A bad beginning makes a bad ending: City Council | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |


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By Douglas Moran

A bad beginning makes a bad ending: City Council

Uploaded: Dec 8, 2018

The current City Council is ending as it began 2 years ago, with the pro-development majority abusing its power. Back then those Council members would introduce significant policy decisions as amendments. It subverted the opportunity for City Staff and the public to evaluate the proposal. It subverted the Brown Act (transparency) requirement that topic be listed on the public agenda. These topics weren't mentioned until after the public's opportunity to comment had been closed. And typically discussion among Council members was abbreviated. It repeatedly gave the appearance that the Council majority -- Scharff, Wolbach, Kniss, Fine, and Tanaka -- were violating the Brown Act by reaching a decision before the meeting (likely via a serial meeting).

At the beginning of next year, two of the current majority will no longer on Council, and newly elected Alison Cormack will become the swing vote. So there is a push to approve items important for the current majority while there is still time, even if that means once again sacrificing the pretense of valid deliberation.

The highest profile item on ^Monday's Council agenda (12/10)^ is #16, scheduled to begin at 9pm. This will change the zoning ordinance to allow the President Hotel building to be converted from apartments to a boutique hotel. However, you couldn't tell this by the text. Read Friday's excellent "^Editorial: A stealth agenda^". Note: The headline is ambiguous: The "stealth" is not in the agendas of those behind this -- far from it -- but rather in the text of the agenda. For more background on the backroom dealings, see "^Documents reveal secret dealings over President Hotel^" (2018-11-30). And in a similar vein to the editorial is Diana Diamond's blog "^Gobbledygook goings on in Palo Alto^". Another explanation of what is wrong with the proposed change is "^Eliminating President Hotel Housing^" by Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) (an umbrella group of neighborhood associations).

This is a Council majority that has spent two years claiming that housing, especially affordable housing, is their top priority. Yet, here we have local residents living in the affordable housing that Palo Alto has too little of, and this Council majority chooses to side with an out-of-town developer, and rushing to clear the way of the "inconvenient" ordinance section.

I've been at this too long to be insulted by City Hall's transparently false rationalization. They claim that this is an urgent fix because this clause affects multiple buildings. However, it isn't urgent for any of those other buildings, and is "urgent" for the President Hotel because of the developer demands.

If you wish to contact Council on this, you can attend the meeting or send an email to [email protected] The Subject line helps it be seen in time. If your browser doesn't automatically fill in the Subject field, insert "Dec 10 Meeting: #9: President Hotel" or similar: meeting date, agenda item, and topic (for redundancy).

Last week's Council meeting on part of the housing ordinance displayed the irrelevancy of public debate. The Council debate had gone on painfully long -- about 6 hours?? -- when the vote was called (on multiple sections). This wasn't because the deliberations were completed -- they weren't -- but because that was all the time available if the Council majority was going to get all votes important to it to be finalized this year. Actually, I am being misleading in saying that deliberations had been cut short: It was only the public deliberations that were been abbreviated. There are known to have been at least 16 meetings with developers and related business interests and only one perfunctory, check-box meeting with the public. Tells you who is important and who isn't.

Tidbit: "Gut-and-stuff" (as with a turkey) is a related game played in the State Legislature at the end of the sessions. It takes a bill that has gone completely through the legislative process -- having checked all the boxes for necessary hearings ... -- and usurps it for a measure that the Legislature's leadership wants. Through amendments, they may take everything in the bill out (gut) and add in whatever they want (stuff). To try to hide this, it often happens after the Senate and Assembly have each approved the law and it is in a Conference Committee that is supposedly reconciling the minor differences between those two version.

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

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