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Palo Alto commissioners bristle at council's push to exert more control over advisory bodies

Original post made on Oct 20, 2020

A new effort by the City Council to strengthen its control over the city's commission system is facing backlash from some of the commissioners, who argue that the rules will chill free speech.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 20, 2020, 9:51 AM

Comments (24)

28 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 20, 2020 at 10:53 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There is no reason that a citizen should be required to surrender their right to voice their opinions as an individual on any matter as a condition of public service.


56 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2020 at 11:29 am

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

While I agree that council is attempting a power grab here, Alcheck deserves every criticism he gets from residents. He doesn't work well with others on the commission, always tries to drive the narrative and blathers on and on every chance he gets. And then there's the conflict of interest.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 20, 2020 at 1:12 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Corporations use a top down management practice. People who work for corporations learn to navigate within the corporate structure. And since most are on the stock exchange there is a central point for dissemination of information through that office. If you are not in agreement with what the corporation is doing you chose another corporation to work for.

It appears here that "the city" is using a bottoms-up management structure. Various commissions are working their issues with the expectation that their decisions will be accepted and implemented in the city government. Due to limited funds not all practices can be implemented.

People volunteer for participation on commissions for various reasons. Some are building their resumes for further political advancement. Some are contributing their time to help the city. Problem arises when some of a political bent are attempting to exercise agendas relative to their state party goals and change the city in conformance with those goals. The whole of the city may not be in agreement with those actions.

In the past we have had a once a year public meeting where the goals for the next year are presented and discussed. And the funding for the city is discussed to make sure that everyone understands that any change in public services are relative to available funds. If all of the commissions are publicly discussing their objectives for the year and the public gets to chime in then everyone is on the same page. And objectives need to be limited by the available funding.

That is called good planning within the overall city budget. That is what the public expects of people who volunteer their time- resolve issues, move programs ahead, and let the city management do the heavy lifting. That is what they are paid to do.


17 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2020 at 2:08 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Perhaps when the proposed handbook comes before council to be discussed there will be modifications.

Meanwhile the question should be for those members of the public who are unfamiliar or do not pay close attention, what personal agenda, conflict of interest and/or behaviour prompted the council to realise the absence of any protocol to address such rare instances? Especially if such a person refuses to resign and/or in a position to be represented by one of the most expensive and powerful legal firms and threaten costly litigation because the payoff would be worth the expense? All of which would be behind closed doors and unknown to most members of the public.

I suspect the proposed protocols are less to "control" appointees in the normal course of business but rather a way for the council to remedy the most egregious circumstance should such a rare and unfortunate situation arise in future.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 20, 2020 at 2:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I suspect the proposed protocols are less to "control" appointees in the normal course of business but rather a way for the council to remedy the most egregious circumstance should such a rare and unfortunate situation arise in future."

It is a horrible management practice to establish protocols that apply to everyone to deal with a one-off situation/individual.

Deal with the aberrant individual and inspire everyone else with trust and confidence.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 20, 2020 at 3:36 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I watched the PACC meeting last night where they were talking about the fiscal crises for the city which will result in loss of public services and job losses.
Then someone at the end is talking about law suits.

WOW - people connect the dots here. The overall budget provides the boundaries of what actions take place in this city. Any one proposing any action should be able to apply a cost of that action - both plus and minus.
So what is the cost of a law suit? What public service does that eliminate?

If we are already in a negative position then anyone acting to push us into a further negative position is treading water. What is the point of it all?
I think a lot of people are now going to be on top of the finances for this city. and where it is going to.


5 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:00 pm

mjh is a registered user.

@Resident 1-Adobe Meadows

"What public service does that eliminate?"

Personal financial gain does not need to involve eliminating any public services.


7 people like this
Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:12 pm

mjh is a registered user.

@ Peter Carpenter

"Deal with the aberrant individual and inspire everyone else with trust and confidence."

Apparently, without standard guidelines being adopted that fairly apply to everyone, there is no legal way for council to enforce appropriate conduct on someone. An especially difficult situation if that person still has three to four years of their term still to go and who refuses to resign.


12 people like this
Posted by Good to set boundaries for commissioner and ways to remove them for acting out.
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2020 at 5:01 pm

Good to set boundaries for commissioner and ways to remove them for acting out. is a registered user.

This is a good start to try to set expectations for out of control commission members.

It is clear that some unelected commission members decide that their goals and ideas are more important than any others and they join these commissions to flog their ideas, at times rudely shoving them down the throats of others and demanding that their issues be dealt with.

This has been more of an issue lately as the basic tenor of public service has become more adversarial and people join these commissions, not as a way to help their community but, as a way to disseminate and force their ideas on others.

Nothing in the handbook says these people cannot talk to the press. They are merely reminded that they should either make it clear they are speaking as an individual or make sure that a representative of the commission speak to the press. This is reasonable so that a clear message is conveyed.

People in this town seem to be a little overwrought about everyone's "rights" and they forget that we need to work together to represent the community of people who live here. Sometimes what you want is not what the city's population wants and the elected city council members are the ones to decide that the best. Not unelected, adversarial commission members.


