News

Committee members slam council for paring down Comprehensive Plan

In scathing letter, members of citizen panel criticize council for removing all programs from land-use document

The Palo Alto City Council's abrupt decision on Jan. 30 to remove all programs from the city's guiding land-use document, the Comprehensive Plan, destroys the balance of the plan, violates public trust and impairs the city's ability to act, according to six members of a citizens panel that has been working with city staff to update the document.

In an open letter to the council that claims the decision has left members of the community "rightfully confused and upset," the six request that the council return the programs to the plan. The six co-signers from the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Comprehensive Plan (CAC) are Len Filppu, Annette Glanckopf, Jennifer Hetterly, Hamilton Hitchings, Shani Kleinhaus and Mark Nadim.

In the letter, the six protest both the decision regarding the Land Use and Transportation elements of the Comprehensive Plan and the "fast-track" voting process used to get to the 5-4 vote, which allowed for just a few minutes of debate.

The citizens committee has spent close to two years on the update, which itself has proceeded in fits and starts since 2008 and which the council hopes to conclude this year. The draft Comprehensive Plan update was similar to the current document in format: a set of high-level goals, each supplemented by a series of policies for helping achieve the goal. Many of the policies also included programs, which were more specific means for meeting the policies' objectives.

While some of the programs proposed as part of the Comprehensive Plan update were controversial (including ones pertaining to annual limits on the development of new office space and also to building heights), others had broad consensus. One program that drew support called for updating the zoning code to "preserve ground-floor retail and limit the displacement of existing retail from neighborhood centers." Another proposed moving forward with a study "to evaluate various possible tools for preventing displacement of existing residents."

Mayor Greg Scharff argued in his "State of the City" speech last week that the removal of programs is a "formatting change that many other communities use" when developing their general plans.

"It allows the key goals and policies to remain in place for the long term while giving more flexibility to future City Councils to adjust implementation measures as circumstances dictate and as conditions change," Scharff said.

The six committee members who penned the letter reject that view. Rather than defining the city's path into the future "based on thorough deliberation and consensus building (as a Comprehensive Plan is intended to do)," they wrote, the council's action "leaves the public, staff and City Council uncertain about intended strategies, lacking data to inform decisions and measure impacts, and devoid of tools for accountability for years to come."

The letter co-signers also argued that the policies and the programs in the plan are "interdependent" and that they were "debated, negotiated and crafted by the CAC to balance often competing citizen interests and to meaningfully address community challenges in ways that were actionable by city staff."

"In addition, Council's fast-track disposition of all implementation programs devalues the challenging and responsible efforts of the CAC and the input of hundreds of citizens," their letter states. "It undermines and discourages future citizen engagement in the self-governance of the City."

They pointed to the most recent National Citizen Survey, which showed a shrinking percentage of citizens reporting that they believe that Palo Alto does a good job at welcoming citizen involvement (the percentage dropped by 11 percent between 2015 and 2016) and that they believe the Palo Alto government generally acts "in the best interest of the community" (a 9 percent drop).

"In Palo Alto's current political climate, public trust is fragile," the letter states. "Wholesale rejection of community compromises and flying blind into the future in the name of simplicity and flexibility will not fortify it."

They also argue that removing some programs effectively weakens the policies these programs are supposed to support. As one example they point to the policy that calls for "providing sufficient but not excessive parking," which becomes broad and effectively unenforceable without the accompanying program, which calls for conducting a parking-needs assessment for each commercial center and employment district and updating parking standards as needed.

"We sincerely hope that City Council will reaffirm its commitment to inclusive and collaborative city governance, recognize the critical interdependence of policies and programs, and value the practical and hard won balance of community interests reflected in the CAC recommendations."

Not every member of the 22-member citizen committee shares this view, including Adrian Fine, who served on the committee before being elected to the council in November. And economist Steve Levy, who also sits on the committee, called the removal of programs "a wise choice" that "preserves the ability to adapt to changes in the economy and public input and allows staff and council to develop programs as needed."

"The programs that were put aside for separate consideration were not scrapped or lost," Levy wrote in a guest opinion on Palo Alto Online. "Moreover, it is good to remember both that designing programs takes expensive staff and council time and that few programs in the last Comp Plan were actually implemented."

The council's 5-4 vote reflected its political division, with the members who are more friendly to development (Scharff, Fine, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and councilmen Greg Tanaka and Cory Wolbach) supporting the change and the four favoring a philosophy of slower city growth (Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth, Karen Holman and Lydia Kou) dissenting.

