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A manipulative candidate questionnaire

Uploaded: Sep 8, 2016
The severe limitations of multiple-choice exams are well known, and I expect that all of you have your own horror stories.(foot#1) Despite this, the local advocacy group Palo Alto Forward (PAF) sent City Council candidates a questionnaire that was dominated by poorly formulated multiple-choice questions. From this questionnaire, you are likely to learn more about Palo Alto Forward than about the candidates. You may also find my critique of this questionnaire useful in your reading of other questionnaires.

My first reaction to the questionnaire was that its authors had no appreciation of resource limitations, conflicting priorities, and tradeoffs, even at the basic level of someone who has only reached a pre-management position, such as "project leader". My second reaction was that the authors had little/no experience working the issues, but that had only read about them. This was surprising because the contact person is Eric Rosenblum who is a member of the Planning and Transportation Commission. My third reaction was that my first two reactions were wrong--the questionnaire was so relentlessly biased in its statement of the choices offered the candidates that the intent was not to learn of the candidates' positions, but to provide ammunition to attack the candidates that don't support PAF's agenda.

One of the basic lesson in rhetoric is that just because something is stated as a Yes-No question doesn't mean it has a Yes or No answer. The classic example is "Have you stopped beating your wife?": Neither a Yes or a No answer allows you to deny that you had been beating your wife. (Note: I have retained the archaic word choice and attitude because it is so deeply embedded in the literature and thus is useful for search). Additional layers can be added, for example, "Do the police know that you haven't stopped beating your wife?" There are similar problems with multiple-choice questions.
Note: I am quicker than most to pick up on these implications and presuppositions because they were a significant part of my Ph.D. research.

The initial multiple-choice questions allow candidates to write 200 words to add "nuance" or details to their choice. For many candidates this is likely an exercise in futility: They could expend that, and more, simply responding to the misrepresentations and bias in the question and choices. Furthermore, PAF said in the introduction that they would be producing a "scorecard" from this--resulting in those candidates having their positions misrepresented.

You can find the full questionnaire on the PAF website.
Note: This posting was largely written before any of the candidate responses were posted online, but was held until after deadline for submissions. Thus, it is unconnected to the responses of the candidates, neither influenced by them nor an influence on them.

Four of the 11 City Council candidates responded to this questionnaire: Adrian Fine, Liz Kniss, Don McDougall, Greg Tanaka (responses). Statements by the campaigns as to why they chose whether to respond are welcome as comments.

Let me apologize in advance for the awkward and inadequate formatting, and ask your forbearance--the blogging software anticipated only simple blogs and not more complex documents such as this. The only formatting it offers is bold and a (subdued) italic--no indenting, fonts, color ...

---- General Question 1 ----

The problems begin with the very first question:
(G1) "Our identity: What kind of city should Palo Alto be in coming decades?"
The first choice for an answer is
(G1a) "A quiet suburb: great place to have young kids and a great place to retire. Not a jobs center. Example: Los Altos"
Unsurprisingly, I have not heard anyone advocating anything close to this position. For example, how would all those jobs in Stanford Research Park, Stanford Hospital, ... be made to disappear? This position is a fabrication that PAF and its allies have used to disparage those that don't fully support their agenda. Various phrasings include "return to a sleepy college town", "return to the 1950s", "Mayberry".

Another choice (third) is
(G1c) "A major job/ university center: major regional economic center, competing with neighboring cities for jobs. Major expansion of our downtown area. Example: Austin, TX".
This is position where the advocacy seems to evaporate when I have asked a few basic questions. Our problem is with an excess of companies trying to move here, open units here, and expand here, and that we have developers wanting to build more and more offices. But "competing" with other cities?
For example, various local boosters have argued that Palo Alto needs to build enough new office space so that the next Googles and Facebooks (note the plurals) don't need move to neighboring cities. But when it is pointed out the number of jobs that this would involve, those boosters disavow the logical consequences of their posturing (or vanity or hubris).(foot#2) Having to look at the numbers and do the math can be so very inconvenient. Also inconvenient is local experience that contradicts the advocacy.(foot#3)

Aside: PAF has contradictory positions on this: It argues that the local circumstances are so unique that innovative companies need to locate and expand here, and thus we need to facilitate this.(foot#4)(foot#5) And it argues that if companies are not allowed to their desired expansion in Palo Alto, they can easily move entirely out of Palo Alto.(foot#6)

Austin has severe deficiencies as an analogy, the most prominent being that it is not a built-out city like Palo Alto. Although it has been some years since I was there, Google Maps matches my recollections are that it has extensive physical space to grow (map).

