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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)

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Behind contentious local politics: Failed and toxic leadership

Uploaded: May 30, 2017
The crucial threshold was crossed 4 years ago when the demonization of people with other perspectives became a deliberate tactic. This tactic, and related divisive and abusive behaviors, continued into the Council campaigns in 2014 and 2016 and spread into additional policy debates. People only recently aware of the contentiousness will benefit from knowing this history, otherwise they may think of it as recent, isolated aberrations and thus amenable to fixing.

The misrepresentation of others' positions has become so extreme that it qualifies as fraudulent. Such as categorizing balance growth as no growth. Such as creating false dichotomies to denigrate others (This fallacy has overlapping ones and subcases, such as "excluded middle", "false choice", and "all or nothing"). For example, if person X doesn't agree with Y's approach to problem Z, Y fallaciously claims that X is opposed to any and all attempts to solve problem Z. A related tactic is to denounce the concerns and perspectives of others as illegitimate, if not fraudulent. For example, during the recent ADU debate, calls to properly vet and debate the new proposal was characterized as subterfuge to block that proposal.

This divisive rhetoric and tactics were accompanied by major changes in Council campaigns. A Super PAC (in 2014). Massive spending by some candidates (2014 & 2016). Large loans by some candidates to their campaigns (2014 & 2016) and delayed reporting that served to hide who the contributors were until after the election. Increased involvement of regional interest groups, especially by the county Democratic Party in what is supposed to be a non-partisan election.

The attitude of some Council members about their role and responsibilities seems to have changed: from being elected to serve the city's many stakeholders and other interests to being advocates for a small subset of special interests. For example, the Council of 2012-2014 stacked the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC). Previously, this Commission's primary role was represent the community in vetting the Staff recommendations before they went to Council. That Council replaced people who had knowledge, expertise and deep ties into the community with those whose apparent "qualification" was their ideological bent and bias toward faster development.

You see this in the current Council majority which doesn't hesitate to ambush the public and other Council members with un-vetted proposals, taking on the appearance of nothing more than raw power politics.

My goal here is to show patterns using some of the better illustrative examples--better in the sense of being both significant and easy to explain. And as the title indicates, the focus is on the role of some local leaders--official and unofficial--both in failing in their responsibility to push back against abusive conduct, but more often in being a major part of that misconduct (hence "toxic").

Presenting the basics of this pattern involves a cumulative total of details beyond the interest of most readers. Consequently, I have tried to make this blog more accessible by breaking it into sections for the various parts of the pattern, and within each of those having the basic explanations in the primary text and using footnotes(foot#1) for additional details and collections of links to supporting documents, such as news articles, earlier blogs. My hope is that this helps you find the aspects you are interested in, and skip those you aren't.

That tipping point four years ago was the Maybell Upzoning/Senior Housing. I suspect many of you are tired of hearing about Maybell. I am not going to repeat the details of that issue, nor will I permit re-fighting of that issue in the comments (off-topic). Instead I will outline the dynamics of that debate that made it so divisive. What I found most interesting is that the divisiveness didn't begin during the campaign on the referendum, nor during the earlier official hearings. Rather, it began during the early public outreach--when residents were asking questions and expressing tentative concerns.

Before presenting the Maybell dynamic, I give a quick overview of the long-term dysfunctional treatment of residents during decision-making on many major process. This created a sense among many active residents that the system was rigged against them, and an apparent sense among the powers-that-be that they could get away with it. Near the bottom, I present a specific example precursor (Arastradero) because demonization was occurring at the individual level, and the leaders in those meetings failed to throttle it.

Comments are encouraged about these patterns, both other perspectives and expansions on what is written here. Please remember that my perspective is limited by where I stood and who was talking to me. However, have your comments be responsive to what is written here. Also recognize that to get this down to being merely very long, I had to do lots of selecting and cutting.

I expect some to condemned me, and commenters, for adding to the contentiousness by describing what happened. Before you do so, ask yourself whether one should stand up to bullying--of yourself or others--or ignore it and hope the bully eventually tires. Or worse, ask if that position is analogous to telling the victim "Stop hitting the bully's fist with your face." Identifying bullying is a first step in combating it. Similarly for other bad behaviors.

Off-topic: National politics: I expect that many readers will see interesting and relevant parallels to what has happened in national partisan politics (officials, candidates, parties). While that may well benefit your thinking about the local versions, I am going to have to declare it off-topic here because the back-and-forth on such comments would almost certainly drowned out any discussion of the local situation. However, you can start a discussion elsewhere, for example a new topic on Town Square Forums, and publicize it here by adding a comment with the link to that discussion.


The duration of the current situation--both generally and specific tactics--and the downward trend indicate that it is unlikely to be reversed by the political Establishment or other insiders. More residents need to be actively stand up to the abuses of power and the bullying. A few will take leadership roles, sometimes only for an individual incident. More importantly is for others to visibly support them--otherwise they will be dismissed as "the usual suspect" or fringe opinion. Even if you can't do that, you can help by making your friends and neighbors familiar with this pattern so that the next election doesn't produce more of the same.


----The generic precursor----

The tipping point came after many years of residents feeling that they and their concerns weren't getting fair hearings, with a process that was rigged against them. Sometimes the lack of due respect was subtle; other times it was obvious.

Residents who became active on an issue became largely inured to this treatment, but there would be an underlying anger. However, there would be upticks when a new batch of residents became involved. Their first reaction to this treatment would be that it was an aberration and will be dealt with once it comes to the attention of civic leaders, whom they assumed would act responsibly. But as disillusionment set in, they would become frustrated and then angry.

The recurring problems in the process included:
- A developer's presentation that had self-contradictory claims and claims that fell apart with only a few simple questions.
- Reports by consultants and City Hall that were transparently biased, containing glaring misrepresentations, omissions and other flaws.
- Treatment by City Council that was deferential to the developer and dismissive of residents. Similarly for the treatment by Staff. Similarly for the recent Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC). Aside: This was a recent change by the PTC--before this, residents were often impressed by the knowledge and conduct of the PTC, only to be disappointed by City Council.(foot#2)
- Transparent favoring of insiders, such as statements of the form that speaker (personally) knew the developer and trusted them. Left unsaid was the reason that they were waving off the analysis and facts presented by residents: Were they regarded as irrelevant, untrustworthy or incompetent?(foot#3)

----Tipping Point: Maybell Upzoning/Affordable+Market-rate Housing----

The Maybell Upzoning proposal involved market-rate housing and affordable senior housing, and the referendum on this was 2013 Measure D. This proposal came with the usual bad behavior expected of a development proposal (above). What followed might well have been avoided if the leadership of Palo Alto Housing Corp (the developer) had been properly prepared going into the public outreach meetings and had properly addressed questions and public concerns. Did they not understand that once you get caught in a number of deceptions and falsehoods that you have destroyed your credibility? Or did they think that they could bull their way through? Or ...
Remember that the details of the issue(foot#4) are off-topic here.

What changed? Demonization was added to residents having their concerns disregarded, dismissed and disparaged. Very early in the considerations--well before the first public hearings--various of the outspoken advocates for the Maybell project characterized those who raised concerns as having various vile motivations, including using standard code-words for racism. The most common claim was that residents "wanted to maintain an exclusive neighborhood". This came not from the people who are quick to label as "racism" virtually anything that they disagree with. Rather, it came from people who were well familiar with the neighborhood and who well knew that the slur was false. They knew that the neighborhood already contained multiple affordable housing complexes as well as the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, and multiple apartment buildings that had lower rents. Within the PAUSD elementary schools, Barron Park ES served the most subsidized meals. BPES also had a high number of English-language learners.

It is one thing to be lied to, but very much worse to be publicly lied about.

If the Maybell project's advocates had had responsible leaders, they would have stepped in and denounced these accusations. Instead, there are indications that the leadership originated them or were early adopters. Regardless, that leadership exacerbated the problem: They added to the demonization of those that disagreed, or who even questioned the project: They portrayed the opponents' concerns as illegitimate, often with implications of dishonesty. That is, the articulated concerns were merely cover for those opponents' real agenda, with the clear implication that the opponents knew their agenda to be deplorable. This slur continues to this day, seeming to propagate out mostly from Palo Alto Forward.(foot#5)

To my recollection, this was the first significant, sustained local use of this tactic. And it seems to be the beginning of current prominent tactic by the pro-development advocates of characterizing opponents either as peddling fear or being dupes of those who are.(foot#6) And they campaigned using claims that they had acknowledged to be false during the earlier meetings. Worse, some of those claims were cynically used to denigrate the opponents, for example, as uncaring.(foot#7) And they seriously misrepresented the arguments of the opponents. While these sorts of distortions often occur individually in a dirty campaign, there is a cumulative effect. Once a threshold has been crossed, they add disproportionately to the intensity of the conflict.
Reminder: This is not a re-fighting of the issue, but using just enough examples to give readers a sense of how and why it was a turning point.

