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Populism: A response to the failure of the elites: Palo Alto edition

Uploaded: Sep 23, 2018
"Especially in this day and age, populism is something to be resisted. That we don't want to be populists. That we basically want to do things with good information." - Councilmember Gregg Scharff advocating for more study on the proposed ballot initiative to half the limit on new office space. Listen for yourself: ^@5:17:45^ in the June 11 Palo Alto City Council meeting.(foot#1)

Why didn't the City already have "good information"? The office space limit (cap) was part of the recently updated Comprehensive Plan and the size of that cap had been highly controversial, hence the citizen's initiative. Scharff--who supported the higher cap--seems to contend that lower caps did not received proper evaluation during the (long) decision process. Actually it had, and the sponsors of the initiative had carefully evaluated that data, especially former Councilmember Greg Schmid, an economist.

Scharff's statement speaks to a fundamental divide in Palo Alto politics, both in its policies and means of governing. There are many examples of this. The goal of this blog is to present such examples -- both in the blog itself and the hoped-for comments -- to help you understand the divide and whether you see a pattern.

Basically, Populism is when the general populace becomes more involved in politics to protect and advance their own interests, and that comes into conflict with the interests of the elites/Establishment.
Major negative misconceptions: Populism is not "the mob" (the non-elite populace) being swayed by a ^demagogue^.(foot#2) Nor is it politicians voting for the more popular position on issues.

And don't let the failings of individual populist movements get presented as inherent characteristics of all populist movements. Just as pro-democracy movements can fail or be perverted, so too can populist movements (reasserting democracy). You need to learn their lessons.

Recognize that populism constitutes a challenge to the elites: their power, positions, and agendas. Is it any surprise that the elites are hostile to populism and embed those attitudes in the historical record?

This is a long article (even for me). However, my reviewer said that it was a faster read than most of my blogs. Instead of shortening it further, I have tried to structure it for the various audiences. Some of the feedback I get is that the background on the issues is what they value most. Others say that the fun is in the footnotes. I expect that some readers will want to skip the background and go immediately to example failings, so I have promoted the latter to the next section, with the background becoming the appendix. However, you may want to read the appendix first to get your juices flowing.

Me and Residentialism/Populism:
I became involved in Palo Alto politics in the mid-1990s as a leader of the Barron Park (neighborhood) Association (BPA). My eye-opening moment came early: At a City Council meeting, I heard another group of residents make an excellent presentation providing a clear quantitative analysis detailing substantial problems with the Staff recommendation. Not only did the Council utterly ignored them, a news article characterized them as "whiners".

I recognized the BPA Board didn't have the resources to pose as a representative of such a large neighborhood, so I focused on pushing out information to the residents -- both the official announcements and other perspectives and data -- so that residents could take various measures to help have their positions and interests considered.(foot#3)

This blog started in October 2013 and, of the roughly 120 entries, more than 20 focus on major problems with the public getting their input heard and considered. I relied on my experiences over the preceding years. Just because such blog entries have become less frequent don't infer that the problems have gone away. Rather, returning to those issues feels like little more than repetition, and I haven't motivated myself for "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more." (Henry V, Shakespeare).
To get a sense of how persistent the various problems have been, you can scan the index of my blogs: ^By Topic^ and ^Reverse Chronological^. Also, in the items below, I cite the more relevant of these blogs.

----Failures of Palo Alto's elites----

Has Palo Alto had persistent failures of its political elite that has produced populism as a response? If so, is what we seeing now only flare-ups, or has populism become part of our political environment?

To get things started, I am going to present some categories with examples and I encourage you to add more, as well as comment and elaborate on all the examples presented.

When you find you have dug yourself deep into a hole, dig FASTER. A fundamental failure of leadership.
That seems to be the motto of our political elite, as represented by the current majority faction on the current Council (Wolbach, Scharff, Kniss, Fine, Tanaka). Palo Alto, and the region, have had a jobs-housing imbalance for decades, and there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But actions speak louder than words, and those actions have been to knowingly make the problems worse. Rather than try to maintain balanced communities, the elites have pushed policies that maximize value for larger property owners and larger developers. Much of the time this has been to allow, even promote, more office space, even in a period when the density of employees in existing offices was increasing (from 3-5 employees per 1000 sqft to as many as 11).

I can't help but think of the 1967 Pete Seeger song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (The big fool said to push on)" (^performance^; ^background^).

If you misunderstand the Law of Supply and Demand, it has to be deliberate. Right??
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." (Upton Sinclair) Since the beginning of my involvement in development issues, I have repeatedly encountered decision-makers and other influential people who purport to believe that building housing units will drive down the price of housing in general, regardless of how quickly demand is increasing.(foot#4) I've even heard this from a San Jose City Councilmember who has a degree in Economics from UC Davis and an MBA from UC Berkeley.(foot#5)

But this simplified treatment of supply-and-demand may be irrelevant. I have seen analyses where increasing the supply of housing increases prices once you have passed a certain density threshold. The reason? The crucial "supply" is land.(foot#6) Have you seen even awareness of such complexities, much less a sophisticated approach, from our political elite?

Believe all (politically connected) developers! ("Membership has its privileges" in the appendix):
It pains me to think of the many times that Council members have cited private discussions with developers and that seems to have been an important factor in the Council decision. No details, no analysis, no chance for others to analyze the claims and present their assessments.

In a flagrant instance (some time back), a Councilmember argued for a developer's proposal with "We all know (the developer) from serving on boards together."(foot#7)

A recent instance occurred when Council was discussing the fees on new construction -- fees that are used to fund new Below-Market-Rate (BMR) housing. One member of the current Council majority faction conveyed the sentiment of commercial developers, saying they thought that the recommended fee was too high. This without skepticism that self-interest might have influenced their claims. The recommended fee was greatly reduced, so now the buildings that have the jobs that create the need for more housing pay only a fraction of that assessed on new houses. Go figure.

