Palo Alto City Council delays commission appointments

In a narrow split, council agrees to reopen interviewing process for Historic Resources Board and Parks and Recreation Commission

Palo Alto officials on Monday night moved to delay the city's process for appointing new members to three local commissions, opting instead to reopen the application process in hopes of attracting more candidates and giving new council members a greater say in the selection process.

In a decision that could leave several local boards shorthanded for several months, the council agreed to defer its scheduled appointments to the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Historic Resources Board. In a separate vote, the council also agreed to reopen the selection process for one seat on the Planning and Transportation Commission, which was held by Adrian Fine before he was elected to the council in November.

In both cases, the council agreed that those applicants who had already gone through the interview process would remain candidates, with an option to go through another interview if they so choose. But while the council quickly settled on a process for filling the unscheduled vacancy on the planning commission, the question of what to do about the other two boards generated significant debate and sharp disagreements.

Greg Tanaka, whose final term as the planning commissioner concluded at the end of 2016 and who also joined the council this year, proposed delaying both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Historic Resources Board to give himself and the council's other two newly elected members -- Fine and Lydia Kou -- a chance to interview the candidates. Fine supported the recommendation and suggested that reopening the recruitment process will also allow the city to have a larger list of candidates.

The list the council considered on Monday night had only four candidates for three seats on the Historic Resources Board: veteran incumbents David Bower, Beth Bunnenberg and Pat DiCicco, and Brandon Corey. For the Parks and Recreation Commission, there were five candidates for four spots: incumbent Keith Reckdahl and potential newcomers Jeff Greenfield, Doug Hagan, Alice Mansell and Ryan McCauley.

Some council members argued that the appointments should not be delayed, noting that the candidates had already gone through the interview process with the expectation that the selections would be made this month. Councilman Tom DuBois called the proposal to redo the application process a "slap in the face" of the volunteers who wish to serve.

"They filed the applications, they came in for interviews, and we'll reject all of them and do it all over?" DuBois asked.

Councilman Eric Filseth called it "grossly unfair" to the candidates to require them to go through the process again.

"It's not their fault that we had a council change in the middle of the process and couldn't get this done," Filseth said.

Other members noted that all the interviews are available online for streaming, should the new council members wish to familiarize themselves with the candidates. Kou agreed with DuBois and supported his motion for moving ahead with the process, as initially scheduled. But while Karen Holman and Filseth also supported staying the course, they were outvoted by Mayor Greg Scharff, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, Fine, Tanaka and Wolbach. The council also voted 7-2, with DuBois and Kou dissenting, to give candidates who had already interviewed for the positions the option of interviewing again.

For the planning commission, the process was far less controversial, with the council voting unanimously to reopen the recruitment process for the unscheduled vacancy. The council also directed staff to contact the candidates who vied for the commission seats last year and ask them if they are still interested.

The only wildcard came from Tanaka, who floated the idea of replacing existing commissioners whose terms have not expired with new candidates. This would effectively allow the council to fire the citizen volunteers on its most influential and important commission in the midst of their terms.

"If we get, let's say, two strong candidates or three really strong candidates, perhaps we can consider putting them in place of some of the current members," Tanaka said.

The idea found no support among the council, though it did prompt some raised eyebrows. Holman, after clarifying Tanaka's intent, said she would "never support that."

"Not in a process like this," Holman said. "And I'm not sure we'd have a process that would allow that. I think it's a little off the wall."

DuBois also made it clear after the meeting that he strongly opposes Tanaka's proposal, calling it a "radical idea."

"I think council's has a pretty established process with its protocols," DuBois told the Weekly. "We have only removed or replaced commissioners in the past if there was a cause, like legal conflicts.

"This seemed pretty shocking. (Tanaka) is an experienced PTC member and to suggest that we remove people without cause -- it just seemed very political."


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4 people like this
Posted by A wild card
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 10, 2017 at 5:58 pm

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2017 at 7:38 pm

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by A Wild card
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 11, 2017 at 1:04 am

It does seem remarkable that Tanaka would suggest removing all Planning Commissioners, he former colleagues. Hard to fathom.

21 people like this
Posted by Volunteer
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 11, 2017 at 10:26 am

This action from Council display a blatant disregard of resident volunteers' time and effort!

The Municipal Code states (e)The City Council shall review all applications and shall make a final selection and appointment at a regular City Council meeting after the period for submittal of applications has expired.

