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Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 6, 2019

Around Town

SHADY BUSINESS ... For years, Palo Alto has encouraged developers to steer away from paved parking lots and toward underground parking garages. That trend comes at a cost to local trees, the Architectural Review Board warned this week. In a joint session with the City Council, board member Alexander Lew cited numerous instances where garages interfered with the root system of streetside trees, at times requiring the board to recommend revisions. That's because the basement level often extends beyond the footprint of the building, limiting how much space roots have to spread. This is particularly a problem with large multistory projects, board members said. Lew pointed to the new mixed-use development at 385 Sherman Ave., where trees next to the building had to rely on soil from the neighboring property to survive. "We really can't save any existing trees unless you work really hard to do that," Lew told the council. "You're losing mature trees when you really need them to screen a large building." The board also flagged the issue in its annual report to the council earlier this year. "While the reduction of surface parking is generally a positive change, less space is available on-site for large trees to grow and mature," the report states. The document also notes that the replacement of single-story buildings with multiple-story ones can "reduce the size of trees as canopies. ... We understand that multiple story buildings are a positive response to urban growth, but strive to also maintain a vibrant and robust urban street canopy." Lew suggested that it may be time to revisit the city's parking and landscaping guidelines to address conflicts — a recommendation that council generally supported.

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Posted by Alcheck Needs to Go
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 6, 2019 at 12:17 am

I've read Balin's report and live near the two illegal garages Alcheck built after he manipulated the law to his favor and defied city rules.

That Alcheck hasn't resigned in shame or been removed by the Council tells you how low the ethics in our city government has fallen. Apparently, people in Palo Alto's City Hall are perfectly OK with using official posts for personal gain and having public servants break the law. Maybe they're angling for jobs in Trump's White House?

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Dec 6, 2019 at 2:18 pm

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

Posted by Rose
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 7, 2019 at 10:29 pm

Rose is a registered user.

"Should expectations of board/commission members be clarified, with definitions to elements such as qualifications, term limits, recusals and disclosures, attendance, conduct and a process for removal?"

YES, absolutely. This is way overdue. It's been nearly two years since it came to light that Commissioner Alcheck subverted the intent of city laws with regards to placement of covered parking on two properties in which he had an economic interest. He violated building codes during construction and again after the final inspection. This may be business as usual in Washington DC, but it's not OK in Palo Alto. City Council, please remove Alcheck from the Planning and Transportation Commission. The fact that he is still sitting on the Commission is a disgrace to our City leadership.

Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2019 at 7:15 am

I agree with Fred Balin and Anonymous in Crescent Park. NO public official should be using his/her position for personal gain and clearly Commissioner Alcheck has abused his position, dragging Staff into the mischief. Thank heavens for publicly spirited citizens like Fred Balin who has brought this issue forward. Commissioner Alcheck's actions are sufficiently serious that the Council should remove him from the Planning Commmission.

Posted by Old Palo Alto resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2019 at 7:47 am

Please remove Commissioner Alcheck from his position. I have attended many meeting where he has been quite rude to the public during comment period, who seems to be quite dismissive during the comment period, not paying attention or actually talking while others are speaking. It is clear that he is very biased on various matters and does not vote in the interest of the Palo Alto Residents. Clearly working on his own agenda. Public office is NOT the place for him.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2019 at 8:34 am

There is a big problem with that tunnel being closed. The winter season closure is a big problem for commuters on bikes and commuters in cars who cross San Antonio and in summer it will be a big problem for families.

There was one year that my family and I expected the tunnel to be open for 4th July fireworks and when we discovered it closed we had to use San Antionio. The return at night after fireworks was terrible. Bikes and cars on that bridge in the dark in those types of numbers are dangerous.

I suspect that the tunnel will not be finished on time and that it will be more than one summer without a crossing other than San Antonio in that area.

I sincerely hope there will not be a fatal accident. But if there is, the blame will lie to some extent on the removal of the summer tunnel.

Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2019 at 10:57 am

I have read Balin's report and listened to his remarks at Council, and I am appalled that Alcheck remains in a position to judge other peoples' projects. He has abused his office for his own gain. How can we have any confidence that he is not continuing to make decisions to benefit himself or others?

Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 8, 2019 at 11:17 am

It has been reported in the local press that commissioner waldfogel has donated money to Dubois, filseth and kuo. 3 of the council members that will vote on his reappointment. Does balin have a problem with this? What about the people calling for alcheks removal? Are they okay with these donations. Interesting that this story appeared after the waldfogel donations were reported in the daily post.

Posted by Alcheck
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 8, 2019 at 11:37 am

Alcheck is a registered user.

Please remove Commissioner Alcheck from his position. The council and city government leadership should make ethical service a priority rather than using the positions for self enrichment.

Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2019 at 12:11 pm

It's shameful that Alcheck has been allowed to serve on a city commission -- supposedly representing the best interests of ALL residents -- when he has clearly been serving his own interests.

The city council should have removed him years ago. It's never too late to do the right thing! Take him off the commission NOW!

Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 8, 2019 at 1:42 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

I don't know how Alcheck can be described as anything but corrupt based on his actions, using his position to enrich himself. Unfortunately, the pro development majority in the council who considers him their ally have enabled his actions by not removing him a long time ago.

Posted by Chris Robell
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2019 at 4:28 pm

Fred Balin has done an amazing job in his 112 page report clearly supporting the case for Michael Alcheck's dismissal from the council appointed Planning and Transportation Commission. The fact that Council has done nothing in the months they have had this report is quite disturbing. We do NOT need more process or documentation to state that conflict of interest and using an office for personal benefit is wrong and worthy of termination. That seems like a red herring and rationale for maintaining a pro-development, pro-business majority as status quo.

