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Tension grows between City Council, planning commission

Original post made on Oct 22, 2015

In theory, the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission serves at the pleasure of the City Council. In practice, pleasure has been in short supply for both parties of late.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 10:46 PM

Comments (68)

Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 7:42 am

It was my impression that the outgoing council appointed some folks who were pretty clearly not in alignment with the majority of the new council as a kind of "revenge" going-away "present." I think the new council has the power to do a re-set and remove commissioners at will, although I suppose that's an unlikely scenario since it would be "rude."

Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 7:49 am

Nobody condenses the issue better than Eric Filseth regarding the PTC's approach.

"There are clearly alignment issues between the council and the PTC on policy," Filseth said, before characterizing the commission as advocating for "unlimited commercial growth and unlimited housing growth."

"It is to move from an expensive suburban environment to an expensive urban environment -- and that's not where the majority of the voters want to go," Filseth said.

Given public statements from the PTC, a close examination should be given to the direction the zoning loopholes will be "tightened."

Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 8:14 am

I'm not sure why Kate downing should even be commenting about code changes that would affect density downtown, such as awarding seismic TDRs to buildings to be torn down and replaced by much larger buildings, when her husband works for a downtown company,Palantir, who is seeking more office space downtown?
Isn't that a simple conflict of interest ?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 8:30 am

Eric Rosenblum works for Palantir too though it's not on his bio

Posted by looney tunes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 8:47 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:26 am

It is amazing that we have so many cooks in the kitchen. We have paid personnel on the city staff that for the most part work in the background. I would think that each job description for the city staff indicate their roles and responsibilities.

Like wise people who work on city commissions - appointed by the city council - should have a documented set of roles and responsibilities.

If the commission members are advisory only then they should not trump city management - but work with city management on an advisory level only.

Then there is the PACC which is supposedly the chief cook and bottle washer in the group. These are the people we vote for.

Suggest that each time the city council transitions for the next year that all commission members provide their resignations so that the new council can re-appoint or replace as needed.

We cannot have commission members who are trying to flex their political wings trump the paid city staff or the elected city council. When all is said and done both the PACC members and city staff are the holders of the responsibility for the city budget and planning. Let's assume that the commission members are not privy to the total city budget system where decisions are made on the available resources to the city.

Posted by Erica
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 10:09 am

This is not petty politics between factions - recusal due to a legal conflict of interest is basic to good governance. At times, old city councils had multi members recuse themselves due to their own or spouses employment.

This is a failure by the city to enforce conflict of interest laws and a failure of understanding or integrity by membrs. I don't understand why the City is allowing this to happen. Under certain circumstances, people have a legal duty to recuse themselves from both discussion and votes on matters where they or their spouses could profit from - office caps and retail protections are a good recent examples.

Why indeed are Commissioners Rosenblum and Downing allowed to participate in matters from which the data-mining Palatir and its employees can profit?

Why are Greg Scharff and Liz Kniss allowed to participate with the above while owning a building effected by retail protections?

Where is the city attorney on this? Conflict of interest laws protect us from corruption - its time for these laws to be enforced and the above people to come clean.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:02 am

Palo Alto Forward evolved at a time when ABAG was beating on our heads for continual development on major transportation routes. As time progresses and development in North San Jose has taken off we see Mr. Stephen Levy now appearing in the SJM articles trumpeting the joys of North San Jose who has the giant tech firms, great transportation, and a huge amount of building of apartments. So any argument about lack of apartments does not match what we know today - there are lots of apartments available in north San Jose on the most popular transportation routes.

And we see the growth in the San Mateo Bay Meadows development which will combine residential and commercial growth is a concentrated area next to the Caltrain tracks. As the smaller companies grow and disperse to the big box locations then the impact of ABAG demands diminishes.

Add to that a major head of ABAG in SF stole funding for his own multitudes of houses all over. That did not go well for ABAG. So much for the government, non-profit world that is all smoke and mirrors.

At some point it would be advisable for the smart people who have political agendas to note that a city of Palo Alto's size does not financially gain by building developer/corporation apartment buildings that have tax assessed values that will not track to current growth values. A small town requires single family homes which are turning over and changing up the tax assessed value in a continual manner.

And don't forget the east bay - local papers are now touting the tech growth in the east bay cities - Oakland is on both the BART, AMTRAK, and Ferry routes and it going through a big growth spurt. Techies can find reasonable housing if they hurry. Every area will catch up as growth continues.

