Doria Summa, a longtime neighborhood activist and current vice chair of the Planning and Transportation Commission, appears poised to run for a seat on the Palo Alto City Council.
On Monday, Summa filed papers to form a campaign committee, allowing her to accept donations for a council run. She had not officially announced her candidacy as of Monday night.
A veteran of Palo Alto's land-use debates, Summa often has been critical of new developments and aligned with members of the council's slow-growth faction, which includes Vice Mayor Lydia Kou and council members Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Greer Stone. All four joined Mayor Pat Burt last year in reappointing Summa to a second term on the planning commission, where she has been a steadfast voice of caution on policy changes and development applications.
Summa, whose professional background is in art and film production, pointed to her long history of civic engagement as an asset in her bid for a council seat. This included her work on citizen committees that were charged with improving service at the Development Center and on updating the Comprehensive Plan, the city’s land-use bible.
"I think I have something different to offer," Summa, 63, said in an interview. "I’m not an attorney. I'm not a business person. I think those types of people are really good on city councils but I know a lot of people in the community and I have a great love for Palo Alto. … I want to help make Palo Alto even better."
Until recently, Summa was in the political minority on the planning commission, which was dominated for nearly a decade by more pro-growth members, including Michael Alcheck and William Riggs. Her fortunes shifted over the past year, as both Alcheck and Riggs left the commission and the council appointed new members who are more closely aligned with her positions. And after years of getting passed over for leadership positions, Summa was elected as vice chair this year.
A land-use watchdog who has long been active in the College Terrace Residents Association, Summa has been heavily involved in most of the city's heated debates over housing and growth. In 2018, she criticized the city's proposal to create an "affordable housing" zone that loosens development standards for builders of below-market-rate housing and argued that zoning exemptions should only apply to housing designated for residents in the "very low" income category. She also was the only commissioner that year to oppose a zone change that enabled the construction of a 57-apartment complex at the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, a development that is now known as Alta Locale.
Summa also played a key role in the city's recent review of Castilleja School's redevelopment plans. In 2020, she was the only commissioner who voted against the certification of the environmental analysis for the project. When the redevelopment returned to the commission earlier this year, she was among the commissioners who argued in favor of reducing the enrollment cap in Castilleja School's application and restricting the number of special events the school should be allowed to hold.
More recently, she has been working with the commission to review the city's new Housing Element and to revise the city's rules on accessory dwelling units. In February, she supported the bulk of the proposals in the new Housing Element, which the council is set to review next week. She was, however, the only commissioner who opposed building significantly more housing along El Camino Real. She argued that the public transportation in the corridor is not sufficiently robust.
"I'd like to be peachy about the future of the bus corridor, but the VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority) seems like a very troubled agency to me and there's a lot of uncertainty for me about their future," Summa said.
Summa also represented the commission on the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan Working Group, a panel of residents and property owners who crafted a new vision for a 60-acre portion of the Ventura neighborhood. That effort reached a breakthrough in June, when the council reached an agreement with The Sobrato Organization for a redevelopment on Portage Avenue, at the former site of Fry's Electronics.
Summa is one of two planning commissioners seeking a council seat. Commission Chair Ed Lauing, who often sides with Summa on land-use issues, is also running. The list of candidates also includes Lisa Forssell, a member of the Utilities Advisory Commission and producer at the design studio at Apple; Vicki Veenker, a patent attorney and mediator; Alex Comsa, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker; Julie Lythcott-Haims, an author and former dean of freshmen at Stanford University; and Brian Hamachek, a software engineer.
The seven candidates are vying for three seats that will open up at the end of this year. Both Filseth and DuBois will term out. Council member Alison Cormack will conclude her first term and has opted not to run for another.