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Editorial: For developers, tough sledding
Original post made
on Jun 27, 2014
For real-estate developers in Palo Alto, 2014 may be looked back on as a turning point in how things work for them at city hall.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Friday, June 27, 2014, 12:00 AM
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 27, 2014 at 3:13 pm
The way our City has dealt with development has an analogy in how our technology can dominate our lives and make us less productive. The City manager/staff and Council don't prioritize the nuts and bolts City business things like safety, big picture planning, quality of life, protecting the character of our neighborhoods and quality of the environment, solving civic problems City "business" processes aren't structured to keep development in proper context, so developers (between their money and narrow view toward their own wants) end up dominating. Development dominates staff time, City business, City focus, and, when developments are built, they just plain dominate.
Nuts and bolts City work is hard, often thankless, boring work. If you fight tooth and nail to ensure your town has a proper egress network mapped out in case of large-scale emergency, no one is likely to thank you even if the worst happens and everyone survives because of it. Usually fighting tooth and nail for safety before the worst happens is an extremely difficult task, it's why "safety first" is such a necessary reminder for most humans. If someone dies in a neighborhood because response time is 1 minute longer, probably no one is even going to notice. (Who would know, really, if the person would have survived?) It's so much easier to schmooze with nice developers and architects. But we hire and vote for people to run our City so that they put those kinds of nuts and bolts civic concerns first, especially safety.
Residents have expressed alarm and concern for a long time about what has been happening to traffic circulation and safety. Both of those issues are actually mandated as distinct elements in the comprehensive plans of California cities, but we don't have them in our Comprehensive Plan. Safety, for example, is rolled up into "natural environment" and there are very few specific policies that address our current safety needs, particularly with all this development. Safety isn't first, it's an afterthought.
The Maybell development took up so much of everyone's time and attention last year. Before the vote on rezoning the residential neighborhood, neighbors repeatedly called for the "heightened scrutiny" of school commutes that is the City's own policy demands. But what did that entail? There were no rules whatsoever, no specific guidelines that could be enforced, challenged, or improved. The neighbors hired a respected traffic engineer who found there was no examination of the impact to students biking to school or walking at all in the report. The only thing they could do was point out the total absence of any scrutiny, but what guidelines or processes or big picture planning for safety did "heightened" scrutiny even entail?
For lack of a strategy, a "business" process, that prioritizes what's most important, our City just kept treating development as the de facto priority. [Portion removed.]
Cities can deal with safety and traffic circulation elements in their comp plans however they wish, they don't have to have separate elements, but there are specific requirements. Did you know that traffic circulation is even supposed to take the CONVENIENCE of residents into account? We roll those elements into other elements, but it's left us without any sense of civic priority, and in the face of pressure by developers, City Council just picks up whenever developers ping.
When NO on Measure D won, it felt a lot like that scene in Horton Hears a Who where the residents of Whoville finally got that "Yop!" through and those intent on destroying their little dust speck finally hear the residents yelling "We are here! We are here! We are HERE!"
I feel really sad that the result of hearing us is that our City staff become confused, rather than refocused on what's important to residents. It isn't just that they need to change the insular culture, we need good management from Council to examine how to focus City business processes on what's important. Otherwise, they'll just go back to picking up the phone whenever developers call and leaving the most important business of civic life as neglected as now.
I do think Eric Filseth and Tom Du Bois will refocus the priorities on what's most important, so long as we get a majority of residentialist candidates who are as good as they are. I think this kind of clarity will be good for developers eventually, too.
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