Applicants seek to change planning commission's tone

Several allude to recent rancor on influential Palo Alto panel in explaining their reason for applying

When the Palo Alto City Council meets in late November to interview 13 candidates for the city's influential but polarized Planning and Transportation Commission, questions about ethics may loom as large as those pertaining to housing and traffic.

The topic of commissioner ethics emerged repeatedly during recent City Council candidate forums, with several candidates alluding to recent citizens' complaints against Planning Commissioner Michael Alcheck. In November 2017, Alcheck took part in revising zoning rules for carports and garages without disclosing the facts that he had built carports at his two properties in the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood and was involved in a dispute with the city's planning department over converting them into garages -- a conversion that planners initially said violated the zoning code. Alcheck moved ahead with the conversion despite the city's findings, and in December 2017, the city relented under pressure from Alcheck's attorney and gave him the permits.

The episode, which prompted calls from several residents and council members for Alcheck's resignation, added more fuel to what in recent years has become an increasingly political and polarized process for selecting members for the planning commission. And while it will be up to the current council to fill the two seats that will become vacant on Dec. 15, the new council when it convenes next year could opt to discuss whether Alcheck should remain on the commission. It also will have a chance to fill one commission seat and in 2020 fill two more.

At the Oct. 4 City Council candidates' forum sponsored by the Palo Alto Neighborhoods residents' group, each of the five candidates was asked what role the council should play in addressing "corruption" in government. Vice Mayor Eric Filseth, one of three incumbents, alluded to the "ethical cloud" hovering over a planning commissioner and pointed out that the five council members who support more city growth voted to give Alcheck a fresh term in 2017.

"I think the two most important qualities you need in people like council members and commissioners are ethics and integrity, and judgment," Filseth said at the debate. "That individual had already served a couple of years on the Planning and Transportation Commission, and every single council member knew what they were getting when he came up for reinstatement."

Councilman Tom DuBois has also been an outspoken critic of Alcheck, who is one of the commission's chief advocates for new development, particularly housing. During an Oct. 3 debate sponsored by the Palo Alto Weekly, DuBois referred to Alcheck's garage project and asked his fellow candidates: What do you think is the proper response from the council when a council-appointed board member or commissioner acts unethically?

In response, council candidate Alison Cormack advocated for the city attorney to investigate the episode and for more training of appointed officials. Candidate Pat Boone said a government official facing an ethics complaint needs to be "immediately put on hold and not continue in the position until we figure out what exactly we're talking about." Filseth emphasized the need to appoint commissioners with better judgment.

Even Councilman Cory Wolbach, the only council candidate who voted to reappoint Alcheck in 2017, responded that he did not realize what was happening with the garage project at the time of that vote. He said now he would have a "much more difficult time" reappointing the commissioner and suggested "resignation might be necessary."

"That behavior was unacceptable. I think we all agree about that," said Wolbach, who earlier this month received -- and promptly returned -- a $250 campaign contribution from Alcheck.

Recent commission reappointments

Given the current makeup of the council, any move to oust Alcheck is unlikely to succeed in the near-term. The five members of the council's more pro-growth wing -- Mayor Liz Kniss, Adrian Fine, Greg Scharff, Greg Tanaka and Wolbach -- have thus far proven unwilling to entertain the removal of the commission's chief housing proponent. On Nov. 13, 2017, the five members voted as a block to reappoint Alcheck to the commission and to appoint William Riggs, an assistant professor at University of San Francisco, to a new term.

Neither Alcheck nor Riggs received votes from any of the four commissioners on the more slow-growth wing -- DuBois, Filseth, Karen Holman and Lydia Kou.

Since then, Alcheck and Riggs have been strident supporters of building more housing and reducing parking requirements for new developments. Each has also expressed frustration with the rest of the commission, which has generally been more skeptical about revising zoning regulations to encourage more development in the city. The two now make up the commission's more pro-growth wing along with Vice Chair Susan Monk, who in 2016 helped manage Kniss' successful re-election campaign. (The terms of Monk and commission veteran Przemek Gardias are expiring in December; neither has re-applied for a seat.)

