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Policy, politics clash as Palo Alto looks to appoint planning commissioners

Despite new rules calling for spring appointments, City Council prepares for contentious votes before year's end

The Palo Alto City Council at its March 23 meeting, where five of its seven members participated by Zoom. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

When the Palo Alto City Council agreed last month to change the rules for appointing members to local boards and commissions, one of its stated goals was to make the process clearer, more consistent and less contentious.

But as the council looks to formally adopt the rules next week, it is also preparing for what promises to be a heated round of appointments, with the two outgoing council members looking to cement their influence in the composition of key boards that will be advising the incoming council.

The council plans to take two actions on Nov. 30 that are seemingly at odds with each other. One is the adoption of a new commission handbook that specifies that commission appointments should be made in the spring. Another is the selection of candidates that the council will interview for open seats on the Historic Resources Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission, which it plans to fill on Dec. 14, its final meeting of the year.

While appointments to the Historic Resources Board are expected to be a humdrum affair that retains the status quo (all three applicants are incumbents), the council's decision on the Planning and Transportation Commission will almost certainly be a hyperpartisan tussle that will send the commission in a more pro-growth direction.

The highly political nature of appointments to the influential planning commission was on full display on Nov. 2, when the council voted to make its appointments in December rather than to follow the protocols in the new handbook. The four council members in the more pro-growth camp — Mayor Adrian Fine, Alison Cormack, Liz Kniss and Greg Tanaka — all moved to make appointments this year, which will give outgoing council members Kniss and Fine a chance to reshape the commission. The three council members who are affiliated with the more slow-growth "residentialist" camp — Vice Mayor Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Lydia Kou — strongly opposed the action, with DuBois accusing his four colleagues of "ramming this through."

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Kniss, who made the motion to make the appointments in December, argued that doing so would take some of the pressure off the incoming council, which she said will be charged with making many decisions about personnel positions and memberships on regional boards. She also suggested that if the council doesn't make these appointments this year, some boards could see vacancies early next year, before the spring appointment.

"We're about have a period of time in January and February when all new mayors will struggle with trying to make all the appointments made," Kniss said.

By making the appointments this year, the current council can ensure that the 2021 council "at least will not have that particular area — that particular appointment challenge — to meet at the same time."

The three council members who opposed her motion suggested that the timeline is driven by pure politics.

"You're going to have people not appointed by a new council," DuBois said. "And if you insist on doing this, people are going to remember. It's going to be a shame. It's going to be by the slimmest majority possible."

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With its 4-3 vote, the council also agreed to extend by two weeks the recruitment period for the two open seats on the planning commission, which are currently filled by Ed Lauing and Doria Summa. At that time, the city had only received two applications, from Summa and from resident Kevin Ma, a software engineer.

Since then, the city has received seven more applications. The list of candidates now includes Lauing, who fell just short on Nov. 3 in his bid for a council seat; architect Jessica Resmini; attorney Rebecca Eisenberg; Kelsey Banes, regional executive director of YIMBY Action; Doug Burns, a member of Barron Park Association; Kathy Jordan, a community volunteer who has been critical of the council's recent budget decisions; and Alon Carmeli, a computer engineer who serves as managing director for multifamily residential properties investment and redevelopment at Greenpoint Real Estate.

Given the highly political nature of the planning commission appointments and the commission's current makeup, the council's move to pick new members this year is expected to give the newcomers an edge over the incumbents, making it more likely that both Lauing and Summa will lose their seats before the end of the year.

Of the seven commissioners, Lauing and Summa are the two that have been most cautious about approving new developments and most prone to challenging staff recommendations about new policies or applications. Both voted last week against allowing Castilleja School to increase its enrollment from 426 to 540 students, arguing in favor of a more gradual increase. Both had also opposed in May a new ordinance that relaxes zoning rules for the construction of accessory dwelling units, arguing that the city needs to conduct additional analysis of the ordinance's potential impacts.

While Lauing, an executive recruiter who has chaired both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the planning commission, has frequently characterized the lack of affordable housing in Palo Alto as an "emergency," he has also clashed on policy issues with the members who favor faster and more aggressive action to promote growth.

He and Summa had both opposed in 2018 the establishment of the "affordable housing overlay combining district" — a new zoning designation that gives density bonuses and other zoning exemptions to affordable-housing projects and that was used by the nonprofit Alta Housing to win approval for a 59-unit development known as Wilton Court. Lauing had argued at the time that the city should expeditiously approve the development through the traditional "planned community" process but suggested that the city take more time to further refine the new overlay district, with the goal of creating different standards for projects that provide units for low-income residents and those who target the "moderate" income level (despite the commission's opposition, the council approved the zoning overlay, which has not been used by any developers since Wilton Court).

Lauing's recent council campaign was endorsed by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a political action committee that favors more slow-growth policies and that had also endorsed current council members DuBois, Filseth, Kou as well as Greer Stone, who will join the council in January. As such, Lauing likely would have been a shoo-in for a fresh term had the council followed its newly approved process, which would have given Stone and Pat Burt a vote in the new appointment as incoming council members. The fact that the appointments will instead be made by a council that includes Kniss and Fine makes his reappointment prospects far less certain.

Summa, who has been the commission's most frequent dissenter and its staunchest critic of policies that relax zoning rules to promote growth, may also see her term come to an end. A College Terrace resident who has long been active in local politics, Summa had cast the sole no vote in the commission's decision in August to rezone a two-block stretch of San Antonio Road to spur housing production, which included approval of a 102-apartment development. She was also the sole commissioner to oppose the creation of the "housing incentive program" that grants density bonuses to housing developments in downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real — a position that puts her at odds with both her commission colleagues and the council.

