News

Citizen panel brings focus to Palo Alto's long-term vision

New committee holds its first meeting on city's Comprehensive Plan

They came to the Mitchell Park Library from different neighborhoods, backgrounds and ideological corners to work toward a shared goal: figuring out what Palo Alto should look like for the next 15 years.

Composed of 20 members, 17 of whom have voting powers, the city's newest citizen task force opened a new chapter on Tuesday in the city's nearly decade-long update of its official land-use bible, the Comprehensive Plan.

Over the next year, they will be reviewing the existing Comprehensive Plan, recapping the revisions proposed by the Planning and Transportation Commission and making recommendations on what new goals, policies and programs the city should pursue between now and 2030.

The Citizens Advisory Committee, as the group is called, includes many familiar faces as well as newcomers to Palo Alto's civic debate about the future. Some, like former planning commissioners Daniel Garber and Arthur Keller, have spent years debating these issues and becoming intimately familiar with local zoning laws and land-use vision. There was little surprise when the committee, in its first two votes, elected Garber and Keller as its chair and vice chair, respectively.

Other members became involved in the process because of recent experiences with the city's development pressures. For Jared Jacobs, a resident of Evergreen Park, the growth hits close to home. He lives next to a proposed development at 2555 Park Blvd., a project that the council approved last month despite concerns from Jacobs and other residents about the building's mass, density and shadow impacts. Jacobs noted that he has three children under the age of 6.

"I'm kind of interested in their future, and I want to contribute to future of the city," Jacobs said.

Barron Park resident Lydia Kou, a longtime neighborhood volunteer and a City Council candidate in the last November election, was also drawn to the update by the city's recent growth. A critic of recent development trends, Kou has been aligned with the "residentialist" camp that believes growth should be slowed down.

"I've seen how the city has changed," Kou said. "I'm here today because I'd like to be a voice in how we're going to articulate what kind of vision we want our city to have for the next 15 years or so."

For some members of the group, preservation of the existing quality of life is the top priority. For others, like Elaine Uang, an equally important goal is to accommodate different generations of residents by encouraging more housing and transportation opportunities.

Uang, an architect who co-founded the citizen group Palo Alto Forward, said she believes Palo Alto is a "phenomenal place" and said she would like to see what can be done to keep it that way.

The council first directed that the Comprehensive Plan be updated in 2006 and since then the process has seen more resets than an NBA shot-clock. For much of the decade, the update has proceeded with very limited participation from council members. While the planning commission has painstakingly edited every section of the document, the council agreed that more citizen participation is needed to give the document legitimacy.

Last year, the council declined a proposal by planning staff to move ahead with an environmental analysis that would evaluate four different growth scenarios, with members arguing that the document wasn't "ready for prime time," in the words of Mayor Karen Holman.

Now, the goal is to have the new citizens committee vet all the work that has taken place to date and help the council adopt a new city vision. Though the plan would officially have a horizon of 2030, Keller noted that its impacts will likely extend way beyond that.

"Whatever is built for the next 15 years will be there for 50 or more," Keller said. "We are setting patterns for Palo Alto for generations to come, which is why I think what we are doing here is very important."

Among the group's most critical and potentially contentious tasks will be updating the plan's Land Use and Transportation chapters. Other chapters, known as "elements," focus on the natural environment, safety, business and economics. In addition, the council asked staff in 2006 to come up with "concept area plans" for two dynamic areas: the neighborhood around East Meadow Circle and the area around California Avenue, which today stands at the epicenter of the city's growth.

The group will meet monthly, with each meeting open to the public. On Tuesday, each member received a daunting homework assignment: a gigantic binder filled with the existing Comprehensive Plan and the planning commission's recommended changes. Yet as important as the update is, the citizens committee was also encouraged by Planning Director Hillary Gitelman not to try to do too much. Its time will be limited, she noted, and it's important not to "try to reinvent the wheel and try to rethink every decision that's been made before."

"We have a blessing in Palo Alto that the existing Comprehensive Plan is darn good," Gitelman said. "It's a very good plan that's still very current. ... We can make use of all the thought that's come before. My hope is we will all use the mantra, 'If it isn't broken, don't fix it.'"

