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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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A bad beginning makes a bad ending: City Council

Uploaded: Dec 8, 2018
The current City Council is ending as it began 2 years ago, with the pro-development majority abusing its power. Back then those Council members would introduce significant policy decisions as amendments. It subverted the opportunity for City Staff and the public to evaluate the proposal. It subverted the Brown Act (transparency) requirement that topic be listed on the public agenda. These topics weren't mentioned until after the public's opportunity to comment had been closed. And typically discussion among Council members was abbreviated. It repeatedly gave the appearance that the Council majority -- Scharff, Wolbach, Kniss, Fine, and Tanaka -- were violating the Brown Act by reaching a decision before the meeting (likely via a serial meeting).

At the beginning of next year, two of the current majority will no longer on Council, and newly elected Alison Cormack will become the swing vote. So there is a push to approve items important for the current majority while there is still time, even if that means once again sacrificing the pretense of valid deliberation.

The highest profile item on ^Monday's Council agenda (12/10)^ is #16, scheduled to begin at 9pm. This will change the zoning ordinance to allow the President Hotel building to be converted from apartments to a boutique hotel. However, you couldn't tell this by the text. Read Friday's excellent "^Editorial: A stealth agenda^". Note: The headline is ambiguous: The "stealth" is not in the agendas of those behind this -- far from it -- but rather in the text of the agenda. For more background on the backroom dealings, see "^Documents reveal secret dealings over President Hotel^" (2018-11-30). And in a similar vein to the editorial is Diana Diamond's blog "^Gobbledygook goings on in Palo Alto^". Another explanation of what is wrong with the proposed change is "^Eliminating President Hotel Housing^" by Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) (an umbrella group of neighborhood associations).

This is a Council majority that has spent two years claiming that housing, especially affordable housing, is their top priority. Yet, here we have local residents living in the affordable housing that Palo Alto has too little of, and this Council majority chooses to side with an out-of-town developer, and rushing to clear the way of the "inconvenient" ordinance section.

I've been at this too long to be insulted by City Hall's transparently false rationalization. They claim that this is an urgent fix because this clause affects multiple buildings. However, it isn't urgent for any of those other buildings, and is "urgent" for the President Hotel because of the developer demands.

If you wish to contact Council on this, you can attend the meeting or send an email to City.Council@CityofPaloAlto.org. The Subject line helps it be seen in time. If your browser doesn't automatically fill in the Subject field, insert "Dec 10 Meeting: #9: President Hotel" or similar: meeting date, agenda item, and topic (for redundancy).

Last week's Council meeting on part of the housing ordinance displayed the irrelevancy of public debate. The Council debate had gone on painfully long -- about 6 hours?? -- when the vote was called (on multiple sections). This wasn't because the deliberations were completed -- they weren't -- but because that was all the time available if the Council majority was going to get all votes important to it to be finalized this year. Actually, I am being misleading in saying that deliberations had been cut short: It was only the public deliberations that were been abbreviated. There are known to have been at least 16 meetings with developers and related business interests and only one perfunctory, check-box meeting with the public. Tells you who is important and who isn't.

Tidbit: "Gut-and-stuff" (as with a turkey) is a related game played in the State Legislature at the end of the sessions. It takes a bill that has gone completely through the legislative process -- having checked all the boxes for necessary hearings ... -- and usurps it for a measure that the Legislature's leadership wants. Through amendments, they may take everything in the bill out (gut) and add in whatever they want (stuff). To try to hide this, it often happens after the Senate and Assembly have each approved the law and it is in a Conference Committee that is supposedly reconciling the minor differences between those two version.

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.
A slur is not an argument. Neither are other forms of vilification of other participants.

If you behave like a ^Troll^, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by jh, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Dec 9, 2018 at 4:46 pm

jh is a registered user.

The only good thing that may come out of these underhand dealings between the city and AJ Capital is that council members who vote to convert housing units into hotel rooms will be exposed as shills for developer interests rather than the staunch supporters of housing that they want voters to believe they are.

Posted by Mark Michael, a resident of Community Center,
on Dec 11, 2018 at 9:20 am

Palo Alto's City Council and commissions like the Planning & Transportation Commission have policies that permit members to meet privately with applicants on matters being reviewed by the governmental body. When I served on the PTC, I declined and never participated in any such meetings and suggested revisions to the PTC policy regarding ex parte communications to impose restrictions on such practice and require more sunlight in the form of complete disclosure.

