"the Summit" (CompPlan): Forewarned is Forearmed | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

A Pragmatist's Take

By Douglas Moran

E-mail Douglas Moran

About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

View all posts from Douglas Moran

"the Summit" (CompPlan): Forewarned is Forearmed

Uploaded: May 20, 2015
Life lesson: "Avoid meetings whose purpose is to have a meeting", and its related admonition "Avoid meetings intended for those who enjoy attending meetings."

City Hall has arranged a 9-hour meeting whose advertised purpose is to have a "conversation on the future of our City." This meeting is called "the Summit" on the Comprehensive Plan Update (aka "Our Palo Alto 2030") and is on Saturday May 30 (Pre-registration required).

I have had extensive participation in the meetings leading to the current Comprehensive Plan, as well as in several previous Updates to the CompPlan, and I have been an official member of several Advisory Panels. As such, I feel obliged to the several hundred who have signed up to attend to give them a heads-up, or more appropriately, a "Forewarned is forearmed." (below as ==B 4W=4A==) Read the below in this context, and not as my claiming that most discussion groups will be as bleak as described: They won't, and hopefully this 4W=4A will help attendees prevent some of these situations.

As for myself, I am going to skip this meeting because, based on too many similar meetings over the years, it has all the signs of being a waste of time. The first question one asks upon getting a meeting announcement is "Do I really need/want to attend?", which has the subsidiary question "What is its purpose?" Even if this meeting had an adequately thought-out purpose, the meeting format is one that has been too much abused.
After the defeat of 2013 Measure D (Maybell up-zoning) and the 2014 Council election, City Hall should have taken note of the extensive alienation of many residents and embarked on confidence-building before attempting a major meeting. I see no sign of that having happening—the "Our Palo Alto" series was advertised as doing this but was simply more-or-same—and thus no reason to even hope that "This time will be different."

Note: There are multiple minor variations of the Agenda in circulation, with minor differences in the duration of the various components and the splits between presentations and discussion. Subtracting out sign-in, breaks and a closing reception, there is about 6 hours of meeting sessions.

My first problem with this meeting is that about half the time seems to be allocated to speakers, that is, the attendees are being lectured to (proselytized, re-educated?) The attendees get no real time to digest what they have just been told, to seek alternative perspectives and additional information, to formulate good questions, ? before being expected to participate in discussions. This puts the ordinary citizen at a great disadvantage to City Staff and the organized advocacy groups. Many of us have pointed this out repeatedly over the years, and have asked for the briefing materials to be made available in advance, on the Web and elsewhere (example, my blog Why is Palo Alto politics so stubbornly pre-Internet? of 2015-01-07). For this meetings, I have already twice suggested this to Staff, to no avail. So I have to assume that this is an intended "feature" of this meeting.

Attendees: If you think you would have benefited from advanced materials, let the organizers know. It is going to take pushing from far, far more people than just "the usual suspects" to get this changed.

My second problem with this meeting is the other half of the time is spent in "Small Group Discussions". These have a long history of being ineffective for various reasons. In some cases, you get thrown into a group where most of the people have no background knowledge and the few who do wind up spending all the allotted time getting them up to speed. I walked out of an earlier Our Palo Alto workshop because the participants were being asked to make recommendations for which most of us, including me, didn't have the knowledge to provide intelligent, meaningful input.

In other cases, the different participants are pushing such a range of ideas that none gets adequate discussion.

Another too common case is that the discussion group is taken over by a members of an organized advocacy group who disparage and demean the perspectives of the other participants. In the two most recent City-sponsored workshops I attended, this is precisely what happened. An advocate for a special interest group was allowed by Staff to so aggressively interrupt other participants that they couldn't effectively participate—in multiple cases not allowing them to finish a single sentence. In one of those meetings, he crossing the line from what I would classify as badgering into hectoring/bullying. At one of these meetings, multiple of the participants assumed from his domineering behavior that this person was a member of City Staff, and became aware that he wasn't only when another (frustrated) participant complained to the actual Staff member "Is this your meeting or his?" Despite multiple complaints about this abusive behavior by this participant, Staff did little to rein it in, leaving it to the participants to try to push back.