The remaining choice (second) is
(G1b) "A mid-sized university town: innovative and accommodating to a wide range of ages and socio-economic backgrounds. Significant job center. Example: Boulder, CO".
Sure. Uh-huh. This feels like that classic marketing ploy of steering people to the desired choice by bracketing it with bad choices. But this bears closer consideration.

I suspect that Boulder was chosen because it is a often cited example of "The New Urbanism" that informs many of PAF's positions. But Boulder is another poor analogy for Palo Alto. First, although it is currently about the same physical size as Palo Alto, it, like Austin, has space to grow outward, although not as much (map). The second dissimilarity is its schools. Palo Alto has been making various compromises to add capacity to its schools: Some are beyond what the buildings were designed for, and many have student populations larger than what educators deem appropriate for their grade levels. Details:
Palo Alto has 17 schools: 12 Elementary Schools, 3 Middle Schools, and 2 High Schools.
Boulder, with a 50% larger population, has double that (35): 16 Elementary Schools, 11 Middle Schools and 8 High Schools. The Boulder numbers are only for schools within those city limits--the school district extends well beyond, to cities such as Lafayette and Broomfield.

Similarly for urban parks: Boulder has twice Palo Alto's--350 vs 173 acres--which is 4.4 acres per 1000 residents vs. Palo Alto's 2.7. Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan sets the target at 4 acres per 1000 residents (a common urban planning target).

Fourth, Boulder has a slower growth rate than what is being advocated for Palo Alto by groups such as PAF. Boulder's average annual growth rate over the past two decades is 0.6%. The proposed growth scenarios for the Comprehensive Plan Update that are supported by PAF and allies have growth rates of 0.7-1.5% per year. Cory Wolbach--Council member and PAF member--recently called for at least a 2% rate. ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) has an annual growth target of roughly 1% (via re-zoning).

So, is the answer that PAF seems to be steering candidates toward not one that PAF supports?

---- General Question 2 ----

Consider question
(G2) "Jobs: Housing imbalance: Palo Alto has the highest jobs: housing imbalance in the country. ..."
That claim is almost certainly false, but it depends upon the lines are drawn and what gets counted and how. Manhattan NY has a higher imbalance than Palo Alto. So does Stanford.(foot#7) The jobs-housing imbalance of Manhattan is well-known because it is a routine example in the Urban Planning literature about how job centers enable good public transit, and how density of jobs near transit is more effective in generating transit usage than housing density (literature: about twice as effective). Multiple senior Urban Planning professionals have told me that it is a perversion of the concept of jobs-housing ratio to apply it to something as small as Palo Alto--it was meant to be applied to a region. Even for a large city like San Jose, the irregular municipal boundaries (map) would produce lots of absurd situations where a short commute across the boundary is "bad" and a long commute within the boundaries is "good". The current scheme is a bureaucratic convenience (contrivance?) imposed by ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) rather than good public policy.

The first potential answer to this question is
(G2a) "The jobs: housing imbalance is not a problem; this is a natural occurrence in certain job centers, and should not influence policy."
This is a gross misrepresentation of a legitimate position--that the boundaries of cities are not a meaningful way to assess this issue, but are only a minor factor in the interaction of jobs, housing and transportation. Rather than "not influence policy", they argue that having job centers can support larger and more important goals. Recognize that ABAG and MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) pushed Palo Alto to designate the area near the California Avenue Caltrain station as a "Priority Development Area" and to change the zoning to encourage/allow more office space. Pushing for substantial job growth in the face of a housing shortage is not a contradiction for them--they simply assign targets for more housing without having to worry about how it would be accomplished.

Note: PAF's position is answer
(G2c) "The jobs: housing imbalance is a problem; our first and most significant priority should be devising policies to incentivize the construction of more housing"
and they have strongly opposed
(G2b) "The jobs: housing imbalance is a problem; our first and most significant priority should be limiting office growth and taking other measures to restrict job growth".

In considering candidates' answers to this question, recognize the importance of the phrase "our first and most significant priority". Any candidate who choose (G2b) is unlikely to be dismissing the need to build more housing, but rather obeying the "Law of Holes" ("When you find yourself deep in a hole, first stop digging").

---- Specific Question 3 ----

Another example of manipulative "choices" is their question
(S3) "Caltrain: What do you think should be done about the 'at-grade crossings'where Caltrain crosses streets?" (although some might argue for a variation of Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence").

