Town Square

Post a New Topic

Palo Alto slammed for lack of transparency on Arrillaga proposals

Original post made on Jun 20, 2014

Palo Alto officials circumvented the public process and ignored the city's own policies about leasing of public land when they engaged in closed-door negotiations with billionaire developer John Arrillaga over a proposed office-and-theater complex at 27 University Ave. and a portion of parkland next to Foothills Park, the Santa Clara County Grand Jury found in a scathing new report.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 20, 2014, 8:48 AM

Comments (75)

Posted by Now What
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 8:58 am

What penalties will be levied?
Surely this doesn't all end with James Keene saying "Yah, we messed up. We'll do better next time"

Posted by When will council change managers?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 9:17 am

Keene is responsible for this and cannot be trusted, why is he still around?

Posted by Nonny Muss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 9:18 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:11 am

The following is a link to the SCC Grand Jury’s Report on the lack of transparency in the City of Palo Alto government:
Web Link

The web-page pointed to in the article above probably isn’t the right link:
Web Link

The link below points to a form on the City Clerk’s page where people can enter a Public Records Request—

Web Link

However, in my opinion, this on-line data entry page, while a step in the right direction, fails residents in any number of ways.

Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:20 am

Wow, I hadn't been following this too closely, but this is outrageous. A 7.7 acre parcel of Palo Alto land to be sold to a billionaire for $175,000? What a slap in the face to all the hard working UMC folks who have struggled to buy in this town, and to the generous family that donated the land for public use. I wouldn't expect anyone else to do that while this council holds sway. Time for some new perspectives on the City Council.

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:20 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

1. Commercial real estate developers have too much say and sway; leadership –council, commissioners and staff – should listen to RESIDENTS first;

2. Planned Community (PC) zoning is the most concentrated form of abuse of the system in recent years and should be amended, enforced or outlawed;

3. The 27 University project, “Arrillaga Office Towers” should be vigorously opposed by residentialists, as part of taking the town back from these powerful, oligarchical special interests.

Mark Weiss, November 2, 2012 (on his own website, running for Palo Alto City Council)

Without any knowledge of a grand jury, I have been saying various versions of this, in private, at meetings, on Palo alto Weekly comments board and in my blog "Plastic Alto" consistently for three years, probably 20 posts and 10,000 words.

I also link what happened or didn't happen at 456 University to 27 University.

Democracy is on the ropes getting pummeled here. Are we Rope-A-Dope (like Muhammad Ali, and leadership will start fighting back) or merely dopes?

Which of our current 9 council members, if any, are not actively engaged in working their influence to personally profit and enhance their real estate holdings?

Why doesn't the Weekly break down the 9, and PATC for good measure, by their role in real estate: what they own, what they do professionally, maybe cross-referenced by what they've said or voted on various issues?

Go ahead and vette the candidates for 2014 election by the same algorithm...

Also, break down who the major players are in the the real estate industry here.

The local Palo Alto borders commercial real estate industry I estimate is a $1B per year industry and therefore dwarves certainly municipal budget ($150 M) but total public sector, and when you consider what percent of our civic budget regulates it, about $10 M maybe, and that the attitude of staff is to appease, please, abet and be of service to them and not We The People, the industry, the special interest is largely UNREGULATED.

Posted by And more
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:54 am

The 27 University project was led in the city by Steve Emslie, the Deputy City Manager, under Mr. Keene. Emslie retired just a year ago, in 2013, and has gone to work directly for the developers who come before the city.

"Goodyear Peterson Hayward serves an elite and diverse client group, including: Facebook, The Sobrato Organization, Uniqlo, Republic Services, Genentech, Audi USA, Grocery Outlet, Hearst Corp., CH2M Hill, Shell Oil, Zendesk, and AT&T."

Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:55 am

Please ponder on this question as it relates to accountability:

Nancy Shepherd, where were you?

Greg Scharff, where were you?

Pat Burt, where were you?

Larry Klein, where were you?


The very representatives assigned to guarding the Cookie Jar had their hands in the Cookie jar. Maybe not directly, but we all know that favors beget favors.

No more comments needed. The situation says everything that needs to be said. We will hear justifications, but we must all give a resounding "Not Buying It!"

How can a group of people make a beautiful, green and great town feel so embarrassing and slimy.

I hope we see some apologies from our leadership. Mistakes can be forgiven. Excuses will not be tolerated.