==B Advice (4W=4A):== When a member of a discussion group is being disruptive and/or attempting to suppress others, it is crucial for other members to quickly step up and denounce that behavior, and then for additional members to step up to support the first round—bullies rarely give up easily.

==B Advice (4W=4A):== Have a thick skin and know what to let go unremarked: Expect to be demonized and to have what you say grossly misrepresented. Many people make the mistake of strongly pushing back because they see this tactic as only trying to silence dissenting viewpoints, either by silencing them within the group, or by causing them to walk out in disgust. However, this tactic is also used to drive the discussion so far off-track that other viewpoints never get a chance to be discussed. Thus, you need to quickly respond to this tactic and get back on-topic.
For example, in discussions of affordable housing, there may be a few individual advocates who impute racism to anyone who disagrees with them, usually with phrases such as "exclusionary zoning" and "exclusive neighborhood", but sometimes with explicit assertions. My experience is that such individuals often are well aware that the demonstrable facts are contrary to those claims. The best counter to such tactics is often to remember that it is just cynical manipulation to suppress disagreement, and ignore it.

My third problem is with the implications of the titles of the sessions: They contain long-established code words for particular ideologies. This indicates that in the 18 months since the defeat of Measure D (Maybell Up-zoning) that City Hall has learned nothing: It is going to push a highly partisan agenda regardless of what residents want.

1. One of the sessions is entitled "Housing the Next Generation of Palo Altans?And Their Grandparents", and is standard code for promoting the building of high-density housing without regard for supporting infrastructure. It is about building numbers of units, without regard to aspects such as "sense of community". I am of an age where many of my friends are dealing with moving their parents into senior facilities (I have already had this experience), and others are looking at moving themselves. There is a near-total disconnect between these discussions, both in terms of facilities and financials, and what one hears from City Hall's professional planners, both Staff and consultants. (foot#1)
Based on my experience with these workshops for over a decade, don't expect that the discussion will take into account what Palo Alto seniors actually want or need—attempts to interject this by participants typically fail. Similarly for the reasons that so many seniors decided it is not feasible to move out of their current houses into smaller units (not just senior facilities). What you should expect is a discussion dictated by planning ideology and the supposed "economics" of the situation (code for what benefits the favored interest groups). (foot#2)

==B Advice (4W=4A):== The long-established focus of the advocates for senior housing has been on "affordable" units, and this has the easily predicted, and oft pointed out, consequences of serving primarily seniors from elsewhere in the region, but providing little, if anything, for Palo Alto seniors. However, these consequences aren't visible in higher-level discussions of the programs, but only when you get down into the details of how the programs will be administered.

2. Another session is entitled "Sustainable Prosperity: Effective Growth Management Tools". Although I haven't seen this particular title before, the words and sentiment are familiar. "Sustainable Prosperity" is code for ever increasing income inequality. It starts with the assumption that "prosperity" requires significant ongoing increases in jobs located here and large-scale influxes of people to fill those jobs. I can't help but picture a shipyard from the early 1900s where more and more riveters were needed to build each generation of larger and larger ships (think the "Titanic"). Or earlier, a gold-rush era mining camp.

To hear the advocates of this point of view talk, you would think that companies such as Google are so badly managed and so inept in the use of technology that they have no alternative but to centralizing their work forces on massive campuses. And that they are in such financial dire straits that their businesses will be unable to move forward without public subsidies, such as zoning exemptions that allow them to dodge paying for their fair share of infrastructure.(foot#3) The power of ideology is such that these advocates can't even hear the absurdity of what they are saying.

In this context, "sustainability" is code for lowering expectations and the quality-of-life in order to support population influxes that cannot be accommodated with existing resources. An alternative version of "sustainability" would be a tradeoff between resources, quality of life and a healthy economy for natural growth of the current population. My experience is that this and similar alternatives are not open for discussion.

