A citizen panel charged with helping the city update its Comprehensive Plan acquired five new members on Monday night and will soon get an unexpected sixth.
After a series of council motions and several rounds of cast ballots, the 20-member group that is working on the Comprehensive Plan update became a 25-member group with a heavier presence from the southern half of the city.
Unlike the initial 20 members, which were appointed by City Manager James Keene, the new members of the Community Advisory Committee were appointed by the City Council after concerns from residents about the group's roster being heavily skewed toward the north Palo Alto (12 of the 17 voting members live north of Oregon Expressway) and toward residents affiliated with the citizens group Palo Alto Forward, which advocates for housing density and more transportation options.
On Aug. 17, the council agreed to add new members to make the committee more balanced and, hence, credible. On Monday, after getting more than 50 applications, the council made appointments that should amplify the voices of slow-growth "residentialists," residents with homes south of Oregon and people who rent.
The new members are:
Len Filppu, a Fairmeadow resident with a long history of civic participation, who currently serves as the acting chair of the Fairmeadow Neighborhood Association.
Annette Glanckopf, a Midtown resident, co-founder of Palo Alto Neighborhoods and one of the city's leading advocates for emergency preparedness.
Jennifer Hetterly, a Midtown resident, and current member and past chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and resident of Adobe Meadows.
Mark Nadim, a long-time president of the Palo Alto Hills Neighborhood Association and long-time critic of the city's "planned-community" zoning process.
Then came the wildcard. Mila Zelkha, one of the originally appointed 20 members, notified the council Monday that she is resigning. Zelkha cited a new job and a pending nomination for a Santa Clara County Commission.
"Without knowing the full-time commitment of these two new roles, I don't know if I will be able to fulfill my CAC (Community Advisory Committee) obligations to the best of my standards that I have outlined for myself and I want to avoid the appearance of my new activities being in conflict with my role as a CAC member," Zelkha wrote.
The resignation of Zelkha, a member of the Palo Alto Forward steering committee, gave the council a chance to make a sixth appointment. Because this appointment was not on the agenda, it will have to be formally put on the agenda and approved next month.
This technicality notwithstanding, the final seat on the now 25-member committee belongs to Julia Moran, a resident of St. Claire Gardens who is expected to bring a renter's perspective to the committee proceedings.
One of the council's concerns about the citizen committee is the virtual absence of renters, despite the fact that renters make up more than 40 percent of the local population. During both the Aug. 17 discussion and the one that took place Monday, Councilmen Marc Berman and Cory Wolbach argued that it's crucial to add renters into the mix.
"I think it's really important to have that diversity on the committee," Berman said before the vote. "Right now, we have very few people my age, frankly, and zero renters. I think if we're going to put together a committee that represents the whole of our community ... it would behoove us to have that perspective on a committee that will create a plan for the next 15 years for our town."
In her application, Moran wrote that she plans to live in Palo Alto for years to come and that she would like the opportunity to help shape the city's vision going forward. She noted that renters "make up a large and growing part of the population, yet we can often feel like outsiders because we don't own our houses and haven't lived here for decades. I think that it's vital that our voices are part of this process, as we are an integral part of the future of Palo Alto."
During the appointment process, Glanckopf earned the most council votes: six. Hetterley, Kleinhaus and Nadim earned five and, like Glanckopf, won appointments on the first ballot. After two more rounds of voting, Filppu edged out Moran for the fifth spot, based on the cumulative total of votes each received in all rounds. Moran was then awarded the sixth spot.
The committee is charged with helping the city complete a Comprehensive Plan update that was launched in 2006 and which has been beset by an endless sequence of complications and changes of direction. Now, under the latest process, the new citizens group will go over each chapter, or element as they are called, of the existing Comprehensive Plan, and offer suggestions on new programs to pursue and help synthesize the public feedback about the new document, which will guide the city until 2030.
The City Council, which made the Comprehensive Plan update one of its priorities for the year, will also spend the year and a half going over each element, a process that it began Monday night with its review of the Transportation Element. The council had initially hoped to complete the exercise by the end of 2016.
On Monday, council members learned from Planning Director Hillary Gitelman that the completion date is now expected to be four to six months later, some time in mid-2017.