Tim Gray

Posted by KK
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:58 am

I'm glad to see the Grand Jury calling Palo Alto on its shenanigans, but as a 35-year resident, I am not hopeful of any long term changes in their modus operandi. Anything connected to Stanford and its monies/power (including Arrillaga-or-like-individuals) will usually prevail.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

This is too painful to read, to find out what kinds of acts this City Council has been up to. To consider selling land meant for conservation, 7.7 acres adjacent to Foothills Park for $175,000, to spend $250,000 of Stanford money on the Arrillaga project!! It is unbelievable.

Thanks so much to Gennady for doing this work to inform the public. Please keep up the good work.

Posted by Sally
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:04 am

"The Grand Jury concludes that "it would have been more appropriate and transparent for the City Council to first discuss whether property could or should be declared surplus in a public meeting before convening a closed session to discuss price and terms.""

This is the same back room dealing as when the City met in closed session to consider the sale of Cubberley to Foothill College. The City had not had a public discussion about whether or not to declare the land surplus before they met in closed session to negotiate terms.

Not sure if the public had any knowledge about when the "surplus" land was sold at Embarcadero to Town and Country.

One such incidence might be considered "inappropriate" per grand jury report. Multiple incidents is a pattern of deceit purposefully intended to skirt the laws, misrepresent facts and disengage the public from conducting it's own business.

This must stop!!!

Posted by ConcernedCitizen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:05 am

One more example of Palo Alto City Council and City staff exhibiting favor towards those with special interests. They all assume they can get away with it, completely disregarding the public interest. Thank goodness for citizen activism!

Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:12 am

One more example of the City Council and City staff exhibiting favoritism toward the interests of local oligarchs at the public's expense. They think they can get away with it. Thank goodness citizen activism blows the whistle.

Posted by Transparency Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:17 am

Looks like the "lack of transparency" issue is systemic in our town. The School Board and almost-former Superintendent are running neck and neck with the City Council!

Thanks for publishing this informative article. We can now make moves to replace people who aren't honest and open with people who are.

What a concept!

Maybe honesty is an old-fashioned virtue but I much prefer it!

Posted by Matt
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:39 am

Wow! What a black eye for Palo Alto. Any resignations??

Posted by shocked
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

I'm shocked. SHOCKED, I tell you.

Just remember in November: if the ballot entry says "Incumbent", vote for someone else.

Posted by member
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:48 am

The article link Keene mentioned does not currently support any filing or tracking of requests.

Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 20, 2014 at 12:07 pm

[Post removed.].

Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 20, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Another example of the overdevelopment zeal that has created the heavy traffic and dense employee numbers reducing the quality of life for us homeowners and those who also call Palo Alto home, too. This election is about stopping any further commercial development and any housing that is not within code. No more exemptions. And no more dense housing of apartments and condos. We are maxed out on total numbers. Spread the wealth of Silicon Valley to other towns or other states.

Posted by Susan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2014 at 12:31 pm

What especially stood out for me in this long list of marks against city staff and Council was that a quarter million dollars was spent before any application from the owner was submitted to the city. Yes, a waste of money as we know, but also a rather shocking lack of judgement.

As I remember, it was mentioned during a Council meeting that the developer (one of our local billionaires) wanted to avoid public scrutiny and city process as much as possible, and that city staff, including our city manager, agreed to shield the tender sensitivities of the developer from us (the great unwashed?).

We can only hope lessons were actually learned and that the city manager and our elected officials will straighten up and fly right. We have a chance to dump 2 big-development lovers - vote out Scharff and Shepherd in Nov. (see todays PA Weekly's editorial).

Posted by local citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 12:49 pm

I would like to know how someone gets a grand jury investigation and whether one would be considered in the wake of another.

So many serious ethical and possible legal lapses occurred in the Maybell situation. For example, the City Attorney sternly told the public before one of the meetings that the Council's hands were tied by an "anti-NIMBY" law, and the City Attorney was directed by Council to comb the law for how they would be forced to rezone and ignore citizen outcry over such major rezoning, yet a reading of the law later by citizens found the law specifically did not apply to rezonings. The City Attorney's "impartial analysis" and ballot question language on the Measure D election was deemed to be so biased as to likely be illegal electioneering.

More concerning, the City Council decided to hold the Measure D election as soon as possible in a costly special election that cost the City more than $500,000 above putting the measure on a future ballot, and more than $600,000 above the cost of just setting aside the ordinance and establishing a working group as citizens requested in order to come up with a solution to getting the housing while respecting the residential zoning (as was done at the Terman apartments with some of the same citizen volunteers).