Despite winning the appointment, Riggs' enthusiasm for serving on the planning commission has been underwhelming. Riggs missed seven of the planning commission's 15 regular meetings between Jan. 10 and Sept. 26 and showed up late twice, according to the Weekly's review of his attendance record. This does not include the three meetings that the commission canceled, at least in one case because of an insufficient quorum.

At the commission's Aug. 29 meeting, he fumed about the commission's lack of real power and suggested he doesn't "bring any value to the city" because anything he and his colleagues say will just be rehashed again by the City Council, which has the decision-making power.

"I feel like we are powerless. That's why I think about quitting every day. It's not something I enjoy because there is no value that we bring to the city," Riggs said.

Thirteen vie for two seats

The 13 residents who hope to join the commission see things differently. In their applications, which were released last week, several candidates alluded to the bitter tone of the current commission's discussions and suggested that they would be well-suited to improving the group's level of productivity and collegiality.

Applicant Rebecca Eisenberg, an attorney, cited a recent meeting in which commissioners "spoke past each other" and "interrupted each other."

"Some did not seem prepared. A couple arrived late or did not attend at all. In no case did the commissioners appear to be influenced by each other or by those who were presenting to them," Eisenberg wrote. "Not surprisingly, few decisions were made."

Eisenberg said she believes she could "help move the commission into a more positive, conciliatory, compromising and productive direction."

Kelsey Banes, a psychologist at VA Palo Alto Healthcare System and an advocate for more housing, wrote that one of her specific goals would be to improve the commission's meeting process "to avoid polarization, reach consensus more efficiently and improve quality of recommendation to council."

"I would seek to work toward this goal by modeling effective communication skills, as honed from my psychology training (e.g., active listening), and encouraging others on the commission to utilize the same tools to understand others and express themselves more effectively," she wrote.

Carolyn Templeton, who retired last year from her position as technical program manager at Google, wrote that the commission has made numerous decisions in recent years that have been overturned and that led to "widespread frustration among the residents."

"As a result, public trust in the city government has eroded somewhat," Templeton wrote. "I believe we can do better and that we can rebuild that trust."

Others candidates applying for a seat cited their prior experiences on the council and the commission. Former Mayor Bern Beecham, a commissioner from 1990 to 1999 who twice chaired the panel before joining the council, stated in his application that he believes the commission's role and format "offers the best opportunity for candid and diverse policy and discussions."

Dena Mossar, who served on the council from 1998 to 2007 and as mayor in 2003, wrote that she is "interested in how communities grapple with change while preserving their core values and the process used to make decisions." To meet its goal of providing informed guidance, the commission "must focus on the task at hand and limit repetitive, disrespectful or irrelevant conversation," Mossar wrote.

Like Eisenberg and Banes, both Beecham and Mossar pointed to housing as a chief topic of interest. That also appears to be the case for every other candidate. Elaine Uang, an architect who co-founded the citizens group Palo Alto Forward, wrote that she wants the commission to help expand Palo Alto's "sustainable transportation and housing policies" and "help people find a wider range of housing options so they can live here at all life stages."

The candidate list also includes several employees of area high-tech companies. L. David Baron, a software engineer at Mozilla, made a case in his application for more dense housing near downtown and California Avenue. Claude Ezran, director of marketing at Oorja Fuel Cells and a former member of the Human Relations Commission, said one of his specific goals would be to build "more affordable housing, especially near transit hubs" and providing housing for teachers. Ezran also said he supports limiting new office development and expanding the city's shuttle program.

Thomas Siegel, vice president for trust and safety at Google, wrote that his two goals would be to lessen the impact of traffic on "quality of life" and create "a balanced process to manage the benefits and perils of growth."

Brian Hamacheck, a technology executive at Social Foundry, wrote that his goals would be to "preserve the unique character of Palo Alto while implementing necessary and desirable changes in thoughtful ways."

Michelle Kraus, the head of global government affairs for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and a fundraiser for the Democratic party, cited the need to balance limits on commercial development and the need for housing. She said she looks forward to "advanced transportation solutions to alleviate traffic and parking issues."

Several other applicants wrote that they would like to see more input from residents before the city makes decisions. Craig Yanagisawa, who is retired, cited the city's recent Ross Road bike boulevard as an example of a project that failed to meet the expectations of residents and said his top goal would be "better customer satisfaction."

