) Pete McCloskey. There was an opportunity for moderates to thrive in the Republican Party. As the years went on, I became more and more troubled by the Republican Party's national gun agenda and social agenda, and it just became untenable for me to remain a Republican.

Actually, it's the gun issue that really troubles me. I think this country has taken an awfully tragic approach to guns and that's the one that just sent me over the edge.
Weekly: Former councilman and mayor Ed Arnold once said that one of the reasons he felt he needed to go off the council was that after 10 years the same issues start to come back. Do you sense that? Fazzino: Well, my life has changed dramatically over the last year. I'm now a vice president at Hewlett Packard and I'm traveling much more internationally and am responsible for a much larger organization. So for good, practical reasons, in addition to term limits, it's probably the right time for me to focus on that part of my life for a couple of years.

I think very few people have the same degree of passion that I have for this community, the history of this community.

I think it's really healthy to get on and get off and reflect on the experiences, reconnect with the community, discover that, for most people in this community, City Hall does not represent the centerposts of their lives.

Except for the 300 or 400 who are actively involved, for most people, city government represents basic services, like garbage pickup and police and fire, and only becomes important or compelling when an issue directly impacts them or their neighborhoods. Most people are only peripherally aware of city government. I think there is a tendency to lose touch with what people really care about in the community.

If I do come back to the council in a few years, it will make me a more effective member.
Weekly: Are you looking at two years or four? Fazzino: I don't know.
Weekly: OK, so there's still an "if" there. But you've pretty much decided that you'd like to get back on sometime? Fazzino: Well I'm open to it. I'm not being coy. I enjoy public service and it's certainly something that I look at. I certainly look at getting back on the council. If I was looking long-term, I might look at running for other office, possibly supervisor later on when Liz ends her tenure.

But over the next few years, I really need to concentrate on my HP responsibilities.
Weekly: Can you give your assessment of the four Palo Alto city managers, some of their strengths and weaknesses? Fazzino: Well, I would say, in retrospect, that George Sipel was the best.
Weekly: Didn't you actually work for him? Fazzino: Yes, for a year. I have tremendous respect for what he was able to accomplish in the early '70s. He took the city into social services for the first time, in response to community needs: child care, drug abuse, affordable housing, senior programs.

Within the organization, he was a very strong, effective advocate of affirmative action. And for those reasons alone, he deserves tremendous credit.

Unfortunately, by the time I got on the council, I think that the relationship between him and at least half the council, including Fred Eyerly and Anne Witherspoon, was poisoned enough -- because he represented the old "residential" majority -- that he wasn't very effective with them or the council during his last couple of years. But I think he was an extraordinary leader during his first few years.

Bill Zaner, I think, was a more traditional city manager. We wanted someone who was more traditional. We were exhausted at the end of the Sipel era and I think we wanted a back-to-basics....
Weekly: Why? Fazzino: Because we'd been through so much conflict. And of course, by the end of the '70s, I think for the most part the residentialists won. The prevailing philosophy was slow-growth, pro-environment.

We felt that it was time for a nuts-and-bolts, back-to-basics kind of manager. And I think Zaner was the right manager for that time.

I think he also did a very good job of dealing with utilities during the early '80s. He was instrumental in strengthening the role of Northern California Power Association. Calaveras (power supply) came in during that time.

It was a council that was, during that time, more willing to defer to the manager, rather than the case in the 1970s -- I also think Zaner deserves tremendous credit for putting in place the specifics associated with the 1987 utility tax measure and school-city agreement, which preserved open space, created community centers, child-care facilities and provided a source of revenue for the school district. I think that was probably Bill's greatest accomplishment.

I think June Fleming was a good manager for the early '90s and mid-'90s. She played a very instrumental role in developing a relationship with East Palo Alto. She deserves a lot of credit for that. I think she did a very good job of working with a number of the social services organizations that we contract with, to keep them alive.

Despite the difficult times, for all the grief that went on over the Urban Ministry, she was a very strong believer in it and the need for us to serve the homeless, and she came up with some innovative ideas like the city homeless worker program.

