The candidates weigh in


The Palo Alto Weekly surveyed the six candidates on a range of city issues, from land use to a ban on people living in their cars. All but Mark Weiss responded to the survey, and their answers are posted here.

Marc Berman

1. Since 2008, the Palo Alto City Council has achieved a series of concessions from the city's labor unions on pension and health care benefits. What additional three steps would you support to further address the unfunded pension problem?

Benefits have increased dramatically as a percentage of total compensation, causing more money to be spent on retirees and less on current employees and city programs. Palo Alto must shift to a system that focuses more on take-home pay while reducing our future pension and benefit obligations. Three potential ways to do this would be to institute a cap on pensions and gradually increase the employee contribution to pensions and health care.

2. Palo Alto has recently increased its annual spending on infrastructure by more than $2 million, in keeping with a recommendation from the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission. What should the city's top three infrastructure priorities be?

Continue to maintain the increased level of funding so as not to add to the existing infrastructure backlog. Implement an infrastructure-management system to maintain a comprehensive up-to-date inventory of Palo Alto's infrastructure to support ongoing staff and City Council attention to infrastructure budgeting, planning and accountability. Build a new public safety building at a new site and rebuild fire stations 3 and 4 at their present locations.

3. Do you support the proposed lane reduction on California Avenue, which is part of a larger streetscape-improvement plan?


4. What is your vision for the future of the Cubberley Community Center site? Do you support renewing the lease with the school district and sub-leasing to community groups?

The Cubberley lease, entered into 25 years ago when the school district was selling off sites to raise money, is a great example of the city and Palo Alto Unified School District working together for the benefit of the entire community. The situation today is quite different, and it's logical to update the lease arrangement, in particular the covenant not to develop, to better reflect current realities.

5. Would you support allowing wireless companies to install equipment such as cell towers (in some cases higher than 100 feet) on city property to expand wireless service and enhance data capacity?

I support limited installation of cell towers on city property. Our wireless infrastructure is integral to Palo Alto's economy. As the home to many companies developing wireless hardware and software, we must enable robust wireless service. As smartphones and tablets become the norm, the demands on wireless infrastructure are rapidly increasing. The process must include close coordination with residents and only after careful consideration of potential health concerns and in keeping with the character and design of Palo Alto.

6. Based on what you know now about the potential costs and benefits of the proposed waste-to-energy facility, would you support the construction in Byxbee Park of an anaerobic digester that would process compost and organic waste and convert it into energy? If yes, list up to three limiting conditions you would apply to the project.

I know now that I don't know enough to answer this question. Palo Altans strongly supported a measure that encouraged further study of this issue, and city staff is in the process of performing studies about the efficacy of an anaerobic digester. I look forward to reviewing these studies when they are completed and coming to a well-researched position on this very complex issue.

7. What reforms, if any, do you support in the city's "planned community" (PC)zoning process? What changes, if any, would you have supported to the approved PC projects at Lytton Avenue and Alma Street and at Edgewood Plaza?

The city must do a better job of monitoring and enforcing the public benefits that are agreed upon during the PC process. This has not been done in the past, creating a situation where the public is rightfully skeptical that it will actually receive the benefits that are promised. Where feasible, the city should attempt to quantify the public benefit received and the additional benefit to the developer of the PC designation.

8. Would you support a new law prohibiting people from living in vehicles?

Rather than a blanket prohibition, we should attempt to solve this issue in a more creative and less punitive way. We must be sympathetic to the fact that innocent people get forced into situations where their only option is to live in their car -- from losing a job to escaping domestic violence. I would rather they live in a vehicle than be homeless.

9. Under what circumstances would you support a residential-parking permit program for downtown Palo Alto?

Any successful downtown residential-parking permit program must: take into consideration all of the neighborhoods in the downtown area; involve the buy-in of a diverse group of stakeholders; and also address the issue of underutilized permit parking in downtown parking garages. The proposed Professorville permit-parking program did none of these things and was rightfully rejected by the council. The pending comprehensive downtown analysis offers a great opportunity to get this right.

10. Which of the below options best describes your view? Please give an example to support your position.

• The City Council gives too much weight to the views and interests of developers.

• The City Council gives too much weight to the views and interests of residentialists.

• The City Council strikes an appropriate balance between growth and development and concern over traffic congestion and other impacts.

I believe the council does its best to strike a balance between the views and interests of developers and those of residentialists. An example of this is the Hohbach development at 195 Page Mill Road. The council stood firm to its position that the original proposal was not the right fit for the neighborhood, only approving the project once the developer made substantial concessions.

