Political outsiders look to shake up status quo in council race

Candidates offer differing visions, proposals for Palo Alto's future

One candidate running for a City Council seat in Palo Alto says he wants to eliminate the Architectural Review Board and replace the city manager.

Another wants to "restructure" the Opportunity Center for the homeless and formerly homeless, which she calls a "city-sponsored clubhouse."

Stewart Carl

Leonard Ely

John Fredrich

Danielle Martell
A third promises to offer ideas that "may on the surface seem absurd," though he assures voters that he is a long-range thinker who is not seeking "to satisfy a vocal minority, or for that matter a vocal majority if it flies in the face of long-term disaster."

A fourth believes the city, in its push to promote bicycling and transit use, is falling short when it comes to planning for the drivers of the future,

The four candidates -- John Fredrich, Danielle Martell, Leonard Ely and Stewart Carl, respectively -- are vying with seven others for four seats on the council in November. None of them have served on local commissions or are regular speakers at council meetings.

In a field that also includes three former or present planning commissioners (Adrian Fine, Arthur Keller and Greg Tanaka), an incumbent running in her 10th election (Liz Kniss), a neighborhood leader who has been active on land-use issues (Lydia Kou) and members of two other city commissions (Library Advisory Commission member Don McDougall and Human Relations Commission Chair Greer Stone), each is a political outsider.

And if their official candidate statements are any indication, each believes that he or she offers a fresh perspective that is sorely needed to address today's challenges.

Their names may be familiar to local voters. Fredrich, a retired Gunn High School civics teacher, ran in 2014 and, before that, in 1975, 1977, 1981 and 2003. (His election opponent, Fine, was once his student.) He calls himself a "residentialist" and says he strongly opposes some of the recent developments that the council has approved, including the mixed-use projects at 411 Page Mill Road and, more recently, at the former Olive Garden site at 2515 El Camino Real. The election of a slow-growth "residentialist" majority to the council in 2014, in his view, didn't produce the types of results that he was hoping for.

"I thought after the last election, there would be -- maybe not a sea change -- but a public posture that was different than before," Fredrich said. "I didn't see that. I saw that they fiddled around with the office cap and did what I consider 'optics,' but they didn't really get into the issues."

Fredrich would like to see a moratorium on commercial growth in areas where office development has been particularly rampant. He also said the Architectural Review Board should be eliminated -- or at the very least reduced to a purely advisory role, with a focus on the overall context of a particular development rather than specific features of a given project. At the same time, he said, the planning commission should get two more members and an expanded purview in reviewing new projects.

Fredrich also said he supports replacing City Manager James Keene and Planning Director Hillary Gitelman, who he believes could but aren't moving in the new direction that the council majority is seeking.

Like Fredrich, Martell is a former candidate (she ran in 2005) who styles herself as a residentialist and has a history of criticizing city leaders. In campaign document she provided to the Weekly, she wrote that she wants to "stop citywide overdevelopment" and maintain "walkable neighborhoods in which residents have access to a grocery store." Her position statement on affordable housing accuses the council of "turning Palo Alto into a monstrosity" and alleges that the council "grows increasingly numb to resident well-being and wishes."

"Unwanted city changes are coming fast and hard, and I don't like what's happening," Martell wrote. "I've never experienced so many residents, of all ages and backgrounds, so openly disgruntled."

Her solution to the city's affordable-housing shortage is to move the rail system underground and construct two-story residences above the rail line. She proposes funding the undergrounding plan by offering promotional advertising to high-tech companies and by possibly naming a station after each company.

"Because we have only two stations, each station may end up with hyphenated names," she notes.

She also specified that the new affordable housing would exclude "people with visas and permits" and include local seniors with citizenship and Palo Alto's police officers and firemen.

In addition to the housing plan, Martell also supports offering free internet citywide by connecting the city's fiber-optic infrastructure to local homes (a variation of the city's Fiber-to-the-Premises project, which aims for universal access but does not expect it to be free). As an "emergency issue," she would like to see the city "protect our children by overseeing park pool safety so that there is at least one supervising adult on premises at all times." In recent months, she has argued that the Community Services Department isn't doing enough to ensure child safety in the Rinconada Pool; city staff have disputed this characterization.

Martell also wants to reduce crime by "restructuring" the Opportunity Center, which offers apartments and services for homeless individuals and families. Martell called the facility "a city-sponsored clubhouse and magnet largely for intense addicts and transients overflowing from San Francisco."

Leonard W. Ely III, a commercial real estate broker with the Mountain View-based firm Renault & Handley, is also looking to shake up the status quo. But while Fredrich and Martell argue that the city is racing recklessly into the future, Ely sees Palo Alto as a city clinging stubbornly to the past. Ely readily admits that he is not a political person and that he has much to learn about how the city works. He also said he will propose ideas that may seem "absurd," though when asked about these unusual ideas, he said he isn't ready to talk about them just yet. As the last person to declare his council candidacy, he said he doesn't have a platform or any preconceived notions. He does, however, have strong feelings about how the council has been performing of late.

"They don't do anything," Ely said. "They talk about things but, in substance, they don't do anything."

Specifically, he doesn't believe the city is doing enough to address the city's housing shortage. He also rejects the notion that the city should limit job growth and cap development, ideas that he likens to trying to return to the past. He called Mayor Pat Burt's recent assertions that the city's rate of job growth should be moderated "absurd" and said he does not support the city's recently adopted annual limit on new office development in Palo Alto's main commercial areas.

"I firmly believe you can't go backwards," Ely said. "I am more of the mind that we should be looking out and trying to solve the problems, not trying to reverse the problem."

Stewart Carl, co-founder of the citizens group Sky Posse, which addresses airplane noise, sees the city's land-use issues different. Like Ely, he is relatively new to City Hall politics. Unlike Ely, he says he is closely aligned with slow-growth philosophies. To date, the College Terrace resident has been largely focused on neighborhood issues, including the College Terrace Centre development on the 2100 block of El Camino Real and the city's Mayfield agreement with Stanford University, which allowed Stanford to build two nearby housing developments.

In recent years, as airport noise became a hot topic and growth and development continued to divide the community, Carl's focus has broadened. Two years ago, Carl said, he strongly supported the council campaign of Lydia Kou, who was backed by the slow-growth citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning and was barely edged out for the fifth open seat by Cory Wolbach. Three other candidates backed by the group -- Eric Filseth, Tom DuBois and incumbent Karen Holman -- won the election. Now, Carl wants to help these candidates retain the council majority.

Like them, Carl opposes significantly increasing the city's housing stock and believes that doing so will do little to curb the sky-high costs of real estate. He also rejects the idea that the city has a housing crisis.

"I consider it a problem, but I don't consider it a crisis unless you're homeless or a senior trying to live in a city with rising costs, and you're on a fixed income," Carl told the Weekly. "There's definitely a problem, with so many tech workers coming into the area, but I don't think there's much Palo Alto can do about affordability or matching up local people to the housing."


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28 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2016 at 10:19 am

Thanks, PA Weekly. Stewart Carl's just the ticket to complement Lydia Kou and Arthur Keller. We need to deal with jet noise more aggressively, and try to hang on to some quality of life.

4 people like this
Posted by Deborah
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 11:24 am

I'm voting for Liz Kniss because Palo Alto needs experienced leaders at this crucial time. Liz has seen it all in her 25 years of public service. She listens to her constituents and develops reasonable solutions to problems. She also serves on two regional boards, the Bay Area Air Quality Board and the League of California Cities, where she protects Palo Alto's interests. We need her experience on our City Council.

24 people like this
Posted by PAF?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 2, 2016 at 11:51 am

Although PAF, as a tax-exempt organization, cannot endorse candidates, it would be very helpful to identify candidates (and journalists) who are members. Specifically, I am wondering whether Adrian Fine, Greg Tanaka and Gennedy Sheyner are members of PAF. Can PAF organizers clarify? Thank you in advance.

28 people like this
Posted by Contrarian
a resident of University South
on Sep 2, 2016 at 1:04 pm

"[Kniss] listens to her constituents and develops reasonable solutions to problems."

Yep, and they return the favor: Web Link

Coincidentally, that was only months after Mayor Kniss hustled a very large Baer development proposal through the Palo Alto Process.

12 people like this
Posted by Jessica Clark
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 2, 2016 at 1:22 pm

First of all PAF is a group of people working towards a better more inclusive palo alto. Being a lifelong resident and parent in palo alto i have a lot to say. But people in palo alto have serious misconceptions of the real deal. Anyone can be a member of PAF. It is simply an organized group looking for better options. As a non-techie living in Palo Alto I just want to say that this group is open and inviting to all perspectives to better Palo Alto. I do not always agree with everything promoted but they listen to me and the demographic I represent.

29 people like this
Posted by Another Contrarian
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 2:45 pm

I think people have to be very naive not to see how much noise developers and their supported candidates are getting these days. They see a window to maximize the $ they can get for their projects, and have very skillfully created a 'housing crisis' in Palo Alto that has become national news.

There's no housing crisis. Instead, I see special interest groups with sleek marketing like PAF and some self-entitled people who think that living in Palo Alto on their terms in a birthright.

Be smart, ask relevant questions, and decide who will better represent your neighborhood's interests before making your choice in the upcoming election.

26 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 3:15 pm

jh is a registered user.

As a long-time Palo Alto resident, until the last two years when she saw which way the wind was blowing, During her previous term of eight years on the Council, Liz Kniss was aligned with the majority pro-growth council members who never seemed to see a development they didn't vote for. Liz Kniss has strong ties to those who profit from densifying Palo Alto (the influential insiders who have been called the "Palo Alto 500") and the link posted above by contrarian is a good example. Even though Liz Kniss has been careful with her rhetoric during council discussions this past year, she votes with the pro-growth council members.

Liz Kniss has successfully championed many worthwhile causes during her long political career, which I admire her for. But when it comes to development her alignments and track record are clear.

28 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 2, 2016 at 5:17 pm

I think Lydia Kou is the top candidate. She has worked hard to keep Barron Park a special neighborhood and maintain its somewhat rural character. Those of us who have lived in Barron Park appreciate her efforts to keep it a quiet naighborhood with a mix of housing options.
Lydia organizes special parties for holidays such as Lunar New Year and Holi that shot different cultural groups that live here. She also organizes Movies in the Park. Free movies shown outside during summer. She encourages the many volunteers who help care for the donkeys.
I think that her organizational and outreach skills among other skills that Lydia has would be a true asset on the Council. She ran once before and nearly made it onto the Council. Losing out to Cory.
Her ma skills are sorely needed on the Council.

7 people like this
Posted by KFC
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2016 at 8:03 pm

I am voting for Kou, Fredrich, and Carl (I just gave them the moniker KFC). Having experienced Arthur Keller's neighborhood politics I prefer to let one of my votes go to waste than vote for him. He seems to run with a very pro-development, and not so ethical, crowd.


21 people like this
Posted by Water Hills Trees Children Safety Air Life
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 5:49 am

I'm so tired of fighting these wars of words that don't apply. When PAF wants to convert single family residences into high density luxury apartments, that is reducing the major existing "option" not creating more. Burlingame/San Mateo (at the former racetrack) just built some giant dense apartment mini-cities just a few easy rail stops from Palo Alto, and are in process of building more. It hasn't altered the rhetoric. Even the rhetoric that pits old against young is wrong and divisive. The millenials don't want to live in cities, they mostly want suburbs, and we should not be irrevocably and to our detriment destroying what is good about our town just because of a trumped up framing about young people that isn't even true. Case in point, high-density activist Downing has never lived in any high-density housing here herself and moved away to commute from a really big single-family home. She wants to destroy single-family residences in Palo Alto for Palantir's convenience but in the real test of living in the kind of place she wants to create, won't walk the walk.
Web Link

We have been led around by the nose by developers long enough and have been paying for it apparently, literally. Extra points this election to candidates who manage to get our residents to focus on important holistic civic issues, because running a City shoukd be about more than just allowing then constantly dealing with the impacts of overdevelopment.

25 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 3, 2016 at 5:55 am

Right now, Kou stands out as the most qualified candidate. She has been a leader in safety issues for years, understands how City government works from attending meetings regularly and working on hard issues as a volunteer. She works by trying to understand issues, not from an ideology. We need candidates who will remind us that there are important civic priorities like safety and resource management. Right now, she is the only candidate I could comfortably endorse, but I will be watching closely.

The Overgrowth candidates seem to be: Kniss, Fine and Ely. I already know I would never vote for them, and wish I could take back past naive votes for Kniss for higher office, and am ashamed to admit, the first time for Council.. She absolutely does not listen to ordinary residents. Ely's rhetoric is the kind of developer framing we need to overcome in this election. Notice how he has framed only densiffication and exploiting our town's resources as going "forward" or progress, and calling anything associated with quality of life backward.

Moving forward can also mean fixing past mistakes, getting out of ideologically-driven ruts, creating a more liveable city, cleaning up messes, refocusing priorities onto health, safety, resources like water, the environment, solving problems for low-income residents facing displacement (rather than emphasizing ideological developer-centric densification that pushes them out), etc. That will take real work, effort, and creativity. Beware of candidates who try to use negative framing of quality of life to push a development agenda, and euphemistic framing of their overdevelopment agenda.

