By Douglas Moran
LWV City Council Candidate Forum: Interesting PointsUploaded: Oct 1, 2014
These are my observations about some of what I found interesting at the City Council Candidate Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday September 30. Some of these "interesting" observations I don't have a ready explanation for. For an overview of the forum, see the news article ( Council Candidates Split on Growth, United on Wage). The video of this debate will be online soon (and broadcast on cable TV). The following is from my notes.
Unlike some forums during previous elections, I didn't see signs of people becoming excited about particular candidates. However, that may have been because the forum was 2.5 hours long and exhaustion had set in. What I did see and hear were people deciding that there were candidates that they wouldn't be voting for.
Question: "Cities around us are taking steps to raise the minimum wage to $15. Do you support this?"
All the candidates except Reddy supported this at least in concept. Most said that they supported requiring a "living wage", but that the specific amount would need research and consideration. John Fredrich deviated somewhat saying that he preferred that action be taken by the Feds, then the State and if not that then the City. To me, this perfectly illustrated a basic problem with Palo Alto's governance: Overreach. Getting City Hall to enforce the existing ordinances is an ordeal: City Hall has reduced the code enforcement workload by repeatedly cutting back on Code Enforcement Officers and creating a backlog that cause residents to say "Why bother reporting?" (It was 2-4 weeks last time I tried). But concerns about enforcement and its costs are probably moot because on a wide range of issues, City Hall has shown itself unable and unwilling to listen to the full range of stakeholders and move the deliberations forward in a way that doesn't created unnecessary controversy. I was hoping for candidates who would express skepticism that this was a priority for City Hall. But our governance too often has been characterized by one word: "Squirrel!!!" (from the movie Up!).
Question: "What is your position on High-Speed Rail?"
This question was not designed to elicit useful information in the one minute that candidates had to respond, and it didn't. All opposed current situation, and most focused on the need to trench it. Scharff said that trenching had roughly the same cost as other forms of grade-separation. Wolbach said that trenching was needed as part of Caltrain electrification (Most Caltrain advocates seem to ignore that the key benefits of electrification require grade-separation). Wolbach also made the comment that lawsuits were the wrong way to deal with the HSR situation, but didn't elaborate, and there were no opportunities for followups. Douglass said that the problem arose from Palo Alto being built-out and consequently trying to cram everything into a narrow corridor.
Question: "What is your position on granny units?"
This was another question wholly inappropriate for asking candidates who had one minute responses, and consequently, there was no meaningful disagreement. Multiple candidates pointed out that there were many such (illegal) units now. DuBois, who is serving on the citizen's panel for the Housing Element update, added the interesting tidbit that there were only about 4 applications per year for these units. Having served on a similar panel a decade ago, I learned that "granny unit" means lots of different things to different people, and has different pros-and-cons in the many different sections of town. The attempt to create incentives for granny units largely failed: The units created seemed to quickly revert to being used as home offices, studios?
Question: "Do you support reducing Council size from 9 to 7 members (Measure D)? Do you support full-time salaries for Council members? Are you a member of PASZ, which wrote an open letter for full pay?"
Douglass, Shepherd and Johnston took no position on Council size reduction, and the rest opposed it. No one supported full salaries, except that Wolbach said he would support it if Council were reduced to 7 members. Fredrich made a strong statement that this should not have been on the ballot because there had not been enough discussion. With Council common described having a time commitment roughly equivalent to a full-time job, I found Johnston's reason for opposing salary interesting: "Service is a privilege."
Softballs: Candidates were allowed to ask one question to another candidate of their choice. There were three apparent "softballs", such as occurred at the LWV School Board candidate forum: Johnston to Scharff, Shepherd to Johnston, and Holman to DuBois.
Theme: Changing the culture at City Hall. Trust?
Several candidates made major points of the need for a different culture at City Hall (Kou, DuBois, Filseth?). Scharff made a forceful statement that because of an absence of trust in the PC zoning process that it should be eliminated. However, the forum's format didn't accommodate any of the candidates being able to more than mention this.
Theme: Our Palo Alto ("a community conversation about the future of our City")
This came up repeatedly and briefly throughout the forum. It is Mayor Shepherd's program. Wolbach characterized it several times as a "baby step", but didn't elaborate on why it was that way or what should be done. Johnston called for people to participate, with no indication that he understood why people weren't. Weiss said that Our Palo Alto was "a sham" (which was also my experience).
Closing statement: Johnston
Johnston said "we can't turn the clock back and say 'No more'". Is this really how he characterizes the debate on growth? He also said "wouldn't it be nice if our children"?teachers, police? could live here. Most can, but choose not to because they get better value for their money elsewhere (subject of an early blog entry).
APPENDIX: Campaign Websites (alphabetically)
?A. C. Johnston
?Mark Weiss (part of his general blogging site)
Unaware of website for Wayne Douglass.
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