Pat Burt

1. Three steps to further address pension problem?

The council has already achieved two-tier pensions, employees assuming the full Employee PERS share of contributions, employee sharing of medical costs and elimination of pension spiking. Next, I support: Increasing the employee share of medical for existing and retired employees; moving to defined-benefit program (cafeteria) for medical and other benefits; and moving toward hybrid pensions, combining defined benefit and defined contributions.

2. Top three infrastructure priorities?

In addition to the recent $2 million per year infrastructure-spending increase, we doubled our budget for street re-paving and repair in 2010. I believe that the city's top three infrastructure priorities should be: Improved street and sidewalk repair. A new public safety building that is correctly sized and meets police facility regulations and essential-services seismic-safety laws. Replacement of fire stations 3 and 4 to make them conform with seismic and structural requirements of essential-services buildings.

3. Do you support the California Avenue lane reduction?

Yes. I believe that it will enhance the quality of the neighborhood, improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and improve commercial activity.

4. Future of the Cubberley site?

I support the city renewing a lease of whatever Cubberley space the Palo Alto Unified School District makes available to the city. I support the multi-stakeholder Cubberley Process that was initiated by the City Council last year, which I think will result in win/win opportunities. Long term, the school district has indicated that they will need to re-take possession of their acreage. I envision the city making more effective use of the 8 acres owned by the city and that the school district will collaborate with the city for shared use to the extent possible.

5. Cell towers on city property?

I am open to using certain city property for wireless equipment at appropriate locations. I believe that the height should be determined in the context of the location. I would prefer more locations at heights lower than 100 feet, if possible.

6. Composting plant at Byxbee Park? Limiting conditions?

I support a waste-to-energy facility on the acres that the voters removed from the expanded portion of Byxbee Park. I believe the project should be conditioned on an economically sound plan; good compatibility with its surroundings; and strong environmental benefits.

7. Your opinion of the city's PC zoning process?

I believe that Edgewood Plaza is a good project as approved. I led changes to the Lytton Gateway project to reduce its size, cause it to conform to city building-height guidelines and increase its parking. I opposed much of the Alma Plaza project. I advocated for more retail and less housing, more on site parking and a more pedestrian-friendly street face.

8. Ban on people living in vehicles?

I look forward to hearing the recommendations of the community advisory committee on vehicle dwelling. I am interested in improving our restrictions and enforcement first to address the most significant problems rather than an outright prohibition at this time. I support allowing faith-based institutions to provide limited access of their facilities for vehicle dwellers at appropriate locations.

9. Downtown residential-parking permit program?

I believe that we need to increase parking capacity downtown in conjunction with consideration of permit parking. I believe that the process must be open and inclusive of all impacted residents and other parties. In the interim, I believe that the very limited permit program that I proposed to staff would help with the most severe problems.

10. Council's stance on growth: pro-developers, pro-residentialists or balanced?

I believe that the council has been striking approximately the appropriate balance. The most effective way to balance these issues is through strong programs tied to developments that reduce traffic and other impacts through expanded use of transit, bicycling and pedestrian travel, thereby reducing congestion and parking demands.

Timothy Gray

1. Three steps to further address pension problem?

Budget a certain amount of dollars from the operating budget to pay back the historical excesses that were delivered by previous City leaders. Negotiate for new employees to have a different retirement benefits -- benefits that are competitive with the private market place or a defined contribution plan like the one that is in place at Stanford University and Medical Center. Lastly, honor historical contracts but look at other municipalities and imitate their best practices in reducing the pension liability, moving as many as possible to defined-contribution plans and comparable employee contributions to the plan.

2. Top three infrastructure priorities?

Streets, sidewalks and utility lines. However, we must increase our annual spending to also include enough reserves to have an upgrade to our public-safety facility.

3. Do you support the California Avenue lane reduction?

It is up to the businesses. The streetscape plan could accomplish the objectives by leaving more say to the business versus imposing a vision on a neighborhood. The businesses could have greater outdoor and greater pedestrian festival-like environments by closing an outside lane on an interim, event-like basis, but if there are only two lanes, then the flexibility is completely taken out of the design. The businesses should have the final say. It is really how they want to present their district to the public.

4. Future of the Cubberley site?

Cubberley presents a unique opportunity for our community to expand our historical dedication to education. We need to preserve the historical use as an educational resource, though not necessarily as a public school. With that said, we need to keep the land in the control of the city, with the express dedication to an educational purpose. We need to develop a shared community vision about what the next century needs are to supplement the education resources. The core principle here is that our community is rich with educational vision but short on land and space to make it happen, so we need to keep the place reserved as an incubator for a yet-to-be-defined educational vision, consistent with Palo Alto's educational heritage.