Background: Grade-separation is widely accepted as necessary, with most of the debate about how to pay for it. The problem is that the current Caltrain schedule is close to a tipping point of greatly increasing congestion during rush hours. Without grade-separation, the right and left turn lanes on Alma would backup enough to block travel lanes, and the backup on Churchill and Charleston could reach El Camino and cause lane blockage there. Note: This is not my opinion, but assessments I have heard over the years from professional traffic engineers. The concern about backup from the current schedule was why it was decided to keep that section of Charleston at four lanes when other sections of Charleston-Arastradero were reduced to two lanes. Caltrain electrification may well create opportunities to somewhat increase the schedule without reaching the tipping point.

Background: Trenching is currently the most widely supported option. First, it uses less land than raising the tracks (on a berm). Second, a conventional vehicle underpass (or overpass) would require seizing dozens of homes.(foot#8)

The first choice is:
(S3a) "The tracks need to be trenched, to maintain the aesthetic value of Palo Alto."
Notice the implication that the trenching option is only?/primarily? about aesthetics, a misrepresentation that trivializes this position. Is this ignorance or an attempt to steer the candidates away from this answer?

The second choice is a non-answer:
(S3b) "We should evaluate all practical design options ..."
It allows the candidate to be totally noncommittal, to the point of disguising whether they have any knowledge or thoughts at all on this issue.

The third choice is the "Free lunch" choice
(S3c) "Palo Alto should consider 'value capture', using funds from new buildings near the corridor to pay for grade separation and station improvements, and should consider the amount of development it would take to pay for the designs we want".
But we all know "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." The reason that grade-separation hasn't already occurred is that it is hugely expensive--to fund that with a percentage of new development would require permitting massive additional development.(foot#9) A major danger of this approach is that governments tend to wildly overestimate benefits and revenues, partly intentionally and partly naively (sports stadiums are a prime example). This is probably the answer that the question was designed to steer candidates toward, especially given PAF's history of advocating for high rates of growth and development. Recognize how not choosing this answer can be presented: The candidate can be portrayed as against trenching even though it was the funding mechanism (massive growth) that they opposed.

The fourth choice is
(S3d) "Palo Alto should not be responsible for Caltrain improvements. We should fight against more frequent service until Caltrain pays to trench the train."
Notice the equating of grade-separation with trenching in this choice. Notice the implication that Palo Alto should be responsible for paying for Caltrain improvements, and that the candidate picking this option is shirking that responsibility. (Aside: There is a long history of various advocates asserting that Palo Altans are so rich that they can afford to pay for virtually anything that those advocates support) Most importantly, notice the choice of the loaded word "fight", which is likely intended to portray anyone supporting this as an "obstructionist", rather than someone taking a balanced approach to the various forms of transportation. Alternatively, the choice of "fight" might signal an expectation (by PAF) that Caltrain will behave irresponsibly, ignoring the impacts on others of its actions.(foot#10)

Summary: Again, three bogus options. And the remaining one is not primarily about the purported topic of the question--at-grade crossings--but rather about promoting massive development (PAF's agenda).

---- Specific Question 4 ----

The question about "Bike infrastructure" is just plain sloppy. There is no sense of what the problems are, how big they are, or how much the solutions would cost. It also allows candidates to ignore tradeoffs, such as putting more bike racks in various locations could obstruct pedestrian flow.(foot#11) This is a question designed to encourage pandering to a particular special interest groups, and to disadvantage those candidates who think in terms of cost-benefit and balancing the needs of various stakeholder groups.

How would you answer
(S4d) "Our focus on Safe Routes to School should be: increased/ kept about the same/ decreased"
SRTS is widely portrayed as a large success, having largely completed the rapid growth phase of establishing the major routes and creating a culture of bicycling among students, and having entered a phase of maintenance and lesser improvements. If this is the case, the "correct" answer would appear to be "decreased" so that some resources could be redirected to another program where they would have greater impact. But of course, no sane candidate is going to give that answer: They would anticipated being pilloried for not caring about student safety.

---- Lightning Round Question 1 ----

The final five questions are strictly multi-choice--no elaboration allowed. The first of these question is
(L1) "Encourage construction of more studio apartments and other naturally affordable smaller units."
In a market with a high demand for housing, it is that demand--not the unit size--that is going to have a disproportionate effect on price. Experience elsewhere (for example, New York City) has demonstrated that the price of such smaller units is not much less than the price of units that are significantly larger. Furthermore, experience is that teachers, City employees and various others that PAF touts as the intended residents for such units are not going to choose them.

