News

Palo Alto officials vow to improve transparency

City Council apologizes for its negotiations with John Arrillaga, proposes rule changes to limit closed sessions

Chastened by accusations of poor transparency, Palo Alto officials on Monday night offered apologies to the community for their private and ultimately ill-fated negotiation with billionaire developer John Arrillaga and vowed to change their procedures to avoid similar blunders in the future.

Days after City Manager James Keene drafted a response that acknowledged a "flawed" process in the city's 2012 discussions with Arrillaga, the council agreed to take the atonement a step further. One after another, council members apologized to the community for their private talks with Arrillaga over a proposed office-and-theater complex near the downtown Caltrain station and, on a parallel track, over a 7.7-acre parcel of undeveloped city-owned land that Arrillage wanted to buy. Both proposals ultimately fell through, but not before sparking a public outcry and a critical audit from the Santa Clara County Grand Jury, which concluded in its June report that the city "has failed to meet expectations of transparency."

While Keene wrote in the response that the public process in the Arrillaga discussions "could have been better," council members agreed that this is putting it too mildly. Councilman Pat Burt proposed changing the "could" to "should" and said the response should "have an even more clear acceptance of responsibility and an even more clear delineation of corrective actions we're taking."

Burt called the Arrillaga episode a really strong reminder of how any public agency, particularly in Palo Alto, needs to lean on the side of keeping its decisions public whenever possible. The "default," he said, needs to be "a public process unless we have a really compelling reason otherwise."

"In the whole, we let down the community and we should accept the responsibility for that," Burt said. "I want to offer the community my personal apology for having gone down a process that in hindsight was wrong."

Several of his colleagues followed suit during a discussion that stretched past midnight and occurred in front of a mostly empty Council Chambers. Councilwoman Karen Holman, who in 2012 privately raised concerns about the council's undisclosed meetings with Arrillaga, said she should have done more at the time. She called the council's conduct in the Arrillaga negotiations "not good" and characterized the episode as an "error," for which she then apologized.

"For myself personally, I did ask questions about the process and I want to apologize to the public because the discomfort I was feeling -- I was not forceful enough in acting on that discomfort," Holman said. "I felt I also let the community down and should've been more forceful in my objections."

Councilman Greg Scharff agreed and offered his own apology.

"In hindsight, it's definitely a horrible process," Scharff said.

No one disputed this characterization. Rather, the council voted 8-0, with Gail Price absent, to have Burt and Councilman Greg Schmid revise Keene's response to the Grand Jury to emphasize the actions that the city plans to take to fix the flawed process. In the case of the 7.7-acre site, these mistakes were numerous, according to the Grand Jury. The city did not disclose to the public that it was considering selling the land to Arrillaga, a proposal that only became public after it was placed on the council's closed-session agenda. The city also did not follow its procedure for disposing of "surplus" land, which typically involves reaching out to public agencies and going through a formal bid process.

The Grand Jury also noted in its report that the parcel was donated to the city by the Lee family and that the deed from the family required that the land only be used for park and recreation purposes. Nevertheless, city staff leased the land in the late 1990s to Arrillaga so that he could use it to store construction equipment while working on his property adjacent to the parcel. After the second lease expired, it was not renewed and Arrillaga spent the next five years and 10 months as a "holdover" lessee, paying for the lease on a month-to-month basis. The Grand Jury noted that the city staff did not provide any information regarding whether the City Council or the public were made aware of his holdover.

Council members re-emphasized Monday that at the time of their negotiations with Arrillaga, they didn't even know that this city-owned parcel existed (much less, its complex history). Scharff called the city's holdover lease arrangement with Arrillaga "amazing" and said one of the city's actions in the wake of the Grand Jury report should be "a way to respond so that this could never happen again."

That is one of numerous reforms that will now be weighed by council's Policy and Services Committee. The committee will also discuss the city's existing holdings of donated land and its rules for going into closed session. Schmid suggested that any time the council goes into closed session to discuss a piece of property, that the context for the discussion be made public. He also proposed strengthening policies to make sure the council doesn't engage in "serial meetings," a term that refers to a situation in which elected officials hold multiple meetings in groups that are too small to explicitly violate the Ralph E. Brown Act but that collectively serve to foster a unified decision.

Schmid and Holman both requested a list of all "underutilized" city-owned land. Holman also proposed having all projects that don't comply with the city's Comprehensive Plan go to the council for a "pre-screening" early in the process. Scharff noted that one of the problems with the proposal for 27 University Ave., which featured four office buildings and a performing-arts theater, is that Arrillaga never actually filed an application. The council had expected Arrillaga's offer to go to the public for a debate, but that debate never took place. The city, he said, should make it clear that developers have to abide by the planning process and submit applications if they want their proposals to be considered.

"If this had occurred, it would have been a much better process," he said.

Mayor Nancy Shepherd said it was a "shock and a surprise to her" to hear about the Foothill Park parcel, which the council recently agreed to officially dedicate as "parkland,"

"I think the city deserves to have an explanation about the journey this property has been on," Shepherd said.