Any agenda has to refine what is the most value to the size, location, and budget of the specific city. Since PA is totally dependent on SU then that is where the planning needs to go. You cannot impose north San Jose financial growth plans which start with totally undeveloped land to an existing city that is set up with specific goals.

Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:18 am

A simple question: Is Palo Alto to be a city which is run for the pleasure and profit of the developers -- most of whom do not live here -- or is to be a sustainable place with open spaces and limited density for its residents??

No one should serve on the PTC who has a conflict of interest. And, likewise, the PTC should reflect the current make up and wishes of the current PACC, not those who were on it in the past. The current PACC is more in step with a no growth policy and does not bow to the skewed interests of ABAG -- or the PTC.

Posted by Another Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:19 am

Erica's submission makes sense. I hope both the Council and Commission read this site.

I disagree with appointing a New PTC with every new Council. Palo Alto could a Council and PTC making policy to serve their own desires by making any review process done by the PTC promote changes the Council wants, regardless of the Community at large.

Please reread what Downing and Tanaka said. It's clear that the other PTC members do not understand their purpose.
Downing: "one problem with the conversation that has taken place thus far is the "disconnect" in people's minds about the role of the planning commission. Its mission is to review new ordinances in their entirety, she said, though special focus can be given to those areas identified by the council." The commission isn't meant to be ideological or to "necessarily support the council's decision." Its role is to offer more opportunity for more community feedback, whether from residents speaking publicly at commission meetings or from commissioners themselves.

"We're not an elected body. We're not elected by the people. It's up to the council members to make the right decisions and make them based on what they read as the demand of the community and what the voters want. Our body is more technical in nature than that."

Tanaka: " the commission's longest serving member, likewise emphasized in an interview this week that the commission is a purely recommending body. His job, he said, isn't to simply consider whether issues are pro- or anti-growth but to make decisions based on data and diligent analysis. Even though the council at times rejects the commission's recommendations, Tanaka said he doesn't see that as a problem.

The commission, he noted, has a specific focus, a limited purview and a narrow lens. The council, which is an elected body, sees things through a different lens, which makes some disagreements inevitable.

"Our job is to help the council make better decisions," Tanaka told the Weekly. "We don't make decisions. We make purely recommendations. I think what's important is for us to look at different sides, dig in, analyze the issues as much as possible and, based on that kind of process, make a recommendation.

"It's not our job to make policy. That's not what we're trying to do."

One other thing; it is wrong for any Developer and/or Land Owner to be able to PAY EXTRA to BUY the TYPE OF ZONING they want! I am shocked that any governing body in a City, especially Palo Alto practices BARTERING about anything OWNED BY THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE.

Every person in Government needs to respect their position and be unbiased to serve the Community (PEOPLE) and NOT serve any type of BUSINESS or LAND OWNER! DEMOCRACY needs to prevail.

Posted by long time resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:20 am

The comment by Downing, "Is the council really saying that extra square footage and extra parking are more important than the lives of the people who live and die in these buildings?" Downing asked. "I really can't support this" seems to put the ethical responsibility to make buildings safe on the council. Actually it is the owners of these buildings who are making the ethical (or unethical if you wish) decision that their finances outweigh the need to make buildings safe. Put the primary responsibility where it belongs, Ms Downing.

Posted by Another Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:32 am

I agree with Downing. Developers and Land Owners need to RETROFIT Buildings which are designated Historical or definitely should be considered Historical, to keep the FEEL of Palo Alto's Architecture, especially those built before 1960. I would not oppose the City Hall to be demolished and a new building designed to reflect Palo Alto's 1930's Architecture by Birge Clark. With a PA Library on Forest, the (old and saved) Palo Alto Art League building on the other corner with another building in the middle of the Ramona block, the old University Art building (saved and being renovated) on Hamilton, and the church building on the other opposite corner; a New City Hall Building to reflect Palo Alto's 1930's Architecture by Birge Clark could be the best thing the Council approves during their appointment.

More parking, more space for the Police Department, more office space, better landscaping, etc.

The other site for City Hall Offices should be the Birge Clark designed Post Office which closed. A creative and smart architect could also renovate the building with an addition.

Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:54 am

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

In terms of conflict of interest, the PTC appears to be rife with it with very few recusals occurring. We have several people who live downtown, people with ties to Stanford, a real estate property manager and developer, and several with ties to Palintir. Yet when issues have come before them on downtown, on Stanford, on development rules and most importantly code cleanup that will benefit Palintir, there were no recusals.