---- Lightning Round Question 3 ----

Similarly, the third question ignores basic economics and regulatory capabilities:
(L3) "Make it easier for homeowners to build second units on their property, especially to accommodate multiple-generation households and caretakers." So who is going to be willing to pay more rent for such units? A HENRY (High Earner, Not Rich Yet)? Airbnb customers? Or a low income worker? Furthermore, PAF's history in advocating for such units has focused on them being for young professionals.

---- Lightning Round Question 2 ----

The second of these questions is
(L2) "Encourage buildings composed of apartments and condos over ground-floor retail. Current policy requires developers to build office space into any new four-story building in a commercial district."
Notice the word "encourage" -- this means establishing policies that provide incentives (subsidies in various forms) to developers to have housing, which in turn encourage the reduction of office space in commercial districts.
Recognize that policy on offices in commercial districts was not intended to include large companies such as Palantir--those companies are expected to move to an industrial park when they reach a certain size (as Facebook did).(foot#12) Instead they are intended for small businesses, including startups, professional services (accountants, small law firms, insurance brokers, consultants, counseling services, architects, ...), non-profits, ... Allowing big companies to squeeze out such businesses has hurt the University Avenue district, and the communities it is supposed to serve (businesses and residents). Should we be considering increasing the problem by incentivizing the reduction of the types of office space needed by companies that serve the community?

Replacing office space with housing is likely to damage the retail in a commercial district--one floor of offices will typically supply more customers for the retail than several floors of housing. Having retail convenient to offices reduces trips (Greenhouse Gas generation).

There are also good reasons for designing a building to have offices between the (ground floor) retail and housing--the offices provide valuable buffers for the noise and smells, thereby reducing conflicts that might result in restrictions on the operation of the businesses. Do we really want to be incentivizing bad design?

This illustrates one of the complexities of development policy: You may want to protect office space for one type of businesses while capping the growth of office space for other types (example, larger software development companies). How do you keep doing the latter from undermining the former? How do you define those categories? Does City Hall have the legal capability to enforce this? Does this sound like a "Lighting Round" decision?

---- Lightning Round Question 4 ----

Another question is
(L4) "Allow car-light and car-free housing in walkable, transit-accessible areas for residents who are able to not own a car."
But how do you know that such people will occupy that housing? Planning needs to be based on experience, not what a few advocates say they hope will happen. "Hope is not a strategy." Could we count on enforcement? Palo Alto's history of regulatory enforcement in such matters is so bad that it might as well be non-existent.

----Summary----

The intention of the above critique is first to provoke you into thinking more critically about what is really being asked in this and other questionnaires. In considering the candidates responses, whether they are aware of the undercurrents indicates their level of experience with the issues. As I noted in the introduction, questionnaires can tell you much about the group asking them, which carries implications for the candidates that they choose to endorse.

----Footnotes----
1. Multiple-choice exam horror stories: My ultimate one comes from a high-stakes SAT-like exam way back when I was in high school. For several of the questions, all of the good students saw multiple "correct" choices, and collectively the best students were able to make a strong, convincing cases for all the choices. Since there was obviously no "correct" answer, the discussion devolved into what would be scored as correct. Pointless, but illuminating. We were students at a rural high school attempting to guess the experiences and biases of adults living in a very different environment (greater New York City). It was a few years after this that the problem of hidden biases of such exams became prominent, but that criticism focused on race and largely ignored geography, culture and socioeconomics.

2. Posturing on large-scale job growth: Example: Steven Levy's comment of "Nov 15, 2013 at 2:20pm" on my blog "Palo Alto's Culture War: Analytics vs. Aspirationals". Aside: Levy is on the board of Palo Alto Forward.

3. Ignoring experience: These advocates claim that if we don't accommodate all the companies that want to locate and expand here in Palo Alto, the industry will move away. However, in the late-1970s and 1980s, the big computer chip companies expanded outside this area (for example in Oregon, Arizona and Texas), as did other parts of the computer industry and other tech industries. When Google moved to Mountain View and when Facebook moved to Menlo Park, was there an exodus of other tech companies out of Palo Alto? Of course not. Long before that, the Detroit auto industry diversified geographically with components being manufactured throughout the Midwest, enabled by railroads and the telephone. Yet some would have you believe that it is essential for the future of a company such as Google that the members of their many groups all eat in the same cafeteria to promote accidental synergies. As a reality-check, ask yourself about potential synergies between Adwords, Docs, Google Fiber and self-driving cars.

