News

Reforms recommended for Palo Alto's contentious zoning process

Planning and Transportation Commission votes on variety of changes to 'planned-community' zoning

When Palo Alto voters struck down in 2013 a proposed housing development on Maybell Avenue, they also inadvertently put a halt to the highly contentious zoning process that made the development possible.

Now, the "planned-community" (PC) zone -- which has helped to spur some of the city's most valued and most controversial developments over the past half a century -- is preparing to make a comeback. The big question that the Planning and Transportation Commission wrestled with on Wednesday: What will it look like in its new incarnation?

In its second exhaustive discussion in a month, the commission debated, crafted legal language, challenged planning staff and reached a near-consensus on how to alter the polarizing and emotionally charged zoning designation. The commission voted 6-1, with Przemek Gardias dissenting, to make a host of minor changes to the ordinance, including a new definition of "public benefits," a pre-screening requirement for developers, a mechanism for enforcing the public benefits and a clarification that benefits such as affordable and senior housing would be given preference over other types.

Yet even with these changes, the commission stopped well short of recommending the types of broad and sweeping changes that land-use critics, slow-growth "residentialists" and some council members have been calling for in the aftermath of the 2013 referendum. By choosing mild revisions over a broad revamp, the commission supported continuing to allow developers to pay for zoning exemptions and to propose projects that aren't intrinsically beneficial to the community, provided that they offer an "extrinsic" benefit instead.

First adopted in the 1950s, the PC process was initially used primarily for affordable housing, senior housing and other valuable amenities that would be difficult to build under other zoning. It allows a developer to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for "public benefits,"

More recently, it has enabled mixed-use developments with large commercial components, including the College Terrace Centre at 2180 El Camino Real and the new office building at 101 Lytton Ave., now home of SurveyMonkey.

The City Council suspended PC zoning in February 2014 in response to increased community concern over the way the process has been used.

While its supporters call PC zoning a valuable tool for giving developers flexibility and permitting projects that provide important community amenities, detractors denounce it as a scam and refer to it as "zoning for sale," citing promised public benefits that never materialized.

One point of debate on the commission is whether the public benefit in a planned-community project should be intrinsic to the development, as is the case with senior-housing communities such as Lytton Garden and low-income developments like the Treehouse project on West Charleston Road built by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation. While Commissioner Kate Downing initially favored requiring these developments to contain amenities like low-income and senior housing, the majority sided with Commissioner Michael Alcheck, who argued that the project shouldn't have to be beneficial in itself, as long as the developer pays the right price, either in terms of cash or other amenities.

Alcheck favored an approach that allows developers to effectively propose anything they want in exchange for zoning exceptions, with the understanding that the council can always reject the package it receives if it doesn't like it. The city, he said, should welcome "out-of-the-box thinking" from developers.

"We're not just the epicenter of disruption in technology," Alcheck said. "We want to welcome, maybe, disruptive concepts in land use."

His colleagues generally bought this argument, with Downing ultimately saying she was swayed by Alcheck's call for flexibility (Commissioner Eric Rosenblum was the only member who didn't go along with the majority). They also largely agreed with Alcheck's subsequent argument that these extrinsic benefits can include cash.

Rosenblum strongly objected to the latter proposal and called it "the definition of zoning for sale." Downing was the only commissioner who joined him in dissent.

"This item, handing out cash in exchange for zoning exceptions, is not out of the box. It's an old practice. This is one that makes me uncomfortable," Rosenblum said.

Others didn't share his view and went along with the idea that a significant cash payment can constitute a benefit, particularly if it's used to finance infrastructure improvements or pay for other city priorities.

Even though the "public benefits" section remains largely open-ended, it would now be defined in the zoning code as improvements or amenities that would be "unattainable in general zoning districts or combining districts." This would include things like affordable housing and "significant monetary or 'in kind' contributions" toward infrastructure.

The commission also favored a new "pre-screening" phase in which a developer makes an early public pitch for the concept being proposed. The pre-screening would, in theory, gauge the council's and the community's interest in the project before the details are worked out.

Commissioner Mark Michael stressed that the pre-screening hearings should be fully transparent and include economic analyses and discussions of the development's compatibility with the Comprehensive Plan. Otherwise, a highly unpopular idea can advance to a public hearing and lead to community distrust, much like what happened with John Arrillaga's proposal for 27 University Ave. in 2012 and with Jay Paul Co.'s proposal for 395 Page Mill Road in 2013. Both developers proposed projects that the council and many in the public felt were too massive. Each project was ultimately withdrawn after much criticism and tension in the community.

