News

Palo Alto's planning director to resign

Hillary Gitelman stepping down on May 11

Palo Alto Planning Director Hillary Gitelman will step down from her post next month, leaving the city with a vacancy in one of its most critical and demanding positions.

Gitelman has been at the helm of the Department of Planning and Community Environment since late 2013, when she was hired after serving as the Napa County planning director. Now, after more than four years of service, she plans to leave the public sector to join Environmental Science Associates, a San Francisco-based planning and design firm.

Her tenure has been a particularly eventful one, with the city adopting an annual cap on office developments, implementing new residential parking programs in three neighborhoods and accelerating its effort to come up a preferred design for reconfiguring the local portion rail corridor.

Her most significant accomplishment was steering to completion the city's update of its Comprehensive Plan, an exercise that was more than a decade in the making before crossing the finish line late last year.

Under her leadership, the department has also adopted new laws to encourage accessory-dwelling units, revised its housing-impact fees and, most recently, created a "new Affordable Housing Combining District," with relaxed development standards for projects with 100 percent affordable housing.

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"In Palo Alto, the Planning Department is at the center of many complex and demanding initiatives, and Hillary and her team of dedicated employees have shown great resilience and adaptation to meet the community's high expectations," City Manager James Keene said in a statement Thursday morning. "We wish Hillary well, and I'm sure we'll be seeing her again as she continues her contribution to planning projects and issues in the Bay Area."

Gitelman's last day in office will be May 11, Keene said. Assistant Director Jonathan Lait will serve as interim Planning Director.

Gitelman is one of several top executives who are planning to depart City Hall. The city's Chief Financial Officer Lalo Perez and Public Works Director Michael Sartor are both planning to retire in the coming months, while Keene has said he plans to retire later in the year.

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Palo Alto's planning director to resign

Hillary Gitelman stepping down on May 11

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Apr 19, 2018, 12:30 pm

Palo Alto Planning Director Hillary Gitelman will step down from her post next month, leaving the city with a vacancy in one of its most critical and demanding positions.

Gitelman has been at the helm of the Department of Planning and Community Environment since late 2013, when she was hired after serving as the Napa County planning director. Now, after more than four years of service, she plans to leave the public sector to join Environmental Science Associates, a San Francisco-based planning and design firm.

Her tenure has been a particularly eventful one, with the city adopting an annual cap on office developments, implementing new residential parking programs in three neighborhoods and accelerating its effort to come up a preferred design for reconfiguring the local portion rail corridor.

Her most significant accomplishment was steering to completion the city's update of its Comprehensive Plan, an exercise that was more than a decade in the making before crossing the finish line late last year.

Under her leadership, the department has also adopted new laws to encourage accessory-dwelling units, revised its housing-impact fees and, most recently, created a "new Affordable Housing Combining District," with relaxed development standards for projects with 100 percent affordable housing.

"In Palo Alto, the Planning Department is at the center of many complex and demanding initiatives, and Hillary and her team of dedicated employees have shown great resilience and adaptation to meet the community's high expectations," City Manager James Keene said in a statement Thursday morning. "We wish Hillary well, and I'm sure we'll be seeing her again as she continues her contribution to planning projects and issues in the Bay Area."

Gitelman's last day in office will be May 11, Keene said. Assistant Director Jonathan Lait will serve as interim Planning Director.

Gitelman is one of several top executives who are planning to depart City Hall. The city's Chief Financial Officer Lalo Perez and Public Works Director Michael Sartor are both planning to retire in the coming months, while Keene has said he plans to retire later in the year.

Comments

We Do Need a Change
Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:32 pm
We Do Need a Change, Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Our planning department is well-known for its contempt for residents and the law. It instead lets developers get away with massively inadequate parking, blatantly illegal uses, unchecked permit violations, and far more. Let's hope for new leadership that respects the law and the public and works to improve the department's badly-damaged image.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm
Uh oh...
Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:53 pm
Uh oh..., Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 12:53 pm

I think this is ultimately a good thing. Gittleman always struck me as disconnected from the community and seemed to lack the enthusiasm that one normally has when they are happy in their job. But I am very concerned about Jonathan Lait rising to the position of interim director. He seems to be at the root of nearly every blunder the city's planning department has made in the last several years. He's rarely acknowledged mistakes even when they are apparent and he seems to be fine cutting corners instead of taking the time to work out the issues.

To be clear, he certainly is a nice fellow, but I for one sure hope we find a more accountable as well as a more visionary planning professional to take over as our new director full time.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:09 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:09 pm

I wonder if it could be a requirement that the next person to hold this position actually be a resident of Palo Alto?


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:15 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:15 pm

I agree with the first post about Ms. Gitelman's dismissive attitude toward residents and our comments, many of which highlighted problems that are only now being acknowledged re the Ross Rd petition and that often offered useful suggestions.

I'd like to know more about Mr. Lait.

I'd also like to know who is running the rail project now that she's leaving since she was also in charge of Transportation as part of city Planning.


We Do Need a Change
Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:20 pm
We Do Need a Change, Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:20 pm

The firm Gitelman is going to appears to do business in Palo Alto. Web Link is a study they did just last year for the new highway 101 bike bridge.


Sanctimonious City
Registered user
Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 6:51 pm
Sanctimonious City, Barron Park
Registered user
on Apr 19, 2018 at 6:51 pm

Did we have a city planner?