City Hall seems locked into a version of "prosperity" defined as enriching those who benefit most from making this area more and more expensive for the rest of us, not just by promoting demand that outstrips supply, but by having the public subsidize those changes, for example, through zoning exceptions and policies that ignore the actual costs of new developments (aka, "Privatize profits, socialize costs/risks").(foot#4) Some of this is dictated by the State government via ABAG, MTC?

3. The third session (first on the schedule) is "Mobility and Convenience: 21st Century Transportation". This is a fairly honest title in its way: The promoted policy is to greatly reduce your mobility to whatever the advocates consider is convenient for the government to provide. The ideology underlying this session has been so firmly set for so long that any input, either pro and con, is irrelevant, redundant, whatever. The basic theme will be how to (deliberately) increase traffic congestion, without regard to whether people have viable alternatives.(foot#5) Don't be surprised to wind up in a discussion group dominated by advocates who see nothing wrong with forcing people to spend several extra hours a day commuting "because using public transit is good for the planet." The pro-congestion/anti-automobile ideology is so strong that City Hall has rejected changes that would improve safety for bicyclists because it would also benefit drivers.(foot#6)

Similarly, advocates want to remove signage warning pedestrians of dangerous situations that they could easily be unaware of, with one of their prime examples being on a major route to Barron Park Elementary School.(foot#7) As I understood the rationale, these warning signs are bad symbolism, contrary to the ideology was that everywhere should be safe for pedestrians (Note: they only wanted to remove the signs; the safety problems would remain). If you think that the safety of actual people is more important than minute adherence to dogma, you may well be frustrated in these sessions. Ditto if you worry about a shrinking quality-of-life imposed by congestion.

Also expect Staff to support the elite bicyclists in their belief that they deserve to be spared the slightest inconvenience regardless of the costs to the rest of the community (pedestrians, drivers, non-elite bicyclists). I shutter to think how many workshops I have been in where the bicyclists became incensed, even belligerent, at the mere suggestion that the overall system would work better for everyone if the bicyclists were willing to detour as little as a single block to use a route that the City had already invested in improving for cyclists.

If there is even a fleeting, halfhearted attempt to discuss how the transportation system could be balanced to serve the many varied needs of a diverse community, it will be a first.

----Request for Comments----
If you are a veteran of these affairs, what is your most important advice to new participants?

---- Footnotes ----
1. Housing for seniors: The Measure D campaign—Maybell up-zoning that would have had low-income senior housing on a lesser portion of the property—demonstrated the focus on unit count. The proponents said that it promoted walkability, but a significant portion of the route to the destinations didn't have sidewalks—the seniors would have had to walk in the travel lanes of a busy street. And those "destinations" were widely ridiculed: Walgreens Drug Store as the local grocery store, Planned Parenthood as the medical clinic?
People who had been considering apartments for themselves or their parents looked at the proposed building and said it was poorly designed. The first thing they noticed was the absence of balconies: Residents who wanted fresh air—while reading, conversing?—would need to take the elevator down and go out into the parking lot or go across the street to a City park that isn't configured for them.

2. Many years ago, there were consideration of how the City might encourage some higher density developments to have housing units arranged horizontally, rather than vertically. This was regarded as promoting affordability because it would facilitate three-generation families. There are lots of situations where the grandparent can't quite live independently, but the cost of having others provide care, either in-home or in a facility, is daunting. That grandparent can be capable of contributing significantly to household, such as supervising the grandchildren while the parents were at work, and by offloading chores from the overworked parents. Plus the benefits of an extended family. Win-win-win.

The problem with vertical configuration are the stairs.
1. The most obvious is that they inhibit movement between the floors. But falls on stairs kill lots of seniors indirectly: While they survive the fall and they recover from the specific injury, many never recover from the recovery.
2. If you want the grandparent to have his/her bedroom on the ground floor, it is often impractical: That floor is configured as a garage and laundry room. As one friend observed: "No way I would put my mother there. I wouldn't even inflict that on my mother-in-law."

So why didn't this get more than token consideration? What I was told was that developers opposed it because housing units in vertical configurations could be sold off individually, fetching better prices and simplifying sales.

Historical aside: I vaguely recollect current mayor Karen Holman being one of the major advocates for horizontal configurations those many years ago.

