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Publication Date: Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Voter Guide 2001: Contentious campaign for Woodside council Voter Guide 2001: Contentious campaign for Woodside council (October 24, 2001)

By Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff Writer

In the Woodside Town Council race, accusations of dirty campaign tricks are flying. Stolen candidate signs, misleading campaign mailers, and a League of Women Voters forum that three candidates skipped seem to signal a return to the contentious Town Council races of the early 1990s.

Although three of the council's seven seats are up for election, only two races are contested __ the District 6 seat occupied by incumbent mayor Carroll Ann Hodges, who is running against securities investor and former mayor Gary McKae; and the District 2 seat recently vacated by John Blake, who resigned when he moved from Woodside. Joe Kirley, a retired San Francisco police officer and an electrical engineer, is running against Deborah Gordon, an engineer and the associate director of the Preventive Defense Project headed by former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry.

Incumbent Joe Putnam in District 4 is running uncontested, and announced last week that he is endorsing the candidacies of Joe Kirley in District 2 and Gary McKae in District 6.

Woodside is divided into seven election districts; candidates must reside in the district they represent, although candidates are elected town-wide.

There are some big issues on Woodside's plate. Next year, the Town Council will likely face a decision on Phillips Brooks School's proposal to build a campus for 290 students on its 92 acres of densely wooded land along Interstate 280. The proposal represents one of the most significant development projects the town has faced in many years.

Woodside officials are also struggling with residents' need for more playing field space, especially for youth sports teams. A council subcommittee is working to strike a deal to use the old quarry site owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, but many in town have thrown their support behind Phillips Brooks School's project, in part because of the additional athletic field it will provide Woodsiders.

A brewing controversy over the town's handling of potentially historic structures is figuring to be a key issue in the Town Council campaign. While most everyone seems to agree that the current system is convoluted and needs reforming, including the town's own History Committee, views on how to fix the problems are divergent, to say the least.

  Phillips Brooks School

No candidate has been willing to decisively declare for or against the school project, which is in the midst of its state-mandated environmental review. A nine-home subdivision map was approved for the land several years ago, and much of the debate has centered around a comparison of the impact of nine homes versus the impact of a school campus on the undeveloped land

Mr. Putnam said his main concern is about the traffic the school would generate, but that he tends to favor the Phillips Brooks project.

"If I'm convinced that the traffic can be mitigated and the traffic safety issues can be mitigated, I'll tend to support it," said Mr. Putnam.

Ms. Gordon said she is concerned about traffic safety, particularly the intersection of Lawler Ranch Road, which leads to the school, and Sand Hill Road, which she called "truly a treacherous intersection."

As a council member, she said she would also look closely at the risk of fire danger on the site when deciding if the project is in the best interest of Woodside, and that her decision would be guided by the principles in the town's general plan. She said she is a firm believer in using Woodside's general plan, the document which guides future development, as a basis for making equitable decisions about development projects.

"(The general plan) gives us a way to make these decisions with some reasonable degree of predictability," said Ms. Gordon.

Mr. McKae said he is leaning toward Phillips Brooks School as the better project, especially if the school can get permission to join the West Bay Sanitary District, rather than rely on its own septic system. With all of the school's political clout, Mr. McKae said, he doesn't think the sanitary district will refuse.

"These are well-organized (and) financed parents of Woodside. They are a great and wonderful source for Woodside to develop itself and its future," said Mr. McKae. "One thing we shouldn't do is alienate them."

Mr. Kirley said he thought safety issues were overplayed. "I don't think those are important issues," he said about fire and traffic safety concerns.

"The Town Council's job is to support schools, period," Mr. Kirley said. "I think Phillips Brooks is a good asset to the community if it is in line with the community."

In order to do that, Phillips Brooks School should give Woodside residents priority over other applicants, he said. He also said his support would depend on whether the school can get hooked up to the West Bay sewer system, because he thought the project's septic system plan would not work.

While she called the school's most recent proposal "100 times better" than the previous one, Ms. Hodges said she was not sure whether the project was in the best interest of Woodside. Besides the traffic issues, she mentioned the property's wetland areas and blue oak forest that could be harmed, and said that Woodsiders have to consider whether a sewer connection to the West Bay Sanitary District might facilitate bigger development projects in the surrounding area.

"I think it is most important to evaluate all aspects of this development against our general plan," she said.

The school's offer of a playing field is its ace in the hole, she said, although its location adjacent to I-280 seemed to her "a lousy place to have a playing field, given the noise."

  Playing fields

Woodside's lack of playing fields __ the only one in town belongs to Woodside Elementary School __ was mentioned by all the candidates as a key issue that the Town Council must address.

