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Council adds south Palo Alto voices to Comprehensive Plan debate

Appointments seek to bring geographic balance to citizen committee

A citizen panel charged with helping the city update its Comprehensive Plan acquired five new members on Monday night – and will soon get an unexpected sixth.

After a series of council motions and several rounds of cast ballots, the 20-member group that is working on the Comprehensive Plan update became a 25-member group with a heavier presence from the southern half of the city.

Unlike the initial 20 members, which were appointed by City Manager James Keene, the new members of the Community Advisory Committee were appointed by the City Council after concerns from residents about the group's roster being heavily skewed toward the north Palo Alto (12 of the 17 voting members live north of Oregon Expressway) and toward residents affiliated with the citizens group Palo Alto Forward, which advocates for housing density and more transportation options.

On Aug. 17, the council agreed to add new members to make the committee more balanced and, hence, credible. On Monday, after getting more than 50 applications, the council made appointments that should amplify the voices of slow-growth "residentialists," residents with homes south of Oregon and people who rent.

The new members are:

• Len Filppu, a Fairmeadow resident with a long history of civic participation, who currently serves as the acting chair of the Fairmeadow Neighborhood Association.

• Annette Glanckopf, a Midtown resident, co-founder of Palo Alto Neighborhoods and one of the city's leading advocates for emergency preparedness.

• Jennifer Hetterly, a Midtown resident, and current member and past chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission.

• Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and resident of Adobe Meadows.

• Mark Nadim, a long-time president of the Palo Alto Hills Neighborhood Association and long-time critic of the city's "planned-community" zoning process.

Then came the wildcard. Mila Zelkha, one of the originally appointed 20 members, notified the council Monday that she is resigning. Zelkha cited a new job and a pending nomination for a Santa Clara County Commission.

"Without knowing the full-time commitment of these two new roles, I don't know if I will be able to fulfill my CAC (Community Advisory Committee) obligations to the best of my standards that I have outlined for myself and I want to avoid the appearance of my new activities being in conflict with my role as a CAC member," Zelkha wrote.

The resignation of Zelkha, a member of the Palo Alto Forward steering committee, gave the council a chance to make a sixth appointment. Because this appointment was not on the agenda, it will have to be formally put on the agenda and approved next month.

This technicality notwithstanding, the final seat on the now 25-member committee belongs to Julia Moran, a resident of St. Claire Gardens who is expected to bring a renter's perspective to the committee proceedings.

One of the council's concerns about the citizen committee is the virtual absence of renters, despite the fact that renters make up more than 40 percent of the local population. During both the Aug. 17 discussion and the one that took place Monday, Councilmen Marc Berman and Cory Wolbach argued that it's crucial to add renters into the mix.

"I think it's really important to have that diversity on the committee," Berman said before the vote. "Right now, we have very few people my age, frankly, and zero renters. I think if we're going to put together a committee that represents the whole of our community ... it would behoove us to have that perspective on a committee that will create a plan for the next 15 years for our town."

In her application, Moran wrote that she plans to live in Palo Alto for years to come and that she would like the opportunity to help shape the city's vision going forward. She noted that renters "make up a large and growing part of the population, yet we can often feel like outsiders because we don't own our houses and haven't lived here for decades. I think that it's vital that our voices are part of this process, as we are an integral part of the future of Palo Alto."

During the appointment process, Glanckopf earned the most council votes: six. Hetterley, Kleinhaus and Nadim earned five and, like Glanckopf, won appointments on the first ballot. After two more rounds of voting, Filppu edged out Moran for the fifth spot, based on the cumulative total of votes each received in all rounds. Moran was then awarded the sixth spot.

The committee is charged with helping the city complete a Comprehensive Plan update that was launched in 2006 and which has been beset by an endless sequence of complications and changes of direction. Now, under the latest process, the new citizens group will go over each chapter, or element as they are called, of the existing Comprehensive Plan, and offer suggestions on new programs to pursue and help synthesize the public feedback about the new document, which will guide the city until 2030.

The City Council, which made the Comprehensive Plan update one of its priorities for the year, will also spend the year and a half going over each element, a process that it began Monday night with its review of the Transportation Element. The council had initially hoped to complete the exercise by the end of 2016.