Wolbach, who proposed removing the programs, said the goal is to have a "cleaner, simpler and more direct document." DuBois sharply criticized the decision and called it "truly a slap in the face to the CAC."

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Comments

77 people like this
Posted by observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2017 at 8:45 am

Thank you to the writers of this letter. Your clarity in detailing what happened is appreciated. Our town has been done a great disservice by a few [portion removed] appointees such as Steve Levy mentioned here, and a narrow majority on the city council, including Adrian Fine also cited here, who interrupted and sabotaged a complex process that was unarguably working well. Why? In order that 5 council members could take control of the land use section of our Comprehensive Plan so as to ensure it would reflect and support their narrow unfettered pro-development interests.

This is akin to a tech project suddenly being yanked from engineers or designers by the board of directors so they can now finish the product to suit themselves to the detriment of the company - or here, the City and its residents.

Adrian Fine is glued to PAF whose steering committee members ran his campaign, while Steve Levy is on the PAF steering committtee. Not surprising they support the short circuiting of the committee they served on, as the means justify the end they sought - build more offices though it puts pressure on the need for more housing, and build unaffordable housing for all but the most privileged. And council member Cory Wolbach is another PAF surrogate doing his duty. He along with council partners Scharff, Kniss and Tanaka engineered the coup to the glee of their developer friends and campaign contributors. As Donald Trump would say, "So sad".


16 people like this
Posted by Actual CAC please speak
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 17, 2017 at 10:57 am

So 6 people got together to write a letter.... how many people are actually on the CA? 20? 22? 25? What does the actual CAC think of what happened at Council? Because for all we know, these 6 could just be naysayers and represent a small minority. PAO: Don't write an article that acts like the CAC deliberated and voted on something. Your headline misleads and opening paragraph editorializes. When the CAC does deliberates and writes a joint letter, that would be helpful to read about.


49 people like this
Posted by NoConfusion
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 17, 2017 at 11:11 am

Thank you to the citizens who wrote the letter and thank you for volunteering over two years to work on the Comp Plan. These are 6 well known community leaders.

What happened on the Jan 30th council meeting is very clear. Go watch the video. Unlike what Council Member Scharff later said, all programs were clearly to be removed from the Comp Plan. Wolbach and Scharff said they could be evaluated (or not) one by one, as council wishes. There is no confusion - they were stripped out.


57 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2017 at 11:19 am

Although I would like to actually see a copy of the letter, not rely entirely on Gennady's column, I am in agreement with the letter authors. The council decision is truly a slap in the face to both the CAC and to the large number of Palo Alto citizens who participated and contributed to the process.

Pat Burt was right - continued development at the rate it was happening (somewhat slower now) is unsustainable for Palo Alto. In fact, it is unsustainable for the surrounding areas as well.

I'm getting very tired of the people who say that those of us who want Palo Alto to change thoughtfully - like the CAC - are dinosaurs and standing in the way of progress. Palo Alto is a residential city. It has already changed, some ways to its detriment, but there is no good reason, other than lining developer pockets, that it should continue to become a city of high rises. And I'm tired of the developers saying retail is dead. Yes, I shop online like everyone else, but there are many things I would buy in a store if that store still existed - things that need to be evaluated in hand, like art supplies, or tried on, like Patagonia jackets.

Traffic: Our traffic arteries are parking lots at rush hours and more. And when there are problems on the major freeways and bridges, traffic backs up on our local streets - a recent occurrence was documented in the Weekly. In fact, Tuesday night it took me 40 minutes to get from Oregon Expressway to Menlo Park on surface streets through Palo Alto. And the behavior of commuters on Embarcadero is insane. I've seen them go out into the opposing lanes of traffic to get around someone who apparently is not going fast enough for them. Unless we start taking houses by eminent domain and widening the streets, it's not going to get better.

Housing: Yes we need more housing, affordable housing, senior housing, housing for teachers, retail workers, firemen, etc. and we have needed it for years. Have no idea what the solution for that is, since the developers who run the city don't seem to really want to take that on.

Jobs: We don't need to add any more commercial/tech etc. jobs, so we need to stop developing office buildings unless they include housing and parking for the people who will work there. This is a regional problem. We need to work with surrounding cities to rein in development and tell Google, FB, Palantir, etc. to start developing satellite installations in areas where people can afford to live. I know this is anathema to many, but in this era of total connectivity, this should not be a problem.

So kudos to the letter writers and to the four PACC members who stood out against the developer agenda.


12 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Feb 17, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Stanford is building 4 10-story buildings for housing.

Why can't Palo Alto do the same?

Palo Alto is a slacker when it comes to approving housing.