7 people like this
Posted by HerbF
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2020 at 5:01 pm

HerbF is a registered user.

Something is wrong with the city council. Lot of important issues they should be dealing with, not wasting time on how to muzzle volunteers who are donating their time to the city. Commissioners are involved in what's going on and we should be able to hear their opinions.

Drop it and work on the what affects the city and its citizens.


12 people like this
Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2020 at 10:19 pm

ALB is a registered user.

In my opinion the handbook must not prevent a commissioner's right to speak as an individual. Yes, regarding quasi judicial issues then the commissioner must not speak his or her opinion on behalf of the commission. One commissioner has triggered this handbook. His behavior is outrageous. He is a bully and takes all of the oxygen out of the chambers when he speaks. He abused his power regarding the city code when he was building a spec house and his own domicile to include garages when that was contrary to zoning law. He verbally lashed out at a ninety year old citizen at a Planning and Transportation meeting because he found her choice of language, the word cabal, to be abhorrent. Twenty five members of the public stood up and told Alchek to stop shouting. The chair, Ed Lauing, cautioned the offending commissioner and told him to cease. I witnessed this meeting. Please look at the ENTIRE minutes for the meeting to see that this account is true. He also thinks that the FPPC found his 'garagegate' to not be In violation. In fact the complaint was never submitted to the FFPC because constituents feel that the city council and city attorney must act and remove commissioner Alchek based on his recored. Many in Palo Alto ask why is it that they have not done so by now. In my opinion it is the duty of the city council and the city attorney to act swiftly and remove this commissioner.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2020 at 7:03 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

WE obviously have multiple issues here.
1. Friends of FHP and Friends of CHS - note that is the city of SF the mayor and a top level employee are in trouble for the "Friends of___ " tactic for what is construed as favoritism in the awarding of contracts. Someone in FHP was suggesting a bus service. We appear to have an excess of busses which are the wrong size. Friends of CHS are looking for the building of homes. Big Bucks here.
2. How many Commissions are there and what is their purpose? Who assigns their goals for the year based on the available budget? At what point does the suggested resolution to any problem get passed up to the City Manager and PACC members for their review?
3. How do "problems" first get assigned to a commission for review? Is there a road map of the whole process end to end?
4. Noting that there are acolytes of Mr. Weiner - SF supervisor who is busy destructing R-1 neighborhoods - my opinion - to what degree are we using commissions to circle that wagon? One city in this county is suing because of the interference to their running a city.
5. Commissioners using the newspapers to politicize their issues. My understanding is that commissioners make recommendations and pass those upwards for review. And the city manager and PACC members make a decision.

Since I have spent my working life in major corporations my training and expectations are align with processes and procedures that are clearly
evident to all employees. However it appears that this city government has a different approach which is a bit undefined.

Hopefully the handbook provides a road map to effectively communicating issues and resolutions within the resources available to the city. The finance people have to provide budgets for all of the city activities so other decisions are in play here.

As to commissioners who are commandeering the process to their own financial or political advantage will have to let the city legal department get involved.


4 people like this
Posted by Mark Michael
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 21, 2020 at 9:38 am

Mark Michael is a registered user.

As a former commissioner (IBRC and PTC), I would suggest that Council table its consideration of the proposed handbook and, instead, request each board and commission to make recommendations about best practices and how such body may best perform its duties and responsibilities.
The relationship between Council and boards and commissions is dysfunctional. However, the primary cause for this resides not with a few untrained or rogue commissioners, but with the hubris and inappropriate process at the council level.
Whereas boards and commissions are chartered to submit recommendations and provide advice to Council, how often are such recommendations adopted or advice relied upon?
The community clearly understands that any and all important policies, discussions or actions begin and end with the Council. This is not necessarily a terrible fact; however, it begs the question of the value of serving on a board or commission; or, if one is a resident, bothering to engage in a preliminary and largely meaningless exercise of attending a lower level meeting.
When was the last time the planning & transportation commission was relied upon by Council for a recommendation on a transportation matter? Rail grade separation? Neighborhood parking permits? Parking infrastructure? Or even land use? Comprehensive Plan? Frye's/Ventura? Affordable housing? Ground floor retail? Precise plan for downtown or Cal. Ave.?
IBRC worked for almost 2 years and submitted its report to Council with clear recommendations, some of which were adopted, and others are still pending. I would give Council a grade of C+ or B-.
During my term on PTC, it is difficult to recall any recommendations or advice that was sought or utilized by Council. Major land use and transportation matters were initiated and concluded at Council level, during a period in which several council members had lengthy prior stints as planning commissioners (that might have led to micromanagement). I would give Council's performance during this period a lower grade. Not much progress has been made on the perennial top priorities of residents: housing, traffic, parking and managing growth.
Meanwhile 2020 has brought us crises, including: Covid-19 pandemic, economic recession, racial injustice and continued ravages from climate change. Perhaps it is timely to improve the functioning of boards and commissions, starting with Council reforming its practices, processes, and receptivity to recommendations from boards & commissions. This may attract talented and dedicated residents to serve on such bodies and partner effectively elected officials and staff to achieve results on key priorities.