On Monday, council members learned from Planning Director Hillary Gitelman that the completion date is now expected to be four to six months later, some time in mid-2017.

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44 people like this
Posted by Renters?
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 1, 2015 at 5:30 am

Does anyone know how many renters there are altogether? We talk about the "housing crisis", which primarily impacts renters. I hope that we have appointed more than one. Almost 1/2 of Palo Altans are renters.

51 people like this
Posted by Age
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 1, 2015 at 5:51 am

Mila was the only renter now replaced by a renter. So renters are 45% of PA but got only one seat on this 25 person commission. So much for being representative. Also, is there anyone at all on this committee under 35?? These people are making plans for 2030 but none of these people will actually have kids to take to the parks, few if them will still be biking, and many of them won't care one way or the other if we still have a vital economy or any night life. This committee doesn't actually represent the future and is unlikely to take into account the needs of non-retired people.

42 people like this
Posted by Renters live here too
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 1, 2015 at 6:14 am

It is good to see more people added to the Committee however Council missed the opportunity to include renters who make up over 40-45% of the population. The fact that there is only 1 renter out of a committee this large says a lot.

Maybe Council thinks renters only stay a short time? Maybe Council doesn't think renters are invested members of our community? Does Council think rented houses all over South Palo Alto don't count? If someone is willing to brave paying the highest rents in the country, they are very invested in the community and are actively choosing to be here. They might need to work all the time and not have the luxury of volunteering but they are definitely invested. Perhaps having a low property tax base is the real cost of entry to representative governance.

Moreover, where is the economic, age, or ethnic diversity? We say we don't want diversity to leave our community but we don't let it into our institutions.

38 people like this
Posted by Workers and renters?
a resident of University South
on Sep 1, 2015 at 7:24 am

One renter on a committee of 25? That's not balanced. How many are retirees or nearing retirement? Most? It's good to have some seniors - they are a large group in Palo Alto - but when the question of the day is whether to allow new housing and new jobs, a committee composed of retired homeowners is not credible to answer.

Why should we be surprised that these residentialists are against homes and jobs? They have their homes and they don't need another. They've had their jobs and they won't need another. But nearly half of PA rents and would like to be able to afford a home. Well over half works and will need at least one new job in the next 15 years.

This committee can reflect the needs of Palo Alto, but the members will need to look beyond their own interests to the needs of the working people they once were and the needs of the renters who are their neighbors. Can they see beyond their home values and their convenient parking spots to the big issues that will matter to the people who will be here in 15 years?

I hope so.

30 people like this
Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 1, 2015 at 8:08 am

Renters are not the only ones affected by the housing affordability crisis. Growing families that need additional space can't afford $2M+ homes. Seniors who may want to downsize will have a difficult time since they will lose their Prop 13 protections. It's unfortunate, since seniors who may lose their ability to drive become increasingly isolated and trapped in their own home.

Speculators are buying homes that would otherwise go to families and renting them out instead. People need to have the ability to move from renting to owning a home. The affordability crisis is wrecking our community.

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2015 at 8:14 am

This committee is limited by the number and variety of people wishing to part of it.

If you are criticizing the make-up, then are you sure that there was someone in that demographic who was willing to be on it?

Thank you to those who have volunteered your time and energy to be on this committee. I may not always agree with all your opinions, but I do respect the time and energy you are willing to put into it on my behalf.

For those who wish another group was better represented, perhaps you should consider volunteering your time and energy to do so and be there.

24 people like this
Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 1, 2015 at 8:20 am

@Resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

The list of applicants was included in the council agenda packet. It was very long, and it included several people who I recognized as renters. They were not selected by the council.

I don't think it's a matter of a self-selecting group of candidates willing to serve on the CAC, but rather a general disinterest on the part of the council in appointing renters, for whatever reason.

7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2015 at 8:49 am

This entire process stunk. Palo Alto really should have district elections and then maybe it's city manager would pay attention to the "other half" of the city.