Michael said he'd like to make sure council is not "embarrassed" like it was with those two projects and with the Maybell development, noting that the council "didn't have a rigorous process" in considering the developments during preliminary screenings.

During a discussion lasting nearly four hours, the commission also questioned staff's thoroughness in presenting feedback to the council, which is set to make a decision on planned-community reforms next month.

Commissioners insisted that all of their input be included in the report to the council, including a draft ordinance that contains all of its added verbiage. Downing was one of several commissioners who argued that their input isn't being sufficiently captured in staff reports, telling staff that the commission "created something and you'll give the council half of it."

Chair Greg Tanaka agreed, saying that simply summarizing the commission's feedback would be a "disservice to the City Council."

He tried at one point to make a formal motion calling for staff to craft an ordinance including all of the commission edits but ultimately withdrew the proposal.

Members were particularly insistent that staff accurately transmit the commission's feedback on the main issue of disagreement: height limits. The commission felt planned-community projects should be able to exceed the 50-foot height limit. Planning staff disagreed.

In a report, city planners argued that exceeding the height limit does not "reflect the direction of the City Council or the concerns raised by the community."

"The 50-foot height limit has been a time-honored community value," the report states. "Departure from this policy should be made at the City Council level."

Alcheck, in a highly unusual move, lobbied planning staff to change its stance toward the 50-foot height limit, which he has criticized in the past.

He requested that city planners "consider rephrasing their position" and at the very least support having buildings with five stories (the 50-foot limit typically restricts developments to four stories).

"You have an opportunity here to engage the City Council in a discussion that the ARB (Architectural Review Board) has suggested for so long now," Alcheck told staff, referencing a common refrain from ARB Chair Randy Popp, a vehement critic of the height limit.

Gardias was the only commissioner who supported staff's position on this matter, calling the city's height limit a "sensitive aspect."

"Removing this will remove unreasonable expectation that pretty much now anyone can build whatever he or she pleases to," Gardias said.

Rosenblum sided with Alcheck on this issue and said he struggled to understand why the city would be willing to compromise on things like density or setbacks but not on height.

"It does seem odd to me in this exceptional process that this is one area where there will be no exceptions," Rosenblum said.

One idea proposed in past discussions of the PC zone was the creation of a menu of public benefits from which developers can choose. The mechanism was seen as a way to take the wildcard aspect out of planned-community projects, making them more predictable. In the past, the term "public benefits" has encompassed everything from sculptures to grocery stores.

The commission opted not to go forward with the menu. By allowing extrinsic benefits such as cash, the adopted definition of "public benefit" remains open-ended enough to allow developers to propose almost any benefit in exchange for zoning exemptions.

The commission's recommendations will now be forwarded to the council, which is scheduled to consider the topic on April 20.

Comments

28 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2015 at 10:59 pm

Wow! Did they really mostly agree that kickbacks would be an acceptable form of bribery in exchange for zoning favors? Everything quoted in the article goes against the tide of public opinion that saw an almost clean sweep in the last election for City Council candidates running against out-of-control zoning variances. Are the commissioners really that out of touch with public sentiment?


27 people like this
Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:09 am

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

I urge everyone in Palo Alto to watch the video of this meeting. It was SHOCKING.

Our planning commissioners are proposing a PC Zoning ordinance that is looser and more wide open than the one that triggered the PC Moratorium in the first place. After months of discussion, the floodgates are going to be wide open.

Our planning commission, defenders of our comprehensive plan, actually proposed removing the fifty foot height limit from the ordinance. And the badgering of our professional staff and attorney was completely out of line. The commissioners were actually writing the words of the ordinance, and ignoring staff telling them that the language had legal issues. Arrogance without bounds.

It was a three ring circus. In the end, Alcheck wore them all down. After four hours, initial discussions to limit PC zoning, to strengthen enforcement, to get rid of zoning for sale - all fell by the wayside to the professional developer on our commission who only wants flexibility. Talk about self serving!

And staff assuring them that their discussion would be reflected in the report was not enough - they wanted it to be LESS transparent and present their legalese to council, basically forcing council to either reject their work or recreate it.

Palo Alto can and has done better.

I urge everyone to watch this meeting, read the minutes and consider a citizen initiative to recall the entire PTC.


