Why contentious local politics? More examples from ADU at Council | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |


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By Douglas Moran

Why contentious local politics? More examples from ADU at Council

Uploaded: Apr 18, 2017

Observations from the Council discussion on ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Unit aka granny units).

----Advertising contempt for those that disagree----

If someone were to use a well-known slur (ethnic, gender, orientation ...) against an established target, but then claimed that it was not intended as a slur, would you believe him? Something very similar happened at Monday's Council meeting on ADUs.

Palo Alto Forward (PAF) and its allies have long falsely labeled people who disagree with them on a range of issues as NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard). The correct meaning of NIMBY is someone who advocates for a policy but opposes themselves sharing in the impacts. PAF uses NIMBY for the opposite: People who would have impacts and costs inflicted on them for a policy they oppose. YIMBY (Yes ...) was created to evoke the NIMBY slur, if not subsidiary to it: "You're a NIMBY, I'm a YIMBY."

Yet at the Council meeting, many of those supporting the ADU ordinance chose to wear the label "YIMBY", thereby invoking the slur. Slapping a slur on your chest is no way to promote respectful dialog.

----Doubling down on bad process----

Judge LaDoris Cordell (and former Council member) testified that she saw the process that adopted the ordinance on March 7 as violating California's Brown Act (transparency in government), not just in spirit but in the letter of the law ((update: @1:46:35 in the video)). At the beginning of the public testimony, Bill Ross--a lawyer specializes in government matters--enumerated several acts that he saw as legal violations of that approval ((update: @1:18:25)). The City Attorney's office (later) took the position that there was no violation.

One of the major points in the discussion before the meeting was about the ordinance being substantially changed after public comment was closed, and without any Staff assessment of those changes.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Mayor announced that the ADU item would be moved to later in the meeting. He announced that there were currently 58 citizens requesting to speak and that they would be given 2 minutes each (I didn't track how many were added/dropped, but it took a little over 2 hours). Many (most?) of these speakers speaking to the need for a proper, legal process. Despite the length, listening to the public comments do give a good sense of where the public was. The video should become available on Wednesday at MidPen Media Center. ((update: Agenda item 9a.))

So how does changing where this item fell within the meeting address the problem of there being no Staff evaluation so that residents could make informed comments? Some of the residents' comments and questions from several Council members demonstrated how ill-considered the original vote was (Lydia Kou's comments were cited positively by many speakers ((update: @1:12:29)) ). One of the speakers called the rescheduling "a mockery".

One of the infuriating aspects of the public testimony by the advocates was the illogic and vitriol. I heard the people asking for a proper process being described as "afraid", "driven by fear", "wanting to freeze ourselves in time", "afraid of change" and claiming that their concerns are not sincere, but that it was obstructionism and opposition to any increasing in housing. Anyone who followed the 2016 or 2014 Council campaign should recognize these as the standard talking points of Palo Alto Forward, and especially Council member Cory Wolbach.(foot#1) And I heard one speaker denounce Residentialists as having a "lack of human empathy to real human suffering".

The various disingenuous arguments by many of the supporters of the ADU are revealing about their lack of respect for those that disagree. For example, to the objection that the Wolbach-Fine amendments had not been publicized and had not been studied Staff, the response from advocates was that the general topic of ADU had been studied, ignoring that the amendments in question hadn't. It was amusing to hear a Councilmembers Wolbach and Fine claim that the proposal had been fully vetted, and subsequently saying that there were unaddressed problems to be fixed. Or claiming that it needed to be implemented now and then wait 3, 6 or 12 months to see what happened, ignoring the permanent negative impacts on residents from foreseeable problems.

And the advocates' response to the bad process? That the housing shortage in the region is so dire that the City needed to pass it immediately (that meeting). None explained why there was no time to properly study the impacts and take citizen input on the many different situations that Staff may not be aware of in making its assessment.

On the other side, some of the email/social media blasts from some advocates for not approving the ordinance at this meeting was very misleading, most notably "How do you feel about City Council to DOUBLING the number of dwelling units EVERYWHERE in Palo Alto?" The measure technically allowed an additional units on an R-1 lot, but that didn't mean they would actually be built, either because of owner's choice or technical issues.

----Council Deliberations----
I am writing this as I listen to the meeting. Interesting point: At the beginning of Council deliberations, Mayor Scharff minimized the impact of ADUs in Palo Alto by saying that lots in Atherton and Woodside have ADUs without that affecting the "single-family" feel of the neighborhoods in those cities.

The primary driver for the ADU ordinance drafted by Staff (before amendments) was a response to State Law. Councilmember Holman talked about a number of the parts of the State Laws that weren't addressed in the ordinance that was passed.

Councilmember Filseth mentioned a form letter he had received urging him to support the amendments being advocated by Palo Alto Forward. Wolbach responded that his amendment was crafted by him.

Wolbach allowed that questions about setbacks might need to be revisited.

Wolbach makes an attempt at humor by wondering how things got so contentious -- I can't believe that he is so clueless as to be unaware of his out-sized role in this, and he was reminded of it by an early speaker (Bill Ross).

On questions about parking permits for an ADU in an RPP zone (Residential preferred Parking Permit program), the response from Staff was that it would add complications and be very difficult to administer, and acknowledged current complaints about the process being slow.

I gave up on the remainder of the Council discussion--it was a painful testament to the confusion and inefficiency that occurs when a body this size tries to make major changes on the fly--ones for which there hasn't been appropriate preparation. At 12:01 I heard the first loud yawn from an unknown Council member, and then more. I missed the vote--the video feed became spotty (network problem?). See the news article that I expected to be posted soon.

----Footnotes----
1. Discussed in my blog: "The 'You're despicable' style of politics".


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An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.


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