5 people like this
Posted by apo
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2015 at 9:14 am

I believe at least 13 renters applied to be on the committee. Five of those were from north PA, since we’re trying to balance the north/south problem, its obvious why they weren’t chosen. From the other 8 candidates -- two of them explicitly stated they were associated with PAF, another one expressed a “joy of density” in their application. Since we’re trying to balance the committee against the previous PAF/growth heavy members, it makes sense they weren’t chosen. One of the renters has only lived in Palo Alto for a year. That leaves 4. I don’t have time to go through and read their experience/interests, but perhaps that section differentiates the chosen from the unchosen.

26 people like this
Posted by circular
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2015 at 9:28 am

That is a circular argument. There were some renters who applied but they were not chosen because they are on the mailing list of a group that is concerned about housing affordability?

3 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 1, 2015 at 10:41 am

mauricio is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 1, 2015 at 11:08 am

When renters pay taxes -- and not just rent -- they should rate more representation on the planning committee. Until then, No Way!

15 people like this
Posted by Stepheny McGraw
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 1, 2015 at 11:16 am

Annette Glankopf will make a difference in this process. Her experience with and service to so many facets of our community will be a great addition as this group works on the future for Palo Alto.

18 people like this
Posted by sue
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2015 at 11:20 am

I was more concerned about palo alto forward having a dominate role on the committee. It is much better balanced now. Before, it was pretty outrageous - the deck was stacked by city staff. The council did a much better job of being evenhanded. When will staff stop their games to thwart residents?

18 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2015 at 11:29 am

@Concerned Retiree

Why stop there, shouldn't representation be proportional to the amount of taxes paid? New homeowners should get a greater say since they are the ones shouldering the majority of the tax burden?

23 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 1, 2015 at 12:13 pm

I agree with Concerned Retiree... While we're at it we should take away the right to vote from anyone who isn't a landowner. Life was better back then. Rent goes to paying taxes, the mortgage on a home, and often a profit margin for the landowner. The renters just don't enjoy the tax breaks of a mortgage interest tax deduction or the capital appreciation, and unlike Concerned Retiree don't have the security that their home will cost the same amount to live in next year, or even if they can remain in it.

Renters aren't de facto lobbysts for Developers. They are residents of the town and part of the community.

It does interest me that the only renter added to the panel was added 6th, when the other renter dropped out. If the council had their way it looks like no renters would have been chosen. Interesting.

15 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Assuming there is nothing about renters per se that limited their qualifications vs owners, if 13/40 applications were renters and only one renter was chosen among the group of 25, there is only a 1.3% probability that renters weren't deliberately excluded. Consciously or unconsciously, who knows but there's statistical evidence of bias.

20 people like this
Posted by who is who
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 1, 2015 at 12:57 pm

It's time for Marc Berman and Cory Wolbach to stop referring to themselves as 'young.' They are both well into their thirties, so it is high time to be an adult.
[Portion removed.]

15 people like this
Posted by circular
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Berman's day job is for an educational nonprofit. Does this mean that if he takes positions supporting education and children that it is a professional conflict of interest?

Also, we're not Amish, so housing in our area is built by professional developers rather than neighbors cutting wood and laying roof tiles for each other. to support building more housing, means not being opposed to developers building housing.

30 people like this
Posted by Ro
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 1, 2015 at 1:26 pm

I think we should have a proportionate number of renters on this committee, not just one. I'm a long time home owner but my adult children would like to live in Palo Alto and they're going to have to be renters as it's so unaffordable, just like it is for so many young adults. It's an unfair process to only let the "landed" have a say in the direction of planning for Palo Alto's growth. Sounds very archaic to me . . . sort of like when only landholders got to vote.
And as an aside.... I don't see that it's feasible in the long run for Palo Alto to remain such a low-density suburban paradise. There are too many factors that are pushing us toward high density housing areas to accommodate the desirability of business and residential growth. Let's build high density housing and offices around transportation hubs.

4 people like this
Posted by Who is who
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 1, 2015 at 2:34 pm

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 1, 2015 at 3:34 pm

This means that on the last council there were 3 real estate lawyers. Reading about Greg Scharff before the last election I noticed that his professional website said he had an interest in doing commercial real estate transactions. Larry Klein specializes in commercial real estate. Now I learn that Marc Berman has a connection with real estate law.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2015 at 4:02 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by mutti allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 1, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Correction to Midtown Resident. Seniors who downsize and stay in Santa Clara County -- or one of the CA Counties with reciprocity -- can take their Prop 13 assessment with them. You only have to be 55 to claim this privilege. It's a big deal. When I sell my $3 million little house and go down to a $1.5 million condo, I take my < $2,000 1975 property taxes with me. Yea!!