3. Corporate welfare: Example: Stanford Research Park: Four of the major intersections serving the Research Park have long been over-capacity, with growth in the Research Park being a major contributing factor. Two are on Foothill Expressway at Arastradero and Page Mill, where the County is considering very expensive changes (news article: County Looks to Revamp Palo Alto's Expressways), The other two are the I-280 interchange at Page Mill, and Page Mill at El Camino. Cumulative expansion in the Research Park could have triggered requirements for Stanford to contribute to the costs of the infrastructure upgrades, except there isn't a Stanford Research Park from certain legal perspectives. Instead it is composed of many trusts held and administered by Stanford, and expansion on property owned by one trust is treated as entirely independent from expansion within any and all of the other trusts' properties.

4. Privatizing profit: President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), a conservative Republican who belatedly came to understand the dynamics of the Great Depression, famously said "The trouble with capitalism is capitalists; they're too damn greedy."
An indication of how far the political landscape has shifted is that policy positions that 50 years ago would have been held by moderate Republicans (aka "Rockefeller Republicans"), and 20 years ago would have be labeled RINO (Republican In Name Only) now sound like they come from Marxists (Karl, although I favor Groucho).
Notable current example: Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was a Republican into her 40s (1995), but is now routinely described by the media as a "leftist".
Aside: During the 2014 Council campaign, I heard from several people that they had heard the term "working class" used in the sense common in the late 1800s, that is, people whose income comes predominantly from wages (pay for work done) rather than from ownership and investments. Current common usage has "working class" centered around manual laborers, and does not include "knowledge workers". However, at least one of the speakers was unambiguous in including the later, using the example of "Google engineers" as potential occupants of housing that needed to be built for the "working class". Since I wasn't present, I couldn't ask the speaker the interesting question about the categorization of employees who are paid partly with company stock, especially with options that need to be vested.

5. Deliberately increasing congestion: A recent example of this was a meeting co-sponsored by City Hall (with Palo Alto Forward) that I reported on in an earlier blog entry El Camino/Page Mill intersection needs more pedestrians?

6. Rejecting improved bicycle safety because it would have benefited drivers: See The Palo Alto Bicycle Lobby: Impeding more and safer bicycling?, paragraph 8.

7. Removing safety warnings for pedestrians: Discussed in paragraphs 3-4 of blog entry El Camino/Page Mill intersection needs more pedestrians? (also cited in above footnote).

An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particular strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", don't be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, don't waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 20, 2015 at 8:09 am

Addendum: Avoid letting meeting-lovers hold meetings then tell you your citizen's input is null because you could not attend the meeting.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 20, 2015 at 9:46 am

There is nothing worse than a meeting bully. Everyone is trying to be polite and civil and then there's the designated jerk.

Posted by hmm, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 20, 2015 at 11:33 am

The only person I see twisting other people's words and attempting to taint and manipulate the public's understanding of the issues is the author himself. Way to read all the evil in the world into 5 word titles and make everyone who disagrees with your reading ALREADY feel insulted and uncomfortable.

[[Blogger: normally I would delete this comment as a malicious attack -- it makes an unsupported charge (Whose words did I twist?) but am leaving it as an example of what will be deleted.

If you want the conversations to be more honest and productive, how about ENCOURAGING people to go and letting everyone decide for themselves how they feel about the issues?

This sort of nasty invective and paranoia is EXACTLY what the rest of us are talking about when we talk about the need for civility in this city.

Posted by Downtown Worker, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 20, 2015 at 1:04 pm

As someone who works in the tech industry and has participated in multiple startups, there's a couple of points that I'd like to make.

First, face-to-face contact is extremely powerful, and it's very hard to do new and innovative things without it. I would say that it is in fact much more efficient to have a single campus than to have multiple campuses. Certainly the fact that most tech companies like Google, Apple, and others are trying to do this despite the additional expense argues that it is valuable for them.

