News


Architectural Review Board chair resigns, citing 'public perception'

Randy Popp steps down to avoid perceived conflict over pending Marriott application

Randy Popp, chair of Palo Alto's influential and occasionally embattled Architectural Review Board (ARB), resigned from the board Friday, citing concerns about how his dual role as an applicant to the board and as its chair may be perceived.

Popp, a local architect, is part of a development team that is designing the two Marriott complexes at 744-748 San Antonio Road. On June 4, he presented the project to his board colleagues at a preliminary hearing and was instructed to make significant revisions to the design to make it fit better with the surrounding area.

Though a situation in which a board member is also an applicant is by no means unprecedented, Popp said he decided that balancing the two roles in this case would be extremely difficult. In a resignation letter submitted Friday, Popp noted that as a sole practitioner, it would be possible for him to proceed with both the project and his board position without violating the California Fair Political Practices Regulations. Yet he also wrote that "some may incorrectly perceive my role on the ARB as being unfairly influential toward the project outcome."

"This perception would severely limit my effectiveness as an architectural professional," Popp wrote.

While law would permit conducting conversations with city staff, which would be considered ministerial in nature, Popp would be limited by a clause that prohibits him from raising or questioning an interpretation or making an attempt "to persuade the agency in making a determination relative to the project."

"While I do feel this limitation would be manageable, it is out of an abundance of caution, concern and a respect for public perception that I am choosing to step down from the Board," Popp wrote. "Unfortunately, I am in a position where I must prioritize my work over my volunteer activities. I wish it were otherwise."

Though other board members have in the past served as applicants on projects (Historic Resources Board members Roger Kohler and Margaret Wimmer each had a project go in front of the historic board in recent weeks), Popp said the clause limiting his involvement would make it difficult for him to hold both roles. Public perception is also a major issue, he added.

"My concern is that people might anticipate or assume something different from what is happening," Popp said. "Not everyone can be in the room. There might be a public concern about whether or not that would be managed appropriately.

"My reputation and my ethical approach are paramount," he added. "It's how I conduct my business."

Popp told the Weekly that he discussed the possible perception issues about his dual roles with city staff in recent weeks. And over the past few days, he received a broadly circulated message about his involvement with the Marriott project.

Sheri Furman, president of the umbrella organization Palo Alto Neighborhoods, also brought up the issue at a June 9 meeting of the council's Policy and Services Committee. The organization's board, she said, is concerned about the appropriateness of a board member representing an applicant before the board. She asked the council committee to consider the appropriateness of active board and commission members.

"While this person obviously will not participate in the discussion of the application, many of us feel that a person who is a board member will have an undue, even if unintentional, impact on other members," Furman said.

Popp's resignation leaves the Architectural Review Board short-handed once again. The normally five-member board had four members since February, when Catherine Ballantyne resigned. The council on June 8 appointed Wynne Furth to the open seat. Furth participated in her first meeting last week.

The small roster has at times posed a challenge. When Popp presented his project earlier this month (before Furth was appointed), only two members, Robert Gooyer and Alex Lew, were able to participate. The other member of the board, Kyu Kim, recused himself because he had worked with Popp in the past.

Popp, who was appointed to the board in 2012, is also its second longest-serving member, behind only Lew.

In his resignation letter, Popp raised concerns about possible long-term effects that the perceptions of impropriety -- and responses to these perceptions -- may mean for the board.

"Finding an applicant who cares for Palo Alto, who has the training and experience necessary to evaluate detailed and complex design applications and at the same time is willing to limit their work to projects not within Palo Alto in order to avoid the conflict I am confronted by, may prove challenging."

Comments

14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Yet more vindication of what a unique and rarified place Palo Alto is. Even the gigantic Marriott corporation, one of the world’s very largest hotel builders and operators, simply can’t find top-tier architectural talent to design quality hotels. So naturally they look to Palo Alto for that expertise.

Why else would they want to contract somebody on the Palo Alto Architectural Review Board?


13 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Wot? An honest ARB member? If all the ARB members followed his example we wouldn't have an ARB.