Comments

49 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 15, 2015 at 11:02 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Elaine Uang is an architect, so it's not shocking she is so avidly pro development and pro density. Every Palo Alto architect I know seems to be of similar opinions. Without significant development, they would be out of a job.

That being said, when she says she believes Palo Alto is a "phenomenal place" and that she would like to see what can be done to keep it that way, I am at a lose. Turning Palo Alto into another San Jose will not preserve it as a 'phenomenal place', not at all.


26 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 15, 2015 at 11:18 am

I totally agree with the post above.

And how special that our Planning Director doesn't see anything "broken" in Palo Alto's growth and development. She basically admits this panel only a side-show so they can pretend they care about "community input"!

From the article above:

Yet as important as the update is, the citizens committee was also encouraged by Planning Director Hillary Gitelman not to try to do too much. Its time will be limited, she noted, and it's important not to "try to reinvent the wheel and try to rethink every decision that's been made before."

"We have a blessing in Palo Alto that the existing Comprehensive Plan is darn good," Gitelman said. "It's a very good plan that's still very current. ... We can make use of all the thought that's come before. My hope is we will all use the mantra, 'If it isn't broken, don't fix it.'"


17 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2015 at 11:26 am

I'd like to see a list of all 20 members and their affiliations. Why did this article not include that?


18 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2015 at 11:39 am

Gethin is a registered user.

Midtowner - that's a good question - who are these people and what is their agenda?


32 people like this
Posted by Smells Fishy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2015 at 11:51 am

This smells suspicious. I get the distinct impression that this committee is just for the sake of appearances--so that the city powers APPEAR to be pro-active without actually doing anything at all.


9 people like this
Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2015 at 11:57 am

See Web Link

12 are from north of Oregon; 5 from south. At least 7 identify as belonging to Palo Alto Forward.


4 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2015 at 11:58 am

Midtowner, Gethin -- possibly you missed the earlier article here dedicated to the panel's composition. Its long series of critical comments dominated Town Square activity for a while recently. Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 15, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Joel is a registered user.

I would like to know how the rest of Palo Alto citizens get to have input into this group decision making?


22 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 15, 2015 at 12:17 pm

"I get the distinct impression that this committee is just for the sake of appearances--so that the city powers APPEAR to be pro-active without actually doing anything at all."

It's bogus, alright. But the city powers are quite busy, writing the real draft plan at 250 Hamilton. This panel provides a facade of citizen participation, that's all. I'm sure the more experienced of them know that, particularly the PAF block, whose pro-development agenda aligns perfectly with city staff wishes.

Have the referendum ready to go when this thing comes out.


21 people like this
Posted by Smells Fishy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Also suspicious is the fact, pointed out by Sheri, that the majority of this committe live north of Oregon Expwy--where the development does not happen.

Doesn't every other city have committee and council members from each district or neighborhood? Why the uneven dispersion?

I think we all know the answer to that one!


17 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 15, 2015 at 12:38 pm

I attended this meeting, interested in how citizens will have input.

Here's my understanding of the plan:

Three weeks before a publicly scheduled meeting, the materials to be considered will be posted on the city's comprehensive plan website. The public can comment on that site for two weeks following that. The members of the committee will also be able to post comments there, so that they are communicating with the public as well as themselves (thank you to vice-chair Arthur Keller for making this suggestion).

If you post and disclose your name, your comments will be there for all to see. If you choose anonymity, only city staff (I'm not sure whether the committee, too) will be able to read it. Then, the comments are closed for a week to give staff time to assemble them into a packet for the committee. During that period, the committee is supposed to read them all, and use them for their recommendations. Their recommendations will be taken by the city staff and transposed into the wording used by the comp plan. Several months later the staff's work will be reviewed by the committee.

Private communication between members of this committee is not allowed. This includes using websites that members use to post their opinions and Palo Alto Online as well. (not sure how this will be enforced, in reality)

So let's see how this will work. You could start here:
Web Link


30 people like this
Posted by Smells Fishy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2015 at 12:46 pm

To Ms Lilienstein: I would have been WAAAAAY more trusting of this panel if you, and more citizens like you, were on it.

