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Rise of committees divides Palo Alto council

Original post made on May 3, 2013

A surge of pressing issues and an ambitious 2013 agenda have caused a proliferation of new committees on the Palo Alto City Council, but some members are questioning whether these committees -- and their membership -- have become too exclusive and too powerful.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 3, 2013, 9:26 AM

Comments (21)

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 10:01 am

So many issues here.

One issue that seems to jump out at us is the lack of procedure involving Council matters that seem to often enshroud City of Palo Alto business. For instance—“Mayor” Greg Schraff says that “it’s time to begin negotiations on the Cubberley Center.” Really? Why?

We know that we have to renew the Cubberley lease, or not renew the lease, or do something else. So—who’s role is it to put together the lease documents, and start negotiations—the lessee, or the property owner? Most people would agree that that role should be the property owner’s responsibility. But here—Greg Scharff seems to be charging into the closed doors of a secret Council session without having a lease proposal on the table. Why?

Why, in this day and age, shouldn’t there be a simple checklist of activities that need to be completed in order to bring business to the Council? And why shouldn’t the City Manager be the person responsible for creating this checklist, and insuring that it is properly executed for every matter brought before the Council?

Greg Scharff increasingly seems to see Palo Alto City Government as his personal toy—not an institution with rules, and “processes”. The City Manager seems to be almost invisible in this situation. Why? Isn’t he being paid enough (at $240K/year plus a lavish pension and other benefits) to do the job he should be doing?

At the very minimum, the School District, as property owner, needs to put a new lease on the table for the public to review. Some sort of public hearing should then be scheduled, and then, and only then, should there be any closed sessions about the matter.

If the City Manager is not going to do his job—what good is he?

Posted by Anon
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 3, 2013 at 10:44 am


It is not the managers job to set council procedures. council actually sets it themselves. there is a link to the procedures right on the website. Keene is deficient in many respects, but this one is not his fault. Keene is invisible here because he is smart enough to know his role. I agree with you that the mayor on the other hand, seems to not clearly understand the ceremonial nature of the role of mayor.

Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 3, 2013 at 10:47 am

Isn't this article a violation of the Brown Act? In effect there is a "serial meeting" via every member of the council debating issues with each other with the reporter serving as an intermediary.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 3, 2013 at 11:10 am

> It is not the managers job to set council procedures.

Please keep in mind that this is a "Strong City Manager/Weak City Council" form of government. Reading the City Charter, it's clear that the Charter does not provide a lot of help in understanding how to actually run the government--but it's clear that the Council is not authorized any direct role.

The thrust of my comments are related to the matter of the closed door session that Gregg Scharff seems to have driven. The point I am trying to make is that any Council "procedures" which cross the boundary of the CM/CC Charter-authorized relationships should be objected to by the CM, and the City Attorney.

If the Charter does not authorize a Council "procudure", or it otherwise runs afoul of State law--then the CM/CA need to "man up" and make that clear to the Council.

It's clear that that Scharff-driven closed door session was inappropriate, and conceivable, illegal. The relatationship between the Council and the CM needs to be, in part, adversarial, since Council Members need to be seen as poorly-informated about State/Municipal codes, and likely to cross any/all boundaries restricting their actions.

Posted by South PA Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 3, 2013 at 11:58 am

As a South Palo Alto resident I am very disappointed that no South Palo Alto Council members has been appointed to these newly formed Committees. Obviously our voices are not going to be heard or listened to.

We are returning to a former time when North Palo Alto representatives on City Council would dictate to South Palo Alto how their part of the City should be run, then make us pay for their inflated ideas.

South Palo Alto has one option and that is to vote "NO" to any proposed Infrastructure Bond Measure that may be placed on the ballot in 2014.

Greg Scharff wants to be a hands-on, controlling Mayor but he ignores South Palo Alto at his own risk.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 3, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Joe, I agree 100% with you. I just think the fault lays with council and the mayor in this case rather than the city manager. Otherwise you and I are on the same page! The mayor clearly led this closed door session and it makes me wonder what else he is pushing through without pubic knowledge.

Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm

It is easier for special interests to influence 4 members of the council thea it ids to influence 9 members.

Why hav committees at all?

Or maybe we should just have 5 council members altogether....

Posted by Wondering
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Gregg Scharff is a real estate Lawyer. The others he has selected are also usually in favor of big development.
He may be setting something up. like positive acceptance of another Stanford-Arrillaga plan. During the last discussion he said he was "uncomfortable with any reference to the city’s Comprehensive Plan."
Would we know if he is having discussions with Stanford about their wishes? How could we find out?

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Scharf, Price & Klein are tightly bound with the special interest groups like developers, "green at all cost". Can anyone name one PC zoning change any of them have voted against?

What surprises me is that Burt and Price are on the "outs" with these 3.

The 3 are obviously trying to minimize Holman & Schmid, the residentialist on the city council.

Unknowns are Kniss & Berman.

City council - if you elect Shepard as Mayor in 2014, expect more of the same. You need to elect Kniss as the next mayor to repair the damage to the relationships that Scharf is causing. Berman is still too new.

And citizens of Palo Alto - the election in 2014 is an important one. Klein is termed out, and if you replace Scharf or Shepard with at least a swing vote as well as Klein, you have a chance to stop the development, and "PC variance" madness of the past few years.

Although Keene plays a behind the scenes roll, the majority of the blame for this mess is with the council.

By the way Palo Alto Weekly, you endorsed Scharf, Shepard & Klein. The Weekly needs to take a hard look at their endorsement process.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 3, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Klein said, “…. we talked with the city attorney, who said this would be perfectly allowable under the Brown Act because we're talking about negotiations with lease terms."