12 people like this
Posted by Uh uh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2015 at 10:39 pm

>> An honest ARB member?

Nah - just more publicity on this controversial hotel development. He had to choose between current money and potential future money (bird in the hand...).


17 people like this
Posted by citizen review body needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2015 at 6:06 am

Design review and land use regulation is a completely broken process in
Palo Alto. I suggested this some time ago- we need a Citizen Review
body,instituted as an emergency measure,which has to sign off on any project, commercial or residential, or public/staff initiated,which affects the physical environment,as being consistent with community goals and standards, a veto function in effect. This macro-level of review will mitigate against bad projects from the inception since it would be a waste of time by the applicant. The citizen body can hire its own design review consultant,a recognized professional responsible to the citizen body who is not involved in local development here to assist it.How this would work, to illustrate with a blatant example, a Cheesecake Factory as done on University Ave would never happen, and so on. Meanwhile, with this safety valve in place, the new Council majority needs to undertake a downzoning, FAR's, in all zones throughout the City. The new Council majority needs to
step-up and do what is necessary to stop the freefall.


16 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 21, 2015 at 10:30 am

I am happy to see that the "conflict of interest" has surfaced up and it taking some effect here. From where I am sitting no new building in PA has struck me as being architecturally compatible or attractive. The Menlo Park development being planned is a contrast to the glass and steel type buildings and is far more attractive.

The plan for the University building is highly unattractive - and letting it progress to a review process and lead the owner on with expenses is a waste of time and money for everyone involved.

The whole process of development needs to be fixed - when developers start the process there should be an immediate yes or no so these projects are not dragging on through the system with no actual benefit to the city or developer / owner. We have wasted time and money for everyone involved and cannot let this type convoluted process continue.


21 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Mr. Popp has given us the monstrous Jewish Community Center and now this Marriott project. Thanks God he's no longer on the Architectural Review Board.


18 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 21, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

I'm glad he resigned, not because of the obvious conflict of interest, but because I find his style to be terrible. 499 University (Sprint store) is one of the ugliest new buildings in town (second to cheesecake factory), and looks like it was ripped right out of a strip mall. It makes the JCC look like Frank Gehry. People can prefer modern or classic styles, but buildings like 499 University have no redeeming qualities - just the worst in shallow commercialism.



15 people like this
Posted by Another resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2015 at 1:55 pm

499 University is also seriously underparked in addition to being over sized and ostentatious. The developer made some kind of deal with the next door parking space.

It's good that conflicts of interest are becoming more visible. For example, owners of office space who push for exemptions, see the thread "Chipping Away"for a beginning discussion.


9 people like this
Posted by abolish ARB
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 21, 2015 at 8:49 pm

I second "citizen review body needed"


11 people like this
Posted by thank you for your service
a resident of Addison School
on Jun 21, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Randy--

thank you for your service! I don't know the full extent of your work, but the JCC is an amazing resource for both the Jewish community and for the surrounding area. The buildings are fantastic, and it has provided a model for an inter-generational campus.

I'm not sure if anyone here who is attacking the JCC has actually been inside, but if I were Randy, I would be enormously proud of having made this project a reality.

Thank you, also, for your years of service on the ARB.


25 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 7:05 am

I doubt anyone objects to what happens *inside* the JCC. However the exterior, especially the main building at the corner of San Antonio and Charleston is just awful.


4 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 22, 2015 at 7:30 am

Note on the JCC - I attend events there through the Commonwealth Club. What you are seeing on San Antonio and Charleston is the backside of two large auditoriums where events are put on. This is like the backside of any theatre that you would not ordinarily see because the lobby is usually facing the street. In this case the lobby is facing the courtyard.


6 people like this
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 8:24 am

I think the JCC is attractive. What's ugly are the one-story strip malls and parking lots that surround it. I would love it if that whole area looked more like the JCC.