Second, saying that "sustainability is code for lowering expectations and the quality-of-life in order to support population influxes that cannot be accommodated with existing resources" sounds like assuming something that is quite controversial. As a thirtysomething who lives blocks from downtown Palo Alto, I would see my quality of life improved by an increasing population of younger people in condos and apartments downtown that would create opportunities for more restaurants and nightlife in this area. Given the high and unaccomodated demand for units within walking distance of work, it would be quite possible for the city, through zoning, to allow more workers to live here while reducing commute traffic. Most people in their twenties do not have children and would contribute taxes while not placing additional burdens on the city's schools.

In short, I think there are many ways that the city can support additional population without reducing quality of life. There are always ways to increase population that would increase traffic and worsen quality of life. I hope that the Summit can foster a discussion around whether this goal - which I view as allowing this generation access to the American Dream that we have had - is something that the community desires, and, if so, how we can achieve it smartly rather than haphazardly.

Posted by Get involved!, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on May 20, 2015 at 1:46 pm

If you choose not to participate, you give up the right to complain. I hope that everyone with strong opinions about land use in Palo Alto will attend the Comp Plan Summit on 5/30. Whether you believe that we should make room for more residents and employees or fewer, whether you believe in complete streets or car-only thoroughfares, whether you want preserved open space offset by selective density or not, your voice matters. Please don't allow Mr. Moran's pessimistic, distrustful, and dismissive attitude dissuade you from being an active member of the Palo Alto community.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 20, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Admin note:

I will be deleting any additional exhortations to participate.
However, if you have reason to believe that "This time will be different" and state those reasons, that is an appropriate comment.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 20, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Downtown Worker"

Notice the jumps in logic his comment, because this is very common in these discussions:

> "...participated in multiple startups...First, face-to-face contact is extremely powerful, and it's very hard to do new and innovative things without it.

Notice the jump from "startup" to Google/Apple.
1. When Apple is working on a product, it historically has sequestered the design team. There is no non-trivial interaction with the rest of the company for virtually everyone on the team.
2. Recognize that Google is now more of an advertising company than a tech company (especially by revenue). No one has been able to explain to me the essential cross-fertilization that occurs between someone selling ads to appear in search results with someone working on a self-driving car.

Remember that Google just tried to get approval to expand its Mountain View campus to handle 10,000 more employees (Mt View rejected this).

There is a massive amount of business management literature on the problems of how you have to change the structure of a company as it scales up from a tiny startup, to a small company, to a behemoth. So when you hear people like "Downtown Worker" argue as if there is none, ask yourself why he is claiming such.

> "I would say that it is in fact much more efficient to have a single campus than to have multiple campuses. Certainly the fact that most tech companies like Google, Apple, and others are trying to do this despite the additional expense argues that it is valuable for them."

Notice that he argues for the benefit to the company and ignore the costs to the community and the region. This was one of the points I was trying to make.

> " Given the high and unaccomodated demand for units within walking distance of work, it would be quite possible for the city, through zoning, to allow more workers to live here while reducing commute traffic."

The long history of this argument is that those making it support developments that make the problem worse, for example, building much more new office space than housing. For example, making repeatedly disproved assumptions about who the residents and employees would be.

> "I would see my quality of life improved by an increasing population of younger people in condos and apartments downtown that would create opportunities for more restaurants and nightlife in this area."

This paints the picture that is at odds with the situation on University Ave. Is UAve not a regional destination for dining and entertainment? Are buildings with space for a restaurant unable to find a tenant? Do restaurants have problems getting business?

Posted by Come with some preparation, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 20, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Following Doug's request for comments: "If you are a veteran of these affairs, what is your most important advice to new participants?"

I think that the best advice is to do homework on features of successful cities. One of the most influential books about urban planning folly is "The High Cost of Free Parking", by Donald Shoup (Professor at Cal Berkeley). It is eye opening that as a society we have decided that we should be subsidizing cars (through free parking and significant off street parking requirements for new construction), but doing very little for public transit.

Another great book is "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream" (Web Link The authors look at policies that have encouraged bad urban design and how to correct them.

The absolute classic (from 1961) is The Death ad Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs. Jacobs was obsessed with what sorts of policies make a vibrant, living city.

