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Doria Summa, land-use watchdog, eyes council seat

Veteran of city's growth debates files papers to form campaign committee

Planning and Transportation Commissioner Doria Summa, right, evaluate alternatives for the North Ventura Coordinated Area Plan at a Feb. 27, 2020, community meeting on the plan. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

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."

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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.

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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

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Doria Summa, land-use watchdog, eyes council seat

Veteran of city's growth debates files papers to form campaign committee

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Aug 15, 2022, 10:00 pm

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.

Comments

felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2022 at 11:51 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 15, 2022 at 11:51 pm

Summa knows boxcars more right now about the issues facing our city, and potential for real solutions, than have “new kids on the block” candidates such as Lisa Forssell and Lythcott-Haims. The knowledge and experience gap is vast.

Summa’s dedication and expertise is evident at every Commission, City Board or committee she’s served on for years in Palo Alto. Lucky us that Doria is running!


TuppenceT
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 16, 2022 at 12:44 am
TuppenceT, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 12:44 am

Doria Summa has been a wise and informed voice. On the citizen advisory committee for the comprehensive plan, she fought to retain affordable housing. She is not tempted with production of new rental housing where a one bedroom place costs more than 4000/month.
I hope she runs.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2022 at 2:51 am
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 2:51 am

Summa is the most qualified and weighty candidate. I hope she runs.

I hope the bias in development reporting gets a little once over. I don’t think “slow growth” vs “pro growth” is very neutral or accurate.

Being against growth for growth’s sake is not the same as “slow”. But to be fair, if you’re going to say “slow”, the flip side should be “rapid” or “fast” (to balance the reporter’s obvious bias, maybe “cancerous” should occasionally be used to give equal time to the snide…)

Better yet, “smart growth” vs “Laissez faire growth” or “pro unregulated growth” would be the most accurate.


Mondoman
Registered user
Green Acres
on Aug 16, 2022 at 4:54 am
Mondoman, Green Acres
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 4:54 am

It's good to see people with significant expertise in land use issues running for the council.


Neighborhood Inactivist
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2022 at 8:34 am
Neighborhood Inactivist, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 8:34 am

This is great news -- Doria Summa has been a tireless advocate for Palo Alto on numerous committees as well as on the Planning Commission. She has deep knowledge of land use planning issues and is not beholden to outside developers. I hope she runs as well.


Anonymous
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Aug 16, 2022 at 10:54 am
Anonymous, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 10:54 am

Ms Summa's record shows that I should not vote for her. There are too many NIMBYs on the council already.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2022 at 10:59 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 10:59 am

I also welcome this news. Two things I especially like about Ms. Summa are her dedication and preparation. She is not one to "wing it" and promote an agenda; each issue gets its due.

And she is exactly right about public transportation not being robust. It will be highly beneficial to residents and the City's greenhouse gas reduction plans to have a Council Member who is alert about public transportation issues.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2022 at 11:13 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 11:13 am

I'm thrilled that Ms Summa's running. She's thoughtful-- as could be seen when Tom DuBois recently asked her a question about a project -- and within seconds she was testifying intelligently, clearly and details. Unlike people who reflexively reduce everything to a chasm between Nimby's and Yimby's as Anonymous above does with bothering to look at voting records, she looks at each issue on its own merits.

Re the YIMBY/NIMBY split, A) it's wrong to call the 5 above Nimby's because their votes aren't consistently that way -- just that some of the divisive members like Mr. Fine -- have been replaced and B) we've seen the national coverage of the hypocrisy of the deep-pocketed YIMBY backers in Atherton who got caught playing "NIMBY" rejecting mutli-family housing in THEIR backyards but pushing it yours.

We need intelligent, detail-oriented candidates like Doria who care more about PA issues than meaningless slogans and divisive rhetoric.