5. Cell towers on city property?

I favor the principle of shared community benefit balanced with shared community cost. The people that have the greatest say will be the ones impacted by being next to the equipment.

6. Composting plant at Byxbee Park? Limiting conditions?

Yes. The limiting conditions would be: The smell and noise would not detract from enjoyment at the park and that the same result could not be achieved through regional cooperation with other cities. The project would not delay the recreational access to Palo Alto's waterfront. Frankly, we have waited long enough, and have been put to shame by Moutain View's progress. Third, the project needs to stand on its own financial merits, including the cost of the land that would be required to build it. Either verify that the technology works and will provide a reasonable business return or turn it back to park land.

7. Your opinion of the city's PC zoning process?

Reforms should include: First, a clear and objective statement of growth that exceed the regular or historical standards and what that means for traffic, water use, sewage use, school utilization, and overall service increases. Second, a consistent and objective analysis of what that proportional infrastructure use will cost. Eventually new schools will have to be built and new sewage plants constructed. Future costs must get funded at approval time. Pay up on day one! Don't hand off the problem to the future. Third, community benefits have to be objectively consistently quantified. Fourth, greater public input on what public benefits are needed for the community.

For the projects that have been approved, I would like to have seen better setbacks that offer an inviting front that is more in character with our neighborhoods. The adjacent neighborhoods always seem to bear the brunt of parking overflow, no matter how optimistic the plans for public transit use seem to be. The major exception is that the projects increase the demand on the infrastructure, and do nothing to cure the current infrastructure deficit.

8. Ban on people living in vehicles?

No. Prohibitions have never solved anything. We must work together to creatively solve this issue. Trying to ban this is like trying to cure the common cold by banning sneezing. I have talked with the Palo Alto police, and they have a very compassionate relationship with the homeless, and often are able to find other shelter by linking up with the available resources. We would just end up needlessly sending people into a very costly legal system and plugging our jails with people that have committed the only crime of being down on their luck. We already have laws about sanitary behavior, so the laws we have really suffice if environments are being disturbed. Banning never solved anything.

9. Downtown residential-parking permit program?

Before we abolish a bunch of community-owned parking and dedicate it to the exclusive use of the residents, we need to provide an inexpensive provision of parking space to downtown employees. There are many spaces that go unused during the day in city lots, and by allowing an approachable price for parking to the downtown employees, it would take away the need to park in the adjacent neighborhoods. To remove the supply without adjusting demand would create a lose-lose conflict. We can take the win-win path.

10. Council's stance on growth: pro-developers, pro-residentialists or balanced?

In general, my sentiment is that the council is pro-developer. The examples are many under planned-community zoning, whereas there is absolutely no flexibility provided to home-owners that remodel. The density on the Rickey's Hyatt was not fitting with the neighborhood, and the area is left to disproportionately share the burden, but the community benefit was absent. Sure, housing is sincerely needed for the people, but was there a funding of the proportional amount of sewers, streets, schools or other infrastructure that the city was providing, even though there is a significant infrastructure deficit? The community provided all the community amenities and the value went to the developer, leaving the residents with increased demands on roads, water, sewer, and the experience of increased traffic. This is just one example.

Liz Kniss

1. Three steps to further address pension problem?

The recently state-enacted Public Employees Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) appears to contain provisions that automatically apply to cities and don't have to be bargained. Retirement age for newly hired non-safety employees is raised to 62 (Palo Alto was at 60), which I'd have recommended. The city can still bargain to have employees pick up a portion of the employers share of the pension expense, as other agencies are doing. Look at health care issue also.

2. Top three infrastructure priorities?

Streets and sidewalks; a new public-safety building; proposed playing fields at the golf course. Although great emphasis is on the public-safety building, I hear far more concern from constituents regarding conditions for walkers, runners and especially bikers. Given the dramatic rise in students biking to school, we must raise many of our roadways to the better than "fair" rating that exists. Having a street-rating system is a great addition.

3. Do you support the California Avenue lane reduction?

Yes. And as a member of the VTA governance board, I have voted for two years to allocate the grant for this project; however, counsel advised against that vote while the lawsuits were ongoing. We recently made the award from VTA.

4. Future of the Cubberley site?

I was a school board member when this agreement was signed in 1988; the Palo Alto Unified School District had declining enrollment, and the coffers were empty. With basic aid now in place since the '90s and enrollment growing at 2 percent per year, PAUSD financial circumstances are very different. This decision will likely be made late next year, and I want to hear the results of the Cobb-Lowell Advisory Committee meetings before I come to any leasing or extension decisions.