4. Local circumstances unique: "Why My Startup Isn't in Stockton: How to Further the Culture and Network Effects of Silicon Valley" by Mike Greenfield, LinkedIn, 2014-10-02. Greenfield is a PAF member and husband of PAF founder Elaine Uang.

5. "Facilitate" vs. "compete for": There is a large spectrum here with many intervening points, such as "encourage". I am ruling this off-topic because there is potentially endless argument about whether someone was speaking for PAF or themselves, and whether they were careful about their word choice (or even understood the shades of meaning).
Note: I have been told that Mike Greenfield and others in PAF have blogged about "competing" with San Francisco and other cities, but I haven't seen a piece where that was unambiguous.

6. Companies can easily move away: "Palo Alto Forward joins opposition to office space limits", Palo Alto Online, 2015-02-26.

7. Highest jobs-housing imbalance: Source: U.S. Census Bureau, latest available (2014) "American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates", Table S0804 ("Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics") and Table S2301 ("Employment Status"):
Manhattan: 2,499,438 employees total, 892,000 employed residents (derived from 62.9% of 1,418,130 residents over age 16).
Palo Alto: 95,742 employees total, 34,448 employed residents (derived from 64.2% of 53,658 residents over age 16).
"Housing" is an intuitive term, but not a properly defined metric. Using "employed residents" as that metric, Manhattan has a jobs-housing ratio of 2.80 and Palo Alto is slightly less at 2.78.
Manhattan is roughly twice the size of the developed portion of Palo Alto. If you took just the southern half, there would likely be a greater imbalance (Financial District, Empire State Building, ...)
For Stanford, there isn't 1-year data, so using the 5-year data (2010-2014):
17,945 employees total, 5,559 employed residents (derived from 44.2% of 12,557 residents over age 16)
for a ratio of 3.23 (16% higher than Palo Alto).

8. Seizing dozens of homes: First, the change in the level of the cross streets would be substantial for a significant distance and some properties would loose access to the street. Second, the change in level of the cross streets would require major changes to the Alma intersections, and the various options involve seizing houses.

9. Speculative calculation: A common guess of the cost of trenching is $1 billion. Paying that off over 30 years produces $33M/year. Assume that Caltrain and VTA pays half (remember, this is speculation, not a projection -- I think this is unrealistically high). Ask the advocates how would Palo Alto bring in $16.5M/year in development fees.

10. behave irresponsibly: We have seen this with VTA wanting to have bus-only lanes on El Camino and declaring that it wouldn't increase congestion by (falsely) assuming that parallel routes have plenty of excess capacity to absorb the traffic displaced from El Camino.

11. Bike rack tradeoffs: I discussed some of this in my blog "Another Copenhagen Syndrome" (2016-03-05) in the sections "Scaling up" and "Theft".

12. Discussion of Palantir squeezing out other business: "The CIA-backed start-up that's taking over Palo Alto", CNBC, 2016-01-12.


----
An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.


----Boilerplate on Commenting----
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 particularly 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", do not 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, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.

Comments

 +   12 people like this
Posted by Voter, a resident of University South,
on Sep 8, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Well, these questions seem pretty reasonable to me, coming from an organization that supports "better options for housing and transportation."

I think it would be perfectly possible for a residentialist campaign to use these questions and the open-ended format to make a case for a slow-growth policy as the best way to get better options for housing and transportation. It's certainly a case that is made frequently in the comments section of Palo Alto Online. Even if the "scorecard" doesn't mention it, it would be helpful to understand how a candidate like Lydia Kou sees her positions as impacting housing and transportation, and the full text of responses seems to be published online.

I wonder why the residentialist candidates haven't tried to make that case. It seems like there might still be time, if they want to appeal to the substantial following that Palo Alto Forward has built.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Sep 8, 2016 at 8:02 pm

Apropos Boulder: I once had an online discussion with Steve Levy and Eric Rosenblum in which Eric offered Boulder as an example of a town with the higher population density that Palo Alto should emulate.

What's funny about this is that a huge percentage of Palo Alto's area is open-space preserves (Baylands, Foothills, Arastradero), so just dividing population by city area gives you a meaningless result. For the areas *in which people are allowed to live*, Palo Alto is already more dense than Boulder.