Stanford has better shuttles and builds more housing.

What is Palo Alto's problem?


14 people like this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Who do you think will educate the children living in the Stanford housing? Definitely not Stanford. Palo Alto does not have the schools. Palo AltoCity Council wants to build office buildings and other gigantic buildings. As I told some of the City Council members if they want to live in a city, go live in nEW YORK CITY.


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 17, 2017 at 1:56 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@ Chris

There is no problem, and we should make a sharp distinction between Stanford and Palo Alto. We're close and allied in many ways, but we are separate entities...municipal versus a well endowed university. We collaborate on many issues, sometimes not so amicably, and the county has its say on many things, but we are good neighbors and we need each other. Let them build, build, build. Those tall buildings won't cast any shadows on PA residences and it will ease the burden of housing in the area.


20 people like this
Posted by Phil Farrell
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 17, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Chris asks why Palo Alto can't build high rise residential towers like the new 10 story graduate student housing that Stanford is planning. The problem here is that high rise housing in Palo Alto would have far greater impacts than graduate student housing at Stanford.

Stanford is essentially a company town. It is building housing for its own workers (and yes, graduate students are also employees as teaching and research assistants) and can absolutely control who lives in that housing. As a result, its increased student housing has no impact on commute traffic since all the residents can get to "work" by a short walk or bike ride (or if they are lazy, ride the Marguerite shuttle paid by Stanford). In fact, Stanford's housing will improve traffic in the cities around it as fewer graduate students have to commute in from surrounding cities. Few grad students have children of school age, so all this increased housing does not impact the schools much, either. And if it does, Stanford has shown its willingness in the past to provide land for schools - Escondido and Nixon elementary schools and Palo Alto High School are all on Stanford-owned land, leased for a pittance to the school district.

Now, would high rise high density housing in Palo Alto function the same as the new grad student housing at Stanford? No! There is no legal way to control who lives in any new housing in Palo Alto and where they work and how they get to work, so all those new residents will add to the commute traffic. Many will have children that add to the school district - and remember, since Palo Alto is a richer district, it gets virtually NO additional state funds for additional students. Will the high rise developers pay for workplace shuttles and provide land for schools, as Stanford does? No.


23 people like this
Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 17, 2017 at 2:13 pm

I am concerned about the Council's actions made late in the night on a policy (to remove programs from the Comp. Plan) that was NOT on the agenda. Unless they approve the programs together as an attachment to the Comp. Plan, I am against this.

Stanford's graduate student housing expansion may open up more housing in the region depending on how many additional graduate students they plan to enroll.


20 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2017 at 3:56 pm

"The council decision is truly a slap in the face to both the CAC and to the large number of Palo Alto citizens who participated and contributed to the process."

This is hardly the first time the city council has wasted citizens' time with an illusion of participating in city government. Each generation of residents has to learn the hard lesson anew: it's window dressing.

If you want actual influence, give council candidates piles of money around election time.


14 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 17, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Well said PA Resident and Phil Farrell. Clear thinking is always welcome. And there Is no reason to castigate the signers of the letter. Theirs might be a minority view, but it is still an important one to counter Steve Levy's article which is his typical slant and view on what is good for PA. Us long time residents should never have guilt feelings or apologize for wanting our town to stay the way it was when we moved here. [Portion removed.] And where are all those developers who should be clamoring to build affordable housing now that they have a supportive council? Affordable not so much, but high priced market rate...full speed ahead.


11 people like this
Posted by Recall the bums
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 18, 2017 at 9:10 am

[Post removed.]


30 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Cogent, valorous letter from 6 honorable Palo Alto citizens. One more is now needed, from among the Council-5, to bring forth the motion for a vote of reconsideration at its Feb. 27 meeting, and bring this divided community back to working together on its guiding document.


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 18, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@ Fred Balin

Good idea, but how seriously does council take the guiding document. I think they can do anything on their own, at their choosing, to circumvent it and make it immaterial in their move to pass ordinances that don't comply. A nice document that should have real meaning, but in the end it is just words on paper, that can, and will be ignored at the whims of council.


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"...in the end it is just words on paper, that can, and will be ignored at the whims of council."

City hall actually pays some attention to the CP, but not how a linear thinker might expect. It cherry picks the plan for nuggets to justify each proposed development project, and recommends spot amendments to conform it to the project when necessary. In the end all is consistent.


