Town Square

Post a New Topic

Land use attorney to join Palo Alto's planning commission

Original post made on Dec 17, 2019

Palo Alto's most influential and -- at times -- controversial planning commission will see a new member next year, with the City Council voting on Monday to appoint land use attorney Barton Hechtman to the seven-member panel.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, December 17, 2019, 2:38 PM

Comments (44)

17 people like this
Posted by housing supporter
a resident of University South
on Dec 17, 2019 at 4:26 pm

It looks like Filseth, Dubois, and Kuo will continue to drag their feet on housing despite the city's supposed priorities.


35 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2019 at 4:32 pm

mjh is a registered user.

As a land use attorney I hope his background has not been in commercial real estate transactions which could tend to give him look more favorable on the commercial development constituency rather than representing the residents who actually live here and pay 75% of the property tax.


62 people like this
Posted by A Catastrophe
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 17, 2019 at 4:36 pm

Hechtman has in the past worked for Sand Hill Properties, the very firm that refuses to pay penalties the city assessed it for having had no operating grocery store at Edgewood Plaza.

Hechtman in fact claimed (as a private person) that Sand Hill shouldn't have to pay penalties at all, despite the fact that the developer agreed to provide a grocery store and the municipal code has a specific penalty for failing to meet such agreements. He claimed that Sand Hill wasn't earning money on the vacant space (not true -- it was earning rent from the prior tenant) and that people shouldn't complain anyway because the developer had invested millions of dollars into the neighborhood.

Can you imagine a more pro-developer partisan? Tanaka and Fine claim they care about residents, but there were many others applicants they could have appointed instead. What a catastrophe for a city already overrun with developers who fail to take responsibility for their actions. Now we have a new planning commissioner who argues this is OK!


6 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:09 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Catastrophe - do you have citations for the actions you cited above?

I agree that the behavior you describe is extremely problematic, and could lead to the exact same problems I had with Woldfagel: Woldfagel's refusal to enforce penalties on Castilleja when Waldfogel himself was both a Planning and Transportation Commissioner as well as a Castilleja Trustee! (Possibly worse, however, is the fact that Castilleja, despite its location on 51 RH-1 zoned lots, pays ZERO taxes to Palo Alto!)

The last thing we need are more conflicts -- or perceived conflicts -- on the Planning Commission.

Three City Council members are up for re-election in November, and one is termed out. We need to remember these things when we go to the polls.


8 people like this
Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:13 pm

Despite the fact that waldfogel made large donations to kuo filseth and Dubois, he failed to get reappointed. Of course the show growth 3 should be ashamed of themselves for this clear case of someone trying to buy a position. I wonder if Fred balin will be doing an in depth investigation into this act. Kuo, filseth and Dubois have their marching orders - oppose new housing and protect racist cops.


7 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:18 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Also, I think that the pro-housing groups desperately need to rethink their strategy. They continue to support commercial developers despite the abundance of evidence that commercial developers actually contribute to the housing shortage, and certainly do not reduce the housing shortage! No commercial developer makes money by proposing affordable housing. What they want is what the City has been giving them: office buildings and parking lots.

We urgently need to convert office space to housing. And we need to redirect all city funds going towards the senseless building of parking garage toward infrastructure that will take cars off the road, like electric shuttles that transport residents from their homes to the commercial districts.

That is what I told the city council two weeks ago. But I fear that the "pro-housing" folks may be in bed with the commercial developers just as much as the residentialists appear to be in bed with Castilleja and Stanford. What a tangled web they weave. But every knot can be detangled, in time.


Like this comment
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:21 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Are donations ok -- Walfogel failed to get appointed, but the 3 council members to whom he donated *DID* continue to vote for him. Donations are ok, of course. The question is the perception it creates when elected officials regularly appoint their largest donors to the most powerful commissions. This question can and should be asked of all of the city council members, of course. It was not easy to uncover the link between Woldfagel - Kou/Filseth/Dubois - Castilleja. Are there similar links on the "pro housing" side? My guess is that there are.


55 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:43 pm

Another real-estate industry shill stacked onto the Planning and Transportation Commission when residents are preoccupied with the holidays.

It is really hard not to see the attack on Waldfogel as a premeditated political assassination designed to clear the way for another real-estate industry hack to get stuffed onto the commission.

Hechtman said:

"Housing is necessary, people will ADJUST to more traffic congestion and that's the right priority for a city to have." He noted that he had lived in San Francisco before coming to Palo Alto and, at the time, traffic in San Francisco was much worse than it is today.

Yeah right. Housing needs to be planned but transportation will somehow just magically work itself out. Hechtman has inadvertently expressed the the San Francisco real-estate mafia's approach to planning and transportation in a nutshell.

The real-estate industry doesn't give a damn about transportation because they can't make any money off of it.