21 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2015 at 10:42 am

@ThankYouForYourService:

Your expression of gratitude to Popp is off the mark. You wrote, "the JCC is an amazing resource for both the Jewish community and for the surrounding area. The buildings are fantastic, and it has provided a model for an inter-generational campus." Well, I can agree that the JCC is an amazing resource for the Jewish community and, to the extent that it is used by non-Jews, also for that segment of the community. However, how you can say that that monstrosity is a "fantastic" "building" is beyond comprehension. It is bloody ugly and way out of scale. Turning to Popp and his colleagues on the ARB, they have presided over the progressive homogenization and mediocratization of the Palo Alto architectural landscape. Palo Alto used to be a community with distinctive architectural character. It is now in the process of having that character diluted and trumped by more large-scale, bulky, and sterile office buildings to house more offices and software firms. Palo Alto is in the process of coming to look just like hundreds and hundreds of other suburban cities: boring and characterless. It is patently clear that with the mentality that Popp and colleagues bring to their ARB jobs that, if they were on the ARB of Florence, Italy, they'd be approving the same kind of sore-thumb structures for downtown Florence and be celebrating the process of 'diversifying' classical Florentine architecture. It is hard to see it on a day-to-day basis, but step back and take the long view if you've been around here for 40 years and you will immediately see that Palo Alto, CA, is a pale shadow of the architecturally interesting and characterful place it used to be. New England does a much better job of protecting its distinctive character than we do. People are so obsessed with making money around here that they don't develop the sensibility that would induce them to care about local architecture; everything takes a back seat to the goal of moneymaking, including the way we are transforming and uglifying the human-made environment in this community, from Stanford Shopping Center and the JCC to that monstrosity on Alma and the Lytton Gateway carbuncle. We are killing the goose that laid the golden architectural egg. Most depressing.


7 people like this
Posted by mbb
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Might the public perception be that he lacks senses of style and taste. I am guessing he gave stamps of approval for the Jewish Community Center and that Pelican Bay housing comblex on Alma at Homer.


14 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 12:19 pm

The Jewish Community Center is surely an asset to the community. However, it is ugly ugly ugly. Isn't there a sign ordinance somewhere (or good taste within the JCC board) that prevents them from using the outer walls as advertising signboards?


6 people like this
Posted by The Shadow
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2015 at 12:22 pm

An ethical move. Former City of Palo Alto Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie should have done likewise and resigned a few years ago before getting hip deep in the scandal over back door meetings on the proposed 27 University Avenue project with related foothills land swap. Instead he got in deeper before resigning to pass through the revolving door as a consultant facilitating development projects.


12 people like this
Posted by ARB members don't live in PA
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 12:25 pm

The citizens of Palo Alto should demand that the entire ARB step down. ARB members don't even have to be residents of Palo Alto to be on the board!! The ARB has done irreversible damage to Palo Alto. It's time that a light be shined on the members of the ARB, to check for potential conflicts of interest, hidden agendas, etc. It is time for them to go.


11 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 22, 2015 at 1:34 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Robert, you are right: I HAVE been around PA for forty years and have noted the character change of PA buildings.
If you want to see the future of the PA building experience, just look at any SOVIET BLOCK OF FLATS style of building.


12 people like this
Posted by Enid Pearson
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 2:01 pm

It was during my terms on City Council that the architectural commission was begun. In my opinion, I think that
through the years, the ARB has on occasion lived up to its challenge, but too often only the proposed building was looked at and not the impact on the adjacent neighborhood. I have been disappointed more often that not.
Further, I think that the ARB has been given more charges than was the original intent. These charges belong in
the Planning and Transportation purview. I think that Palo Alto would be far better served if the ARB was dis-
banded. The idea that we would get better buildings (architecture) just did not happen. There is no way a single
group of people can ever please everyone. Mu conclusion is that we would be better off without the ARB and it
should be disbanded ASAP. Enid Pearson, City Council Member, 1965-1975


7 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2015 at 2:34 pm

No doubt Ms. Pearson meant well in establishing the ARB. She could hardly have anticipated the parochialism and arrogance which became its hallmarks.