The PTC consists of attorneys and business people that know better. This issue is much bigger than an ARB member thinking a flower pot was going unused. The opportunity for corruption is very real and is putting the city legally at risk. Failure to recuse themselves repeatedly should be more than enough reason to reset the PTC.

Financial statements of interest can be found here Web Link Our local newspapers would be well served to analyze what is in and not in these documents. For example, Alcheck appears to have handed in a blank form.

Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Thank you Council Members DuBois and Filseth for speaking up and Mayor Holman and Council Member Schmid for supporting.

Just finished watching the video of the 9-30 PTC meeting and shame on those Council Members who appointed these commissioners.

PTC seems to be filled with appointees who have no understanding of Planning and Transportation Commission duties nor the Law. It is really time that City Council assess how they install these commissioners. Palo Alto desperately need commissioners who have some experience and background in land use! I believe we have one applicant now who has that background!

BTW, I do NOT appreciate being called an "unmeaningful minority" by Alcheck when he was speaking to Citizen Appeals to projects in the September 30th PTC meeting. It is also shameful of veterans Michaels and Tanaka not to have spoken up to caution Downing and Alcheck in their statements. That action can be construed as agreement to their statements and name-calling.

9-30 PTC meeting video Web Link go to time 47:22 to hear Alcheck calling the citizens of Palo Alto "unmeaningful minorities".

Posted by Jenny
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm

WELL, It's about time that the Council rather than the 'commissions' started to run this city. And the Council, which is elected, had better straighten up and listen to the residents and rule likewise. Tempers are starting to simmer.
Another issue: there should be a 'time limit' on how long a real estate 'speculator' who does not live in Palo Alto - even lives thousands of miles away -can own a home empty - and sit on it to get a price rise! When I lived in Germany when my husband was in the military, I learned some German as a courtesy to my neighbors. I spoke with them, entertained, our children played with their children. Now our overseas property owners don't give us neighbors 'the time of day' - if they stick around long enough to learn "hello", "how are you?". It's a good thing we don't have really cold weather or our 'neighbors" would get frozen noses.

Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:45 pm

It is not only the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) that is out-of-step with current City Council direction.

Additionally, there seems to be a disconnect between City Council and the Planning and Community Environment Department (PCE) under Jim Keene and Hilary Gitelman's leadership.

We now have multiple instances where developers followed the guidance of the PTC *and* PCE, only to have their projects turned down by City Council. A recent example is the Wong building at 429 University Avenue.

Certainly, I applaud those City Council members who are voting against projects that violate city codes. Even so, PCE needs to get on the same page as our elected officials. Until they do, they are wasting time and money and building bad will.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:56 pm

As a follow-up I stopped into a meeting at Mitchell Park on the city planning for use of the park and facilities. One young lady was very definite that she was a commissioner and had the deciding vote on who got top priority on use of the facilities - non-profits ruled the day. City staff was present as well as one PACC member. No one said a word. I got up and walked out - totally disgusted.

Any commissioner who butts into the planning and budgeting process of a city asset needs to be put straight. And why did people buckle under to that shrill person.

I had to wonder who is running this pony show - the city or the people in the bleachers. We have a major problem here - commissioners do not run this show - the city staff and managers do along with the PACC elected officials - which we get to beat up when necessary and vote out when they break the city trust.

Posted by Lara
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 22, 2015 at 1:05 pm

The P&TC is set up to be an ADVISORY commission serving at the pleasure of the city council. The council may choose to take all, part, or wholly ignore the P&TC commissioners' advice. However, when you have commissioners banging around not knowing what they are doing, ignoring their mandate and ignoring instruction from the council, you have a group that is wasting our time - and when it comes to staff, time is money.

I hope the CC can find a way to compel the commissioners to get on track - or get rid of them. To think that Arthur Keller, who probably knows more about land use and planning than nearly anyone in town, wasn't reappointed to the commission because some lame duck council members wanted to push their agenda beyond their term of office by appointing no-nothings with hidden agendas.

The P&TC, when functioning well and on track with the CC can offer vital and valuable advice to our city. I hope it will be this again.

Posted by Erica
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Here is something to blow your mind.