20 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 18, 2017 at 6:33 pm

I have followed and posted in the comment forum following Tom Dubois' article,"When democracy is hijacked." Pat Burk also speaks clearly there to the issues raised. The issues are the same as spoken to here.
I am a 39 year resident, frustrated with our government.
I too support a recall. I will help any group who organizes a recall or referendum. 650-493-0804


31 people like this
Posted by Shaking my head
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2017 at 11:49 pm

In addition to the letter mentioned in this article, CAC members Jennifer Hetterly and Don McDougall co-authored a memo addressed to all of the CAC members. The memo is included in the packet for the CAC public meeting on 2/21 that will be held at Rinconada Library from 5:30 to 8:30 pm. The first item on the agenda is a discussion of the Council action that removed Programs from the Comp Plan.

The memo begins, “As Palo Alto citizens, we are appalled by Council’s blanket removal or even separation of the Programs from the body of the draft Comprehensive Plan. As CAC members, we are deeply offended.”

The memo gives a concise analysis of the ramifications of the Council’s action in the context of the work of the CAC and the structure of the Comp Plan. It challenges the claim made by Mayor Scharff in his state of the city address that this was merely a formatting change.

“Council’s blanket approach to the Land Use and Transportation Programs belittles the effort, subverts the balance and invalidates the consensus. This is not a mere formatting change, nor can it accurately be described as “accept[ing] strong consensus where it existed.” In the name of Council flexibility, Council has damaged public trust and undermined the very work enabling them to earn it.

Substantively, a Comprehensive Plan without Programs is barely a “Plan” at all. Yes, several Policies in the draft Comp Plan include specifics, but for many, the Programs provide important clarity about what is intended. The Comprehensive Plan must offer sufficient specifics to be actionable and for staff, Council and citizens to know what the plan is and get on board. The Programs inform the public what to expect and allow them to hold the city accountable – these are the keys to public trust. In fact, the existing Comp Plan clearly states that the “Implementation Chapter is not a Plan Element,” nor is an appendix. Thus, Programs located in an un-adopted chapter or appendix carry no authority for (or expectation of) action. Council has rendered them largely irrelevant.”

The memo states that rather than adding flexibility the Council’s action has created complex barriers to implementation of these Programs: “By eliminating authorization for any Programs, in the name of simplicity and flexibility, Council’s action actually created a significant barrier to implementation. Now, before any Program can be implemented, the city staff or Council leadership must bring it forward to be taken up by the full Council.”

The memo closes with “We recommend reconsideration by Council and a unified voice of concern from the CAC.”

The full text of the memo can be found on the city website beginning on page 13 of the meeting materials. See Web Link


21 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 19, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Excellent!

Of particular significance is Don McDougall’s co-authorship of this additional letter, this one to the Comp Plan Advisory Committee (CAC), and contained in the packet to its Tuesday meeting and accessible via the link at the end of the post just above.

There is now a very real chance that the council's rush-to-appendicize all Comp Plan land use and transportation programs will be reconsidered. A key, additional step toward that very important correction will be on-the-record statements of other members of the CAC, prior to and during Tuesday’s meeting. Agenda, location and time at Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

There are two people I voted for who didn't win seats on council in the last election, and there are two people that I didn't vote for who were elected. I voted for Don McDougall, whom, from just meeting and hearing him speak at one pre-election gathering hosted at the home of my friends, the Wolbachs, gave me the sense he was an independent thinker...thoughtful, analytical, and pragmatic, with a wide open agenda. He sounded like a problem solver, just like he had been in his working career. We really need his kind on council. Two years goes by very fast. We/he have/has another chance.

I am not optimistic that council will take this up again...and reverse anything that was voted on and approved in that ignoble meeting. People in power tend to use their power and get smug satisfaction in it. It works for both sides, but always favors the 'ins' whichever sides of issues they lean toward.


12 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 19, 2017 at 5:25 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Gale,

Whatever your assessment on what will most likely happen, I trust you will apply your efforts through the areas of influence you have available to you to advocate directly and clearly for what you believe to be the proper course of action in this matter.

-Fred Balin


Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2017 at 6:12 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Fred Balin

Thanks, but I'm an 80 year old long time resident. I'm in pretty good shape, but not wanting to go knock on doors to survey people's opinions, or soliciting support for any particular candidate or cause. I will leave that up to the younger of us who are clear thinkers. I trust there are still many of them out there, and enough to make a difference.


28 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Just remember the guy who made the motion, Wolbach, is running for re-election next year.