The fact that James Keene appointed the members raises my suspicions AND my hackles.


9 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 15, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Okay, I can't resist. If I even mention Dan Garber's name will this post be removed? Weekly Staff, I know I am being childish, but will you be taking down this post? Remember last week? I asked why posts mentioning Dan Garber were taken down last week? And you removed that post? Will you remove this post?

I just need to know how far you will go in contravention of free speech.

Thank you.

A teetering faithful reader and booster


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 15, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Cheryl, thanks very much for that info about how to give citizen input.

I signed up for the updates. Is that enough to allow me to comment? The procedure -- while needed -- isn't clear.

Thanks for any and all info.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 15, 2015 at 1:23 pm

@Curm, subtle distinction, did you mean PAF block or PAF bloc ?


13 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 15, 2015 at 1:56 pm

No one from Ventura. The City Manager's idea of "a diversity of interests" does not include the City's most neglected.
I tried to sign up to the mailing list, but the promised confirmation email from "MailChimp" never came through (or perhaps was flagged as junk since this is an email marketing service). So it looks like I'll be in my usual spot on the outside looking in.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 15, 2015 at 2:48 pm

" @Curm, subtle distinction, did you mean PAF block or PAF bloc ?"

Every time I think I've turned the #€&$! autocomplete function off, something like this happens.

Drop the "k"


22 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 15, 2015 at 3:04 pm

"The fact that James Keene appointed the members raises my suspicions..."

With very good reason. Although City Manager Keene is nominally subordinate to the City Council, he is de facto answerable only to the consultant the Council hires to perform its annual City Manager evaluation. The City Council long ago (in the reign of Frank Benest, I believe) fled its responsibility to publicly weigh the City Manager's performance and sourced out this most vital of its responsibilities.

The bottom line is Keene is answerable to nobody in Palo Alto; he is effectively king.


20 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 15, 2015 at 3:43 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Seems like every residents panel dealing with Palo Alto's future has a solid block, always larger than any other, of Palo Alto Forward members. This is akin to having developers on these panels. Although slow/no development candidates have theoretically won the last council elections, the outgoing council injected a number of PAF members into the Planning&Transportation commission.

Additionally, James keene's bias in favor of PAF and in favor of developers isn't in any doubt in my opinion.


5 people like this
Posted by Sam Tyler
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Goodness! I just love reading these posts. Always a conspiracy theory (or two, three, four...) Shouldn't any committee that is supposed to figure out what Palo Alto should look like for the next 15 years, shouldn't that group be diverse? I believe that every point of view must be heard, even if it does not represent your particular view of the world. Just think back 15 years previously (the year 2000) and how our world has changed in ways we would have never imagined. We must bring that type of flexibility into any discussion about our future. PLease look forward and try to avoid being trapped by today's preconceptions.


18 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 15, 2015 at 3:59 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

It's about the proportion of their representation. Of course PAF deserve to be represented and have their voice heard, but they are a pretty small group. They represent perhaps a few hundred, possible a few thousand people, but they now seem to be, on a regular basis, the largest block in any panel discussing Palo Alto's future.


16 people like this
Posted by waste
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Having 7 people from PAF is wrong for the same reason having 7 people from PASZ would be wrong, it’s just not a productive use of seats. It would be much for worthwhile to have them discuss at the PAF/PASZ meetings, come up with a common position or idea, then have 1 representative share what they want. Instead they’re not going to talk to each other for the next year (yeah, like that’ll happen), and then they’ll show up to these meetings and spend 2 hours agreeing with each other. Meanwhile, since there are only 17 places at the table, you’re missing out on a diversity of potentially good ideas from people who didn’t see either PAF or PASZ as fitting their views.


9 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2015 at 6:38 pm

Smells fishy-- no development north of the Oregon expressway? Did they move downtown and California avenue?

Sam Tyler-- well stated. But really those people represent only a small minority of PA residents. They want only PASZ acolytes on the committee.
So glad Cheryl was not included.