Mr. Putnam and Ms. Hodges are both members of the Town Council subcommittee working with youth sports representatives and Woodside parents to acquire a new field.

It's been a difficult task in a town with very high property values and very little in the way of flat ground. A proposal to build a half-sized practice field on a town-owned a lot on the corner of Raymondo Drive and Runnymede Road was scrapped when nearby residents and equestrians complained about traffic, parking and safety problems.

Mr. Kirley said finding a new playing field would be his No. 1 objective as a council member.

"I think we need to get two or three guys on the Town Council together that are rock-and-rollers that can get something done, and get moving on that immediately, so come spring or summer these kids have somewhere to play," said Mr. Kirley.

Historic properties

Woodside has no official policy regarding historically important structures, and a draft list of potentially historic properties has never been made official by the Town Council. This has made it hard for town planning and building staff to efficiently and consistently handle construction applications for houses and structures that may be historically important, according to Town Manager Susan George.

Since all California towns must comply with state regulations protecting historically valuable structures, Woodside's History Committee has been asking for a historic architecture consultant to survey the town and sort through the draft list in order to smooth the way for the Town Council to create an official policy.

The Town Council budgeted the money for the consultant, but earlier this month the majority of council members balked at hiring consultants Page & Turnbull, questioning the need for a historic element and the genesis of the inventory list.

Ms. Hodges said she has long advocated that the Town Council adopt a historic element, and that she thought it would be useful for Page & Turnbull to document a survey that conforms with state and federal law.

"They could simplify the process for everybody in town, including the planning staff," she said.

Ms. Gordon said that if the draft inventory is reviewed by the consultants, she believes many properties will be removed from the list and their owners will have a much more streamlined building permit process. She supports the addition of a historic element to allow the town to provide incentives for preserving historic properties.

Mr. Putnam said he didn't think anyone should be allowed to put a property on a subjective list without notifying the property owners and giving them a chance to appeal.

"After listening to the consultants and carefully studying the issue, I don't see that a city planner needs a historic element in order to make fair, reasoned and honest decisions about whether a property is historical or not," he said.

Mr. McKae said he is opposed to hiring the consultants and thinks property owners with structures on the draft list should have had official notification.

"We don't need the history committee to be another cog in the wheel of the planning department," he said.

He also argues that the planning department is twice as large as when he was a member of the Town Council, between 1993 and 1997, and it has far more staff than it needs.

"You could easily replace these people with computers and computer programs," Mr. McKae said.

Mr. Kirley said the entire historic element issue is baffling to the average Woodside resident. As a member of the audience at the Town Council meeting on the subject earlier this month, "I was lost and I thought the History Committee seemed lost, too," he said. The History Committee needs direction and leadership, and the Town Council needs to put the right person in control of it, he said.

Carroll Ann Hodges
Profession : Incumbent, retired from U.S. Geological Survey
: Doctoral degree in geology from Stanford University
: Member: Shack Riders, San Mateo Horsemen's Association, Woodside Trails Club, Woodside Village Band, San Mateo County Fish & Wildlife Advisory Committee. Former member: Woodside Planning Commission, Woodside Conservation and Environmental Health Committee, Woodside Geologic Hazards Committee, Woodside Zoning Code Review Committee, past Stanford University visiting professor, past Congressional Science Fellow.
: Not given

  Gary McKae
Profession : Private investor
: Bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wisconsin
Experience : Member: Mounted Patrol. Former member: Woodside School Foundation, Woodside Trail's Committee, Woodside Town Council, San Mateo City/County Association of Governments, San Mateo Council of Cities. Former trustee, College of Notre Dame in Belmont.
: 58

Deborah Gordon
Profession : Associate director of the Preventative Defense Project at Stanford University
: Bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Southern California
Experience : Member of Woodside Village Church; past moderator, dean of finance and maintenance, and other Woodside Village Church governing committees; board member and past chair of Families in Transition in East Palo Alto; past Woodside Elementary School volunteer.
: 51

  Joe Kirley
Profession : Retired San Francisco police officer, electrical contractor
: Engineering degree from Heald College
: Member of many equestrian organizations, including American Quarter Horse Association, American Paint Horse Association, and National Reining Horse Association; former member, Coast Guard; former member, Mounted Patrol.
: 53

Joe Putnam
Profession : Incumbent, auto dealer
Education : Attended University of Minnesota
Experience : Business owner since 1960. Board member: Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont; many auto industry boards including: New Motor Vehicle Board of California; General Motors President's Advisory Board; California Auto Dealership Board. Member, Mounted Patrol.
Age : 67


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