39 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 19, 2017 at 8:18 pm

Aside from the pros and cons of eliminating all Comp Plan Land Use Programs rather than the previous intent by the staff, CAC and Council to streamline them, there have been contradictory characterizations of the Council action. Mayor Scharff asserted in his State of the City address and February newsletter that removing the Programs was merely a "formatting change". However, the meeting record is clear that, unless changed at a future CC meeting, all programs have been abruptly eliminated from the Land Use Element. Wolbauch made the motion, seconded by Fine and explicitly supported by Scharff, that the Programs would not be part of the Comp Plan, but would instead be put into a laundry list addendum consisting of un-adopted Programs for future consideration. The discussion begins around 5:20 on the Media Center tape, Web Link. They would not be a part on the adopted Comp Plan itself and would have no weight other than as a reference of Programs that the CAC considered or recommended, but the Council did not adopt. It was clearly stated repeatedly that these Programs may or may not be taken up over the 13 year or longer duration of the new Comp Plan.
Absent a future staff or Council initiative outside of the Comp Plan, the Programs would have no impact and would not proceed. This is a very significant departure from our past Comp Plans, the normal structure of General Plans, and the work of the CAC, City Council and staff over the past two years. Contrary to the LWV Guidance “to ensure maximum opportunity for public input of all steps of the Comprehensive Plan process”, this radical change was proposed and voted on after 10PM without any forewarning or ability to comment by the public or the CAC. Filseth and Fine requested that CAC Co-Chair Dan Garber be allowed to comment on the action, but Scharff abruptly denied that request. In 20 years of observing our City Councils, I can't think of any action of this magnitude considered so abruptly and without any public input.


33 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2017 at 10:17 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"In 20 years of observing our City Councils, I can't think of any action of this magnitude considered so abruptly and without any public input."

It had to be done by ambush. Had the Gang of Five followed the customary procedures they probably wouldn't have been able to pull this coup off.

Now, with all that bothersome citizen input safely stuffed in the dumpster, the GoF is free to generate the return on investment that their campaign contributors expect.


28 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 20, 2017 at 8:05 am

I ask this of those who know and are familiar with the reasons: Why is it that Menlo Park, Atherton, and Los Altos are not struggling the way Palo Alto is? Why are those communities not having to push back against city councils which promote more and more and more "big" building regardless of impact on schools, neighborhoods, and traffic? Los Altos is absolutely charming, and remains a bedroom community. Atherton fiercely protects its residential zoning, and remains charming.
The more Palo Alto opens offices, the greater the demand from the state for housing, no? Why do we continue? Didn't we lose lots of retail to Mountain View, retail which would have been income for the city?
I don't get it. Explain it to me.
I support a recall. I offer my house for meetings. I will post yardsigns against the five. I will walk neighborhoods and donate. 650-493-0804 cecihome@gmail.com


10 people like this
Posted by Grant
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2017 at 10:19 am

Didn't the city council commission a 'blue ribbon' citizens rail corridor group a few years ago that spent perhaps 2 years looking into, and offering thoughtful suggestions, to the Caltrain/High Speed Rail situation as it was then? The report was released, and then promptly ignored and buried by the city council at that time leaving those who had spent their time working on it, wondering WTF had just happened. Looks like another case of the same idiotic behavior of our elected officials at the expense of citizen volunteers, and the community at large. So, why does anyone volunteer to help a city government determined to ignore dissenting views?


22 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2017 at 10:44 am

Annette is a registered user.

I doubt our neighboring cities are paragons of perfection but there's no denying that ours is particularly problematic. It is the "why" of the 1/30 action that I find confounding. Removing the programs isn't just wrong, it is short-sighted. While excising programs may serve the current Council majority well for some unstated purpose, Councils and Staff come and go but programs and plans endure. At least they should. Having programs in the plan (not in an irrelevant appendix where they can and will be ignored) is required. Each of our CC members should know this; if they do not they have no business being on the PACC.


15 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 20, 2017 at 12:36 pm

@CeCi Kettendorf: because those communities are proud and unapologetic about preserving their residential character and small town way of life. Because they don't have politicians who claim that "vibrancy" is absolutely essential to the survival and relevancy of the community. Because they don't have politicians who enable the enrichment of greedy developers instead of serving the residents.

Just listen to the pro development chatter-density, urbanization, office building and building higher and denser is good, suburban life style, tranquility and quiet is bad and exclusionary.


21 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

I would like to take a moment to address a comment from Gale Johnson, reprinted here:

"…. but how seriously does council take the guiding document. I think they can do anything on their own, at their choosing, to circumvent it and make it immaterial in their move to pass ordinances that don't comply. A nice document that should have real meaning, but in the end it is just words on paper, that can, and will be ignored at the whims of council.”

The comment has merit, although it should not serve as a justification for removing programs em masse from the current Comprehensive Plan update process.