Privatize profits, socialize costs: Residents must sacrifice live-ability (value) to further enrich the wealth.
One of the seeming constants of larger project proposals is that the Staff recommendations favor the developer by significantly understating the impacts of the project on the community. For example, the Arbor Real complex at El Camino and Charleston (former Rickey's Hyatt) was projected by Staff to have very few children living there. How did this happen? Staff rejected local experience with similar complexes and instead used the much lower national averages. The reality? Even before all the units were on the market, the nearby elementary school (Juana Briones) became oversubscribed. And with it, increased congestion on the streets used by student going there, to Ellen Fletcher Middle School (formerly Terman) and to Gunn HS.
The biggest benefit to the developer from this was a very low projection of the traffic that would be generated (children produce lots of trips). There were multiple other benefits.

Another example: For the office/housing complex at Park Blvd and Page Mill (^map^), an early Staff report insisted that the adjacent intersection was operating smoothly and that the added traffic from this complex would have negligible impact. A wide range of residents vigorously pointed out that this was false. At a review meeting held on-site, we residents pointed out the backup to Staff: Cars waiting to turn right onto the Oregon Expressway entrance ramp were backed up two long blocks (beyond Grant), and the cars waiting to turn left onto the ramp were impeding traffic bound for California Ave. Did observed facts change the Staff report? No. Many years later, the intersection got a traffic light.

In case after case, Staff finds ways to declare negative impacts, eliminating the developer's responsibility to pay for remediations. In some cases, this is simply reducing the developer's costs. In many cases, there is no practical remediation, for example adding lanes to El Camino. In those cases, Council would have to either reject the project or declare that the un-remediated impacts were acceptable. Both are politically acceptable to our political elite. Better to just ignore the elephant in the room.

Is Council aware of the problems in the Staff recommendations on projects? Of course they are: Residents bring this to their attention both before and during Council meetings.

The result? Overloaded infrastructure, decreased quality-of-life for residents. That reduction is effectively a subsidy for developers paid in small increments by residents year after year.

Whac-A-Mole (^game^): Stomp out an abusive practice and it pops up as a minor variant.
The "Planned Community" (PC) zoning was supposed to provide flexibility for projects that would be a significant benefit to the community but didn't fit within the existing zoning framework. However, PC zoning was so flagrantly abused for so many years that public outrage eventually caused Council to ban it. With this loss, developers, with the concurrence of Staff, shifted to using Zoning Variances. But in the political climate created by the abuses of PC zoning, these fell out of favor. Rushing to fill the gap came Design Enhancement Exceptions (DEE). The intended role of DEEs was to allow minor changes to address individual problems. But with exercising, DEEs got bigger and stronger.

Trickle-down economics:
Why do residents need to provide all these direct and indirect subsidies to big developers? Because they supposedly need big incentives to build here. Are they claiming that there is a poor Return-on-Investment (ROI) for building in Palo Alto? But wait, aren't they also claiming that there is excess demand for office space?

Whatever. The reigning philosophy is that the city needs to provide incentives to developers with the hope that eventually there may be some benefits that will trickle down to the residents.

Potential newcomers are more important than current residents:
There had been earlier instances of this attitude, but it hit with full force in the 2016 Council election.
The trigger: Citing the serious jobs-housing imbalance, then-mayor Pat Burt gave an interview that mentioned the need to slow the rate of job growth and the problem of large software companies squeezing start-ups and service companies out of downtown.(foot#8) The "news" media immediately distorted this into a call to reduce the number of jobs and to ban software companies from downtown.(foot#9) Being great click-bait, the fiction was promoted by media internationally.

Locally, this produced an attack (of 2016-09-08) on Burt (term-limited) and then-candidate Lydia Kou, by the pro-development forces. A leader of the pro-development advocacy group Palo Alto Forward equated them to Donald Trump: "Trump, Burt, and Kou all seek to return America to its suburban, homogeneous, 1950s self."(foot#10) Hold it! For example, Asian-Americans are 31% of Palo Alto's population, including Hong Kong-born Councilmember Lydia Kou.

Other leaders and members of Palo Alto Forward quickly chimed in supporting this attack, including Councilmember Cory Wolbach, who is running for re-election.
Note: Palo Alto Forward claims to be an advocate for "affordable housing", but their actions say otherwise. Well, unless you extend the term "affordable housing" to include young professionals at high-paying companies, such as engineers at Google.

Notice that this demagoguery, which continues to this day, is from the elite, not the populists. It seems to have its origins in an urban development philosophy popularized by Richard Florida. He claimed that economic prosperity was driven by an ill-defined "Creative Class" -- essentially people like him -- and that cities need to invest in attracting these people (indirect subsidies) because there would be only a few "superstar cities". He also included those who produce the entertainment -- whoops, "culture" -- enjoyed by this class. He particularly focused on young professionals.(foot#11) Implicit in this was that the non-Creative Class would be squeezed out these cities.

Despite others almost immediately pointing out how destructive this philosophy was, it wasn't until 15 years later that Richard Florida recognized this, or maybe it was just time for a new book.(foot#12)

However, many of his followers cling to the original theory, perhaps because it supports their agendas. The extreme emphasis on attracting Creative Class newcomers as being vital to a city's economic health provides a rationale for ignoring the needs and perspectives of current residents. Too many times have I heard that current residents must accept and support (subsidize) the lifestyles and preferences of these newcomers, and if not, the current residents should move elsewhere.

Fair share of increased value from zoning changes:
One important role of zoning is to have the various categories of land-uses needed by a healthy city, for example, residential, various categories of retail, various categories of commercial operations, ... Also, different zoning categories can produce different revenue for parcels of the same size. Zoning helps potential purchasers of a parcel to calculate their expected Return-On-Investment (ROI), This also protects against categories that are valuable to the community but produce lower revenues, such as neighborhood-serving retail, being converted to the highest revenue category, such as high-tech office space.