If the council votes to replace Lauing and Summa with more pro-growth candidates in its final meeting of the year, it will follow a pattern of partisanship that goes back to at least 2012, when the council voted 5-4 to appoint real estate attorney Michael Alcheck over incumbent Susan Fineberg, who was known for deep scrutiny of new development proposals. In 2014, former Commissioner Arthur Keller lost his seat by a single vote to Kate Downing, an attorney and former member of Palo Alto Forward who left the city after publicly accusing the city of failing to address the housing goals. Former Commissioner Asher Waldfogel, who has made contributions to council candidates in the "residentialist" camp, also lost his bid for a fresh term in December 2019, when the council voted 4-3 along partisan lines to appoint attorney Barton Hechtman to the seat.

Despite the council's record of politicizing appointments to the planning commission, both Kniss and Cormack argued earlier this month that filling the seats this year is a practical — rather than political — move. Cormack said the current council should "do the work that is in front of us" rather than defer to next year's council. She also suggested that, as the newest council member, it would have been more difficult for her to "make really great votes in the first couple of months, since I was still learning the job and all the people."

Filseth disagreed and called the council's decision to make appointments before the end of the year "wildly inappropriate" and a "bad idea."

"And if we pass this — and it will be by the barest minimum margin — I hope this is the last council that indulges in this kind of thing," Filseth said just before the 4-3 vote.

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Policy, politics clash as Palo Alto looks to appoint planning commissioners

Despite new rules calling for spring appointments, City Council prepares for contentious votes before year's end

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Nov 23, 2020, 3:52 pm

When the Palo Alto City Council agreed last month to change the rules for appointing members to local boards and commissions, one of its stated goals was to make the process clearer, more consistent and less contentious.

But as the council looks to formally adopt the rules next week, it is also preparing for what promises to be a heated round of appointments, with the two outgoing council members looking to cement their influence in the composition of key boards that will be advising the incoming council.

The council plans to take two actions on Nov. 30 that are seemingly at odds with each other. One is the adoption of a new commission handbook that specifies that commission appointments should be made in the spring. Another is the selection of candidates that the council will interview for open seats on the Historic Resources Board and the Planning and Transportation Commission, which it plans to fill on Dec. 14, its final meeting of the year.

While appointments to the Historic Resources Board are expected to be a humdrum affair that retains the status quo (all three applicants are incumbents), the council's decision on the Planning and Transportation Commission will almost certainly be a hyperpartisan tussle that will send the commission in a more pro-growth direction.

The highly political nature of appointments to the influential planning commission was on full display on Nov. 2, when the council voted to make its appointments in December rather than to follow the protocols in the new handbook. The four council members in the more pro-growth camp — Mayor Adrian Fine, Alison Cormack, Liz Kniss and Greg Tanaka — all moved to make appointments this year, which will give outgoing council members Kniss and Fine a chance to reshape the commission. The three council members who are affiliated with the more slow-growth "residentialist" camp — Vice Mayor Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Lydia Kou — strongly opposed the action, with DuBois accusing his four colleagues of "ramming this through."

Kniss, who made the motion to make the appointments in December, argued that doing so would take some of the pressure off the incoming council, which she said will be charged with making many decisions about personnel positions and memberships on regional boards. She also suggested that if the council doesn't make these appointments this year, some boards could see vacancies early next year, before the spring appointment.

"We're about have a period of time in January and February when all new mayors will struggle with trying to make all the appointments made," Kniss said.

By making the appointments this year, the current council can ensure that the 2021 council "at least will not have that particular area — that particular appointment challenge — to meet at the same time."

The three council members who opposed her motion suggested that the timeline is driven by pure politics.

"You're going to have people not appointed by a new council," DuBois said. "And if you insist on doing this, people are going to remember. It's going to be a shame. It's going to be by the slimmest majority possible."

With its 4-3 vote, the council also agreed to extend by two weeks the recruitment period for the two open seats on the planning commission, which are currently filled by Ed Lauing and Doria Summa. At that time, the city had only received two applications, from Summa and from resident Kevin Ma, a software engineer.

Since then, the city has received seven more applications. The list of candidates now includes Lauing, who fell just short on Nov. 3 in his bid for a council seat; architect Jessica Resmini; attorney Rebecca Eisenberg; Kelsey Banes, regional executive director of YIMBY Action; Doug Burns, a member of Barron Park Association; Kathy Jordan, a community volunteer who has been critical of the council's recent budget decisions; and Alon Carmeli, a computer engineer who serves as managing director for multifamily residential properties investment and redevelopment at Greenpoint Real Estate.

Given the highly political nature of the planning commission appointments and the commission's current makeup, the council's move to pick new members this year is expected to give the newcomers an edge over the incumbents, making it more likely that both Lauing and Summa will lose their seats before the end of the year.

Of the seven commissioners, Lauing and Summa are the two that have been most cautious about approving new developments and most prone to challenging staff recommendations about new policies or applications. Both voted last week against allowing Castilleja School to increase its enrollment from 426 to 540 students, arguing in favor of a more gradual increase. Both had also opposed in May a new ordinance that relaxes zoning rules for the construction of accessory dwelling units, arguing that the city needs to conduct additional analysis of the ordinance's potential impacts.

While Lauing, an executive recruiter who has chaired both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the planning commission, has frequently characterized the lack of affordable housing in Palo Alto as an "emergency," he has also clashed on policy issues with the members who favor faster and more aggressive action to promote growth.