7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Citizen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 3:04 pm

As someone who knows Randy, I'm sorry to see him go, and yet am not surprised at all that he resigned to avoid even the potential of a conflict of interest appearance. I'm also a "residentialist", and believe development in many neighborhoods of Palo Alto is out of scale, ugly, and impacting the town in a negative way. However, the JCC's appearance doesn't deserve to be denigrated this way. It is built on the site of old industrial buildings and a gas station -- not exactly beautiful architecture! It was also built with ~$150 million of donated funds! And it is used by thousands of non-Jews, in the gym, preschool, summer camp, senior residences, and of course for arts and entertainment. To me the right way to look at this is that the design is that best that we could have hoped for, to deliver all this functionality to a very underserved part of the town, and at great benefit to many of us. (Also, Randy was not on the ARB at the time of this project's approval).


6 people like this
Posted by A neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 3:09 pm

It is true that JCCis a great resource for the members. But the usefulness doesn't give it a pass for its terrible scale and ugly design. It looks like a modern fort. It seems to me that it was designed to eliminate any security risks to the facility. Maybe there were no other options? But I still think it could have looked better if they had more greenery such as redwood trees or something like that on the outside.

Every time I see a new downtown Los Altos building I feel like they got a better group of people running their city. Some friends told me they despised the new Safeway in downtown LA. But when I went there I found it absolutely delightful compared to the awful stuff built in Alma Plaza. I am thinking of that awful Miki's Market building.

Can someone tell me if Los Altos city officials have less of this conflict of interest problem Palo Alto city officials have?


5 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Thank goodness a thread has emerged that can be used to bash the JCC ( again). Even though the topic of this thread has nothing to do with the JCC, the ugly "JCC" is right on top as one of the major,problems facing Palo Alto today. Time for all the JCC haters to get over it. As others have stated, what was there before was no beauty and it is located in an industrial area, near 101, fairly distant from any homes and not in an area where people tend to walk. So what is the problem? Who,knows. But some Palo Alto residents have to,have something g to complain about


4 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2015 at 3:41 pm

@Agenda:

1. I don't recall any of the posters above arguing that the JCC building is "one of the major problems facing Palo Alto today." That would be a stupid claim to make. Sorry, agenda, your resort to this straw horse argument doesn't cut it. The point that many did make is that the JCC is ONE of the structures that the ARB approved that has contributed to the progressive uglification of this city, along with many others. But its combination of scale and ugliness makes it a worthy object of aesthetic contempt.

2. The argument that since the building that was on the JCC site before the new JCC building was erected was ugly, that should somehow immunize the JCC building from being criticized on aesthetic and architectural grounds doesn't even come close to holding water.

3. I haven't seen any "JCC haters" in this thread, but I have read posts by a number of posters who believe that the JCC building is an aesthetic disaster. (Personally, I believe the Alma Village complex to be just as much of a fiasco as the JCC building.)

Other than these three quibbles, I thought your post was excellent!


2 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm

"The point that many did make is that the JCC is ONE of the structures that the ARB approved that has contributed to the progressive uglification of this city, along with many others. But its combination of scale and ugliness makes it a worthy object of aesthetic contempt. "
Many? How many? Just because a few people on this forum complain about the JCC does not mean there really is a problem.
And if you look at the topic of this thread it has to do with randy leaving the ARB due to the proposed Marriot hotel development. The fact that people are bringing up the JCC, when it has NOTHING, to do,with this,topic just bolsters my comment about it being a world class problem for some people that post here.

"Sorry, agenda, your resort to this straw horse argument doesn't cut it. "
It was sarcasm. But does not cut it with who??? It is my opinion. Live with it or ignore it


14 people like this
Posted by FYI
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2015 at 4:16 pm

JCC came up in this thread because Randy Popp was its architect.
One more vote here for it's ugly, oversized, intrusive to the street.