She also noted that as bad as the negotiations with Arrillaga looked to the public, it's not uncommon for council members to attend meetings that may make people uncomfortable, whether it's meeting with a neighborhood group or people from the Sierra Club. Her meeting with Arrillaga, Shepherd said, took 20 minutes and was "an all or nothing deal, then I was out."

"This does look as if there were secrets and backroom deals, but I don't ever remember any kind of a process that would allow for that," Shepherd said. "I never participated in any of that kind of conversation."

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Truth is
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 9, 2014 at 6:08 am

John will do what John will do !


3 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 6:53 am

City Council - if you are looking for underutilized land look at the former El Camino Park. It's right next to what would have been the 27 University Ave Project. There use to be a baseball field & soccer field. Those were dug up so that an emergency water reservoir could be buried underground. That reservoir was completed, and the entire site has been sitting idle for most of 2014.

Is there some future plans for the former El Camino Park that are being considered that we are not aware of? Is that why it's all fenced off, and no work being done to restore the park, since it is next to the 27 University site?

The Parks & Rec commission recently reported Palo Alto doesn't have enough parkland for the based on the population growth.

And why is the city council giving raises to the city manager & all the staff involved in this episode which was clearly unethical, and possibly illegal activity?

Thanks Palo Alto Weekly for your diligence in these matters.


2 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:10 am

Annette is a registered user.

Time will tell on this one. Herb Borock pretty much nailed it last night when he noted that the "transparency" agenda item (the City's response to the Grand Jury Report) started at 11:00 p.m. and not 9:00 p.m. as scheduled. It is not unusual that controversial matters are placed late in the meeting order. Is this deliberate? It's easy enough to predict which issues will spur extensive Council and community comment; agenda length and order should be more considerate of reality. As is, public comment is often limited b/c people leave. And late running meetings tend to deteriorate in quality. Last night's mtg was a good example of both.

Regarding the response to the report, I have to give credit to those Council members, most notably Burt, who think a better response is required than what Staff prepared, but notably not Kniss who stated that the response is adequate. At the very least the response should be more specific and make clear that the City takes the report seriously.


2 people like this
Posted by Council Watcher
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:39 am

I watched the discussion last night at home and I was impressed with the way our Council took responsibility and offered concrete suggestions to make sure that this doesn't happen again. Kudos to the Council for admitting their mistakes and taking responsibility. It was a good day for Palo Alto


9 people like this
Posted by Integrity Needed!
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:50 am

Change is needed at the top. At least one City of Palo Alto senior staff member got out while the getting was still good. Cleaning house at City Hall, beginning at the too, will send a strong signal that those lacking integrity will be held accountable.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:03 am

I was struck by the fact that the 7 acres was dedicated in the 1980s and that the previous City Managers for 20 years leased the property to Arrillaga. Glad to see this property is now dedicated Parkland and appreciate Jim Keene's apology


Like this comment
Posted by Veritas
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:09 am

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:28 am

There were already laws in place for transparency during the nine months the City Staff and some council members were negotiating with Arrillaga. Both sides conspired to avoid transparency. It's time to clean house including parts of the City Staff and the council. There should also be a moratorium on any deals with Arrillaga, maybe 3-5 years.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:39 am

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:59 am

The culture of City Hall is the real issue here. For that we have complete transparency - just drive around Palo Alto and look at what has and is happening to this City. We need a massive reorientation, a new value system, a new ethic, new understanding in City Hall and decisions at every level measured and informed by these standards.




10 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 9, 2014 at 9:14 am

100% agree with "resident"

"The culture of City Hall is the real issue here. For that we have complete transparency - just drive around Palo Alto and look at what has and is happening to this City. We need a massive reorientation, a new value system, a new ethic, new understanding in City Hall and decisions at every level measured and informed by these standards."


12 people like this
Posted by kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 9, 2014 at 9:17 am

First, throw out that word 'transparency' and call it what it should be. HONESTY. Then insist that the super high paying city manager is sent packing - along with Jamie Rodriguez tied with City Attorney Molly Stump and the head of Utilities. That's for starters,. My list is long.


10 people like this
Posted by JS
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:03 am

Let's not forget the role of the City Attorney in all of this. Do you think the City Attorney wasn't right in there advising and orchestrating how Keene and City Council members how they should approach and deal with each issue in order to avoid Brown Act problems. If the City Attorney wasn't dispensing such bad advice, then the City Attorney is still at fault for NOT giving City Council and Keene proper legal guidance. There is no way that the City Attorney did not know what was happening as each issue unfolded. If you are City staff, City manager and/or City Council, you have no excuse not to get yourself educated on the Brown Act and behave accordingly. If you are City Attorney and orchestrate, aid and abet your City wrongly on Brown Act statutes, you should immediately resign your position.

From City Staff to City Manager to City Attorney and City Council, they ALL broke the laws associated with public governance.


3 people like this
Posted by Truth
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:06 am

I am always surprised by the posts that say things are awful in Palo Alto. Everyone wants to live in Palo Alto and it is the envy of the world. Its a great place to live, work and raise a family. We have excellent services. Palo Alto only gets better. Given how many people want to live here not sure why people that seem ask angry don't cash out.