We currently operate under a very well thought out and detailed Comprehensive Plan, developed by a large, broad-based advisory committee in the ‘90s. But you are correct in that applicants can and have gotten around it. For example, no way, one should have been allowed to take the former Alma Plaza, one of only four Comp Plan-designated neighborhood centers, — 100% commercial, 90% retail — and convert it into 75% housing.

In most municipalities in California (i.e., General Law cities and counties), a simple lawsuit would have been sufficient to overturn this approval, because zoning standards and the applications that fall under them must be consistent with a General Plan (called a “Comprehensive Plan” in Palo Alto).

But Palo Alto is a charter city, one of 86 out of a total of 481 incorporated cities in California, and among 22 key exceptions from General Law cities, “zoning ordinances are not required to be consistent with the general plan unless the city has adopted a consistency requirement by charter or ordinance.” See last row in the chart at Web Link

And via that loophole, although it makes perfect logical sense that zoning (and therefore applications under regular or custom Planned Community zoning) should be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, and Planning Director Hillary Gitelman has stated it shall be so during a Comp Plan discussion under the previous council, we need the city, not to only to reinstate program relegated to the appendix, but to enact an ordinance or better yet the public to bring forth an initiative to enact the consistency provision as other California cities have done.

Note also that an approved Comprehensive Plan is not fixed in stone and can be amended, but there is a specified process for that and it certainly does not include amending the Comprehensive Plan at the same a development application comes to the council, which has happened here almost every time a PC has been approved


39 people like this
Posted by Council watcher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Thank you, thank you, members of the CAC for speaking up against the cynical manipulation by Mayor Scharff, Cory Wolbach (who introduced the motion), and their co-conspirators. This didn't just happen, it had to have been discussed and planned.

And thank you Fred Balin and others, for explaining some of the surrounding details.

It is reassuring to be reminded that there are many fair and decent people willing to stand up for what is right.


21 people like this
Posted by Make a stand
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Glad to see so many comments in support of open, inclusive government. My thanks go out to these courageous, responsible citizen leaders for speaking up and bringing to light the reckless slight of hand perpetrated by the new Council majority.

I will stand behind them by asking Council to restore the integrity of our City's Comprehensive Plan. I encourage you all to do the same.

#Brave6!




19 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2017 at 11:07 pm

CeCi Kettendorf asked above why other communities aren't struggling the way we are. The short answer is they haven't over-loaded their committees and the city council with pro-development advocates. Her question also reminded me of an old article detailing Los ALtos' response and answers her question.

Here's a 2014 article entitled "Los Altos official blasts Palo Alto planning commissioner" and it's worth the read to see how long this has been going on and how the other communities won't tolerate what we have for too long.

Web Link

"Palo Alto planning Commissioner Michael Alcheck is perhaps the city's most strident advocate of growth, but his pro-development message proved to be a hard sell at the Dec. 4 meeting of the Los Altos Planning and Transportation Commission, which was reviewing a mixed-use development in the Loyola Corners area where he works.

After more than a dozen speakers criticized the proposal, Alcheck said the opposition "is exaggerating every angle here because they oppose change." "They hear the word 'developer' and they start picketing,'" Alcheck said.

In response, Commissioner Ken Lorell said it was "really amusing to me that a member of the Palo Alto planning commission would come here and lecture us on how we should build our buildings when the stuff that has been going on in Palo Alto is absolutely amazing." The commission ultimately turned the project down."

Bottom line: I'd love to help put a stop to this and will help any way I can.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2017 at 7:55 am

Follow the money.


19 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 23, 2017 at 1:13 pm

I attended the CAC meeting this week. I witnessed a body of hard-working, professional, articulate, experienced members of the community who offer great expertise to our city council members. They discussed the January City Council meeting and what options the CAC should pursue, in the wake of the debacle. The city staff in attendance admonished the members of the CAC to remember that they are held to the restrictions of the Brown Act so cannot comment publicly or even meet to discuss, unless publicly. How ironic, since it appears the city council members have violated the Brown Act!
I have read everything published about the January meeting of our city council. I believe more than ever that the council acted nefariously. They voted after 11PM, with no public input or request for any, with little discussion, apparently in cahoots, to single out Land Use Programs for removalfrom the Comprehensive Plan. Land Use is the MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE IN PALO ALTO, now and in the future, and yet the City Council Members have now unencumbered themselves from the guidance of the CAC via the Comprehensive Plan on the issue of land use.
I have watched for forty years as my husband's home town, Danbury, Ct. turned from a charming New England working class town with great pride of ownership to a dump because of dishonorable city leaders. I have property in Marshfield, Mass. which has crooked town fathers who have allowed a nightmare of development, all the while claiming "they are forced to by the state," which is not true. There, just as is true of Palo Alto,the surrounding towns remain charming and protective of their towns'character and quality of life. A ride through the next town, Duxbury, achingly beautiful, tells the story. A ride through Atherton and Los Altos tells the story here.
Of all places, Palo Alto should be a city in which excesses of city government should be held in check.
I support a recall. I will hold meetings at my house, walk neighborhood and contribute financially. [Contact information removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2017 at 11:25 pm

