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After political tussle, Vice Mayor Pat Burt on track to join the VTA board

Council veteran edges out council member Alison Cormack for chance to represent four north county cities

Bus driver Jesus Rivera inspects his bus before starting his line 22 towards Palo Alto at VTA North Yard located on La Avenida Street in Mountain View on June 14, 2016. Embarcadero Media file photo by Michelle Le.

When elected leaders from four north Santa Clara County cities meet later this month to choose their nominee for a coveted seat on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority board of directors, Palo Alto Vice Mayor Pat Burt will find himself in the driver's seat.

After a convoluted and highly politicized process, the City Council voted on Monday to nominate Burt for a seat on the VTA board of directors, where he will represent Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. Because the four cities shift their board nominee on a rotating basis — and it's Palo Alto's turn in the rotation — the council's decision all but ensures that Burt will fill one of the VTA board's 15 seats.

If he is confirmed by other elected leaders from the four cities as expected, Burt will face the tough task of representing the north end of the county on a board that is heavily dominated by the south. Five of the 15 seats are assigned to San Jose, while another two are filled by Santa Clara County supervisors, who often also represent San Jose. The four north county cities that make up the VTA's "Group 2" get a single seat on the board.

In Palo Alto, council members have long complained about the VTA's heavy bias toward San Jose, at the expense of north county. The vast majority of the revenues from the agency's county tax measures in 2000 and 2008 went to fund BART improvements in San Jose. Meanwhile, the VTA's bus service in Palo Alto has been steadily diminished.

The council's decision to nominate Burt followed an awkward and divisive process that reflected the council's political shift since the November election. In October, the council unanimously approved the nomination of council member Alison Cormack to the board, a choice that was championed by former Mayor Adrian Fine and former council member Liz Kniss.

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After Burt won the election in November and the council majority tilted toward the council's residentialist camp, DuBois urged the Group 2 leaders in late December to delay and reconsider the nomination of Cormack to the VTA board. DuBois noted that the council had received outdated bylaws in October, when it considered Cormack's nomination, and that members were not aware at that time that they could appoint two nominees.

Cormack said Monday that prior to her October nomination, neither DuBois and council member Eric Filseth -- the only two candidates, besides her, who met the qualifications for serving on the VTA board -- had expressed any interest in serving on the VTA. Nor had either of them objected to her taking on the assignment last fall, she said.

"I'm sorry to say this, but I think it was unprofessional for the mayor, two months after our unanimous vote, to send an email to members of the Working Group to state that I don't have qualifications for this post, without contacting me or even copying me as a courtesy," Cormack said.

The group's rules require a nominee to meet two of four qualifications: at least one year of service on the VTA board; at least one year of service on one of the advisory committees that report to the VTA board; other transportation policy credential deemed relevant by the majority of the cities; and demonstration of working knowledge of the VTA.

Cormack said she was qualified for the role, a conclusion that was confirmed by Mountain View City Council member John McAlister, who chairs Group 2 and who represents the group on the VTA board. She cited her service on the council's Rail Committee in 2019; her involvement in Manzanita Talks, a regional collaboration on traffic improvements; and her longtime advocacy for expanding the citywide shuttle program (which, despite this advocacy, sputtered and died during the 2020 budget season).

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Former council member Gail Price, who had represented the city on the VTA, also urged the council to nominate Cormack.

"By not engaging in condescending and bullying behavior, she treats colleagues respectfully despite the differences in opinions and methods. These are attributes that her colleagues should emulate," Price said. "This effort to change the 2020 nomination has been launched by the current … mayor and vice mayor … white males who I believe have intentionally carved out more leadership roles for themselves despite the significant and numerous roles they have already enjoyed."

The council, for its part, gave Burt the nod, voting 5-2 to make him the city's nominee for the VTA position. DuBois had initially proposed nominating both Burt and Cormack and letting the Group 2 representatives decide between them. After Cormack suggested sending just one nominee, the council found itself choosing between herself and Burt.