2 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2015 at 4:35 pm

FYI-- once again the topic of this thread is the fact that randy is leaving the ARB. The fact that randy was the architect of the JCC is,irrelevant. Obviously, for some people, the JCC is making their lives miserable and unbearable. Randy was not on the ARB when the JCC design was approved.
BTW, all the JCC naysayers, where were you when the design came up for review???
IMHO, there is nothing wrong with the JCC. Fits perfectly in its current location. Thank goodness it was not designed in the Spanish colonial style or made to look eichler like with a touch of Burge Clark or Julia Morgan.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Crescent Park

on Jun 22, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


8 people like this
Posted by Resident of Cresent Park
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 9:38 pm

Serving on the ARB is a thankless Job for no pay. Mr. Popp- thanks for your service and ethics.

As to the JCC, I prefer it to the run-down empty fenced off Sun Microsystems buildings.

I would encourage Naysayers to visit the JCC look around, take tour of the entire facility before passing judgement.

Maybe it is not perfect, but Palo Alto is better off for having it!


4 people like this
Posted by Whatever
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2015 at 10:09 pm

are new buildings and developments in a wealthy town ugly or pretty?

maintaining this argument is embarrassing
1st world problems


7 people like this
Posted by citizen review body needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2015 at 8:01 am

@Robert
You are absolutely right about loss of character and the uglifying of the
environment, that Palo Alto is looking like hundreds and hundreds of
other suburban cities from an "architectural" standpoint,losing its uniqueness, and extending that observation to Stanford Shopping Center as well, now run by Simon not Stanford, a key turning point for the center becoming more apparent as time goes on. It's really the latest generation of buildings,like the Lytton Gateway you highlight, completely out of context,whereas earlier buildings like 428 University,Accel Partners, and Palantir on Hamilton,and even the modern 325 Lytton are interesting and show some respect for their context. But it is much worse than just scale
and poor design of recent and current projects which has put us into this horrendous downward spiral. There is another dimension here to the complete picture of the ugliness overtaking the city - the sign clutter and extra bright yellow street paint spreading all over the city, on a scale unlike anything seen anywhere else. We are alone in this respect - a sameness with other suburban cities would be a step up compared to what we are doing- hard to fathom what is happening here, it's so extreme, so insensitive, so disconnected from what we think of or used to think of as Palo Alto. Ugly.


3 people like this
Posted by noparkingspaces
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2015 at 6:01 pm

June 23, 2015
Density bonus law amendment to change to no parking required, no parking minimums, if developer requests density bonus.
AB 744 by Chau and Gonzalez has passed the Assembly and will be heard in the Senate Transportation and Housing on June 30. AB 744 adds a long, non-required section on legislative intent on density bonus, mixed-use, eliminating vehicle parking, and declares that infill development and excessive parking requirements is a matter of statewide concern and is not a municipal affair.

The League of California Cities requested a "No" vote on the Assembly Floor on June 3.

Among the reasons listed in the League of California Cities alert for voting no on this bill that will remove parking minimums:
AB 744 offers a complete exemption for senior housing, 62-plus, with no connection to transit.
AB 744 offers a complete exemption for housing for lower (80 percentage of median) income, near transit.
If you oppose this bill contact your State Senator and the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee before the hearing date of June 30.


2 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2015 at 1:48 pm

From the article:

"Popp, a local architect, is part of a development team that is designing the two Marriott complexes at 744-748 San Antonio Road."

Do you folks think this is limited only to Randy Popp? Of course he served on the Architectural Review Board. Any architect seeking approval for their projects in Palo Alto is wise to do so. Otherwise, they might find the approval process much more difficult. To single out Mr. Popp is unfair, I think.


11 people like this
Posted by Another resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2015 at 2:19 pm

No, he isn't being singled out. He's just the latest.
Other ARB members who flipped to work for developers or just work for local developers sometimes without resigning, include Clare Malone-Pritchard, Heather Young, Daniel Garber (from the PTC).

More noteworthy are ex-Asst City Manager Steve Emslie who now works for developers, Former Councilmembers Jean McCown (works for Stanford development) Judy Kleinberg and Lanie Wheeler (for the Chamber of Commerce)

on the HRB Roger Kohler does a lot of local development, recent projects being objected to by neighbors (on Richardson Court).
There's more but these are recent.


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

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