RECUSE ME ... The issue of not enough parking downtown hits close to home for members of the Palo Alto City Council, and not just because they get an earful from exasperated downtown residents seemingly every week. Several council members live downtown or have interests in downtown property and are thus by law can't participate in any decisions that would impact the area. On Monday night, this almost became a problem. The nine-member council had no legal barriers in its discussion of big picture issues such as valet parking in downtown garages or incentives for workers to eschew their cars for other transit modes. But things got hairy when conversation to turned zoning restrictions and parking-permit programs, with one council member after another leaving the room to avoid a conflict of interest. Mayor Greg Scharff and Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd stepped out of the room because they have interests in downtown properties; Councilwoman Karen Holman had to leave because she lives downtown and has received income from the downtown Palo Alto History Museum; and Councilman Marc Berman ducked out because his house is near the commercial downtown district. City Manager James Keene also had to miss for the second half of the discussion because he lives downtown. By the end of the discussion, only five council members remained behind the dais. At one point, Councilman Larry Klein had to stop talking because Councilwoman Gail Price left the room momentarily, depriving the council of a quorum. At another point, City Attorney Molly Stump advised the council that "there should be no parties going on in the backroom among those who recused." One downtown resident pointed to the shrinking number of participating council members as evidence of the problem's urgency and pervasiveness. "If we don't get to this problem very quickly, the entire council will have to recuse itself," Michael Hodos told the council.
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posted Friday, March 22, 2013, 12:00 AM