With seemingly every candidate in the City Council trying to run under the "residentialist" banner, the citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ) has released a scorecard that seeks to quantify each council members "pro-resident" record.
The group, which was formed during last year's divisive Measure D referendum campaign, identified 20 votes that the council has taken since 2012 that relate to land use and development. It gave each council member either a "1" for what it called a "resident-favorable" vote or a "0" for a "resident-unfavorable" one. In the survey, favorable votes tend to be those that oppose new developments, promote solutions to downtown's traffic and parking woes, and resist "upzoning" of local sites to enable denser developments.
Councilwoman Karen Holman and Councilman Greg Schmid earned the highest scores from the residents group, with each scoring 85 percent. Councilman Larry Klein and Councilwoman Gail Price scored the lowest, with 20 percent each.
The rest of the council scored as follows:
Marc Berman -- 56 percent
Pat Burt -- 55 percent
Liz Kniss -- 38 percent
Greg Scharff -- 30 percent
Nancy Shepherd -- 25 percent
The survey's scope is limited by both its time frame (it doesn't cover incumbents' votes before 2012 or after June 2, 2014), its list of issues (the group chose 20 out of the hundreds of votes taken) and the group's specific view of what it means to be "pro-residential." For example, it views the council's approval of the redevelopment of Edgewood Plaza in 2012 (which in addition to its residential and office space includes a new supermarket) as unfavorable to residents, an assessment that would likely be disputed by neighbors who have long worked with the applicant to come up with an acceptable plan to restore the dilapidated plaza.
Likewise, the group deems as resident-unfavorable the council's brief consideration in 2013 of jointly developing a garage with developer Charles "Chop" Keenan, even though the plan was sparked by an upswell of residents' concerns about insufficient parking. Similarly, council members who in June opposed adoption of new laws regarding wider sidewalks and greater setback of buildings from El Camino Real received unfavorable grades. The fact that the dissenters didn't really oppose the reforms but merely wanted them to be explored later, as part of a broader conversation about zoning changes, does not get captured in the "no" vote.
At the same time, the group scored as favorable those votes that promote reform to the city's much criticized "planned community" (PC) zoning (which allows developers to request zoning exemptions for negotiated public benefits); support a parking-permit program for residents; and support a requirement to preserve ground-floor retail space in commercial areas.
The survey, which took months to compile, claims to have evaluated "all votes involving land use and development policy where there was a potential adverse impact to residents," according to the group's press release. But even if "all votes" is a bit of an overreach, the survey does succeed in quantifying what most City Hall observers have long suspected: Holman and Schmid are the council's chief skeptics when it comes to new developments. Each has a long record of casting the lone dissenting vote on land-use matters (occasionally, as on the Lytton Gateway development, they provide the council's only two dissenting votes). The survey also reflects Klein's tendency to tread carefully on ordinances that may challenge property owners' rights and Price's view that the city should encourage more housing, even if it means relaxing height limits for new buildings (whether these positions can be characterized as unfavorable to residents is open to debate).
Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning's membership includes three candidates in this year's council race: Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Lydia Kou. Though Holman joined her council colleagues in approving last year's Maybell Avenue development (which the voters ultimately shot down), she has become closely aligned with the PASZ candidates during the campaign season, occasionally joining them at campaign events.
In a statement, PASZ President Cheryl Lilienstein emphasized the importance of voting records in establishing the "residentialist" credentials of council members.
"Voting records are the factual record of an elected leader's positions," Lilienstein said. "PASZ members carefully researched the information on this scorecard in order to give voters an historical perspective regarding the positions of existing City Council members. We urge all voters to look carefully at the voting record of all candidates for City Council, and only vote for leaders whose positions most closely align with your own."
More information about the group and the survey is available at Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning.