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."
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."