21 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 17, 2019 at 5:48 pm

While i respect everyones right to express their opinion regarding the Castilleja penalties, the planning commission has never been in the position to enforce penalties on any one, Castilleja included.

To date, the planning commission has had one public hearing on Castilleja, which was a chance for the public, mostly, to weigh in on the Draft environmental report. The process will continue with whatever degree of involvement the staff feels is in the Planning commissions purview as the project unfurls.

Any fines and penalties that may have been accrued over the years are enforced by the city staff.

The last city manager turned a blind eye to the penalties that Castilleja owed, along with allowing many other laws in our city to be ignored. It appears most high level staff fell in lockstep with him, or at least felt they had to.

Lets hope the "newish" city manager can set a new tone at city hall, following the law and treating all equally under it.

But please stop attacking one person, Commissioner Waldfogel, for something he did not do, could not do; enforcing penalties on Castilleja.

We should instead, thank him for his many many years of service to his community and hope that future public servants will take their jobs as seriously as he did; using preparation, facts and logic to inform his opinions over ideology and unnecessarily divisive local politics.


26 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 17, 2019 at 8:47 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"The four council members not affiliated with the residentialist wing – Vice Mayor Adrian Fine and council members Alison Cormack, Liz Kniss and Greg Tanaka – all supported Hechtman. "


Of course they did. You know just who to thank for the increased development that will of course be under-parked because 1) we have no traffic problems, 2) no one drives cars especially the commuters who outnumber us 4:1, 3) because the ballot initiative measure to restrict office growth doesn't matter, etc. etc. etc.


7 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 17, 2019 at 10:22 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Anon - you make good points that are worthy of using your real name. I agree that Waldfogel is not solely to blame for the lack of enforcement against Castilleja's violations. That said, it looked EXTREMELY shady when he actively concealed his role as an official representative for Castilleja as a Castilleja Trustee, and wearing both hats, did opine several times on applications both filed directly by Castilleja as well as matters directly impacting Castilleja. Those matters have been going on for years and years, not just in the one (one of several actual) public hearings to which you occur.

In fact, if you go to this website:

Web Link

You will see just a snippet of the level of time and energy -- and much much much cost in terms of hours of our public servants that could be spent on something else -- our local government has spent in consideration of the Castilleja CUP, the multiple violations of the CUP, the negotiations over the violations, the amended CUP, and all of the other numerous permits applied for by Castilleja with the City. Many of these documents are not on the site.

In fact, I had to file a public records act request to acquire the actual receipt of the very small pay that Castilleja paid when it also -- in exchanged for paying such a reduced fee -- agreed that it would NOT file for an amended CUP until and unless it came into compliance with its first CUP. Castilleja broke that promise, too.

Most tellingly is that 2013 letter where the City staff tells Castilleja that if it violates the temporary agreement that the city struck with Palo Alto by failing to reduce the enrollment by 4 to 8 students each year, and if it continued to make other violations in any way, that the City of Palo Alto WOULD pull its original Conditional Use Permit.

Even though Castilleja immediately violated that Letter Agreement the following year, the City did not keep its promise -- its promise to us! the taxpayers who pay for all of this city service time, and all of the staff time and city council and other staff time spent dealing with and responding to these literally thousands of pages of documents! -- because remember CASTILLEJA DOES NOT PAY TAXES so we pay for all of the costs it creates for Palo Alto.

In fact, within a couple years, all 4 of the Palo Alto city staff members who were named on the 2013 letter to Castilleja containing the promise to pull Castilleja's permit and cause it finally to move to a location for which it is legally allowed to build -- all 4 of those Palo Alto staff members were gone.

I cannot explain how it is that the ONE time that the City of Palo Alto finally acted with teeth and made a communication where they actually sounded like they were going to get serious about enforcing local law resulted with (1) No actual consequences; and (2) all 4 employees who followed the law's employment ending.

What I can see, however, from having spent hours pouring through the letters made available on the website, and the few others I obtained through public records requests, is that in a very large number of communications, the staff members of Palo Alto were on the defensive, spending a lot of words trying to justify THEIR actions.

Given that many Castilleja letters are missing, when viewed in the context of the defensive tone of the responses, and the lack of many of these letters in the record, that it is conceivable to conclude that Castilleja has been threatening litigation against the City.

In other words, it is possible - although this information would be protected from public disclosure due to the 'litigation' exemption from the Brown Act - that instead of negotiating by offering up mitigation to Palo Alto, as the CUP process generally includes, Castilleja may have been (may still be?) threatening to sue.

If that is true, that the law breaker has been threatening to sue the law enforcer, that could explain the disappearance of staff, and the unwillingness of the City to take any meaningful action.