If one looks at the mess our city is currently in then it is pretty obvious that position has been vacant for the last 5 years.


Gale Johnson
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 20, 2018 at 1:07 pm
Gale Johnson, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Let's hope a new full time Planning Director will be more engaging with the residents and listen to their concerns more closely. Gitelman might be right in dismissing, not reading PAO commenter posts, because many of them are just so biased and full of hate speech. But, many others are also well thought out and researched. Maybe I'm guilty of not going to the neighborhood meetings, but most of the time I'm not even aware of them. Also, it sounds like, from some commenters, and from a neighbor who did go to one a couple years ago re the Ross Rd bike boulevard, that the presenters are not really open to listening, but more interested in explaining an issue from their point of view, i.e., a sales job, and then voting the way they were going to anyway. But they can claim that they held a meeting and residents had a chance to speak out. Maybe they spoke out, but weren't heard or listened to!

I watched a lot of CC meetings on TV and Gitelman always seemed well prepared and ready and willing to answer questions. She always looked very serious though, and I never expected any levity or smiles from her when she spoke. She is all business...and that's okay. It is serious stuff. Some of our CC members are very good at providing levity. Actually, sometimes some of their ideas are laughable. lol! I'm kinda kidding! Like CC members who are kinda in favor of providing housing for the very low income and low income folks. Oh yes, you don't have to repeat how wonderful the BV decision was, and we're probably a couple years away from knowing if any housing will be built on the Wilton Ave site. But be sure and mention those in your campaign ads. They are vote grabbers.

Re Transportation...there are so many folks in City Hall...staff, PTC, CC's own Rail Committee, and in the end CC itself, struggling to deal with the rail/grade separation issue. Then throw in the groups of residents who are asked to list and rank their favorite solutions, and now petitioners who don't want solutions that will affect them. How do you herd cats? You don't! I just checked the actuarial table a while ago, and I think I'm clear of ever seeing anything done in my lifetime.

Good luck to you, Cory, and to your committee. I am serious. Greg Tanaka was also right to ask about hiring another consulting firm to do another study poll/survey. Why is one consulting firm more believable than another one? How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb? More than you can count I'm starting to think. I'll attach an 'lol' to that also.


midtown senior
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 20, 2018 at 2:30 pm
midtown senior, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 20, 2018 at 2:30 pm

If we are to judge from such actions as exceptions from parking requirements on new structures, Ross Road "improvements," and ignoring voters' opinions, then Ms Gitelman's resignation is well deserved.


Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Apr 20, 2018 at 5:47 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Apr 20, 2018 at 5:47 pm

Hillary Gitelman was an integer in a vast, vast set of irrationals along the continuum of public policy makers and mades that I observed over the recent nine years or so. Thanks for your service and may the road rise to meet you — wear a helmet.


Mark Weiss
Downtown North
on Apr 20, 2018 at 5:55 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
on Apr 20, 2018 at 5:55 pm

I think I meant to say “sea” of irrationals not “set” of irrationals; an integer would not be part of the set of irrationals. Even in a metaphor. I meant to say I thought she was good.


Art Liberman
Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm
Art Liberman, Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Our neighborhood in Barron Park right behind CPI and others in the City who are concerned with possible impact of serious industrial accidents owe a big debt of gratitude to Hillary. She not only listened to us, to our concerns about the risks to our health and welfare from a release of chemical fumes from the electroplating shop that could be many times worse than the incident there in 2006, but she took on the task of finding a solution. It would not have happened without her. She, along with City Attorney Stump (backed by City Manager Jim Keene), brokered an arrangement in which the hazards at CPI would be phased out over time. Neither the residents nor the CPI management were completely happy with the conditions of the deal, but that's in the nature of a fair deal. This took time and energy and it was hard work. You can't ask more than that from a committed and dedicated Planning staff. Thank you Hillary.


Loy Martin
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 11:38 am
Loy Martin, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 11:38 am

I would like to offer a contrasting statement to those who have found Hillary Gitelman and her department unresponsive to residents' concerns. My neighbors and I have been involved for some time in a difficult controversy over the freedom of a nearby church to conduct secular business activities. My letter to Hillary Gitelman resulted immediately in a half hour conversation in her office in which I found her to be concerned, informative and balanced in her views. As events have unfolded, Hillary, Jonathan Lait and Graham Owen have expended a great deal of time, thoughtful attention and effort to meet with all of the concerned parties and investigate the small details of our neighborhood and its problems. Their process has seemed to me to be a model of small city governance, in sharp contrast to the bombastic and slipshod tactics of the Palo Alto Planning Commission.

In short, I too wish Hillary Gitelman well in her new work and I would enthusiastically welcome Jonathan Lait as our new planning director.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 26, 2018 at 12:49 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 26, 2018 at 12:49 pm

Sorry. Any department that ignores residents and still narrows a major street to one lane and then sticks a bus stop 3 car lengths from a major intersection has no business in planning.

The bus sat there for 10 MINUTES Tuesday night at 6:45PM -- RUSH HOUR -- backing up traffic for miles. Cars stuck IN a MAJOR intersection. Impatient drivers in the WRONG lane heading at oncoming traffic.

We repeatedly told her dep. and ere ignored for years. The same thing is happening now to George Jaquette, the Ross Rd petition creator who got 918 signatures. Read the comments on Next Door.


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