When a zoning change substantially increases the value of a parcel, the property owner has done nothing to warrant him/her receiving that profit. The property owner's new use of the parcel will likely be at the same level as other parcels with the same zoning, and those other parcels are producing reasonable ROI. Otherwise, why would s/he have sought the zoning change?

Typically, it is hard to tell how much value is being gifted to a property owner by a zoning change because there are many intertwined factors. However, there is a relatively clean example from the mid-2000s. A developer (McNellis) bought the Alma Plaza shopping center for $6M and shortly thereafter made a contingent sale of 80% of that property for $20.5M. The contingency was that he could get Council to override the city's Comprehensive Plan -- its "Planning Bible" -- and rezone it for (very profitable) single family houses. The magnitude of the profits from this flipping was no surprise: Non-professionals working from real estate comps (comparable properties) estimated the value with re-zoning would be at least $18M.(foot#13)
Note: Alma Plaza was renamed Alma Village (^map^).

Question: Why shouldn't the community get a significant share of the value produced by such zoning changes to apply to other community needs, such as affordable housing??

When residents challenge the exemptions being given to a developer, a common response is "The building is the benefit." Yes, but to whom?

Putting the OUT in OUTREACH: Public outreach meetings as Potemkin Villages:
A long-term complaint of residents is that their input is largely ignored when they go to an advertised outreach meeting. For example, with break-out groups the filtering out of unwanted input may begin at the meeting itself, with the recording, reporting and combining of the opinions. The next level of filtering occurs in Staff reports, where cherry-picked comments from the outreach meetings are used to support the Staff's recommendations. Residents complain of going to meeting after meeting on an issue and each time finding that the majority -- sometimes near unanimous -- opinion didn't make it into the results that Staff reported.(foot#14) Residents also complain of meetings being manipulated, from the meeting facilitators (Staff consultants) disproportionately recognizing those who support them to recognizing advocates who unleash vitriol against those with other perspectives.(foot#15)

The term "Potemkin Village" (^short definition^; ^Wikipedia^) is used to describe a facade -- often figurative -- constructed to create the illusion of real substance behind it.(foot#16)

Local expertise and facts-on-the-ground irrelevant: We have our dogma.
This most often shows up on transportation issues. Experience accumulated over years of daily use about traffic flows and intersections is rejected in favor of the dogma that staff members learned in school or that is currently favored in their professional publications. Recent examples include the "improvements" on Ross Road and Arastradero-Charleston, but especially the Middlefield-Embarcadero intersection where parents are complaining that the "safety improvements" have made it less safe (their perspective; I don't have an opinion, lacking experience with this intersection).

We know what's best for you ... and you don't:
A prime example of this is Michael Alcheck of the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC) ("The second most powerful body in Palo Alto's government"). In December 2013, shortly after being appointed, he made a presentation at a Council meeting on the future of the City and said "I don't think that the individuals that are over 55, and over 65, and over 75 always necessarily vote for what they really want. I think that they vote against change a lot because it's scary, but I don't know if they always make the same decisions in their private life that they are making on the ballot."(foot#17) Over his tenure, he has been similarly disparaging and dismissive of other groups and individuals.

The role of the PTC is to review proposals and ensure that they were ready for the Council to make a decision. In many cases, the proposal and the supporting materials going to Council were noticeably improved from what came to the PTC (from Staff). Alcheck was a major contributor to making the PTC dysfunctional and insubordinate.(foot#18) Despite this, the majority faction on Council reappointed him. At least he didn't fail upwards.

Staff reports are intended to be adopted, not support decision-making:
In 2013, City Manager Jim Keene publicly acknowledge what had long been deduced: "The findings in the staff reports tend to support the particular staff recommendation rather than represent all views".(foot#19)

An attitude where Staff reports are written to document the anticipated decision rather than justify and defend the recommendation leads to serious problems: There can be problems in the data used, the analysis and the logic. My first blog here (2013) addressed a recommendation by the library staff that was transparently self-contradictory, and recounted the futile effort of a group of residents to have the Library Director and the consultants recognize this and to produce a logically coherent recommendation.(foot#20)

Don't wanna / Can't make me: Our own tiny version of the Deep State.
The term ^Deep State^ has been in the national news recently. This describes a situation where the institutions of government, and potentially outside allies, are able to thwart the decisions of the (elected) political leadership. The simplest and most common form is when the career professional employees undermine the leadership's agenda with constant delays, or they rearrange the allocation of resources to pursue their agenda and starve the leadership's.(foot#21)

In addition to such actions reflecting the elites' agendas, such obstructionism can represent refusal to adapt the dogmas of their profession to local circumstances, resume padding, ...

Awards vs Performance:
How many of you have bragged about all the awards that the City of Palo Alto has received? Or that we are an earlier adopter of a still-developing technology? Not many, I suspect. Yet when I hear the City trumpeting its awards, I am always skeptical of how much above participation trophies those awards are. The VP of Marketing for a small tech company once told me that if a company launching a new product didn't have several awards from trade magazines, that VP should be fired. However, he refused to discuss how much advertising was needed to qualify.

Palo Alto has hundreds of environmental initiatives, some of them award-winning. Are they cost effective? They are assumed to be.(foot#22) While staff and other resources are being sunk into these initiatives, the Planning Department has staff shortages that have caused important planning tasks to drag on for years and years. While those tasks can have much larger environmental impacts, they aren't easy to explain in the paperwork applying for an award.

Awards are falsely seen as signifying accomplishments. This can be seen in the declining satisfaction ratings from residents.