One would have hoped that City Hall would have applied its expertise to provide assessments of relevant claims--pro and con--thereby supporting the voters in making their decisions. However, City Hall was so blatantly partisan that it lost all credibility. Many of the new-to-local-politics residents naively believed that the government had a duty to all its citizens, and this betrayal added to the emotions. One example was the claim by the project's advocates that 46 units could be built under the current zoning, and pointing out that that would have worse impacts than the proposed project.(foot#8) Several residents with experience in zoning were unsuccessful in finding any credible layout yielding anywhere close to this number of units, and the project's advocates refused to provide anything beyond an over-simplified back-of-the-envelope calculation.(foot#9) Reality Check: The developer to whom PA Housing Corp sold the property chose to build 16, not 46, housing units there. This should not have been a surprise to PA Housing Corp: The developer is the husband of its CEO. And there were other developers sitting on their board. The hypocrisy of PA Housing Corp using this major exaggeration while accusing the opponents of using fear was rankling.

On the other side, various City Hall officials were upset by the opponents portraying them as having done a backroom deal. This came about from those opponents looking for an explanation for the bullying being directed at them and for a seemingly sham public process. They found various indications that the decision had already been made.(foot#10) Plus, it was shortly after the backroom dealing on 27 University Avenue (Arrillaga towers) that was later the subject of a scathing Civil Grand Jury report.(foot#11) I unsuccessfully tried to get the opponents to abandon the accusation because I thought it was counterproductive--it wasn't persuasive to undecided citizens while antagonizing the officials.

Another source of aggravation was that officials and other members of the political Establishment thought they weren't being treated with the respect they deserved. This may have been different notions of due respect.(foot#12) In their pique, they made the situation worse by seeming to ignore that much of the opponents' anger came from being bullied.

In response to being pummeled, the opponents put out publicity that included overstatements and oversimplifications. This is a predictable occurrence in such situations: Groups being pummeled feel that they have to do such in order to be heard, and the reasons to play fair have been greatly reduced because such groups don't see their opposition being willing to behave honestly and honorably. Of course, this can create a feedback loop where both sides repeatedly escalate.

----Dismissing the results of the referendum----

A month after the defeat of the Maybell Upzoning, Council had a discussion entitled "A Conversation on the Future of the City".(foot#13) The Establishment Councilmembers displayed a mix of denial and open resentment of the results. Councilmembers Klein and Berman were openly dismissive of the results, and rationalized why the results should be ignored. There were lots of smaller statements that had substantial potential for being seen by the opponents as dismissive or arrogant. I can't say how many of these arose from those Council members persisting in being out-of-touch with the broader community.

One suggestion from residents was to have a moratorium on certain classes of new development to allow City Hall to catch up on measuring and assessing impacts and adjusting planning policies. This was part of Susan Fineberg's statement at this meeting. Although a moratorium is by definition temporary, Councilmember Price argued against it as if it were a permanent halt that was being advocated (@4:19:45). She goes on the express concerns about the very issues that motivated the call for a moratorium. This instance may simply have been cognitive dissonance. However, less than year later, she joined a Super PAC (below) where this falsehood was a prominent part of their advertisements. And this falsehood quickly became became a standard part of the political Establishment's tactics: To portray calls to have balanced growth or to limit the rate of growth as a no-growth position. How can debates not be contentious when one side adopts being dishonest about the other's positions as a core of its arguments?

This discussion also marked an early instance of disparaging older residents that became common in the social media comments of people clustered around Palo Alto Forward (PAF). This disparaging attitude spread to parts of the political Establishment which is intertwined with PAF. The comment was made by Michael Alcheck, who had been on the Planning and Transportation Commission for about 16 months (since August 2012): "I don't think that the individuals that are over 55, and over 65, and over 75 always necessarily vote for what they really want. I think that they vote against change a lot because it's scary,..." (foot#13)

----2014 Council Campaign----

The 2014 Council Campaign continued the downward trajectory. The divisive conduct carried over and expanded. The campaign of A. C. Johnston, who was recruited and mentored by Liz Kniss, provided an example of the political Establishment adopting the attitudes and tactics of Palo Alto Forward and similar groups: His campaign in both in his literature and his speeches characterizing opponents as "afraid of the future" (multiple variants of wording).

Super PAC: This campaign saw the first intrusion, to my knowledge, of a Super PAC (officially an Independent Expenditure Committee). Super PACs were enabled by the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court, and they aren't subject to many of the regulations and public reporting of conventional PACs.

This pop-up Super PAC seemed to exist only for running ads immediately before the election--ads which endorsed the Establishment candidates (Johnston, Scharff, Shepherd, Wolbach) and made false statements about the Residentialist candidates. Most of the people listed as part of the Super PAC were prominent supporters of the Establishment candidates, if not members of their campaign teams. (foot#14)

There was a long history of various organizations endorsing candidates, organizing volunteers for candidates, and encouraging and making contributions to candidates. Some of these chose/needed to use conventional PACs. Examples of such groups are the Sierra Club, labor unions, professional associations (such as Realtors), and local political parties and their committees. Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ) was one such group--it produced and distributed a scorecard on the candidates. Scorecards are common for organizations doing endorsements, with some distributing them only to members and others distributing them more widely. The candidates who were endorsed by PASZ in this scorecard reported the distribution costs as a non-monetary contribution.(foot#15) This included the ones who didn't use the scorecard as part of their campaigns.

Campaign spending: Campaign expenditures exploded, although this wouldn't become a significant public issue until the 2016 campaign. In earlier years, breaching the $30K threshold was unusual and noteworthy, and seemed to involve significant fund-raising from outside Palo Alto. In this campaign, 5 of the 8 serious candidates reported raising $21-26K as of the 10/18 reporting deadline, which was the last one before the election. These were Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth, Karen Holman, Nancy Shepherd, and Cory Wolbach. Of the other three:
- Greg Scharff reported raising $84K, including $50K in loans, with subsequent contributions and a $10K loan. Total Expenditures thru 12/31 were $97K.
- A. C. Johnson reported raising $48K, including $10K in loans, with subsequent contributions and a $10K loan. Total Expenditures were $59K.
- Lydia Kou reported raising $36K, and received $6K in non-monetary contributions. (foot#15) Total Expenditures were $36K. Kou had by far the most contributors--193 vs 94-147 for the other serious candidates as of 10/18--and the majority of her contributions were of $100. For some more details and a more general discussion, see(foot#16)

Intrusion of regional politics: City Council elections are officially non-partisan (relative to political parties). As recently as 10 years ago, Palo Alto had a registered Republican on the Council and most people were unaware of it. While various county Democratic Party organizations would endorse candidates, it was very low key--voters could easily find the endorsements if they looked, but they weren't prominent. This very noticeably changed in 2014.

There was skullduggery in the county Democratic Party endorsements: One Residentialist candidate was disqualified from consideration based upon a false accusation from within the Democratic Establishment--one which they refused to remedy once revealed.
Reminder: Discussion of parallels to national partisan politics is off-topic here.

Some members of the county Democrat Establishment used email and social media to portray balanced growth/slow growth/Residentialist candidates as right-wing or connected to various Conservative and Libertarian organizations. One memorable instance was the email claiming that these candidates were being funded by the billionaire Koch Brothers. As ridiculous as this might seem, it did get circulated and forwarded. I heard of it from Democratic activists who were supporting the balanced growth position and were offended by it.

----2016 Council Campaign----

The tone of this campaign was set early by the leaders of Palo Alto Forward, first in the hoopla around the resignation of Kate Downing from the PTC, and then an essay equating Mayor Pat Burt and candidate Lydia Kou to Donald Trump. Councilmember Cory Wolbach endorsed this essay and added "I ran for office in 2014 at a time of ascendancy for the local conservative political movement known as 'Residentialism,' which openly opposes housing growth and which thrives on the politics of fear, anger, and false blame ." (emphasis added) and subsequently added "ignorance" to the list. And, of course, the old go-to of "NIMBY" (Not In My Backyard).(foot#17)

There continued to be the well-established expression of contempt for people with other viewpoints, such as them wanting to return Palo Alto "to a sleepy college town", "to the 1950s", "Mayberry" (a fictional town anchored in the 1930s-1950s) ... For amusement, do some trivial arithmetic: A 23-year-old who bought a house in 1960 would now be 80; a 33-year-old who bought in 1950 would be 100. Does Palo Alto Forward and the political Establishment have such contempt for residents to think that we wouldn't notice how preposterous this characterization of Residentialists is, even without doing the calculation?