Giselle Roohoparvar, a real-estate attorney, also focused on transportation and said her goal would be to see the commission make headway on this topic. She suggested that the city do more to encourage greater use of bicycles and scooters by allowing companies to distribute rentable bikes and scooters across the city and by providing residents with more information about public-transportation options.

The council plans to interview the 13 candidates, as well as candidates for vacancies on the Architectural Review Board and the Parks and Recreation Commission, on Nov. 27. Current commissioners' terms expire on Dec. 15.

Weekly journalists discuss tensions on the planning commission in an Aug. 3 episode of "Behind the Headlines." Watch the webcast here.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

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72 people like this
Posted by L'Etat, c'est Alcheck
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 2, 2018 at 4:31 am

The article doesn't mention that Alcheck illegally converted his carports into garages without even obtaining city permits and was forced to undo this and go through the regular permit process after a neighbor complained. Alcheck had been on the Planning Commission for years and is a real estate attorney. You would think he knows people have to get permits for these conversions.

He then also used his position as commissioner to try to change the law so these houses could have garages and not just carports, without revealing his personal interest in doing so.

Amazingly, despite this all being made public, Alcheck remains on the Planning Commission.

This is why public trust in our local government is collapsing. The City Council needs to set high ethical standards for people appointed to commissions and not just reward and promote their political friends.

26 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 2, 2018 at 9:16 am

Online Name is a registered user.

What about Elaine Uang, PAF co-founder? As of the 10/19 article she was also hoping to be appointed?

Web Link
"Also on the list is Elaine Uang, an architect who co-founded the housing-advocacy group Palo Alto Forward and served on the citizens group that in 2017 worked on updating Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan."

61 people like this
Posted by Be Cautious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2018 at 10:15 am

Shame on the Council majority, Mayor Kniss, Wolbach, Scharff, Fine, and Tenaka for not only re-appointing Alcheck when his destructive antics were known, but now not simply joining with the minority Members to fire him, which they can do at anytime.

And William Rogers seems to still not understand that the P&TC is an advisory Commission to the Council and feels it not a good use of time, serving. Given he doesn’t show up for meetings, he should resign now.

As to some of these choices here, be careful. It was Rebecca Eisenberg who, upon her first rejection to appointment to the P&TC, issued a public “Diversity ranking” for each Council member that was irrelevant, inappropriate and insulting. She does not have the temperament to be on any Commission.

Nor does Dena Mossar have the temperament, who, while Mayor, heaped fuel on the fire at every turn, rather than calming the incendiary battles between Council Members that brought media TV cameras into meetings and resulted in the Council having to pass its own “civility guidelines” just to be able to conduct business. Once Bern Beechem became Mayor, evenhandedness was restored and calm resumed.

Elaine Uang of Palo Alto Forward [portion removed] is on the extreme and will push PAF's agenda for massive growth [portion removed.]

Please check the legal residence of all these applicants - one may not live in town? Do P&TC members need to live in town?

What I am not reading here is of the vital role of P&TC members to ensure their work upholds our Municipal Code and Comprehensive Plan, not to push personal or hidden political agendas.

Thank goodness we do have some good Commissioners that will remain on P&TC with the evenhandedness needed, who show up at meetings, and some with deep knowledge of land use issues, knowing well their role in relationship to the Council.

5 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2018 at 10:40 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Dena and Bern, with all due respect, should MOVE ON. MTFO, or as I joked, in my 2014 campaign not Get Out The Vote GOTV but GT#O!
Not that it’s up to me but I’d pick Eisenberg and Kraus in nano- second.

Not to be cynical or slyly self aggrandizing, but lead-pack gamed the system — probably in violation of Brown Act — and played Arthur Keller in fall 2014 by using my rhetorical and Socratic application for PATC while also on the ballot for Council to put off the commission selection until post- election.

3 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2018 at 10:46 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Also I think Michael Alcheck is a stalking horse and scrape goat and tempest in a chai-pot.
I support Michael Alcheck.