The vote reflected the council's new political dynamics, with Burt and Greer Stone joining the three council members on the council's slow-growth "residentialist" wing: DuBois, Lydia Kou and Eric Filseth.

Tanaka supported Cormack's nomination.

"I think she's always been very prepared," Tanaka said.

In a dig at Burt, Tanaka shared with his colleagues two newspaper articles: a 2016 story in which Burt expresses confidence that the VTA will provide $700 million to the north county for grade separation, as Measure B requires, and a more recent story about VTA's new scenario that calls for diverting most of funds from the 2016 measure toward BART for the next 10 years.

Tanaka's presentation didn't sway Burt's allies, who said that it only underscored Burt's many years of experience with transit and his involvement in Measure B and other VTA issues. Burt, who had previously served on the council between 2008 and 2016, was heavily involved in the city's response to the state's high-speed rail project and Caltrain improvements. He had previously served on the VTA's Policy Advisory Committee and on Caltrain's Local Policy Maker Group.

"I was very active in the Measure B campaign, and the success of getting what was anticipated to be $700 million for grade separation — and major portion of that to Palo Alto — is the whole basis by which we were able to proceed on our grade separation plan," Burt said. "We recently did have a threat to that, and that's why we need strong advocacy to support our position there."

Kou and Stone both said that they believe Cormack is well qualified for representing the city on the VTA. But they cited Burt's many years of involvement in transportation in explaining their decision to choose him for the seat.

"This is nothing personal. … And too often, these discussions seem to have that feel, of it being personal, but it just comes down to who is the most qualified person in this role," Stone said.

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After political tussle, Vice Mayor Pat Burt on track to join the VTA board

Council veteran edges out council member Alison Cormack for chance to represent four north county cities

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jan 12, 2021, 1:31 am

When elected leaders from four north Santa Clara County cities meet later this month to choose their nominee for a coveted seat on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority board of directors, Palo Alto Vice Mayor Pat Burt will find himself in the driver's seat.

After a convoluted and highly politicized process, the City Council voted on Monday to nominate Burt for a seat on the VTA board of directors, where he will represent Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. Because the four cities shift their board nominee on a rotating basis — and it's Palo Alto's turn in the rotation — the council's decision all but ensures that Burt will fill one of the VTA board's 15 seats.

If he is confirmed by other elected leaders from the four cities as expected, Burt will face the tough task of representing the north end of the county on a board that is heavily dominated by the south. Five of the 15 seats are assigned to San Jose, while another two are filled by Santa Clara County supervisors, who often also represent San Jose. The four north county cities that make up the VTA's "Group 2" get a single seat on the board.

In Palo Alto, council members have long complained about the VTA's heavy bias toward San Jose, at the expense of north county. The vast majority of the revenues from the agency's county tax measures in 2000 and 2008 went to fund BART improvements in San Jose. Meanwhile, the VTA's bus service in Palo Alto has been steadily diminished.

The council's decision to nominate Burt followed an awkward and divisive process that reflected the council's political shift since the November election. In October, the council unanimously approved the nomination of council member Alison Cormack to the board, a choice that was championed by former Mayor Adrian Fine and former council member Liz Kniss.

After Burt won the election in November and the council majority tilted toward the council's residentialist camp, DuBois urged the Group 2 leaders in late December to delay and reconsider the nomination of Cormack to the VTA board. DuBois noted that the council had received outdated bylaws in October, when it considered Cormack's nomination, and that members were not aware at that time that they could appoint two nominees.

Cormack said Monday that prior to her October nomination, neither DuBois and council member Eric Filseth -- the only two candidates, besides her, who met the qualifications for serving on the VTA board -- had expressed any interest in serving on the VTA. Nor had either of them objected to her taking on the assignment last fall, she said.