You probably know that the city lets developers who buy buildings get bonuses (parking, etc) if they agree to make the building earthquake safe. But what you probably didn't know is that a developer can get these bonuses to make the building earthquake safe, but then can demolish the building and build something new, still taking advantage of the bonuses given to make the old building safe! The idea being that the new building will be safe.

This is a complete perversion of retrofitting our old precious buildings and should be stopped ASAP. Makes me sick - the game is rigged for developers. No wonder a residentialist CC was elected.

Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

1930s architecture? This isn't Rome. This isn't Vienna. And what's worse than preserving Depression-era architecture is building fake versions of it. That's like going to Seoul and visiting the Kyungbokong and realize 80% or more of it was a reproduction because the original had been destroyed three times.

Are you guys also advocating that we go back to 1930's era plumbing? Knob-and-tube electrical wiring?

Residentialists? I'm a resident, and they don't represent me. More like what I call Ossificationists. Or Disneyfication of Palo Alto.

Frozen in amber. Filled with old/dying people. Gee that sounds really representative of a dynamic Silicon Valley.

Posted by sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Thank you, Eric (and Tom, Karen and Greg) for pointing out what has been so obvious to many of us--that the PTC is totally out of touch with a majority of residents' vision of the city. I also don't understand how Downing and Rosenblum can continue in good conscience to serve on the Palo Alto Forward steering committee. I would certainly step down from the two steering committees I'm on before serving on ANY commission. Where does conflict of interest come into play, especially as PAF is a PAC (which the PTC also seems to think it is).
It's discouraging that at this pivotal point in PA's future the PTC believes it should be advocating and making policy instead of having a thoughtful conversation about Council's directives.

Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 3:12 pm

To say that the PTC is out of step with the present PACC and those who live here is to be extremely polite and generous.
There has been non-stop building in my neighborhood. The noise of construction trucks and activities related to construction completely dwarfs that of the many airplanes that fly too low, too late at night, and too early in the morning. Some even sound as though they are too low and heave to make it to SFO.
Enough already!
I propose a total moratorium on all construction throughout PA until Council has replaced the current PTC and selected replacements none of whom have a connection to the construction industry. Our traffic commission is equally bad as they continuously attempt to defy the laws of physics.
If we bring personal transportation to a total halt, everyone will adopt mass transit. No they won't. Traffic will become totally gridlocked and more dangerous as it is now on Arastradero.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 3:20 pm

I find the story on earthquakes and buildings interesting. Is that the reason we are limited to 4 story buildings? Because the buildings will not be as expensive to build? Taller buildings now have to be earthquake proof to a certain limit.

I have pictures of what the SF earthquake did to SU way back when at the turn of the century. Back then the buildings were fronted by stone. And SU is on the major fault line but on a good rock base.

So is this an artificial requirement to limit the height of buildings a concession to the developers? We are on a major earthquake fault - make no error on that point. But the buildings going up now are in the cheap range.

I was in a 6 story building in San Jose for Loma Prieta and we were happy that it was built with rollers to sustain the quake.

Posted by Shady
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2015 at 3:41 pm

I am just floored that SO many characters on the PTC have major conflicts of interest but don't have the common decency to resign or recuse themselves.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 22, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Why bother with the recusal discussion when the Palantir employees should simply be dismissed. Let the elected officials run the city, not appointed bureaucrats.

Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2015 at 4:22 pm

The granting of density bonuses and parking exemptions in exchange for seismic upgrades is an egregious example of the "developer welfare" that fuels the "build at any cost" ethos.

If the City Council was truly concerned about our safety, they would simply modify the building codes to require developers to apply the appropriate structural standards. No bonuses. No exemptions.

We are not a city blanketed with urban decay in desperate need of re-development. We do not need to provide special incentives to developers. They already want to build here.

Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 22, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Resident 1,

You have it backwards. Some taller buildings were built before 1970 and more were on the way.

The residentialists put it on the height limit on the ballot, limiting buildings to 50 feet. They also came within a few votes of blocking the Sheraton (originally Holiday Inn at the train station).

Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

@Arbitrarian - Fair point. Many of these incentives have been on the books for a long time - things like seismic safety should simply become required now - there's been enough time to take advantage of the incentives.