43 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2018 at 11:08 am

We will never forget another Council majority (a lame duck one) with the same bent as the current one with Larry Klein and Nancy Shepherd, etc. who refused to reappoint Arthur Keller to the Commission despite his incredible grasp of land use and planning, because of their agenda and politics. Didn’t matter that these two were about to be off council - he termed out, she lost re-election. They couldn’t wait to appoint less qualifieds to ram their agenda thru beyond their terms inspite of voters or a far better qualified reappointmentment.

27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 2, 2018 at 11:21 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"Didn’t matter that these two were about to be off council - he termed out, she lost re-election. They couldn’t wait to appoint less qualifieds to ram their agenda thru beyond their terms inspite of voters or a far better qualified reappointmentment."

Maybe that's why they planned it -- to ensure a pro-development majority forever after.

14 people like this
Posted by Be Cautious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Here is the so called Diversity Chart that Rebecca Eisenberg created when she was rejected the first time she applied to the Planning Commission. It devalued diversity because it made no rational sense and insulted the council.

To see the chart, copy and past this, then just click on the download.
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2018 at 12:31 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I clicked on your clicks and got as far as saying one, somebody did a lot of work here and 2, someone named Reshma Singh is also overlooked. Of course the larger context to this is somewhere like San Francisco where all the appointments 100% are completely spoils 100%.

26 people like this
Posted by PTC observer
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2018 at 3:50 pm

>Shame on the Council majority, Mayor Kniss, Wolbach, Scharff, Fine, and Tenaka for not only re-appointing Alcheck when his destructive antics were known, but now not simply joining with the minority Members to fire him, which they can do at anytime.

Wolbach didn't know about Alcheck's garage manipulations? It was in all the papers! That's how I learned about it. Wolbach is not trustworthy, he is either lying about this, or incompetent.

28 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Planning and Transportation Commission was a total joke when Adrian Fine, Kate Downing and Eric Rosenblum were on it. At least some respect and validity was brought back to this commission with the adults there now, Lauing, Summa, Waldfogel and Gardias, who have some maturity and life experiences.

With the likes of Kniss, Scharff, Fine, Wolbach and Tanaka, it will be likely that PTC will be a joke again.

Vote for DuBois, Boone and Filseth.
Vote No for Measure F.
Vote No for Measure E.

3 people like this
Posted by Fake news
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 2, 2018 at 5:05 pm

What a sharade. I'm quite familiar with Alcheckgate. His participation in the meetings was in favor of perserving the code the way it was - not changing it for his benefit. [Portion removed.] And the City Attorney cleared his name twice by publically acknowleging that his property rights were in no way affected by the discussions he participated in because they were after the fact and also forward looking.

Now, regarding the fact that the building and planning department misinterpreted the local laws to deny his permit request and that he had to hire an attorney to represent his interests - Well I for one believe that says more about how terrible our planning and building department is than it says about Alcheck's ethics. Who here doesn't know someone that has been treated very poorly by our permit approving planning staff. They deserve to be sued by countless Palo Altans for the nonsense they put residents through. They didn't relent to Alcheck as the article suggests from lack of will, they gave up the goose because they had no legal basis to continue to deny his permit. BIG DIFFERENCE.

I'm with you Mark, I believe Tom Dubois is out to get Alcheck off this commission because Alcheck is the most effective advocate for reasonable and responsive housing development. It is no secret that the slow growth council members are all talk and little action when it comes to voting for actual housing units. Alcheck is a huge thorn in their side becuase he isn't showing any signs of energy depletion. Most pro-growth advocates have better things to do than waste their breadth at the planning commission. Not suprised that Riggs is showing a decrease in stamina and if I were Monk I wouldn't want to re-apply either. It looks very painful to have to debate Summa and Waldfogel every month.

To Alcheck I say: thanks for your steadfast support for housing and for your public service in general.

7 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 2, 2018 at 5:14 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.


First, Mark, thank you so much for the kind words and for using your real name on your posts -- a small club of which I too am a member, despite how it opens me up to criticism. As you probably know about me by now, I don't think I am beyond criticism - none of us are.

To "Be Cautious," I think caution is not a skill in which our City is lacking, and, while caution certainly has its place, sometimes measured and thoughtful risk-taking is a more productive strategy.