"I'm sorry to say this, but I think it was unprofessional for the mayor, two months after our unanimous vote, to send an email to members of the Working Group to state that I don't have qualifications for this post, without contacting me or even copying me as a courtesy," Cormack said.

The group's rules require a nominee to meet two of four qualifications: at least one year of service on the VTA board; at least one year of service on one of the advisory committees that report to the VTA board; other transportation policy credential deemed relevant by the majority of the cities; and demonstration of working knowledge of the VTA.

Cormack said she was qualified for the role, a conclusion that was confirmed by Mountain View City Council member John McAlister, who chairs Group 2 and who represents the group on the VTA board. She cited her service on the council's Rail Committee in 2019; her involvement in Manzanita Talks, a regional collaboration on traffic improvements; and her longtime advocacy for expanding the citywide shuttle program (which, despite this advocacy, sputtered and died during the 2020 budget season).

Former council member Gail Price, who had represented the city on the VTA, also urged the council to nominate Cormack.

"By not engaging in condescending and bullying behavior, she treats colleagues respectfully despite the differences in opinions and methods. These are attributes that her colleagues should emulate," Price said. "This effort to change the 2020 nomination has been launched by the current … mayor and vice mayor … white males who I believe have intentionally carved out more leadership roles for themselves despite the significant and numerous roles they have already enjoyed."

The council, for its part, gave Burt the nod, voting 5-2 to make him the city's nominee for the VTA position. DuBois had initially proposed nominating both Burt and Cormack and letting the Group 2 representatives decide between them. After Cormack suggested sending just one nominee, the council found itself choosing between herself and Burt.

The vote reflected the council's new political dynamics, with Burt and Greer Stone joining the three council members on the council's slow-growth "residentialist" wing: DuBois, Lydia Kou and Eric Filseth.

Tanaka supported Cormack's nomination.

"I think she's always been very prepared," Tanaka said.

In a dig at Burt, Tanaka shared with his colleagues two newspaper articles: a 2016 story in which Burt expresses confidence that the VTA will provide $700 million to the north county for grade separation, as Measure B requires, and a more recent story about VTA's new scenario that calls for diverting most of funds from the 2016 measure toward BART for the next 10 years.

Tanaka's presentation didn't sway Burt's allies, who said that it only underscored Burt's many years of experience with transit and his involvement in Measure B and other VTA issues. Burt, who had previously served on the council between 2008 and 2016, was heavily involved in the city's response to the state's high-speed rail project and Caltrain improvements. He had previously served on the VTA's Policy Advisory Committee and on Caltrain's Local Policy Maker Group.

"I was very active in the Measure B campaign, and the success of getting what was anticipated to be $700 million for grade separation — and major portion of that to Palo Alto — is the whole basis by which we were able to proceed on our grade separation plan," Burt said. "We recently did have a threat to that, and that's why we need strong advocacy to support our position there."

Kou and Stone both said that they believe Cormack is well qualified for representing the city on the VTA. But they cited Burt's many years of involvement in transportation in explaining their decision to choose him for the seat.

"This is nothing personal. … And too often, these discussions seem to have that feel, of it being personal, but it just comes down to who is the most qualified person in this role," Stone said.

Comments

Good Decision
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2021 at 7:43 am
Good Decision, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 7:43 am

A good start for this new council - correcting the bizarre manipulation of this selection process last year by majority council members.

Given we must try to stop our Measure B tax money from being taken from us, Pat Burt, with his 17 years experience on Council and PTC is clearly the best choice for VTA Board.


Of course!
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Jan 12, 2021 at 8:26 am
Of course!, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 8:26 am

Because of major problems with VTA management, this is a very important issue for Palo Alto. This appointment would have been contentious anyway, but its underhanded handling by the last Council unfortunately made it even more polarized.

What makes this selection awkward is that both Cormack and Burt are intelligent, capable people. Greer stated it well; this may appear to be personal but it really comes down to who is the best candidate. Any impartial observer would conclude that Pat Burt is clearly the best candidate.