Client attorney privilege and real estate negotiations provide a convenient loophole for the city attorney and the council to engage in closed session meetings.

Yes, the money negotiations can be held in private. BUT don’t the residents get a chance voice their opinions and hear from the council about IF and WHY and for HOW LONG the city should lease the property – IN PUBLIC – BEFORE the secret negotiations take place?

This is reminiscent of the almost-sale of city land to John Arrillaga. The city had a closed session meeting on September 18, 2012:

Palo Alto mulls sale of land near Foothills Park
City Council meets in closed session to consider selling 7.7 acres to developer John Arrillaga
“The council met in a closed session Sept. 18, to discuss the price and terms of the sale, details that the city officials declined to discuss. Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said the discussion was prompted by an offer the city received from Arrillaga, a philanthropist who owns properties on each side of the city-owned 7.7-acre parcel.” Web Link

The city had already drawn up a Real Estate Contract and Receipt for Deposit for the sale of 7.7 acres of city land to John Arrillaga for $175,000, dated September 14, 2012.

Did residents know the city was planning to sell public land? NO. Had the city declared the land surplus in a public venue prior to offering it for sale, as required by law? NO.

This council has no regard for the Brown Act or transparency. Karen Holman seems to be a voice crying in the wilderness.

Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

Common sense-- the weekly should get out of the endorsement business if it accepts campaign ads from council candidates. Holman and kniss, to name a few, bought ad space in the weekly and got endorsements from the weekly. Do the math.
In general terms, the weekly endorsements reflect what will benefit the Weekly's financial bottom line -- the good of the city is not a consideration.
As for this latest incident, this is typical council crap-- the entire council is worthless-- they are all good at self congratulation and backslapping, but fail to do anything that be edits the residents.
The weekly goes along with this, with gennady acting as head cheerleader

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2013 at 9:08 am

Not an issue - I believe the PA Weekly editorial board + publisher Bill Johnson want to select candidates they feel would take the city to a better place; however, reading their endorsements for the past 4 elections, and seeing how the candidates perform, and the results for our city, I would say however sincere the PA Weekly is, a majority of the endorsements have not been good. For a set of people who have done this so many times, I would expect a 90% "success rate", rather than a 50% sucess rate.

What the candidates spend on advertising with the PA Weekly would probably keep them in business for a week - and that happens only once every two years, so I don't think it's significant enough to influence the PA Weekly.

Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2013 at 10:05 am

Common sense-- the point is not the amount spent on advertising, it is the fact that candidates that do advertise with the weekly get endorsed. This raises certain questions.
I find it is best to ignore the weekly endorsements-- they have long ceased to be a unbiased voice for the city,IMHO.

Posted by Huh?
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Not an issue, I was intrigued by your opinion so I looked at a Weekly from the 2009 election. I saw ads for Hackmann, Levens, Price, Dykwel, Holman, Shepherd, Klein and Scharff. I don't think your suspicion that endorsements are related to ads is based in any fact.

Posted by Wondering
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 4, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Has the Weekly ever used Larry Klein's law firm (past or present) for legal matters?
What firm is the Weekly using now?

Posted by endorsements
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Huh-how many seats were available in 2009¿? Looks like at least 5 from the list got endorsements and were elected. Has the weekly every endorsed Tim gray? He does not but ads.

Posted by Longtime resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 4, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Great article, thanks. You should put Gennady on the school board beat, it's refreshing to see some digging, some analysis, and some interviews with key players.

Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on May 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.


As I've stated previously in Town Square, Larry Klein's former law firm represented the Palo Alto Weekly on non-media issues until around 2006 or 2007. When he first decided to run for City Council in 1981, we requested that he not be involved in any of the very limited legal work the firm performed for us. The company is currently represented by Palo Alto attorney Jeffrey Miller for general corporate matters and works with the firms of Judy Alexander (based in Aptos) and Karl Olson (based in San Francisco) on media matters (records and meeting access, defamation, etc.)

Posted by Anon
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Scharff [portion removed] does not understand that leadership is different from lawyering.

I have had some encounters with him, and his listening skills are appallingy bad. I guess that little lizard that he used when he first ran for office was whispering sweet nothings into his ear.

His interest and ability in listening to other verterbrates appears to be above his pay grade.

Posted by Jana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Scharff is definitely in over his head as mayor.
Good observation (above) that he has zero listening skills.
He only wants to tackle issues like whether or not to display a multi colored gay flag over city hall. You know, the real difficult issues facing Palo Alto! He's an empty suit.

Posted by Doreen
a resident of Midtown
on May 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I realize that my comments are simple,but I think a quick refresher is always good. I a resident of the south side of Palo Alto am very interested in our on going issues of development.

1. The fiasco of the development of the Alma Plaza that once held Miki's Farm Fresh grocery store. What has come about with this matter. Has the developer found a replacement for vacant oversized space for a "Neighborhood Market?". That supposedly that some neighbors wanted, Or Maybe not. The amount of revenue that the developer wants for rent is ridiculous. No too mention the failed Market that was there before that put Miki Weriness in bankruptcy.

2.The Mitchell Park Library, over expenses an over sized Modern work of Art, gone wrong and oversized budget rolling out of control like a snowball, leaving south side community with out a Public Library for a coming three years?? Which stands empty unfinished and now in limbo with Litigations.

3.Main Library the newest victim of City Council, A supposed renovation, but most likely to be the latest new fiasco in the waiting. Why not complete or wait until other issues are completed or at least filled or opened before continuing on the path of disaster???

4.. Trailing unwanted, failing and undeveloped public community resources from CIty Council And Company, We need to find solutions and quickly our city has quickly become the example of what not too do. I say no other developments or renovations of any type until all other issues are resolved or completed... But That's one fantasy that's not going to happen.

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