Public funding for private hubris:
One measure of a political elite is how well they keep in check the sense of entitlement to public funding by other portions of the elites. Some of this comes about when people aren't aware that their social network is not representative of the whole community. And some comes from those who are aware of these differences and through a sense of their superiority and righteousness seek to impose their agenda.

You will hear advocates for this or that proclaim that Palo Alto needs to be "world-class" or "a lighthouse to the world" or ... Is it cost-effective? Irrelevant. Palo Altans are so rich that cost is no object. These advocates don't seem to comprehend that there is a difference between those residents who are fabulously wealthy and the resources of our government. They want us, Palo Alto taxpayers, to pay for their causes, interests, ...

I have heard local artists and residents complaining about the choices of the Public Art Commission -- that they have focused more on the prominence of the artist than to the practical value of the piece, that is, how it enhances its setting and is appreciated by the public. My favorite contrast is at the Mitchell Park Library, which has the very popular Whimsy and Wise owls as bollards (safety) and a mere 100 feet away is a sculpture that many have passed by daily for years without noticing. The latter cost $270K, absorbing most of the funding for art in the then-new library, so funding for that had to be transferred from other budgets. So what did advocate say makes this sculpture worth its price? It is similar to other pieces by this artist in high prestige locations around the world.(foot#23)

If this be populism, let's make the most of it (apologies to Patrick Henry).


Note: Many of the uses of double-quotation marks below are intended as ^scare^/ ^finger/air quotes^: euphemisms or sarcasm.

--Background on populism--

At the core of the wide-ranging definitions of "populism" is its emphasis on the "common people" and their rights, and a belief in their ability to meaningfully participate in their own governance. Notice what's missing from this definition? A movement is action, not an abstract belief. What are the motivations propelling the common people into this increased participation in politics? And what differentiates these movements from other political movements? Many descriptions of populism include its explicit antagonism to the "elites", but omit the cause. I regard those causes as key attributes.

Notice how this differs from the elites' perspective. They regard such movements as the "common people" being manipulated by a demagogue, or similar, who exploits their ignorance, low character and deplorable prejudices. Could such a dismissive attitude play a role in the rise of a populist movement?(foot#24)

^Pericles^ of Ancient Athens observed (admonished?) "Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean that politics won't take an interest in you." However, Athenian democracy has long been cited as a prominent example of the serious limitations and dangers of direct democracy, and why non-trivial states prefer representative democracy. The vast majority of the "common people" would like to get on with their lives and largely ignore politics, hoping that their representatives will be reasonably responsible in representing their interests. Experience is that they give this political elite a lot of leeway.

For this attitude to have changed, the situation must not have just gone seriously, seriously wrong, and persisted long enough that the "common people" have despaired of the elites' ability or willingness to fix problems.(foot#25) "Elites" is plural because it involves not just the political elite, but the interlocking other elites: financial, media, business, social, cultural ...
Note: I will also refer to these elites as "The Establishment", ignoring the minor differences in the terms.

From the viewpoint of the Establishment, populist movements begin only when they become too big to be ignored. But the anger, resentment and sense of betrayal would have been building over many years, with minor flare-up being extinguished or otherwise dying out. For example, the Arab Springs were set off by the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor ^Mohamed Bouazizi^ over a matter of petty corruption that was just one-too-many humiliations.

Accounts of populism in History and Political Science focus on the large-scale movements. Because of their scale, it is easy for them to go wrong. Their rapid rise results in them not having established institutions and political culture (checks and balances, norms of behavior) or networks of proven leaders. Those that have too little organizational discipline dissipate their energy and disappear. Those that have that discipline are often criticized for "strong arm" or "strong man" leadership. Famous US example: ^Huey Long^ in Louisiana in the 1920s and 1930s.

Tea Party (illustrative) example:
Large-scale populist movements need a charismatic leader, or core leadership, to promote cohesion. However, this renders them vulnerable to being taken over by demagogues, charlatans and small tightly organized groups. The ^Tea Party Movement^ provides a recent illustrative example--not for discussion--of this messiness. My grossly simplified account is that it arose during the Republican presidential primaries in 2008 as flare-ups against the corruption -- financial, ideological and political -- of the Republican Establishment as embodied by the Bush Presidency. But they were too diffuse to have much impacts. After the election, their sense of betrayal was taken over by a faction of the Conservative Establishment that was outside the Republican Establishment, and they redirected it at the Obama Administration. Most accounts of the movement begin at this point, when it acquired the name and identifiable leaders.

The Conservative and Republican Establishments then did nothing to address those discontented people's issues and problems. Instead they settled into 8 long years of "Resist" mode, and milked their base for donations to support the same-old politicians and policies (paraphrased theme: "Obama's even worse (than us)"). In the 2016 primaries, the Republican Party fielded a slew of candidates who sought to differentiate themselves by what faction within the Establishment they represented, or how high up in the Establishment they were. Then there was Donald Trump ...
Reminder: This illustrative example is for contemplation, not discussion here. Similar for examples on the national and international level -- truly useful analogies are OK, but I intend to preemptively shutdown likely shouting matches.

Pseudo-populist movements:
There have been many politicians who, for their own purposes, have mobilize the "common people" against the elites, and been incorrectly labeled as populists.(foot#26)

Bias in news and histories:
Reporters have problems covering movements that don't have agreed upon names nor have prominent leaders to quote. It is not uncommon for reporters to quote a prominent person far removed from events instead of a non-Establishment person in the thick of it. Keep this in mind when you look for lessons from populist movements.

News and histories tend to conflate movements with their leaders, often treating the movement as a creature of the leader. There are some cases where this is true, but many where it is false. For the latter, a common analogy in the leadership literature is the rider/driver on an elephant (the mahout). The media may treat a movement's designated public spokesperson as its leader, creating it as a "fact".

Ask of an account why a well-entrenched Establishment -- the interlocking elites -- was unable to fend off a populist uprising. Often the answer is ... (crickets). Or it may be nonsense because its sources cannot admit the long chains of failures that left the Establishment impotent.