1 person likes this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:13 am

@JS No laws were broken, no crimes were committed, no favors were done. No back room deals were made. Was it a bad process by well meaning people who otherwise do a competent job absolutely. It is irresponsible to say laws were broken


10 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:16 am

Well .. how impressive – the Council has apologized for their actions at keeping the meetings and possible decisions about the Arrillaga project secret—but none of them seem to be openly committing to changes that will “keep this sort of situation from ever happening again”.

This whole session – starting late in the evening, and playing to an empty house—certainly seems more like Kabuki Theater, than honest, transparent, self-government.

In a town that time-after-time pronounces it self to be so “intellectual”, and so “holier-than-thou”, the fact that the City manager was not fired, but actually awarded two substantial raises after this matter came to light should put a stake in the heart of any of these “world leader” claims that seem to ooze out from every rock where sunshine never seems to reach.

And let’s not forget that this whole matter only came to light because of an “anonymous” complaint to the Civil Grand Jury. Given the hostility to the person who made an “anonymous” complaint about one sitting Council Member (Holman) recently—it’s interesting that none of the same people seem at all outraged about the anonymity of the person who was responsible for initiating this Grand Jury investigation of our less-than-honest City Government.

These people did not take responsibility for their actions. If they had taken responsibility—then this situation would have never occurred in the first place. One can only wonder if the City Manager would have been able to get 27 University approved by putting it on the Consent Calendar.

As for incumbent Sheppard’s claiming she has no memory of any “conversations” – maybe it’s time for her to start keeping a diary, or recording the conversations she does have. Her memory is clearly not good enough for the public to depend upon for determining what really happened in the past where she is concerned.


5 people like this
Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:33 am

I wonder if there would be any apologies or hand-wringing had the grand jury report come out. Typical of many organizations/people, to only aplogize after they get caught. Pat Burt says, "I want to offer the community my personal apology for having gone down a process that in hindsight was wrong." In hindsight? Are we to believe that there wasn't any questioning that what the negotiations might not be abiding by city policies? Are we to believe that they didn't think this might be the wrong way to go about giving away city land? Holman said she did raise the question. So, what reasons were she given from other city council members or officials that what they were doing was "transparent"?

This is a city that puts EVERYTHING up for public comment. They don't cut down a tree, put up a sign, change traffic lanes, or the type of soap used in the cities buildings without opening it up to public comment, holding 4 study sessions and hiring consultants to study the ramifications. Are we to believe that they council thought it was ok to sell off part of a park to a developer without the public being part of the process?

Just makes a stronger case for believing that the devolpers are the ones pulling the strings on the Monday night puppet show.


11 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:47 am

Translation: We're sorry we got caught and we're nervous about the upcoming election.


2 people like this
Posted by resident 3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:54 am

common sense,

"City Council - if you are looking for underutilized land look at the former El Camino Park. "

If it's a Park, it shouldn't be considered underutilized land, maybe it's boarded up Park. So it should open up as a Park again.

Los Altos recently had a choice to use a Park for a school and it got thumbs down. Residents feel that nothing is better than a park.

And you can't get a Park back if you ever use it for anything else.

I would hope the list of underutilized land will yield future Park land.


4 people like this
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:55 am

As the old saying goes, "It's always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission."


4 people like this
Posted by What about John?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 11:04 am

Mr Arrillaga seems to have a secret agenda, and often does things that seem philanthropic at first glance. In most, if not all cases, there seems to be some benefit in it for him, if only to receive a plaque that says he's a great guy. Hmmmmph!

He certainly isn't philanthropic at all in his real estate dealings!


8 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2014 at 11:19 am

I accept the Council's apologies.

But that is not enough.

I want to see some staff reprimanded. I want to see some staff leave the City.

This kind of staff conduct cannot be tolerated.


4 people like this
Posted by mark weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2014 at 11:19 am

Am I the only person posting under own name who gets deleted here?

Is The Weekly complicit with the corruption?

My calling out of Pat Burt here is fair comment.

What gives?


2 people like this
Posted by mark weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2014 at 11:26 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 9, 2014 at 11:30 am

Truth - PA is not the envy of the world. And not everyone wants to live here. People live here because of work or school considerations. Many people retire and then move on to other locations - that is why you have a great housing turnover. Many people think Southern California beach cities are the best - many professional athletes live there. Many think Manhattan is the best place to live.

Bottom line is that any government agency - which the city of Palo Alto is - should be run as a legal entity and follow legal actions in its responsibilities.
You need to get out more and see what else is happening in the world.


8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 11:50 am

How about the $250,000 of public money spent for design work on a project
prior to it even being formally submitted?


2 people like this
Posted by resident 3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Mark Weiss,

I am intrigued now about watching the meeting and will get the archive.

This is a nightmare game called who to trust on the dais, and who is in on it with Keene more than others.

From other times of playing the nightmare game, I have thought the same as you.


7 people like this
Posted by Let Me Get This Straight
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Let me get this straight. The SAME
City Council and the SAME City Manager responsible for this egregious, extended break of public trust are going to "sin no more"? How about a NEW Council and a NEW Manager instead?


