The Weekly's Feb. 2 editorial ("A reckless majority") and the sibling guest opinion by Councilman Tom DuBois ("When democracy is hijacked") take serious issue with the Comprehensive Plan decisions of the City Council majority in response to the recommendations of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).
Steve Levy, a member of the CAC, in his superb guest opinion in Palo Alto Online thoroughly demolishes the factual basis of the Weekly editorial and the DuBois op-ed. Other members of the CAC have been publicly critical of the council majority's decisions. My intent here is not to enter that fray but to discuss some other issues raised by the Comp Plan process.
Nearly all of our citizen boards, commissions and committees do excellent work, and their recommendations are readily accepted by the council but we have to keep in mind that they are advisory to the council. DuBois bemoans the fact (contradicted by Levy) that the council majority ignored some of the CAC's recommendations. That goes with the territory. Repeat: Citizens committees are advisory. The ultimate responsibility rests with the elected officials. Whenever you hear an elected official complain about a citizens' committee being ignored you know that he/she was on the losing side and is merely grousing about it.
Slates: In 1975 we had a bitter City Council election that involved two slates. After that election, various community and slate leaders got together and, speaking only for themselves, agreed that they would not participate in or encourage slates in future elections. As a result for nearly 40 years we did not have slates in our council elections, and I believe we were well-served by having council members who worked through the issues independently and were not dependent, in whole or in part, on the group think of a slate.
In 2014 we had a slate, backed by Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ), that, with like-minded incumbents, won a majority on the council. Slates beget opposition slates, so we had Palo Alto Forward (PAF) join the fray in 2016. Another facet of slates seem to be that they produce ever more expensive and rancorous election campaigns. That certainly was true for our 2014 and 2016 campaigns. I hope that starting in 2018 we can return to non-slate elections.
The result of the 2016 election was that the PAF slate won by a significant margin. Their four candidates received 58 percent of the vote to 42 percent for the PASZ four (votes for non-slate candidates not taken into account). With this type of mandate one would expect the new majority to move things in a different direction as the PASZ members did when they were in the majority. It's disingenuous for the Weekly and DuBois to use the term "rammed through" (both use it!). When you have slates, the majority is able to enact its views. That's not "ramming through"; it's democracy, slate-style.
The Comprehensive Plan Process: Nearly 10 years ago the City Council (I was then a member) voted to update the Comp Plan but stated that, since Palo Alto was 98 or 99 percent built out and that the 1998 Comp Plan was seemingly well-received by the community, only minor tweaks and appropriate updates were needed. Through a variety of stops and starts, additional assignments by council, extensive non-substantive rewording by the Planning and Transportation Commission, reports from consultants and finally (I hope) the creation two years ago of the CAC, the process has stretched out interminably and at a cost far in excess of what anybody could have imagined in 2008. And little has been accomplished.
The consensus appears to be that the final result will not be appreciably different from the existing Comp Plan. We need to take a careful look at how and why the Comp Plan process spiraled out of control so that we don't repeat the errors when we start work in the not-too-distant future on the post 2030 plan.
Larry Klein served as mayor of Palo Alto in 1984-85, 1989 and 2008. He can be reached at [email protected]