This decision is especially concerning given the behavior of City employees in the Planning Department, who acted as third-party verifiers of PAHC's applications for funding from the state and federal government. They filled out verifications stating that PAHC had the rezoning already as of early July, when in fact, the property was never rezoned. They verified that CEQA appeals had expired, when in fact there was a CEQA lawsuit pending. They verified other facts that gave PAHC points against other low-income housing projects applying for funding, such as claiming the main Palo Alto PAMF site was much closer than it really was. The only way they could gloss over such misrepresentations is if the ordinance was enacted through a win at the polls, and quick. This in turn could very definitely have affected the expenditure of such major public funds in the election.

Why is this important, besides the taxpayer funds? Other affordable housing projects in California in less wealthy communities lost out because they weren't even considered, because of the PAHC application based on our city's verifications, and because PAHC was asking for so much money. (They were already granted like $5 million based on the application with these verifications, money they gave back but that could have gone to more than one other project but didn't. The state department that allots the grants said they would not be revisiting the process that season.) It's possible more than one low-income project in less wealthy communities was not built because of our city employee misrepresentations.

The application was made under penalty of perjury. Even if laws were not broken, there are serious ethical questions here, especially since the same City Employee who signed the verifications is now in charge of the revision of our City's Comprehensive Plan!! Rather than being reprimanded or fired for possibly breaking the law or enabling a nonprofit to do so, this same employee (and probably others whose names didn't go on the documents) is now in charge of revising the guidebook for the future of our City's growth!! (Am I the only one reminded of that robot from Lost in Space running around saying Danger! Danger! ?!)

The City Council made a great show of the Maybell situation being about affordable housing, yet the entire City affordable housing fund was dedicated to the purchase of that property at a time when they knew what was coming up with the Buena Vista Mobile Home park. The City was also intimately involved in the purchase of the Maybell property -- Larry Klein's law firm even represented the purchaser? -- the City is who told PAHC to go after the property in the first place. This is disturbing, again, because of how the City's affordable housing funds were then tied up and unavailable for the residents of BV, and given our mayor at the time's connections with Prometheus, the developer hoping to purchase the BV site after evicting the residents, and whose application was for a significantly upzoned plan.

I've heard the mayor was the former head of acquisitions for Prometheus. How much of the egregious upzoning that neighborhood, such as that monstrous hotel at El Camino and Arastradero going in now, and the Maybell upzoning, happened in order to make Prometheus's upzoning consistent? How much of the City Council's pushing was really for other reasons than affordable housing? After all, since Measure D, they've really made no commensurate effort to try to help the low-income Palo Alto residents of BV, in particular, possibly co-owning the property to give residents a few more years to find funding to pay the city back (no skin off the City's nose and saving far more affordable housing of existing residents without an ultimate enormous cost to the public like at Maybell).

In light of this grand jury investigation, what did Liz Kniss mean when, during one of the Maybell meetings, she said to the other Councilmembers, "I'm asking because we have more than a passing interest in this particular project."?

How was this grand jury convened, what are the consequences of it, and is it possible to ask for another related to the above, especially since this just happened?

Posted by Job for Weekly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 1:05 pm

@PaloAltoWeekly: Please go back and find out which Council members frequently spoke in favor of these formerly proposed major projects at 27 University Avenue and 395 Page Mill Road, and who expressed skepticism at their size. With such retrospective reporting, the electorate will have the information it needs to determine which Council members to reward or punish when it comes time to re-elect them, as each voter sees fit. Statements made during election season mean less than statements made during the governing process.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Jim Keene and the City Council members involved in this travesty must go.

Posted by nat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2014 at 1:38 pm

The webpage in the article: did the author try it?
I did and found that it did NOT take me to the public records request.

Posted by nat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Did the author try the webpage in blue in the article?
I did and it did NOT take me to public record requests.

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 20, 2014 at 2:16 pm

> I would like to know how someone gets a grand jury
> investigation and whether one would be considered in
> the wake of another.

Anyone can request the SCC Grand Jury to investigate anything to do with Local/County government. Simple download the GJ Referral/Complaint Form, fill it in, and submit.

Web Link

As to one investigation following another, each year’s Grand Jury is different than the previous years. If the matter being referred to the new GJ is significantly important, there is no reason that another investigation could not be commenced.

> How was this grand jury convened,

Someone filed a complaint. However, Grand Juries are conducted in secret—so nothing outside the report is likely to be made public.

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 20, 2014 at 2:25 pm

> Did the author try the webpage in blue in the article?
> I did and it did NOT take me to public record requests.

See my posting near the beginning of this thread.