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm

I like the comments on El Camino Park. Since a previous attempt was to push playing fields on everyone in the baylands - look where that got us - then El Camino Park is fair game for questions as to what the planning is for that location.

Stanford Shopping center has announced plans to expand - is that some silent negotiation going on?

HSR will need a huge facility to operate - is the park a future site for the HSR depot? If so HSR is 5 years down the road - a soccer field and baseball park are a good interim use for that location.

The people in the planning department and PACC / staff need to put that data out there so it can be reviewed and commented on.
Maybe the playing fields - no matter where the end up - is a negotiation tool then lets have a open discussion of what is going down here.


5 people like this
Posted by RT
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:35 pm

There is just so much about this City Council and the events that define its term that suggest it is failing miserably. That they would push the Arrillaga matter to the end of the meeting and enter their mea culpa to an empty house is inexcusable. At least most council members accepted responsibility for inappropriate actions, but easily confused Nancy Sheperd was unable to do so because of some sudden loss of memory that amounts to "though I was the Mayor I wasn't there" defense of self. Pathetic.
In a related matter the Council asked for a list of underutilized city properties. I suggest the first entry on that list be City Council Chambers, and that we citizens initiate a much better utilization of such beginning with the November elections.









Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Everyone can view the PACC meeting by going to the city site = they have video's of all PACC meetings available. People do not have to stay up all night long to see a topic that interests them.
So what did you think about the discussion on the Comprehensive Plan last night? Some PACC members just talk to talk - say nothing of import or interest. Some ask good questions and grasp both the short and long term effects of change.
Suggest that people view these videos at their leisure - you can see who has intelligent comments to make - who JUST TALKS to TALK. You can see your incumbent and running members in action - it helps to clarify why you would - or would not vote for them. It also clarifies as to which incumbents need to be challenged more.


9 people like this
Posted by 37 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm

VOTE INCUMBENTS OUT !!! Get a new council and get rid of Keene.


4 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Congress is the model for this kind of stuff. Swing some sweet legislation for a particular company or industry, then "retire" from the public sector into a sweet job with that company or industry at twice the pay.

Of course people want to live in Palo Alto. That has nothing to do with the performance of the city manager: "oh, lets move to Palo Alto, I hear they have great city manager." Too funny. one of the bigger fallacies you'll see here, but it does get posted frequently.


8 people like this
Posted by 6Djockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2014 at 1:03 pm

James Keene is following the same script he used in Berkeley and Tucson: make his own plan for the city with help from developers, pooh pooh any other plan that someone suggests to the council, and do as much of it behind closed doors as possible. The Council is following their usual script: accept what the City Manager proposes without asking too many questions. This is not going to change until we get new City Council members who challenge the city staff, insist on objective reports and get rid of the staff that don't perform. The choices this election year is pretty easy.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 9, 2014 at 1:12 pm

People live where their jobs are - or if in school where they were accepted.
And if you work for a large company then they will move you around as you go up the management ladder. If you work for a company that derives income from government contracts then you move to where the specific job is. Boeing builds planes in Washington - or other locations which provide tax incentives. Charles Schwab is moving more people out of state. Oil companies have specific locations where they operate.
What you are selling here is a university and you have to be hired - or other tech locations - like Facebook in Menlo Park, Oracle in Redwood Shores and Google in Mountain View. If you don't have the right skill set then you will not be hired.
If you went to the Art and Wine festival last weekend in Mountain View then you know that that is a good place to live. As is Sunnyvale, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.
The more you build up the town as being "so special" the more you promote horrible decisions by people in position of authority. You need to view the town in relation to the surrounding towns who are doing extremely well - their residents think they are the best.


Like this comment
Posted by sir pall
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by anom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 9, 2014 at 1:26 pm

And the current council members who are in the city council race want to be re-elected again??? Who are they kidding. The Grand Jury's audit is a statement Palo Altans should recall when they cast their votes for the next city council. Those council members who now issue calls for changing language, who apologize for their "poor transparency" either have their heads in the sand or turned off their hearing aides during the non-transparent meetings with Arrillaga. The members of the city council who will be running for office again should not be voted into office again. Their apologies and chin0wagging are too late.


Like this comment
Posted by evidence
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2014 at 1:40 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Watching with Interest
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 9, 2014 at 1:47 pm

The issue is those creating a problem are not likely to resolve it. But I hate to see yet another highly paid consultant hired, to figure out a solution that our highly paid staff should be able to manage. Can't these people just be honest?


6 people like this
Posted by CW
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 9, 2014 at 1:53 pm

The approach Pat Burt and Liz Kniss took to the civil grand jury response couldn't have been more different. Liz attempted to minimize the importance of the civil grand jury by pointing out that they had disbanded for the year. She was ready to rubber stamp Keene's response and move on. On the other hand, Burt offered a number of thoughtful edits that brought into clearer focus council's misbehavior. Nancy Shepherd, who admitted that she can't remember anything about these secret meetings, seemed very nervous, like she was going to lose the election. Karen Holman pathetically claimed that she had objected to the secret meetings. If that's true Karen, why did you participate in them? Nobody had a gun to your head? She's a phony. Most of the council members are phonys.