He and Summa had both opposed in 2018 the establishment of the "affordable housing overlay combining district" — a new zoning designation that gives density bonuses and other zoning exemptions to affordable-housing projects and that was used by the nonprofit Alta Housing to win approval for a 59-unit development known as Wilton Court. Lauing had argued at the time that the city should expeditiously approve the development through the traditional "planned community" process but suggested that the city take more time to further refine the new overlay district, with the goal of creating different standards for projects that provide units for low-income residents and those who target the "moderate" income level (despite the commission's opposition, the council approved the zoning overlay, which has not been used by any developers since Wilton Court).

Lauing's recent council campaign was endorsed by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, a political action committee that favors more slow-growth policies and that had also endorsed current council members DuBois, Filseth, Kou as well as Greer Stone, who will join the council in January. As such, Lauing likely would have been a shoo-in for a fresh term had the council followed its newly approved process, which would have given Stone and Pat Burt a vote in the new appointment as incoming council members. The fact that the appointments will instead be made by a council that includes Kniss and Fine makes his reappointment prospects far less certain.

Summa, who has been the commission's most frequent dissenter and its staunchest critic of policies that relax zoning rules to promote growth, may also see her term come to an end. A College Terrace resident who has long been active in local politics, Summa had cast the sole no vote in the commission's decision in August to rezone a two-block stretch of San Antonio Road to spur housing production, which included approval of a 102-apartment development. She was also the sole commissioner to oppose the creation of the "housing incentive program" that grants density bonuses to housing developments in downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Real — a position that puts her at odds with both her commission colleagues and the council.

If the council votes to replace Lauing and Summa with more pro-growth candidates in its final meeting of the year, it will follow a pattern of partisanship that goes back to at least 2012, when the council voted 5-4 to appoint real estate attorney Michael Alcheck over incumbent Susan Fineberg, who was known for deep scrutiny of new development proposals. In 2014, former Commissioner Arthur Keller lost his seat by a single vote to Kate Downing, an attorney and former member of Palo Alto Forward who left the city after publicly accusing the city of failing to address the housing goals. Former Commissioner Asher Waldfogel, who has made contributions to council candidates in the "residentialist" camp, also lost his bid for a fresh term in December 2019, when the council voted 4-3 along partisan lines to appoint attorney Barton Hechtman to the seat.

Despite the council's record of politicizing appointments to the planning commission, both Kniss and Cormack argued earlier this month that filling the seats this year is a practical — rather than political — move. Cormack said the current council should "do the work that is in front of us" rather than defer to next year's council. She also suggested that, as the newest council member, it would have been more difficult for her to "make really great votes in the first couple of months, since I was still learning the job and all the people."

Filseth disagreed and called the council's decision to make appointments before the end of the year "wildly inappropriate" and a "bad idea."

"And if we pass this — and it will be by the barest minimum margin — I hope this is the last council that indulges in this kind of thing," Filseth said just before the 4-3 vote.

Comments

Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2020 at 4:10 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2020 at 4:10 pm
137 people like this

>"The four council members in the more pro-growth camp — Mayor Adrian Fine, Alison Cormack, Liz Kniss and Greg Tanaka —"

^ Questionable PACC representation unless more traffic congestion, more parking shortages/issues, further destruction of South Palo Alto, even more tacky-looking high rise complexes & catering to the likes of Facebook & Google is your cup of tea.

Stacking the deck via 'midnight appointments' to benefit the pocketbooks of outside developers & aspiring property managers is not in the best interests of this city.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 23, 2020 at 4:31 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2020 at 4:31 pm
89 people like this

Speaking of Google & Facebook, they -- along with a few others --, just invested $55,000,000 in modular housing aka TRAILERS for their corporate "villages" Web Link

Just say no to those who are making a fortune on this type of congestion along with their "multi-modal" transportation aka car-light fairy tales.

Pay attention and just say no to the YIMBY candidates the Googles / Facebooks and our lame ducks are pushing with their sneaky practices.


BP
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2020 at 5:16 pm
BP, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2020 at 5:16 pm
98 people like this

McConnell would be very proud of Fine and Kniss.


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 23, 2020 at 7:57 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2020 at 7:57 pm
94 people like this

Cormack will find that many Palo Alto voters will be looking hard at her council record if she decides to run for a second term. Voters have already been burned by previous council members who claimed to represented the residents of Palo Alto but whenever there is a choice elected to represent outside interests.

If Cormack votes to make two appointments to the Planning and Transportation Commission during a lame duck session, and after recommending such appointments should be made by an incoming council, this will be clear signal to voters. That Cormack represents outside interests over many of those of us who call Palo Alto home.


Norman Beamer
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2020 at 7:59 pm
Norman Beamer, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2020 at 7:59 pm
76 people like this

Note to new council -- just kick out any YIMBies that get appointed ASAP in the new year.


Who's Kidding Who
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2020 at 8:57 pm
Who's Kidding Who, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2020 at 8:57 pm
94 people like this

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Choke, gawfaw, ha ha.
Alison Cormac, Liz Kniss, you are soooo fuuuuunny! For a second I thought you were serious about helping out next year's Council members. Silly me, of course you don't mean that.

Liz, you are the lamest of ducks, barely able to quack or cast a vote but still wanting to control the future Council that you aren't on ever again, and Alison you choose to throw your little shred of integrity into the giant suck of a black hole even if it further screws up the PTC, making its advice to next years Council less valuable. No one's laughing now.