Why was this important? Prior to volunteering on local commissions I practiced law, in private practice and later in-house. The legal profession, including the judiciary, observes strict limits on one party to a dispute privately contacting the judge. It is assumed that such secret communications are intended to influence and bias the review of facts and application of the law. See, for example:

"In the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which serve as the basis for most rules of professional conduct for lawyers, Rule 3.5(b) prohibits lawyers from communicating ex parte with judges and other court officials (as well as jurors and prospective jurors) during a proceeding, except as permitted by law or court order."

Sunlight has a wonderful disinfectant property. Perhaps the policy of Council regarding ex parte communications, and that of the PTC, should be revised and more closely follow the legal profession's example.

Posted by Arthur Keller, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Dec 12, 2018 at 11:06 am

Arthur Keller is a registered user.

During part of the time I served on the Planning and Transportation Commission, we had a prohibition against such "ex parte communications." However, that prohibition was repealed later in my service on the PTC on a 4-3 vote. I agree with Michael that such a prohibition is useful.

There is also a requirement that Commissioners report the substance of any communication. I was frustrated when Commissioners reported that what they learned was "cumulative of the public record." If that was the case, why did they need to have an ex parte meeting?

Posted by Arthur Keller, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Dec 12, 2018 at 11:17 am

Arthur Keller is a registered user.

I would like to add that in order to have a suitable public record for deliberations of the PTC and the Council, it is important to have sufficient time for each member of the public to speak. The pattern and practice of recent Mayors to reduce the amount of time available for the public to speak goes against this critical need for the public to have meaningful input to the decision-making process.

Posted by Sea Seelam Reddy, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 13, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Sea Seelam Reddy is a registered user.

We are going to miss two great citizens of Palo Alto Greg Scharff and Karen Holman on the council in 2019 and forward.

While they often have differences on how to address city issues, I like their passion. We will miss them.

Best wishes to both and Jim Keene on his retirement.

Posted by sunshine, a resident of Barron Park,
on Dec 14, 2018 at 7:37 am

The zoning for The President must not be changed to allow it to be converted to a hotel. For many years it has housed a group of longterm residents who would be forced to move if the plan the developer wants is implemented. These good citizens of Palo Alto would be forced to move to other locations outside the City. In many cases this would disrupt the source of livelihood of the residents.
NO zoning change. The residences housed in The President must remain. We need the housing. Downtown is not a good place for a hotel as there is no parking for the visitors.
I have noticed on the few times that I was able to find time to go to council meetings that many times certain council members wanted to shorten the time available for the public to comment. Leaving this item until 9 pm means that many will be pressed for time to stay that late. Example:I taught in San Jose and my classes started at 7:30am.
The President has been a residential building for many years.The builder coalition tells us that we need more low cost housing for teachers and those in low paying jobs to be able to afford to live near where they work. The President provides 75 such units. However, the Builder faction of Council wants to destroy said below market rate housing along with several of the only remaining shops in Palo Alto that are interesting to convert the building into a hotel. It must have something to do with our excessively high transient tax on short term lodgings.
Please, I urge you, leave The President as a residential building.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 14, 2018 at 11:07 am

Posted by sunshine, a resident of Barron Park,

>> The builder coalition tells us that we need more low cost housing for teachers and those in low paying jobs to be able to afford to live near where they work. The President provides 75 such units. However, the Builder faction of Council wants to destroy said below market rate housing

Developers and politicians all keep -saying- they want to develop more affordable housing. But, that isn't what they actually keep -doing-. Instead, they keep developing office space, and now, luxury hotel conversions. Is it any wonder that we all doubt their sincerity? How about we do some reverse conversions and turn some office space and luxury hotels into low-income housing? We all know that heck will freeze over before that happens.

Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Dec 15, 2018 at 1:18 pm

"The pattern and practice of recent Mayors to reduce the amount of time available for the public to speak goes against this critical need for the public to have meaningful input to the decision-making process."

Well then, Mission Accomplished. Put yourself in their place: why waste your valuable time on formalities you intend to ignore?

Each has their own style. I recall Mayor Mossar encouraging her colleagues to take their potty breaks during the public testimony on the 800 High condo proposal in 2003, which was overwhelmingly negative.

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