The Palo Alto City Council will have a chance to fill three seats on the Planning and Transportation Commission in the coming weeks after commissioner William Riggs' recent resignation.
The resignation of Riggs, a professor at the University of San Francisco who chaired the commission in 2019, means that the recently reconstituted council will have a chance to leave a greater imprint on the city's most influential advisory commission, which is often seen as a stepping stone for would-be council candidates.
Riggs' resignation on Jan. 13 follows a contentious political battle between the council's two factions over commission appointments. Last year's council, which included Liz Kniss and Adrian Fine and on which the more pro-growth bloc enjoyed a 4-3 majority, favored making the appointments before the end of the year, a move that may have threatened the reappointments of commissioners Ed Lauing and Doria Summa.
But the commission appointments were delayed after the three council members associated with the more slow-growth camp — Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Lydia Kou — missed the interview meeting, which was then canceled because of a lack of quorum (Alison Cormack couldn't attend because of a family emergency). Given its failure to conduct interviews, the council voted on Dec. 14 to leave the appointments to the 2021 council, consistent with policies in the city's recently approved commission handbook.
Now, with the new council in place and the more slow-growth wing enjoying a 4-3 majority (or 5-2, when Vice Mayor Pat Burt joins them), Lauing and Summa are increasingly likely to win fresh terms. Summa is the commission's most consistent and tenacious critic of new development proposals, while Lauing's recent council candidacy was endorsed by the group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, which is aligned with the slow-growth "residentialist" camp.
The council has received nine applications for the two seats that were open prior to Riggs' resignation. In addition to Lauing and Summa, the pool of applicants includes Kelsey Banes, Doug Burns, Alon Carmeli, Rebecca Eisenberg, Kathy Jordan, Kevin Ma and Jessica Resmini.
The planning commission also elected a new chair on Wednesday night, voting to award the position to Barton Hechtman, a land use attorney and the commission's newest member. He was unanimously chosen after the initial nominee, Vice Chair Giselle Roohparvar, declined a nomination to serve as chair. Hechtman, whose detailed motions have shaped the commission's recent discussions on Castilleja School's proposed expansion and the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan, replaced Commissioner Cari Templeton in the role of chair,
The commission also voted to have Roohparvar remain as its vice chair for another year. Four members, Michael Alcheck, Hechtman, Roohparvar and Templeton voted for Roohparvar, while Lauing and Summa voted for Summa.