Next year's Council can just prioritize appointment of PTC members - it's not the faux disaster you describe. The inclumbants are the best candidates - knowledgable and experienced in land use and planning, having comported themselves beyond reproach. They can just be re-appointed.








BP
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2020 at 11:48 pm
BP, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2020 at 11:48 pm
72 people like this

Wasn't it obvious to all during the last election that Cormack is pro-growth? Why are people now surprised that she always votes with F, K and T?


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 24, 2020 at 7:37 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 7:37 am
17 people like this

Some gauge of "Conflict of Interests" should be employed in the decisions as to who gets appointed.
1. Employer of person. Is employer actively in the residential market place? That includes Fb and Google. The person is working to support their agenda.
2. Does person work for an Activists group that is consumed by housing? That person is working to support their agenda.
3. Why was this decision made when it is clear that the majority of people - the residents - do not want the city overtaken by out-of-city interests that are breaking down the existing city to make it into a bee hive for worker bees?

AS a resident I was not aware of Commissions until this summer when the council went on vacation and we were over taken by "Commissions" which took over the press.
It became clear that there is a shadow group that is running the city despite that we pay a staff, city manager, and elected PACC members. There was a power shift that became very evident. The PACC members need to be on top of this and control the agenda of these commissions.

Make no mistake - we are all now aware of this and will be on top of what is going on. I respect that people work on city involved activities. That is a lot of time and energy. Back in the day I was on the AYSO board and enjoyed the planning for the best experience for the children - also Little League - very big in this household. Helping children. Coaching teams. A person can walk away and say that they contributed to the city as a whole. And it was working with the city to make use of all of the available resources.

However we are now in a different world. And we know it. Suggest that the city on-line system provide notification of meetings of commissioners, agenda of topics on schedule. We need more visibility on what is going on now.


C'mon Alison
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2020 at 8:26 am
C'mon Alison, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 8:26 am
76 people like this

Alison - you're not fooling anyone.

"She also suggested that, as the newest council member, it would have been more difficult for her to "make really great votes in the first couple of months, since I was still learning the job and all the people." '

You were among the most prepared candidates coming onto council. In the run up to your election, you sat through EVERY council meeting in person - you did your due diligence.

You came in knowing exactly what you would do. Kudos for that - you were prepared.

But to now pretend that you were some lost, confused, newbie council member is disingenous.

And just so we are clear - YOU KNOW of the newly elected council members - 3 of the 4 have been on council before (Kou, Tanaka and Burt). So - do NOT pretend that the newly elected will have no idea who's who.

You were almost voted in as Vice Mayor. Thanks for showing us your true colors just in time. Now, everyone can see that you are an idealogue just doing what you think you need to do to climb the political ladder.

You are acting like Mitch McConnel - we see you - and we will not forget.


NeilsonBuchanan
Registered user
Downtown North
on Nov 24, 2020 at 9:24 am
NeilsonBuchanan, Downtown North
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 9:24 am
70 people like this

Another example of clinging to power when voters signal need for change. Could not be clearer from Washington to Palo Alto.

Thanks for local journalism being on top of their game.


mxhr
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2020 at 9:44 am
mxhr, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 9:44 am
6 people like this

You have to appreciate the sheer hypocrisy here. Appointing commissioners during an election year has been the practice for years and years and years. But of course, when it involves the pro-growth members of the Council it is suddenly very frowned upon. Puh-lese!!!

What is it with you people and the hypocrisy? Why can't past practice dictate future action? If the next council wants to vote to take away the historical practice of appointing commissioners during election years, let them do that to themselves. But don't hold the current council to a standard that has not been applied to any other council ever!!!

And the analogies to the republican effort to seat Amy Barret is totally disingenuous. Why? Because it was the republicans who suggested that seating a justice during an election year was unacceptable (remember Merrick Garland). It was the double standard that was applied that was appalling - resisting Obama's pick but then allowing Trump's.

In this case, it is again the double standard again that is appalling. To allow all of the past councils to appoint commissioners during election years but to cry foul when Adrian Fine or Liz Kniss do so is a double standard. Those in opposition to this action are in fact acting like Mitch McConnel and not the other way around.

Seriously Tom Dubois and Eric Filseth - give it a rest. Appointing a commissioner or board member during an election year is not a crime. It's not immoral. It's not corrupt. It's historical practice and you owe it to this community to stop injecting such toxic fervor into every council decision. The grandstanding is nauseating.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 24, 2020 at 10:10 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 10:10 am
14 people like this

MXHR - look at your posting. I do not know you. Your whole screed is about R's vs D's - You have now established your identity relative to anything that goes on in this city. And you now accuse every one else of doing that.

Right now we are talking about the influence of FB, Google, Weiner, etc on housing in this specific city. Turning this city into a bee hive for worker bees. That is specific to this cities' end destinations. That is our focus.

Make no mistake we are going to be on top of this. And you have effectively managed your "Optics" which now is going to follow you.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 24, 2020 at 10:35 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 10:35 am
32 people like this

"But of course, when it involves the pro-growth members of the Council it is suddenly very frowned upon. Puh-lese!!!"

Please refresh my memory as to when we DIDN'T have a pro-growth majority on the council.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2020 at 11:36 am
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 11:36 am
46 people like this

>"Appointing commissioners during an election year has been the practice for years and years and years. But of course, when it involves the pro-growth members of the Council it is suddenly very frowned upon. Puh-lese!!!"

^The unbridled overdevelopment of Palo Alto is of major concern to many residents...even those who reside in neighborhoods not currently under attack from carpetbagging developers & local politicians endorsing such measures.