The next major divisive statement came from the Chamber of Commerce, in a non-endorsement endorsement of the Establishment candidates. A Palo Alto Weekly editorial said "The Chamber of Commerce embarrassed itself and did the community a disservice when ..." and "containing blatant inaccuracies and mischaracterizations" and "triggering acrimony".(foot#18)

Eight former mayors: A much lesser event is probably more significant in the long-term. Eight former mayors distributed a letter under the guise of it coming from concerned prominent citizens when it fact it was a very partisan attack ad from supporters of the Establishment candidates. The Weekly characterized it as "Bigger on innuendo than fact". The innuendo was baseless, that is, a smear.(foot#19) That these individuals should do this was not surprising--four of them had been involved in the Super PAC in the 2014 election (above). What disturbed me was the lack of even visible tsk-tsk'ing from the broader Establishment. While it is usual for Establishment members to extend great forbearance to each other, this was way over the line, and committed what is normally an unpardonable sin: Being so blatantly hypocritical that it brings disrepute and/or derision to the Establishment.(foot#20)

The county Democratic Party increased its intrusion into this supposedly non-partisan election. According to multiple reports, the endorsement process was controlled by a very narrow group: One that supports large-scale building of housing without regard to impacts. Palo Alto Forward was part of this group, with the endorsement committee was dominated by people from San Jose of the same mindset. Because Arthur Keller supported balanced growth, he was disqualified. His long history of activism for Democratic causes and doing large-scale fundraising counted for nothing. In contrast, the Democratic Party endorsed two Establishment candidates who had only recently converted to being Democrats (in time for the campaign): Tanaka (formerly Republican) and Fine (formerly No-Party-Preference). These endorsements allowed the Establishment candidates to run ads--complete with pictures of other Democratic officeholders--implying that they were the official Democratic Party slate,

----2017 - Bad governance----

Palo Alto Online/Weekly has done a good job of summarizing the key bad governance of the new regime (Scharff, Kniss, Wolback, Fine, Tanaka).(foot#21)

In addition to these bad-governance actions, there has been a contemptuous attitude of them not needing to provide coherent reasons for their actions. For example, on the ADU issue, the primary topic of the 4/17 meeting was whether to wait to give Staff a chance to provide an assessment of the changes as the basis for an informed decision. Their arguments against waiting were:
1). There is such a big demand for housing that we need to have people start building ADUs immediately, and
2). There is so little demand by property owner to build ADUs that few, if any, will be built, and therefore we will have enough time to fix any problems in the proposal.
So which is it?

Another example: Councilmember Wolbach told people requesting a proper assessment of his new proposal that they should have raised their concerns about it way back when the PTC held hearings. I am assuming that he doesn't think they possess a time machine, but rather is blaming them for not anticipating months/years in advance what he was going to do. Hypocritically, Wolbach saw no reason that he himself should have had anticipated his own proposal and submitted it at that earlier time.

Yet another: Wolbach ran in 2014 on a platform of restoring civility, but continues to do the opposite. For example, PAUSD BoE member Todd Collins served on the District's enrollment committee and shared that expertise with the Council in a letter whose analysis ran counter to Wolbach's advocacy. Wolbach blasted that letter as "hyperbolic and inaccurate"--just an attack, no explanation.(foot#22)

Then there was Mayor Scharff who rejected the need for a general rule based upon a single very exceptional example. The normal response is to ensure that your process allows for legitimate exceptions, not to claim that because there might be worthy exceptions, you can't have a rule.(foot#23) I don't think that the regime thinks we are so stupid as to not detect these absurdities, but rather that it doesn't matter to them that we do. They have the power, and that's all that matters.

The now-routine vilification by PAF/Establishment of those calling for due process were presented in an earlier blog..(foot#24)

The revelation that Kniss and Tanaka are under investigation by the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) for multiple significant violations of reporting requirements(foot#26) adds to the sense of that they are part of a culture that doesn't regard following the rules as important.

The default courtesy title for elected officials is "Honorable". It should be an acknowledgement, but sometimes it also seems to serve as a reminder. It should never have to be a plea.

----Example precursor: Arastradero Lane Reduction----

I suspect that the organized attacks became feasible because of long festering problems with such attacks by individuals. The biggest failures were by City Staff or the consultants leading the meetings: They routinely failed to rein in or admonish the offenders. Since the offenders were often those supporting what Staff was advocating, this was often interpreted as Staff condoning bullying to discourage and silence dissenting perspectives. In these meetings, there was often some pushback from the residents in the audience. Sometimes it was effective, but often it wasn't: The combined weight of Staff and the allied advocates was too much to overcome.

The result was that bullying and similar tactics were seen to be effective by organized advocates, and ordinary residents became sensitized to being subjected to these tactics, and frustrated by having their perspectives and priorities suppressed.

The Arastradero Reconfiguration/Re-striping/Lane Reduction meetings were a good example of this. Additionally, it was centered on the same neighborhood as the Maybell Upzoning. The primary issue was the safety of Gunn students biking up Charleston--for whom Arastradero was the most convenient route. I will call their parents Group X. However, the proposed changes were expected to displace commuter traffic onto Maybell Avenue--one block away--which was the route for Gunn students biking up Meadow. The displaced traffic would also affect all levels of students from the neighborhood walking and biking to their schools (JBES, Terman, Gunn). Group Y were their parents plus neighborhood residents who daily observed the safety issues of the school commutes. Group Z were the residents of hemmed-in neighborhoods for whom Arastradero was an essential route. Many of these residents were also in Group Y.

The meetings saw multiple individuals in Group X hurling vile accusations against the other groups, both as responses and as interruptions. For example, they asserted that other residents didn't care about the safety, or lives, of children. Concerns raised by the other groups were dismissed as fictitious, and only cover for those people wanting to drive 50 mph on Arastradero, as if that were even possible during the morning rush hour (8-15 mph). One particularly memorable interchange involved an elderly woman with a cane telling Staff that the morning congestion made it difficult for her to get to her physical therapy class at Cubberley (2 miles away). One of the more rabid individuals in Group X shouted at her that she should bicycle to that class. Characteristically, neither Staff nor other members of Group X intervened to tell that offender that she was way out-of-line. Protests by the other groups went unheeded. Various residents, frustrated and angry at the bullying, walked out of the meetings, declaring them to be shams.

After one of these ugly meetings, I talked to a resident who I thought Group X would listen to, and encouraged her to intervene when particularly offensive behavior occurred. She declined, explaining that those people were so emotional that trying to get them to behave more civilly would only make matters worse. Furthermore, she thought that they were so locked into their perspective that they wouldn't be open to suggestions that their behavior was being counter-productive. I reluctantly agreed that she was probably right: There was too much momentum for even influential residents to counter-act, unless Staff was willing to back them up (which they weren't).

Reminder that--contrary to the Establishment narrative--the frustrations arising from these meetings weren't transferred to the Maybell Upzoning, but rather primed residents to see the maneuvering and the attacks against dissenters as yet another instance of a system rigged against the typical resident, and not an aberration or unintentional.

----PTC is stacked/hijacked and goes rogue----

The Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) had long been a stepping stone to City Council. It gave Commissioners experience dealing with the complexities of key issues. Equally important, it demonstrated to the electorate how those people dealt with the various stakeholder groups, and their overall decision-making skills. As residents, the Commissioners routinely asked sharp questions of Staff reports, pointed out problems, and make suggestions for improvements. They also played an important role in listening to, and acting on, residents' complaints about issues that had been ignored or misrepresented in the Staff reports. Of course, the actual PTC couldn't, and didn't, always live up to this ideal,(foot#27) but typically it was close-enough.

Starting in Summer 2012, this was changed. Commissioner Susan Fineberg was widely respected
- for her knowledge of the issues and City policies (including the Comprehensive Plan),
- for her conduct in meetings and her decision-making, and
- for her long and deep ties in the community.
Council chose to replace her with Michael Alcheck, who was none of these. His civic experience was focused on San Francisco, and he was a strongly pro-development. His biases were such that many with other viewpoints complained of feeling unfairly treated at the PTC.