AnnetteG
Registered user
Midtown
on Aug 16, 2022 at 11:21 am
AnnetteG, Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 11:21 am

Having Doria as a council member would be a total win for the city. She is super knowledgeable, professional, has been a committed "volunteer" for years. Count me in to support her campaign!


azr
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 16, 2022 at 11:39 am
azr, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 11:39 am

It would be hard to find a more deeply thoughtful and dedicated candidate. Commissioner Summa has put in many years in city public service to keep the powers that run the city on track and has the depth of knowledge and ease with facts and history to ensure a steady hand.


tmp
Registered user
Downtown North
on Aug 16, 2022 at 1:19 pm
tmp, Downtown North
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 1:19 pm

It would be hard to find a better candidate than Ms. Summa. She has devoted so many years to helping Palo Alto be a better place to live. Her knowledge and expertise and careful analysis of city and government issues are unmatched by any other candidate. She is also polite and thoughtful to all, both a good listener and a careful speaker. Everyone should vote for this caliber of an individual to be part of our city council.


ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2022 at 1:26 pm
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 1:26 pm

Doria Summa has acted on behalf of residents by serving on the Planning Commission and previously as president of the board of her neighborhood association. She has put her time and energy into serving the community. She is seasoned and understands complex land use issues. She is thoughful, calm under pressure and professional. Summa does her homework. Palo Alto needs this public servant now more than ever to be elected to city council.


Local Resident
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 16, 2022 at 1:28 pm
Local Resident, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 1:28 pm

If Doria Summa runs she will be my top choice. That's saying a lot given strong and excellent candidates already in the race like Ed Lauing and Vicky Veneer. Doria is very knowledgeable about how city government runs and can hit the ground running with no learning curve, unlike many of the other candidates running this time. Doria's service on the Planning and Transportation Committee has been outstanding. She will represent residents concerns with an outstanding level of sincerity and dedication.


Joe in Green Acres
Registered user
Green Acres
on Aug 16, 2022 at 2:18 pm
Joe in Green Acres, Green Acres
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 2:18 pm

We are fortunate that Doria has decided to run for City Council. We will be incredibly fortunate if she wins a seat in the upcoming election and I hope she will. I will be supporting her candidacy and voting for her without reservation. As Local Resident said above, she will hit the ground running, given the many years of outstanding service that she has given to the City (as has Ed Lauing).

I second the many comments made above with regard to her years of service and how she had comported herself while on the Planning and Transportation Commission. I urge others to seriously consider her candidacy and, having done so, recognize that voting for her will bring to the Council a person with years of thoughtful service and experience in City matters who will be needed as the City and its residents face many challenges in the years ahead.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2022 at 3:01 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 3:01 pm

Doria Suma is a council candidate with the experience and knowledge of city issues both big and small that can only be acquired from years of working on behalf of the public and council. As well as understanding how things work within city hall.

A candidate who has a long track record of quiet dedication which has demonstrated a willingness to put in the long hours, advance preparation, and work necessary to be an effective council member and colleague.

As others have observed, a council member who has the background to be an effective council member from the get-go.



























TMH
Registered user
Mayfield
on Aug 16, 2022 at 3:36 pm
TMH, Mayfield
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 3:36 pm

Doria Summa is the best qualified candidate we have running this year. She is truly outstanding in understanding the details of land use and land use management. She knows the Palo Alto codes, works hard in interpreting what they mean and holds City Staff and her fellow Commissioners accountable for their decisions. No one is better prepared to serve on our Council today than Doria Summa. Vote and support Doria!


TuppenceT
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 16, 2022 at 4:10 pm
TuppenceT, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 4:10 pm

Yes, Summa voted against a zone change that changed public serving zoning to luxury apartments - a huge gift of value to the developers. Did you see what Alta Local charges?
From their website: "ONLY THE FINAL FEW ONE-BEDROOM RESIDENCES ARE AVAILABLE. STARTING AT $3,995"


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 16, 2022 at 5:12 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 5:12 pm

While the developer assured the Planning Commission and Council that they were building more affordable workforce housing and if the zoning was changed and the multiple code violations were waived they would rent all the units for well under $3000 a month. Wink wink.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Aug 16, 2022 at 8:23 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 8:23 pm

Thank you Doria for giving residents the choice to elect an experienced and thoughtful candidate.

Doria is not a NIMBY rather she is a person who is against unequal application of our zoning laws and Ordinances.

Why are these developers getting upgrades to their property instantly worth millions of dollars and not build the type of housing PA desperately needs?

Seems like an even and fair application of our Codes would be applauded.

As much as I respect Gennady, this article contains considerable bias. Doria is not against development, IMO; just favoritism.