She and we faced real challenges when times got tough in the late '90s. All of us were surprised by the floods. I do not mean to put any more blame on her than I would put on anyone else with respect to how we responded to the flood, but she was a better "good times" manager.

And I think she legitimately did not know how to deal with a situation like the flood, which literally represented something beyond our control. My big criticism of her and the city during that time is that we should have stepped forward. I'm fond of saying that if Liz or I had been mayor that year, we probably would have been at the creek that night, as the water was rushing over our ankles or knees, you know, with a microphone in our face, calling for action, OK?
Weekly: (Former City Manger George) Morgan was there in the late '60s....
Fazzino: I think others were more action oriented. We should have been on top of that situation after, to a much better degree than was the case after it occurred, and I think City Hall was paralyzed as a result of it.

You know, if we'd taken those bridges out or raised them, East Palo Alto could have gotten smacked. I mean, there could have been tremendous damage and suffering associated with that flood -- regardless of those bridges. And of course, those bridges are multi-jurisdictional.

But we should have been in the neighborhoods immediately. The next day we should have been at people's houses with a door hanger for people's doors saying, "Here's what you need to do. Here is what we're doing. Here's how to stay in touch with us. Here's who you need to get in contact with." And I also think, to some degree, the same (paralysis) was true with historic preservation. I think they became paralyzed at that level over historic preservation and there should have been much greater direction over the planning staff on that issue. If it had been managed better, we would not have faced the problems that we dealt with later on.

But again, I'm not assigning blame to her alone, because I do think, as I told Don, these are all manifestations, to some degree, of socioeconomic factors beyond our control. Unfortunately, June and that council happened to inherit all that.
Weekly: There was also kind of a paralysis about the libraries. June felt strongly for a centralized library and all the citizens groups were going the other....
Fazzino: Right. She opposed the library commission. She and I disagreed on that and, I mean frankly, I was a little annoyed when (former Councilman) Joe (Huber) was willing to provide the fifth vote to support, she thanked him profusely for it at a council meeting and never once mentioned that Liz and I had supported this from the start. That still grates. Weekly: Maybe just an oversight?
Fazzino: No, it wasn't. But overall she was a delightful person and I think, as I said, she did some wonderful things with East Palo Alto and she had a much stronger regional orientation than her predecessors.

I think Frank Benest is more out of the Morgan-Zaner mode. We wanted to bring someone in who was a more back-to-basics kind of person. We wanted to hire someone who was going to provide much more leadership.

And I think for the most part he's doing that, and he's learning that this is not a community where just a few people control things. I think he's actually been much more sensitive over the last few months to the need to involve the community, to a much greater degree.
Weekly: Did the lack of leadership hurt the council in recent years? Where was the lack? Fazzino: Well, absolutely. But I think it's really important because I think even great leaders in our history -- the Kirke Comstocks, the Larry Kleins, the Noel Porters -- would have been overwhelmed by some of the things that have happened in the last few years.

Having said that, I do believe that different leaders would have responded differently to the challenges we faced with historic, the flood and similar issues.

I believe, as I've said many times, that a big part of the problem is structural. In a crisis situation, like we had with the flood, the mayor wasn't clear on what the manager was going to do; the manager wasn't clear on what the mayor was going to do. And that's why I feel very strongly that it is time, given the ways in which the community has changed, given the need for greater accountability, it is time now for a directly elected mayor.
Weekly: Have you counted any other votes besides yours? Fazzino: I think there are a couple. I believe if I were to go out to the community I could get 3,000 or so signatures to put the directly elected mayor concept on the ballot (as a charter amendment). Weekly: Why don't you? Fazzino: I might consider it. I'd want to do it. I'd want to make sure it's not viewed as self serving. I'd probably want to package it as part of a set of proposals, such as a seven-member council and other significant reforms to city government.

But I think it's time for us to restructure government to some degree to reflect how things have changed.
Weekly: This has not been a very harmonious year on the council, with some newer members clashing with other council members. How can this council come together better? Fazzino: I think Sandy (Eakins) has worked hard at mending things with Nancy (Lytle). When this year began, I think we had a real split on the council.

