Our Palo Alto $325,000 slush fund to undermine Comp Plan

I posted this under Gennady Sheyner’s coverage of the recent Planning and Transportation Commission meeting.

I hope to write soonly about the Leadership Ad Hoc Comp Plan group or whatever they are called. People I like on that group, of 13: Doria Summa, Cheryl Lilienstein, Rebecca Sanders.

I skimmed but have not read the 17 page (plus 50 pages of supplements) staff report by Elena Lee on “net zero” approach to growth. Plus I have my notes on the June 24 Our Palo Alto event (at Elks Lodge).

I ran into Neilson Buchanan, at Sally Rudd’s yardsale, and was pleased to see he had posted somewhere on the Weekly’s site, a list of retailers gone to hell, and that he mentioned my favorite fiasco, 456 Uni, the Varsity. (plans on file to turn it into more office space, or a lunchroom for a large software multi-national).

I was part of the June 24 Our Palo Alto meeting that preceded the discussion described above, at PATC. In my estimation, despite being in a 9-member workgroup facilitated by Staff Elena Lee, the “net-zero” approach to growth was some kind of “magic bullet” effect that was vague and iffy, and seemed to be phrased like “how would you feel about throwing out high limits and the cap on downtown office development if it were magically balanced by environmental consequences to offset externalities?”

Contrary to what new PATC member Eric Rosenblum says, I felt that all three proposals were “growth”-oriented and not slow-growth or no-growth. The fourth approach, at least at the June 24 meeting, was hardly discussed at all. Staff said, and the chart even stated, that they were mandated in some way in including it, even in a cursory faction.

Here is a link to Elena Lee’s staff report, in prep for this meeting, and also subject to a previous Gennady Sheyner report on the topic, from a few days prior. It is 17 pages followed by about 50 pages of supplements:

It is still pretty hazy to me the distinction between Our Palo Alto, the revision of the Comp Plan (the housing element, the downtown cap), the newly appointed Comp Plan Leadership Ad Hoc Group, the duties of PATC. It seems to me that leadership is responding to a significant push from developers to not revise or amend but completely disregard what citizens had wanted 1998-2010. Our Palo Alto is a $325,000 slush fund to push thru a new agenda not get citizen feedback.

In my working group, at the June 24 event, among the nine members at our table Steve Levy and Ray Bachetti seemed to hijack the discussion away from a debate or discussion. It seemed orchestrated, like a dog-and-pony show. I said I wanted to discuss “no growth” but was shouted down. Levy even laughed mockingly when I suggested citizens might want a park rather than housing in the event Fry’s vacates it’s Ventura-California location.

In theory at least, citizens can still try to input at the next PATC meeting or at counci, but it seems pretty much like a fix to me. (Maybe the Grand Jury is researching this to add a sequel to its June 6, 2014 findings)

I’m also waiting to hear back after asking staff a month ago for a pro forma for the $325,000 Our Palo Alto initiative.

I posted twice or more to a reporter on Palo Alto Free Press website.

Here is the link to Elena Lee’s report. I noted in a letter regarding the EIR (environmental impact report) that even internally there is discrepancy between how many public hearings there have been, the distinction between Our Palo Alto and public hearings per se, and how many meetings there have been. For example, I went to the Our Palo Alto event in May at Downtown library — led by Sid Espinosa — but noted it was not listed in Elena’s list to an agency about the process.

How is Our Palo Alto not a $325,00 subsidy of the developers who are pushing leadership hard to disregard the Comp Plan?

We are “revising” or “amending” or “updating’ the Comp (comprehensive) plan — but it looks like we are disregarding it. What is really behind this effort, and the $325,000?

As I wrote below: my take on the Our Palo Alto is that it is a slick presentation, with cheese and wine, that says “Get ready for more dense housing AND more office towers…” It is much more of a lecture than a conversation.


edit to add, Sunday 9 a.m. from Douce France:

The so-called “net zero” approach is a type of green-wash. Meanwhile staff steers the conversation away from “no-growth”.

By the way, I wrote about this on June 30, 12 days ahead of GS:

Web Link

And the person who posted that Doug Moran wrote about elements of this topic would do us all a better service if he or she provided a link or even a paraphrase. There is a big difference between writing about something on the web and having people read it, I know as well as anybody.

Even Elena’s staff report has varying accounts of what is or what isn’t “Our Palo Alto” or a public hearing…look into that, please — and how many secret meetings on this topic were there between the major developers and staff???

edit to add, July 22: I added another post to that Weekly article, in response to Levy attacking my credibility (meanwhile he had also deleted my comments, on his Weekly column, criticizing Downtown streets team — for being scrip — and I re-posted a stronger argument, which I will check back to see if it stands; I could re-post that here, and archived it):

I’m standing by my previous post, despite Steve Levy’s attack on my account. Steve Levy, who was part of the panel per se at the first Our Palo Alto event, and wrote a white paper that is part of the project, and who deletes dissent, including my posts, from his Weekly column.

In my working group, at the June 24 event, among the nine members at our table Steve Levy and Ray Bachetti seemed to hijack the discussion away from a debate or discussion. It seemed orchestrated, like a dog-and-pony show. I said I wanted to discuss “no growth” but was shouted down. Levy even laughed mockingly when I suggested citizens might want a park rather than housing in the event Fry’s vacates it’s Ventura-California location.

Also at the table, if it is that important to get this straight, were Diane Lee, Tom Dubois and Jim Jurkovich, if you want to compare their stories to mine.

“Shouted down” might be too strong, even in context of “seemed to hijack”, which it modifies. People were talking at once, not taking turns, not letting Elena moderate — you could sense her frustration, or I could, seated directly to her left — and I even said “I prefer discussing “No Growth” option, but at this table I see I am in the minority, so we can move on”. And Steve Levy did laugh mockingly when I said “How about a park at Fry’s if they vacate?”

Also, I wrote staff asking for a breakdown of costs or pro forma about Our Palo Alto. How is it not a slush fund for the status quo, for the incumbents and a subsidy for the landlords and builders? To the extent my request for information is being ignored, I feel more strongly the Grand Jury report of June 16, 2014 that indicates we have both corruption and a lack of response from City Hall.

I agree we need to revisit the Comp Plan, buy why do we need $325,000 in slick brochures and consultants to do so?

edita, again: I posted this today:

I’d like to see a breakdown of costs for “Our Palo Alto” which I understand is $325,000.

Could we amend the Comp Plan for any cheaper?

I asked staff for a breakdown and got no response; I guess I have to file a formal request to City Clerk. By the way, the Grand Jury report of June 16, 2014, beyond the impropriety about staff and council dealings with a developer, says we have a problem in not responding to requests of information.

Regarding this ad hoc group, I trust Doria, Cheryl and Rebecca, but after that I am not so sure. it does look packed, by the industry.

I’d be curious to see a list of people who applied, or if seated members said how they thought to apply, or were they approached.

On the general topic, the article refers to “new Comprehensive Plan”. Aren’t we merely revising or updating our existing plan? Is it obsolete or is it that the industry is pressuring leadership because our plan tells us that we are already overbuilt?


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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