>"It's not immoral. It's not corrupt. It's historical practice and you owe it to this community to stop injecting such toxic fervor into every council decision. The grandstanding is nauseating."

^ Perhaps not 'immoral' but questionable
from the standpoint of 'ethical'.

>"Why can't past practice dictate future action? "

^ Because there are times when arbitrary decisions are not in the best interests of the citizenry.


JB
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Nov 24, 2020 at 11:47 am
JB, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 11:47 am
62 people like this

This is shameful. For Liz Kniss to say that this will lessen pressure on the newly elected city council is laughable. As one person noted above, this reminds me so much of Mitch McConnell's tactics. Shameful and undemocratic. The planning commission appointments are too important to be rushed through by a lame duck council.


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Nov 24, 2020 at 1:11 pm
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 1:11 pm
53 people like this

Wow, just wow! The lame excuses made by the group losing its push-things-through majority are right up there with "the dog ate my homework". Of course they want to leave a little parting gift as a reminder of the policies they've thrust upon the residents of this city. Palo Alto residents clearly wanted to sweep this group out and have like-minded commissioners. And, yes, this certainly does remind me of Mitch McConnell.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 24, 2020 at 1:52 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 1:52 pm
9 people like this

Yes - we always had a pro-growth element of the city. That was back in the day when the majority of people were taking kids to soccer, little league, dance, kung-fu, etc. The established neighborhoods had solid focal points for the residents revolving around school, work, places to go, places to be in their respective neighborhoods and outward.

And we voted on bonds for additional housing. WE all felt the need to do SOMETHING. But guess what - as the state auditor found out despite the fact that there were bonds no one was actually using them - NO ONE. So as we travel down this road we start recognizing that the people that we elect are incompetent and get elected solely on Optics - aka party affiliation.

Large amounts of money are sitting somewhere and our STATE government can't connect the dots and put it all together. What the STATE government can do is issue edicts to go do something but then the road to doing anything is elusive.

You all are talking about DT all of the time. You need to recognize that your state government is squirreling away money that we vote on that then gets used for WHAT?
So then end up with the alternative - a growing industry that wants to totally envelope an area - shove out small business, absorb open land, and sign up for some agenda that sounds like it came out of the Russian playbook. That is an evolution of a where we sit today. And it is at the STATE level. That is where the money is.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 24, 2020 at 3:16 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 3:16 pm
66 people like this

Kniss' justification for this CC to make the appointments may well be the weakest she has ever offered. It's certainly transparent. Newly elected: Kou who is on CC now, Greer who has a boatload of Palo Alto experience, Burt a CC veteran, and Tanaka who is also on CC now. That group can handle the "pressure" of these appointments. It's laughable to suggest otherwise. Kniss is too experienced to not know that. Sadly, this is a McConnell/Trump like move. It's a shame that local politics has to be as dirty as the national game. Hopefully this will improve over time.

As for Ms. Cormack, what she said is equally weak. The new CC will be comprised of people who are capable of casting solid votes on difficult issues ON DAY ONE. Is Councilmamber Cormack admitting that she was not?


Truth in government advocate
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:10 pm
Truth in government advocate, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:10 pm
38 people like this

These statements actions by the departing members of Council (and Alison Cormack) will have a different level of impact from Trump's lies / incompetence and McConnell's sycophancy, but the tactic is exactly the same: get what you want at all cost, even if it means debasing yourself with transparently phoney excuses. Let's return the favor and forgo the traditional "thank you for your service" speech when Kniss leaves in January. The damage she has done to open and honest government will take decades to repair.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:33 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:33 pm
37 people like this

>"Let's return the favor and forgo the traditional "thank you for your service" speech when Kniss leaves in January."

^ Concurring...she ready has the 'keys to the city" & made duplicates for developer interests.


John
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:38 pm
John, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:38 pm
41 people like this

Great reporting by the Weekly! We must improve the way we hold elected officials accountable for attacks on democratic principles and transparent lies. Neither Palo Alto nor the country is out of the woods yet, even with our latest election results. Citizens need to pay attention, ask questions and demand answers if we expect good government.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:50 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:50 pm
33 people like this

"Let's return the favor and forgo the traditional "thank you for your service" speech when Kniss leaves in January. The damage she has done to open and honest government will take decades to repair."

Good thought re the speech but personalized going-away gifts could commemorate her greatest hits -- like her refusal to admit PA has traffic problems and her advice to take different routes, her suggestion that school children hand out traffic citations to idling vehicles, etc.

Possibilities abound. Our local robotics / self-driving vehicle designers could whip up a few blinking, honking tokens of our esteem.


Paul Brophy
Registered user
Professorville
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:57 pm
Paul Brophy, Professorville
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 4:57 pm
43 people like this

I recently had lunch with an old friend who served for over 30 (!) years as a council member in an East Bay community. He told me that when he first ran for office, he focused on the usual policy matters that were the subject of discussions there. Over time, however, he concluded that the most important task that a council member faced was making sure the process by which issues were considered and decided be seen as fair and open and that everyone had their opportunity to be heard. You'd still have some very unhappy residents on a controversial matter but the citizens moved forward and future matters could be considered without the rancor that arises when the losers on an issue feel the deck was stacked against them.

Given the centrality of land use policy in our last election, having a lame duck council decide they will appoint the Planning Commissioners early rather than allow the new council to make their choices early next year as scheduled is precisely the sort of act that needlessly creates division and resentment. And for what possible purpose? Any decision of consequence facing the Planning Commission will be advisory only, with the City Council making the final decision. What can possibly be gained by engaging in a last minute activity like this when at the very least the council majority can overrule any commission recommendation, and at worst, look at any work the Planning Commission does with a chip on their collective shoulders.