And yes, a person sitting in the role as a Trustee of the tax-exempt private organization residing on a plot of property worth hundreds of millions of dollars, yet pays no part of its share into City coffers... at the time time as sitting in the role of the very City Commission that reviews applications for zoning exemptions -- like the thousands of zoning exemptions enjoyed by that particular tax-exempt centimillionaire private organization -- needs to disclose that he is wearing both hats at the same time.

Because the PTC does a lot more than hold public hearings. It is charged with the job of giving fair, knowledgeable and UNBIASED advice to the City Council regarding applications for zoning exemptions and other matters brought to its attention by City Staff and our public. Stakeholders in any matter before the Commission cannot possibly give an unbiased opinion to the City Council.

Yet the City Council continues to appoint Commissioners with potential, if not actual, conflicts. Waldfogel's situation was in my opinion the most urgent because of the City's critical need to move forward -- and reject -- Castilleja's proposed CUP because we are spending far too much taxpayer money on considering a proposal which our City government has no legal right to approve, given its negative impact on traffic, safety, and quality of life, coupled with complete and total lack of mitigating investments.

To clarify, our zoning code clearly states that the City of Palo Alto MUST reject an amendment to a CUP if the proposed CUP will cause even **inconvenience** to the community. No matter how many ways a person can mince the EIR, it is undeniable that the proposed CUP will cause inconvenience. It needs to be denied and our city government needs to get back to work on the other urgent matters, such as a Churchill grade separation that will be safe for our students and seniors while also not cause residents to lose their family homes. While we waste time hand-wringing over a clearly faulty amended CUP, some of our neighbors cannot sleep because their homes may be turned into a car tunnel at Churchill.

So THAT is why this is a big deal.


28 people like this
Posted by We are here, we are here, we are HERE!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2019 at 2:00 am

""Housing is necessary," Hechtman said in response. "People will adjust to more traffic congestion and that's the right priority for a city to have." "

Openly admitted assault on our lives. Traffic may not be a problem for him, but it's one of the main reasons that these tech clustering economic areas have become bad for the opportunity of those in the middle and bottom of the economic rungs. Transit is fundamentally time-consuming and vehicles are necessary for many, many kinds of service businesses, families, people with disabilities, etc etc etc. Maybe with his resources, he can hire people so that the loss of productivity and time from the traffic doesn't destroy his livelihood or time with his children.

NO surprise that the overdevelopment faction, Kniss, Fine, etc went for this.

Weekly, can you please come up with a more descriptive words for people who want smarter, more holistic planning than "slow"? You're willing to use positive and mislead euphemisms for the overdevelopment faction, how about something at least less pejorative and more accurate for the residentialists?


31 people like this
Posted by Housing crisis is a LIE
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2019 at 2:00 am

"Housing is necessary," Hechtman said in response. "People will adjust to more traffic congestion and that's the right priority for a city to have."

THIS SAYS IT ALL! Build baby, build.

So @Rebecca Eisenberg, you were used by the developer shills on council. Or were you in with them?


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2019 at 4:09 am

"And people weren't screaming and pulling their hair out and trying to leave the city. They adapted," Hechtman said. "That's part of the price of having those amenities and I think that's true in Palo Alto."

Over the past few years more than half my neighbors have moved to less congested towns, and their homes remain empty because no one can afford to pay the high rents that speculative buyers are charging.

People change their jobs and priorities - a smaller town, less stressful environment, quieter streets and skies, a lower salary, and a home that can one day be their own.

What's the point in working at a career if there is no possibility of ever owning your own home and piece of land? Many parents hope to share their lives with their children living nearby. It is not possible here.

Silicon Valley has dug a hole so deep that double wage earning families struggle to survive.

Small business owners are leaving as well.




32 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 18, 2019 at 6:22 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Actually, many long time residents have left both San Francisco and Palo Alto, disgusted with traffic and density conditions.

Asher Waldfogel was targeted by the hyper growth CC faction since he was appointed. It is ridiculous to eccuse him for not enforcing penalties on Castilleja for their numerous violations, only the city council is authorized to do so, and the question why not one of the hyper growth faction ever suggested punishing Castilleja is most interesting.

The new commissioner is just another hyper growth advocate who will contribute a willing hand to the destruction of Palo Alto.


30 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2019 at 8:05 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

Feel obliged to set the record straight.

One of the purposes of local boards and commissions is participation from people with community links and knowledge. I was appointed twice to the Utilities Advisory Commission and once to the PTC by solid council majorities. I also served on the Library Technology Advisory Commission. I spent 10 years on the board of California College of the Arts where I chaired the Finance Committee. I am currently on the board of NexLeaf, a global health not-for-profit. I spent three years on the board of Castilleja. I left the Castilleja board in 2015 before I joined the PTC. I disclosed my Castilleja board membership, and at the time Castilleja had paid a fine (I'm reciting the timing from memory) but had no pending development application. I never consulted or discussed the fine with anyone at Castilleja or the City.