In addition to clear ethical lapses as Fred outlines, Michael Alcheck's behavior at PTC meetings is unproductive and disrespectful towards others. He sucks the air out of the room.

Council needs to "walk the talk" regarding its stated goal of building trust in local government and ask Michael to step down. And appoint another commissioner with no interest except a desire to help the community (e.g., preferably one who isn't a real estate attorney with developers and businesses as clients).

Posted by Old PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 8, 2019 at 4:56 pm

I would like to see the city council adopt rules and expectations and for their commissioners, with dismissal a consequence for abuse. I realize there is a lot of corruption, but let's do our best to combat it. City Council, please act on this matter.

Posted by Observing Alcheck
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2019 at 6:09 pm

Alcheck's deceptions are so numerous, Fred Balin has done the city a service putting it all together.

Some things I recall about Alcheck:

His sister and business partner wrote (using her married name) to the PTC advocating for his projects, without mentioning their business and family relationship. She is also a real estate attorney.

He lied about his attendance record at the PTC.

He bullied a member of the public from his seat on the dais for something not connected to city business.

He interrupts the discussion mercilessly when it suits him.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Conflicts of interest again and again.

Posted by Observing Alcheck
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2019 at 6:36 pm

Has it been mentioned that he sold the Phillips Rd house in April 2019 for Eight Million dollars?
So we don't need to shed crocodile tears for this wily real estate lawyer.

Did I mention $8,000,000?

Posted by concerned growth
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 8, 2019 at 7:44 pm

I am SHOCKED by the amount of corruption in Palo Alto politics. Disgusting. Are these rules or etiquette pointers? Suspected corruption should be "pursued with tact" !!??? This reads like parenting advice, not a legal rule, policy, or way to dismiss a corrupt politician: "If a Council member has concerns with a particular board or commission member fulfilling his or her roles and responsibilities and is comfortable in talking with that individual privately, the council member should do so.." Absurd.

Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2019 at 8:19 pm

Alcheck is just the tip of the iceberg.

Local government has been completely corrupted by the real-estate industry. The corruption is not limited to Palo Alto. The corruption of local government by the real-estate industry is a California problem. Alcheck is just a brash and somewhat reckless real-estate operator that has as much contempt for the corrupt politicians who put him on the Board, as he does for the public.

Alcheck is becoming an embarrassment. Alcheck will have to go, so the corrupt infrastructure that put him on the Board can be preserved.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 9, 2019 at 10:15 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Alcheck has long been enough of an embarrassment that Los Altos barred him from interfering with their zoning issues, telling him to confine himself to messing up Palo Alto.

Web Link

That was 5 years ago yet Palo Alto STILL allows him to serve.

Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 9, 2019 at 11:07 am

Becky Sanders is a registered user.

Government is not here to serve itself but to serve the people. Holding office is not equivalent to holding a fiefdom, but some appointeds and electeds appear to use their position for self aggrandizement and cronyism. We need our council to police itself and its commissions and committees and to demonstrate strong, ethical leadership. Stonewalling around Alcheck is one example of ducking responsibility and subverting the course of justice and fairness. It’s the Council’s job to say, "Michael, this is not okay. We accept your resignation effective immediately." As the Council debates policies this evening, I hope they will put in very strong language that makes it clear that the Council is in charge of and ultimately responsible for the actions of its commissioners. And they should “fire” Alcheck immediately.

And of course I have to mention Ventura Neighborhood. We are watching rich people benefit from bending the rules to serve themselves. We don’t want anyone bending rules to serve us, but we want everyone to have to play by the same playbook. It makes it hard for residents to trust and to believe that government acts in the best interests of the residents who voted for them when Council allows this kind of shenanigans to go unaddressed.

I did a little digging and learned that Fred Balin created his amazing investigative report and didn’t earn a dime for it. He did it by himself and asked a few trusted friends to proof it and fact check it for him. What a guy! Fred knows what public service is about. Fred Balin for City Council. Thank you Fred. You’re leading the way!

Posted by Member of another PA neighborhood
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 9, 2019 at 11:23 am

Alcheck's illegal Commission actions have been abundantly bared by Ballin and for that alone he should be removed. In addition, the absence of his disruptive manner would make the actions of the commission more civil and productive. His pro-development posture is also a problem for many in Palo Alto.

Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 9, 2019 at 11:34 am

Asher waldfogel also needs to leave the commission. His donations to council members that will vote on his position does not smell right.

Posted by Enough already
a resident of Downtown North

on Dec 9, 2019 at 11:52 am

Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.

Posted by Enough already...
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 9, 2019 at 12:31 pm

Balin’s investigation is long winded, inaccurate and transparently biased. Alcheck is a source of local pride for me. There isn’t a single person involved in local issues who comes close to articulating me and my families views on the challenges that face this community. I encourage the council to focus their attention on addressing more pressing concerns and ignore this incessant misinformation campaign.

Posted by 6Djockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 9, 2019 at 1:24 pm

6Djockey is a registered user.

I agree with Fred Balin. No commissioner should use his position for personal gain. And Commissioner Alcheck did just that. He should be removed from the commission.

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 9, 2019 at 6:10 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I think the Alcheck thing for many is like a stalking horse -- maybe along the line of what Rebecca Sanders is saying, above -- to turn the conversation away from more important community deliberations: Castilleja, Ventura/Frys, Cubberley.

if you read enough of these PAW boards, or my blog, you might know that I've taken pubic stances or issued public statements criticizing and even mocking him -- like his overly stylish-hair -- but over time I've come to like Mike.