If the PTC was truly vetting issues, they would be considering all angles of council views such as this idea - requiring seismic upgrades. Surely if you destroy a building you should constuct the new one with current seismic regulations and not expect to get a BONUS of additional sq ft. Council's trying to fix this and PTC says they want to kill people. It's disgusting and I believe the PTC owes a strong apology to council for that entire discussion.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 6:15 pm

This is so weird. Buildings are built to specific standards and have to be inspected against those standards. Do not get why anyone building now would not be required to meet the current specifications. Every homeowner out here if in a rebuild have to meet current standards.
Why is the PTC involved in negotiating any other requirement to the current specifications? One of the reasons Moffett Park is being torn apart and rebuilt is because the buildings were old and did not meet code. Cheaper to tear down and rebuild with all of the latest building materials and tech gear.

Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2015 at 6:59 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"Cheaper to tear down and rebuild with all of the latest building materials and tech gear."

This applies to residential as well. But no, we have to expend vast quantities of dollars to make a draft old 1930s house into something that vaguely meets today's standards because some old person (who is paying 0.005% the property tax he or she should) on the block wants to pretend Palo Alto is the way it is when she/he moved to PA in the mid 70s.

And it still won't be as tight as modern construction.

Also, I find it funny that there all these calls for recusal. Being married to an employee of a company is a conflict of interest? How about all these people who are advocating for freezing development because they want to live in an imagined 1985 version of Palo Alto?

It's the same conflict of interest! And it's worse - they personally benefit from ensuring that their house price continues to appreciate! It's money directly into their pockets when they sell. That's the worst conflict of interest!


Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 7:27 pm

I get what you all are saying. Every one is getting ready for El Nino. Roofs are being repaired or replaced. A house that is over 50 years old has rotted sections. Pipes corrode and burst. Showers are replaced. Anything connected to water in the house is subject to corrosion. At some point each of the house features has to be replaced. The flooring, windows, carpets, tile, linoleum.

So the roof is first on list - if the roof leaks than all other bets are off.

Being a homeowner is a lot of work. If you lease or rent then you just call
up and say come fix it. But a complete tear down and replacement has it's own problems - like cost. And where do you stay while this is all going on.

Typically this all occurs at a point when people are ready to move and are already in their new home. Then they can tear apart and repair with no interference and put a new home on the market. That new home has to meet specifications.

Posted by Palantir employees in PA govt
a resident of Downtown North

on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:14 pm

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 anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:21 pm

An answer for "palo alto Moderate"…..

"Also, I find it funny that there all these calls for recusal . Being married to an employee of a company is a conflict of interest?"

Of course….check the law.

Posted by Greg_H
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:29 pm

Greg_H is a registered user.

@pamoderate - [Portion removed.]

I nearly choked on my Vitality bowl of granola when I read "being married to an employee of a company is a conflict of interest?" ! Are you kidding?!

It is THE definition of a conflict of interest! Seriously.

Any source of income that benefits you, and by law your spouse's income always does, is a conflict of interest. Living with your parents who work at Stanford, if you were not paying full market rent would be a conflict with Stanford as you are receiving direct economic benefit from them. Income includes stock and investments, so a spouses investments are important, such as stock in the company they work for.

Gifts over a certain amount [portion removed] are also a conflict by the way.

Reporting income, property and stock ownership is required for councilmembers, staff, boards and commissions under penalty of perjury.

Before attempting sarcasm, check the law
Web Link

Web Link

§ 82030. Income.
(a) “Income” means, except as provided in
subdivision (b), a payment received, including but
not limited to any salary, wage, advance, dividend,
interest, rent, proceeds from any sale, gift, including
any gift of food or beverage, loan, forgiveness or
payment of indebtedness received by the filer,
reimbursement for expenses, per diem, or
contribution to an insurance or pension program
paid by any person other than an employer, and
including any community property interest in the
income of a spouse. Income also includes an
outstanding loan. Income of an individual also
includes a pro rata share of any income of any
business entity or trust in which the individual or
spouse owns, directly, indirectly or beneficially, a
10-percent interest or greater. “Income,” other than a
gift, does not include income received from any
source outside the jurisdiction and not doing
business within the jurisdiction, not planning to do
business within the jurisdiction, or not having done
business within the jurisdiction during the two years
prior to the time any statement or other action is
required under this title.

Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Hooray to Council Member DuBois for the only one to stand behind his words by way of seconding Council Member Filseth's amendment to Wolbach's motion. Then, his lone "NO" vote for Wolbach's motion makes him #1 in my book!

Thank you Council Member DuBois.

Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Oct 22, 2015 at 10:22 pm

From time to time, the power structure has to slap down elected officials when they get out of line.

Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 22, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

This post by "Palantir employees in PA govt" got auto-nuked, but I think the content is worth reposting.