Please review Doria's accomplishments and knowledge rather than just newspaper reports.

She has my vote! Thank you


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 16, 2022 at 11:13 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 11:13 pm

"Why are these developers getting upgrades to their property instantly worth millions of dollars and not build the type of housing PA desperately needs?

Seems like an even and fair application of our Codes would be applauded."

Sure seems like that. Unless some parties prefer to pass on the even and fair application.

Having a watchdog to ensure fairness and to ensure that projects in all their complexities are managed not only fairly but also efficiently and cost-effectively for all concerned.

Doria's got the attention to detail to ensure that.


mxhr
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Aug 18, 2022 at 2:57 pm
mxhr, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2022 at 2:57 pm

I can think of no current candidate who would be a worse choice for City Council. Clearly the PASZ fan base got the early notice to plug their support quick and early for this candidate but those interested in good governance should pay close attention to how this candidate has engaged in her review of important projects before the PTC. She's demonstrated a consistently incoherent approach to opposing every housing opportunity that's been brought before her. The care she takes to articulate support for housing stand in such dramatic contrast to her voting record that it stinks of disingenuousness. This has been our greatest challenge - like so many PASZ supporters who feign support for housing and affordability but then come up with reason after reason for why a specific proposal isn't the right one to address the problem. I remember once watching her argue in opposition to a project that this one project won't solve the problem. As if one project could??? We need candidates with a greater vision of inclusion and a greater capability to compromise for the greater good. We don't need more individuals who will never work with those on the other side of the debate, we don't need more individuals like the Republican leadership of the Senate who will under no circumstances help move the ball forward.


resident3
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2022 at 7:24 pm
resident3, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 18, 2022 at 7:24 pm

@mxhr,

The recent business tax mess shows that City Hall rolls over to lobbyists and organizations that don’t care about anything except their own interests.
Relying on gimmicks like surveys to spook, instead of actually working with actual taxpayers to solve the many problems we have, of which cheaper internet bills is not one of.

My vote would be to have an elected Mayor and elected City Attorney, but since we are about to get new ideas, this time I want to know how those stepping up to run have worked with people who still live here or can still afford to live here. This will be more helpful to people who move here in the future who I hope can say we did a good job instead of finding us all only arguing.




Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 20, 2022 at 5:56 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 20, 2022 at 5:56 am

@mxhr wrote "we don't need more individuals like the Republican leadership of the Senate who will under no circumstances help move the ball forward."

In the context of the Palo Alto City Council race, and Ms. Summa's candidacy, what does that even mean? Please, let's not conflate what is needed in Palo Alto with what is wrong with national politics.


mjh
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 21, 2022 at 12:22 pm
mjh, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 21, 2022 at 12:22 pm

The vituperative phrase "stinks of disingenuousness" used above brings to mind a recent member of the Planning and Transport Commision who appeared unable to refrain from personal and unprofessional language directed at colleagues who disagreed with him.

Who can forget the 5-10 minute tirade conducted from the dias directed at a 90 year old woman sitting in the chamber who had spoken during the public comment segment whose politely expressed opinion he had taken exception too?!

In contrast, I am reminded that Doria Summa has a long track record that demonstrates her ability to stay civil and on point, even under the most trying of circumstances.

Qualifications that the public has a right to have seen demonstrated through a record of previous public service by any serious candidate for council.


community member
Registered user
University South
on Aug 29, 2022 at 6:29 pm
community member, University South
Registered user
on Aug 29, 2022 at 6:29 pm

<<Who can forget the 5-10 minute tirade conducted from the dias directed at a 90 year old woman sitting in the chamber who had spoken during the public comment segment whose politely expressed opinion he had taken exception too?!>>

Ah yes, the unforgettable Michael Alcheck. A real estate attorney a commissioner who got the Planning Dept. to rezone a house he owned on Phillips Road, and he then sold it for $8,000,000 on 4/30/18. Yes,Eight million.


community member
Registered user
University South
on Sep 3, 2022 at 6:15 pm
community member, University South
Registered user
on Sep 3, 2022 at 6:15 pm

The point is, that even with such a difficult and irritating colleague, Doria did not lose her composure or her civility,
Not everyone can do that.
She is an excellent person.


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