Posted by Implications for School Board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 2:49 pm

How may we get the Grand Jury to take a look at the School Board's actions?
It has been years since transparency was displayed in their decision making.
What would a Grand Jury make of the numerous delays Palo Alto residents
and the media have experienced when they have made public records

The last time the School Boards minutes were publicly updated was
January 28, 2014.

Posted by Civitas
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2014 at 3:10 pm

This clumsily handled business most likely prompted the retirement of former Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, who now consults for developers to expedite development project approvals. Considering how engaged and watchful the Palo Alto community is on all things development-related, its astonishing that City officials tried to slide this big one by vigilant Palo Altans. Some combination of arrogance and stupidity must have been at work, since there was no chance that the secretiveness would work. Instead, the whole thing blew up in their faces. The lack of professionalism on the part of City staff is disturbing. The clueless "oversight" City Council should cause Palo Alto voters to simply clean house at the next election.

Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm

The whole thing stinks, our greedy, two-faced leaders need to go. No more ethics, money is the only goal, and in this quest, lack of transparency and deception. Look at what has become of this city. It's a travesty. We citizens are being fleeced in many ways, not just in the use of our tax money, but with a lot of disrespect. Our city has become ome plaything of a few powerful people in cahoots with one another.

Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 3:52 pm

The residents of Palo Alto own a thank you to whatever resident or residents filed a complaint with the SCC Civil Grand Jury. In answer to those who question how such a report comes about, Wayne Martin's information is correct as far as it goes. I served on the SCC Civil Grand Jury a several years ago; here is how it works:

The Civil Grand Jury (as opposes to criminal grand juries called by the local District Attorney) is set up by state law. It is specifically a device for any citizen of the grand jury's jurisdiction (the county in which it is formed) may file a complaint about any government agency in that county. Residents of the county can become members by applying for service, usually in the spring of each year. Applicants must meet certain basic qualifications. The pool of applicants thus formed are then chosen by a drawing of all names in a rotary box from which names are drawn. This takes place in a courtroom with a judge present. There are 19 members on the GJ, all of whom serve for one year beginning July 1st. A number of alternates are also selected in case a chosen members has to drop out for some reason. The GJ meets in San Jose five days a week, and as complaints are filed, with some carried over from the previous year, members break up into smaller groups to carry out the investigations. Those who file complaints are guaranteed secrecy by state law. it is an interesting process, informative and fun at the same time. Members are provided free parking and a very small remuneration to cover travel expenses. It is the one system we have whereby ordinary citizens can serve the governmental community of fellow citizens.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 3:53 pm

If that 7.7 acre parcel is still available, I'll give them $176,000 for it ...

Posted by Enid Pearson
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 4:56 pm

It is very depressing to find out that your representatives (not all - Holman and Schmid did raise the issue of propriety), our staff including the city manager, chose to play so loosely with public issues. the GJ missed one fine point and that is that Chap. VII of the City charter - the Park Dedication ordinance requires that all land that is acquired/received for park use must be dedicated immediately.

The Lee Trust gave the 7.7A to Palo Alto in 1981, but held the property for 15 years for their use. In 1996, the 7.7 A should have been immediately dedicated as park and as an addition to Foothill Park. It has been 33 years since the City knew that the 7.7A were to be part of Foothills Park and it has been 18 years that staff, city managers have tried to get rid of this property without a hint to the public. How many other parks do we have in Palo Alto that are just hanging out there ready for development or purchase for a pittance?

My experience in receiving information from the city has also been, on at least one occasion, totally unsatisfactory. It took six months after filing a RPP to get a public document, including other docs and emails. One email revealed that my request had been deliberately denied. Changes are needed.

Posted by voter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 5:10 pm

"I've heard the mayor was the former head of acquisitions for Prometheus. How much of the egregious upzoning that neighborhood, such as that monstrous hotel at El Camino and Arastradero going in now, and the Maybell upzoning, happened in order to make Prometheus's upzoning consistent?"

I would like to know

Posted by maditalian_1492
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm

I admit my ignorance by asking this question: Can anyone tell me why John Arrillaga's name is not mentioned ONCE in the Grand Jury's report? He's referred to as a landowner, an adjoining landowner and a developer, but never by name. Is that normal in a typical GJ report?

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2014 at 7:05 pm

I would like to have seen the reporter to have also interviewed some of the city council members, questions like:

Do you believe the city manager has acted appropriately?

Was this incident a part of the city manager's evaluation?

Did you vote to give the city manager get a raise after this?

Since the city manager has a different value system his role in city government, do you have any concerns about the people he has hired - won't they exhibit the same attitude and value that the city manager has towards the residents?

Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 20, 2014 at 8:41 pm

This is the tip of the iceberg.
A little more digging will expose a lot.
The Real Journalists will do us all a favor to expose the behind the scenes dealings.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 9:44 pm

In the stock market after a long steady rise a stock may enter a blowoff phase, when confidence and emotion drive behavior in a seemingly riskless game, ending in a spike to unforeseen and unsustainable levels.

The Arrillaga project in Palo Alto embraced by staff and some Council members out of public view with a side land deal was a blowoff after years of over-development, bonuses, exemptions, free passes and unaccountability. Then Measure D, and the withdrawal of the Jay Paul proposal confirmed that the game had changed, but only in the sense that there was a pause at the extreme, what had become a fantasyland, and an apparent upper limit on the excesses which would be tolerated. But underneath this, the pipeline is full and more big,outsized projects are in the wings as the quality of life continues to drastically decline across a wide spectrum. As Enid Pearson says, "changes are needed".

Posted by Watchman
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 20, 2014 at 10:13 pm

"changes are needed"

No, charges are needed, specifically, "criminal charges" These people deliberately tried to subvert the law.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 21, 2014 at 7:23 am

Curious - what is the status of the $250,000 allocated for design work associated with the 27 Uni project? Was any work done or was the allocation reversed in full?

Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 21, 2014 at 9:36 am

This lack of transparency is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.

Posted by Jane
a resident of University South
on Jun 21, 2014 at 9:56 am

"Keene noted that the issues involving the Lee gift go back 30 years and the the city is "accountable for contemporary decisions on this land today."

Does that mean that "old" things that have been decided 30 years ago need not be followed now????

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 21, 2014 at 10:32 am

The City is a model of transparency compared to the School Board. Well worth a probe from a Grand Jury or some reporting from the Weekly.

Posted by Ms. Wells
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 21, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Outrageous. Keene, Shepard and Scharf clearly must go. Can the participants in this scheme be prosecuted for conspiracy to violate the Brown Act? Can this be referred to the Feds (Rico Act or other)? We need to root out the corruption at City Hall. To think the principals involved piously consider Palo Alto City Goverment transparent - what a joke.

I've been shopping for a contractor to do some home renovation for me and the majority refuse to go through the permit process with the City of Palo Alto. The few that are willing to do business with me want to charge more than normal because the Palo Alto Planning Dept. is notoriously difficult to work with. Clearly it's fine to give residents and their contractors a hard time when they want to improve their properties, but Arrillaga gets secret meetings for a completely out of scale development and a sweetheart deal on valuable property that was supposed to be conserved. Democracy at work in Palo Alto! My neighbor told me that when it came time for a Palo Alto Building Inspector to do the required inspection for his kitchen remodel, the Inspector refused to come in and inspect because he would have to take off his shoes in my neighbor's house. So my neighbor paid for the permit and got it signed off but got no inspection. The entire Planning Dept. from Keene on down is suspect in my mind. I'm withholding my real name and neighborhood because I have to work with this corrupt and unpredictable organization.

[Portion removed.]

I've always felt lucky to live in this town. But these recent events, declining quality of life and frustrating interactions with City staff have completely vanquished any faith I had in Palo Alto City government.

Posted by Developer_ties
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Until recently Nancy shepherd worked for a regional developer and Scharf's ties have been noted. Would be great to see a developer scorecard showing just how in bed w developers our current council is. Let's see who works for them, who's accepted donations....Liz Kniss has had developers pay for election material that benefits her. Karen Holman has not accepted developer campaign donations though others have (though she did do some work for a real estate agent). Let's get some transparency on these cozy relationships.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 21, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Too bad the grand jury report didn't come out before City Manager Keene got TWO raises:

"Keene ... was the city's highest paid employee last year with a base salary of $247,187 and total compensation of $264,488 (including benefits), will see two salary bumps. One, which the staff report refers to as "merit pay," would raise his base salary to $254,603, effective July 1, 2013. The other pay bump would push it to $262,241, effective the first pay period after the council approves the contract. He would also receive one extra vacation week per year, raising his vacation hours from 200 to 240." Web Link

Ms. Wells, since you’re looking, here’s a fantastic contractor (with integrity) who has done 2 projects for us over the years and just completed a remodel for a neighbor. Web Link

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Kudos to Enid Pearson for 40 plus years of following the fine points, small type in obscure documents plus her appreciation for the larger things, the geography of hope, as my neighbor Wallace Stegner would have said.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm

I have remodeled 4 different homes in Palo Alto. Except for one portion of a project, which was finally approved in my favor, I have never had a bad experience with any of the planning staff, the utilities staff, inspectors or otherwise.