This is not a beauty contest—our VTA representative needs to represent Palo Alto’s interest in difficult, complicated negotiations whose outcome will greatly impact the city. Pat not only knows the inner workings of public transit agencies, but he is also known and respected by people across the county. I can think of no one better than Pat Burt for representing Palo Alto in these negotiations.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 12, 2021 at 10:15 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 10:15 am

YEAH - Big budgets are at stake here and we need the best representative to protect PA's interests. In the past we have come up short on every aspect of transportation issues as they affect this city.

A tangential issue here is that this city is targeted with all types of special interests groups with their own agendas - as noted in the comments last night at the PACC meeting. The comments seem to side step the fact that Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose are major metro areas that are major transportation destinations via train, air, and auto. They get the bulk of the Measure B funding. They are also the cities which have the economies that support a diverse population. Palo Alto does not have a major impact on transportation - we are not a switching station - simply a stop along the way. Redwood city is not a major metro area but is getting there based on their location on the bay - last deep water port about to get a ferry service and the growth of FB in Menlo Park on the border with RWC.


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 10:55 am
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 10:55 am

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


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2021 at 5:21 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 5:21 pm

After the Oct. meeting at which Cormack was nominated, two critical things happened: the November election and the Nov 30 meeting of the SFPUC. Even though she was at the PUC hearing on behalf of the city and responsible for presenting the unanimous position of PACC, she went rogue and presented her own opinion. That is unprofessional; Council members are not supposed to act on their own when there's Council direction; qualifying for a position doesn't mean one can use that position to promote a personal agenda.

It's unfortunate that current and past CC members started the year taking digs at the Vice Mayor. I get the inference about him being a white male but I don't think that is why 5 members of CC voted in favor of him. I think he got the nod because he is smart and has more of the needed, relevant experience. I think CC made the right choice. I also think Burt is less likely to go rogue.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 12, 2021 at 5:52 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 5:52 pm

WOW - that is disturbing information concerning Cormack. But not surprising. We have seen a number of people in the position to represent the city diverting to some agenda from an outside source. Many people trying to advance their personal "brand" relative to future political positioning at a state level. Hopefully under the new PACC that tendency will be stopped. If representing the city then say what the city wants. But the city has to get very clear on what it wants.


Bill Ross
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2021 at 7:49 pm
Bill Ross, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 7:49 pm

Pat Burt was the right choice. Overlooked in the article is Councilmember Cormack’s refusal to follow unanimous Council direction with respect to the Bay Delta Plan when representing the City before the San Francisco PUC on November 30, 2020 she presented her own view. She is pursuing her own agenda not what the City Council unanimously directed. She is unqualified.


Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2021 at 9:57 pm
Palo Alto Resident, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 9:57 pm

Cormack's actions are sad but not surprising. She is transparently smug and determined to have her way. A bad choice for the VTA role.


Jeremy Erman
Registered user
Midtown
on Jan 12, 2021 at 11:22 pm
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2021 at 11:22 pm

According to this article, one of the four "qualifications" for being nominated to serve on the VTA board for the North County, of which a candidate has to meet two, is "at least one year of service on the VTA board."

That's a nice Catch-22. It fits right in with the Kafkaesque way VTA functions, and its Orwellian use of language in its press releases and public statements.

I mean, this is an agency that encourages customers to give them feedback, but refuses to publish a public staff directory (which virtually all other Bay Area government agencies provide), and whose press releases and public statements tout service cuts and price increases as if they're improvements (your service hasn't been cut, it's been "reallocated", and soon there will be lower youth fares, but "new" adult fares!)

Also, while preparing for the 2019 "New Transit Plan" (itself a replacement for the never-implemented "Next Network") VTA put signs on bus stops for Palo Alto's Line 88--which was being eliminated except for a handful of morning and afternoon school trips--advertising that the new plan would have more frequent 15-minute service and better connections.