Mehdi Alhassani on Human Relations Commission, works for Palantir
Kate Vershov Downing on PTC, husband Steve Downing works for Palantir
Eric Rosenblum on PTC, works for Palantir
Mila Zelkha on the Public Art Commission, works for Palantir; was on the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee
Brett Somers on the RPP Parking Committee, works for Palantir

Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Thanks to PA online for yet another piece of outstanding journalism.

PTC seems partially hijacked by Palantir. This is wrong. How can two Palantir employees be on PTC at the same time? How can we prevent this from happening again?

Having said that the total number of approved new residential house constructions is around 340 for the past four years, around 80+ per year, according to the planning department web site. Palo Alto has a total of 16400+ single family houses. So the pace of new construction, at least for SFH, is not that high.

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 8:29 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Perjury
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Oct 23, 2015 at 9:00 am

Simone posted a link to financial disclosures above so I looked everyone up. Fascinating stuff. Kate Downing lists over $1 million dollars in palantir stock. And Michael Alcheck reveals no information. As a real estate attorney w interests in family property all over the area is this legal? Fppc site says its perjury not to complete the information fully and accurately.

Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2015 at 10:23 am

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"I nearly choked on my Vitality bowl of granola when I read "being married to an employee of a company is a conflict of interest?" ! Are you kidding?!"

I guess you need to read the entire post to understand my point.

Conflict of interest doesn't just go one way. What I'm saying is that the people looking to put Palo Alto in amber have a MORE DIRECT conflict of interest - it's the value of their house.

So, all this nonsense from "residentialists" are just that - NIMBYs insuring the value of their house keeps on rising.

Follow the money.

Posted by USA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2015 at 10:36 am

Other cities (i.e. Park City) in the US charge special taxes and fees to people that own residences but don'th live in them. It is time for PA to start charging foreign investors a fee for their unoccupied homes. PA residents would be stunned to know how many properties are vacant. PA is headed toward being a town filled with foreign investor property owners. Wake up, Palo Alto.

Posted by Business in City Gov't
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2015 at 10:51 am

Palantir, or any other company doing business in PaloAlto has NO NO NO legal right to interfere or meddle with Palo Alto city government or decision making. Anyone with ties Palantir should be immediately dismissed from any commission, panel, council or position in Palo Alto city government. This is unlawful.

Nor should Palantir employees, or employees of any other company doing business in Palo Alto be allowed to hold the city council hostage for hours at a time in an effort to get what they want from the city. That is also unlawful.

There should be legal consequences for these attempts to illegally influence city government.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2015 at 11:00 am

We have a City Manager and two Assistant / vice City Managers. We have a legal staff. We have a finance staff. We have Planning and Transportation Staff. These are people we have hired and are on our payroll.

So why do we have rogue commissioners who are bucking the law and requirements for good governance? Why isn't the legal staff moving in on this issue?

I don't get it - have the paid people thrown up their hands and are handing the keys to the city to special interests groups? How have we concocted such a convoluted mess? Why isn't the PACC and staff undoing this mess?
We are staring at unethical behavior by all involved who knowingly allow this to happen.

Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 23, 2015 at 11:28 am

Political appointees will push for their special interests as long as they can get away with it. In the private sector, once individuals get out of line, the decision makers can remove them. Can't the city council take this kind of action w/ these individuals that aren't supporting their charter?

And yes, I find it shocking to hear about all these conflict-of-interest stories, and the connection to Palantir. Maybe they think their upcoming IPO will make them so rich and untouchable? Are they financially liable for any conflict-of-interest violations?

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I don't think that the company will remain at this address for long. Given the business they are in they need buildings that have solid firewalls. They also need stand alone buildings that will separate foreign and US government customers. You can't mix and match on the same systems - will be a security issue. All of the hoop law aside once they go into the big leagues they will have to function in a tighter, more controlled environment. If a US Government customer then hey will have to pass inspections by the government for the security level of their buildings and systems.

Posted by Nonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:09 pm

@pamoderate [Portion removed.] People advocating for themselves don't have a legal conflict of interest. This is a specific term meant to avoid corruption in our democratic processes.

People in a official position of power are barred from profiting from their role to serve the community AND (and this is really important) barred from participating when even just the appearance of impropriety is likely.

Council members this year have recused themselves when just the barest appearance of a conflict arose. You may have become so jaded to democracy that you can't see the difference.