Reporters and historians tend to identify more with the elites than the populists. Their professional interactions tend to be with the elites, and they may come from similar backgrounds. Consequently, the accounts of the massive corruption and other abuses of the elites/Establishment get downplayed -- maybe its not being seen as major news indicates that it is normal and expected behavior, or maybe it reflects a cynical attitude. Similarly, there are credulous accounts of the suspicious and convenient "accidents" that befall important members of the populists' leadership. In contrast, moderate corruption and bullying within big populist movements gets played up large and evokes outrage.

Elites: Membership has its privileges:
When a member of the elite takes an official action that benefits another, too many people are inclined to believe that there must have been a payoff (bribe). This seems to be rare in the practical sense and extremely rare in the legal sense.(foot#27) Rather your "helping" another member of the elite causes them to encourage other members to provide you with opportunities and other "help".

Palo Alto terminology: Residentialist vs Populist:
"Residentialist" has recently been used to describe those advocating for balanced growth (vs those advocating for far more commercial growth). However, there is a reluctance for activist to label themselves as such for fear of being diverted into discussions of the Residentialist movement in the 1960s and 1970s. "(The Establishment) wanted to turn the baylands into a huge industrial park and build housing all (over) the city..." ("^The tumultuous 60's^", Palo Alto Weekly, 1994-04-13). This included selling off many of the city's parks for those housing projects.

Consequently, there is no widely accepted meaning for Residentialist , and its usage revolves around promoting the interests and priorities of the residents.

What's my dividing line between Residentialists and Populists? The Residentialist criticizes and opposes individual actions of the political elite that are against the interest of the residents (and the community). The populist sees them as part of an on-going pattern. For members of the political elite to call Residentialists "populists" indicates how they view the political divide.

--The fury of the elites; Elite Panic--
When the elites come under attack for their abuses and failures, their over-the-top responses can be revealing. The rejections of questions and criticism of proposals starts with dismissive "You're wrong" with little or no justification. This can escalate to "How dare you!!" and various forms of invective. Similarly for attempts at getting accountability. Intertwined with this is the rejection of the competence of anyone proposing alternatives: They, and only they, know best.(foot#28)

They count on their prominence, their connections, and their ability to have the media present their perspective as fact, not propaganda. This often allows them not only to survive, but to "fail upwards".

Palo Alto saw this in the 2014 and 2016 Council election: The pro-growth (Establishment) candidates sought to portray themselves as for (their notion of) "progress" and those with different perspectives and priorities as wanting to send the city backwards 50-60 years.(foot#29)

The term "Elite Panic" arose to describe a situation that arises during disaster response. The political elite becomes so disoriented by their sense of loss of control that they make horrendous decisions. Many discussions of this effect impute motivations based on ideology, not evidence.

1. "^Plan to curb office growth sparks debate: City Council narrowly votes to analyze proposal before placing it on ballot^", Palo Alto Weekly, 2018-06-12.

2. Demagogue:
The ancient Greek origin simply meant "Leader of the people (demos)". It now means "A a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power." (Merriam Webster). The transformation of the meaning could provide an entry point to pondering the evolving power relationships in society.

3. "^Doug Moran and a history of evolution in the BPA^" (PDF), Barron Park Association Newsletter, Spring 2014 edition, pages 8-12.

4.My blog: "^The Law of Supply and XXXXXX^", 2014-06-10

5.My blog: "^Development policy: 'The Market' and regulation^", 2017-06-20.

6. Increasing supply can increase prices:
"^Housing Costs and Density^" by Michael Goldman, blog of 2017-01-03. Goldman is a member of the Sunnyvale City Council.
"^Is There a Housing Crisis?^" by Michael Goldman, blog of 2017-02-12.
Introduction: "In previous posts we looked at the Supply side of Housing's Demand-Supply equation and found increased supply would not lower costs, or even keep costs from rising. //Now we will look at the Demand side of the equation.We will find that the current high demand that is driving up prices is only temporary and will subside (in fact, is subsiding now) in the SF Bay Area.Job retraining, additional local public/private transit,and tax incentives for corporations to expand where skilled people and affordable housing already exist (i.e., not the SF Bay Area)are progressive policies that will alleviate the 'housing shortage' ."

7. We (Council) all know (the developer)...
In my blog: ^Recreating the Planning and Transportation Commission: Part 2: Credibility and Confidence^, 2015-08-23.

8. "^Exclusive interview: Palo Alto mayor Patrick Burt fires back at housing critics^" by Adam Brinklow - Curbed SF, 2016-08-23.
"Palo Alto's greatest problem right now is the Bay Area's massive job growth."
"^Palo Alto Mayor Frustrated With Tech Boom^" - KPIX 5, 2016-08-30.

9. Early step in the distortions:
"^Palo Alto decides it has too much of a good thing^" - editorial, San Francisco Chronicle.
Another step:
"^Message to Tech Firms From Palo Alto Mayor: Go Away. Please.^" - NY Times, 2016-08-30.

10. Attack on Burt and Kou:
My blog "^The 'You're despicable' style of politics^", 2016-09-22.

11. Richard Florida urban philosophy:
My blog: "^The 'Creative Class' and 'superstar' cities^", 2017-07-08.

12. Richard Florida recants:
Original title: "Richard Florida and Winner Take All: New Urban Crisis": currently "^Why America's Richest Cities Are Pulling Away From All the Others^" - The Atlantic, 2017-04 issue. Sub-heading: "They are not just the places where the most ambitious and talented people want to be--they are where such people feel they need to be."
Interesting to consider what might have been behind the title change.
"^Peter Moskowitz: How Gentrification Kills Cities^" - The Atlantic, 2017-03-09.
"Peter Moskowitz's new book on gentrification outlines how local governments cede their power over residents' lives to private interests."

