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Candidate profile: The Agitator — Mark Weiss

 

If you've ever heard Mark Weiss address the City Council, you will almost certainly know three things about him: He graduated from Gunn High School, he talks fast and he views new development with a mixture of fear and loathing.

On Sept. 10, he stood at the microphone in front of the Planning and Transportation Commission and riffed during the public comment portion of the meeting about former Gunn and Dartmouth College classmates who are now federal prosecutors; about Henry David Thoreau's essay, "Civil Disobedience"; and about the recent Santa Clara County Grand Jury report that criticized the City Council for its less-than-transparent negotiations with developer John Arrillaga in 2012. Weiss said he didn't believe the city is taking the report seriously enough and suggested that the planning commission assist in responding to the Grand Jury.

"I'm a little concerned about the leadership's response," he said.

The fact that many in the community share his concern gives Weiss reason for optimism. This is his third consecutive bid for a council seat. In his first council run, in 2009, he finished 13th in a 14-candidate field, securing 732 votes (1.2 percent) and edging out only panhandler Victor Frost. In 2012, he finished sixth in a six-candidate field, earning 5,749 votes. Though he would still have needed twice as many votes to win a seat, Weiss sees the growing number of votes as a victory of sorts -- an affirmation that his positions are becoming more mainstream.

When asked in July why he is seeking office for the third time, Weiss noted that his vote total "has jumped dramatically from 2009 and 2012" and that he is curious to see how well he will do on the third go-around.

Like the majority of candidates on the November ballot, Weiss considers himself a residentialist. He became involved in the community as a concert producer, organizing shows at Cubberley Community Center and founding the company Earthwise Productions. He is well-versed in the local art-and-entertainment scene and was a fierce proponent of bringing a performance space back to the historic Varsity Theatre building on University Avenue. He has been a regular fixture at meetings of the council, the planning commission and the Architectural Review Board, offering his views on everything from public art and housing policies to free speech and government transparency.

In recent months, he has also been lobbying the council to build a park in the Ventura neighborhood. If a large parcel of land comes on the market, Weiss told the council at a recent meeting, the city should find a way to buy it. One option the city could explore, he said, is the sprawling Fry's Electronics site along Park Boulevard and Portage Avenue. The council considers the land as one of the city's most promising locations for new housing. Weiss argued at a recent meeting of the planning commission that a park should be part of the plan.

"Since Ventura is sort of an undervalued neighborhood and the property values here are a little less than where you all live, it could do wonders, a park in Ventura," Weiss told the council.

When he is not speaking his mind at a public meeting, Weiss is doing so in writing, whether on PaloAltoOnline.com's Town Square forum or on his own blog, Plastic Alto. Last month, he went on Town Square to criticize this November's Measure D, which would reduce the number of seats on the council from nine to seven. Once again, he went to Thoreau for reference, first quoting his line that "who governs best governs least" but then counter-arguing that Thoreau had also called for "what in contemporary terms might be called civic engagement."

"Keeping the council composition at nine members rather than the proposed reduction to seven better ensures a representative council, responsive to the spectrum of needs of the people," Weiss wrote on Town Square.

As in prior years, the Weiss campaign is filled with anti-government and anti-development rhetoric, sometimes at the expense of practicality. During a public hearing on the Grand Jury report, Weiss used his three allotted minutes at the microphone to remain silent (with the countdown starting after he reminded the audience that he studied civics at Terman Middle School and Gunn).

When a Palo Alto Neighborhood questionnaire asked him what he would do to improve the relationship between Palo Alto residents and city government, he responded, "I would increase the size of council from two to nine members, in terms of the number of members who actually listen to what the rank-of-file constituent might say."

Yet occasionally he shows a glimmer of compromise. After initially opposing proposals from Charles "Chop" Keenan to redevelop the Varsity Theatre building (which Keenan owns), Weiss said at a recent meeting of the Architectural Review Board that he is keeping an open mind about the latest plan for the building -- a cafe and public space geared toward young high-tech workers.

Weiss said he recently ran into Keenan, who told him that the new cafe will "rock." This has prompted the veteran concert promoter to "reverse my position and give Mr. Keenan the benefit of the doubt."

Weiss said he will give Keenan six months after the opening to see if the new business works at the historic site.

"And if not, we'll let him have it," Weiss said.

• To read about where Mark Weiss stands on issues including development, transportation and housing, see the Weekly's PDF edition.

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