I think Rebecca Eisenberg raised some relevent points in her commission interview last week about political spoils and the appointments. It's viewable online, a public record.

Ideally the system would be open to hiring new blood and new ideas, with commissioners and board members being a training ground for new council members, but instead it looks like cronyism.

The interviews themselves are a bully pulpit for new aspirant leaders, and generate a lot of ideas.

(It's too bad some unelected deep state power convinced us to reduce input by 22 percent via council configuration...)

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Posted by Another Giveaway, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Alcheck is just the tip of the iceberg.

When it becomes too inconvenient, they will move him along. But the Developer's power and influence will remain.

Posted by Re: Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2019 at 1:19 pm

I agree with you about Alcheck. After reading your post I went to Midpenmedia's website and watched the interviews. In my view Alcheck's an easy target because he lacks the patience required when expressing his views in the face of so many nimby's who clearly frustrate him. I can't say I blame him though.

With respect to Rebecca Eisenberg, I'm not sure I can agree. I watched her interview for the PTC. Her approach is so ineffective. I've seen her interview before as well and I would suggest that her tactic this time is not that different than last time. She is abrasive in her commmunication style and she is so over confident about the accuracy of her "legal" knowledge that she has a difficult time recognizing how few people agree with her. It may be comforting to her that she believes her view is "correct" but her failure to appreciate that those who disagree with her may actually have a valid view point is problematic.

Her assertion that Asher Waldfogel's donations to the political campaigns of Dubois and Kou and Filseth are problematic are not inaccurate. And Dubois suggestion that they are not illegal is also true. What she failed to articulate clearly and respectfully, is that Dubois & Kou can't possibly now vote for Asher's renomination without the cloud of the $30,000 donation he made to their election effort creating the impression that they are now rewarding his support with a position of power (as a sitting commissioner). I found the suggestion by Dubois that appointing someone to a non-paying volunteer position as hardly a rewarding gesture so rediculous. If Asher applies for something and you give it to him it doesn't matter if you think the position is worthless - he clearly doesn't.

Finally, I found the most interesting thing about the interviews that several of applicants remarked that the commission (in their view) had operated very professionally in their view. For example, the local attorney who applied suggested that he's seen very dysfunctional commissions and nothing he saw on our PTC made him wince.

Interesting, when Asher was asked about what he was proud of he brought up his work on the Comprehensive Plan suggesting that he gets stuff done. I remember Asher largely trying to obstruct that process arguing that the 90 days the Commission reviewed it was not enough and frequently moving and voting to delay the process. I found it particularly interesting that he said that the process to get that done was something he was proud of considering Alcheck was the chair of the commission at the time and is largely to thank for keeping the Comprehensive Plan review on track.

This is long winded but for sure there is two sides to every story. I think those who suggest otherwise have questionable motives and if you can't find an equal number of things you like and hate about Alcheck then you are operating with some significant bias because from what I believe is an objective standpoint he's also contributed very positively to our city. It is remarkable to watch the interviews of the PTC applicants. So many of them seem underqualified. A few clearly have the background to be of value but the politics always seems to get in the way doesn't it.

Posted by Observing Alcheck
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2019 at 4:00 pm

The fact that you have gotten to like Alcheck has possibly made you blind to his conflicts of interest. He maneuvered the Codes to allow him to build an illegal garage, as a working Commissioner, for his private gain. Like 8 MILLION dollars for one of his houses.

I suggest you take a look at Fred Balin's document, just skim it if you are very impatient. Then you won't sound ignorant, basing your opinion just on the interviews.

Posted by Re: Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2019 at 5:39 pm

Oh I'm familiar with the Balin bonanza. And while I haven't familiarized myself with his report, I've heard him speak about it more than a few times. I think I understand very clearly what Alcheck did. He used gaps in the code to build a fancy house. Unfortunately, every day seems to bring another home that's "like 8 MILLION dollars" so the price tag alone isn't proof of a crime. And like I said, his manuever, as I understand it, wasn't illegal. The claims by Balin and others that it was wrong is an opinion not a fact. That is why Alcheck got away with it. It wasn't illegal and it wasn't actually wrong. I've also never understood the arguement that it was injurious to people. Wouldn't nearly everyone on his block benefit from the sale price if in fact it was higher as a result of his maneuver? And aren't all the other houses on that street the same?

In any case, I also suspect that the arguement that he abused his power is a stretch too. But I respect your opinion, and will agree to disagree with you on that one. No need to suggest I am ignorant.

And as a former prosecutor I feel obliged to add that you must keep in mind, Balin is an accuser, not a judge. There is a big difference. His report, from what I can tell, is like a fox news story. What's their tag line again? "Fair and balanced." I wouldn't subscribe to the view that Balin's accusations are fair and balanced. There seems to be lots of support for Balin on these Town Square boards, but being well liked doesn't make your accusations true. And publishing them in a report doesn't either. And while every accusation doesn't deserve its day in court, every defendant does. And for that reason, I do subscribe to the view that the accused are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law (and not a court of public opinion).

Oh and before someone perverts what I am saying, I think they should definately impeach Trump. If for nothing else, obstruction.

Posted by Complicit
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2019 at 8:10 am

Liz Kniss, at this Monday's City Council meeting, said that having the City Council vote on Alcheck's removal wouldn't foster community or be a nice thing to do in the community. Seriously? So someone uses their position on a commission for their own personal gain, and we don't want to do anything about it? If Alcheck were asked to resign in a dignified manner and refuses, there is NO reason why Council shouldn't vote. To not vote is to be complicity in the crime of condoning conflicts of interest.

Speaking of which, how many more years until Liz Kniss' FCPA campaign violation is ever addressed?