Having spent seven years on the Cupertino Planning Commission prior to moving to Palo Alto in 2015, I would say to all of our council members that instead of looking for candidates who you think most agree with you that you instead focus on candidates who bring thoughtfulness and a willingness to listen to and to attempt to understand all those who come before them, regardless of what their initial thoughts on an upcoming matter are.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 24, 2020 at 6:05 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2020 at 6:05 pm
31 people like this

Paul Brophy: thank you for the excellent comments.


Council watcher
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Nov 26, 2020 at 9:50 am
Council watcher, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Nov 26, 2020 at 9:50 am
33 people like this

Anyone who has been watching the Council meetings lately knows who is calling the shots, and it isn’t Mayor Fine. The only person who drives the agenda, who tells the City Manager (who she insisted be appointed with no search for the position and NO transparency as to why a rushed, closed door process) what to do and he does it, and the only person who controls the voting process is Liz Kniss. Sad to see what she has become - just a shill for large developers and property owners, of which she is one. Best friends with a Judy Kleinberg who tells Pal Alto how to run its city on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce before scampering back to her low density home of Woodside. Still grabbing power and trying to dominate even when the will of the voters is clear. Lydia Kou, someone noted for listening to residents, got the second highest number of votes for Council in the recent election. Greg Tanaka, who despite massive funding from outside development interests, barely hung on, just barely defeating The more moderate Ed Lauing. The voters spoke, but Liz doesn’t care and neither do her acolytes who do her bidding - Fine and Cormack. Shameful. Expected, but shameful nevertheless. Sad to see someone who long ago was considered respectable now going out being outed as totally corrupt. Liz hasn’t told the truth in a long, long time.

And don’t forget who shoved the closure on a university Ave and Cal Ave through - to assist property owners, and not retailers. Just ask the non-restaurant retailers how their business is going. Property owners just want the extra street space so they can raise rents. They want these small retailers out so they can rent to higher paying customers like gyms and medical offices. Before long Cal will be a medical and fitness center with a food court in the center catering to high tech office workers who can pay top dollar. Sad to compare this to Los Altos downtown, Burlingame, etc. Liz sold us out to commercial office space a long time ago.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 26, 2020 at 10:15 am
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 26, 2020 at 10:15 am
23 people like this

>"...the only person who controls the voting process is Liz Kniss."

^ So how did this come to be?

>"Sad to see someone who long ago was considered respectable now going out being outed as totally corrupt. Liz hasn’t told the truth in a long, long time."

^ Again...how did this come to be?

Aren't Palo Alto resident voters in some way responsible for allowing this to happen?

Or were they 'duped' via a personal shortsightedness of their own making which manifested itself in poor electoral choices?

When one gets sold 'a bill of goods', the venerable 'en caveat emptor' adage still applies.


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 26, 2020 at 2:26 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 26, 2020 at 2:26 pm
33 people like this

@Lee

Just to give some background, and an example, about some of the comments referring to Liz Kniss. When Kniss ran for a second term on council it was obvious that her close ties and alignment with developers and associated interests would lose her a lot of votes. Accordingly, her campaign platform made a big deal about promising not to take money from development interests. Instead she made a personal loan to her campaign for $25,000.

However, right after the last required campaign financial disclosures before election day, her campaign reported a number of large late donations after election day from developers and related interests. By coincidence, these campaign donations amounted to approximately $25,000.

Liz Kniss has a long public record with two previous terms on the council in the 1990's, followed by serving as a county supervisor until termed out, at which point she ran for council again. Over the years her involvement and wide connections within the Democratic Party, especially with our local Democrat party representatives, appear to run broad and deep.

Sufficiently so it appeared that when Kniss backed Greg Tanaka, a registered Republican, and Adrian Fine, a registered Independent, in their first run for council it seems they may have changed their political registrations to qualify as the recommended choices of the local Democrat party organizations. These appeared to be surprising choices when there were others running with a history of involvement within the local Democrat party and also within Palo Alto at both the local and city-wide levels on various boards and commissions whose knowledge, long experience and competence would have made them the much more obvious choices. Except they were not supported by local developers and aligned with Liz Kniss. Many of us drew our own conclusions about whose influence had been brought to bear. So much goes on behind the scenes that the public has no idea about, unless they happen to be one of the few closely involved enough to be aware.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 26, 2020 at 3:31 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 26, 2020 at 3:31 pm
49 people like this

What's happening with the investigation into Ms. Kniss's campaign financing irregularities? Why is it taking the entire length of an election cycle and why is she STILL allowed to pull her shenanigans?

Ms. Kniss also backed Cory Wollbach and Allison Cormack in their runs for city council and most recently PTC Chair Carey Templeton in her failed campaign for city council.

Ms. Kniss's determination to load up with PTC with more big-business developer-friendly acolytes is shameful.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 26, 2020 at 3:37 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 26, 2020 at 3:37 pm
28 people like this

>"...her campaign platform made a big deal about promising not to take money from development interests. Instead she made a personal loan to her campaign for $25,000...her campaign reported a number of large late donations after election day from developers and related interests. By coincidence, these campaign donations amounted to approximately $25,000."

^ Incredible...nothing like a convenient 'reimbursement'.

>"...her involvement and wide connections within the Democratic Party, especially with our local Democrat party representatives, appear to run broad and deep."