Then in August, 2020, when VTA started charging fares again after the initial wave of COVID-19, they put signs on nearly every bus stop in the county saying "Welcome Back", even on stops where all service had been cut, such as Line 88 and special school-trips (apparently the people who rode VTA in April through July, including me, don't really exist in VTA's eyes).

Because if you're losing millions of dollars in a pandemic, it's important to spend the money you do have on fancy color signs with slick graphics and logos welcoming back paying customers to bus stops where all bus service has been cut.


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Jan 13, 2021 at 1:16 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Jan 13, 2021 at 1:16 pm

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


Speaking as a woman
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2021 at 11:51 am
Speaking as a woman, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 14, 2021 at 11:51 am

Let's not make this about sexism. I'm just fine with Pat Burt taking this role. He is, by far, the best qualified and this is an important moment with VTA. I care a lot about transit matters and Vice Mayor Burt knows the ins and outs of VTA very well. Our city is going to have to fight for VTA Measure B money that we are entitled to. We are going to have to fight for funding for local Shuttles and VTA buses. VTA Board is controlled by south county, and no resource ever comes easily to Palo Alto from them, though VTA does love to collect our tax dollars.

It is unfortunate that the communications leading up to the meeting failed to include CM Cormack. That was not considerate of a colleague, and I am sorry to hear it. Council should have done better on that front, and I hope they will going forward.

I have been involved in decades of Shuttle advocacy. CM Cormack claims to have been a "long-time" advocate, but I never seen her at meetings related to City Shuttles until she decided to run for Council. Even then, she didn't have much to say. In her campaign she talked about increasing local bus service, but she didn't seem to have a plan to accomplish that goal. Since she has been on Council she voted to cut the Shuttle-- a decision that permanently closed a contract with Caltrain that partly funded our local Shuttle. (Caltrain helped to pay for the Shuttle over the years because its routes and schedules served to get local riders to the trains.) Getting that funding back will be difficult, if not impossible.

While I greatly appreciate Gail Price' service to our community, I strongly disagree that CM Cormack would serve us as well in this role. She has little experience with VTA --an unfriendly, behemoth bureaucracy that requires deep experience and connections to navigate (sadly). Even Vice Mayor Burt, with his VTA and PTC experience, will have a very tough row to hoe with them as minority member of the board.

North county cities should not have to share a seat. We need more fair and consistent representation on the VTA Board. Currently, south county cities, particularly San Jose, abuse their majority.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jan 14, 2021 at 1:41 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jan 14, 2021 at 1:41 pm

@Speaking as a Woman: thank you for sharing what you observed regarding CM Cormack and the shuttle program. I tend to question claims made by politicians b/c they are so often self-serving. And often exaggerations. Of particular amusement are the lists touting involvement on commissions and committees. Being named as a committee or commission member is relevant only if one actually attends nearly all the meetings and fully engages on behalf of the community. Absent that, a name on a list is just a name on a list. Again, thank you!


Speaking as a woman
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2021 at 1:28 pm
Speaking as a woman, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jan 15, 2021 at 1:28 pm

I was not commenting on CM Cormack's committee attendance. Generally, she fulfills her commitments. I was reacting to her being characterized as a "long-time" advocate for the Shuttle. If that's true, she has not been visible or effective. Over decades of Shuttle advocacy work, I cannot remember seeing her in any Shuttle meetings until she made the decision to run. If she said anything of importance, I don't remember what it was and I usually keep notes on useful comments that come up in these meetings. At the time of her campaign, her campaign comments on the subject didn't reflect understanding of the complexities of route planning/scheduling and inter-agency politics of Shuttle (and other transit) funding and expansion.

That's not to say she can't learn. I'm simply saying that, at this moment, we need someone who already understands how things work. CM Burt is far better equipped for this role in this critical moment.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 15, 2021 at 5:12 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jan 15, 2021 at 5:12 pm

Finally some good news.


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