Moving forward can mean getting beyond being pulled around by the nose by developers, and dealing with the fact that we are still in a drought. It can mean finally acting like responsible grownups about safety, noise, pollution, schools. We have a City that expands to triple its size every day without proper safety infrastructure in the event of an emergency. Plans to upgrade safety buildings and infrastructure keep getting squeezed out by overdevelopment interests whose monopolizing of City time and employees was recently shown in another Weekly story to have been paid for largely by residents. Enough.

Someone above makes a good point. It is only necessary to vote for the candidates you know, you don't have to place all four votes. If you vote for someone just to place that last vote, you may eke out a more favored candidate, you are actually voting against them.

With all due respect, @KFC, if you support voting for Fredrich Carl and Kou, you should come up with a better acronym, since both Kou and Kniss have names starting with K. Even saying, vote for Fred Carl Kou is a little alliterative, and less confusing.

28 people like this
Posted by PastHerDueDate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 3, 2016 at 8:44 am

Kniss is definitely over due for nice retirement. Her pro development establishment voting record is clear. Highly political she shifted tone in the last year but not substance.

Stewart Carl is definitely worth a look. Sharp and clear on his positions. Wish I could say the same for Fine and Tanaka who presided over one of the worst planning commissions in city history.

By the way want to point out that anyone can be a member of PAlo Altans for Sensible Zoning. It is simply an organized group looking for better options. This group is open and inviting to all perspectives to better quality of life in Palo Alto.

PASZ has focused the conversation on sensible growth and considering the impacts of that growth. I am grateful that my neighbors have taken the time to fight for the heart of Palo Alto.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 9:13 pm

Given the limited power of the City Council, it would be interesting to find out how the candidates intend to effect the various changes they propose.

6 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 5, 2016 at 9:32 pm

Thank you Liz Kniss for your service. But it is time for you to retire.

3 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Is this “outsider” Leonard Ely III any relation to the famous insider, philanthropist, businessman, board-member, Tall Tree community leader and Golden Spike Stanford alumnus Leonard Ely II, (1923-2011)?

Web Link

12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 8, 2016 at 7:52 am

Just want to address KFC's concern about Arthur Keller.

He is absolutely not pro growth nor does he
"He seems to run with a very pro-development, and not so ethical, crowd."

His record on the planning commission, and other civic work show him to be firstly extremely highly principled & ethical

He is also extremely knowledgable and always understands the issues .

He is very concerned about retaining the quality of life for residents and has never "rubber stamped" projects for developers.

Someone with his high ethical standards institutional knowledge and respect for residents is EXACTLY whatwe need on council!

10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 8, 2016 at 8:00 am

Arthur Keller served many years on the Planning Commission and speaks out on development issues - in other words, we actually know who he is and what he does and doesn't support. He will bring his considerable intelligence and deep knowledge of land use and planning to Council once elected. To say he runs with a pro development crowd as a poster here did is just wrong as his record shows. He knows and will uphold our zoning and other land use laws. He is in no ones pocket - he is incorruptible.

12 people like this
Posted by Cate
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 8, 2016 at 8:17 am

Palo Alto Forward is not a nonprofit or legal entity of any sort. It is a private group of people with a self appointed steering committee that meets in private. There are little city Forwards up and down the peninsula in San Mateo and Santa Clara county and they all coordinate together in Peninsula Foward - the one supposed nonprofit. They seem to hook into corporate Silicon Valley and its money - their missions of mega worker housing and no limits on commercial development are in lockstep. PAF has no transparency.
Be very wary of it and it's candidates Fine and Tenaka.

6 people like this
Posted by Not pro-development
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2016 at 1:25 pm

To add to Anon's points, the Palo Alto Weekly certainly doesn't consider council candidate Arthur Keller as pro-development. From Web Link:

"Long affiliated with the slow-growth wing of the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) -- a group that also includes former planning commissioner Susan Fineberg and current Councilwoman Karen Holman) -- the computer scientist is known as much for his wonky, detail-oriented approach to new development projects as for his staunch criticism of commercial growth."

Let me add that Keller also voted against the huge Alma Plaza redevelopment and to levy a serious fine on Sand Hill Properties, the Edgewood Plaza developer that knocked down a building that it was supposed to preserve.

And the odds that PAF (Palo Alto Forward), the local pro-development group, would ever endorse Keller are zero.

7 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 8, 2016 at 8:08 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Having listened to Arthur Keller at many Planning and Transport Commission meetings I have never seen him align himself with developers. When they tried to run rings around members of the Commission (and city staff) who didn't have his knowledge of land use and the ability to dig into and understand the numbers, he skewered them!

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

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