>"So much goes on behind the scenes that the public has no idea about, unless they happen to be one of the few closely involved enough to be aware."

^ Comprende...politics as usual.


Much ADU about Nothing
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Nov 28, 2020 at 6:26 pm
Much ADU about Nothing, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Nov 28, 2020 at 6:26 pm
6 people like this

Hmmm
So far we have had a grand jury investigation in the lack of affordable housing being addressed here. Plenty of single new family home builds and re-builds abound ! This hole in Palo Alto affordable housing has resulted in the State stepping in because our home owner leaders could not step up. With the exception of a few not well articulated, tiny ADU's scattered about in a few backyards. Almost 50% of Palo Alto residents are renting. However this ratio does not fill out the outgoing or incoming council. Stone is a renter and replaces Fine who was the only renter on the council. Single family home owners and big business win the day on every decision the council makes and is not representative of the Palo Alto they govern.

Renters are considered throw away temporary residents and aren't given the fair shake we deserve as tax paying citizens. I would go as far as to say that because the council is wholly made up of property owners, who also have investments in multi million / billion dollar Palo Alto based business' that there is a massive conflict of interest. Should they not be recusing themselves from many of the votes that have to do with affordable housing? Yet this would only leave one person on the dias! How about we change the City Charter that states that the council must be made up of whole of the citizenry of the town really is 50 percent renters and 50 percent owners. And campaign fundraising "buying votes through mailers, robocalls etc" has to be curtailed. It's an unfair system for sure.

It's time to say yes instead is been a big fat No to:
Senior housing
SB50
Inclusionary zoning
Cluster cottages
50 - 60% AMI housing
Pro 15


Much ADU about Nothing
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Nov 28, 2020 at 6:46 pm
Much ADU about Nothing, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Nov 28, 2020 at 6:46 pm
10 people like this

I have "read" 5 of my allotted 7 "free" articles. When housing and COVID is at such a crisis level in Palo Alto, there should be no limit on the articles a resident reads in the online Weekly. This is absurd deny a poor person in the 'freedom' of information. Even Amazon Prime has gotten on board if one shows there SNAP EBT card as low-income collateral .


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 1, 2020 at 1:05 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2020 at 1:05 pm
28 people like this

Last night the usual majority block consisting of Cormack, Kniss, Tanaka, and Fine, voted to ignore the recommendations they were themselves advancing to allow new councils to appoint vacancies on the commission, which will certainly appears to be aimed at advancing the financial interests of those whose interests they seem to be all too nakedly representing.

This is unfortunate given appointments in the last decade, particularly by the majority block council members whose main goal once elected appears to be advance the special interests of their many large campaign donors, despite how they (mis)presented themselves to get (re)elected.

Politicised to the point where the majority of council members are willing to vote for appointees who are not only unfamiliar with Palo Alto but also know next to nothing about this area of expertise. Which make them pretty useless for their first year or two on the commission. In particular, slowing down meetings with their basic (ignorant) questions demonstrating what a steep learning curve they have before being before able to make any meaningful contributions. Outside, that is, of advancing the agendas of those majorities on the council who voted to appointment them to the commission.

Last night the usual majority block consisting of Cormack, Kniss, Tanaka, and Fine, voted to ignore the recommendations they were themselves advancing to allow new councils to appoint vacancies on the commission, which will certainly advance the financial interests of those whose interests they are nakedly representing. Last night Cormack voted to interview and appoint new commissioners before the next council is seated.

This is unfortunate given appointments in the last decade, particularly by the majority block council members, whose main goal once elected appears to be advance the special interests of their many large campaign donors, despite how they (mis)presented themselves to get (re)elected.

Politicised to the point where the majority of council members have been willing to vote for appointees who are not only unfamiliar with Palo Alto but also know next to nothing about this area of expertise. Which makes them pretty useless for their first year or two on the commission. In particular, slowing down meetings with their basic (ignorant) questions demonstrating what a steep learning curve they have before being before able to make any meaningful contributions. Outside, that is, of advancing the agendas of those majorities on the council who voted to appointment them to the commission.


mauricio
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2020 at 2:53 pm
mauricio, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 2:53 pm
40 people like this

Liz Kniss has always pretended to be a Democrat, and managed to fool generations of Palo Alto voters. [Portion removed.] Her cynicism and opportunism know no limits, and her collusion with the real estate development industry is massive. [Portion removed.]


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2020 at 3:24 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2020 at 3:24 pm
44 people like this

@maurico
As a decades long close council watcher, I couldn't have stated it better myself.

Kniss appointed herself as the wise elder statesman of Palo Alto long ago. I really don't know if she realizes quite how cynical she is, or not. Her justification for voting to put her fist on the scales in the selection of new P&TC commissioners, rather than allow the new council to do so in a month, was breathtakingly self serving and transparent.


Old PA Resident
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 6, 2020 at 10:06 pm
Old PA Resident, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 6, 2020 at 10:06 pm
24 people like this

Abuse of power, pure and simple.


Sunshine
Registered user
Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2020 at 1:16 pm
Sunshine, Barron Park
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2020 at 1:16 pm
24 people like this

Don't do it now!
Wait until the new Council come in. They reflect what Palo Alto residents want rather them what they have voted against.
There is no reason to rush into something so that the incoming City Council does not have a vote on it.
By voting now, you will put policies into effect that residents of Palo Alto have shown they no longer want. Learn to move with the times.