As Mark alluded, I created that chart because I did not understand how it could be that our Planning Commission could be so non-reflective of the demographics of our community. Although Palo Alto is predominantly female (as most aging communities are) and also is minority-white, our Planning and Transportation Commission has not included ANY or only one woman (out of 9). This was the case even when most of the applicants were female, and IMHO some of the best applicants (more qualified than I am) were minority women. Additionally, in recent memory, there has not been any representation for primary caretakers (of children and/or seniors) on the Commission, even though primary caretakers/stay-at-home parents arguably USE our planning and transportation resources more heavily than any other group of people in Palo Alto, in particular when you include the needs and use of the children and elderly -- neither of whom drive or contribute in the least bit to the "traffic" problem -- of whom they take care. Despite this use, knowledge and experience in this large and growing segment of our population, the City Council has not appointed ONE representative of this group to the Planning and Transportation Commission.

When I set out to investigate the cause of this lack of representation and diversity, I started and ended in the most obvious and impactful place: the votes cast by our elected officials. When I looked at the votes of our elected City Council members, I saw that more than half of them had not voted for ONE female applicant despite the ample supply of qualified women from whom to choose. Those few who did vote for women did so only once or did so because of a well-publicized political allegiance. This in particular disappointed me about Mayor Kniss, who has stated numerous times in the past that she is proud of her background of not hailing from one political sub-group or another. I like that about her too, as these Council positions are supposed to be "non-partisan" -- as printed in black ink on my absentee ballot which I filled out today.

Finally, as to Michael Alcheck, I mostly have a question: who is his employer? It neither stated it on the PTC website nor does it say on the California Bar website. I thought that Commissioners needed to disclose their employers in order to provide transparency under the Brown Act and to avoid any appearance of conflict. When I searched the internet to find the answer to that question, I couldn't find it there either.

It's the lack of transparency, I think, that often detracts from people's trust in government. My chart was about providing transparency and I am proud of the numerous hours I spent researching it and putting it together. Out of all of the criticism I have received -- of which there has been much, as well as name-calling and attacks on my integrity -- the one complaint I never received is that I was inaccurate. So I hope it is taken for what it is: a record of the voting decisions made by the people whom we elected to office and whose salaries are paid by the taxed levied on our own hard-earned income. Our officials certainly know that the votes they cast are public record, and if I had the opportunity to cast votes, I would do my best to vote on behalf of the community I love and whose interests -- much less, demographics -- I reflect and represent.


5 people like this
Posted by Coastal elitist
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 2, 2018 at 5:46 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 2, 2018 at 6:24 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I doubt Palantir and Soros are on the same team.

26 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2018 at 9:08 pm

Marie is a registered user.

It is very possible to be pro-housing without being in favor of reduced parking. IMHO, reduced parking for complexes in areas with huge parking deficits will just making matters worse.

I am very much in favor of additional housing, especially for low-to-moderate income residents. However, I don't think they should have inadequate parking just because they have lower incomes. Shift workers are more likely to have odd shifts that do not correspond to the minimal mass transit schedules that are currently available. Give us housing projects that meet current zoning with adequate parking, and most people will support the project.

Ridership surveys that only count parking spaces in a complex (where a unit has a reserved parking spot or spots) without looking at how many occupants are parking on the street, come to very strange conclusions. Complexes assign parking spots. They are not first come first serve. You still have a reserved spot if you are on vacation or a business trip or out at a club. That it is empty does not mean there is an oversupply. So if a complex thinks there are unused spots, allow the residents to rent the spots to someone else in the complex that needs the space. How many people really do not use their spots at one time or another?

It is so frustrating. We need to meet the needs of the residents we have, not the ones we wish we had.

25 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 2, 2018 at 9:16 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Fake news writes:
"His participation in the meetings was in favor of perserving the code the way it was - not changing it for his benefit.”

Alcheck’s participation in the November 29, 2017 Planning & Transportation Commission hearing, when staff’s proposed amendments to the Contextual Garage Placement code came before him, was to have the item removed from a list of minor code amendments moving forward to the city council.

As was the case when staff first brought this item before the commission two years earlier in 2015, shortly after “carport-in-the-front” exceptions had been granted on two properties in which he had an economic interest, discussion related to the Contextual Garage Placement code at the commission could significantly impact Alcheck’s interest on those two properties. For instance, if Commissioner Alcheck’s disclosures and/or information from staff led to information about the dates, places, and ownerships of such exceptions, the discussion could possibly move to initiate a change in the law to disallow a carport-to-garage conversion after this type of exception had been granted.