6 people like this
Posted by Transexuals
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 1, 2015 at 4:10 pm

The committee was NEVER designed to be "proportional" of any particular demographic - renter, young, purple, ultimate frisbee players, vegans, LBGT none of those. The stated purpose was that each representative represent multiple interests, not just one narrow view like "renter". I think the council achieved much more balance by appointing people who have been involved in the city in a wide variety of ways and will go out of their way to represent all of us. Well done last night!

13 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 1, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Many of the comment don't reflect the complexity of "renter" in Palo Alto. In the last data I saw, the number of single-family houses that were rentals was much higher than typical for similar cities, and the proportion of renters in single-family houses was also atypically high, which is also saying that the proportion of renters in apartments is atypically low.

So are the interests and concerns of a family renting a single-family home more aligned with the owner-occupied single-family home in that same neighborhood, or with a unmarried 20-some job-hopping professional with high disposable income and who does lots of dining out and clubbing?

Rental occupancy in Palo Alto is also very atypical. For example, in my neighborhood there are a set of single-family houses that are rented to families that want their children to go to Gunn HS -- as soon as the youngest has graduated, they move to a less expensive city. This reportedly is a fairly common pattern. Even though these families live here for 4-6 years, psychologically they are transients. In contrast there are families and people renting apartments that regard themselves as permanent residents and are indistinguishable from the occupants of a nearby condo or small single-family house.

20 people like this
Posted by LMAO
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Actually, renters DO pay taxes, but because they pay them with their exorbitant rent it is the landlord who gets the credit, not the renter.

3 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 1, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "Actually, renters DO pay taxes, but because they pay them with their exorbitant rent..."

This makes and misses the point that people are trying to make when they say that renters don't pay taxes. While they may pay *for* the taxes on the apartment, their rents are decoupled from changes in the taxes the landlord pays. That is, changes in property taxes are unlikely to have any impact on their rents because those rents are so far above the costs to the landlord.

For example, suppose Palo Alto voters approve a $1200/year parcel tax (the most common type). For the owner of a 50-unit apartment building, this works out to $24/yr per unit, or $2/month per unit. For the landlord of a single-family home (or homeowner), this is $100/month increase in costs. But if the landlord decided that "the market" (demand) would allow him to raise rents $200/month, the existence of such a new tax is irrelevant.

23 people like this
Posted by @Douglas
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 1, 2015 at 7:45 pm

It's a bit disingenuous to be constantly advocating against new housing and then at the same time call people "transient" because your policies have priced them out of a neighborhood they'd otherwise happily continue living in. They're psychologically "transient" only because people like you bring pitchforks every time someone wants to add some housing around here and make things slightly less expensive. Facing a wall of NIMBYs who are loud and proud about not wanting any additional residents would make just about anyone "psychologically transient."

2 people like this
Posted by Who cares
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 1, 2015 at 8:43 pm

Enough said

23 people like this
Posted by Jane Huang
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 1, 2015 at 9:06 pm

For those of you criticizing people for complaining about the makeup of the committee, I would like to state that I am a young renter who grew up in Palo Alto and would like to be able to continue living here, I applied, and I was apparently rejected in favor of homeowners. So please don't say that renters don't care or aren't motivated. Most of my peers who went to Gunny or Paly are successful now, but those of us who return to Palo Alto are universally forced to either rent or live with our parents.

6 people like this
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 1, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Well I grew up here too, and went to Gunn.
I rented numerous dumps until I could be able to buy my own my first shack at age 50.
I never felt I had a say in anything in this city when I was a renter, and I feel the same now, but paying a heck of a lot more to have a say in nothing since I am not a realtor, architect, or developer.

19 people like this
Posted by Who is who
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 1, 2015 at 11:25 pm

Berman and Wolbach, by pretending to care about those demographics, are creating new divisions in our society that are unhealthy - young vs older and renters vs owners. Young people are useful to them because younger people have no background in our history, even fairly recent events. So they are likely to follow these wannabes.