Mark: you need to read Fred Balin's report. His garage would NOT have been approved but for the fact that he worked to change the zoning to allow what he wanted. And to say "gosh, who was harmed" isn't the point. He build something that wasn't legal until he used his position to change zoning. Whether the old zoning or new zoning that Alcheck railroaded isn't the point. I hope you can see how this is wrong. If you don't, please don't run for any office or commission. We need people focused on the betterment of our community, not focused on personal enrichment.

Posted by Re: Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2019 at 10:03 am

As I understand it, the code only changed after his project was approved. I think other's might be able to explain it better but I'm pretty confident that his permit to build a carport was approved long before any changes to the code were even considered. I'm not saying he didn't out maneuver the code, I'm just saying he followed the code as it was written and that is why he succeeded.

He was legally permitted to build that carport. And as I understand it from the City Attorney, when he sought to convert the carport to garage he was denied and appealed that decision seeking council review and staff bungled that review. In the end, his maneuvering is what then created the motivation to change the code to prevent others from doing the same. And he then argued that the change ought not to be made in essence preserving the path for others since he didn't think the result was injurious to others. Its complicated for sure but not criminal or unethical.

Posted by Observing Alcheck
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2019 at 11:26 am

>"And as I understand it from the City Attorney.."

Is that the City Attorney who ruled the other day that a member who was recused and who was not in the room, was still counted as present (for a vote that favored landlords).
Yep, that's our City Attorney.

Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 11, 2019 at 11:34 am

It is pretty clear that the reason for this article about the balin fantasy is that the story about waldfogel and his donations to 3 council members was becoming public. Deflect attention with a biased document attacking another commissioner. Meanwhile the organization that backs these 3 council members has mobilized their acolytes to attack alcheks praise balin. Now Also that the 3 council members are trying to spin the story to their advantage. At a minimum they should recuse themselves from voting on waldfogel. At a maximum they should resign from the council for unethical behavior.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2019 at 1:03 pm

The reason for the above article is because the city council has undertaken a review of their policies related to their interactions with boards and commissions. One of the focus topics is the desire to establish a clearer process for how to remove a commissioner for misconduct or other valid reasons. As Liz Kniss and others have noted, Alcheck’s conduct is what has brought that issue to the forefront.
At a minimum, Alcheck misrepresented to the building department his plans on an investment property he owned. He then illegally violated the plans he submitted. Concurrently, he participated on the commission in a way that would directly benefit his own investments. His own sister, who jointly owned the property with Alcheck, testified on the subject without her or Alcheck disclosing that relationship. Conflict of interest guidelines identify this sort of relationship as a conflict. Alcheck’s actions are as clear and flagrant ethical violations as the city has seen from an official in a long time.
Posters have raised the issue of whether council members have a conflict if board or commission members contributed to their political campaigns. The law is clear that board members are free to make such contributions and they do not represent conflicts of interest.
It should be noted that for eight years Waldfogel served admirably on the important Utility Commission. His expertise was respected across the council political spectrum and was a key consideration when the council first appointed him to the Planning Commission four years ago. It is clear that Waldfogel serves based on his strong skills and contributions to the commissions.
It should also be noted that two recent Planning Commission appointments, Susan Monk and Kari Templeton, were appointed without any clear background or service that qualified them for those appointments. Their only real civic involvement was their key roles in city council campaigns for Kniss and Cormack.

Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 11, 2019 at 1:36 pm

So waldfogel is responsible for the fact that the city siphons of money from the utility fund to pay for their pipe dreams and then hikes the rates of the public? The issue of donations to council members by commission members needs to be addressed.
BTW this article came out before the council decided to address the commissions. It came out to deflect attention away from certain council members and their taking money from commissioners they will be voting on. IMHO, their actions are much more serious then the lawful actions of Alchek.

Posted by Re: Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2019 at 1:44 pm


My understanding is significantly different than yours. And nearly every statement of fact you've made is an accusation that has yet to be proven. I think that's the crux of the problem here. Your accusations that Alcheck "misrepresented" "illegally violated" and "directly benefited" from participation has not been proven true - they remain accusations mainly supported by simmilarly unproven claims by Balin. At some point the accusations have simply been accepted as fact and that is not how these things are supposed to go.

I have to acknowledge that your choice to throw in a jab at Susan Monk and Cari Templeton at the end of your comment suggests serious levels of bias. Cari was quite successful in her professional career in tech and earned a master's degree from Stanford. She has been involved locally for over a decade and has been elected to the board of the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus. She sits on numerous committees and on paper appears superbly qualified to serve our City on the PTC. Susan Monk I don't know as well, but I believe she was a licensed California attorney which suggests that she does have some significant familiarity with legal issues, certainly more than the average individual.

The fact that you questioned their qualifications and impuned their appointments with the suggestion that they were based on some form of nepotism is interesting only because you left out a similar critique of Doria Summa who similarly has been intimately involved in several city council member's election efforts just prior to her appointment to the citizen advisory committee and shortly after to the planning commission. What remarkable qualifications does she have that Cari and Susan do not that caused you to leave her out of your critique?

Could it be that you didn't attacke Doria in the same way because her contributions to the PTC have largely alinged with your views? When one attacks the entire left side of the table universally without ever acknowlegding the imperfections of the right side of the table they are in essence running the Congressional Republican play book.

And to double back on another point, the contributions Asher made to Kou and Dubois are problematic not because they are illegal, but because they force one to ask whether the appointment was purchased and not earned. It is a perception issue. I wonder how you would feel if Alcheck or Templeton had donated $20,000 to Kniss or Fine or Cormack's campaign. Would you have argued that such contributions are not problematic? It seems highly doubtful.

