News

Council election shakes up Palo Alto's planning commission

Influential board gets another vacancy, new leadership for the coming year

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.


Michael Alcheck
But even though neither Tanaka nor Fine will serve on the commission next year, they both participated in a Wednesday vote to elect a new chair and vice chair, despite arguments from two of their colleagues that it would be more fair to let the newly appointed commissioners participate in the election process.

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.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by Observer
a resident of University South
on Nov 10, 2016 at 2:38 pm

Who appoints replacements for Fine and Tanaka? The incoming Council or the outgoing one?


1 person likes this
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Nov 10, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

@Observer,

Because Tanaka was scheduled to term out, his replacement was already selected. Doria Summa and Ed Lauing were appointed last month to full terms, in place of Tanaka and Gardias (who was also completing his term). However, Gardias was appointed to stay on the commission to fill the remaining term of Kate Downing, who resigned.

While the council hasn't yet discussed Fine's successor on the commission, I suspect the decision will be made by the next council. This is based on the fact that it takes time to post the vacancy, recruit candidates, interview them and make the appointments. I'm guessing Fine's replacement will be selected sometime early next year by the new council, which of course includes Fine.


35 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 10, 2016 at 4:14 pm

City Council would be wise to re-appoint Arthur Keller.


4 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 10, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Gennady Sheyner
"I suspect the decision will be made by the next council."

Maybe, maybe not. As per the tentative agendas posted this evening, "Board and Commission Interviews" before the council are scheduled 11/30 at a 6 pm special meeting.


29 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 11, 2016 at 12:33 am

Arthur Keller would be an excellent choice for planning commissioner.


18 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 11, 2016 at 10:07 am

Fred Balin is a registered user.

An idea worthy of consideration, although he does remain co-chair of the Comp Plan Citizens Advisory Committee.

In the 2005 council race, Karen Holman was first runner-up, absorbed the huge disappointment, picked herself right up and returned to the planning commission. Ultimately she was elected and re-electied to the council.

Keller, like Holman and this-year’s comeback winner Lydia Kou come from the sound, resilient stock, and from this perspective, our voters do not always get it right the first time.


4 people like this
Posted by A voter who got it right
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2016 at 11:08 am

[Portion removed.]

Let's be clear, and this map really says it all: Web Link

The "less-growth candidates" were preferred by the "more-growth" candidates in all but 3 precincts, including the one where Lydia lives. My only regret is that Don McDougall was not more well-known or experienced.

I agree we don't always 'get it right the first time', and the change we just saw is the course correction that was needed from the last round of candidates who really did not represent what Palo Alto has now clearly said is what is 'right' for the majority of us.


15 people like this
Posted by @A voter
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 11, 2016 at 11:16 am

If you really have a family, you will NOT want your children to grow up in a dense, polluted, urbanized Manhattan-like community! It simply is not healthy for children, plants or animals.

I grew up in NYC, and it was awful--no place for children to be children, polluted air, water, everything grimey, and-- the natural consequence of dense living environments-- a lot of violent crime. That meant there was simply nowhere safe for children to play and grow--or even breathe freely.

At least the air in SF is clean, if you want a dense urban environment for your family. Why not go there?


14 people like this
Posted by A voter who got it right
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2016 at 11:42 am

The exaggeration that Palo Alto will become Manhattan-like is always so comedic to me. (and BTW - I know many who have raised kids in NYC and loved it for it's culture, diversity and energy!)

I think what the majority has just said is that allowing things to git a bit more dense, improving our infrastructure, and making this amazing place more welcoming - and accessible to others is not such a bad thing.


Like this comment
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Nov 11, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

@Fred,

Thanks for the heads-up about the commission interviews. The tentative agenda wasn't yet available when I was responding, but you're right, the item is listed for Nov. 30. Even so, the meeting is "tentative" and it will be up to the current council to decide the timing of commission appointments. As you recall, the outgoing council's 2014 appointments to the PTC (just days after the council election) caused some angst among those who felt that the newly elected members should have a say. I look forward to seeing how this will play out with Adrian Fine's replacement.


16 people like this
Posted by A Bad Omen
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 11, 2016 at 4:22 pm

"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.