In each cycle through the commission (2015 and 2017), Alcheck neither disclosed his economic interest nor recused himself from discussion thereby denying other commissioners and the public the knowledge and ability to inquire about these circumstances. Rather he remained at the dais and pushed to have the item removed from a list of minor changes headed to the council (and therefore from discussion), while also expressing his dissatisfaction with this section of the municipal code altogether.

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2018 at 11:43 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Fred, if you succeed in ousting Michael Alcheck for building an illegal carport, you can celebrate by hiring Garaj Mahal to play at a party. The one with Fareed Haque and Kai Eckhardt that plays world music at nightclubs worldwide, not the one comprising high school students playing covers. On the other hand, the fake Garaj Mahal (who played the fake “World Music Day”) seem oddly appropriate.

3 people like this
Posted by Do your homework
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2018 at 9:55 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg's "research"on Michael Alcheck is ludicrous. Why does he have to have an employer? Havent you heard of attorneys who practice independently? Have you heard of wealthy people who don't need to have a job?

Alcheck sold the garagegate house in April for 8 million dollars. He doesn't need a job. In addition his family owns millions and millions$ in real estate, one example, 1000 Fremont St in Los Altos. And much more.

14 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 3, 2018 at 10:09 pm

@Fake News:
"Most pro-growth advocates have better things to do than waste their breadth at the planning commission."

Really?! The meetings I have observed over the past two years have been overwhelmed by PAF and progrowthers. The Ventura neighborhood reps were outnumbered as speakers six to one by progrowthers at just one of the hearings about the 60 unit condo to be built. It is of note that not a one of the progrowth speakers advocating to CC or PTC are stakeholders who LIVE in the neighborhood, a neighborhood to be so heavily impacted by an underparked structure. Mr. Levy has affirmed that even nonresident PAF supporters speak before CC, fooling us into believing they are Palo Altans. Per usual, the concerns of the neighborhood are drowned out by PAF who pad their numbers by projecting names, not signatures, on the wall of City Hall as supposed supporters. (My shady cousins in Ohio got their names on their list of supporters. Easypeasy!)

PAF overwhelms with their numbers so the concerns of all real stakeholders are unheard. Speakers at City Hall should be required to give name and full address, as other municipalities do, to dissuade the abuse that I see there.

I do love Mark Weiss so I will continue to read here, and enjoy reading, as FAKE NEWS and MARK WEISS present as a fascinatingly odd duo in support of Mr. Alcheck.
I am still waiting to hear from I LOVE MR. ALCHECK who has been silent for so long! Where, oh where, is that Unicorn?!

8 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2018 at 10:15 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Dear "Do Your Homework"

I know of attorneys who practice independently because I am one. Still, I list that on the California Bar site, and I also state that in my application for Planning Commission, as both the application and the law applicable to the application requires (which of course is why they ask!). If Michael Alcheck is self-employed, he should state that. Instead, he states nothing.

The only references that can be found online regarding Michael Alcheck's employment is a public filing for his father's property management company that Alcheck serves as the CFO of his father's commercial property management company, as well as a mention in the press that Alcheck left his role at a law firm to work for a commercial developer in house. I have no idea if that is true because Alcheck does not state who is employer is. In sum: it is not my - our your - obligation to do any homework about Alcheck's employer because the law requires that Alcheck tell us who his employer is.

For legal references, you can refer to the Brown Act, as well as related federal, state and local laws requiring that all public officials disclose all actual *and potential* conflicts of interest. As an aside, you also may refer to common sense.

I get that lots of people are very emotional about Michael Alcheck, but I hope we can refrain from name calling. It's not a rational way to discuss things, nor is it polite. Even if I knew who you are, I would not respond in kind.