Eric observed that the downtown (I believe he meant the Pearl Street area) in Boulder is more dense than the University Ave area in Palo Alto. If you pick the boundaries carefully, this isn't wrong. It's worth taking a look at the road network that serves that area, though; from eyeballing it I'd guess it's more than double the capacity of ours.


 +   13 people like this
Posted by GreatBlog, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 8, 2016 at 8:13 pm

I've heard that Palo Alto Forward is also trying to hold a candidate debate, which seems entirely ludicrous. That's like the NRA sponsoring a debate on gun control. Our debates in town have been held by clearly neutral organizations like the League of Woman Voters and our Palo Alto Neighborhood associations.

Having an advocacy group (with a focused goal of urbanizing Palo Alto) seek to have candidates answer a multiple choice quiz, Score them on it (!), and then hold a debate is a transparent attempt to attack candidates. I hope all the candidates will stay far away and focus on the neutral groups that aren't pushing an agenda.

Pretty obvious what is happening when only the candidates sponsored by PAF are responding to their questionnaire.

I think it's time to go read Orwell's 1984 again. War is peace. Freedom is Slavery. Smart Growth is Good.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 8, 2016 at 8:49 pm

>> For the areas *in which people are allowed to live*,
>> Palo Alto is already more dense than Boulder.

Not dense enough for some folks, apparently


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Boulder, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Sep 8, 2016 at 8:59 pm

Sure I would like Palo Alto to be like Boulder. But Palo Alto achieving that is as much a fantasy as Palo Alto becoming Mayberry.

They have double the number of in-town public schools for a population about 50% larger than Palo Alto in a much larger usable area (we have large dedicated open space preserves). We don't have the land to double the number of public school buildings. How could we handle that population?

Boulder has 456 acres of in-town parks, giving them 4.4 acres per resident. We have only 185 acres. We'd need to acquire another 107 acres of park land to get to the same ratio that Boulder has. A key quality of life measure for a city.

Boulder is not built out. It has room at its edges to expand as well as nearby suburbs that provide lower cost housing.

And to top the cake, Boulder has been growing much slower than we have, about 0.6% a year. Yes please - let's be like Boulder. Maybe we can fill in the Bay to create a new bedroom community around Palo Alto


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 8, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: GreatBlog

Being an advocacy organization is not an automatic disqualification for holding an effective candidate forum/debate. What is needed is the ability and willingness to treat the candidates and their perspectives fairly and with respect, and for the candidates to have confidence that that will actually happen. Sometimes it is the advocacy groups that hold the best forums on their topic.

However, from the non-responses to the questionnaire, I would infer that most candidates will choose to not participate should PAF hold a forum/debate (I haven't asked any candidates about this). If I were a candidate, I wouldn't.

Aside: To this end, it doesn't matter whether a group like PAF (through its leaders) chooses to misrepresent other perspectives or is in such a bubble that it doesn't understand them. Similarly for facts.


 +   16 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 8, 2016 at 9:57 pm

" My third reaction was that my first two reactions were wrong--the questionnaire was so relentlessly biased in its statement of the choices offered the candidates that the intent was not to learn of the candidates' positions, but to provide ammunition to attack the candidates that don't support PAF's agenda. "


THIRD reaction? Cheese, Doug, why wasn't that your FIRST reaction? You ain't usually this naive.

This is bare knuckle politics, man. There's kilotons of developer money behind this cuz there's megatons of money to be made by trashing our town. This is Palo Alto Forward & $hills at full throttle.

Wake up and smell the skunk cabbage on the FIRST sniff.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Sunshine, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 9, 2016 at 4:06 am

Great blog, Doug. We have already seen far too much of the sort of things proposed by PAF. My general experiences in PA date from 1964.
Even in 1964 no one wanted a studio apartment, even if it meant having roommates or a commute to Mt View or another nearby city. Perhaps we can stop allowing vacant lots along Waverly and other similar Professorville, Old PA, PA North, Crescent Park areas or lot combinations while at the same time ending the push to up-zone other areas. I think the lack of interest in renting a room in someone's home or studio still holds.
When I arrived in PA in the 60s I was surprised by all the on-grade crossings. It made the whole area look slightly tacky. How it is done is not my issue; my issue is do it now. This is one area where necessary money should be spent, not on "road diets".
Regarding biking and walking versus driving, many live in areas that are not well served by busses, especially the free PAShuttle. Once I walked or rode my bike to shops for groceries. As I have become older and less able and good grocery stores left my neighborhood, this is no longer an option. Bus/free shuttle routes should serve all neighborhoods and run more frequently. Trains that do not have platform level entrances also discourage many who are not wheelchair bound, but less able.
Small, fewer than ~10 employees that serve the public belong in business areas, University and California Aves or adjacent streets. Anything larger or with no direct public service should be in the industrial parks.
Palo Alto probably should not build very tall buildings due to earthquakes, the soil type, and prevalent earthquakes. When built such buildings should be in industrial parks, not residential or in University or California AV areas.