A year later the Castilleja EIR scoping hearing was initially scheduled. At my own expense I consulted a law firm specializing in government law to analyze if I had what's called a "common law" conflict of interest. I clearly had no financial conflict of interest since I was no longer affiliated with Castilleja. When I'm appointed to a task I take it seriously. I have a responsibility to participate if I'm not conflicted. My lawyer analyzed the situation and shared his findings with our City Attorney's office which did not dispute his analysis, that I was not common-law conflicted.

When the EIR scoping hearing was finally scheduled in 2017 (and rescheduled several times) I was unable to participate due to work travel.
Two years later the DEIR was scheduled to return to the PTC in June. The schedule slipped out to August, to a week when I had a vacation trip scheduled. Ironically out of the few meetings I missed in four years, Castilleja hearings were scheduled for two of them. Along the way I met with Castilleja neighbors and Castilleja leadership a few times, which would have been duly disclosed at a public hearing.

The upshot: I didn't overlap Castilleja board membership with PTC, I disclosed Castilleja in my initial and second application, I consulted a legal expert to analyze potential conflicts, and after all that I was unable to participate due to scheduling problems.

If local non-profit board membership is disqualifying then Mr Hechtman's participation in the Etz Chayim board will be a problem. I don't think it is. If political participation is a problem then Sue Monk's role in Liz Kniss' campaign and Cari Templeton's role in Alison Cormack's campaign should be matters of concern.

My bigger issue is that my views on housing and development are being misrepresented. I've sat through four years of hearings where we discuss initiatives that don't solve the problems we're targeting. ADUs have created zero documented units of affordable housing, and the downtown housing workplan with density bonuses and parking concessions has produced exactly zero units. It doesn't help the latter that the CC repealed the downtown office cap after they transmitted "downtown housing" as a yearlong priority work item to the PTC in 2018. A big problem is City Hall doesn't understand development economics.

I have been a consistent skeptic about reduced parking standards because the regional data shows private car ownership is increasing and transit ridership is decreasing. I believe our local job is to plan for the world we have, and contingency-plan for the world we want. Not the other way around.

We're in a world where "YIMBY's" feel entitled to vilify anyone who doesn't agree with their approaches. That's sad, because collaboration is often the key to solving difficult problems.


4 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 18, 2019 at 11:26 am

Hechtman is a realist. Remember Palo Alto is just a relatively small town in big Silicon Valley. High end. Hechtman can remind the city council that their decision to stop rental increases is in of itself: RENT CONTROL. Hecthman can also remind them that inclusionary zoning is bad. He'll soon realize that the hardest job in the world is teaching bone head economics to California's politicians (Democrats). Silicon Valley brains should eventually triumph.

The econ teacher and land economist


21 people like this
Posted by sfvalley
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2019 at 12:07 pm

sfvalley is a registered user.

Thanks, Gennady, for a helpful and well-researched article. I watched the video of the interviews for the PTC appointment, and could not understand why Hechtman was chosen. Although he's generally knowledgeable and experienced, he was admittedly not very familiar with Palo Alto zoning and hadn't been studying the current PTC issues and watching the meetings. This comparative analysis makes things clearer. I thought Asher was always well-prepared and brought excellent experience to the commission and am sorry to see him go.


20 people like this
Posted by Adios Asher!
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 18, 2019 at 12:12 pm

Won't miss your backwards world view on our planning commission. Continuing to build our cities for cars instead of human beings will keep us on our current path toward climate catastrophe. Human behavior is heavily influenced by environment and our city has built an environment that encourages car ownership by subsidizing and dedicating scarce, expensive land exclusively to car storage. Changing built environments can and does change behavior.

Your stat on car ownership increasing in the region is tiresome. Wealthy people own more cars per capita than their poorer counterparts and our region has become a place where only the wealthy or high income can live, with poorer people being pushed further and further away, to homes where taking public transit may take 2+ hours.

Mr. Waldfogel is utterly out of touch with renter's needs. ADUs have created 0 affordable units? ADUs aren't deed-restricted BMR but they are among the cheapest housing options in town. The cheapest rental on Zillow right now is a $1600 a month 210sq. ft. ADU. I know several people in town who are only able to live here because they live in a tiny ADU.

The housing workplan has resulted in 0 units? Asher should take the credit for this one! He and his NIMBY allies (the majority of the PTC at the time) successfully watered down the plan to the point of inefficacy. To actually get new housing proposals in places like downtown, we need bigger buildings with more homes and less car storage. The Palo Alto City Council doesn't have the votes to actually accomplish this, which is why pro-housing people in town are likely to support CA setting minimum development standards (#moreHOMES).

[Portion removed.]

