The election has new incoming City Council Members and I am excited to welcome them and am looking forward to collaborating on policies using good governance to benefit Palo Altans. However, before the new Council is sworn in, it is Duck Season – Lame Duck season. It looks like the outgoing majority will try and push through as many irresponsible policies, developments and bad governance as possible.
On the Monday, November 16 City Council meeting, there are several items of interest.
On the Consent Calendar, item no. 7 is the second reading to adopt a revised ordinance that would open Foothills Park to non-residents. Go here for the settlement materials. In my opinion, in choosing to settle, the City of Palo Alto attorney has allowed to stand the lawsuit's claims that Palo Altans are racists and supported segregation.
We invited you to respond to our survey on the Foothills Preserve Lawsuit.
PURPOSE: The results of this survey will be used to inform Councilmember Lydia Kou of resident's opinions and will be made public before the November 2 Council meeting where action on the Foothills Preserve lawsuit will be decided.
INTRODUCTION: On August 3, 2020 the Palo Alto City Council voted 5-2 to:
- approve renaming Foothills Park to be a Nature Preserve,
- approve a revenue-neutral pilot program to allow a limited number of non-residents to enter the Preserve without needing to be a guest of a Palo Alto resident, and
- encourage the next City Council to put forward a ballot measure on the access rules in 2022.
Fifty days later, a small group of individuals filed a lawsuit against Palo Alto to force the immediate removal of the resident + guest restriction. This lawsuit is backed by local chapters of the NAACP and ACLU and a high-power law firm doing pro bono work for the ACLU. On October 19, the City Council voted in closed (confidential) session to settle the lawsuit with the public vote coming on November 2.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS: A total of 10 questions were presented to the public. There were over 800 respondents to the questionnaire.
A MAJORITY OF RESPONDENTS:
- Want the Foothills Preserve to be reserved for Palo Alto residents only.
- Want the City of Palo Alto to actively defend itself against the lawsuit.
- Do not believe the lawsuit will damage the reputation of the City
- Believe the City should protect its democratic decision making process
- Believe failure to defend the City will encourage more nuisance lawsuits
- Believe the plaintiff's argument of racial discrimination is not valid
- Believe that the area in question should be considered a 'nature preserve'
- Do not believe the plaintiff's argument of 'free speech' influenced their preference
- Are strongly concerned that the Council decision in 'closed session' lacked transparency
The details of the results are provided below.
Government transparency, or rather the lack of it, has been a major issue in my 2016 and current campaigns. Many residents are concerned that the City Manager and City staff – NOT the City Council – are running Palo Alto. I fully understand your concerns, and often agree with them. In the past, the City Manager would present Council with his recommendation and one or two alternatives. Now, many times Council receives a single recommendation to which we can make a few modifications before being expected to “rubber-stamp” it.
In endorsing me, the Palo Alto Weekly said "More than others, Kou has been a councilmember for the majority of those residents who don't have connections at City Hall and who feel underrepresented."
Before becoming a Councilmember, I experienced the frustrations and indignities that many other residents have suffered through the years. These experiences led me to run for City Council. I know it is important for a councilmember to have a strong network of residents throughout the City. Residents willing to share their thoughts on what is important and to utilize their knowledge and expertise in helping me address the issues before Council. The North Ventura Community Advisory Panel (NVCAP) and the Expanded Community Advisory Panel (XCAP) – rail crossings – are examples of the expertise and innovative thinking that residents can bring to difficult issues.
Todd Collins Govind Tatachari
Hosted by Lydia Kou
Join me in hearing about candidates’ experience, records, and priorities.
Please submit your questions on matters that are important to you to [email protected]
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
7:00 – 8:00 pm
I look forward to welcoming you to learn about these two outstanding candidates.
In the September 14 City Council meeting, item 10 was listed as "Verbal Update and Possible Direction to Staff on COVID-19 Related to Business Recovery Efforts" (minutes, pp 4-5):
The initial motion was to direct Staff to explore options and return to Council with:
- Rapid Covid-19 testing and what the City can do to ramp up testing;
- Childcare and how the City can support childcare services; and
- A holiday strategy to support holiday shopping in our major shopping areas.