8 people like this
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 15, 2015 at 7:16 pm

"Three weeks before a publicly scheduled meeting, the materials to be considered will be posted on the city's comprehensive plan website. The public can comment on that site for two weeks following that. The members of the committee will also be able to post comments there, so that they are communicating with the public as well as themselves (thank you to vice-chair Arthur Keller for making this suggestion)."

I did not attend the meeting so I do not know what staff said about the Brown Act, or which department that staff works in.

My understanding of the Brown Act is that Arthur Keller's suggestion that committee members post comments on the city comprehensive plan website violates the letter and spirit of the Brown Act's requirement that the committee's deliberations take place in a publicly noticed open meeting.


8 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 15, 2015 at 8:29 pm

@Online Moderator

Why did Herb Borock get censored?

Herb has always spoken the truth, he is an important asset to the residents of Palo Alto. When ever he is in council chambers you can count on him to put City Council and City Government officials in check.

[Moderator's response: He didn't get censored. The comment was posted from a public computer at the library, and due to many objectionable comments made from the library computers, our system is automatically restricting them until reviewed by a moderator. His comment is now visible.]


13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 16, 2015 at 6:01 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Agenda, what are you talking about? PAF represents a few hundred people, most of whom feel their life would be miserable and unfulfilled without a Palo Alto address, yet have highly disproportional representation on any panel discussing Palo Alto's future and on the Planning and Transportation committee. PAF is really a very small but very vocal and very aggressive lobbying group that is wisely used by corporations and developers to advance their agendas. PASZ on the other hand, represents the majority, but is underrepresented on those panels.


11 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 16, 2015 at 11:06 am

2014 Grand Jury Report Citing Transparency Failings by City Manager's Office and City Council

Web Link

2014 Then Mayor Nancy Shepherd's response
Web Link

Bottom of Page 9 of the document below cites pro bono work between prominent architect and prominent developer regarding property cited in the above two documents

Web Link




2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 16, 2015 at 12:00 pm

@mauricio, the political term "useful idiots" comes to mind.


10 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 16, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

ata on over-representation of Palo Alto Forward on City groups:

The 8 members of the PAF Steering Committee are (in the order on their Web Link):

Elaine Uang: CAC (Comp Plan Citizens Advisory Committee)
Sandra Slater: unsuccessfully applied for CAC
Steve Levy: CAC
Eric Rosenblum: PTC
Mila Zelkha: CAC
Tara Nussbaum
Kate Vershov Downing: PTC
Medhdi Alhassani: Human Relations Commission

In addition to the 3 PAF steering committee members, there are 5 general members on the CAC:
Dan Garber, Hamilton Hitchings, Amy Sung, Jason Titus, Ellen Uhrbrock
for a total of 8 on a 17 member committee.
Note: membership on the Planning and Transportation Commission is noted because it is the step above CAC before going to City Council.

Years resident in Palo Alto (from their website):
Uang: 4
Slater: 26
Levy: 52
Rosenbaum: 8
Zelkha: live-long
Nussbaum: 26
Downing: 3
Alhassani: 3?


7 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 16, 2015 at 4:55 pm

To clarify the confusion re Dan Garber and 27 University Avenue -- this link below directs the reader to a document where Garber's firm was paid by the City in service of the 27 University Avenue project

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by 27 university
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 16, 2015 at 6:45 pm

Daniel Garber said in his introduction that he was not involved in 27 university Avenue - did he forget?


5 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 16, 2015 at 9:33 pm

jh is a registered user.

Hard to believe Mr. Garber "forgot" his firm was paid $85,000 by the city for work on the proposed 27 University Avenue mega-development. Was his contract with the city cancelled before he did the work?I would like a public explanation from Mr. Garber why he stated he was not involved.


3 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 17, 2015 at 11:24 am

The link below points to "Staff Report 2719 - Update on 27 University Avenue. " This provides a bit more clarity around the issues of who is paying whom for services rendered regarding 27 University Avenue.

Thank you PA Weekly for providing this valuable platform for civic engagement.

Web Link=


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