Asher is a very smart man who can effectively reason his way toward justifying utterly heinous public policies. But maintaining car-oriented exclusion is unacceptable and the next generation isn't going to stand for it.


18 people like this
Posted by @Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 18, 2019 at 12:29 pm

For Asher Waldfogel, the heart of the matter is the perception of a conflict of interest, which Asher and many others in our community often misunderstand.

It is true, as Asher has suggested above that he had no financial conflict of interest with respect to Castilleja. The question of a financial conflict of interest is a black and white issue and it may be put to rest. Many of you may wonder what a common law conflict of interest is and it has to do with more nuanced issues that can arise having to do with bias and personal gain that is not specifically tied to one’s financial interests. And while this sort of common law conflict of interest is quite difficult to demonstrate the bigger issue here has to do with the PERCEPTION of such a conflict of interest.

Allow me to explain why the perception of a conflict of interest issue is applicable in Asher’s case. A perception of a conflict of interest occurs when an individual may reasonably be understood as having competing interests which may undermine or interfere with the individuals responsibilities as a Commissioner.

For example, one is not considered to have a financial interest in a home belonging to a brother. However, if a development project under review was likely to impact your brother's home, then a perception of a conflict of interest is present because you may reasonably be understood as acting in your brother's interest despite not having any actual financial interest in your brother's property. And even if you had no relationship with your brother, the evidence and effort to demonstrate the non-existence of the relationship would not overcome the perception issue, in fact it may strengthen the case that there is a conflict.

Your involvement with Castilleja as a member of their board of directors is an incredibly problematic issue. To have had such a close relationship with the institution, to have advised them at such a high level, to have committed so much time to their vision and their execution of that vision suggests that you have an incredible amount of affection for them. It is entirely reasonable to infer that you could not be impartial when it comes to Castilleja because you had been too involved in their ultimate success. The fact that the board membership had ended just before your appointment is not sufficient enough to eliminate this reasonably understood perception. Furthermore, the fact that you spent considerable money to hire an outside attorney to make the case that you shouldn’t be recused only after the City Attorney suggested recusal was probably for the best suggests you were too invested in demonstrating that you should not be recused. It is the sort of effort that doesn’t help you because it makes you look to interested in the outcome. You should not have needed an outside attorney to advise you on this. The City Attorney’s original suggestion should have been sufficient.

I also believe that your founding and continued leadership of the Embarcadero Institute was problematic as well. The Embarcadero Institute which you founded and continue to lead published a report that described and depicted scenarios that were highly unlikely to result from or were all but impossible to occur under the proposed legislation that it reviewed. The report served to scare many in our community into action based on the false premise that the legislation that concerned the Embarcadero Institute would cause the rapid demise of our community as we know it. While you may actually believe this to be the case and you are free to contribute to the public debate in any way you please, the report came off like a Fox News hit piece. And your financial and personal involvement in such an overwhelmingly sensationalist study of some of the solutions to problems facing our community suggested that you could not possibly be fit to participate as a Commissioner in what should be an honest, sincere and ultimately compromise driven discussion about how to solve the problems facing our community.

Asher, you are very thoughtful but you don't always listen. You are very sophisticated, but you are often arrogant. You are very wealthy, but contributions from your family in the $30,000 range are considered by most local residents regardless of their political persuasion to be highly inappropriate. You are very smart, but so are many of your colleagues on the Commission and in our City Hall and it is telling that you have chosen public forums like this one to suggest otherwise. You are a successful businessman with deep links and knowledge of our community, but you not entitled to a position of power in our local process. Such a position must be earned by building trust, demonstrating an interest in bridging the divide and engaging in the discussions at hand in an unbiased way. You have failed to do that and this is why you were not reappointed.


20 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 18, 2019 at 4:23 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

<You are a successful businessman with deep links and knowledge of our community, but you not entitled to a position of power in our local process.>

This was a post addressing Asher Waldfogel. I guess the poster his comfortable with real estate attorney Micheal Altchek violating city ordinances and enriching himself in real estate investments while serving as a planning commissioner.


7 people like this
Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 18, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Maurucio--your complain about Asher being targeted. What about the targeting of Alchek by the anti everything, pasz faction. The report by pasz acolyte balin is a hit piece.
What about Ashers large donations to the 3 pasz council members. They voted due him. What does tell you?
Too bad balin will not produce a report about that. And to bad Asher did not address the issue in his comment.
The pasz 3 need to resign from the council and Alchek should consider a lawsuit against balin.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 19, 2019 at 10:49 am

A poster above claims that the new appointee, Hechtman, was recently an attorney on behalf of Sand Hill Properties and that he was even involved with opposing the city in Sand Hill’s lawsuit against the city. The article on the appointment did not mention this history. Is this true and did it come out during the commissioner interviews and was the city council aware of it when they appointed him?