This was repeated in December 2014 when the lame-duck City Council replaced Arthur Keller--who was similarly highly qualified and widely respected--with the totally unsuitable Kate Downing. Downing not only lacked the necessary temperament, knowledge and experience, but had a disinclination to deal with facts, competing perspectives and stakeholder interests--she seemed driven by ideology based on alternate facts. She is best known for a series of opinion piece and interviews at the time of her resignation from the PTC (August 2016) that received international media attention because they were well-designed as click-bait (the old "Sensationalism sells. Don't let facts get in the way of a good story!").

The resulting PTC became a problem in many other ways: Many meetings were canceled for lack of a quorum, short meetings were achieved by shortchanging analysis and considerations of facts, and a backlog of issues that needed vetting before going to Council built up. The peak of the toxic behavior came in August 2015 when the PTC thumbed its nose at Council, and acted like it was part of the Chamber of Commerce, advocating for developers.(foot#28)

Some balance has returned to the PTC as positions opened up and the appointments were made by a Council with more representation from the Residentialists.

However, that PTC's willingness to so openly and blatantly abuse power was a significant factor in poisoning the political environment. And it was a precursor to what is happening now on Council.

1. Footnote on footnotes:
These footnotes provide a collection of links to news articles, editorials, my blogs... These links are not meant to be authoritative, but rather are the links I could easily find that would serve as good-enough introductions. To help you find the relevant sections in the larger articles, I provided quoted passages and Find/Search terms. Apologies for the inadequate formatting, but the blogging language wasn't intended for articles such as this, and thus doesn't provide support beyond trivial formatting.
If you have a link that should be added to one of these collections, please include the footnote number (or title) when you provide it in your comment.

2. Treatment by City Hall:
An eloquent statement by former Planning and Transportation Commission Susan Fineberg at a Council meeting shortly after the defeat of the upzoning: To get to the text and a link to video, use the find/search on "Fineberg" in my blog "Listen for Yourself: An index into 'A Conversation on the Future of the City' ".
This has also been a major theme in my blogs. Some examples:
"Why not 'constructive engagement' with City Hall?", 2014-10-23.
" 'Flawed' process is normal, 2014-09-05", .
"In Defense of 'Incivility' ", 2014-10-14. Abusive uses of calls for civility. "Civility run amok: Lies are bad ... so don't you dare point them out."
and "Guest Opinion: Improving Palo Alto's stakeholder group process" by John Guislin, Palo Alto Weekly, 2014-11-09.

3. Cronyism:
My blog "Replacing the defunct Planning and Transportation Commission: Part 1: Cronyism and Corruption", 2015-08-18.

4. Summaries of the Maybell issues:
From residents' perspectives: "Guest Opinion: A neighborhood perspective of Maybell Development" by Joseph Hirsch, Palo Alto Weekly, 2016-07-15.
My blog: "Measure D (Maybell Rezoning): Cutting through the noise", 2013-10-11.
The section "The Unlearned Lessons of Maybell" at the end of this recent blog -- "Affordable Housing: Complexities", 2017-02-21 -- covers many of the points here, but in a different context: affordable housing.
PA Weekly Assessment: "What's Measure D really about? The Weekly checks the facts in the divisive election measure", 2013-10-11.
Note: The characterization of the public outreaching meetings in late 2012 and early 2013 relied only on an openly biased source: "A mid-January meeting didn't turn up neighborhood dissent, according to Housing Corporation board member Jean McCown." I was at those meetings, and there was considerable skepticism and concerns expressed. At the end of the first meeting (2012-09-12), I had an extended discussion--to no avail--with the CEO of PA Housing Corp (Candice Gonzalez) about the likely controversies and problems in her presentation (contradictory claims, claims revealed to be deceptive when questioned).

5. Hidden agenda slur:
"The 'You're despicable' style of politics, 2016-09-22" with Search/Find term "casual".

6. Example of treating opponents' issues as illegitimate, including "Fear" :
Palo Alto Weekly "Guest Opinion: Senior citizens counting on 'yes' vote for Measure D" by Lisa Ratner and Jean Dawes, 2013-11-01 (days before the election). The authors were writing as President and VP of the Board of Directors of Palo Alto Housing Corp (PAHC), which was "the developer".
"Measure D has pitted the need for affordable homes for 60 senior citizens against pent-up frustration in Palo Alto about growth. In capitalizing on this frustration, opponents have not fought fairly, but have encouraged confusion and stirred fear."
and "If you support affordable senior housing, vote yes on Measure D" by Mayor Greg Scharff, 2013-10-04.
"Opponents have tried to link Measure D to citywide issues about development, 'PC' zoning, increased traffic, pedestrian-safety issues, or just a general frustration with traffic and parking.// Please do not be influenced by the rhetoric and false accusations, or allow unrelated complaints to influence your judgment about Measure D. Measure D is about one thing and one thing only -- if you agree or disagree that Palo Alto needs more affordable housing for our senior residents."
First note the implicit denial that there were significant safety, traffic and parking issues related specifically to this project--this conflicted with the substantial public record. The support that came from outside the neighborhood was not "general frustration" or people wanting to make a statement, but rather that this project's problems with the design and decision-making were familiar and credible to voters because it had happened so many times across the city.
Second, despite this being my neighborhood, I hadn't known most of the residents who powered the opposition: They were new not just to development issues, but to local politics. Hardly a manipulative, nefarious group with a hidden agenda.

7. Campaigning on false claims:
From the above GuestOp by Ratner and Dawes representing PAHC: "preference is given to those working or living in Palo Alto" and "Measure D is about one thing and one thing only -- if you agree or disagree that Palo Alto needs more affordable housing for our senior residents."
My recollection is that this prominent falsehood was the one that infuriated the opponents the most. At multiple public meetings, PA Housing Corp claimed that regulations and grant conditions largely prohibited them from giving priority to Palo Alto residents, and they displayed no interest in doing so in the limited situations where it was possible, as well as displaying no interest in trying to get exemptions. Furthermore, questions were asked about why the proposed senior housing wouldn't turn out similarly to other affordable housing complexes managed by PA Housing Corp--predominantly people with no prior connection to Palo Alto. The answers indicated the PA Housing Corp regarded that result as proper, if not desirable (such as, Palo Alto needs to providing housing for people from around the region who want to live here). PA Housing Corp's position was that their claim was true because it would be possible for a PA senior to get one of these apartments by signing up on the waiting list, with a typical delay of more than 5 years. The people asking the questions--who became opponents-- were the ones strongly pushing for the facility to be one that would support keeping locals in the community, while PA Housing Corp gave no indication of caring about anything more than the total number of units. Yet, PA Housing Corp's campaign ads presented the reverse.
"If you support affordable senior housing, vote yes on Measure D" by Mayor Greg Scharff, 2013-10-04.
"Right now there are hundreds of senior citizens on waiting lists for affordable homes in Palo Alto -- people who want to live in the community where they have lived and/or worked for many years."
This was not a true statement. I was at multiple meetings where this number came up, and PA Housing Corp's answer was that they didn't know how many such people there were and that the data they collected from applicants (on the waiting list) didn't allow them to determine this.

8. Maybell: claim of 46 units possible:
"If you support affordable senior housing, vote yes on Measure D" by Mayor Greg Scharff, 2013-10-04.
"A private developer building under the existing zoning would likely construct 46 residences, all of which could be three- to four-bedroom homes. Common sense tells me that 46 families will generate more traffic and impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and in the neighborhood schools than would 60 affordable one-bedroom senior apartments and only 12 families." (emphasis added)
A slightly weaker version--"could build up to"--is found in the above GuestOp by Ratner and Dawes representing PAHC.

9. Fact-checking 46 housing units:
Part of above: "What's Measure D really about? ..."
My blog "... Cutting through the noise" gives a brief summary (Search/Find term: "46").
However, I wasn't able to find the original, full presentations in my archives.

10. Accusation of a backroom/done deal:
"Editorial: A backwards process on Maybell project: 'Not a done deal' defense rings hollow for proposed senior-housing development", 2013-05-17.
My assessment was that there wasn't an explicit deal, but rather a sense of support and deference between insiders along with the dismissal of the input of outsiders.

11. Backroom dealing: 27 U Ave/Arrillaga:
"Four office buildings, theater planned for downtown Palo Alto: City partners with developer John Arrillaga on new plan to transform site near downtown Caltrain station", Palo Alto Online, 2012-09-20.
Subsequent Grand Jury report and City Hall's response that came after the Maybell Referendum, but supported the validity of the public's concerns at that time:
"Palo Alto slammed for lack of transparency on Arrillaga proposals", Palo Alto Online, 2014-09-20.
"Palo Alto admits mistakes in negotiations with developer: City agrees it followed a 'flawed' process in 2012 talks with John Arrillaga over property sale, proposed development", Palo Alto Online, 2014-09-04.