21 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 8:24 am

the [portion removed] lack of respect the PTC has for law, process and residents is clear and they simply need to be shutdown by the city council


28 people like this
Posted by Wow...
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

Looks like the council will have to spend the next 4 years vetoing [portion removed] the PTC. Could Alcheck be any more entitled?!

Hopefully the council will be strong and blunt. My personal hope is that Bob Moss or PASZ or some of the leaders that emerged in the Maybell fiasco will get signatures for an ordinance to put all of this nonsense to bed for good (I'll happily help canvass, and the thing would be a slam dunk to pass).


27 people like this
Posted by Relax
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:04 am

Regardless of whether or not we personally agree with various ideas explored by commissioners, it sounds like main point of dispute was around how recommendations appear to Council.

The PTC is an "advisory body" that makes recommendations to Council. Talking about what happens when Staff disagrees with the PTC's recommendations and whether Council would still see the PTCs recommendations is fair. Perhaps the meeting could be better run but isn't this the transparency we want?


14 people like this
Posted by Truthseeker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:08 am

Truthseeker is a registered user.

We need to hold PTC commissioners like Michael Alcheck accountable. They probably think we have our heads buried in the sand. I am not hearing a good explanation for these views except change for change's sake. Progress is one thing; disregard for what taxpaying citizens of a city want is another. And yes, they are now explicitly proposing zoning for sale. Not very out-of-the-box thinking. Am I being unreasonable?


21 people like this
Posted by Not so simple
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:21 am

I watched the proceedings last night. It was not my favorite TV watching experience. However, it was probably worse for the Commissioners who actually had to debate these issues.

I don't agree with Alcheck's position. I also don't agree with the bashing of Alcheck. He is making a valuable point: the PC Zoning process IS for exceptions. We trust Council to consider each project on an individual basis. Why would we create some arbitrary limits on what Council can consider?

All-in-all, the meeting went on too long. However, I can't fault the honest debate that occurred. A group of our fellow citizens just gave up 5 hours of time with their families (or Netflix) to try to figure out what should get done with our PC Zoning process.


21 people like this
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 9:29 am

I don't get it. Can someone explain why it matters whether developers build a bike underpass themselves or give the city money to do it?

Zoning is pretty boring stuff. If someone includes 16 apartments where the code said they could include 15 and the city council approves, is that something to be outraged about? Zoning exists to control impacts. Lots of cities have ways of offering exceptions for zoning in exchange for other ways to control impacts.

Sometimes, it seems like a set of residents in Palo Alto is trying to turn its existing zoning code into a holy document instead of something written by city council that can be changed by city council. As someone who lives just across the creek and works in PA, it's kind of odd.


18 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:38 am

Yes, well the problem is that the developers would pay the city for overrides to the the zoning process which would benefit the developers far out of proportion to the amount they would pay Palo Alto for those perks. The long-term cost of their benefits would be inflicted on the long-suffering residents of Palo Alto, in the form of increased traffic, even more crowded schools, parks, public spaces, etc. Palo Alto is so far out of balance now in the jobs/commercial to housing/retail equation, that the PACC and staff should not approve anything that does not directly address that situation.

I don't think the Council fully realizes that increasing volume of traffic in the form of commuters rushing into and out of the city actually decreases bicycling as a solution. Bicycling on city streets is dangerous. I used to bike everywhere at least until I had some close calls with speeders cutting through my neighborhood. So now I drive - slowly. And many parents now drive their kids to neighborhood schools because the volume of traffic on major arteries (including speeders and light runners) makes it dangerous to walk. Which also increases traffic.


16 people like this
Posted by Who is who
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:42 am

It helps understanding people's views to know their occupation. Michael Alcheck is described on the web and in his application for the PTC that he is an attorney at this law firm:
"Goodwin Procter LLP is one of the nation's leading law firms, with offices in Boston, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C.
The firm provides corporate law and litigation services, with a focus on matters involving real estate, REITs and real estate capital markets; private equity; technology companies; financial services; intellectual property; products liability and mass torts; and securities litigation and white collar defense.:

In addition he is part of his family's "Alcheck Properties, Inc.
San Francisco Bay Area | Real Estate"

So his views are not all that surprising.


19 people like this
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Pasted from Gennady's article:

"the majority sided with Commissioner Michael Alcheck, who argued that the project shouldn't have to be beneficial in itself, as long as the developer pays the right price, either in terms of cash or other amenities."