[Portion removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 9, 2014 at 2:04 pm

If Arrillagaa is wise, he will return our $250,000!


Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 9, 2014 at 2:11 pm

Annette is a registered user.

What about John? He is a developer and a smart and successful business man. His philanthropy appears to me to extend well beyond the give and take that accompanies real estate transactions. Stanford's football stadium and the Alumni Center and various other athletic facilities on campus are but a few of his contributions to the community. Much of what he has done to benefit Stanford also benefits Palo Alto and I think it would be ludicrous to claim otherwise. Arrillaga didn't do anything wrong here. Rather, he walked through a door that the City held wide open - until caught. I have a hard time faulting a developer for that; the door should never have been open in the first place and the responsibility for the unethical process rests firmly on certain shoulders at City Hall. We heard the apologies last night. Now the response will be improved and presumably the behavior will not be repeated.


1 person likes this
Posted by Rupert of Henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm

"Several of his colleagues followed suit during a discussion that stretched past midnight and occurred in front of a mostly empty Council Chambers. Councilwoman Karen Holman, who in 2012 privately raised concerns about the council's undisclosed meetings with Arrillaga, said she should have done more at the time. She called the council's conduct in the Arrillaga negotiations "not good" and characterized the episode as an "error," for which she then apologized.”

So let’s see, Karen and the council waited until the council chambers were almost empty to apologize. Is the only reason that they are apologizing is because they all got caught? Who did Karen “privately” express her concerns to? She was so concerned that she continued to attend these meetings. [Portion removed.]
More evidence that Karen is out of touch and out of her league. Her mea culpa last night rings hollow. [Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 2:20 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by A few facts
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 9, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Liz Kniss began the discussion with a motion to accept the Manager's response to the Grand Jury report. Anyone who had doubts about who she really is, take note. No one seconded her motion. Gail Price left before she would need to participate. She keeps her relations with staff in top shape, always bestowing the highest praise, possibly for future use.

The lead person on the Arrillaga deals was the City Manager's Deputy, Steve Emslie. He shepherded it through the various commissions. He retired before it hit the fan and is now directly employed by the big developers (at Goodyear-Peterson etc).

You can watch the council session on your computer, the Media Center posts videos of Council sessions after a day or two. They have to prepare the recording first, it usually works very well.
Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 9, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Transparency is a broader issue than just this single issue. How many years and how many costly studies do we need to turn off or synchronize the traffic lights near Town & Country that have LONG been recognized as a major problem? Where's the accountability?

It's taken NINE -- 9 -- years to get to the point where we finally have a PROMISE as of August 29 to shut off one light in a month or so. It's taken several years of PROMISES that they'll START ANOTHER STUDY of the El Camino light that contributes to the gridlock.

Who's getting the consulting contracts? How much has this boondoggle cost in staff time, consulting contracts and lost sales tax revenue?


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2014 at 2:55 pm

If I'm in the right place, then currently August 6 is the most recent available Council Meeting video. Will it be October before last night's video gets there? I watched live (while mostly multitasking during the six hours), and was curious why the audio mysteriously muted during the three minutes of one particular public speaker's microphone time, around 11pm as I recall. I thought it was a glitch in my internet connection, but the video was fine.


2 people like this
Posted by Let Me Get This Straight
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2014 at 3:18 pm

A Few Facts lays bare in her post above the tonic of low ethics and high hubris and that has fueled Palo Alto's Council and senior staff for years. A former Deputy City Manager, the senior staff member who navigated the Arrillaga deals through under the City Manager's direction until the ship foundered on the rocks of public indignation [portion removed.] Ethics reform is long overdue at 240 Hamilton Avenue.


4 people like this
Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm

The cozy relationship between council and staff and big developers is a major concern. This relationship has already caused the city great damage in the form of overdevelopment. We are now finding out that members of the council and staff have a very close relationship with Palantir executives. This relationship must also be nipped at the bud before it's too late. Unless you are a developer, any Palo Alto resident should find it very difficult to justify the reelection of any current council member.


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2014 at 4:24 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 4:44 pm

". We are now finding out that members of the council and staff have a very close relationship with Palantir executives. "
It would be nice if you could provide us some evidence of this claim.
And what do you have against Palantir-- you seem to bring them up in every thread


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm

So after 50 comments I am the only person who posts by name, and yet my comment, normally protected by the First Amendment, is consistently and systematically deleted?

What is that about?

The GJR says that a) we met in secret and b) we don't respond to requests for information. I suggested a third factor, that there is at least one example in this case of an elected official trying to stifle dissent, and you think that is not fair comment?

So, you, The Palo Alto Weekly, are likewise trying to stifle dissent, yes.


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Posted by Barron parker
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2014 at 6:31 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by resident 3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Rupert,

There was no "evidence" about the 27 University improprieties but we all suspected as much.