But then Mayor Fine and Councilmember Tanaka proposed three additions to be explored. These would seriously undermine the existing Retail Preservation Ordinance. That ordinance was a hard-won victory in response to several rounds of community-serving retail being successively displaced for offices, for uses such as software development. Getting City Staff to enforce the ordinance has been very difficult. Within eyesight of City Hall, there are flagrant violations: retail space that has been converted to offices with a "retail" false front that is only a few feet deep.
The first addition was "Temporarily suspending the Retail Preservation Ordinance outside of the commercial cores". As we know temporary changes are likely to be permanent. The rents that property owners can receive from retail spaces are substantially lower than from the likely replacements, such as offices. They can be expected to strongly resist converting back. A second problem is the costs to the retailers for converting the configuration of the space to what is needed. Restaurants have it worse: It is said that the first restaurant in a new space will fail because of those costs.
The second addition was "Temporarily altering or suspending required parking changes for a change of use". Neighbors can lose walkable retail, but gain a parking lot – on their streets.
Both of those additions were added to the motion on 4-3 votes with Vice Mayor DuBois, Councilmember Filseth, and I voting "no".
The third addition was to explore "Allowing diverse retail uses in all retail sites". It passed unanimously.
The overall motion then passed 5-2, with Filseth and I voting "no".
Knee-jerk reactions to complex problems have consequences. As the saying goes… "For every complex problem, there's a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong." H.L. Mencken
Dear Palo Altans,
It is nearing seven months since we have sheltered in place. I hope you are well.
City government continues its operation, as it must; however, there should be prioritization as to what actions are important to ensure and enhance adequate community services for the residents, public safety, and the gradual safe reopening of community spaces. And those actions should be done openly to preserve transparency with proper public disclosure.
Upcoming City Actions:
Foothill Preserve: On the upcoming October 19, 2020 City Council meeting agenda as a CLOSED SESSION. This will be the second time City Council has discussed Foothill Preserve in closed session because of a pending legal action against the City.
"Public Comments: Members of the public may speak to the Closed Session item(s); three minutes per speaker". To join the Council meeting, here is the zoom meeting link
https://zoom.us/join Meeting ID: 362 027 238 or by Phone: 1(669)900-6833
Item 1A: There is a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Council's August 3 decision on Foothills Preserve (previously Park). My online survey of residents (https://www.lydiakou.com/survey_results) found strong support for continuing restricted access and sending the decision to the voters in a referendum (both over 80%). Similar levels of support were found in surveys by others.
This item was belatedly added to the agenda even though Staff had known for over 3 weeks that this needed to be on the agenda – a reply to the lawsuit is legally required by Friday October 23, unless an extension is granted.
In the published agenda, the title of the lawsuit was altered and could have been easily overlooked. It appeared as "Gasque vs City of Palo Alto", using the second-listed plaintiff – an individual – in place of the primary plaintiff – "NAACP of …" – which begins the official title.
The initial Council meeting on this lawsuit was on September 28 in a Closed Session. It was deceptively described as "Threatened Litigation by San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP et al Regarding Non-resident Access to Foothills Preserve". We now know that there was nothing "threatened" about this. A widely reported press release of September 15 had announced that this lawsuit was being filed and, in fact, was filed with the court that same day. A week later (Wednesday September 23), the court officially issued a summons to the City and it was received at 12:05 PM the next day. Yet 4 days after this, the public was still being told it was only "threatened" and the agenda had no link to a copy of the lawsuit, although Palo Alto Online did.
The Palo Alto Online blog "Foothills Park Pseudo-Lawsuit: Is the City going to cave-in & defame its residents as 'racists'?" argues that the lawsuit has so many flaws that it was never intended to be adjudicated, but rather intended to push the City to settle. If the City does decide to settle, it will reinforce, encourage, and incentivize a disturbing trend: If you lose in the democratic process, you can get it reversed by threatening to file a (frivolous) lawsuit. We see media stories about why defendants settled even though they were in the right and likely to eventually win: A plaintiff can easily and inexpensively inflict large legal and evidentiary costs on the defendant with little risk of being forced to make restitution. A lawsuit also gives a plaintiff a media platform to inflict reputational damage on the defendant – the famous lament "Where do I go to get my reputation back?" And even a very strong case has a significant risk of losing.