Community members fighting to preserve their quality of life have no conflict and are free to do so. If our PTC commissioners want to stand up for their principles, they can resign and advocate as much as they want. But as PTC commissioners they took an oath to work for the best of the city, even if that is at odds with their personal ideology. A commission role is to serve council, not a political platform and not a platform to appear to support programs that benefit you and your sources of income, whether salary or investments. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:22 pm

"Palantir, or any other company doing business in PaloAlto has NO NO NO legal right to interfere or meddle with Palo Alto city government or decision making. Anyone with ties Palantir should be immediately dismissed from any commission, panel, council or position in Palo Alto city government. This is unlawful."

The term "Banana Republic" comes to mind.

There should also be an investigation of the city council members who voted these moles onto the PTC, with consideration of impeachment and/or formal charges. This is a bona fide scandal.

Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:43 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

" you make no sense. People advocating for themselves don't have a legal conflict of interest. This is a specific term meant to avoid corruption in our democratic processes. "

I don't care about the so-called "legal definition" of conflict of interest. That's a distinction without a difference in this discussion.

I just find it hilariously hypocritical for people who have a financial/vested interest in the value of their owned property calling others out while they hiding under the guise of "representing residents."

It's about your pocket book. Let's just call a spade a spade here, ok?

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Chris Gaither
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:45 pm

It is very unfortunate that the PTC cannot comprehend what is occurring in this city (Palo Alto). I live in the California Avenue area, and have lived in this neighborhood for 25 years. The City Council was correct to put the lid on making Park Boulevard a Techie landscape with more commercial development. One nearby project at 2650 Birch has been in construction mode for over three years, since July, 2012 (demolished 7/2012, and new construction permit issued 1/2013). It is still not close to being completed. Occupancy will not occur until sometime in mid 2016. What is being built there? EIGHT residences, and TWO offices. Someone please tell me why a neighborhood or city must deal with on going construction for three years with a net result of EIGHT residences, and TWO offices? And, the best part of all, most people in this neighborhood will not get the benefit of renting any of those residences, as the per unit rental rates for a three bedroom will start at SIX TO SEVEN THOUSAND, and the two bedroom units will range from FOUR TO FIVE THOUSAND. Who in their right mind would pay such a price just to rent a place? Along Park Boulevard, the other duo from this developer will have 84 apartments, and multiple office and research/development space. Construction wise, it is being done quicker than the one at 2650 Birch, but it too has at least another six to nine months before completion. Next, 385 Sherman Avenue (different developer) where a three story office complex is being built to be completed we are told in about two years. And of course, this area just went through the California Avenue transformation with all of its construction interruptions, and the demolition and rebuilding of 260 California Avenue. Upcoming will be the demolition and construction of 2555 Park Boulevard, which should occur sometime in late 2016. How much demolition and construction in one neighborhood does the PTC think is fair to those local residents, and business owners? All in the name of supplying for the most part more office space. How much office space does a village with roughly 65,000 residents need? Palo Alto will always be an attractive place to visit simply because of Stanford and all that it offers. However, the manner in which Palo Alto is being built out with all the commercial additions, and not to mention lack of aesthetic quality affordable housing, Palo Alto will not remain an attractive or enjoyable place to live. I hear so many residents who say that they do not even venture to downtown (University Avenue) area simply because of the complications to reach the destination. And truth be told, California Avenue simply does not have that many enjoyable retail business establishments to visit. The character, and joy has been sucked out of this city.

Change with the purpose of creating a more enjoyable place to live and visit should be the goal. The vision we currently see developing in Palo Alto is obviously one that is not clear, or well thought out. It is unfortunate that the City Staff, the PTC and some members of the PACC do not realize that their decisions are ruining the fabric and fiber of Palo Alto. Gone are the days when you could simply get a decent breakfast at a local dining establishment within in Palo Alto. Nowadays, one has to travel to another nearby Peninsula city just to eat something comforting. Needless to say, there are not establishments in Palo Alto who benefit from my hard own dollars anymore, as everything that was once enjoyable about Palo Alto, has simply disappeared, and replaced by multiplying brick and mortar commercial construction. Isn't it ironic that in this day and age of technology, there is this illusion that so much brick and mortar buildings still need to be developed? What happened to the work at home and your garage technology start-ups that did not need an office environment to flourish? So much for technology improving our lives.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2015 at 1:38 pm

I see reference to contractors and developers above but no names. It is time that we start recognizing the contractors that finish a project and those that are unable to.