5. Cell towers on city property?

Yes. As a population that has become more dependent on cell service (especially the 21-35 age group) and in many cases not using a land line for service at all, cities need to be more responsive to citizens' communication needs. We hear many complaints in Palo Alto regarding the "dead zones." Increasingly, school children carry cell phones for emergency calls to their parents or care-givers, a very important connection.

6. Composting plant at Byxbee Park? Limiting conditions?

Yes, I support the construction of that facility and believe we must move in that direction. Concerns will arise from the environmental-impact report, and any mitigations need to be carefully analyzed. It must of course be cost-effective, as other communities such as San Jose are constructing anaerobic digesters and will be looking for other markets in this area. Having our own plant keeps trucking needs to a minimum and is more environmentally sound.

7. Your opinion of the city's PC zoning process?

I think the process as it exists is adequate; how it is used changes the outcome. I believe that the council members usually have the most impact on the decisions made. I have heard many complaints while campaigning regarding this and know that Alma in particular is troubling to observers. On the other hand, Edgewood is getting great comments from the public. Design is the key to acceptance of more density and height, I believe.

8. Ban on people living in vehicles?

Yes, with some possible provisions. The obvious is that a car is unlikely to have facilities required for bathing and other needs. I understand that some churches, etc., may wish to provide the opportunity to provide showers and toilets for those living in their vehicles. However, most cities in the county prohibit people living in their cars.

9. Downtown residential-parking permit program?

Many nearby cities have parking permits, as does College Terrace. As the downtown area becomes even more successful, and the Caltrain station increases ridership incrementally, which has now continued for a year and a half, we must take some serious steps to alleviate the impact on the downtown neighborhoods. I walk in that area often and would agree that this is a growing problem. It needs attention and action from the City Council.

10. Council's stance on growth: pro-developers, pro-residentialists or balanced?

From the community, I'm hearing that the developers are coming out ahead. Regardless of the reality, the perception is an unbalanced approach in weight given to the developers. The best result seems to be Edgewood Plaza, the most criticized is the former Hyatt site at Charleston Road and El Camino Real, and the new "Elevation" site on Alma Street. In both cases, "too close" to the road and "too massive" are mentioned often.

Greg Schmid

1. Three steps to further address pension problem?

First, be frank in listing the true actuarial costs of future liabilities on the city's financial statements so that we don't push compensation issues 'down the road'. Second, negotiate higher levels of benefits cost-sharing. This is especially true for health benefits, whose costs are escalating much faster than city revenues. Third, rebalance the compensation-to-benefits ratio so that we can pay salaries that attract talented younger workers.

2. Top three infrastructure priorities?

Make sure that in each annual budget we keep up with critical ongoing needs for streets and sidewalks. Find extra money to fund projects neglected over the past 10 years when maintenance was allowed to fall behind. Raise outside funds (from borrowing or from other agencies) to replace public buildings that are out of date and to add new buildings and parks for our growing population.

3. Do you support the California Avenue lane reduction?

Yes, but only with the key elements that will keep California Avenue a prosperous vibrant center: expanded sidewalks for strolling, shopping and sitting, and improvements in the plaza area to make it easy to traverse and attractive to linger. The California Ave area as a whole will be adding people and needs to have an area-wide traffic plan.

4. Future of the Cubberley site?

Cubberley is the last major public school site in the urban area of Palo Alto, critical for a growing population. Yet Cubberley is currently providing valuable community services. My vision is a new five-year lease that would allow monitoring of demographic changes. Meanwhile, the interested parties could agree on some sharing of overdue facility maintenance and needed capital improvements. The current city-school process must produce a range of realistic cooperative options that provides a win-win.

5. Cell towers on city property?

The city is limited in its discretion by the national Telecommunications Act. We must create incentives for telcos to provide quality services on shared sites that are the least disruptive to neighborhoods. Thus, I am in favor of exploring the technical and aesthetic consequences of somewhat higher towers on city-owned facilities that could provide excellent service while minimizing neighborhood impacts.

6. Composting plant at Byxbee Park? Limiting conditions?

Yes, but right now we are missing a key piece of data. Other regional agencies in California are building waste-to-energy plants that offer more comprehensive solutions -- much closer to our zero-waste goals at lower prices per ton. Since our disposal contracts with Green Waste and Smart Station expire shortly after the anaerobic digester could be built, we should explore available data on these longer-term complete disposal options as part of our current cost analysis.