This is why I will only trust a neutral arbiter of facts. If the Council wishes to amend the procedures, they should create a procedure for determining whether "in fact" someone has abused their power or benefited financially from their participation. And there should be a process allowing members of the public to submit their concerns and receive the findings of such legal determinations. Balin's conclussions are not findings of fact they are accusations and they build on each other creating an exceptionally weak case. Resolving yourself to simply accept his conclussions is perverting the process that we should all be advocating for.

Posted by @Are donations ok?
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Yes, donations are ok! Of course they're ok. This is still a democracy. Waldfogel's support of Kou, Filseth and Dubois is not even news. His gifts have been reported on ad nauseum. There is nothing cloak and dagger going on. You clearly have some personal axe to grind with Waldfogel because if you bothered to check you would discover that , surprise, surprise, Alcheck supported city councillors in past elections. You'll probably find most of the PTC if not everyone on the PTC have. For certain, Dan Garber contributed to city council campaigns when he was on the PTC. This is not nefarious. It is not even unusual. It is commonplace.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 12, 2019 at 8:11 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Re: Mark Weiss wrote:
“I wonder how you would feel if Alcheck or Templeton had donated $20,000 to Kniss or Fine or Cormack's campaign. Would you have argued that such contributions are not problematic? It seems highly doubtful.”

It depends. In the home stretch of the 2018 City Council campaign, Commissioner Alcheck contributed $250 to the campaign of Council Member Cory Wolbach, and the campaign treasurer accepted it and deposited it. A year earlier, Wolbach had been the swing vote in Alcheck’s most recent four-year reappointment. Five months later, in March 2018, I revealed initial news of the carport-to-garage caper, and it was expanded in the press.

The news in Fall 2018 of Alcheck’s campaign contribution coincided with an upcoming candidates’ forum. Kind of embarrassing for a candidate, wouldn’t you say?

When questioned at the forum, Wolbach said that he did not realize what was happening with the garage project at the time of that vote, would have had a "much more difficult time" reappointing the commissioner, and suggested "resignation might be necessary."

"That behavior was unacceptable. I think we all agree about that," he said. The campaign contribution was returned a few days later

That was about a year before I completed work on and released my investigation report in September of this year. Now we know much more, and it is neither flattering nor exculpatory.

Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 12, 2019 at 10:47 pm

So, Fred, I assume now you will be upset if filseth, kuo and Dubois vote for waldfogel the next time his position comes up for a vote, since they received money from waldfogel.

Posted by @FredBalin
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2019 at 12:31 pm

As someone now familiar with the so called “carport to garage caper” I must say Fred you have gone to enormous lengths to put into question Alcheck’s reputation. I believe that if you are as familiar with the facts as you claim to be than you should know better than anyone how untrue the accusations are against him.

Equating accusations with statements of facts jeopardizes one’s credibility. And credibility once lost, never returns. I encourage anyone who wishes to know the truth to speak with Alcheck as I have. Do your own research as I have and you will be astonished by just how easy it was for someone to confuse the timeline of events and mislead the public and the press. Just this week a retraction was made when Gennady wrote that Alcheck benefited from his participation on the Commission. Almost immediately that lie was corrected but frankly too little to late.

It appears to me that a personal vendetta is behind this effort and it seriously concerns me that someone has been able to turn this situation into such a toxic cloud. Here’s what I learned when I asked the questions myself...

Alcheck’s architects (yes, it’s their work product on his behalf) submitted plans to the building department in late 2014 and early 2015 which were approved in March of 2015. The plans included carports which were legally permissible under the code. There was some back and forth between the staff reviewing the plans and Alcheck’s design team (which according to the building department is typical of nearly every set of plans that is ever submitted). And yes I spoke to building department staff and you should too.

The decision to approve the plans and grant the permit in March of 2015, according to the staff, was entirely legally legitimate. And, in my view, not relevant in any way to his role as a commissioner. Commissioners, board members and council members are not forbidden (nor should the be) from improving their homes during their tenures. I also learned from staff directly that Alcheck received more scrutiny (not less) on his application simply because of his position at the time. Staff acknowledged that mistakes are sometimes made in the review process but when a public official applies they are twice as careful to avoid them.

At the end of 2015 (9 or so months later) the Commission reviewed for the first time ever, an item titled the “Annual Code Clean Up” which included 30-40 revisions to the municipal code (covering a wide range of topics) which Staff suggested were non-substantive. As explained to me by one of the staff members in the room during the meeting, the Commission was tasked with determining whether the revisions (which in every case were specific word additions, deletions or adjustments) were substantive or non-substantive. During that discussion a handful of the recommended changes were identified by the Commission as being substantive changes and the Commission recommended that Staff agendize a specific discussion for those items so that the public may weigh in and staff could better explain the impacts of the substantive changes. That is kind of meeting that Alcheck participated in. That is the kind of meeting that he’s been accused of failing to recuse himself from.

Recusal for what, I wanted to know. So I asked and I learned from numerous sources, including one of our assistant city attorneys, that his property rights were in no way affected by the changes proposed in any of the meetings he participated in. The assistant city attorney even explained to me that had the change staff recommended been adopted the very next day, his carports which were under construction would not have been affected. And the change wouldn’t have altered his rights later to enclose the carport into a garage either. WAIT WHAT!?! I had her explain this to me twice. The suggestion that he benefited from participating in these meetings is a lie.

What’s quite problematic and possibly unethical is that the report Fred Balin produced uses the fact that Alcheck’s construction took over a year and half to complete in such a way that it confuses the timeline. When Alcheck was granted the right to build the carports it was legal. Today it is not. The meetings were in between. But the carport was finished after. And the garage was enclosed after too. But most importantly, the permits to build the carports pre-existed all the meetings. And it is still legal to enclose the garage at his property. That never changed. And it should never change because it makes no sense to disallow owners of carports to enclose their carports if they have that right today. Now I’m not an attorney but I get it. And you don’t have to be an attorney to get it either.