This is the most stunning example of cluelessness and disregard of the impact on the rest of us who ALREADY LIVE HERE that I've ever seen. Can I expect a check soon from the city as my share of these kickbacks?

This commission appears not to have paid any attention to the election results.


21 people like this
Posted by Please No, Not Again....
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Why are developers and those who support them (lawyers) allowed on the planning commission in the first place? Isn't that a serious conflict of interest? If they are not lining their own pockets by selling the city off to the highest bidder, they will simply be helping friends and family members. We have suffered through what 'professionals' have done to Palo Alto; it is now time for those with the city's true interests at heart, and no money or professional interest on the line, to take control. I very much hope the City Council can turn this around. That is what they were elected for.


40 people like this
Posted by all the same
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:26 pm

"They also largely agreed with Alcheck's subsequent argument that these extrinsic benefits can include cash. Rosenblum strongly objected to the latter proposal and called it "the definition of zoning for sale." Downing was the only commissioner who joined him in dissent."

All PC zoning is essentially zoning for sale. The "public benefits" are things the city (i.e. new Police Headquarters) would otherwise have to fund on their own. Having a non-cash benefit for PC zoning may be more palatable, but it's no different (and more restrictive) than simply paying cash for up-zoning. Ultimately, the city needs to decide whether increased density is worth the monetary pay-off.


18 people like this
Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

Is it time for PC Zoning to just be deleted from the books as Councilman Scharff has suggested?


24 people like this
Posted by Shut them down
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:25 pm

It is time to shut down both the Architectural review board and the Planning and Transportation commission. They are out of touch with what the citizens of Palo Alto want. If the city council can't do it because of retained pro-development members then perhaps a referendum is in order. With all the massive developments taking over the city we can't wait for the next election in two years. We need a referendum now. Where do we sign the petition?


20 people like this
Posted by Just say NO
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I agree with Guy, just get rid of PC's. It is time to go back to regular zoning with no exceptions!!!


29 people like this
Posted by MJ
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:45 pm

I don't think the commissioners are clueless. Their pro-development debate reflects either self-interest and bias toward remaking Palo Alto into a much denser ("vibrant" is the new buzzword) city, or both.

This commission was appointed by the last council who cynically stacked it with pro-development members. Last fall they kicked out the last member who asked the insightful questions about issues developers/architects/land use lawyers etc. tried to suppress.

We have learned to our cost that when there are are not clear cut rules in place the planning process becomes politicized, puts enormous pressure on the planning staff who can be influenced or coerced into giving them every exception on the books, even engaging PR consultants when necessary to manipulate the situation in their favor.
Down the road the commissioners recommendations once again put developers in the driving seat.

[Portion removed.]


17 people like this
Posted by citizen pa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Guy Fawkes,

The important thing for you to realize about Maybell is that it was begun and fundamentally driven by very local families (ours included) who were mostly concerned about the very local safety issues, and it was taken up by others for development reasons which were also important, but not the original driver. The original families continued to be driven by the safety issues, regardless of everything else.

My point is: these kinds of things are a lot of work, and Maybell was successful because neighbors developed coalitions and spread out the work. You have legitimate issues and points, but people in that neighborhood face ongoing problems with that property and other overdevelopment pressures.

If you learn something from what happened there, it should be: you, as a citizen, have the power to change things if you try. Many would thank you and join you if you initiated such a recall that allowed the current City Council to appoint more experienced, less development-biased commissioners. Contact the City Clerk, contact civic leaders with an institutional memory about how to best achieve it, and start the ball rolling. Get in touch with leaders of various active neighborhood groups. That's what they did. You will quickly find you can achieve what the Maybell neighbors did. But don't sit passively by expecting them to do everything. If you want to achieve something like that, you have to do it yourself. But it is doable, and you will get people joining you. Starting the ball rolling and understanding where it needs to go is the critical first step.


2 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 12, 2015 at 2:12 pm

We are making this too hard. Any developer that wants a zoning variance needs to bring it to the voters at his expense and say what he is willing to do in the way of compensation for the damage of breaking the zoning. If 50% of the voters think it is a good idea, so be it.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 12, 2015 at 3:32 pm

67%


7 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2015 at 3:54 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by No to Zoning by Election
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 4:00 pm

I don't agree that every exception should be put to a general election - it would be extremely costly and a political zoo, with the deep pocket developers able to spin their proposals in crazy ways. The general population does not have the knowledge to make zoning decisions on individual proposals.