12 people like this
Posted by See Alckeck Video
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2020 at 9:51 am

See Alckeck Video is a registered user.

The Commission meeting video that ALB references in comments above may be accessed via the you tube url below.

You will see Commissioner Alchek’s outrageous response to a woman addressing the Commission, making him a poster child for removal (this is not a single incident). His reprehensible treatment of other Commissioners, especially women, continues.

Go to time stamp 1:45:28 of the video:

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2020 at 10:49 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Do not let the tiny tip of the tail wag the dog.

A commissioner who behaves well outside established norms will be both ineffective and self defeating.

Ignore the aberrant individual and inspire everyone else with trust and confidence.

Peter Carpenter
Former Palo Alto Planning Commissioner
15+ years as a Director of Menlo Park Fire Protection District


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2020 at 11:37 am

Me 2 is a registered user.

These are unelected positions. What is the role of these commissions anyway? To advise? To gather input from residents?

Maybe we should just blow up the entire system. Lots of energy wasted on who recommended what and whining about the council not taking up their recommendations.

If they want to make policy, they should run for city council.


7 people like this
Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2020 at 2:30 pm

Pat Markevitch is a registered user.

Me 2: What is the role of these commissions anyway? To advise? To gather input from residents?

The answer is both. I served on 2 commissions (10 years on Parks & Rec & 3 on IBRC). We are tasked with taking on the review of projects and ideas that will eventually come before Council. The Commissions do a lot of the up front leg work thereby saving Council a lot of time. We will discuss and review these projects and ideas and vote on a recommendation that then moves forward to Council for a final discussion and vote. It is of course the Council's purview to either go with a Commission's recommendation or vote another way.

When you serve on a Commission or Board, you learn a lot about how the city works and how to work not only with Council, but with the citizens who will come to you with their concerns. This is why when you look at a candidates body of work, many of them come up through the ranks of commissions and boards. Not every commissioner wants to run for office but it is a great training ground for a Council member. I will take that experience into account when choosing who to vote for.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Downtown North

on Oct 21, 2020 at 4:54 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


3 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2020 at 4:58 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Thanks Pat - great information. Question to you and other commissions - the city in total has a budget for running the whole city and funding projects -some in process - from the previous year. Is it possible that some projects are too expensive and after consideration the available budget is assigned to other projects which cost less?

Given the number of commissions which appear to operate in separate bubbles people may not know what other commissions are doing and the cost of their projects.

Would it be helpful if every three months there is a meeting of all commissions where they can report what they are working on and what the anticipated cost would be. Possibly then some of the projects can be combined for a joint project and reduce the overall cost.


9 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 24, 2020 at 5:49 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

In February of 2015 a member of the Architectural Review Board resigned after video showed her removing a clay pot from a neighbor’s porch.

In July of 2017 Planning Commissioner Michael Alcheck, without filing an application or receiving a permit, [portion removed] converted a carport to a garage on his residential property and also as part of an investment group on an adjacent property. He did not resign.

(See Chapter 4, pages 39-49 at Web Link )

Councilmembers: decide on your process, move him off, or explain why this behavior is acceptable from someone responsible as a commissioner for applying your zoning code laws to project applications.


2 people like this
Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2020 at 8:52 am

Pat Markevitch is a registered user.

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, those are very good questions. The budgets aren't set by the commissions (above their pay grade). I'm no longer on a commission but will forward your every 3 month idea to staff. Thanks.


2 people like this
Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2020 at 12:09 pm

Pat Markevitch is a registered user.

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows: I asked a staffer your questions and here are his answers:

Is it possible that some projects are too expensive and after consideration the available budget is assigned to other projects which cost less?
Each year the City prepares its Capital Budget, which shows the five year plan for capital projects (only the first year is funded, the other four years are for planning purposes). During the capital budget planning process, there are engineer estimates for the costs of each project. If the cost estimate for a project is too expensive for a given year, the project may be deferred for a future year or it may be reduced in scope, and funds may be used for other priority projects with costs that fit the budget.

Given the number of commissions which appear to operate in separate bubbles people may not know what other commissions are doing and the cost of their projects.
The City's Administrative Services Department reviews all the capital project requests each year. Staff would look for options for combining projects where it makes sense. An example is that we have a capital project to repave paved park bike paths. We regularly coordinate our funding for repaving bike paths with larger Public Works street repaving projects, which typically allows us to get more down for less cost.

Hope this answers your questions.

Pat


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 2, 2020 at 12:42 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Interesting. It's obvious the commissions considering the Casti expansion aren't talking to the RR commissions who want to close Churchill since both will be funneling more traffic onto Embarcadero.

Neither seems to be talking to those responsible for sending out the resident survey on the RR crossings in a timely fashion or to the folks who failed to create a survey form that works when a resident posted that survey on NextDoor, saying it was the LAST DAY to opine on the RR crossings. Numerous residents including myself complained that the survey didn't work or record votes!

Your tax dollars at work, including the $5,000,000 "communucations" staff.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 4, 2020 at 10:16 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Pat - thank you. Hope everyone out there understands that the city at the top level has to manage the whole city in total. Just because someone wants something it all has to be evaluated and prioritized against the other projects in process.


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