Frankly, it's all about attitude when you sit down at the desk. If come in with clean & complete plans, you aren't looking for a bunch of waivers and you are pleasant and polite --- you'll rarely have an issue.

Posted by Sula
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 21, 2014 at 7:58 pm

"What followed were numerous meetings between members of the City Council, City staff, and representatives of the developer regarding his proposal. There were no public notices of these meetings. "

and now Sheppard and Scharff are looking for re-election in November... I expect real estate interests to flood our mailboxes with shiny advertisements for these "public" representatives.

We should thank Holman and Schmid for dedicating Arillaga's secret garden as parkland.

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 21, 2014 at 9:27 pm

I knew the Lee family personally. Am sure glad Arrillaga was stopped. They would not have been happy. Talk about law suits down the line! Argillaga's days of over development, at least in Palo Alto, are over. Way past time on that issue. Holman and Schmid should recognized for only doing the right thing in the first place. I am also, as always, thankful for the media being the 4th branch of government: specifically, doing investigative journalism to keep public officials under a watchful while the rest of us scramble to make a living. The latter process takes the bulk of our attention elsewhere.

Palo Alto Weekly- can you generate a definitive (or near so) list of the contributors to the campaigns of the existing city council members. Moreover, can you find out what each one has done for a living in say the past ten-years. Id like to get a sense of how many derive a benefit from the development industry in general or came from those roots, too.
Also, In Congress, once you are out typically you can not be a lobbyist for five years thereafter. It's time to get that on the ballot for all city council and city of Palo Alto employees. Is that true one of our deputy city managers is now working for a development firm? Please verify. Talk about fast-track inside knowledge and personal relationships to push through projects! That's why they are hired. It's all about preferential access and inside protocol and waiver knowledge.

Great to see my fellow Palo Altains finally mobilizing to take back our beloved town. And if businesses want to leave, I have no problem with returning to 1980s traffic levels, too!

Posted by 8th Generation
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2014 at 10:18 pm

So the question is why doesn't Palo Alto do something about the corruption of City Council and those behind City Council and their connections to City Staff?

Liz Kniss and others want to consolidate more power by reducing the number of representatives from 9 to 7.

We need 15 representatives on on Council to ensure that all Palo Altan's are represented and that no one special interest group can get away with pushing their cronyistic agenda's through city staff.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 21, 2014 at 10:59 pm

8th Generation - exactly right. Fewer representatives make an easier universe of council votes for developers to corrupt, own and control. We need MORE not fewer votes on the city council. EACH neighborhood in Palo Alto should get a voting representative on City Council.

Posted by local citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2014 at 11:19 pm

New technology makes new democratic possibilities available. Why don't we have an elected citizens council that gets another 3 votes and even a vote by registered citizens who can give their input on important issues? It'snow possibke to have such checks. People like Susan Fineman, Eric Filseth, Art Liebermann, Doug Moran, Bob Moss, Cheryl Lilienstein, Fred Balin, Nielson Buchanon - and others - for various reasons, cannot run for Council and yet many of our fellow citizens would vote for them if there were a way they could serve short of taking a full Council aeat.

We can change things to make them more democratic.

Posted by transparency please
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 22, 2014 at 2:29 am

I will never vote for an incumbent city council candidate, we need change, we need to remove self serving city officials with friends and relatives in the architecture and property development industry (they may not necessarily take bribes but they certainly see to it that their extended family in-laws are taken care of long term). I plan to vote for anyone who is new on the ballot, just because they are not the current brew. We need more representatives on the city counsel, not fewer. I read than the city council just raised their salaries by 40% and want to reduce the number of representatives from 9 to 7. How about reduce the salary by 40% and increase the members on the council by 40%.

Posted by Civitas
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2014 at 8:57 am

Palo Alto Native, here is the documentation that you requested about the hiring of former Palo Alto Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie by a consulting firm specializing in expediting approval of real estate development projects: Web Link

Emslie, who Director of Palo Alto's Planning and Community Environment Department before he became Palo Alto's Deputy City Manager. In effect he replaced Emily Harrison, who resigned after having been disciplined for harassing a subordinate for his religious faith. Emslie was a key figure in the apparent effort by senior City staff and several Council members to fast-track the Arrillaga project at 27 University Avenue. Mr. Emslie retired early after the alleged effort to fast-track this project became a local scandal, but landed a job with a firm that expedites big ticket real estate development projects.

Posted by local citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2014 at 1:10 pm

@transparency please,
"How about reduce the salary by 40% and increase the members on the council by 40%."