19 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 3, 2018 at 10:48 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

PTC Observer quotes from Be Cautious:
"Shame on the Council majority, Mayor Kniss, Wolbach, Scharff, Fine, and Tenaka (sic) for not only re-appointing Alcheck when his destructive antics were known, but now not simply joining with the minority members to fire him, which they can do at anytime."

and then PTC Observer follows with:
"Wolbach didn't know about Alcheck's garage manipulations? It was in all the papers!“


The story did not hit the press until March, 2018. Five months prior, at the PTC candidate interviews in October, 2017, very few people knew what was going on, and our citizens’ investigation has not revealed that Council member Wolbach knew anything more or less than any other council member. His comments on this situation at the October 3 Weekly forum were both valid and appropriate as were those of the other candidates.

The City Council, but not the public, was informed of this matter in an internal email from former Planning Director Hillary Giltelman on October 2, 2017: “… we wanted you to be aware that we've investigated complaints related to conversion of two carports to garages by property owners that include Michael Alcheck, the Chair of our PTC. In both cases, a new single family home was constructed in a neighborhood context that did not allow a garage to be built at the front of the lot. As currently written, however, the code does not restrict the placement of carports at the front of the lot and both projects were approved with carports. Immediately after final inspections, the carports were converted to garages without benefit of permits. This is a violation of the building code and we asked the owners to submit building permit applications to legalize the conversions.”

Gitelman went on to say that staff would not be approving the permits.

A few days later, Michael Alcheck and his investment group hired attorney David Lanferman to represent their interests. We do not know if the city council was advised of this by the time the PTC candidate interviews were held on October 24, 2017.

Seven candidates had applied for two positions. Three council members were absent: Fine, Kiniss and Scharff. Why? Of the six present, none asked Alcheck why the two carports had been illegally converted into fully-enclosed garages without applying for a permit.

In his opening comments, Alcheck did state the following:
"… Five years ago, I joined a real estate property management firm that manages over 200,000 square feet of retail; a quarter of a million square feet of office space and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of apartments in a large apartment complex format. None of those properties -- those properties range from Sacramento all the way to San Diego -- none of those properties are in Palo Alto, and for that reason I’ve never had to recuse myself from a single issue on the PTC in the five plus years I’ve been on it.”

Commissioner Alcheck, neglected, however, to mention his own property and investment for which the citizen's investigation believes he had a conflict of interest during the planning commissioner hearings in 2015 and where he was legally and ethically required to disclose his economic interests and to recuse himself from participation in discussion of the Contextual Garage Placement code. And in the Fall of 2017, with his carport-to-garage applications submitted but unapproved at the time of his interview and still unapproved five weeks later, when the same item (Contextual Garage Placement) as well as definitions of carports and garages would come to the commission, he would face another conflict of interest situation.

The PA Online/Weekly reporter surmises: "Given the current makeup of the council, any move to oust Alcheck is unlikely to succeed in the near-term.” I am more optimistic and believe there is a reasonable chance that this council will still correct it’s mistake of last November. Toward that end, we are pushing to complete and distribute our final report.

11 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2018 at 11:28 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.


Thank you for your helpful information.

Given that Michael Alcheck insists that his commercial property management company does not manage any property in Palo Alto, why not list the name of that company, since there is nothing to hide?

Also, I'm a little concerned by Alcheck's statement that he works for a commercial real estate property management company that manages "over 200,000 square feet of retail; a quarter of a million square feet of office space and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of apartments in a large apartment complex format." The lattermost reference in particular is worth asking about and would be benefited by disclosure. When he says he manages so many (thousands?) of apartments, is he a slum lord? Shouldn't the residents of Palo Alto be entitled to know exactly what kind of apartment buildings Alcheck maybe owns, maybe rents, maybe brokers for a living? Have there been any complaints against his employer, for example? Have they been cited for any code violations? Has there been litigation against them. e.g. by tenants or by government entities? THESE are things we would know if we knew whom he works for. And if the answer is no, why hide the name of the employer?

Secrets inevitably lead to suspicion, especially when secrecy violates black letter law, public policy, and common sense.


27 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 4, 2018 at 11:12 am

Fred Balin is a registered user.


Michael Alcheck’s current employer is Vintage Property Management, Inc. It is located in Los Altos and is a family-run, real estate business, for which he has been listed as Chief Financial Officer since 2/13/15 as per California Secretary of State filings. The company is not specifically named in his brief bio on the city’s PTC web site, but was listed in his application for re-appointment to the commission a year ago. It also remains his employer as of a few weeks ago, as it was included on the most recent pre-election FPPC filing for the campaign he contributed to, prior to that contribution being returned.