I think you had one group which Sandy and Dena (Mossar) represented, then you had another group which I think Nancy and Judy (Kleinberg) represented, and most of the rest of us were in the middle. I think what's happened is that people have worked real hard to reach out to each other and I think you've seen Judy and Nancy disagree on some issues now and Sandy and Dena even disagree on some issues now. I think most of the folks are working hard at bringing the group together.

I think in time it will be brought together. Let's face it, for the most part it's a pretty inexperienced group of people.

This council could use a (Joe) Simitian or a (former Councilwoman Jean) McCown or a Klein. Unfortunately, I see fewer and fewer people like that willing to step forward and run for council.

You know, 10 or 20 years ago, the head of the neighborhood association or the head of the Senior Coordinating Council board of directors, the head of Rotary -- those are the kinds of people who would have stepped forward and run for an open seat. And we don't have those folks stepping forward anymore.

We certainly don't have anyone who's had a strong apprenticeship in community affairs and local government.

And that is why I think setting term limits was a mistake. Let me just clarify -- I would not have run this year, in any event, OK? I need to concentrate on HP for several years. But I think that in time we're going to find in time that it was a mistake.
Weekly: So what's your sense on the Future of Single Family Neighborhoods proposals as to review of second-story homes or additions? Fazzino: Well, I haven't come to any conclusions yet, but I am very pleased that the process has worked as well as it has. We've been able to engage a variety of interest groups on this. I think that will probably allow us to draft an ordinance or a set of proposals which is acceptable to a significant percentage of the community.
Weekly: The city was late getting on the cable TV train. Is it going to miss the fiber-optic train? Fazzino: We're still ahead of where most communities are on this. And I think we're finally making progress on that issue. I think Palo Alto can stay ahead of the curve by implementing the current fiber-to-the-home trial and seeking out partners to provide such service citywide.
Weekly: What is the biggest challenge facing the community? Fazzino: I think as time goes on, more and more issues, more and more problems we face are truly regional in nature. We have to come up with new and different ways of managing services, to reach across jurisdictional lines to manage them.

I think the number two challenge facing this region is the loss of the middle class, let alone, loss of lower-middle class people. I think loss of the middle class is a huge issue for this region. We have not come to grips with it. Obviously, the dot-com demise, you know, may help a little.

Unless we address this issue, this community is going to become a high-tech Beverly Hills. We're going to bus in our teachers, firefighters and restaurant workers....
Weekly: And doctors. Fazzino: And even doctors -- that's right -- in the future. And what's the answer to that? I do think we can do much more -- I mean, we've been talking about this for 20 years. We could do much more to add housing along El Camino and the transportation corridors, like California Avenue, and parts of downtown, as well.
Weekly: If you add a lot more housing, then you're going to impact all these services and have more costs in social service. Is there a solution to that dilemma? Fazzino: That's why I've never taken the philosophy we need to put housing in every available location. You do need services. You do need parks. You do need stores. Absolutely.

But, having said that, I mean, look at all the under-used property along El Camino.

In my high-school class, I had friends whose parents were mechanics and grocery clerks. And I've watched this city change, economically. We have the values of a diverse community, but we're losing the reality of it.
Weekly: Looking back, how have you changed as a council member? Fazzino: Years ago, Jay, you wrote a column about me becoming the swing vote, the 24-year-old being the swing vote on the council. And, literally, people watched me week after week to see which way I was going to swing.

And then I had an epiphany -- an epiphanal experience -- and I'll never forget this. It was a tremendous lesson for me early in public life. I allowed myself to be the swing vote for about five or six months, and I often waited until after everyone else had spoken.

And then we had a proposal come before us that confronted me with the issue: "Either I believe in the integrity of the 50-foot height limit -- and they should do no more -- or I believe they have legitimate reasons to go to 80 feet." And from that moment forward, I would argue, I became a much more effective council member because I began to take strong positions on issues early on.

And I don't think anyone could argue I've been wishy-washy during most of my council tenure. So that was a good -- that was a good lesson early on.


 

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