So, my advice to new participants: read at least one great book/ article on planning before coming.

A nice article that addresses Mr. Moran's seeming objection to attempts to improve public transit was in the New Yorker this week (Adam Gopnik: Web Link

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 20, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "hmm": "This sort of nasty invective and paranoia is EXACTLY what the rest of us are talking about when we talk about the need for civility in this city."

Recognize that calls for "civility" are often made by those who use it as a weapon to suppress others (past blog entry "In defense of incivility").

For example, the advocacy group Palo Alto Forward makes a big deal of wanting to restore civility, but its leadership and membership routinely engage in contemptuous behavior toward those that disagree with them.
- "Afraid of the future", "Want to return Palo Alto to a sleepy college town"
- "Exclusionary zoning"
I have yet to be in a meeting or on-line discussion where an identified member of Palo Alto Forward has called out for incivility someone that they agree with. Quite the contrary, after incivil comments have been pointed out, the PA Forward leadership has repeatedly endorsed them.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 20, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Come with some preparation": "A nice article that addresses Mr. Moran's seeming objection to attempts to improve public transit was in the New Yorker this week."

This is an excellent example of the sort of misrepresentation that I warned about. My statement about people not being provided with viable alternatives to driving is recast as opposition to improving public transit. Is the commenter being malicious, or is his ideology so strong that he can't hear the distinction, or ...?

Last summer, I wrote about my concerns in the blog entry Public Transit Follies. Quick thumbnail: there are multiple practical/economic limits on how much public transit can be improved: population density, travel patterns, job mobility (both the person and the work location),...

There are also political limits. Funding for transit in the mid-peninsula area has repeatedly and consistently been diverted to locations with more clout. For example, part of the choice to have an absurdly expensive BART-to-SJ was to eliminate having a rail link from the East Bay in the Dumbarton corridor. Ditto improvements to Caltrain got diverted. Ditto bus service. Although I have raised this concern many times, no one has given a practical reason they believed this would be different now -- it is all "If wishes were horses..."

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 20, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Come with some preparation": "I think that the best advice is to do homework on features of successful cities..."

The problem is that City Hall has not suggested what would be appropriate reading material for this meeting--appropriate both in terms of topics and the amount of time that participants can be expected to invest in the homework.

Suggesting that people "read something" tends to be counterproductive because it fails to create a common ground for the discussion and consequently the groups spend almost all their time on the participants summarizing what they read in the book/article they chose.

Posted by Counterclockwise, a resident of University South,
on May 20, 2015 at 4:18 pm

If one bears in mind that city planning staff's relationship to Palo Alto is not as residents working to sustain and improve the city they live in, but as technocrats managing an objectified system that has been placed at their disposal, all of Doug's observations are explained.

Like all technocrats (or most small children playing with Legos), staff wishes to enhance and expand the system they control (aka our city). Ego and professional recognition add incentive. Developers fulfill that wish. Vocal advocates of housing and other mass building undertakings help promote buildings for developers to construct and profit from. Staff therefore gives these allies preferential treatment at meetings like the May 30 confabs, and naturally tries to present their views as the wishes of the community in their reports to the city council.

Add in city council members whose views align with staff's positions, or are beholden to developers, or both, and you got the perfect storm of overdevelopment we've seen for the past two decades.

Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 20, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.


I thought that the "come prepared" commenter provided some useful reading suggestions that are *fundamental* texts on urban planning. The commenter did not just say "read something", as you seem to imply.
[Blogger: Notice how Eric Rosenblum (a Planning Commission and leader of Palo Alto Forward misrepresents what I said: Notice the addition of "just" and ignoring the crucial "common ground" later in that same sentence.
And notice that the original commenter said "So, my advice to new participants: read at least one great book/ article on planning before coming."

Another small example of why so many residents don't expect to be treated fairly or respectfully by City Hall.

I will add some additional recommendations:
Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
The Happy City by Charles Montgomery
Sustainability & Cities, Newman & Kenworthy

It may be useful to take a step back. You asked a specific question: "... what advice would you give new participants". The commenter took the time to give specific advice, and even listed 4 highly relevant readings that are all fundamental (well, the New Yorker article probably isn't fundamental, but I found it a quick and informative read). I believe that the commenter and I are exactly fulfilling the intent of your question.

