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.
I want to provide information on democratic remedies Palo Altans can take to oppose the settlement the Council majority has chosen. There are two methods:
- A referendum which would overturn the Council's vote to change the ordinance. If the referendum succeeds, it would negate the lawsuit settle and the plaintiffs could proceed to court. The timeline for qualifying a referendum is very tight, especially at this time of year – it would have to be completed within 30 days of the passage of the seconding, in this case, November 16. Palo Alto Municipal Code on referendums: https://codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/paloalto/latest/paloalto_ca/0-0-0-26744
- A citizens' initiative which would be very similar to a referendum, except that the organizers could choose the starting date. However, the lawsuit settlement would take effect as early as mid-December. Until the voters approved an initiative, Foothills Nature Preserve would be open to non-residents. Palo Alto Municipal Code on initiatives: https://codelibrary.amlegal.com/codes/paloalto/latest/paloalto_ca/0-0-0-26719
Both a referendum and an initiative require a petition signed by registered Palo Alto voters numbering 6% of those registered for the previous election.
Currently that is 43,015, and 6% is 2,581, but having a "cushion" is advisable. At 10%, that would be 2,829. If an initiative's sponsors reach the 12% or 5,162 signature level, a special election can be called – rather than waiting for the next general election.
On the Action agenda, item no. 9 might have seemed to be only about a project at 788 San Antonio Road with 1,800 square feet commercial space, 102 housing units, and 2 levels of underground parking (https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?t=61346.19&BlobID=79090).
However, this item includes extensive amendments to Palo Alto’s Comprehensive Plan, the adoption of a zoning ordinance which will affect the whole city by amending the definitions of gross floor area and retail preservation in housing developments. And much more. These major changes should have hearings of their own and not be a “minor part” of a public hearing for one development. We must speak up and stop these wide range changes in our zoning laws. Again, poor and bad governance.
On the Action agenda, item no. 10 is the Update and Discussion on the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?t=62259.73&BlobID=79004. This was scheduled for discussion at the November 9th meeting. ABAG housing allocation for Palo Alto in this cycle – the 6th – is 10,500. That is a 36% increase in 10 years!! Palo Alto and the region must question ABAG’s methodology used to reach such implausible, if not absurd, numbers.
Interestingly, while reviewing the November 12th ABAG meeting agenda, I looked at the roster and a couple of names jumped out, that of Greg Scharff (former Palo Alto Council Member) and Sonja Trauss (CaRLA YIMBY founder advocates for increasing development sues cities for not approving “housing” developments. They, and everyone else on the roster, were not elected by the voters to those positions, rather appointed by the city’s mayors.
Here are all the ABAG members mentioned in the roster (per the 11/12/20 ABAG meeting agenda):
Susan Adams, Jesse Arreguin, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Rick Bonilla, Mark Boucher, Monica Brown, Paul Campos, David Canepa, Kathleen Cha, Cindy Chavez, Amber Crabbe, Diane Dillon, Pat Eklund, Neysa Fligor, Scott Haggerty, Russell Hancock, Melissa Jones, Rafael Mandelman, Nathan Miley, Karen Mitchoff, Julie Pierce, David Rabbitt, Belia Ramos, Matt Regan, Katie Rice, Carlos Romero, Mark Ross, Al Savay, Gregory Scharff, Scott Sedgley, James Spering, Sonja Trauss, Lori Wilson.
Monday, November 16, 2020 City Council agenda https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?t=43972.16&BlobID=79070
City Council virtual meeting link: https://zoom.us/join Meeting ID: 362 027 238
To submit written comments to City Council firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
The lack of transparency can be achieved through four (4) basic bureaucratic tactics for keeping officials and the public from understanding Staff recommendations or formulating alternatives:
- Make the information effectively inaccessible.
- Provide Staff reports which are poorly written, repetitive and provide “links” to vital information rather than containing the vital information itself. Scatter the locations of relevant information so as to increase the difficulty of finding it and connecting it together in order to understand ALL aspects of the agenda topic.
- Provide little or no time for Council members to question Staff or receive answers to these questions.
- Update Staff and other vital reports at the last minute, making it impossible for Council members to read and digest.
- Limit alternatives for City Council discussion by providing only one Staff recommendation.
- "Bury you in paper". See (a) above. One week in June, the Staff report for the second day of Council meeting was over 2,400 pages and followed every tactic listed above for making information effectively inaccessible.
- Release the City Council packets so late that there is barely time to read them. And little time to consider the tradeoffs, consequences, or consult additional sources. Or have Staff release an UPDATED or REVISED report on the day of the City Council meeting. Previously, Council fought not only to eliminate these last-minute revisions, but also to ensure agendas and reports were available to the public and Council well before meetings, with a target of 10 days. Sadly, under the recent pro-growth Council majorities, Staff reports are once again becoming available only 3-4 days before a Council meeting.
- Change the City website and make it harder for the public to locate packet information, links or other relevant information.
In addition to a lack of transparency in the City Manager’s recommendations, there has been a longstanding failure to incorporate into Staff reports / recommendations information received from residents at public outreach meetings.
This may be a consequence of the City hiring consultants who, believing they have all the answers, shun listening from residents. I expect this is why so many traffic studies are so deeply flawed and unacceptable.
It is ESSENTIAL that any Staff recommendation be accompanied by at least one alternative. It gives the decision-makers a sense of whether due diligence has taken place regarding the trade-offs and risks, and helps the decision-maker in her own assessment. There are few situations in which there is a single “best” recommendation. Staff, by not providing reasonable alternatives, promote their own agenda. They fail to do that which they were hired to do: serve the residents of Palo Alto.
Currently, residents' responses to City Hall proposals centers on small groups and ad hoc collections of residents. The Council campaign has brought the depth of dissatisfaction with City Hall transparency front and center. I encourage you to think and talk among yourselves about how we might become more effective, so that after the election, we can work together to return control of Palo Alto to its elected officials.
Of course, the most important thing we can do now is elect candidates who actually want to improve City Hall transparency.
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@example.com
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.Read more
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.
Once again, to guide my work as a City Council member, I asked for the opinions of Palo Alto residents on a key issue that will impact all. This issue is on the City Council agenda for August 3, 2020. And 1129 of you responded and gave me your opinions. I would like to thank you for your help in my effort to make City governance responsive to the wishes of the residents.
As I did with my Budget survey, the results of this survey are now available to my City Council colleagues and the public.
If you want to learn more about the issues, click here.