So while it is true that what Alcheck was approved to do (build carports in March of 2015) cannot be approved today, at no point did Alcheck participate in a hearing that would have affected his property rights. Staff has acknowledged that and so has our city attorneys.

And here is the kicker...... even if dislike carports, and you are upset that he received a building permit to build carports when the law allowed people to do so, his right to do so and his exercise of that right has NOTHING to do with his fitness to be a commissioner. Maybe you don’t like the way he speaks on the Commission. Sure I’ll give you that, but I don’t like the way Riggs, Asher and Doria do either. And frankly I think the way Councilwoman Kou often attacks her fellow Councilmembers is even worse if we’re concerned with decorum. But lets not conflate these issues.

If you believe Alcheck’s actions subverted the intent of the code because he did in two steps what he couldn’t do in one (a statement Fred Balin has made numerous times), consider what the assistant City Attorney explained to me, if the code doesn’t state its intent, no intent should be inferred. What do you mean I asked? She suggested the following, Alcheck’s code compliant approval to build his Carport, made it possible for that very same carport’s enclosure to be legally permissible as well. I then asked if there were other examples of a two step processes and she gave me a few, one I’ll share. Under our building code, new single family homes have to include covered parking structures. You can’t build a house without at least one covered parking space (carport or garage). But once you finish construction you can convert that garage/carport immediately into an ADU and eliminate your previously required covered parking. Wait I wondered, why doesn’t the city allow you to build a new home and a new ADU at the same time? They just don’t. Does the city consider it criminal or immoral to do in two steps what you can’t do in one? No, it does not. And suggesting that such actions are criminal or immoral is non-sense.

So back to the conflict of interest issue, after it became clear to me that he didn’t have have a financial conflict of interest. I was told that recusal could have also been required because of the “perception of a conflict.” Honestly at this point I figured that must be how they get him. Not for actually abusing his power, but just for being perceived as abusing his power.

It turns out that however, accusing someone of a financial conflict of interest when none exists DOES NOT create a perception of a conflict of interest. According to the assistant city attorney, a perception of a conflict of interest is created when a Commissioner may reasonably be understood as having two competing interests. And if a case can be made that there are competing interest than while there may be no actual conflict, the perception is sufficient to require recusal. So what is the competing interest? What interest of Alcheck’s would be furthered from him participating in a discussion that had no impact on his property rights in any way. No one I spoke to had an answer for this. My conclusion that there is no reasonable understanding that Alcheck had competing interest. His participation in those meetings could not have improved the value of his property. The fact that it is a complicated set of facts does not change this determination.

This brings me to the most disturbing and frankly most relevant thing I learned in my effort to uncover the facts. Alcheck sought review by the council in a public hearing (for all to see). When his permit to enclose his garage was denied by city staff he appealed their determination and sought a hearing before our City Council in September of 2017. That was long before Fred Balin made his claims. I was astonished to learn this. Alcheck actually requested a hearing before the entire City Council. He wanted to present his case to them about the carports he had built and why he should be permitted to enclose. All long before Fred Balin made his claims. So why, why didn’t that hearing take place??? What reason has been given for why he didn’t get to argue his case before Council? Surprisingly, none. This is the most disturbing piece of this story. No explanation from Staff has been given. I couldn’t get an answer to this question from anyone, including Alcheck (he claims none was given to him either).

His response to me was “what would you do if you felt that a permit was denied in error? Would you seek a higher review?“ My response to him was yes. Of course I would. So now I ask you Fred Balin, what would you do if when you appealed the decision through the prescribed process, you were never granted that appeal? Would you consult with an attorney? I would. And what if the attorney told you that your only legal recourse would be to file your appeal in Superior Court if the City won’t agendize the appeal you’ve requested per the City’s own guidelines, would you notify staff of your intent to file your appeal in court? I would.

The crazy thing is that I would never had gone to the lengths to understand this ridiculous series of events had Fred Balin not raised all this commotion and relentlessly shared his claims week in and week out for the last year on this issue. But I am so glad that I did my own research because it is abundantly clear to me now that this entire take down effort involves highly questionable motives. The accusations that have morphed into false statements of fact are toxic to our community and if justice is served these false claims and the report they are enshrined in will one day be treated accordingly.

And since I’m here already, contributions of $200-300 are not the same as $20,000-30,000. This false equivalency once again demonstrates that the vendetta is so personal that nearly all logic has been set aside in the effort to take down Alcheck and shield from scrutiny the more troubling behavior of others in our city government.

PS. After reading this through a second time before submitting, I think I may publish my own report.

Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:40 pm

@fredbalin- excellent response to balins hit piece. Let's be honest, balin is associated with pasz. The news of waldfogel 5 figure donations to the pasz council members just broke. There was a need to deflect from that issue, so the balin report was pushed into print. Balin seems to have a problem with a few hundreds of dollars given to wolbach. It would be hypocritical of him to not object to the waldfogel donations. The pasz 3 are already in spin mode.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 13, 2019 at 8:16 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

The material that Rebecca Eisenberg submitted to the Palo Alto Daily Post for their December 4 edition was not new, but it was certainly designed and timed to denigrate Commissioner Asher Waldfogel and impugn his integrity just prior to the city council’s appointment to an open P&TC seat at the end of Waldfogel's current four-year term.

