Menlo mayor: June 10 rail tour was a meeting


After coming under fire over a likely violation of the state's open meeting law, Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline said this week that the consortium of cities he heads to address high-speed rail issues will discuss how to avoid future missteps.

Cline heads the Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC), made up of five elected officials from Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto, Burlingame and Belmont. The coalition advocates for the five cities, which will be heavily impacted by construction of the Peninsula line of the state's high-speed rail project.

On June 10, Cline, Atherton City Councilman Jerry Carlson, Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt and Mountain View Mayor Ronit Bryant met with Curt Pringle, chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority Board, to take him on a tour of the railroad right-of-way in each of their towns.

The tour, preceded by a brief meeting in Palo Alto's city hall, flew under the radar of public attention until a local newspaper reported several days ago that the meeting occurred, and that no public notice was given.

"It was one of those things where we didn't even think of it as a meeting," Cline said. "But in hindsight, it was a meeting. ... Technically, it should have been noticed."

The technicality was that the tour, organized to give Pringle a first-hand look at the areas that will be affected, with perspective provided by mayors and a councilman, wasn't a function of the PCC. But because three of the four elected officials who met with Pringle are members of the PCC, and represent a quorum of that group, public notice of the meeting would have been appropriate under the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law, Cline said.

The Brown Act requires that official public notice be posted when a quorum of a legislative body meets.

The planned tour had been talked about at a public council meeting, Cline said, and the PCC members had no intention of trying to hide the information.

He said the consortium will discuss the issue at its July 23 meeting. Members also will try to tackle a "broader challenge" that they face as members of a multi-city coalition of elected officials: When they meet on matters other than high-speed rail, representing their own jurisdictions, and a majority of them happen to attend the same meeting, is there a legal requirement to post a public notice in advance?

"It's really blurry now," Cline said. "We need to review it (to set a policy) for the PCC to make sure we tighten it up."

Another problem for the group is that there is no official staff member to take care of administrative details and tasks. Because Cline is the PCC's chairman at this point, Menlo Park's city clerk sends out agendas, and staff members from other towns might take care of other tasks on a rotating basis. But there's no one providing the more complicated administrative support typically given to elective bodies, he said.

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Posted by Elliot
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 15, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Yeah, yeah, yeah ... it was just a big mistake.... we didn't realize what we were doing ... gosh, we don't know a thing about the Brown Act ... we have all these lawyers, but we never thought about asking them ...

Oh come on. Mr. Cline, do you think we're stupid?

You got to wonder why kind of conversations the mayors of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and other cities had when they took that secret tour with Curt Pringle.

I can just imagine them saying, "We love the railroad, but we've got these constituents who want us to oppose it. We hope you can see the jam we're in. We love you, but we can't say that publicly." That's why they had the secret meeting.

It's easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Rich Cline better wake up to the fact that if he's meeting with anyone in PA especially the Mayor there are plenty of smart people out there in PA making sure he'll be in compliance with the Brown Act!!

Like this comment
Posted by Coach
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2010 at 7:25 pm

I obtained a tape of the secret PCC meeting on June 10. This is a transcript:

HSR chair Curt Pringle to the mayors: "OK boys, and girl, I don't need to remind you how important this is. Your job is to make it seem like you're trying to stop our project, but keep spinning your wheels.

"Keep on wasting time talking 'guiding principles' and a 'visioning' process for high-speed rail. I really like those long-range plans Palo Alto is so good at. Didn't it take you guys 12 years to do your Comprehensive Plan back in the 1990s?

"You've got to stretch out all of this baloney until 2012, when we get started with construction in Southern California. Once we start, it will be impossible to stop us. This project will be too big to fail."

One of the mayors asks, "Curt, we've run out of things to do. I'm getting pressure to actually accomplish something, like filing suit to stop HSR. My constituents are demanding action, not words. What do I do?"

Pringle: "You can take action by issuing a strongly worded letter against our project. Maybe a resolution stating your objections.

"You can hold a few more public hearings. That's a good way of wearing down the critics.

"Maybe have a couple of seminars or "teach ins." Those 60s types in your community really like the sound of a "teach in." It reminds them of the things they did when they were antiwar protesters. They have no idea how we're scamming them.

"Whatever you do, no more lawsuits. I'm talking to you, Mr. Atherton. Got that! Hire lawyers and talk about suing all you want, but don't actually file any suits. Lawyers, who are paid by the hour, are good at stretching things out. So let them do what they're good at. Remember, you're not paying them, the taxpayers are. (everyone laughs)

"You should also hire a lot of consultants to advise you in your phony fight against us. Once you hire them, you'll have to put them on your agenda and that will take up valuable meeting time where you do nothing. That's good."

"Remember, we have 18 months or so until we start construction, so keep stringing things out.

"And, remember, once we get started with this project, you'll all get jobs here. And if you want to move up politically, our labor buddies can make that happen. Remember, we're a one party state, so we control who gets what political offices."

"Got that?"

The mayors respond in unison, "Yes sir!" and give Mr. Pringle a salute.

Like this comment
Posted by wow
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 16, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Sounds like some of our residents have no idea how this entire debate had evolved or they just like to rewrite history. In case anyone missed it, the only two council members in the Peninsula region who opposed the 1A measure publicly before the vote was Cline and Carlson. I wonder where "resident", "Eliot" and "Coach" were when that went down? Probably like most of my neighbors, just clueless.

So now these city leaders want the train? They are acting in private meetings to bring the train? What are you all smoking?

Like this comment
Posted by CJ
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 17, 2010 at 9:44 am

I judge these politicians more by their actions than their words. So far they've done very little to stop the train but they've certainly talked unceasingly about it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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