Concluding an unusually fractious and political appointment process, the Palo Alto City Council moved on Monday to award fresh four-year terms to incumbent Planning and Transportation Commission members Ed Lauing and Doria Summa.
The Monday action followed a split on the council over whether the appointments should have been made at the end of 2020, consistent with past practice of end-of-year appointments, or in early 2021, which would align with a new policy that the council adopted in December. The technical debate had significant ramifications for the city's most influential commission, where the two members who are most closely associated with the council's "residentialist" camp were nearing the end of their respective terms.
Under the old rules, the lame duck council would have made the appointments, allowing outgoing members Liz Kniss and Adrian Fine to cast votes and giving the council's more pro-growth camp a 4-3 advantage. But with the residentialists winning a majority in the November election, the balance of power swung their way. The council's decision last December to delay appointments until January — which followed a decision by the residentialists to skip out on candidate interviews in late December, depriving the meeting of a quorum — all but guaranteed that Lauing and Summa would win fresh terms.
Lauing ran for council last year, receiving the endorsement of the residentialist-leaning political action committee Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning. Summa is a longtime land-use watchdog who is known for being critical of new developments and zoning policies that increase height and density in residential neighborhoods.
Both of them dissented in November when the commission voted to recommend approving a new conditional use permit for Castilleja School, which would allow the school to reconstruct its campus and gradually raise enrollment from 426 students to 540. The council is set to review the project over two meetings on March 8 and March 15.
Five of the seven council members — Mayor Tom DuBois, Vice Mayor Pat Burt and council members Eric Filseth, Lydia Kou and Greer Stone — voted on Monday for both Lauing and Summa. Council member Alison Cormack voted for Lauing and architect Jessica Resmini. Council member Greg Tanaka supported community volunteer Kathy Jordan and Resmini.
The council also appointed on Monday two new members to the city's Historical Resources Board: Caroline Willis and Gogo Heinrich. While Willis was appointed unanimously, Heinrich edged out incumbent Martin Bernstein five votes to four after getting support from Burt, DuBois, Kou, Filseth and Stone.
The council also reappointed two other incumbent Historic Resources Board members: Margaret Wimmer, who picked up votes from all seven council members, and Michael Makinin, whose reappointment was supported by Cormack, DuBois, Kou, Stone and Tanaka.