 +   17 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 9, 2016 at 7:08 am

"This was surprising because the contact person is Eric Rosenbaum who is a member of the Planning and Transportation Commission. "

Why was it surprising? The outgoing pro development city council appointed several PAF members to the PTC in order to keep the pressure to develop. Kate Downing and Eric Rosenbaum are not only for massive development and densification, but are not qualified to serve on that commission based on their life and professional experience. They were strictly political appointees, and PAF is in essence a lobbying group for the developers.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by margaret heath, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Sep 9, 2016 at 1:27 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Thank you Doug for your analysis of PAF's questions for the candidates, So glad the other candidates saw it for what it was and ignored it.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by KimmySchmidt, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 9, 2016 at 9:34 pm

What can I say but unbelievable.

Thanks for highlighting what is happening here. With what we have going on in the national campaign it's a shame this group has to stoop to this level in our local politics. I hope there's a money trail. Who is paying for this Palo Alto Forward?


 +   8 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 10, 2016 at 6:48 am

"Who is paying for this Palo Alto Forward?"

Ever heard of Palantir?

[[Blogger: Although Palantir employees have an outsized role the membership of PAF, I know of no evidence that Palantir is actually funding this. If the claim is that Palantir is allowing employees to take time off, again I know of no evidence. Some companies do reduce job hours for elected officials as a way of supporting the community. H-P apparently did this.]]


 +   5 people like this
Posted by PAF endorcements, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Sep 10, 2016 at 10:35 am

A quote from GreatBlog above about PAF holding a forum, puts it well:

> That's like the NRA sponsoring a debate on gun control.

BTW Rosenblum's job at Palantir is not technical. His title is Business.
He does like to toss around words like "data driven" on the PTC, and other trendy concepts to make him sound knowledgeable. Of course, he chooses only data to support his and Palantir's development agenda. Or advocates for a study, to postpone suggestions he doesn't like.


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Posted by margaret heath, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Sep 10, 2016 at 1:05 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Unfortunately the PAF linked candidates are being endorsed by influential groups like the local Democratic Party.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 10, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The endorsement is not by influential groups like the local Democratic Party but by endorsement committees that are dominated by small cliques which too often seem to be dominated by cronyism rather than the principles of the groups they are supposed to represent.

For example, in the 2014 Council election, Tom DuBois was eliminated from consideration for Democratic Party endorsements because Marc Berman (Council member and current candidate for the Assembly) told the endorsement committee that DuBois had endorsed a Republican. The committee failed to check before making their decision and refused to reconsider when that claim was shown to be false. Then-candidate and now-Council member Cory Wolbach refused to support the reconsideration.

Disclosure: I was not present, but have heard the same account from multiple people with significant involved in Democratic Party activities.


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Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 10, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Yeah, this has a very bad odor to it. I read all the responses the first day they were shown online, and it was obvious the questions were tailor made to fit the PAF candidates' responses. And I have a hunch they even had their collaborative answers (a priori) ready before the non-PAFers were offered the chance to respond. To the nons, just hold your ground, don't respond, but call them out on what was an obvious attempt at swaying voters...the very naive voters, and ones that only count the number of campaign signs on front lawns, street corners, and shopping centers. What are the issues? 'I don't know but those folks at city hall will take care of me'. Don't count on it. Read up on the issues and the positions taken and then get involved yourselves. Your voices are important.

[[Blogger: PAF sent out the questionnaires to the candidates and there was a multiple day lag before they started appearing online. The PAF cover letter informed candidates that their responses would be published upon receipt, and not held to be published as a batch.]]


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Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 10, 2016 at 7:13 pm

Gale, unfortunately you too were fooled 2 years ago by a PAF CC candidate and helped elect him to the CC, where he is at work trying to turn Palo Alto into a dense urban jungle, dutifully being a lobbyist for unfettered development. Wolbach never answered any question during that campaign except with platitudes like 'we need to be civil', and never disclosed his real views, although those who weren't fooled by him knew very well he was a member of PAF and a supporter for unfettered development. Telling others not to be fooled is pretty ironic, don't you think?