12. Different notions of "due respect" for officeholders:
There is a range of attitudes about the connection of official positions and the respect due those officeholders. In an authoritarian scheme, the office confers a requirement for respect for the officeholder. A different attitude is that respect is to be earned (voluntarily given), and officeholders are given respect on an until-demonstrated-otherwise basis, that is, the fact of them holding office is treated as an indication of a track record of deserving respect.

13. Council discussion of defeat of referendum:
"Listen for Yourself: An index into 'A Conversation on the Future of the City' ", 2013-12-13. This provides links into what I thought were the more noteworthy parts of this meeting.

14. Super PAC:
My blog: "A reprehensible political ad", 2014-11-02.

15. Non-monetary contributions explained:
These are expenditures by individuals or groups separate from the candidate's campaign but that benefit the candidate. A common example is an ad supporting the candidate by such an individual or group. Another example is non-reimbursed, non-trivial expenses incurred by the host of a meet-the-candidate or fund-raising event. These are reported similar to monetary contributions because to do otherwise would allow candidates to hide contributions and expenditures that are normally part of a campaign.

16. Campaign Fund-raising (2014):
My blog "Follow the money: Coverage for the next campaign", 2014-11-09.

17. 2016 attacks on Residentialists:
My blog "The 'You're despicable' style of politics", 2016-09-22.

18. Chamber of Commerce Non-endorsement Endorsement:
"In a rare move, Chamber picks favorites in Palo Alto council race...", Palo Alto Online, 2016-10-04.
Search/find "embarrass" in "Editorial: Keller, Kou, Kniss and Fine for Palo Alto City Council", Palo Alto Weekly, 2016-10-21.

19. Letter from Eight Former Mayors:
Body of the letter.
"Huge political contributions spark outcry, suspicion: After Kou and Keller get about $100K, the city's former mayors warn of 'undue influence' in local politics", Palo Alto Online, 2016-10-21.
"Bigger on innuendo than fact" in "With Election Day looming, Keller and Kou lead race for cash: Two slow-growth candidates have each raised more than $90,000", Palo Alto Online, 2016-11-04.
"...disappointing for its sweeping assertions and innuendo" in "Editorial: Keller, Kou, Kniss and Fine for Palo Alto City Council", Palo Alto Weekly, 2016-10-21.

20. Hypocrisy of Eight Former Mayors:
The core concern of this letter was that the Residentialist candidates were receiving enough money to match the big spending campaigns of the Establishment candidates--the near-final totals had the four Establishment candidates together receiving about the same as the four Residentialist candidates, with the late contributions pushing the Establishment total up from insignificantly larger, with the top two Residentialists receiving slightly more than the top two Establishment candidates. The first campaign reporting period ended 9/24 and set the tone for campaign spending. At that point, the fundraising for the top 6 candidates was
- Tanaka (Establishment): $47K
- Kniss (Establishment): $46K
- Fine (Establishment): $36K
- McDougall (Establishment): $25K ($22-27K is the old normal)
- Keller (Residentialist): $25K
- Kou (Residentialist): $17K
(from "Tanaka and Kniss take fundraising lead in council race", Palo Alto Online, 2016-09-03).
It was this gross disparity that triggered the large donations to the Residentialist candidates--viewed by those contributors as leveling the playing field.
Notice that the Eight Former Mayors didn't object to the big spending of three of the Establishment candidates, nor of two of them in 2014--Scharff at $97K, Johnston at $59K. In an apparent attempt to mute the hypocrisy, the Eight Former Mayors phrased their concern in terms of individual donations, but they also misrepresented history.
The message came through loud and clear: They were shocked and appalled that the big money from their established network wouldn't be enough to crush the opposition, because supporters of the opposition included some willing to contribute big money.

21. Bad governance:
"Editorial: A council adrift: Bizarre and poorly conceived 'symbolic' proposals are wasting time and disrespecting the public process", Palo Alto Weekly, 2017-05-05.
" 'Young gun' Councilmembers out of step with community expectations; want start-up companies in residential neighborhoods", 2017-05-13, issue 3 of Palo Alto Matters newsletter. Facebook and subscribe for emails.
"Strong opposition by Wolbach and Fine stalls Council agreement to consider school impacts in City land use decisions", 2017-05-13, issue 3 of Palo Alto Matters newsletter.
"Council opts for up to 4,420 new homes and 11,500 new jobs by 2030 // Council responses to community uproar over displacement of citizen input into the Palo Alto's long-term planning document. City charts course for housing and jobs growth amid concern about school impacts and few controls on commercial development.", 2017-04-09, issue 1 of Palo Alto Matters newsletter.
The CompPlan ambush: "Editorial: A reckless majority", Palo Alto Weekly, 2017-02-03.
Retreating on the CompPlan ambush because of widespread outrage: "Editorial: Making amends", Palo Alto Weekly, 2017-03-24.
Overview of ADU ("granny cottages") ambush:
"Hundreds protest major changes to residential neighborhoods, approved without analysis or public input", 2017-04-24, issue 2 of Palo Alto Matters newsletter.
"Palo Alto finds compromise on accessory housing", Palo Alto Online, 2017-04-18.

22. Wolbach attack on BoE member Todd Collins: paragraph 3 of
"Editorial: Making amends: Admitting its January 'irrationality,' council backtracks on Comp Plan", Palo Alto Weekly, 2017-03-24.

23. Rejecting rule-allowing-exceptions:
In the 2017-04-17 Council meeting on ADUs, @5:04:21 Councilmember Holman argued that because ADUs could be in the front, compatibility between the ADU and the house would be important. Mayor Scharff respond with an example (from Duke University) where "a purely modern building put between two Gothic buildings, attached to looked really fantastic". Recognize that this was probably the work of a top-tier architect, not the sort that would be designing a 500sf granny cottage. Notice also that Holman's expressed concern was about ADUs in the front of the lot, but Scharff dismissed it by citing ADUs in the back.

24. ADU meeting, expected vilifications: repeat of link:
The link to this blog was provided earlier in the main text but is being repeated here as a convenience.
"Why contentious local politics: More examples from ADU at Council", 2017-04-18.

25. Tanaka-Fine's urgent response to old fake news:
Search/Find "absurd" in "In shifting land-use vision, city embraces its tech roots: City Council affirms coders' rights in zoning code; stops short of allowing startups in homes", Palo Alto Online, 2017-05-02.
"Editorial: A council adrift: Bizarre and poorly conceived 'symbolic' proposals are wasting time and disrespecting the public process", Palo Alto Weekly, 2017-05-05.

26. Kniss and Tanaka being investigated by FPPC:
"Editorial: A necessary investigation", Palo Alto Weekly, 2017-03-17.

27. PTC ideal and shortcomings: My blogs
"Replacing the defunct Planning and Transportation Commission: Part 1: Cronyism and Corruption", 2015-08-18. "Recreating the Planning and Transportation Commission: Part 2: Credibility and Confidence", 2015-08-23.
"Amid policy clashes, Palo Alto council to meet with planning commission: Joint session on Nov. 30 offers chance to air grievances, consider improvements", by Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Online, 2015-11-24.
"Council tries to narrow rift with planning commission: Palo Alto council members offer words of criticism, encouragement to their top land-use advisers", by Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Online, 2015-12-01.

28. Rogue PTC:
"Planning Commission slams Palo Alto's proposed office cap: Commissioners say proposal unfair to developers, ineffective in reining in city's pace of growth", Palo Alto Online, 2015-08-12.

An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

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Posted by Thanks , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 30, 2017 at 5:14 am

Doug, you should also write about how autocratic the Mayor and Chair of the PTC in running their meetings. It has not, until now, been the practice of the presiding officer to make a motion, have it seconded by one of his cronies, and effectively control what gets voted on by the committee.

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 30, 2017 at 8:28 am

The leadership may be toxic; but whether it is failing depends entirely on one's perspective. "Successes" include Berman in the Assembly, Wolbach and Fine and Tanaka on Council, a deeply amended ADU ordinance, an unabated pace of development, a giveaway to Palantir, an unenforced Castilleja CUP, majorities on CC and the PTC that essentially shut down debate, a mayor who conducts business like a king, a city attorney in place who lets all that is happening go forward w/o so much as a peep, and a governance model that is backwards with the dog deliberately letting the tail do the wagging. Etc.