I have confidence that all our city council members will completely disregard this attempt and Eisenberg's subsequent rant the next day during her interview as they go through their decision-making process leading to a vote on Monday.

That some on this forum would also raise this nasty red herring is disturbing. And to add insult to potential injury, conflating Asher Waldfogel's campaign donations with that of his wife's in effect presents her as a mere appendage, not entitled to her own decision on who, when, why, and how much to contribute to a candidate.


But we do have a problem in Palo Alto with campaign contributions that needs public attention.

I clearly remember the 2016 city council fear-and-fundraising campaigns: The local Chamber of Commerce, which is not allowed to endorse candidates, instead sends “recommendations" to its membership. Some candidates not on the list get nervous and accept very large donations from a group of residents. The result leads to outsourced marketing and negative campaigning. Chamber favorites panic in return, go deep and late into a plentiful yet ready well, incurring missteps still under adjudication by the state.

In this kind of campaign, the sky is the limit, and we all lose.

Why is there no limit on individual campaign contributions and total expenditures in Palo Alto? Mountain View has had a voluntary cap for years, and although there is no legal obligation to follow it, the cap holds via a shared norm and the publication of violators.

Council Candidate Cory Wolbach, to his significant credit in 2014, instituted a $250 contribution limit. After election, he sought support for a voluntary cap among colleagues, but did not have sufficient takers by election season 2018 and abandoned the idea.

Citizens of Palo Alto need to take control to bring this important concept to fruition. It is probably too late to do so for 2020, but if leading candidates in next year's city council race do not voluntarily announce and adhere to reasonable contribution and expenditure limits, citizens should seriously consider crafting their own initiative to go on the ballot after the election.

Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 13, 2019 at 8:37 pm

LOL, Fred. Can you say hypocrite? You raise the issue of a $300 donation by Alchek to wolbach and say it influenced his vote. Yet you have no issue with 5 figure donations that waldfogel made to the pasz 3. I see this as a preemtory defense of kuo, filseth and Dubois when they vote for waldfogel.
Then you attack the daily post story. Was it inaccurate? Or are you just upset that these donations have been brought to light? Did the weekly report on these donations?
Then you have the gall to complain that they are impuning waldfogel. Yet you have no problem attacking Alchek with a fantasy report claiming he did not follow the rules.
Then you act outraged with comments like "nasty red herring"? The only nasty red herring is your report on Alchek.
Is there no end to the lengths that the pasz acolytes will go to push through their short sighted agenda.

Posted by Helyn MacLean
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2019 at 10:02 am

While I’ve enjoyed being nameless, or at best “the wife” these last four years,  the donations were mine.  I’m far less active in the community than Asher, and I have a thinner skin, but, I do follow politics and I have, and continue to, make my own political donations.  Some background. I’ve been a registered Democrat since 1980.  I decided to make large donations to Lydia Kou and Arthur Keller in 2016 after the California Democratic Party, which historically did not interfere in council races,  endorsed two pro-development candidates who had been either Republican (Tanaka) or decline to state (Fine) over those long-time Democrats.  Greg Scharff, a pro-development candidate had set a precedent for bigger spending, with his own money, in the 2014 Council election. (BTW, Dubois wasn’t a candidate in 2016 and I’m sure he’s wondering where that “large donation” got to).  I was also concerned that big developer money would come into the election, which of course, turned out to be the case.  Unfortunately, that money was concealed until after election day.  
Betsy Bechtel, who was honorary chair of Fine’s campaign, wrote a letter accusing me (and Asher, who didn’t sign the checks), and others of “trying to buy the election”.  It was a politically motivated hit piece intended to embarrass and discredit.  Unfortunately, it did. I’ve seen Betsy at Democratic fundraisers.  She doesn’t object to big money, she just objects when it isn’t going her way.  If I had given that money to Fine, Tanaka and Kniss, Betsy would be inviting me to toddle off with her and Liz to yoga.
And, Becky, I think you’re great, but, praising Kniss for her past service is a bit like praising Rudy Giuliani for his service as mayor of New York.  Historically accurate, but, no longer relevant. And, I suspect neither of us will get invited to Liz’s annual chowder fest.  

Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 14, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Right on Helyn
You rock but more importantly you speak the truth to power!
Than you

Posted by The Munchkins
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2019 at 10:06 pm

I’m reminded tonight of my favorite Judy Garland movie.

“Once there was a wicked witch in the lovely land of Oz
And a wickeder, wickeder, wickeder witch there never, never was
She filled the folks in Munchkin land with terror and with dread
'Till one fine day from Kansas way a cyclone caught a house
That brought the wicked, wicked witch her doom
As she was flying on her broom
For the house fell on her head and the coroner pronounced her dead
And thru the town the joyous news was spread
Ding-dong, the witch is dead! Which old witch? The wicked witch
Ding-dong, the wicked witch is dead.”

Christmas came early. Goodbye and good riddance.

Posted by Re: Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 17, 2019 at 12:34 pm

I keep checking back every day here to see if Fred Balin is going to respond to @FredBalin's comment.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 21, 2019 at 4:04 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Thank you to Helyn MacLean for stepping forward.

Many, many thanks to Asher Waldfogel for his service to the city and the community during his term on the P&TC following two terms on the Utilities Advisory Commission, with both commission stints coinciding with his work on the Library Technology Advisory Commission. From this vantage point, watching the P&TC, Commissioner Waldfogel has impressed with his intelligence; thoughtful, well-spoken, direct, and concise comments and ideas; and with his dignity and integrity. The city should issue a proclamation of appreciation, while those who have denigrated his service and motives need to look inward.