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Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 11, 2016 at 6:56 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Thanks, Doug, for doing all the hard research and homework for us. I think you've done a good job of exposing the group for who they are, what they stand for, and who they represent. But, sadly, and unfortunately, if you asked all of our voters if they know what PAF stands for...most wouldn't have a clue, and would probably just look you in the eye and say/ask 'huh, what's a PAF?' So much for our informed electorate. Other, non PAF candidates, should just not attend their forums. Run your own campaigns, knock on doors, and get your message out. Of course that could always be used against you. The PAFers could say "We offered this opportunity for an open discussion forum and they chose not to attend. We've reached out"! Yeah, right...just baiting the trap!


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Penny, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Sep 13, 2016 at 11:26 am

Penny is a registered user.

Hi Doug,

There is some incorrect information in your section on Safe Routes to School (SRTS). I encourage you to reach out and learn more. Though SRTS is going through a period of transition, bike counts continue to grow overall--though at a slower rate. Please understand that we also encourage families to walk, ride buses, and carpool to school. Reducing car trips to school improves safety and reduces congestion in our community and on our school campuses.

Safe Routes to School is a partnership of the city, school district and PTA. Its purpose is to keep school commuting children safe and to encourage more families to choose healthy, active, sustainable school commutes as often as they can.

Palo Alto has lost ground on this front before. The impressive gains of the last ten years are not leveling off and our goal is not "maintenance." I don't know where that information came from, but it is simply incorrect. We are still growing bike counts, although it is harder now because we have "picked the low-hanging fruit" and are now making efforts to help families who have different commute challenges--including school route conditions that have not yet been addressed. Temporary conditions, including campus construction, PAUSD overflow decisions and PAUSD bell time changes also have impacted school commute choices recently. We are working with our PAUSD partners on these problems. This is a moment of transition for the program. It is a time to thoughtfully focus resources, not to reduce them.

Please reach out for current information. I'd be glad to talk with you. (You know how to reach me.) Safe Routes to School continues to be a successful program, energized by hundreds of PTA volunteers every year. The partnership of the city and school district is critical to that success--and the safety of road users of all ages and abilities.

Thank you for considering my comments.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 13, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Re: Penny

The section of the question was about what was appropriate for a candidate for City Council to know about the SRTS program.
The statement was "SRTS is widely portrayed as a large success, having largely completed the rapid growth phase of establishing the major routes and creating a culture of bicycling among students, and having entered a phase of maintenance and lesser improvements. If this is the case ==I,..."== (emphasis added)

Penny's comment illustrates why a candidate could believe this: She cites "impressive gains" and claims "not leveling off" but then says the apparent opposite "harder now...".

This illustrates a very common problem: Many activists expect every candidate to be intimately familiar with their causes. For example, one City Council candidate questionnaire in the 2014 expected the candidates to know technical details of managing an active landfill even though Palo Alto doesn't have one (my blog "Campaign Endorsements: Behind the Curtain", 2014-11-22).


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Katy, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 13, 2016 at 5:16 pm

Doug, I apologize if you have already touched on this but am wondering if PAF has an official position on downtown office zoning. I just read an interesting post on Town Square titled, "Where have all the start-ups gone?",
about start-ups and small businesses being priced out of downtown by Palantir. See Web Link
Does PAF have a solution for this problem that is radically changing our downtown?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 13, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Katy,
Notice that the TSF post that you cite was by Palo Alto Forward and it cites the same article that I did in my final footnote ("CIA-back start-up..."). If they had a "solution", I would have expected them to mention it in the original post.

In the past, PAF has opposed an annual cap on office growth arguing for one thing that big businesses need to be able to expand within Palo Alto. Since established companies are paying more than startups, one would expect that expansion in office space would be predominantly taken up by the former and not by start-ups.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by PAF, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Sep 14, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Web Link

Interesting background on PAF


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Posted by Pa Ford, a resident of Woodside,
on Sep 14, 2016 at 11:10 pm

"Notice that the TSF post that you cite was by Palo Alto Forward and it cites the same article that I did in my final footnote ("CIA-back start-up..."). If they had a "solution", I would have expected them to mention it in the original post."

The solution is build, build, and build more. Everything else is beside the point.


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

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