16 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 19, 2019 at 10:53 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Resident, of course the CC was aware of his history; this is the sort of biased candidate the pro-development majority prefers as they continue their arduous work undermining residents' known preferences while the satisfaction ratings for the city continue to tank.


3 people like this
Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 19, 2019 at 11:06 am

Online name- as opposed to the bought off pasz minority that commission hit pieces against commissioners they do not like?


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 19, 2019 at 11:56 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Are Donations okay -- Maybe you'd like to compare PASZ's coffers with the well-funded YIMBY-backed candidates since the big tech companies are funding the pro-development candidates on a local, state and national level?


5 people like this
Posted by Are donations okay
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:13 pm

Online name- try to keep up. We are not talking about coffers, we are talking about Ashers large personal donations to the pasz 3. And they cave through, voting for him despite the fact that their behavior was unethical.


19 people like this
Posted by Vote out the growthers next election
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:14 pm

This appointment should be considered more of the same from the "growther" majority on the city council. Watch out for these people and vote against them in the coming election.

Fine, Tanaka, Cormak and Kniss are all pro-growth and want massive developments to blanket the city. Watch Cormak because she wants to be a "politician" and use the Palo Alto CC as a way into the dysfunction of government that has foisted massive developments on the region while ignoring every other issue - traffic, pollution, schools, open space, global warming and quality of life - and destroying the very area they claim to represent.

These pro-growth people and their appointments are in it for themselves and their builder friends to make money and advance themselves. In contrast, long term Palo Alto Residents like Asher are in it to help their community and give of themselves and their time because they are good citizens and want to contribute. There is a huge difference.


4 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:19 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

If The newly appointed commissioner has a client appearing before his body he should recuse.
In contrast, as came up first during Rebecca Eisenberg‘s interview and then Tom Dubois asking the follow up question to Asher himself, Mr. Waldfogel said he hired an attorney to issue an opinion and then forwarded such to city attorney Molly Stump rather than acknowledging publicly the potential or appearance of a conflict of interest or recusing. Whether that churning of fact had any bearing on Liz voting for him or not, ask Liz.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:30 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I attended the interviews; the only other person in attendance was Karen Holman but just for the parks segment it’s also online of course
I don’t think the nonelected deep Palo Alto super power enlisted Rebecca Eisenberg to take out Asher . She trained at Harvard under Elizabeth Warren and graduated with honors from Stanford and she has applied for these positions 10 times herself. To my knowledge she does not really have any allies nor has she courted members of leadership,she just does a lot of research and then speaks her mind. Called citizen engagement and shoe leather.
By the way counselor did ask her about Mike Alchek and she said basically what she said about Asher. Neither met her standards.
If things get worse before they get better – – and that’s the view of a residential list and slow growther like myself — it’s our own fault for not having more people like Rebecca getting involved.
Some people think I was responsible for another commissioner Arthur Keller being replaced by the pro growth majority, because counsel punted a decision until after the elections because I was running and simultaneously a candidate for planning commission, maybe that’s true but it begs the question of whether the Brown act is being enforced here.
Another thing: candidates for office or commission should be allowed to attend the hearings of the other fellow candidates which was the practice until recently; this would force counsel to be better prepared and not repeat the same questions 10 times another thing: candidates for office or commission should be allowed to attend the hearings of the other fellow candidates which was the practice until recently; this would force counsel to be better prepared and not repeat the same questions 10 times.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

And I hope that someday Apple invents a better dictation function or the weekly message board give me slightly more time to correct the above


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 19, 2019 at 12:48 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

By the way and not just because of this exchange but maybe both Asher and Rebecca will run for council


Like this comment
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2019 at 1:54 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Dear @Asher Woldfagel (confusing pseud): Thank you so much for clarifying the meaning of perceived conflict of interest, so that I did not have to. Thank you also for adding a fact of which I was not aware -- that Molly Stumpf originally suggested to Asher that there was appearance of conflict. I was very surprised by my correspondence with Molly, where she suggested, but did not confirm, that Asher's involvement did not cause a conflict. It was a carefully worded attorney email, which is one of the many reasons I strongly disagreed with Tom Dubois's interpretation of it.

Another misunderstanding that was reflected by Tom Dubois at my interview, and also stated by Asher Woldfagel here, is the assumption that the written opinion of an attorney on behalf of the client who pays that attorney constitutes a conclusive statement of the law. That's simply not the case.

For example, when Trump's attorney says that Trump did not violate the law, other lawyers and courts may disagree. Similarly, when Molly Stumpf suggested that her internal client (the City Council) did not violate the law by appointing its biggest campaign donors to commissions, such opinion can be brought before a judge in a legal proceeding for the court to decide. And, of course, when Asher Woldfagel pays a law firm to write a letter justifying his right not to recuse himself -- did the law firm also state that Asher did not have to disclose the potential conflict? -- that letter hardly constitutes a binding statement of law. Rather, in all of these cases, the attorney positions are just that: the position they are taking on behalf of the client who pays their salaries.