Congratulations to Barton Hechtman on his appointment to the P&TC. A calm demeanor, patience, and humility were on display at his interview. His stated inclination to build bridges and look for value in minority views are positive aspirations. His credentials in land use are obviously strong. His stated respect for thorough and balanced staff reports can be a crucial plus. His direct and unembellished acknowledgement of his more limited experience in the areas of transportation and P&TC meetings past is appreciated. He will have roads to hoe to come up to speed on a host of plans, codes, methodologies, and, of course, projects — past, pending, and future. To the extent that he dives in, while carefully tackling staff reports on the docket, displays an open mind, respects current law, and exhibits a commitment to reliable studies of impacts and the full mitigation of significant ones, he can be a worthy successor at this seat.

And right off the bat, Commissioner Hechtman will face an important test during his first meeting, currently scheduled for January 29, and for which there will be no staff report for guidance. I refer to the commission’s upcoming vote for the positions of Chair and Vice Chair for 2020. Michael Alcheck is currently Vice Chair, having nominated himself at the P&TC meeting last January and then elected, 4-3, including the votes of two new commissioners. They did not have the prior experience of sitting at the dais with Alcheck or reading my report, which was submitted to the city 6 months later.

And so I now turn to the post of a few days ago from Re: Mark Weiss, his 5th on this thread, this time seeking a response to comments made by someone using the alias @FredBalin.

Re: Mark Weiss would most likely acknowledge that he is not to be confused with (the real) Mark Weiss, nor with @FredBalin, and certainly not with @AsherWalfogel who appeared on another Town Square thread where Re: Mark Weiss’s posts were deleted due to the PA Online infraction “removed due to same poster using multiple names.” Web Link

Re: Mark Weiss, on this thread, states that he is a former prosecutor, and that while he has not familiarized himself with my report, he sees it as a Fox News piece. He also informs us that he has been in communication with the city attorney, who has willingly told him/her of how staff “bungled" its review of Alcheck’s second set of applications (in 2017) among other things.

@FredBalin above, also states that he/she has been in communication with the city attorney, and also, at least one assistant city attorney, planning staff and the building department, and the recounting here indicates that they were quite willing to speak with him/her in detail to support a case that there was nothing inappropriate about Alcheck’s actions in the matter of his two redevelopment applications.

My My.

A few questions come to mind at this juncture.

1. Neither the planing nor building department has released any public statement on this matter. So who within those departments is providing this information?

2. The city attorney has stated in the press in relation to this matter that "any advice about the appropriateness of a commissioner's prior conduct would be confidential.” So who in the city attorney’s office is providing the information above?

3. And who can just walk into City Hall, easily gain access to staff in various departments, for information and commentary on a matter, which is under such scrutiny.

My answer to all three questions is no one.

@FredBalin states in his/her effort “to know the truth” that he/she has spoken with Michael Alcheck and later concludes his/her post with the following PS: "After reading this through a second time before submitting, I think I may publish my own report.”

If Commissioner Alcheck is reading this, I suggest he encourage his supporter to do so, and under his real name, and with all citations clearly attributed either in the public record or by the name of each individual quoted or paraphrased.


The main body of my report is 86 pages, including 63 footnotes, visuals and tables, and followed by 12 reference attachments. Wrapped around my regular work, it took 18 months to complete and is based on extensive research, outreach, and analysis. On page 2, I state "Kindly notify me of anything that you may find to be factually incorrect at [email protected] . I have been very careful but am certainly not infallible.

Below is a brief distillation of some key items in the report:

1. In 2015, staff mistakenly allowed Michael Alcheck to take advantage of a loophole in the Contextual Garage Placement code and permitted him to build carports in the front of his residential property to be redeveloped as well as that of an investment property.

2. As a direct result of these approvals, planning staff bought forth to the P&TC in September 2015, a revision to close the loophole.

3. Although the two Alcheck properties had received permits, the P&TC hearings on the Contextual Garage Placement code could have had an impact on his economic interests. For example, if changes to the code prevented those who had taken advantage of the loophole, from converting a carport into a garage this would have worked against his economic interests. Such a possibility was in fact stated later on in an email from the planning director to the city council and then demonstrated when a council member crafted a motion to do just that. But at the 2015 P&TC meetings on this matter, Commissioner Alcheck did not disclose his economic interests and recuse, rather he steered discussion in favor of protecting his economic interests.

4. During construction on the two properties, Alcheck built his carports beyond specification in the approved plans, violations of the building code.

5. Later, in 2017, Commission Chair Alcheck without filing an application, submitting plans, or receiving permits, added a roll-up garage door at each site. After neighbors complained, the city forced him to remove them and a notice of violation was issued.

6. In Fall 2017, once again planning staff brought to the P&TC changes to the Contextual Garage Placement code to close the loophole, as well as other items that could have impacted his economic interests in the two properties. At the same time his new application to convert his carports to garages had not been approved. As Observing Alcheck wrote earlier, his economic interest in the outcome was underscored by an email from his sister (writing under her married name) who was managing member of the investment property. In the email, she argued against staff’s proposed changes. This indicates that there was real concern among the investment group, which included Commissioner Alcheck, that the proposed changes could impact the value of the property. Alcheck did not disclose his economic or sibling relationship.


I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported the report on this thread; in letters to, and oral comments in front of, the city council; and in otter ways. We are making progress, albeit not as fast as one might hope for. Such is often the way of government.

Two months after its release, however, a proposed process for removal of a board or commission member is part of the work of a new city council subcommittee (Council Members Cormack and DuBois) that will report back in February as part of an effort to update council policy and procedures as they relate to boards and commissions.

Thanks in advance for you help to continue to move this effort along in the proper direction. Feel free to contacting me with any questions or suggestions.

-Fred Balin 12/21/19

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