Actually, Councilmembers get what amounts to a stipend of about $600/month, hardly a "salary". It's basically a volunteer position, which I think is no longer appropriate for a City of this size with such significant economic interests -- and development pressures. The only people who can afford to take the Council positions are those who are wealthy enough or retired and have a particular interest (such as development).

But I heard mention that Councilmembers get a pension or healthcare benefits? Is that really true?

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 22, 2014 at 7:37 pm

I don’t think the GJ report was very comprehensive in its treatment of the Public Records issues here in Palo Alto. They must have had two complaints from two different people, and folded them together. It’s clear from their lack of depth of investigation of this complain that they don’t know much about the topic, or how IT (Information Technology) could be applied to creating a state-of-the-art PIR handling system.

As to the section on the City Manager—

1) The area of legality of these meetings—with no notes taken, seems to have been sort of tip-toed thru. I don’t have any expertise in this area—but it would seem that, at a minimum, it was a very unethical thing for any/all City employees to do. Don’t remember that the GJ took that position in their review of the situation.
2) The Council is supposed to be the oversight mechanism of the Strong City Manager form of government. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of any recommendation that the Council be held responsible for this behavior on the part of the City Manager and his staff.
3) The GJ didn’t take the time to determine if other Cities have any rules/ordinances/policies about documenting all City business—to provide some useful comparisons between how Palo Alto does business, and other City’s deal with similar situations.
4) One suggestion I would like to make is that the City Manager’s schedule be on-line, and updated daily. The idea that a City Manager should be able to sneak around with a local property developer for a year, without any meeting minutes, Action Item lists, and Agreements-in-Principal being made public is a travesty of what open/honest government is supposed to be about.
5) No suggestion that the Palo Alto Office of the Auditor should become more involved in tracking, and identifying issues that residents seem refer to the Civil Grand Jury—but not their own local Auditor.

As to the issues associated with Public Information Requests:

6) The Grand Jury did not seem to show that much interest in this problem. I suspect the members of the Grand Jury have never actually requested information from their City governments—so they didn’t have any experience with which to compare the situation in Palo Alto.
7) The Grand Jury did not seem to suggest that PA Auditor should be involved with reviewing the problems identified by the Grand Jury. Nor did this group suggest that people who are continually ignored by the City Government might want to get together and try to litigate as a group to do something about this problem.
8) The Grand Jury did not seem to suggest that the problems with Public Information Requests had a political solution, which should become an issue in future Council elections until the problem is solved.
9) The Grand Jury did not actually seem to follow the PIR process inside of the City Government—attempting to identify any specific choke holds—like the City Clerk’s office, or possibly even the City Manager’s Office.
10) There were no suggestions in the Grand Jury’s report about how public records could be put on-line to provide instant access by the public.

Posted by iconocast
a resident of University South
on Jun 22, 2014 at 10:21 pm

Is is no news flash that our city government processes are often opaque, especially not that they are always very opaque when prominent development interests are being accommodated behind closed doors.

Worse, our city council has blithely abdicated its responsibility to monitor and control the city manager. It hires an outside consultant to evaluate the CM, diverting our tax money to underwrite its dereliction of duty.

Our city government is a classic banana republic, captured by and serving the interests of a small outside oligarchy. It's time for a revolution.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 22, 2014 at 10:47 pm

When will the new entrance at Foothill Park be open? John Arrillaga will love that!

Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2014 at 9:07 am

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

Run, Karen, run! We need Karen Holman in this election. While not perfect, we need her and Greg Schmid looking out for our interests. Council should stay at 9 seats to make it harder for developers to buy the seats they need. We have a real chance for residentialists to control the council this election - we need people to get out the word and only vote for candidates that are committed to having resident concerns come first. Even if that means you vote for only 1 or 2 candidates. The problem with "Vote for 5" is that incumbents are almost always re-elected. Vote "No" on Scharf and Shepherd

Posted by Native Daughter
a resident of Woodside
on Jun 23, 2014 at 12:12 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 23, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Wow. What a situation in the city of Palo Alto with our city government. Let's all of us local residents stay engaged - even though we are busy - and override the influence of Stanford and it's billionaire alumni developers.
Thank you Palo Alto Weekly for your important coverage of local government - we citizens need help to stay on top of all of this.

Posted by Rooody
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2014 at 6:51 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Living with my DIL
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2014 at 7:06 pm

[Portion removed.]