(BTW to the extent that Molly's acceptance of Asher's letter may have harmed the interests of her primary client - the people of Palo Alto - that may open a whole separate can of worms. All I know is that no one will provide a copy of that letter. I am not sure why it was not, and is not, public record. Perhaps Asher could agree to share it.)

FINALLY and perhaps most importantly (and thanks @Mark for saying this): I AM NOT A SHILL FOR THE DEVELOPERS. Yikes. In fact, I have tried time and time again to obtain the backing of the pro-housing groups because I am actually pro-housing, but each time I have tried, they reject me on the grounds that I "villainize commercial developers," and also I "villainize Michael Alcheck." (Yes it is true that I did mention that I also have very serious issues with Michael Alcheck's potential conflicts of interest, but that the Council has not seemed open to responding to those.)

As I posted above, I STRONGLY believe (based on economic studies) that commercial developers have been one of the primary causes of our housing shortage (which YES we do have), and cannot rationally be viewed as on the side of the people -- like me!-- who want more affordable housing.

I also think that commercial developers cause substantial air and noise pollution and seriously disrupt our neighborhoods and communities. I could not be more peeved about the dozen new parking structures within one or two blocks of the California Ave Caltrain station. That is the LAST thing we need near Caltrain.

Rather, I have been seeking organizations that are neither controlled by the commercial developers nor beholden to the NiMBYs for support, because there are TONS of ways to increase our housing stock that do not involve tearing up the ground and building high rise structures.

Here are just a handful of options currently being explored by other California cities: (1) vacancy tax on residences that are left empty. Personally I would frame this as zoning enforcement because if RH-1 structures are not being used for housing, they are in violation of our code. (2) luxury tax on 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th etc homes -- although our state may have had a public interest in limiting property tax on people's homes, such cannot be said on the homes that such people collect in nearby lots (or in other parts of Palo Alto) as part of their house collection (or for whatever reason so many people own multiple homes here); (3) research into whether a commercial use tax for landlords could be put in place without raising rents -- my guess based on economic studies is that such a measure could be put in place without raising rents, given that rental rates do not reflect landlord costs of ownership (mortgage, property tax, maintenance, etc) but rather reflect the supply and demand in the rental marketplace; and (4) immediate, urgent conversion of office space to housing.

As I told the Council during my interview, I think that for years they have been employing a counterproductive strategy towards PTC appointments: splitting the commission between "pro growth" and "anti growth" contingents. Those divisions make no sense, given that per above, we have a lot of opportunity to expand housing without growth, but even the 'anti-growth" residentialists don't favor those. (Similarly, the anti-growth residentialists complain a lot about cars and parking, but then also oppose public transportation expansion, which is the documented, obvious best way to reduce traffic and parking problems!) (The residentialists also want expanded city services, like traffic enforcement and calming measures, but they also do not want to pay taxes to pay for these things, while also opposing the influx of new residents, even though new homeowners are the only residents who actually pay market rate property taxes.)

The City Council's stark oversimplification (and, often, apparent misunderstanding) of proven approaches to city planning, housing, and transportation has rendered our city virtually immobilized. Despite having spent years working on an exciting and rational comprehensive plan that will move Palo Alto into the future, lowering dependence on cars and parking lots by offering alternatives to driving such as electric shuttles, protected bike lanes, and safe pedestrian bridges.... we have seen almost none of the proposals go into place.

Perhaps due to influence of campaign contributions, or perhaps for other reasons, the City Council remains fixated on matters of "growth," while ironically and frustratingly, the problems cited most by constituents are problems relating to transportation -- parking and traffic. And, even though positively impacting the parking and traffic problems literally constitutes low-hanging fruit, given the reduction on car usage that high-quality, convenient and affordable public transportation unequivocally provides communities, they still prioritize parking garages over electric shuttles.

Looked at it from this angle, *both* sides are in bed with commercial developers, because it is commercial developers who gain the most both from parking garages and from high density housing developments.

I have to think that this is known to them. Why else would the Council continue to re-appoint Michael Alcheck to the PTC, and not initiate any investigations into his potential conflicts? And why else would both sides continue to appoint other attorneys who serve mostly commercial developers to the commission (Giselle is one; Barton is another.) If you look at votes, you will see that to gain an appointment, a candidate usually needs support from "both sides."