Palantir/Keene may not get a grand jury, but I would want to know why this company is lending our Police department software (I wish that would stop); why have a company which has been hoarding office space in downtown Palo Alto in our police records. [Portion removed.] Palantir has employees applying to Palo Alto commissions; the City IT director was interviewed and vetted by a Palantir executive (that one is lovely). And you have Palantir employees lined up to speak at an event in City Hall which few residents were even aware about regarding changes to the comprehensive plan.

All these tidbits gathered from the thread about that meeting and some googling.


1 person likes this
Posted by Adding insult to injury
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:02 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Mark-- this is not really a first amendment issue ( that deals with government regulation of free speech). But you should realize by now that the weekly and the people running that " newspaper" are so deeply invested in certain members of the city council, that they have to limit criticism of those members. Otherwise , people may begin to suspect that the weekly has an agenda.
And for all those posters that are upset with this whole issue and other shenanigans bynthe council. ALL OF the CURRENT council members were endorsed by the weekly


1 person likes this
Posted by Nothing wrong?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:16 pm

@ Annette

I believe when this property was gifted to Palo Alto, it was intended so that the public could have another entrance, be it by foot,bike, horseback ect. After it was deeded to Palo Alto it was stipulated that their is access to emergency vehicles only. How come the Lee's did not sell it to Arriaga outright?

There needs to be more investigation


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:31 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by midtown
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:37 pm

And if I say "I take complete responsibility," that absolves me of any blame. And if I say my "Mea Culpa," that absolves me of any blame.
And if I say, "I was wrong, but I'll be good from now on," that absolves me of any blame.
What more is there to say?


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:38 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2014 at 7:51 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:06 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Lots of loose cannons around here.

Start investigating with page 1 of Web Link (7.6 MB)
Summary Title: Adoption of a Park Dedication Ordinance, Meeting Date: 8/18/2014

I'll quote the "Background" paragraph, which notes the deed restriction for "conservation", and also the fact that the Lee family did sell the quarry AND our 7.7 acre "reserved estate" to Arrillaga. I don't understand how this works, but apparently the 7.7 acre deed was to revert to Palo Alto in 1996. I guess Palo Alto then became Arrillaga's landlord on this acreage, and the eviction took some negotiating. Can anyone clarify?

<< In 1981, the Russel Lee Family granted a 7.7-acre parcel (referred to in documents as the “Reservation Parcel”) to the City with a deed restriction that the property “be used for conservation, including park and recreation purposes.” On March 16, 1981, the Palo Alto City Council accepted this gift by Resolution No. 5887 (Reference Attachment A - Colleague’s Memo, Report 4597, March 24, 2014, page 3). The family reserved an estate on the property until 1996 when the use of the property reverted to the City. The Lee family sold the Lee Quarry (adjacent to this site) and the reserved estate to American Title Guarantee Company (on behalf of John Arrillaga). >>

There's more background info down in appendix E.


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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:12 pm

[Post removed.]


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Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Resident 3,

"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts"? PAPDs use (free or otherwise) of software written by a shadowy company that maintains a cozy relationship with the CIA, NSA, and/or military intelligence is very troubling. These agencies love to put back-doors in software, and police departments are prime targets for penetration.

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have put a spotlight on the increasing militarization and federalization of local police departments. The militarization of police departments is happening on many different levels, and not all of them are as obvious as those on display in Ferguson.


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Posted by Resident 4
a resident of Portola Valley
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:31 pm

It looks like the 7.7 acres adjoins Los Trancos Rd. If there is an easement, what are the restrictions on egress/ingress? Can this be changed to allow bicycle access?


1 person likes this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Dear Palo Alto Weekly,

Please stop censoring posts. We're all adults here and these are important issues.

Thank you.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 10, 2014 at 12:23 am

@Resident 4 -- I don't know which spurs of Los Trancos Road are considered as private driveways privately maintained. Looks to me like there's at least a quarter mile between the west end of the 7.7 acres and Los Trancos Road proper. Easement for emergency or official traffic is quite different than opening a path to the general public. There are more neighbors than just John Arrillaga up there, and they are mighty concerned about privacy and security. Same kind of blow-back encountered by the Stevens Creek Trail. Good question though.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sea-Seelam Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 10, 2014 at 6:21 am

Dear Palo Alto Citizens

This can be summarized as a biggest boondoggle!

In addition, we want all the parties to come out clean. Much to be revealed from the other side of the negotiating table. What do their attorney have to say.

You/voters have the opportunity on November 4, 2014 to send a message.
Hope INTEGRITY counts!

Respectfully


3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2014 at 11:17 am

This morning's post carried an article about the Council's attempt to mitigate, or possibly even whitewash, the response of the City Manager to the Grand Jury's report. The Post article reported that the Mayor (Sheppard) appointed a committee of two to review/edit/rewrite the City Manager's responses. When the Post reporter asked about attending this meeting, she was told "NO"! She was told that a committee of two can meet in private to deiscuss City business.

Pat Burt seemed to be willing to allow the reporter access, but the City Attorney (Stump) jumped in, pointing out that if one reporter from the public were to be allowed, then the public in general needed to be allowed.

