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.
Dear Palo Altans:
Voting is a privilege that carries a responsibility to exercise due diligence in making your selections. I urge you to be skeptical of organizational endorsements because they are too often not what they seem, that is, they may not represent the publicly stated goals of the organization, but rather the agenda of the faction dominating the endorsement committee. Although such differences are widely known among political activists, they don't make it to the public because there is no one with first-hand knowledge who is willing to speak for attribution ("on the record").
This year, I sought only one organizational endorsement – that of the Sierra Club's local chapter – and received it. Although I have been a registered Democrat for 23 years, I didn't bother to seek their endorsement because it would have been futile. The Santa Clara County Democratic Party leadership is solidly pro-growth and for increasing the density of our cities and hostile to neighborhoods of single-family homes.
In 2016, the county Democratic Party leadership endorsed two candidates for City Council who, only months before, had changed their registration to being Democrats. Who did they reject? Arthur Keller, a loyal Democratic Party activist for decades. He participated in Party causes and activities. He raised substantial contributions for Democratic candidates from the local level to Presidential. Second-hand reporting was that that was not enough to offset his support for balanced growth in Palo Alto.
In 2020, the endorsement questionnaire and which candidates were endorsed indicate the county Democratic Party's focus. The hostility to areas of single-family homes, technically "R-1 zoning" is sometimes stated directly, but sometimes disguised as "eliminating exclusionary zoning". This includes enabling not just 4 units to replace one house, but tall buildings for apartments or condos being built anywhere in a single-family home neighborhood. And for dense developments not to be required to provide adequate, if any, parking.
Recognizing the unpopularity in many cities of greatly increased density, the advocates have been, with increasing success, stripping decision-making from local governments and transferring it to state and regional bureaucracies that support imposing those changes. I have been fighting to keep the decision-making about your lives in the hands of the government bodies where you can have the most influence.
Returning Your Ballot
If you have questions about voting, a good source is the county's Registrar of Voters (RoV).
If you don't want to return your ballot by USPS in the provided postage-paid envelope, there are many locations where you can physically drop-off your ballot for collection by the RoV. Remember, you need to use and sign the provided envelope because the RoV needs to verify that the ballot is from you before it can be counted. You can find out more about locations and hours of operation for the authorized "Ballot Drop Off" locations from the RoV's website.
As of this writing, the RoV Ballot Drop Offs in Palo Alto are at (ordered northwest to southeast)
- City Hall
- Rinconada (Main) Library
- Palo Alto Art Center
- Ventura Community Center
- Mitchell Park Community Center (and Library)
- Cubberley Community Center
Unofficial ballot boxes (of disputed legality) have been reported in other counties. It is safest to use only the ones listed by the RoV.
I urge you to vote!
Thank you. Be well; my best.
Dear Palo Altans,
There are rumors that my unwillingness to take a strong position on the Castilleja Expansion Project indicates that I am either supporting or opposed to one side or the other. The truth is that I am legally and ethically obligated to not take a position and maintain an open mind on such matters until there has been a full hearing before City Council (details below).
Your decision on voting for me should be based on my record on City Council and what it demonstrates about my values and priorities in such matters. My voting record is very clear and consistent on zoning.
The future of Palo Alto’s treasured Foothills Park has become a critical issue that will have a significant long-term impact on our quality of life. Historically closed to non-residents — unlike all of our 37 other parks and open spaces which are widely used by residents and non-residents alike — there has been increasing pressure, much of which is from outside our community to open the Park to non-residents. As the maker of the motion to put this issue before the voters of Palo Alto on the 2022 ballot, I would like outline my approach and, in the process, correct some misinformation presented by the media coverage. For more details, please watch the video of the meeting .
As a Councilmember, I have emphasized throughout my term a dedication to being a true representative of and voice for the people of our community. Accordingly, in anticipation of the Council deliberation of this issue, I conducted an extensive on-line poll of the community. The results of this poll were strongly in favor of NOT opening the Park to non-residents.
At the Council meeting, a motion was made to implement a staff recommendation for a one year pilot program to open the Park to non-residents with a limit on total access and for staff to return with other alternatives to open without limits. Rather than responding directly to the immediate political pressures of the moment, and in the continued spirit of my belief in reaching out to the community on the big issues, I made a substitute motion to place the issue on the ballot in the 2022 election. Subsequent Council action amended my motion by adding back the pilot program ... which I accepted in order to assure that my basic motion to take the issue to the voters would succeed.
Included in my motion was to change the name to ‘Foothills Nature Preserve’ ... which I believe is important because this Park is a true nature preserve and that the real underlying reason for restricting occupancy is to keep the Park from overuse (consider Yosemite, for example) that would destroy it as a preserve. Those who have claimed that the current use restrictions are ‘racist’ could not be more wrong. Another amendment to the motion was that any wider use of the Park should be ‘revenue-neutral’, an important consideration in these fiscally difficult times with pandemic-driven cutbacks on important community services.
Consideration of opening of the Park raises many issues ... limitations on the number of visitors per day, the possible need for a reservation system, fees to be charged, and more. The pilot program may help us understand and answer these questions. I look forward to the continued input of the community as we address this issue in the months ahead.