Finally - just a quick response to whoever it was that suggested that involvement with Etz Chayim would be a conflict of interest if involvement with Castilleja is. Actually, the situations are different. Etz Chayim is located on Alma, on a plot that is zoned for organizations such as schools and places of worship. If Castilleja were located on Alma, there would be no problem! Castilleja has caused its own non-stop drama with the City Council and Planning Commission by continuing to insist that it has a right to occupy 51 lots that are zoned for single-family residential homes rather than for schools and places of worship. And not only does Castilleja demand our city's single largest zoning variance (set of variances) in history, but also it has asked to double its variances even though it has never complied with its initial negotiated variance (its conditional use permit). Finally, Castilleja owns its 51 residential lots, which otherwise would be occupied by single family homes with owners paying property taxes, but Castilleja pays no taxes at all.... and when its code violations amounted to millions of dollars of penalties under the law, no one in our city government made them pay what they owed. And all of these decisions were made at a time when city leaders included those whose campaigns were funded by castilleja insiders, or else in some cases were insiders themselves.

So, the situations are very different, at least in my perspective.


Like this comment
Posted by Re: Mark Weiss
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 19, 2019 at 2:11 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


2 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2019 at 2:35 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


3 people like this
Posted by Re: Mark Weiss
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 19, 2019 at 3:15 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


25 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 19, 2019 at 5:55 pm

This thread is going down the rabbit hole!

We cannot judge Mr. Hechtman's suitability for the role of planning commissioner as he has no record thus far. Commenting on the interview, what his interests appear to be etc... fine.

But this thread has devolved into an personal attack on Commissioner Waldfogel, questioning his first amendment right to participate in elections, disregarding the FACT that he did NOT participate in any Castilleja hearings. Furthermore, it was determined by qualified Attorneys that had he been able to participate in Castilleja hearings he had no reason to recuse. As most of us would do he relied on the expert opinion he sought on this matter.

He has not been accused of any misdeed, he served the community nobly and should not be attacked on this forum by those that clearly appear to have a personal disliking of him.

May I suggest we return to a more civil discussion and leave personal vendettas for those who wish to stoop so low.





2 people like this
Posted by Guy Fawkes
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 19, 2019 at 9:01 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 19, 2019 at 9:42 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


17 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2019 at 11:58 am

mjh is a registered user.

I personally would question the judgement of anyone who uses on online forum to launch a long-winded and obsessive vendetta impugning someone's reputation.


23 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 21, 2019 at 9:47 am

Is it true that 3 of the 7 current Planning Commissioners are land use attorneys, aka lawyers for developers? How can this be? Even if this does not constitute a legal conflict, how could our city council majority be so brazen?


21 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 21, 2019 at 3:36 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Because the city council majority depend on contributions from developers and associated professionals like commercial land use lawyers for their campaign funding.

Council member Kniss is still under investigation for accepting a group of large re-election campaign donations during the last election after the final financial reporting period prior to polling day had passed. Which just so happened to almost exactly aligned with the personal loan she had made to her re-election campaign earlier. The timing appeared questionable, especially after she had told voters that she would not accept contributions from developers. During her many terms on the Palo Alto City Council I don't believe there was a single proposed development that she didn't support.


Like this comment
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 28, 2019 at 11:27 am

Finance. Developers themselves unless self-financing have no money. It's "money" that determines. Price determines "money". Pay offs? Hardly. Forget your devil theories. By the way, it looks like "money" for the development of housing is abandoning California. Study the implications of the San Jose Property Rights Initiative. I'm a key advisor for "money".

George Drysdale land economist reminding what you forgot in High School (college prep) economics and 101 in college


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 28, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Is it true that 3 of the 7 current Planning Commissioners are land use attorneys, aka lawyers for developers? How can this be? Even if this does not constitute a legal conflict, how could our city council majority be so brazen?"

Because they know there are no consequences. They get to ignore the ballot initiative to reduce office growth and the falling citizen satisfaction surveys. Mayor Kniss's campaign finance "irregularities" are still under investigation and we're about to get stuck with her protege as they next mayor because they gamed the system for political appointments.

They know the big companies will continue to fund YIMBY on the local, state and federal levels. They know big companies and institutions like Stanford don't care about all the RV dwellers and homeless and the problems they're creating otherwise they'd start policing the RV rentals and start backing BMR housing.


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

Email:


Post a comment

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

Get important election coverage sent straight to your inbox daily.

Former Flea St. Cafe chef starts meal delivery service
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 7,224 views

10 ways to reduce your dog's "pawprint"
By Sherry Listgarten | 9 comments | 4,669 views

'Ignoring what's wrong has never made anything right'
By Diana Diamond | 4 comments | 1,489 views

Premarital and Couples: What Does Sex Mean to You?
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,117 views

A Rainbow After the Storm
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 303 views

 

Benefiting local non-profits

The 36th annual Moonlight Run and Walk is Friday evening, October 2, wherever you are! Proceeds go to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, benefiting local non-profits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Join us under the light of the full Harvest Moon on a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon.

Register Today!