In the opinion section of the SJM people write-in about Sand Hill Properties and their frustrations with the progress on the overhaul of the Cupertino shopping center. I am not familiar with the progress on the mall on Wolf Road so am only looking at comments by the local residents. People have to be upset if they take the time to write-in to a paper.

I am concerned that developers and contractors take on a job and get loans based on that job and start a string of projects to keep pace but can't finish the job they are on. If the city is somehow facilitating this scheme then we are all in trouble.

Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 23, 2015 at 3:39 pm

"Let's just call a spade a spade here, ok?"

Your option. Some words of wisdom: be careful he doesn't hear you.

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 4:01 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Wow….could the PA weekly moderator tell me why my remark was removed?


Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 9:58 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 24, 2015 at 11:40 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Another conflict
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 8:29 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:22 am

I really appreciated this article and many of the comments.
I believe recusal of Planning Commission members due to conflict of interest is a very important issue and do not understand why the weekly is removing these comments.

Is the information commenters are making incorrect?
I do understand that the last poster was posting under different names which for good reason is not allowed.

Some clarification would be useful.

Posted by former planning commissioner
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Commissioners are required by the state to recuse themselves when there is a conflict defined by the state. If any didn't recuse themselves when required, they could be removed. There may be other remedies, too. Consult with the city attorney.

Commissions are advisory to the Council; they do not set policy. Planning commissions have the authority, however, to approve projects if granted that authority by the town, subject to appeal to the town council.

I think it's healthy to have residents with multiple perspectives serve on commissions so that a spectrum of ideas and advice are provided to the council. Groupthink tends to be very unhealthy for organizations and communities.

Posted by Other Solutions?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2015 at 8:52 am

I have been wondering if this is a case in which Palantir is guilty of influence-peddling.

If they are intentionally interfering with Palo Alto politics, planting moles, etc--would it be within the power of the city council to insist that Palantir either call off their dogs, i.e., make sure the Palantir employees and spouses of employees resign from the PTC u dear penalty of job loss; OR order Palantir to pack up and vacate the city of Palo Alto immediately?

I think it is time the city council flexes some muscle in dealing with this devious issue of too many Palantir employees in city government.

Posted by Citizen 7
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2015 at 12:06 pm

It is looking an awful lot like Palantir has adopted the techniques of one of its more well known clients, and is using them to penetrate Palo Alto city government.

Posted by Useful reading
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2015 at 11:18 pm

Good reading if you haven't seen it

Web Link

Posted by Greg_H
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 30, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Greg_H is a registered user.

Anyone watch/attend the PTC meeting last night? Was there any response to council questioning whether the PTC isdoing their job (reading and interpreting existing ordinances and completing analysis requested by council) VS making stuff up?

Posted by No Thanks
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2015 at 10:11 am

@Useful reading:

Thanks for the reminder of why I don't read Doug Moran's blog. Aside from the awkward writing style and high-handed attitude, his deletion of comments that he disagrees with is obnoxious. And he doesn't just delete the comments, he has to add snarky, "I get the last word," condescending comments along with the deletions.

I would easily be classified a "residentialist" and I think the current PTC needs to be disbanded and new applicants seated, but I frankly cannot stomach Doug Moran's blog. It does nothing to help the residentialists' cause.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 31, 2015 at 10:39 am

I think the architects and developers need to be identified up front in the process. Some have a better track record than others. We need to start identifying how projects are awarded so that everyone understands what the predictable end result will be.

Is that called transparency?

Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2015 at 11:35 am

"Frozen in amber. Filled with old/dying people. Gee that sounds really representative of a dynamic Silicon Valley."

Those old/dying people are the ones who built Silicon Valley. They also fought in WWII, Korea and VietNam.

So, PAmoderate, what dynamic things have you done for Silicon Valley and your country that will remembered when you're old/dying?

Posted by This S/B Continued
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2015 at 9:33 am

This whole thread ears repeating.

Posted by About Time
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2015 at 10:22 am

Tempers aren't just simmering between the council and the commission, it's clear they are at a boiling point for residents. From where I sit, the members of the commission are not so much "concerned volunteers donating their time" but lobbyists of the worst kind, placed by outside interests in a position where they can exert undue influence to further a not so hidden agenda. For the life of me, I can't understand why the current city counsel doesn't suspend the lot of them for over-reaching and conflict of interests.

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