The results of this week's City Council election in Palo Alto spell another shakeup for one of the city's most important commissions, which on Tuesday saw two of its members elected to council and which on Wednesday elected a new chair and vice chair.
The election of members Greg Tanaka, the longest-serving member of the Planning and Transportation Commission, and Adrian Fine, who chaired the commission this year, means that the city has another vacancy to fill on a panel largely considered to be the city's most critical advisory body. Tanaka's term is coming to an end this year and his replacement has already been chosen by the council. But the election of Fine, who finished third in the 11-candidate race for four seats, leaves the council with a fresh vacancy, just weeks after council members made three new appointments to the seven-member board.
Tanaka, who finished second in Tuesday's council race, joined his colleague Michael Alcheck in arguing for electing the officers Wednesday. The choice of who should lead the commission, Tanaka said, should rest with present members.
"If you want to think about who is best informed to make this decision, I think it's the six people sitting here today," Tanaka said.
The argument swayed Commissioner Eric Rosenblum, who minutes earlier had supported a proposal from commissioners Asher Waldfogel and Vice Chair Przemek Gardias to delay the election of officers until Jan. 11, when the new members begin their terms. Rosenblum then nominated Michael Alcheck, the commission's leading advocate for growth and density, to become its chair. Fine supported the nomination, which carried by a 4-0 vote, with both Waldfogel and Gardias abstaining.
The commission's process for selecting vice chair proved trickier. Alcheck tried to return the favor by nominating Rosenblum as vice chair, but Rosenblum declined, saying he would prefer to see Gardias retain the position for another year. But Gardias then refused Rosenblum's nomination on the grounds because he felt the vote should be delayed.
With Rosenblum and Gardias both declining and Tanaka and Fine both leaving the commission in the end of the year, Waldfogel became the only commissioner eligible for nomination (the seven-member commission has had only six members ever since Kate Downing made her very public resignation in July). Waldfogel reluctantly accepted his nomination for vice chair, though both he and Gardias abstained from the 4-0 vote.
The election of Alcheck, a real-estate attorney, as chair is unlikely to have a major influence on the commission's decisions, given that the chair's purview largely consists of running meetings. Yet coming in the days after Palo Alto voters tilted the council majority away from the slow-growth “residentialist” wing toward members more likely to support new developments, his ascendency to the central chair is likely to displease those opposed to growth.
In recent years, Alcheck has advocated for transforming El Camino Real into a “canyon” of multi-story buildings, argued that the council's recently established annual cap on new office space wouldn't be fair to developers and voiced support for a “planned community” process in which developers can effectively buy zoning exemptions -- positions that are anathema to those who favor slow-growth policies.
His term as chair will stretch for a year and will include the introduction of three new members. Doria Summa, president of the College Terrace Residents Association, and Ed Lauing, a veteran of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, were both appointed by the council last month for two full terms. The council also unanimously appointed Gardias to fill Downing's unexpired term.