From a more practical point of view, the above are fundamental materials that give great data sets around traffic, modes of transit, parking problems and solutions, urban planning policies and consequences. They are also generally quite approachable and enjoyable. The more people who have done some homework, the better.

[[Blogger: This is a meeting that the general public has been invited to participate in, and here are suggestions for 7 books to obtain and read in the 10 days before the meeting. That doesn't seem practical to me.

While those books may well benefit those that read them before coming to the meeting, does benefit the meeting itself or does it simply increase the information inequality between the participants?

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 20, 2015 at 7:18 pm

"Well, I am sure Moran is dying to serve on the council, however he has burnt so many bridges and alienated so many people with his attacks on individuals that disagree with him, that he has rendered himself unelectable."

No he hasn't. Like most candidates, most voters have never heard of him, let alone being ticked at him.

Plus, he has a realistic picture of city "outreach" events, born apparently of high expectations dashed by hard experience, like all of us former pilgrims.

[[Blogger: the opening quote is from a comment by another person that was deleted between the time "curmudgeon" saw it and when he posted his comment. That comment was deleted because it was a series of spurious personal attacks (Guideline violation).
BTW: I have no interest in serving on Council (I have been approached). I have been involved in these issues for 20-some years and no longer have the patience that it takes to work City Hall.

We may get some better candidates if they quickly realize that it is not just them that have problems with the current situation. Too many good people give up in frustration.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on May 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm

We can all recognize bias in others but have a much harder time admitting our own biases. Doug is spot on in pointing out that the meeting is subconsciously established to generate a desired pre-determined outcome and the titles of the sessions pretty much tell you where it is hoped that the discussions will go. If I were to write the session titles, you would clearly be able to recognize my bias too. I took part in one of the community meetings for the Comp Plan Housing Element at our local elementary school a couple of years back. There was lots of time given at the start to a presentation on what the staff members considered important and relevant, steering the audience to the notion that they had to choose between only a set of bad or less bad options.. Then they broke up into small groups. After some limited discussions, group summary was presented and put up on the wall ... staff then cherry-picked the ideas that they were interested in pursuing for further elaboration and much that was outside their interest seemed to be mostly ignored. I am pretty much resigned to the degradation in the local environment and quality of life. It doesn't make rational sense to spend the time and effort to attend meetings and fight it as merely a resident with no direct financial stake on the order of magnitude of the developers / special interest groups involved. For me, it makes more sense to work like crazy to earn enough $$ to be able to eventually shield my family from the negative impacts.

Posted by Counterclockwise, a resident of University South,
on May 21, 2015 at 1:30 pm


Be ready to complain loudly to the city council that the plan which staff is fronting as citizen's wishes (accompanied by fulsome praise for "Democracy in Action" -- these guys are pros at this) is staff's invention and does not reflect citizen input. It's our only weapon--I'm not sure we get to referend a comp plan--and we have to have been there to use it.

Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 21, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Hi Doug,
The reason you should participate is because this is a post-Measure-D new City Council big meeting about the Comp Plan, and the bad elements you are aware of will as usual be out in force. You should attend if only to give the current City Council an analysis of how the meeting differed or didn't from your past experience, because in this case, you might finally be able to improve things in the future. The Comp Plan is so important, please at least go on behalf of those of us who really, truly can't go. Please go in my stead, because I won't trust many other sources to tell me the truth or be as unflinching and experienced.

The people voted in to change things need people like you there now. Again, even if you think nothing has changed, you have a rare level of experience and can convey that to the new Council in a way few of us could.

Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 21, 2015 at 11:36 pm

"I'm not sure we get to referend a comp plan"

Yes, I think you can, but there are time limits, and there's a process. Doug, can you please clarify it? Also, there's probably a reason the previous Council had such a bee in its bonnet to approve the housing element before the new Council took office.