Here is the Muni Code:

Bookmark2.16.060 Manner of appointment.
(a) The City Clerk shall advertise vacancies or pending vacancies in boards and commissions at least fifteen (15) days before such vacancies are scheduled to be filled. The City Clerk shall exercise his or her discretion in choosing the method of advertisement that will most effectively reach potential candidates.
(b) Concurrent with the advertisement of vacancies or pending vacancies on boards and commissions, the City Clerk shall publicize the application and evaluation procedures that will apply to such vacancies, including the last day on which applications will be accepted for such vacancies.
(c) The City Clerk may extend the deadline for applications, as necessary to ensure a sufficient number of qualified candidates.
(d) Applications received after the deadlines set by the City Clerk shall be held until the next regularly scheduled or special recruitment for the applicable board or commission.
(e) The City Council shall review all applications and shall make a final selection and appointment at a regular City Council meeting after the period for submittal of applications has expired.
(f) All members of boards and commissions shall take an oath of office before commencing their service.
(Ord. 5208 § 2, 2013: Ord. 5090 § 10, 2010)

29 people like this
Posted by 6Kjockey
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 11, 2017 at 10:29 am

6Kjockey is a registered user.

Not so hard to fathom. Tanaka wants to get his people on the commission.

40 people like this
Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 11, 2017 at 11:08 am

jh is a registered user.

New council member Lydia Kou said she had listened to the candidates at the time they were interviewed. There was no reason for incoming council members Tanaka and Fine not to have also done their homework too. Or did they? Could it be that knowing they are part of the majority block on the council (Wolbach, Scharf, Kniss, Fine, Tanaka) they have in mind particular colleagues who can now apply confident that they will be approved by this new council majority.

In any case, it certainly sends the message to the applicants who followed procedure that they are not good enough. Apparently the then council members were confident these applicants were qualified because there was no call to extend the application deadline at the time. It is indeed a smack in the face and smacks of a political motivation by the council majority.

To change the rules midway is a blatant attempt to hijack the appointment process, and a terrible precedent. If the majority of council members want to change the timeline for appointing volunteers to boards and commissions then this should b e a separate agenda item for future appointments.

Will this new majority on the council rewrite the rules to suit their political agendas as they go along?

33 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 11, 2017 at 11:17 am

Annette is a registered user.

I think DuBois is being polite in calling Tanaka's suggestion radical; it is appalling. CC's decision on this is a perfect way to both discourage volunteerism and invite criticism. Games of this sort at the local level? What a discouraging wasteful joke this makes of local government. But at least we have confirmation early on how business is likely to be done with this Council. So much for integrity. And by the way, unless your opinions align with those in the majority, don't bother to apply; discourse not welcome.

21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2017 at 11:31 am

Smacks of nepotism to me, or at least cronyism, or some other type of ism.

Certainly not a healthy ism.

21 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

Well, this is not exactly a surprise. I remember how disheartened I was learning that Fine and Tanaka and Kniss had all won. Arthur Keller was the best candidate and didn't make it. Tanaka's proposal to dump the planning commission and get new ones, probably more in line with the pro-growth crowd, is, as Annette said, appalling.

3 people like this
Posted by True Residentialist
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 11, 2017 at 12:22 pm

Giving a new council control over all appointees sounds like a great idea from a democratic standpoint. The reason for having these committees is to distribute the work among experts and volunteers, not to have an ideologically opposed group that is at odds with the council majority and a de facto veto. Is it any surprise that so many council meetings are tied up for hours with planning appeals? By the way, I think this should have been as true under the previous slow growth majority.

3 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 11, 2017 at 1:16 pm

Council extended the application date once at least for the Historic Board Board and Parks & Recrestion commission last Fall when the last Council was not happy with the number and/or quality of the applicants. I can't recall if they also extended the application deadline for Planning, too, which had plenty of applicants.

The last City Council could have filled all the expiring and empty seats last year but didn't except for the for-sure vacant seat on Planning. Why? Because the November election happened and some sitting appointees on Planning and Park&Recreation "moved up". This town's Council and appointed boards are such a game of muscial chairs that those in power here, at County, and on up at Sacramento want to make sure they stay in power. The last thing they want is to lose a chance for favors given/ favors owed with the new Council members and those on the appointed musical chairs.

park & rec

26 people like this
Posted by Baloney
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Baloney is a registered user.