The development kabal wants to enlist the younger people, and pretends, with no proof whatsoever, that more development will lower rents. It is not true, given we are in a boom. [Portion removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 2, 2015 at 6:54 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Young people like@Douglas think erroneously that "adding some housing" would "make things slightly less expensive". This assumption has been proven wrong numerous times. Every new development is driving housing to further dizzying heights, putting it even further out of reach for people like him, while diminishing the livability of Palo Alto. I understand the frustration of those who can't buy or rent here, but believing in a fallacy will not make their dream come true.

9 people like this
Posted by circular
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2015 at 9:53 am

for accurate information, I googled and found Council Member Berman's current bio.

"A lawyer by training, Marc is the Development Director at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, a non-profit focused on STEM education and closing the achievement gap in public schools in Silicon Valley."

This nonprofit sense of "development" means raising money for the nonprofit, and has nothing to do with getting buildings built.

7 people like this
Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2015 at 1:43 pm

The renter/homeowner, old/young issue is misleading. We're talking about our city's master plan here and what goals, policies and programs should be adopted to guide the city until 2030. What's most important (I believe) is for CAC members to have at least some knowledge of the plan, how it's elements are interrelated and the potential impact of any updates. In the current Comp Plan we've seen unintended consequences arise from reacting to issues du jour instead of taking a long-term view of what we want the city to be.

11 people like this
Posted by North/South
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2015 at 1:51 pm

@Sheri -

You make a good point, but shouldn't that same argument be extrapolated to the north/south divide? Does north/south matter any more - or any less - than renter/homeowner or young/old? After all, it was the north/south imbalance that initially led to the effort by some in our community to add more members to the CAC, right? Is diversity of experiences and perspectives more valid in one case than another?

3 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 2, 2015 at 2:36 pm

@all of the above wherever and to whomever it applies

I think there was very little good information available about the renters, the 45% of PA residents, that the CC could act on. They acted anyway. The claim that renters weren't fairly represented might be questioned.

Here's what I'd like to know:

First, just about the makeup of the CAC. What is the economic, age, ethnic diversity of the group?

Now more specifically about the rental residents:

How many of those residents are registered voters and how many of them actually vote in our local elections. Many of them should be concerned about issues that could affect their future.

How many of those who do vote are really knowledgeable about PA's most important issues and could name 3 of them?

How long have the renters lived in PA; broken down by apartments, condos, and houses?

How many of them have a long term goal/plan to keep renting until they eventually will have enough money to be able to buy a place to call home here
in PA; condos, townhouses, or single family homes?

Or, how many are just here on a temporary basis, biding their time, until they can find a cheaper place to rent or buy in another city?

Sadly, those making the decision to move to another community are the commuters that clog up the freeways and streets. They are stuck! And we are the traffic.

6 people like this
Posted by jlanders
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 3:38 pm

jlanders is a registered user.

> Is diversity of experiences and perspectives more valid in one case than another?

In this case, yes, it is. The City Manager's original selection of residents for the CAC was significantly out of ideological and geographic balance. Keene was unable to articulate why, given the obvious results of recent elections, he had done so. Residents in the South came together to point out the discrepancy. Residents in the South fear that they will be unfairly impacted by Comprehensive Plan changes from pro-growth advocates, primarily from the North, originally selected by the City Manger.

If the CAC wasn't properly balanced, residents in the South felt the integrity and ultimate approval of the updated Comprehensive Plan by the State was a risk. Residents in the South demonstrated their power by putting together a petition that brought the update process into question.

Everyone is encouraged to participate in the Comprehensive Plan update. The law requires that your ideas and comments be heard. How your input will be received is mainly governed by your level of participation. If you feel strongly that you've been unfairly represented, you might want to contact Council Members Berman and Wolbach, and see if they might be interested in pursuing your concern. It's up to you to do this.

Overall, I don't think it's appropriate to criticize the current geographic rebalancing of the CAC as an act of exclusion of one group over another.

16 people like this
Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 2, 2015 at 8:10 pm

Jane Huang, I don't think you weren't selected because you are a renter. You forgot to state that you checked the box identifying yourself as a member of Palo Alto Forward. The original committee had a disproportionate number of folks from that group. I applaud the Council for not adding more.

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