So--the public will not be able to see, and/or hear, what the two members of the Council are thinking about when it comes to transparency.

Certainly if the public were to be allowed--someone would probably suggest that the Council pass an ordinance requiring notes to be kept for all meetings, as well as a calendar to document that days/times that these meetings occurred.

Another person might well suggest that the City Manager be reprimanded, and a letter placed in his permanent personnel file attesting to his using "sleazy", un-democratic procedures in this matter.

And another person might even push this point a bit farther--suggesting that the City Manager be warned that if he ever conducts any business in private again, or involves the City in any practices that bring dishonor, or disrepute, to the City--he would be fired.

It's doubtful that any of this City Council would go this far--so there's every reason why they wouldn't want the public present in this secret meeting.

Maybe after the Council has issued its response to the Grand Jury--members of the public will get together, and come up with a "public response" that allows folks who feel betrayed by this Council to express its feelings, and suggest approaches to increasing transparency that this Council would not consider--even on a really sunshiney day.


1 person likes this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 10, 2014 at 11:33 am

[Post removed.]


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Posted by boscoli
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2014 at 12:20 pm

The city of Palo Alto government seems to have no problem being transparent to Palantir. The vast majority of the citizens weren't even aware of a council hearing about development a few weeks ago, but scores of Palantir employees showed up with well coordinated and well prepared comments, all demanding massive urbanization of Palo Alto so they are able to purchase condos downtown and walk to work.


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2014 at 12:31 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Nothing New Here
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm

City council and senior staff continue to cultivate being out of integrity as they work with developers and large property owners.

Hard to tell who is being a bigger Elmo Dipthong: a local multi-billionaire, elected council members or senior staff.

Being responsible after the fact is similar to a wife or husband beater apologizing after they hit their mate. Being responsible is being appropriate.

Oh, but some people believe it's okay to beat their mates unconscious in public and private. Then apologizing after is revealed by someone else.

We call this progress? Although it would be appropriate to replace them all, lets send them all to the Stanford University Forgiveness Project where they can learn how to make just amends.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 10, 2014 at 3:07 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

> "This does look as if there were secrets and backroom deals, but I don't ever remember any kind of a process that would allow for that," Shepherd said. "I never participated in any of that kind of conversation."

1. Shepherd was at the 9-18-12 closed session meeting at which the sale of the city land to Arrillaga was discussed: Web Link I’d call that a secret backroom deal.

2. One of Keene’s assistants sent an email to all council members on June 13, 2012 (ALL CAPS highlights are mine):

“City Manager Jim Keene and Steve Emslie would like to brief Council Members on the latest information related to the John Arrillaga Project. These sessions will be ½ hour in length and the City’s consultants Dan Garber and Bruce Fukuji will also be in attendance. I have set up a Doodle Poll to request your availability; we would like to SCHEDULE 2 OR 3 COUNCIL MEMBERS AT A TIME. If you would, please click on the link below to indicate which proposed dates/times will work with your schedules. …”

(Note that Dan Garber was a commissioner on the Palo Alto Planning & Transportation Commission. He resigned in March 2012. In September 2012 his firm, Fergus Garber Young Consultants, was awarded an $85,000 contract for urban design and architectural services for the Arrillaga project.)

3. Today’s Post (9-10) says, “Shepherd asked if the city council members could simply send their thoughts and comments [re editing the grand jury response] to Burt and Schmid, presumably by email, rather than continuing to discuss their critiques at the public meeting. But City Attorney Molly Stump jumped in and told Shepherd that doing so would be a violation of the Brown Act.”

Instead of running for reelection, Nancy Shepherd should resign from public office. In spite of the grand jury report, she still seems unable to understand the most basic issues of transparency or the Brown Act.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2014 at 4:41 pm

[Portion removed.]

"The city of Palo Alto government seems to have no problem being transparent to Palantir. The vast majority of the citizens weren't even aware of a council hearing about development a few weeks ago, but scores of Palantir employees showed up with well coordinated and well prepared comments, all demanding massive urbanization of Palo Alto so they are able to purchase condos downtown and walk to work."
This was a regular council meeting. Everyone knew about it. All the time we see groups organizing supporters to speak at council meetings. Nothing wrong with that. I'm fact on the thread dealing with saving retail there is a suggestion bynthe council to build more housing downtown. Where these palantir employees doing anything wrong. I think not. Anyway, anyone can show up at a council meeting and make demands-- it does not mean the council will act.


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Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2014 at 5:35 pm

> “Councilwoman Karen Holman, who in 2012 privately raised concerns about the council's undisclosed meetings with Arrillaga, said she should have done more at the time.”

Holman DID raise the issue of transparency. In response to the invitation/Doodle poll referenced above, she wrote an email on June 14, 2010 to Keene and City Attorney Stump:

“My concern has been and with proposed further meetings about the Arrillaga project that the public has yet to have a clear picture of what is being considered even in most general fashion. The one public meeting offered little and I recall saying that as far as the public is concerned, the project is ethereal due to such little information brought forward.