9 people like this
Posted by Suzanne Keehn
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 4:23 pm

It seems that the commissioners live in a different area, plus don't realize that we just had an election that they are not aware of our recent election.

I agree with the proposal about another referendum.


Like this comment
Posted by Suzanne Keehn
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Opps, didn't read my comment well enough.

It seems that the commissioners live in a different area, and do not realize the results of our recent election.


5 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:27 pm

"Out of the Box thinking" or "Crony capitalism"?


12 people like this
Posted by Residential 1
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2015 at 7:28 pm

So what would be the process for me to change my R1 home into something else? Answer: couldn't/wouldn't happen. So why do developers get special treatment to play with zoning? And what if for example I bought a commercial property (like a funeral home), am I going to get to change the zoning to residential? By throwing some minimal "public benefit" out there? Seems unfair.


14 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 12, 2015 at 10:45 pm

Lets terminate PC zoning. No more exceptions.
Did you not get the idea that the residents of Palo Alto do not want the developers idea if a more vibrant city. We want more locally owned businesses and restaurants. No more chain stores or restaurants. No more gulags that look like the worst examples of soviet cheap.
At one time the ground floor of buildings along either University or California Aves were reserved for retail. This should be reinstated. Put offices above. Put housing on top. This should be the rule for both the downtowns--California and University Aves.
Stop PC zoning now.
Then fire the planning and transportation committees.


12 people like this
Posted by keith builder
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2015 at 11:23 pm

keep building---

Web Link

very scary. very irresponsible for Palo Alto and all of California to keep cramming more and more into very limited resources. don't think about the future palo alto--afterall, we can keep taxing-- water??? who needs it?


5 people like this
Posted by Actually
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 13, 2015 at 1:17 am

Residential 1:

Actually, all you need to do is to create an alternative use of your R1 zoned property that garners popular and/or emotional support in town, and then you can do anything you want.

Take for example, the Little League ballpark. The ballpark property is zoned R1, but Little League is able to ignore zoning requirements, setback requirements, and ultimately, repeated neighbor complaints of Conditional Use Permit violations because their property use is "popular."

Somehow, people think that requiring the owner of a ~20+ million dollar property to adhere to City zoning and permitting requirements is outrageous because it's an endearing facility. Suddenly, expecting the property owner to behave like any other R1-zoned property owner are grounds to be publicly vilified.

Listening to the ballpark board members (none of whom live in the ballpark neighborhood or are impacted by the ballpark's land use) lambaste the longtime park neighbors was horrifying. It was everything gone wrong in this town rolled up into one issue.

Palo Alto is no longer the wonderful community of the past. Now, it's just another political machination of dog eat dog. So incredibly sad for what was once a beautiful place to live and raise a family.

Make your property use about something popular and then you can do anything you want with your R1 zoned property.

It takes a few years though.


2 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2015 at 10:44 am

"Out of the Box thinking"?

No, love the box thinking. [Portion removed] The Ken Hayes box.


10 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Marie is a registered user.

When the Planning Commission take on the job of modifying the Planned Community zoning in order to tighten the requirements and instead loosens them and justifies the excesses of earlier cases, it is time to just eliminate this option and find new Planning Commission members.

I've never seen a more blatant case of the planning commission completely ignoring the political will of Palo Alto residents.


Like this comment
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Mar 13, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Let us hope the city council follows its usual custom of casually dissing the planning commission.


5 people like this
Posted by citizen pa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2015 at 2:33 am

@Marie,
You have brought up a really important issue that came out in the Maybell referendum. We don't have an impartial ballot process in Palo Alto. The City and/or the City Attorney can rig a ballot still, making it harder for residents to make changes, and City Hall less afraid they will.

We need to change this and adopt an impartial ballot process like they have in San Francisco for the last 30 years. Ours doesn't need to be exactly like theirs, but we could use their code as a starting point, since they are a charter city, too.

It's probably even a great project for some students -- look at the SF election code, adapt it for Palo Alto, and bring a proposal for an impartial ballot process to the City Council. I think at least some of them understand the issue well enough already from recent history that it would stand a good chance of adoption if written well enough.

If recall of odious commissioners requires a vote or action by council, this will make it more likely that the initial signature drives can encourage action short of an expensive election when the populace disagrees with City Hall.