Posted by Thanks Also, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on May 30, 2017 at 11:39 am

Thanks very much for summarizing the long sad tale of the decline of civility and honesty in Palo Alto governance. First and foremost, remember how they continue to stick RESIDENTS with the cost of rampant business development but refuse to tax businesses or even count their employees.

The recent deceptive ADU sideshow was as dishonest re affordability as Kate Downing. Look they ram-rodded through the recent ADU plan under the guise of making housing affordable when there's no limit to how much can be charged for ADUs, how many people can be crammed into a single ADU, and how the poor disabled kids and poor old granny will have to be CHARGED rents since ALL tenants must be charged, including all relatives.

What's particularly egregious is 1) the actual plan wasn't honestly dealt with during presentations and 2) the city plans to base their assessments not only on the ADUs themselves but also on rental INCOME.

How will they assess rental income? What happens when dear old Grannie dies and she's not "renting" the ADU for a pittance. Will the ADUs income be changed every year when rental income changes? How much will that cost?

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 30, 2017 at 1:29 pm

@Annette: Maybe my brain isn't functioning very well today, but your comments really confused me. You lost me in your very long second sentence...classic run-on sentence. I do that a lot too. Bottom you approve and like what Wolbach, Tanaka, and Fine are doing on council?

@Thanks Also: Many of your points are well taken and ones I've raised numerous times before, with no answers forthcoming, but I think you're wrong on one point. I'm pretty sure granny and family members won't have to pay rent unless the owners ask for it. And I'm starting to mellow out on the issue a bit. I am starting to think there will be very low interest in ADU's once the actual owners, who would have to deal with it (costs, building permit approvals, lease agreements, taxes, etc), think it all the way thru. I'm hoping the super hyped advocates that don't have any skin in the game will just fade away. CC will feel good for their supporting it in the false name of 'affordable housing', and life will go on pretty much as usual, just as it is now.

Posted by sheri, a resident of Midtown,
on May 30, 2017 at 2:16 pm

@Thanks Also: I answered your concerns on Nextdoor, but I'll reiterate them here.

The owner is not required to rent an ADU nor to charge rent to family members (or anyone else).

The city does NOT assess property; the County Assessor's office does. And only new construction is assessed. Usually it's based on the value of the new work.

I am NOT giving tax advice. You need to talk with the Santa Clara County Assessor's office. However, see the New Construction and Property Taxes Brochure on this page: Web Link

“New Construction associated with income producing properties may be assessed using the Income Approach. Here the methodology is similar to the Sales Comparison Approach because the market value of the total property is determined based on the income which the subject property could generate. The market value of the land is then deducted to leave a residual market value of the improvements."

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on May 30, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Thanks Sheri. Sounds like if your neighbor's ADU is renting for $5000/month, then your ADU will be taxed as if it brings in $60K a year, even while you let it sit empty.

Posted by Thanks Also, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on May 30, 2017 at 3:34 pm

Sheri, this is a DIRECT quote from the ADU material you linked to on NextDoor taken from the section ADUS: CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION toward the end of that section. If the material is wrong, I suggest you correct it to clear up any confusion. (See asterisked lines)

Here's Web Link

? Will property taxes increase for a new ADU?
Reassessment of a property is required any time new construction occurs.
However, in determining the value of new construction, only the improvement being added--in this case, the ADU--is considered.

*****Assessment can also be based on income from a rental.

Note that the Assessor's Office is required by law to value new construction whether or not a building permit has been issued.
? Will property taxes increase for a JADU?
Yes, based on the cost of construction on the building permit application.
? Will property taxes increase for conversion of an existing structure?
Probably, depending on the amount of construction involved.
? At what rate would rental income be taxed?
Ordinary income. Talk to your accountant about deducting expenses, such as depreciating the costs of construction and about how this affects tax treatment upon sale.

? Would one be taxed for renting to relatives or friends?
******Yes, it's still rental income.
For all tax-related issues, see the Santa Clara County Assessor's page at
Web Link

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 30, 2017 at 3:53 pm

I believe that much of the toxicity stems from the fact that the five pro hyper development majority in the CC are fully supportive of the bizarre notion that every person who desires to live in Palo Alto is entitled to live here and his desire should be accommodated by long time residents. This is why there is so much anger and toxicity directed at residents who wish to keep Palo Alto a livable suburban community.

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 30, 2017 at 3:59 pm

@Gale Johnson: the sentence is simply a list. I don't expect to like everything that CC does but the answer to your question is NO and the reason is that I have concerns about process, ethics, and forcing issues to closure regardless of the consequences. Two recent examples are: 1) the January 30 Council decisions that resulted in all manner of unnecessary turmoil; and 2) the not fully baked amendments to the ADU ordinance. We can and should do better.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 30, 2017 at 5:07 pm

@Sheri, I never got a notification on NextDoor that you'd responded.

But if @musical is right about how a neighbor's rental income will be assumed to be your own rental income even if your unit is sitting empty. then this program is even more poorly thought out than previously assumed.

Either way, the confusion still remains.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 30, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The discussion of the details of the ADU program are off-topic here. Please take it to a more appropriate discussion thread. If you want to point others to that thread, that pointer is an acceptable comment.

Closing the comment/question of "Online Name": If the County Assessor uses the estimated rental income to value a ADU, it makes no difference what the collected rent is or even whether the ADU is occupied. It is analogous to a house: the assessed value doesn't depend upon how many live there or what their incomes are, but the estimated value were that house to be sold.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 30, 2017 at 10:51 pm


It's more than ideology. Anybody who gets between greed and a pile of money must expect to be slimed.

[Blogger: portion deleted]

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 31, 2017 at 11:27 am

Ok. I won't bring up ADUs specifically in this topic but I think how the ADU campaign -- and all campaigns -- are funded is worthy of discussion. How, for example, is Palo Alto Forward and its candidates funded?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 31, 2017 at 3:15 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@Online Name

1. On "campaigns": It is useful to differentiate official campaigns -- for candidates and ballot measures -- from advocacy on issues to officials -- official, appointed, and professional staff -- with this including efforts to gain support from the public.

2. Official campaigns are required to be registered and have requirement for reporting contributions and expenditures. Advocacy activities have no similar requirements.

3. Organizations can make contributions to candidates and ballot measure campaigns if their tax status allows that. If not, they can set up a financially separate organization, such as a conventional PAC, to receive and make contributions. Although such organizations have reporting requirements, it is easy to obscure the linkage between specific contributors to the original PAC and what that money was spent on. For example, a PAC may make contributions to multiple other PACs (and repeat) before the money actually reaches a campaign. Yes, this is analogous to criminals laundering money.

4. The financials of an advocacy group may be innocently opaque. Expenditures of dues tend to be reported to the membership, but there can be various off-the-books financials. For example, the members engaged in specific advocacy may choose to not be reimbursed for expenses. Similarly, these members may raise funds among themselves to support that particular activity--for example to avoid the delay and the effort of getting an official budget allocation. Some members may volunteer substantial amounts of their time, including professional services.

5. "Palo Alto Forward and its candidates": In the 2016 election, PAF did a non-endorsement endorsement of candidates, but didn't contribute to candidates. However, like many organizations, it encouraged its members to contribute to the endorsed candidates. And, as with other organizational endorsements, it is impossible to determine which contributions were spurred by the endorsements.

6. PAF funded: It recently switch to having members pay dues. As to funding before that and supplemental funding now, see (4) above.

Posted by MJ, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on May 31, 2017 at 7:50 pm

Although not exactly on topic, I've long wondered if PAF has had any staff time donated by Palantir since the original members first coalesced around a group of their employees, which I understand was also encouraged by Palantir's business manager. However, when Cory Wolbach' announced he was running for council the original PAF website was deleted and their new website omitted any reference to the original group, meetings, comments, blog links, etc. which I had previously been following. PAF's original website was much clearer about their objectives, including actively recruiting volunteers for seats on the Planning and Transport Commission, Architectural Review Board, and other influential city commissions, boards and committees.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 31, 2017 at 8:09 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.


Over the years I have known of various villages and small and medium-sized cities where major employers have subsidized elected officials by allowing them to effectively work part-time for the company and part-time for the municipality while still receiving full-time pay. While there is a question of appearances, I was unaware of any actual problems in those earlier situations. In some cases, the company was even in a different town from where the employee/official lived, minimizing the chance and accusations of undue influence. Back in the day, you would find many companies with a strong sense of supporting the community in such activities. That said, there is huge potential for abuse and misconduct.

As to Palantir and Palo Alto Forward, there are troubling appearances, but I don't know of evidence that would support an accusation.