I have met Mr Tanaka twice before he became a council member. Nice guy, well-intentioned, but seems to live in an alternate reality. He has a different way of thinking than most people.

15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 11, 2017 at 1:22 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@True Residentialist - if the approach you think works well is the way the City wants to roll, that should have been decided before applications were accepted and interviews done - not at the time final decisions are expected. If the rules can be changed midstream, why not boot Tanaka and hope a qualified candidate will run in a new election? Crazy? Radical? Disruptive? No doubt; but that is equivalent to what our new Council member proposed. As for ideological opposition, that often serves a good purpose even if it is a time suck. Rubber stamping has a serious downside.

23 people like this
Posted by Bill Ross
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 11, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Mr. Tanaka's proposal is ironic for someone who when on the Planning and Transportation Commission was both unavailable for telephonic input on controversial matters coming before the Commission where the resident could not attend or simply not showing up for a controversial hearing. Maybell case in point. We are a diverse community to say the least---I agree with the prior comments about volunteers already having gone through the process---that commitment of time should be honored by the Council and Mr. Tanaka. State law requires that local governments do everything possible to encourage public participation in the land use process---what Mr. Tanaka wants would do exactily the opposite--why apply if after one or meetings you could be replaced? The Councilmember should reconsider his position.

23 people like this
Posted by A wild card
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 11, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Baloney says
I have met Mr Tanaka twice before he became a council member. Nice guy, well-intentioned, but seems to live in an alternate reality. He has a different way of thinking than most people.

This is true. I have tried to understand what he said on the planning commission but couldn't make it out. Also, he mumbles, and does not speak into the microphone. Strange behavior for someone seeking a public position. The Weekly didn't endorse him because he would not respond clearly to their questions.

A lot of low-information people just vote for "a nice young man." That's how Wolbach got in too. They didn't look at the list of his supporters and or at his vacuous statements. Development advocates did know what they were voting for, though.

3 people like this
Posted by True Residentialist
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 11, 2017 at 6:03 pm


I don't entirely agree with Tanaka's proposal, but I do believe that an *elected* council majority should be able to choose its own operating committees and not have to veto the choices of a group of volunteer appointees stacked by a previous council. See, e.g., Doria Summa's last minute appointment by a group of lame ducks.

This is a principled position; if the majority swings back it would be fair to purge the committees then.

Elections should have consequences.

22 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 12, 2017 at 6:01 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Those who voted PAF members and sympathizers into the CC will have to live with the consequences. It is astonishing that such an educated population keeps voting for candidates because they seem "nice" and "polite", disregarding their real views and intentions.

To the poster who suggested that elections have consequences:It didn't deter the outgoing pro development slate following the 2014 elections from stacking the TPC with PAF people.

4 people like this
Posted by does it matter
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2017 at 10:41 am

Do any of the recommendations of these committees have any binding impact? Or are the committees simply stepping stones to CC seats?

10 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2017 at 6:08 pm

This bodes really badly for the upcoming CC term. At the very least, these decisions leave an impression that we now have a council majority which is ideologically driven and willing to ignore rules/conventions/common sense and probably even laws that would stand in the way of imposing their "vision". Also, early indications are that its a vision that they did their best to hide during the actual election ... like the recent re-opening of development fees discussion where they are evidently signaling even though they campaigned on an "affordable housing" platform, encouraging more housing vs less new office space is less important than permitting more development, period. The people who think re-setting this process for citizen volunteers is a good idea are undoubtedly the same ones who decry the senate Republicans blocking Obama's supreme court nominee and resetting now that Trump is taking office.

20 people like this
Posted by KJ
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 12, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Is it any wonder that the City has problems getting people to volunteer for these commissions? The applicants spend an evening of their life interviewing with the Council and then the council makes the poor souls waste yet another evening because Fine and Tanaka aren’t willing to watch the video of the original interviews?

The City has a multi-million dollar deficit and Fine and Tanaka feel their time is best spent micromanaging the Historic Resources Board interviews? That certainly brings their judgment into question. It is going to be a rough two years.

Since Council incompetence could depress property values, maybe this simply is part of their “affordable housing” plan.

2 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Now the new City Council majority has decided to throw out of the draft comprehensive master plan much of the CAC work and think about the key CAC recommendations sometime later, the acid test for appointments to these committees is willingness to go along with the new Council majority on everything every time. I'm curious how many applicants to these slots will interview tomorrow.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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