Housing advocates, land-use watchdogs and three former planning commissioners are among the 20 residents selected last week by City Manager James Keene to help Palo Alto revise its land-use bible, the Comprehensive Plan.
The group, known as the Citizens Advisory Committee, consists of 17 voting members and three non-voting ones. The City Council agreed in May to form the new panel, which will participate in soliciting community input on the plan and make recommendations on changes to the document. The update of the Comprehensive Plan was launched in 2006 and has proceeded at a glacial pace, addled by frequent changes of direction and a lack of consensus from a City Council that until recently remained largely disengaged from the process.
This year, council members have made it one of the city's priorities to finally complete the update, which is now expected to conclude in late 2016. The latest reset took place on May 30, when the city held an all-day planning summit at the Mitchell Park Community Center and began soliciting applications for the new citizens group.
By June 29, the city received more than 50 applications, Keene told the council.
The roster of members suggests that Palo Alto Forward, a citizens group that advocates for more housing and transportation options, will have a significant role in crafting the map for the city's long-term future. Three members of the group's steering committee -- Elaine Uang, Mila Zelkha and Steve Levy -- were all selected for the new panel. Joining them will be Bonnie Packer, a former city planning commissioner and board chair at the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing Corporation, which develops affordable housing.
By contrast, the group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ) -- which favors slow-growth policies, is closely identified with city's "residentialist" movement and spearheaded the 2013 referendum that struck down a housing development on Maybell Avenue -- has one of its board members on the new citizens panel: veteran council watchdog and former neighborhood association leader Doria Summa.
Cheryl Lilienstein, president of PASZ, was one of dozens of applicants who received a letter from City Manager James Keene informing them that the city had received "many qualified applications and regretfully yours was not among those that were selected."
Even so, proponents of slow-growth policies will have several representatives on the panel, including Barron Park resident Lydia Kou and former planning commissioner Arthur Keller, a resident of Adobe Meadow. Another former planning commissioner, architect Daniel Garber, a resident of Old Palo Alto, will also serve.
The committee also includes Hamilton Hitchings of Duveneck; Jared Jacobs of Evergreen Park; Don McDougall of Professorville; Lisa Peschke-Koedt of Crescent Park; Amy Sung of Green Gables; Jason Titus of Downtown North; Ellen Uhrbrock of University South; Alex Van Riesen of Midtown; and Bob Wenzlau of Crescent Park.
Geographically, the roster is weighted toward north Palo Alto, with 12 of the 17 voting members making their homes there: seven in the downtown neighborhoods of Downtown North, University South, Professorville and Crescent Park; one (Garber) in Old Palo Alto; two in the northeast (Hitchings in Duveneck and Sung in Green Gables); and two around the California Avenue area (Jacobs and Summa).
To the south, the Midtown, Palo Verde, Adobe Meadow and Fairmeadow neighborhoods each have one representative (Van Riesen, Packer, Keller and Zelkha, respectively), as does Barron Park to the southwest (Kou).
The three non-voting members of the new panel are Adrian Fine, vice chair of the Planning and Transportation Commission; Heidi Emberling, vice president of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education; and Whitney McNair, senior associate director at Stanford University's Department of Land Use and Environmental Planning.
The new panel will replace the Leadership Group, a citizens panel that the city formed last year to assist with outreach about the Comprehensive Plan update.