13. "^Guest Opinion: Alma Plaza is a $12 million giveaway by our City Council^" by Doug Moran, Palo Alto Weekly, 2007-06-20.

14. My blogs:
"Why the City doesn't hear residents' perspectives? It doesn't want to": ^Part 1^ (2013-12-03), ^Part 2^ (2013-12-04), ^Part 3^ (2013-12-06).
"^Why not 'constructive engagement' with City Hall?^", 2014-10-23.
"^Amnesia at City Hall^", 2016-06-14.

15. Vitriol in outreach meetings:
An example in my blog "^The Palo Alto Bicycle Lobby: Impeding more and safer bicycling?^" (2014-03-16):Search/find the paragraph with "cane".

16.My blog "^Visioning or Potemkin Villages?^" ("Our Palo Alto"), 2014-05-08.

17. Michael Alcheck on older residents:
^@2:00:55^ in the videoof the City Council meeting of 2013-12-03.More in my blog "^Listen for Yourself: An index into 'A Conversation on the Future of the City' ^", 2013-12-13.

18.My blogs:
"^Replacing the defunct Planning and Transportation Commission: Part 1: Cronyism and Corruption^", 2015-08-18.
"^Recreating the Planning and Transportation Commission: Part 2: Credibility and Confidence^", 2015-08-23.
News articles:
"^Amid policy clashes, Palo Alto council to meet with planning commission: Joint session on Nov. 30 offers chance to air grievances, consider improvements^", by Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Online, 2015-11-24.
"^Council tries to narrow rift with planning commission: Palo Alto council members offer words of criticism, encouragement to their top land-use advisers^" by Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Online, 2015-12-01.

19. Staff reports ... support the particular staff recommendation:
"^Residents, developers clash over city's vision:...^", Palo Alto Weekly, 2013-07-19.
Accompanying editorial: "^In city that loves to plan, Palo Alto's creates cynicism^".

20. My blog "^Librarians Against Books: Subverting the will of the electorate^", 2013-10-07.

21. Deep State, bureaucratic version:
For an entertaining introduction, I recommend the BBC comedy series ==I ^Yes Minister^== (1980)and ==I ^Yes, Prime Minister^== (1986). Segments and full episodes can be found on YouTube.The corresponding books extend the original scripts to good effect.

22. Environmental initiatives: How effective?
Minor part of my blog "^City Council & School Board: Leaders, Overseers, Technocrats or Advocates?^", 2016-05-05.

23.My blog "^Public Art Policy^", 2015-02-07.

24. Populists as a "mob"
Current example: "^America Is Living James Madison’s Nightmare: The Founders designed a government that would resist mob rule. They didn't anticipate how strong the mob could become^" by Jeffrey Rosen - The Atlantic?, 2018-10.
Example: "Madison supported Jackson’s efforts to preserve the Union against nullification efforts in the South but was alarmed by his populist appeal in the West."
The conventional histories of that period acknowledge the circumstances that created strong feelings of unfairness and great frustration by significant portions of the US against certain elites.Despite the duration and breadth of these circumstances,those histories treat the resulting populism as the ordinary people being swayed into irrationality.
One part of this: The War of 1812 had revealed the weakness of the US economy (and military). To facilitate increasing the industrial base,protectionist tariffs were enacted.Many saw these tariffs as excessive and unfair to significant portions of the economy,leading to the ^Nullification Crisis^.
The interior ("The West") felt it was being starved of funds for investment.Adding to the frustration was that foreign investors had substantial influence in the big private banks that were seen as behind the investment decisions.And the perceived corruption of those running the banks ...
But how could those people think that the system was rigged against them?

25. "^The Populist Revolt: From Flint to New Hampshire, an angry American public is determined to challenge the status quo.^" by Ron Fournier - The Atlantic, 2016-02-16.
"New Hampshire" refers to the Presidential primary there,and the support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
"Flint" (Michigan) refers to election turnout resulting from the mismanagement of the water system resulting in lead-poisoning.My blog: "^Flint Michigan disaster: Unusual only in its severity^", 2016-02-14.

26. Pseudo-populists:
Basic politics is that a ruler needs to provide benefits to his supporters to retain their loyalty.The math is that it is almost always more efficient to buy the support of a small elite than of the larger populace.But sometimes the elite freezes out an aspiring politician who then takes the latter route to power.If the country is very rich (Argentina), such regimes may persist despite their many sins while the math slowly catches up to them.
If interested, recommended viewing: ^The Rules for Rulers^ (9:32) - CGP Grey, 2016-10-24.
This is based on the book ^The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics^by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith.I recommend against the book: It is bloated and adds little to what is in this video (except repeated repetition).

27. Bribery: legal sense:
The US Supreme Court has applied such an extreme interpretation to the bribery laws that a politician has to trying really hard to create circumstances that would qualify as bribery.These Supreme Court decisions overturned jury verdicts.Even before that, committing bribery was difficult.For example, assume there was a business with a matter before a California regulatory commission and the decision was expect to go against it.Then, a few days before the vote, a Republican official hires a Democrat on that commission as a consultant.Unexpectedly, she votes for the business' position.A few days later, the business makes a contribution to the Republican official in the same amount as the consulting contract.This is not bribery because there was no ^quid pro quo^ (US Supreme Court version)between the business and the commissioner.

28. The elite knows best:
The 2008 financial collapse provided an example: Glenn Greenwald: "It has become a virtual consensus among the elites that their members are so indispensable to the running of American society that vesting them with immunity from prosecution--even for the most egregious crimes--is not only in their interest but in our interest, too." - from his book ^With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful^ (2011). I would add that the financial elite successfully demanded extravagant compensation to participate in undoing the results of their unethical and criminal actions.