Web Link
"He is well known for his generous support of the university.[5] The alumni center, the Frances C. Arrillaga Building, is named in memory of his first wife, and various other athletic facilities carry his surname. In May 2006, Arrillaga gave $100 million to Stanford.[6]

In June 2013, he again donated to Stanford, writing a check for $151 million, making it the largest individual donation in the school's history.[7]"

Posted by Living with my SIL
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by local citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2014 at 10:03 am

You are right about the "vote for 5" problem. We should change it to ranked choice.

If there is one thing the Maybell situation highlighted, it's that change starts with individuals. If you want ranked choice voting, you can come up with a proposal to change our City election code and put forth a citizens initiative. Get together with your friends and pitch in a few hundred each and have a government law firm review it. Then put it out there.

Even if it is too late to qualify for this election cycle, you have 6 months to collect signatures, so your efforts now will overlap this election cycle and help make people aware of the problem of how the current system favors incumbents. Win or lose, it would help in this election, and very well may improve our democratic process for good.

Are you game?

Posted by No consequences?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 16, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Is the City Council going to do anything about the illegalities uncovered by the Grand Jury, by the City Manager? Is this major scandal going to disappear and the behavior continues? They gave him a raise, his salary is outrageously over the top.
Are we going to give him 4.5 million of OUR dollars to pretty up the face of City Hall while the innards are rotting?
This story should not be buried.

Posted by The Shadow knows.........
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 17, 2014 at 8:29 am

Two thoughts:

- This is simply another case of "money talks", albeit apparently in private this time. Check out this upcoming article in Fortune magazine about Mr Arrillaga's wealth and influence. It estimates his wealth at $2.5 billion.

Web Link

While I don't remember the exact figures, Arrillaga and his partner sold a large part of their real estate interests to a German firm a few years back in 2006 (just before the real estate drop) for something like 1.5 billion dollars. Np lack of business acumen there!

- This is just another example of Keene doing what the Council wants behind the scenes, and then blaming staff for what has transpired. The man desperately needs to keep his job in order to ensure a "sustainable" retirement payout, and is firmly committed to doing whatever the Council majority wants done, all other values and virtues be damned.

Posted by Wowee
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 30, 2014 at 8:35 am

I wonder if the City will hire a Berkeley based consultant for $1.7 million to help them draft the response or I should say help us draft the formal required response to the GJ.

Or, maybe they will pay Steve Emslie $1.7 million to help draft the, I mean we will pay -- government is after all a "we" not a "they" we have to own this -- Steve to help respond to this.

I am half kidding (we did pay someone $1.7 to help flush the Comp Plan into the Bay I mean revise it). Actually on Steve Emslie, if we cannot garnish his pension legally we could at least pass a "Steve Emslie Rule" here prohibiting senior staff from working against us in the private sector, the "revolving door". Anyone?

Posted by Dishonest?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2014 at 8:58 am

Arillaga is guide a piece of work. Most of his business dealings, even the ones with small companies, lack transparency. The man seems to always have a hidden agenda that includes so e special deal for himself, personally, as if he cannot or will not keep his business and personal lives separate.

Yes, he has done some generous things out of his own pocket, but even then, there was something personally beneficial to himself in it. One example: the buildings at Stanford; now he has free rein to do what he wants on their properties, in spite of lands in perpetuity.

There needs to be a system of strict checks and balances for people like John Arrillaga, but most institutions and cities are too greedy for his money to institute them, and they allow the illegalities he commits to "slide"

Posted by fire the culprit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2014 at 8:56 am

Jim Keene should be let go. He is responsible for this and did not take responsibility for his actions. It takes some guts, but the CC needs to fire him.

Posted by ISRAT
a resident of Ohlone School
on Nov 30, 2014 at 11:02 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Those in the planning department associated with this are now in Redwood City. But Keene and certain council members are still here. At a minimum, Keene should be held accountable and let go.

Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 23, 2017 at 6:23 pm

Anonymous --

It's even worse.

Following this egregious incident, the City Council -- his co-conspirators in the event -- rewarded Mr. Keene with a discretionary merit raise.

Despite a disgraceful reprimand from the Santa Clara County Grand Jury, none of the collaborators suffered any penalty at all.

City Councilors who displayed such shameful behavior -- including current Mayor Greg Scharff and Vice-Mayor Liz Kniss -- were re-elected and continue to dispense developer welfare to their campaign donor buddies.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

New Palo Alto sushi spot highlights late-night hours and affordable prices
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 5,300 views

Farm Bill and the Organic Movement (part 5) Plus: Global Plant Forward Summit, April 18 – 20
By Laura Stec | 23 comments | 4,559 views

Sharing That Just Works
By Sherry Listgarten | 5 comments | 1,624 views