A bad omen. Instead of letting the new commission choose its own leaders, as you would expect in a democracy, Tanaka co-opted things so he and his allies could pick the winners. By his argument, the current City Council should get to choose the mayor for next year, not the incoming members. So let's see if Tanaka and Fine then abstain on the mayoral vote next January.


3 people like this
Posted by Required
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 11, 2016 at 5:01 pm

If you watch the meeting, the city attorney said that by code, they are supposed to select the new chair/vice chair in November. While I don't agree with Alcheck, at least he seems to be able to run a meeting effectively.


26 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 11, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Yes, let's put Arthur Keller back on the Planning Commission. He's thoughtful, experienced, committed, and very intelligent. There couldn't be anyone better to fill this sudden vacancy. Let's not lose this dedicated public servant!


20 people like this
Posted by 6Djockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 11, 2016 at 8:24 pm

Alcheck said that the office cap isn't fair to developers. Being fair to developers means having clear guidelines for developers and consistently applying them. The office cap is a policy the council approved for the welfare of its citizens. We have no obligation to developers simply because they want to develop. If Mr. Alcheck thinks otherwise, I see dark clouds on the horizon.


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 12, 2016 at 10:43 am

Do yourselves a favor and Google the Los Altos City Council's response to Mr. Alcheck when he tried to push his hyper-growth policies on them a few years back. Basically, they sent him packing, telling him to take his get-rich schemes back to Palo Alto and not to darken their doors again.

Mr. Fine and Mr. Tanaka sure didn't waste any time in showing their true colors in endorsing Mr. Alcheck,


4 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 14, 2016 at 9:40 am

Think beyond your own selfish immediate needs for low density existence. When land prices go high high density development is a must. Look at the history of urban development. But first look at the price of land.
George Drysdale economics and history teacher


4 people like this
Posted by New Yorker
a resident of another community
on Nov 14, 2016 at 10:36 am

Please don't bash NYC. Not sure when you lived there but it is a very vibrant exciting energizing environment. Crime has reduced significantly from perhaps when you lived there. I am also not sure PA is that incredibly a healthy environment for children. Stress and pressure to succeed is a very real problem in our schools.


10 people like this
Posted by The Antisocial Social Club
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2016 at 3:22 pm

The Antisocial Social Club is a registered user.

Please, oh please, get Arthur Keller on the PC, even if you have to crawl on your hands and knees and kiss his feet!


5 people like this
Posted by The Antisocial Sicial Club
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2016 at 3:36 pm

The Antisocial Sicial Club is a registered user.

My parents immigrated to NYC in the 70s. I was born there. My mother had to re-qualify as a pharmacist in this country, and my father had to re-qualify for an engineering degree before I was born. I grew up in Brooklyn Heights, but even in the 80s and 90s I knew it was not a good place to live, between the pollution and the crime once you set foot out of our burrough.

East Coast schools have always been high pressure, especially Massachussetts, where I went to college, and Connecticut.

The Bay Area and Palo Alto schools weren't so high stress until about 2006, I think. The pollution has indeed been bad since 2009.

I have had to rethink where I want my children to grow up. It isn't Palo Alto, maybe not the Bay Area. Tech seems to be moving toward Morgan Hill, maybe Monterey County.

But it sure as hell won't be NYC-- and I visit there yearly!


5 people like this
Posted by Tame the rhetoric people...
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 14, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Alcheck is not trying to ruin Palo Alto. He's just a passionate supporter of growing the housing supply and redeveloping El Camino. Which I totally agree with.

Those so called "residentialists" in our community have a terrible habit of taking everything their opposition says and treating it like its the spoken word of the devil. You people need to appreciate that advocating for something like housing supply is not criminal. And treating it like it is doesn't make it so.

I think it is fair to say that the residents of Palo Alto have spoken and their vote shows that the "residentialists" are a minority. I further believe that the "residentialist" manner of dialogue is both toxic and ineffective and I hope to see this minority begin to participate in the process in a more constructive way.


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 14, 2016 at 10:31 pm

"Think beyond your own selfish immediate needs for low density existence. When land prices go high high density development is a must."

Even in your protected high-priced P-ville hood? Maybe right next door to your own house? Hmmm?

Curmudgeon actual resident of a high-density neighborhood.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Portola Valley

on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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

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