This recent incident helps me to understand the logic of liberal progressive ideology:

Gather public input => ignore the feedback
Increase population density => reduce traffic and pollution
Speed up development => slow down pace of life for walking and biking
Raise minimum wage => lower unemployment
Only give guns to criminals => make streets safer
Reduce health network => keep your doctor
Open borders => lift middle class
Be nice to terrorists that hate us => they love us more
Proclaim diversity and inclusion => shout down and censor other points of view
Add more taxes => eliminate budget surplus

I see a pattern here. When one reverses cause and effect or ignores reality it makes perfect sense.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 23, 2017 at 11:42 pm

Ceci, Thanks for volunteering to help drive this important effort.


16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2017 at 12:22 am

Annette is a registered user.

I also attended Tuesday's CAC mtg and agree w/what CeCi K has written. I was surprised to hear our Planning Director's comments to the group about the Brown Act. Even assuming it does apply, how would anyone know who all commented online unless each person did so under their name? Further, CAC member Steve Levy has an online blog. Why should one member of the CAC have unbridled opportunity to comment online and the others not? Makes no sense. Maybe his blog should be suspended while the CAC is an active committee.

There were 14 CAC voting members at the meeting and 11 of them were clearly in favor of asking CC to reconsider their 1/30 actions. The group considered taking a vote to confirm that, but the issue had been agendized for discussion only so they honored that. There's more than a little irony in that detail. Also, the CAC would likely have written policies differently if they had known the element would be stripped of programs. Council created a serious problem with serious consequences.

Unless CC reconsiders, the Land Use Element of our new Comp Plan will have no programs and since programs clarify policies, the policies are severely weakened. This benefits development and the Planning Dept. Scharff knows this. I am drawn to the sorry conclusion that what CC did on 1/30 was a deliberate, pre-organized move to pave the way for fast track development. If you think the jobs:housing balance is out of whack now, just wait. Even housing advocates should be against what CC did. Just look at recent planning history: it favors commercial development, not housing. Said differently, if this is allowed to stand, things are only going to get worse.


10 people like this
Posted by Council watcher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2017 at 12:40 am

Annette, if you know, can you tell us who the 3 were who wanted to keep the Council's gutting of the Comp.Plan?

I'm guessing it's the PAForward people, (e.g. Levy) but I hope you know who else.
Your point about Steve Levy is important.


14 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 24, 2017 at 10:42 am

Annette is a registered user.

@ Council Watcher: in his blog, Levy publicly acknowledged his agreement with CC's actions of 1/30. I don't think it appropriate for me to identify the others. Best I can tell, all CAC members in attendance on Monday are earnest volunteers who have dedicated a tremendous amount of time and energy to updating the Comp Plan. The problem is not that some CAC members agree with what CC did. Rather, the problem is the way that CC went about dismantling a big chunk of the work of the CAC, the trust of the community, and the future effectiveness of the Land Use Element of the Comp Plan.

I encourage you and others to attend the next CAC meeting; doing so is eye-opening.


9 people like this
Posted by Shaking my head
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2017 at 3:26 pm

The CAC meeting from Feb 21st that Annette refers to in her comment above is now available on Youtube. See Web Link Unfortunately the item regarding the Council’s action to gut Programs from the Land Use element was agendized for discussion which had the effect of preventing the CAC from taking an anticipated vote to send a clear message back to the Council. A strong and vocal majority of committee members, at least 11 of the 14 in attendance and possibly more had it gone to a vote, gave numerous well considered reasons as to why the Council should put the Programs back in the Land Use Element. I hope the Council listens and repeals their prior action.