Like this comment
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Goodness gracious, what has happened to Midtown? I finally had a day off so I figured I'd go sit on that bench in that quiet glade near the tennis courts. Anyone recall this place?

Lo and behold, I come across a "Magical Playground" under construction. More buildings, less trees. More constructions of concrete and iron, less nature. I think kids would have a more enjoyable time climbing trees and tossing a football than carousing around on an eyesore mini amusement park that is being squeezed into Mitchell Park where there is actually NO ROOM. It is basically impossible to get around on foot.

So I decided to check out Mitchell Park library for the first time. I liked the old one so much better. That one had character.
The new library is like the ones in Los Angeles. It is somehow much larger and more expensive, but less spacious and quiet because its such a magnet for overpopulation.
I couldn't find anywhere quiet to sit down and read because there were children screaming everywhere.

It seems that overnight, midtown Palo Alto has become wildly overpopulated and its old soul snuffed out completely.

Is this due to natural growth or godawful decisions made by city council? I will definitely have to move out the country as this over-development shows no signs of slowing down.


5 people like this
Posted by Julian Gomez
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2015 at 11:07 pm

"consider a citizen initiative to recall the entire PTC"

OK. No idea how to do this, but I'm there. Even used my real name.


5 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Mar 15, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Can't recall the PTC because it's appointed by the council. Luckily, it's only an advisory body with no independent authority. Just lobby the council to ignore it like they usually do.


1 person likes this
Posted by Actually
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 15, 2015 at 9:21 pm

YES! Recall the appointments to the PTC and ARB that were made by the lame duck City Council after the election and before the new council was seated.

Palo Alto needs to fix the backward process that allows a lame duck council to make appointment that will impact the city for years going forward.

Council members that have been voted out should have no authority to do anything. They were voted out for good reason!


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:14 am

Ask for resignations and appoint new PTC members that are pro quality of life over commercial and real estate development. Allow no additional density projects or exemptions in exchange for a so called public good. The best public good is no more density development. Come on new council, do not simply ignore the PTC - create a new one that will be an initial watch dog to prevent additional overdevelopment in dear old Palo Alto. Set a new tone and agenda from the get-go: a town no longer interested in further traffic, displacement of retail, and density of housing units.


Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2015 at 3:47 pm

I cannot help but think about the March 11 post, "Palo Alto is changing for the worse and it is effecting out teens" and the comments that followed. I am not opposed to change or development, but I do think that as a community we are failing to address the full impact of development. Density doesn't work everywhere and I think that what we are discovering the hard way is that it isn't working well here. Maybe we should improve what we have (repair roads, fix signaling, sort out the parking mess, improve and increase public transportation, address various school-related issues, etc.) before adding more to the mix.


Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 16, 2015 at 4:43 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

@citizen PA

I too would like to see high school students involved in local government but I would like to see an informed, engaged team of adults work with them. You're suggesting deep engagement in an arcane matter that would be a hard sell even for students with a passion for government. Someone with the energy and the time to help the students with their research and writing could perform a real service here. I found that simulation activities like Mock Trial, Model UN, Junior Achievement and Junior Statesman were important additions to students' high school lives. Real world engagement like you've suggested would take that a step further. Good luck.


Like this comment
Posted by citizen pa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Thanks Jerry. Yes, such a project would need a few good mentors. I do know some kids who have expressed an interest, but it would probably be a great thing for a class. It's perfect for kids, because it's a nonpartisan issue that is about power balance, something every educated person in a democracy should understand but we don't even teach civics anymore. I've seen the SF election code - they'll email it to whomever asks, apparently they get a lot of requests - and it's really easy to adapt. Probably the most important place for adult involvement is to pay for a government law firm to review a proposal, so that it could be taken seriously and adopted. (Probably cost $1K or so, though schools might be able to get pro bono.) I have not heard of Junior Statesman, but my understanding is Model UN is open to proposals any of the kids are interested in pursuing.

Being responsible for changing a rule to make for better balance of power between City Hall and citizens would be an empowering project for kids and a great educational experience. Having seen the code, I think it's a pretty straightforward one, too.

I saw a very depressing statistic about how kids don't see themselves in government service anymore compared to the '50s and '60s. I,too, would love to see more young kids engaged in local government. (First we have to give them less homework!)


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Race is tomorrow!

​On Friday, September 21, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run, or—for the first time—half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More