“With these additional meetings being proposed that include designers as part of the meetings, I have even greater concerns about transparency. Please help me understand what causes the need for private meetings with CC members rather than meetings that could be held in public. Council members gave early input rather than having a pre-screening.

“Thanks a lot for enlightening me on the process or changing to a public meeting.”

Did the city manager or city attorney ever enlighten Holman? In my public records access request, I was not provided with any responses from the city manager or city attorney regarding Holman’s concerns.

As JS wrote, “Let's not forget the role of the City Attorney in all of this.”

> “One can only wonder if the City Manager would have been able to get 27 University approved by putting it on the Consent Calendar.”

The city manager got his $4.5M approved for renovating the first floor of City Hall – on the consent calendar. He claimed it would “convey transparency”!

"During the initial project meetings with WMB, it became apparent that the first floor renovation would need to be even broader in scope to achieve a more open government atmosphere to encourage public participation and convey transparency."
Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Let Me Get This Straight
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2014 at 5:41 pm

This latest scandal has shined a bright light not only on the Palo Alto City Council, but on both the current and former senior City staff. What has been illuminated is an ethically-challenged organizational culture. The current leadership, elected and appointed, inspires no confidence that this dysfunctional culture can or will be changed. Environmental initiatives are commendable. Nevertheless, integrity, competence, courage, and openness are the building blocks of trust in and success of an organization. This organization lacks all of these virtues. Time to clean house.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Rupert,

"All the time we see groups organizing supporters to speak at council meetings. Nothing wrong with that."

I didn't realize there is an official pro-tall buildings on the train tracks group. I wonder if they have meetings, and any resident can attend. Or maybe they are held together in other ways. The architect for 27 University was at the same meeting that "everybody" know about. And a Stanford spokesperson.

Everybody else must have missed something.


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Posted by resident 3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2014 at 5:48 pm

I forgot to include the "3" in my handle in the previous posting.

meant to say the meeting "everybody" knew about.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2014 at 5:53 pm

I didn't realize there is an official pro-tall buildings on the train tracks group. I wonder if they have meetings, and any resident can attend. Or maybe they are held together in other ways. The architect for 27 University was at the same meeting that "everybody" know about. And a Stanford spokesperson. "

Not sure what you are talking about, resident 3, but that is okay.
My comment was directed at boscoli who made it sound like the employees of Palantir were doing something wrong.

Instead of deleting all references to it, it would behoove the moderator to explain why we cannot discuss Ms diamonds article about this issue on this forum.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2014 at 6:50 pm

We all need to understand what the current status is of:
1. El Camino Park - what is suppose to be happening here and when does it get converted back into playing fields - if that is the plan.
2. 27 University - I believe we are to assume that the project is dead - is that a correct assumption?
3. Planning Department - does it have an open listing of current projects in process and those approved for future effort.
4. Planning Department - is there a listing of projects that have been provided for consideration.
5. Calendar that would appear on the City agenda of all meetings and projected participants - if known.

Hopefully the Weekly can put this together so it puts a stake in the ground as to where we are today. These are talking points for the election coming up.


4 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2014 at 7:56 pm

The fact that the city manager & staff arranged the meetings on the property to have only 2 - 3 council members at a time says that the whole episode WAS NOT A MISTAKE! It was an INTENTIONAL act, with fore thought & malice, to subvert the Brown act and game the system. Very unethical, and at the very least the city council should be in discussions on terminating the city manager.


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Posted by Resident 5
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 10, 2014 at 8:06 pm

So when will access be available to to the public, for the 7.7 acres?


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Posted by Resident 5
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 10, 2014 at 8:25 pm

After looking at the parcel map there appears to be a common area adjoining the 7.7 acres. This looks like an ideal area to put a hiking/biking trail for access to Los Trancos Rd.


2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2014 at 8:33 pm

I've done dozens of hours of work on the 27 University Ave deal -- and made its opposition a point of my 2012 Council campaign -- and got nearly 6,000 votes -- but have read or written considerably less about the 7.7.

My current thrust is the assertion that beyond a) the secrecy and b) the lack of response there may be, based on my observation c) an attempt to stifle dissent or further investigation at the time the proposal -27 Uni -- was on the docket by at least one council member who I say bullied me into not furthering my request or speaking out.

[Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by resident 3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Mark Weiss,

The style that some people have can sometimes come off as abrupt, and it goes with the territory of disagreement.
When an elected person acts up, it can be guised under debate, but I would say that a few Council members have been pretty much rude towards people who disagree with them, or react rudely to inconvenient public comment.

There was a meeting where the tone of the council member that you may be referring to, went off towards a resident who brought up water as a consideration in over development. I can't recall the meeting but I found the high pitched mock of the public comment about water to be unnecessary. It is in fact true that water is an issue to consider.

I wish you luck in getting an apology, though a resignation would be more appropriate given the conflicts that are pretty obvious about how these negotiations transpired. You called it correctly back with 27 University, I voted for you. I may vote for you again because it takes courage to follow through on a situation like this.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:09 am

@Resident 5 -- it's unclear whether that "common area" is publicly owned. I doubt it.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:02 am

[Post removed.]


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

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