Posted by Imagine Menlo, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on May 31, 2017 at 9:09 pm

There's also the same "appearance" in Menlo Park as in Palo Alto except they call their PAF "Imagine Menlo" and the Merc link below describes Imagine Menlo as a business-friendly member-supported group.

Some more digging on why groups like these get to dominate local politics at the expense of local residents.

Imagine Menlo "Redesigning Peninsula CommunitieS" (PLURAL) is also led by same Palantir employee Bob McGrew who heads up Palo Alto's Transportation Management Commission (or whatever) He's resident of MP so that raises questions why he's on PA committees.

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by @mauricio, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 31, 2017 at 9:20 pm

You still haven't explained why it's other cities' responsibility to house Palo Alto workers?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 1, 2017 at 12:12 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: comment by @mauricio immediately above (notice the "@")

This is a good example of abusive conduct.
1. It is belligerently phrased.
2. The question is just across the line into the abusive tactic of WhatAbout-ism -- it is not responsive to what "mauricio" said.
3. The commenter either knows the answer -- in which case the comment is harassment -- or he is so uninformed about this issue that he should know to ask an honest question.
4. The question involves abusive use of implication. For example, the questionable belief that the residents/taxpayers of each city should be responsible for housing the people who work there.

Notice that the belief in (4) has several implications. For example

- It perverts the concept of jobs-housing balance to apply on a fine-grain -- such as medium-sized cities such a Palo Alto -- instead of regions as originally intended. This has the consequence that a 1-mile commute by bike that crosses a city line is "bad", but a drive of 15 miles within a city is "good". And that the former is no different than a 50-mile commute by car. Aside: I have written about this in earlier blogs.

- Most importantly: Why should the residents/taxpayers of a city be responsible for something over which they have little/no control? The City government cannot meaningfully regulate the number of employees in buildings, and the number of employees can vary tremendously between occupants and over time. For example, we have seen buildings in the Research Park where the expectation was for 350 sf/employee being used with only 90 sf/employee. We have seen ground floor retail converted to office with programmers sitting elbow-to-elbow along tables. It is the landlords and the employers that have chosen to, and profit from, this increase.

The commenter is also apparently unaware that regional government designated Palo Alto as an employment center -- that is, it was intended to have a disproportionate number of jobs to support transit.

To further illustrate that the commenter has not thought seriously about his apparent position, notice that it would imply
- People are not free to choose which city they will live in.
- If members of a family work in different cities, they cannot live together but must each live in the city of employment.
- If a person's job moves to another city -- either a new job or relocation by the employer -- s/he must move.
OK, he is probably just being sloppy in his phasing, but that indicates that he exists in a bubble/safe space where his beliefs go unchallenged.

Posted by Greenacres, a resident of Green Acres,
on Jun 1, 2017 at 8:13 am

"Before presenting the Maybell dynamic, I give a quick overview of the long-term dysfunctional treatment of residents during decision-making on many major process. This created a sense among many active residents that the system was rigged against them"

Thank you for this thoughtful essay on local power dynamics. I do think there are even more layers of this onion to unpeel, and I look forward to reading more. For a broad perspective on Power Literacy, see the TED talk on power literacy, and how City politics is the best classroom to learn about power dynamics.

Because I do think the system was rigged. It's an old story, the rich and powerful tend to do things to keep the balance of power in their favor, this was textbook.

Below, I am bringing up the specifics of Maybell and before to discuss the power dynamics. That's what everything comes down to: absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the powerful will always seek to destroy checks on that power. The beauty of our democracy is its design of checks and balances. I do see a parallel between local and national politics for the dangers and corrupting aspects of the inclination to destroy checks and balancing forces. And unfortunately, despite my high regard for the Weekly, their failure to be the fourth estate and question power in the situations you describe, enlighten about the deeper issues, or question the agendas of the powerful until too late (or ever), also have parallels and contributed to the success of the false narratives you describe.

I trace what happened at Maybell and the "dysfunction" leading to it to the High Street referendum, which had many similar dishonesties. Council seemed to specifically employ some if the tactics again, such as to name the ordinance in an oddly slanted way anticipating a possible referendum since the ordinance title then must transfer to the referendum and ballot. (Later Scharff claimed there was no intention to the biased referendum/ballot title because they had to use the ordinance title - opponents saw this coming long before a referendum became reality, because they saw the similarities to High Street, adding to citizens' sense that the system was rigged.)

More than that, High Street was long seen in City Hall as a confirmation that citizens could not win a land use referendum, and that conclusion heavily weighed in favor of developer power, which caused years of ignoring Citizen input or giving it lip service. The High Street referendum was about far more than High Street, it was about the power dynamic in town, and Maybell was the first check on the imbalance created by High Street (though that check is under assault).

The only power that could have provided brakes on development interests was the once strong environmentalism of the local left-leaning community. That power once seemed unbreakable, and the commitment to the environment strong and well-funded. The manipulative politics you describe, in my observation, were more intended by development interests to permanently obliterate the power of environmentalist concerns. Note that sentence contains the traditional connection to national politics: developer money (rightwing) and environmentalism(leftwing). Development interests could never beat that unless they changed the associations, hence pushing the demonstrably false connection between opposition at Maybell and rightwing politics or unconcern for affordable housing. Local media never questioned this click bait, and the architects of this were largely successful. The co-option of local left leaning voters by developers is the equivalent of the co-option of right leaning religious voters on a national scale - it's a highly effective tactic that no amount of cognitive dissonance can break, and locally it similarly brought with it a block of voters who would reliably vote against their own interests and for development interests, because of the false connections made from the Maybell process.

For development interests, stunting the power of environmentalism in this community was a serious issue at Maybell which is still the site of an historic orchard. (There is still the question in many people's minds about the developer "finders fees" and how that could have played into system-rigging motivations when it came to such a strong push to bulldoze that particular environment.) Even development-centric Mountain View decided to preserve their last historic orchard over a similar proposal for a senior housing project there. City Council seemed alarmed and annoyed by what was portrayed as kneejerk treehugging by residents when the Cal Ave trees were removed. Cal Ave is emblematic of this power shift/tactic and the results: the trees were removed, the tree huggers convinced that they were ignoring the bigger picture and that Cal Ave would soon be even better and more environmentally friendly. Fast forward to now, and traffic is worse than ever but the once second downtown with longtime resident-centric retail has been turned into another office park with businesses serving day workers. How much harder to silence the environmentalists over a historic orchard that was almost childs play to preserve?

Even those who were never convinced at Cal Ave were completely co-opted at Maybell because of the affordable housing issue. I don't want to reargue that issue either, but it's important to see the manipulation in the fact that rezoning opponents/residents were not allowed to negotiate for a different way to create the affordable housing as some of the same residents had in the working group at Terman and which they asked to do again. Had they been allowed to do this, it would have blown the whole false narrative about their being conservatives etc to smithereens, and it would also have eliminated the majority for-profit development aspect of the project (as happened at Terman), so that was simply taken off the table and never even debated by Council when residents brought it up in personal and public meetings, again, furthering the sense of an agenda and backroom deals, and citizens having no voice.

What's interesting and disturbing is how that false narrative continues into the present, including the Buena Vista situation. Many opponents/residents in the Maybell situation understood the power dynamic aspects of the situation and knew that prevailing against overdevelopment at Maybell was essential for restoring power balance everywhere. Many volunteers expressed the fear that if they did not succeed at preventing the rezoning at Maybell, the Buena Vista residents would have no chance, even as the same residents were being publicly pilloried in the way Doug's essay describes. The major developer pulling out of BV immediately after the Measure D results was no coincidence; if they had any chance of upzoning at BV, this would not have happened and residents there would have faced far more powerful, relentless eviction forces. This is not to take anything away from the tremendous leadership of the effort to save BV, only to point out that the hurdle they could not have surmounted, a major developer in contract with the owner, went away because of the citizen referendum at Maybell, and referendum volunteers were not oblivious to this.

Yet the false narratives continue on purpose, through the relentless pushing from development quarters (like the current Council majority)because it serves future development interests, particularly in regards to forever sidelining environmentalist power. The promoters of the false connections/narrative have successfully either created false environmental narratives (more natural-environment-and-tree-destroying building will actually be better for the environment by less car emissions because people will live near work, and of course businesses can't move), or they have taken away the power of environmentalists altogether (caring about the environment and trees means you are against affordable housing).