29. Elite fury:
"^Editorial: Our incivility contagion: A divided City Council has helped create a toxic political atmosphere for the fall election^", Palo Alto Weekly, 2018-06-22.
From my blogs:
"^The 'You're despicable' style of politics^", 2016-09-22.
"^Behind contentious local politics: Failed and toxic leadership^", 2017-05-30.
"^A reprehensible political ad^", 2014-11-02.
"^Subverting open, fair and honest debate (Measure D)^" (Council size reduction), 2014-10-26. Quick summary: The Establishment (successfully) sought to reduce Council size because they were having problems recruiting candidates that they thought were qualified (according to their notions of "qualified").

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The ^Guidelines^ for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.
A slur is not an argument. Neither are other forms of vilification of other participants.

If you behave like a ^Troll^, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Sep 23, 2018 at 7:41 pm

The "elites" have been "failing" throughout history, yet they remain the "elites."

How come?

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 10:05 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Nice work! This is a strong piece.

I'm doubtful about the use of the terms "common people" and "elite", though. It seems to me that there are no consistently-defined groups of either type, and the terms are too-often used in propaganda.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 2:41 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Allen Akin

Agreed. I struggled with those words. These are the terms used in general discussions of the topic. The alternatives I found were specific to a particular instance.

If anyone has a good suggestion for alternative terminology, please include it as a comment here so that it can be used by readers in their discussions -- both here and elsewhere.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 4:39 pm

The "Tea Party" movement was actually a creation of Charles and David Koch-- the ultimate "elite" -- the super-rich of the super-rich. From a 2015 retrospective:

"Charles Koch's Frankenstein problem: He created the Tea Party monster " and now he's horrified with the results

"The Koch network gave rise to the rabid right. But now Charles Koch wails about a “lack of substance and civility"" Web Link

Despite the open discussion in 2015 of the origins, in 2016 the role the Koch brothers played was still a secret to the average person:

Web Link

(The cooperation with and role of big tobacco probably wasn't nearly as well known as the fossil fuel industry role.)

Web Link

This type of "populism" really is the manipulation of poorly-educated and poorly-informed people by plutocrats.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 5:30 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Anon

From a quick scan of the articles cited, all these talk about the Tea Party from 2009 onward -- which the blog states as being when the movement had been usurped. The example is about what was happening in 2008, especially during the Republican primaries.

> "...the manipulation of poorly-educated and poorly-informed people by plutocrats."

This comes across as arrogance and contempt for people who disagree with the speaker/writer, and was a significant factor in pushing people to vote for Trump.

Posted by Fred Balin, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 5:43 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

Doug, maybe you can frame my work-in-progress candidate for your list into a catchy one. It overlaps with your “dig faster" and “dogma over data & expertise" headings, maybe others.

In (very) long form I would refer to it as: When something completely obvious, sensible and needed comes forward with broad public support, but it goes against your belief, social, or organizational system, then, by all means, say something completely outlandish.

That was the case with the Reduced Office / R&D Cap Initiative. The concept was so reasonable, so obvious, so simple to explain and discuss, and so needed. It was backed by solid expertise and data, a good deal from the city itself. it was fortified by environmental attorneys who knew how to properly and completely write the amended municipal code and comprehensive plan section amendments. And the ultimate whammy, if adopted, it could not be overturned within the life of the comp plan (thru 2030) except by another vote of the people. Grand Slam!

And, as a byproduct a mix of weird stuff at the dais at the two meetings. You bloody populist. What traffic? Just find an alternate" "Recycling my Comp Plan" "Do you want Tesla to leave?" and more

So I have hope in reasonableness regaining the day and some good chuckles along the way.

Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 6:27 pm

"> "...the manipulation of poorly-educated and poorly-informed people by plutocrats."

This comes across as arrogance and contempt for people who disagree with the speaker/writer, and was a significant factor in pushing people to vote for Trump."

"arrogance and contempt for people" by and on behalf of the elites, that is. It's an abhorrent concept to the liberal mind, but "manipulation of poorly-educated and poorly-informed people by plutocrats" is a staple of the human condition since people began to live in groups, and the smarter/stronger members of the group learned to exploit the less gifted for their own gain. It's that straightforward Darwinian principle: advantage goes to the fittest.

[[Deleted. Off-topic. National partisan politics, including partisan misrepresentation of the other party's voters.]]

"failure of the elites?" Hardly. Failure to understand the elites? Yes. Again.

Posted by Asher, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 8:26 pm

To put it simply: there's too much demand as a result of unsustainable tech growth, and they the ones pushing for more.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 8:56 pm

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger, 1 hour ago

>> From a quick scan of the articles cited, all these talk about the Tea Party from 2009 onward -- which the blog states as being when the movement had been usurped.

"Tea Party" was first used this way in 1980 by the Clark/Koch Libertarian presidential campaign, "Ed Clark, announced that people of his political ilk would soon hold “a very big tea party" because they were so fed up with paying taxes." -www.takepart.com- feature/2015/10/30/tea-party-history/

In 2002, CSE started to "test drive" the "Tea Party" identification: "CSE had another idea for pushing its program: a “U.S. Tea Party project." Its website featured a page that called for “another symbolic protest in the best tradition of our Founding Fathers." It claimed that “our U.S. Tea Party is a national event, " "

This is what the CSE -Tea Party- website looked like on August 21st, 2002, the first known date that CSE put the dedicated website up: Web Link

IOW, it was astroturf long before it was "grass roots".

>> > "...the manipulation of poorly-educated and poorly-informed people by plutocrats."

>> This comes across as arrogance and contempt for people who disagree with the speaker/writer, and was a significant factor in pushing people to vote for Trump.

I'm just looking at the demographic data regarding validated 2016 voters:

-www.people-press.org- 2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/

I don't, BTW, feel arrogance and contempt for people who voted for Trump. OTOH, I think some of our prominent plutocrats have done an enormous amount of damage to the US in many ways.

Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Sep 24, 2018 at 9:57 pm

[[Ad hominem attack]]

Posted by margaret heath, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Sep 25, 2018 at 11:27 am

margaret heath is a registered user.

And this from Alcheck at the P&TC meeting February 14, 2018"

“The opponents of housing development are far more politically active and infinitely better organized than those who stand to gain from this new affordable housing. The typical participant in the planning process is a well to do homeowner, strongly averse to changes in their surroundings, time rich, opinionated, and articulate."

Since Alcheck has had strong support from some council members, it is very likely that one or more of them also share his general attitude toward Palo Alto homeowners.

Posted by margaret heath, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Sep 25, 2018 at 1:01 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

"The simplest and most common form is when the career professional employees undermine the leadership's agenda with constant delays, or they rearrange the allocation of resources to pursue their agenda and starve the leadership's."

Perfectly illustrated at a recent Policy and Services Committee meeting when our city manager revealed why Palo Alto's Business Registry has had such a slow start and, after four years, is still so inaccurate that the data can't be used reliably. Mr. Keene didn't want it.

Mr. Keene presented vigorous and lengthy arguments against a Business Registry. He recommended the council go back to the beginning and decide why they wanted a Business Registry, how it would be used, and who would have access to the data. Because not only had he never been asked for this information, during his entire time here he had not needed this data, nor in any of his prior city government positions. He also noted that some people might be disappointed in the data. I leave it to the reader to figure out which constituency Mr. Keene was representing that he thought might be disappointed.

His parting shot was that his own staff had the expertise to design a business registry which within a year could have been collecting the data requested by council. If they really wanted one, tell him which other local city had a successful business registry and he would take a look at it.

Posted by How Many Times Can We Be Fooled?, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Sep 26, 2018 at 11:31 am

For years, residents have pointed out the worsening parking problems in parts of the city, including Downtown and California Avenue, where commercial buildings are substantially underparked, putting commuter and shopper's cars into neighborhoods.

So what is the city doing about this? Proposing to further underpark buildings!!! It's hard to believe, but on tonight's Planning and Transportation Commission agenda is a proposal to let many commercial buildings in much of Palo Alto have 1,500 square feet without any need to park that. This brand new exemption could push many dozens of cars on every block into neighborhoods.

That's on top of other proposals to reduce the amount of parking required for multi-unit residences, including one being advanced at tonight's meeting.

Sure, this makes money for developers, as they currently have to pay to build in parking spaces. But it makes Palo Alto unsafe for people who can't find parking next to where they're going and jams up our streets.

It's hilarious that the City claims it is working to solve parking problems -- and then proposes to make it worse.

The staff report for tonight: Web Link

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View,
on Sep 27, 2018 at 1:36 am

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[[Blogger: The following is WAY off-topic. I am not deleting it because I see little potential for it taking the discussion off on a tangent, which is my deciding factor on when to delete off-topic comments and how much of them.]]

Sigh. How many here have had a MANDATORY pass/fail CIVICS course? I say this as I had one and the guy made sure you had to put a major working understanding of all the documents used to create this Nation ( State ).
1 Our nation was founded as a CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC, NOT A DEMOCRACY! We are a nation of LAWS, not MEN. The will of the people through Congress is one part of the three legged stool of our Republic. The President ENFORCES the LAWS of our Republic. The judges make sure the law is Constitutional and applied properly. NO ONE BRANCH IS TO USURP THE OTHER TWO LEGS OF OUR CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC!

Therein lies our problems we have today. The grilling testimony on our latest Supreme Court Justice had him take out the very well-worn pages of our Constitution when asked about any leaning and court decisions he had in his history. Another issue I want to make clear: The HARD WORKING CLASS made sure to take the time out of their hard daily labors to vote: THEY ARE THE PEOPLE WHO VOTED FOR TRUMP. Yep, that includes hard working wage slaves too.
I checked with a few people back in Wisconsin plus I checked on the progress of an actual study made from Madison. It took some time to talk as we NEVER talk to a stranger until we know them. I was born there in the middle of Indianhead Country in NorthWest Wisconsin. The culture shock was compounded that NO ONE from Madison is a good thing. I hunted at 12 after I took a gun safety course run by the DNR. I also drove a tractor for harvest time on State highways. A modern CPS person would freak out at the chores we did before school and after.
I say this after much study; a Republic goes through several stages before it " dies ". Our Republic was created by those " old white Men " landowners. Landowners had a stake in the United States of America. The Federal Government only had two tasks AND NO MORE: protecting the USA from outside countries and setting commerce differences between states. NO MORE! From 1776 to 1789, there was a major squabble to decide what our government should do? Everyone had an opinion, the Federalist Papers is an insight to what people in the highest offices wanted in our Constitution. If you did not study them, you would FAIL your Civic's course and have to retake the course o graduate. A helpful cheat: get the movie " Johnny Tremain " by the Walt Disney Studios. That had the original Tea Party and was about an imposed tax on tea that the colonists would let it sit on the ship, rather than pay the Kings tax on it. That is also the name The Tea Party came from.
I'll close this with a part of our Constitution that is written into it: When our government become a burden, it is your solemn duty to overthrow it. Look that up. It makes our petty arguments fade into the background.
MVHS class of 1973

Posted by Mr Fone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 28, 2018 at 11:44 am

"was about an imposed tax on tea"

Actually, it was about tax breaks for the British East India company.

"The East India Company also received tax breaks on its tea shipments. The monopoly sought to drive out any local competition with a cheaper product that included the Townshend Act tax."

That said, not sure why some posts remain, others censored.

G'day, mates...

Posted by StarSpring, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 29, 2018 at 10:38 am

StarSpring is a registered user.

Brave, Mr. Moran. Thank you.

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