Pat Markevitch
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 7, 2020 at 2:43 pm
Pat Markevitch, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2020 at 2:43 pm
29 people like this

It's simple, if Cormack votes to appoint the commissioners before the new year, vote her OUT in 2022.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 7, 2020 at 4:04 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2020 at 4:04 pm
26 people like this

If Cormack continues to support replacing the two P&TC openings before the new council is seated she will likely blow any good will that might have seen her voted vice chair and then chair before her current term is up.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 8, 2020 at 10:40 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 8, 2020 at 10:40 am
25 people like this

#1 criterion for all appointments: no zealots. This is especially true for PTC. People complain about the "Palo Alto Process". There's no surer way to assure that the process will continue to impede progress than appointing zealots to the PTC. Decisions made by people who will not listen or even consider compromise invite opposition. You want progress? Appoint (and elect) smart, reasonable, open-minded people capable of negotiation.

A second good rule-of-thumb would be to skip over people beholden to a special interest.

A third is temperament: no one should be concerned that an elected or appointed official is going to berate them in any way. That discourages participation.


Chris Robell
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 9, 2020 at 8:53 am
Chris Robell, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2020 at 8:53 am
17 people like this

Fortunately the PTC interviews and appointments will now be done in 2021 after the new City Council is in place. I confirmed this with the City Clerk's office this morning.

Unfortunately, this decision was only made because of "scheduling conflicts" (not because it is the right thing to do and consistent with the handbook/rules that Council just wrote!)


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Dec 9, 2020 at 9:02 am
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Dec 9, 2020 at 9:02 am
13 people like this

>"Fortunately the PTC interviews and appointments will now be done in 2021 after the new City Council is in place...
Unfortunately, this decision was only made because of "scheduling conflicts"
not because it is the right thing to do and consistent with the handbook/rules that Council just wrote!)"

^ Typical.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 14, 2020 at 10:45 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 14, 2020 at 10:45 am
5 people like this

Tonight's CC meeting should be interesting.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Dec 14, 2020 at 11:57 am
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Dec 14, 2020 at 11:57 am
14 people like this

I've spoken to two Council members about this, and the impression I'm getting is that the lame-duck majority is going to force the appointments through.

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy, this would do a disservice to the new Commission members. If they're not even interviewed, they're going to be vulnerable to the accusation that they wouldn't have survived the normal vetting process.

If that happens, perhaps the new Council should consider removing the new Commissioners and then going through the standard interview and voting process early next year.


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2020 at 12:37 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 14, 2020 at 12:37 pm
13 people like this

Entirely agree, and I had wondered this myself. However, any continuing council members who support this blatant last ditch power play in order to prevent the new council from making these appointments will likely find they have lost the respect of the incoming council and any influence they might otherwise have had.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2020 at 8:59 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2020 at 8:59 am
8 people like this

Once again Palo Alto CC is spending heaps of valuable time on what should have been a done deal requiring only interviews and a vote. Too few applicants? Maybe we need to look at why that might be; but that's another topic altogether. In the case of the controversial PTC only incumbent Summa and Kevin Ma applied for the 2 open seats before the deadline. That should have been the end of that, right? Conduct interviews, cast votes. But then politics entered the picture and whaddyaknow the deadline was extended and lo and behold, 7 people come forward, including one who said she intends to become a full-time housing activist. That was said in an Oct 2019 interview; she did not just happen to have an epiphany after the PA application deadline passed.

The deadlines for these things are well announced (we heard Liz Kniss speak to that on Monday). If Kniss and Fine wanted to recruit applicants, they had plenty of time to do that before the deadline passed. Ditto Filseth, DuBois, and Kou. Tanaka and Cormack, too. They all had MONTHS to do this. Deadlines exist for a reason; they allow us to move on to the next step. And candidates should be able to rely on them.

The original applicants for these Boards and Commissions paid attention, met the deadline, and applied. ON TIME. Those seem like good indicators of dedication to me. Now, instead of preparing for their new position, those organized, astute and punctual candidates are caught up in the political version of the Palo Alto Process. And we wonder why so few people from this involved community apply.

Palo Alto is getting more and more absurd. Covid is not to blame for that. Boss Tweed would be proud.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Dec 16, 2020 at 9:14 am
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2020 at 9:14 am
27 people like this

>"Palo Alto is getting more and more absurd. Covid is not to blame for that. Boss Tweed would be proud."

^ A profound observation as the PACC has deteriorated into a council of personal agenda rather than reflecting overall will & best interests of Palo Alto residents.

Curious.. is there even ONE council member who unilaterally (1) opposes the rampant, unchecked overdevelopment of Palo Alto, (2) is willing to take a stand against the threatened ACLU/NAACP lawsuit over Foothills Park by strongly citing the added environmental impacts & park maintanence/security concerns, (3) is a staunch advocate of curtailing bloated city administrator salaries & PERS benefits, and (4) an advocate of a transparent city government?

The list goes on as does the PACC blather.


Fred Balin
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2020 at 8:16 pm
Fred Balin, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2020 at 8:16 pm
4 people like this

On Monday, December 14 at 11:57 am, 6 hours prior to the start of the last city council meeting of Year 2020, Allen Akin posted above:
"I've spoken to two council members about this, and the impression I'm getting is that the lame-duck majority is going to force the appointments through.”

And that impression was dead wrong.

But thanks to the balance of your post and email to the city council, and a continuing string of communications from many others in the community, the outgoing majority finally understood they held a loosing hand that folks would remember. If either or both council members you refer to were part of this term’s “Minority Three,” kindly let one or both know, they should never again give out a negative impression in a situation in which they know they are in the right, no matter their level of uncertainty of what the opposition will do.


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