My focus with regard to the commissioner has been on two things only:
(1) his inappropriate behavior on the commission, and particularly since he was about to give up his position as PTC chair a year ago, and
(2) the "carport/garage caper" related to the two residential properties in which he had an economic interest, and which I was informed about a few days after I had complained at the PTC last February in regard to his inappropriate behavior.

20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 4, 2018 at 2:35 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Fred, interesting that Alcheck's firm is based in Los Altos since Los Altos was smart enough to tell him not to screw up LA and to confine his pro-development stance to PA 4 years ago.

"Los Altos official blasts Palo Alto planning commissioner. Dec 9, 2014

Palo Alto planning Commissioner Michael Alcheck is perhaps the city's most strident advocate of growth, but his pro-development message proved to be a hard sell at the Dec. 4 meeting of the Los Altos Planning and Transportation Commission, which was reviewing a mixed-use development in the Loyola Corners area where he works.

After more than a dozen speakers criticized the proposal, Alcheck said the opposition "is exaggerating every angle here because they oppose change." "They hear the word 'developer' and they start picketing,'" Alcheck said.

In response, Commissioner Ken Lorell said it was "really amusing to me that a member of the Palo Alto planning commission would come here and lecture us on how we should build our buildings when the stuff that has been going on in Palo Alto is absolutely amazing." The commission ultimately turned the project down. "

6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 4, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Oops. Here's the link to the above story. Web Link

23 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2018 at 3:40 pm

One of Alchecks' houses which he chose not to recuse himself from and continued to make policy recommendations is 11 Phillips Road in Palo Alto sold for $8 million. The Alchecks purchased it in 2014 for $2.9 million (it was listed for $2.395 million).

There you Council majority's appointment.

8 people like this
Posted by Do your homeework
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2018 at 1:06 am

Vintage Realty appears to be the real estate agency of Alcheck Properties which says it is a Nonresidential Building Operator.

The two entities have the same office, 1000 Fremont Ave., Ste. #120, Los Altos.
The Alchecks may own that building.

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2018 at 11:03 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

To me a billionaire trying to ram thru a crazy office tower on top of parkland and historic site, and getting the city to pay for his plans is a problem but a realtor, appointed to commission, building an outlaw carport is just white noise.
I rang his number, chatted him up for 30 minutes then hung up thinking he is not the problem.
Of the thirteen candidates to PATC, three would definitely be better for Palo Alto than MA is. But five would be worse, IMHO.
I probably have a list of 200 Palo Alto cases, since 2009, that bother or worry me, more than the carport.
Or, as Joe Hill said, don’t moan, organize.

7 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 6, 2018 at 10:43 am

Annette is a registered user.

Per the article: "Alcheck moved ahead with the conversion despite the city's findings, and in December 2017, the city relented under pressure from Alcheck's attorney and gave him the permits."

So that's how it works? Good to know. Also good to keep in mind that the lawyer who was successful for client Alcheck in the garage caper is the same lawyer who wrote the long letter on behalf of AJ Capital that challenges the City's position regarding the Hotel President. Like it or not, that's one effective lawyer.

11 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 6, 2018 at 11:40 am

Fred Balin is a registered user.

And, at the time (October 2017), when Alcheck and Alcheck Investments bought in Lanferman to handle their interests with regard to the two residential properties (i.e., the denied carport-to-garage conversion applications), he was also the attorney of record for Edgewood SC, LLC, the owners of Edgewood Plaza Shopping Center, and was involved in two trials against the city with regard to fines Palo Alto had assessed his client for failure to provide a grocery store as required by the Planned Community ordinance governing the property.

9 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 6, 2018 at 12:43 pm

jh is a registered user.

@Mark Weisz

The issue isn't the carport. It is the unethical behaviour demonstrated by Michael Alcheck. He (a) not only didn't declare his financial conflict, (b) he illegally converted his carport into a garage. By doing so potentially increasing the value of his property because it freed up extra space elsewhere on the property that would otherwise be taken up by a garage. The code was changed after the fact during the the second Commission meeting he participated in.

Is that the standard we want from our representatives?

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

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