After listening to the committee deliberate I have to wonder whether there might have been a different outcome if Mayor Scharff had not denied Councilmember Wolbach’s request for comments from Dan Garber, the co-chair of the CAC, during the Council’s deliberation of the motion. Mayor Scharff has changed the meeting format to place public comments ahead of hearing the Council’s comments thus denying the public an opportunity to comment after hearing the Council’s direction. Since the motion was made after the public comment period, the public as well as CAC members in attendance were denied the ability to weigh in when this radical and unanticipated motion was proposed by Councilmember Wolbach. As numerous CAC members pointed out, some citing and one reading verbatim the mayor’s comments from the 1/30 council meeting, Mayor Scharff was unambiguous in his intention to remove the Land Use Programs from the Comp Plan. Here is what Mayor Scharff said. See Web Link



Thank you to the CAC members for volunteering generously of your time and participating in this critically important work. I encourage all to take the time to watch the meeting and see how democracy should work.


8 people like this
Posted by Corruption
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Follow the money. The mayor, Tanaka, Fine and Kniss should be investigated. [Portion removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Shaking my head
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 24, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Oops. Meant to say that the public is now not allowed to speak after Council questions not after Council comments which has always been the case. The Council questions often inform the public about the Council's direction on a given item.


14 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 24, 2017 at 7:34 pm

I just listened to the City Council Meeting at issue. I heard it said twice that the land use programs were the ONLY programs that were removed by the vote. Is it true?! ...........ONLY THE LAND USE PROGRAMS WERE REMOVED??!! Is it true that public comments must be made BEFORE council discussion, rather than in reaction to council discussion?! Is it true that the public is helpless to cry out in opposition to what has been said BEFORE a vote is taken?! Is it true that the CAC chair was RIGHT THERE, but not consulted publicly, despite a request from a council member?!
Someone please correct me if I am mistaken on any of this. What am I misconstruing?
I support a recall, especially of the mayor. This shouldn't happen in Palo Alto.


11 people like this
Posted by 60 yr PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2017 at 8:12 pm

Ms Kettendorf-

I am in agreement with you.
Something has to be done.
Our city is being controlled by wealthy developers/realtors.
The majority of residents have not been paying attention because we are too exhausted.
We clearly need citizens without conflict of interest issues to represent us on council. I will be in touch. Cheers.


11 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 25, 2017 at 9:42 am

It was noted at the CAC meeting that the City Council Members were invited to attend the CAC meeting to discuss the fact that they voted to remove the land use programs. None of the council members chose to come to defend their vote. Shouldn't they have been tripping over themselves to come and articulate their reasons?! Surely they had had time enough to articulate a response.

I have read the publications of those who support what the city council did and have not been swayed by their half logic. Tom Dubois WAS correct when he said the city council rammed through the vote. A vote on the most important issue before Palo Alto, taken late at night, with no public input, with screamingly bogus reasons given, IS indeed ramming it through.
I urge everyone to listen to the City Council Meeting video, as offered by SHAKING MY HEAD above.
Any one out there who wants to run against the Gang of Five, I will walk door to door to distribute your flyers over all of south Palo Alto. If you give me enough time, I'll cover all of Palo Alto.


8 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 25, 2017 at 2:21 pm

I am making a yard sign, saying "KEEP PALO ALTO LIVABLE! UNSEAT THE GANG OF
FIVE: SCHARFF, WOLBECK, KNISS, TANAKA, FINE".......something to that effect. Send your suggestions. A friend is helping me. If you want a sign, I will order extra.
My husband, Luke Brennan, is easily found online. MY info: cecihome@gmail.com


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Ceci K for City Council


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 25, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Ceci, those signs are a brilliant idea. I've sent you email Thurs and today so please check your junkmail folder in case some emails are going astray.


12 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
12 hours ago

margaret heath is a registered user.

As a fairly regular watcher of council meetings my jaw dropped at the skill and swiftness with which Mayor Scharff conducted the discussion and vote, with the cooperation of Councilmembers Wolbach, Fine, Tanaka, and Kniss, to eliminate the land use programs from the comp plan altogether.

My understanding of this agenda item was council would discuss and vote to clarify and prioritize the land use programs. Unfortunately, it would appear the editing of this agenda item omitted to make clear that eliminating the programs altogether was also on the table. Thus misleading the public and avoiding any opportunity for public input on this option prior to the council discussion and vote.

From the outset it became clear from the way Scharff, as mayor, was controlling and orchestrating the meeting, the speed with which council member Wolbach made his motion, quickly followed with support from Kniss, Fine, Scharff, and Tanaka, and the speed with which the vote to eliminate the land use programs from the comp plan was forced, appeared to have been Scharff's intent from the outset. The outcome was a fait accompli.



4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
7 hours ago

"...skill and swiftness with which Mayor Scharff conducted the discussion and vote, with the cooperation of Councilmembers Wolbach, Fine, Tanaka, and Kniss..."

A clear and routine Brown Act violation. Somebody hack their emails and get the script.


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