7. Your opinion of the city's PC zoning process?

Public benefits must be defined and discussed in an open cost benefit context. The Edgewood Plaza project had a nice mixture of neighborhood retail, new housing, historic preservation and neighborhood fit. In contrast, the Lytton Gateway project provided large benefits to the developer and minimal benefits to the public. I would have supported a larger space for ground-floor retail; some housing on site; expanded on-site parking; and more sensitivity to the pedestrian streetscape.

8. Ban on people living in vehicles?

No. I am in favor of working toward a public-private partnership that would include: city registration for a limited number of vehicles; off-street parking disbursed through the city in private lots; available bathrooms; guaranteed maintenance of the site by the users; and available counseling.

9. Downtown residential-parking permit program?

As the Downtown area grows there are four competing groups who need to park: workers in the Downtown; residents who live in the area; short-term visitors to the area; and commuters from Stanford or Caltrain users. We must start by quantifying total parking need. A residential parking program may be an effective part of this, but we need to ensure that there are flexible spaces to meet the diverse needs of a vibrant downtown.

10. Council's stance on growth: pro-developers, pro-residentialists or balanced?

I would pick another answer: Council gives way too little time to long-term planning that can help define how a mature and sophisticated community can continue to grow. The council should step back and define the long-term mix of office space, housing, and retail; the infrastructure this calls for; and the dollar resources needed to support it. Without such a framework, the council cannot define appropriate group interests and the overall mix of 'public benefits.'


Like this comment
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 28, 2012 at 10:47 am

Dear Editor,

I'm sure it was a typo, but the Timothy Gray answer to question #10 was as follows:

"10. Which of the below options best describes your view? Please give an example to support your position.
i. The City Council gives too much weight to the views and interests of developers."

The above story reads: "In general, my sentiment is pro-developer."
It more appropriately should read: "In general, my sentiment is a residentialist."

We need to moderate growth, and when we do provide exceptions for projects, we need to act from a shared community vision for progressive growth that consistently and fairly funds its own increased infrastructure demands, and provides a objectively quantified public benefit that is determined by the resident's priorities -- not determined by the developer.

Community Benefit concessions are a currency owned by the residents and must be applied to the public good according to the priorities set by the residents.

Please don't confuse "moderated and progressive growth" with an anti-growth or anti-developer sentiment. We have something special in this town that we all love and cherish, and if we don't be careful, our prized schools will be diluted, and the City's infrastructure deficit will increase. We can find a shared community vision for growth that is a win-win.

Respectfully submitted,

Timothy Gray, (Candidate for City Council)

Like this comment
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Sep 28, 2012 at 11:15 am

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Thank you for your post, Tim. I have clarified above that your opinion is that the City Council is pro-developer, which goes along with how the question was phrased. (You chose the answer, "The City Council gives too much weight to the views and interests of developers.") Hope that clears things up for our readers.

Like this comment
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm

This is the gorilla in the closet:


That's the only question I'm interested in hearing an answer to.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm

It's a half-truth for the Weekly to state that I did not respond to their survey. I said that questions #10 and #7 about developers having too much sway and PC planned community zoning being particularly problematic were by far the most important issues to me, and that overall their format was reductivist. In a letter to the reporter, I also complied with the request for actual faux-soundbytes to two other questions. You can read more about it at my blog
or the 30 minute video on their Youtube page gives a little more insight into my platform.
Web Link

Of course the fact that I was photographed and on a separate day talked to the editor and publisher for an hour contradicts the impression that they give that I was not cooperative.

I've been a supporter of the Weekly for many years, as advertiser, source and reader -- I was disappointed they played me like this, although I admit I kinda asked for it by suggesting a different format.

They have the right to cover or not cover the issues as they see fit, but I bristle at the idea that they claim they will cover all six candidates equally then employ varying standards for that.

They could obviously update the online version of this to include me, or could follow up with more info on my campaign, background and platform, if they want to. Maybe they will.

In my letter to Gennady Sheyner I do mention my concerns with "the proposed arts district" a poster asks about, although that was not part of the survey either. It's not really an arts district, by the way, it's one type of art -- theatre - -and one purveyor. I think they might have bid out the lucky tenant of the new proposed theatre, or had a rotating residency for world class companies from various parts of the world. It's three times more office space than theatre.

I might be paranoid about being mistreated and misunderstood, but readers can ask: why would the Weekly suppress these particular viewpoints?

I think there is enough truth behind the things I believe will make our community better and enough people who agree with me and are equally concerned that I can probably survive the egg on my face here.

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

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