Even if it's too late on the Housing Element, there's always initiatives. Additionally, there are other rules that must be followed, for example, the Comp Plan must retain internal consistency. There are a whole bunch of other new rules around traffic circulation, etc., it probably pays to know those and really hammer them home now.

Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 22, 2015 at 4:03 pm

Third reason you, and especially you, should go.

Someone forwarded this to me today:


Find the "Instructions" tab in the upper left hand corner of the spread sheet, for explanation about changing the parameters.
Using the "Main Palo Alto Model" tab, you can vary the parameters, and see the results 30 years out.

You are probably one of the only people in town who can integrate an understanding of history with this spreadsheet, and improve the spreadsheet or catch any misuse. This for sure was never available before!

Please go to the meeting.

Posted by Counterclockwise, a resident of University South,
on May 22, 2015 at 9:33 pm


A spreadsheet is only a collection of formulas that somebody compiled from who knows where and to promote who knows what agenda. It is not the Voice of God, no matter who uses it.

Always remember: it's Garbage in, Garbage (not Gospel) out.

Posted by resident, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 23, 2015 at 7:18 pm

Doug, I really hope you do attend the summit.

Though it may not be useful, your feedback and opinion are valued by many.

i appreciate all your efforts and hope you share your knowledge at the Summit.

I can't attend and I am hoping you can represent my community.

Posted by citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 24, 2015 at 5:01 pm


Exactly why Doug should attend the meeting, because he's one of the few people who could understand where such a spreadsheet is useful and where it is not. Just because it may not be perfect, though, is no reason to go back to flying utterly blind and avoiding such a tool. Better to improve and refine it. Everything is connected, and we are seeing the results of our having ignored that.

And few of us will be able to evaluate and report on the meeting as objectively as Doug.

If something has changed in the relationship between City hall and the residents with this City Council, that needs to be reported on, too, and few people could understand that as well as Doug.

Posted by History Buff, a resident of another community,
on May 25, 2015 at 8:33 pm

Doug, you are to be congratulated for not using the term ?charette? Web Link ? or maybe it?s no longer fashionable.

All cities seem to use the same format you describe for the summit: Lecture followed by break-out groups followed by summaries on butcher paper followed by ? doing whatever the city intended in the first place. But the city has the right to say it did ?public outreach.?

Why is it that companies don?t use this process if it?s so wonderful. Maybe it?s because companies know how to hold meetings without hiring expensive consultants just to facilitate.

> ?When Apple is working on a product, it historically has sequestered the design team.?

Absolutely. Been there, done that. Separate building. Unique badges needed for admittance.

> "Too many good people give up [running for council] in frustration.

Thank goodness Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth didn't give up. They're making a difference!

@Downtown Worker
Check this out: Web Link
And this: Web Link

Thank you Dan and Counterclockwise for your spot-on comments.

@Counterclockwise: Be open to SIM Palo Alto. It was developed by some of the folks who opposed Measure D ? and won.

Doug: I?ll go if you?ll go!

Posted by Downtown Worker, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 25, 2015 at 9:52 pm

History buff,
[[Blogger: Patently false statement.]]
[[Blogger: Contemptuous misrepresentation of other viewpoints.

Posted by Thanks for truthtelling, a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 26, 2015 at 2:20 pm

I think the City Manager did react to the results of the Maybell project Referendum.
- he hired several PR people and Communications staff.
- he created a number of websites and email newsletters with lots of pictures and warm-sounding names.
- he has spending wildly on unnecessary beautification projects
- supression of the 2014 National Citizens Survey of 3,000 Palo Altans which showed widespread citizen criticism of city development, only 51% like it (page 17) and Overall confidence in our government 52%
Web Link

Calling a meeting of miscellaneous citizens a SUMMIT is the PR machine at work. Pretentious and dishonest.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Backhaus in Burlingame finally opens for the holiday rush
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,518 views

Fun Things to Do Around the Bay This Holiday – Peninsula Edition
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,113 views

Burning just one "old style" light bulb can cost $150 or more per year
By Sherry Listgarten | 5 comments | 1,737 views

Banning the public from PA City Hall
By Diana Diamond | 17 comments | 1,433 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.