The manipulative statements in the campaign that the orchard was the last space to build new housing were emblematic of this false narrative, as if old building sites aren't being or couldn't be purchased and redeveloped, but it forced the false choice between support for affordable housing as an idea and saving the last historic orchard with drought-surviving trees. Environmentalists locally were completely neutered and remain so. (Even describing the orchard in a less than derogatory way has meant being sneered at in this climate, no one would dare discuss saving it.) The power of all traditional environmental causes and action has not only been obliterated, the voters have been co-opted, conservative-style, to vote against their own interests and against traditional environmental interests because of the false narratives Doug's essay describes so well.

Luckily, the democracy provides for the opportunity to restore balance. Although that is more than about one civic issues, single civic issues like High Street and Maybell can be turning points (see the power literacy talk.) Restoring balance becomes more difficult, and more contentious, the further unbalanced things are allowed to get. There are lessons in that at the local and national level. Our City code should be strengthened to tend toward balance - for example, what happened to changing the election code for an impartial ballot process? An impartial process that can't easily be thwarted leads to less willingness to try to rig the system and better balanced dialog. Election disclosure rules should not be thwarted without consequence. And the fourth estate -- will we support them so they can stand up to power? Will they? Despite the inclination not to dredge up Maybell, the broader power issues this essay discusses need the thoughtful and deeper examination of what happened - which the media has still not done - if we are ever to counter the negative dynamic that came from the false narratives. Contentiousness and toxicity are the natural consequences when systems are rigged, meaning, the powerful try to destroy checks and balances, making homeostasis in democracratic push and pull more difficult to achieve.

[[Blogger: For those looking for more information on the High Street development cited above, it is 800 High Street and the referendum was in 2003. My recollection is that the referendum vote was very close.
In my writings on background of events, I occasionally cite it, but it was long enough ago that memories should not be relied upon and it is hard to find the coverage on the web.

Posted by rita vrhel, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jun 1, 2017 at 9:22 am

Thank you Doug for your in-depth article on the Toxicity @ City Hall.

Palo Altio was always a college town but now it seems in addition it is now a Palantir town.

Probably why Mayor Burt expressed concern about Palo alto changing from a Tech incubator town to a having 1 company rent > 10% of the downtown commercial space. Lots of money to use influencing local politics.

Wonder what the arrangement was with the Democratic party to endorse 2 until just before the election Republicans over long term Democrats? Certainly an inappropriate but influential act.

Sadly it will take Palo Alto years to recover from the reckless of the CC's "gang of 5". If PA ever recovers.

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jun 1, 2017 at 9:59 am

I'd be extremely curious to find out where and when did the notion, so aggressively pushed forward by PAF and others, that workers are entitled to housing in the city of their employment, and that the tax payers of that city are responsible to facilitate their housing, come into being. I truly can't think of a more blatant sense of entitlement.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 1, 2017 at 10:20 pm

" I'd be extremely curious to find out where and when did the notion [see above post] come into being."

It is a cynical and effective PR campaign to exploit Palantir's code monkeys, baiting them with the mirage of quick inexpensive housing to marshal their unwitting backing for a thinly hidden agenda of limitless commercial development. The recent ADU comedy tosses them a dry little sop for their trouble. It's all they're gonna get from their marioneteers.

Posted by Do something real, doug, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 2, 2017 at 12:19 pm

[[Blogger: deleted. The routine ad hominem attack: accusations, not argument for a position.

I delete such comments partly because they clutter up the discussion, but more importantly because I don't want readers to think that such behavior is acceptable -- "normalizing" it in the current terminology. If I were to give too much leeway, I would be guilty of the "failed leadership" that I condemn in this blog.

There is a large gray zone for such decisions. For example, when manipulation seems to be occurring, I regard *reasonable* speculation as acceptable. For example, reasonable speculating on financial motivations is OK, but claiming the party is inherently evil is not.

Decidedly unacceptable are comments that are verbose versions of "I hate you. I hate you. I hate you." (with virtual foot stomps).
Similarly for comments that treat the author's opinions as uncontestable facts.

Posted by MJ, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jun 2, 2017 at 1:22 pm


This is why I only "wonder" whether the Palantir provided any resource, such as staff time, to plan, design a new website, organize all their sponsored events, etc. to get PAF up and running, not that the company "did" do so.

Mostly I "wonder" because when the "new" PAF popped up fully fledged just in time for the 2014 election the original website, with information that might or could link the company to PAF's inception, website, original working group, comments, meetings, blog links, etc. was no longer available. Which was disappointing since Eric Rosenblum's original blog was most enlightening about his opinions and vision for Palo Alto's future development.

Posted by What a waste of space, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 5, 2017 at 12:23 am

[[Blogger: Another example of the problem I was addressing. No attempt to answer to the arguments I made, only an expression of contempt directed at me.
Additionally, he doesn't seem to understand one of the fundamentals of democracy: respect for minority groups (however defined) and their rights.

Doug Moran - using your old biased articles as a basis to support your biased position is so transparent. We get it - you don't support change. All the typical negative posters are right here with you.

Just remember the statistics. >75% of Palo Alto voters showed up in the last election and voted for their preference. Sorry if you don't agree but looks like you are in the minority on this one, no matter how high your soapbox is. Just because we all don't spend hours monitoring and posting responses doesn't me we agree... When you are this biased you are no longer relevant. You just become the fake news.

Posted by What a waste of space, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 5, 2017 at 12:57 am

Doug Moran - it's sexist to use *he* to refer to a person whose gender is unknown, and it hasn't been acceptable to do this for years

- Please do not delete this or the prior posting (you have already edited) as it proves my point so clearly regarding your resistance to change.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 5, 2017 at 1:45 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

It is not sexist to use "he" as indeterminant gender. That you believe otherwise reveals that you live in a tiny, out-of-touch bubble.

I was at one of the centers of de-gendering of pronouns -- The University of Michigan in the 1970s -- and these claims were used for establishing dominance and bullying, although much more civil bullying than one finds on campuses these days.

As to "unwillingness to change": If you had bothered, you would have seen that in these blogs I use "s/he" and other forms when it doesn't cause problems. But you are not one to let facts get in the way of an accusation.

For example, at the UofM, I was president of the labor union for graduate student employees and was supported by my predecessor who was from the Womens Studies Dept (as were other supporters) and a majority of the slate were women (including the VP). What do you infer from that? And recognize that that was 40 years ago.

Readers: His claim of me editing his message: I added a prologue, whereas normally I would have deleted it as a violation of the rules. Whoops, I should have said "Their claim of me editing their message".

BTW: In the Presidential election, multiple polls reported that roughly 20% of Trump voters identified opposition to the abusive PC culture as their top reason for that decision. A bunch of pissant PC bullies got us stuck with a big bully -- such is the power of numbers. More evidence of the dangers of letting bullies get away with it.

Posted by rita vrhel, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jun 5, 2017 at 8:42 am

Thank you again Doug for this informative article and continued civil discussion.It is a rare pleasure to read anything online without the presence of trolls and hateful comments.

So true about small trump..a most abusive person. wonder how those 20% are reconciling his behavior with their vote.

How to find out if Palantir is providing behind the scenes funding and organization. How to confirm and is it illegal?

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jun 5, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Isn't there something that can be done to limit the number of Palantir employees -- or any single company's employees -- from dominating our various committees? I'm still furious to learn that Palantir's Bob McGrew not only chairs Palo Alto's TDMA but also the Imagine Menlo steering committee.

Posted by Greenacres, a resident of Green Acres,
on Jun 5, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Just an aside, in our consideration of what happened at High Street, we relied both on observation and experience, and documents from those involved.

@Waste needs to be careful when talking about the last election, given the shady way some candidates claimed moderation on development, loaning themselves money, then paying themselves back with significant undisclosed money from developers. Interesting that all the pro big development leaning candidates did the same thing. You can't derive any conclusion from that except that if people were for big development, the candidates would not have so actively thwarted disclosure and misrepresented themselves.

Posted by Suzanne Keehn, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 6, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I agree with so many folks what has been said about your blog Doug.
Thank you for your painstaking work and facts.

The City Council is not being run as it should be, who said the Mayor could just do as he pleased? As we have been seeing with the national news, folks are going around so many of the painful and cruel decisions. Example, the 3 state governors, including ours, and many mayors and cities are on board to comply with the Paris Agreement, and even go further with it, as we become more conscious.

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 6, 2017 at 5:24 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Thank you, Doug, for the valuable synopsis of recent political trends and events from your perspective. Bringing relevant links together as you did is especially helpful. Thanks, too, to Greenacres for his/her account of the Maybell and other controversies and his/her point of view on the political context.

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