Aug 162015

The Palo Alto City Council will consider the possible reform of the Citizen’s Advisory Commission to the Comprehensive Plan as an agenda item at their August 17, 2015 meeting.

Join  Palo Alto residents who support reform of the CAC.  Sign our petition.

The following letter was sent to the City Council in support of CAC reform:


Dear City Council,

I thank you for considering my and many others’ concerns about the Comp Plan Citizens Advisory Committee and acknowledge that some changes have been made, such as assigning co-chairs and allowing the public to speak before the meeting.

However, I still have some serious concerns after reviewing the proceedings of the August 11 CAC meeting.

The staff report lists “an ambitious schedule of CAC meetings and City Council meetings which will only be possible if the Comprehensive Plan Update is truly just an update, and not a complete revision or rewrite of the current Comprehensive Plan.”  It also state that “Members of the CAC will be asked to review materials provided in advance of meetings, and will be primarily engaged in reviewing and commenting on (rather than writing) draft plan language.”

The August 11 meeting was devoted to the Community Services and Facilities Element, the statistics of which are:

  • 1998-2010 Community Services and Facilities Element had 32 policies and 27 programs
  • 88% of the existing policies and programs are being carried over to the amended element;
  • 10% of the existing policies and programs are deemed complete;
  • 63% of the old policies and programs were edited;
  • 25% of the old policies and programs were carried over with no change and
  • 21 new policies and 52 new programs were added

How can this possibly be considered just an update?  And how can 20 people in one meeting cover 21 new policies and 52 new programs?  The answer is they can’t and they didn’t.    There was no step-by-step discussion of the new policies and programs.  Who will ultimately vet these?  And what will happen when we get to the really critical transportation and land use issues?

Asking people to give general comments on proposed goals and policies doesn’t make the best use of the committee’s time.  If new and revised policies and programs are proposed to be included in the revised Comp Plan, the committee needs to specifically review them for appropriateness.

Some committee people don’t even actually know what the Comp Plan is or its purpose.  How can they make informed decisions?  And does every elected/appointed official need to be introduced at each meeting?

I again ask that full minutes be provided within a week of the meeting so the public can understand and comment on the points discussed and any decisions made.

I still support adding a few more people from South Palo Alto to better represent city-wide concerns, but it’s also obvious that the real problem is the disorganized and rushed schedule of meetings.  We’ve dawdled for many years over updating the Comp Plan and now we’re in the position of rushing through many extremely critical issues that impact this city’s future.

Would it not make more sense to divide the group into subcommittees to discuss specific elements and then have a larger discussion on how those elements interrelate?  That worked well with the Cubberley CAC.

I ask that you have a discussion about what you really want the CAC to accomplish and find the best way of doing so.  “We solicited public input” just isn’t sufficient for such a serious issue.

I’ve read the Comp Plan; most of its vision is fine.  We seem to think every new idea must be enshrined in it, when it should be a master plan, not a blueprint.

Please understand that I care deeply about the city I have lived in for 40 years, half of which I have been an active community participant – MRA (20 years), PAN (17 years), 2 Housing Element committees, the Cubberley CAC, the website design committee, several council campaigns and numerous emergency preparedness activities.  I am not anti-housing, -growth, -development.  To borrow from a PAN forum, “It’s a Question of Balance.”  And our city is way out of balance between development and quality of life.

So why am I not on the committee?  Because I foresaw the very issues I’ve mentioned and because my strength is detailed analysis of issues, something not likely to happen in these meetings.


Sheri Furman

Aug 142015

Downtown Palo Alto parking problem persists while city officials, developers and employers wear blinders

by Diana Diamond – Daily News columnist

It must be very difficult to live in a neighborhood near downtown Palo Alto where your street is completely filled with parked cars on weekdays during business hours. Many of those vehicles belong to downtown business workers and some to Stanford employees who don’t want to pay for a university parking permit.

Rather than force businesses to provide parking, city officials for years closed their eyes to the problem. Let employees park where they will, was their logic.

Thus the car clutter soon became the residents’ problem, not the city’s. And downtown employees found themselves in a game of musical chairs, hunting daily for a parking space.

[Read full story…]

Aug 042015

The following letter was sent to the City Council and Administration from a combined group of Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) and Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ) leaders. We have been informed that the City Council will discuss CAC issues at the August 17th meeting.
If you agree with the opinions expressed here, please sign our petition to add your voice to this discussion.


Dear City Council, Jim Keene, Hillary Gitelman,

We the undersigned have several concerns about the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the Comprehensive Plan, and are recommending remedies in order to provide trustworthy, fair, and broad community representation.

  1. Dan Garber has both the appearance of and an actual material conflict of interest that makes him an inappropriate choice to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee, particularly as its Chair, given that he recently worked for the city on design and planning issues for 27 University (the subject of a major Grand Jury report assailing the city’s action), and stands to benefit professionally from decisions made by the CAC.
    • Having those who work for the city then participate in citizen panels intended to be independent is the much-maligned “revolving door,” which is illegal in many places.
  2. Steve Levy is a paid advisor to ABAG and other government agencies and thus should not be on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee. He also frequently blogs on planning issues, which is a direct conflict of interest and also is likely to violate the Brown Act.
  3. The CAC should have co-chairs who alternate leading the meetings rather than a chair and vice-chair.
  4. The outcome of each meeting needs more transparency. The CAC Ground Rules state that “a brief summary of CAC meetings will be posted to the project website (www.paloaltocompplan.org) for any interested party to examine.”
    • Rather than a “brief summary,” full minutes should be provided within a week of the meeting so the public can understand and comment on the points discussed.
    • Minutes should also articulate dissenting as well as majority viewpoints and vote totals so that City Council will understand the challenges that the CAC addressed.
    • Ideally, meetings should be televised or at least taped and rebroadcast.
  5. Public comments should be allowed at the beginning of and also before any vote at each meeting. To limit public comments to the end, AFTER decisions have been made or votes have been cast, ignores those attending who ask to have their viewpoints considered.  And public comments should still be allowed at the end, so that any outstanding concerns that have not surfaced can be considered in following meetings.
  6. Staff has stated they will allow anonymous online posts, but will not allow them to be seen by the CAC or the public. This is wrong: for staff to accept anonymous posts and not reveal the content publicly gives anonymous posters undue power to influence and distract staff.  It diminishes the intention of the public forum, which is to support open conversation.  No anonymous posts should be allowed.  Also:
    • Is there a way to distinguish between Palo Alto residents and non-residents?
    • Can duplicate comments be identified?
    • Can the number of unique commentators be identified?
  7. Open City Hall should not be the only way people can make comments. Email and letters should also be allowed.
  8. The schedule seems overly rushed. Are all members of the CAC conversant on each section of the Comp Plan to be revised?  Can 20+ people really cover all the land use issues in just 2 3-hour sessions?
  9. The committee should be provided with high-level tools to analyze the impact of proposed policy changes on schools, traffic, parking, and the environment, such as Sim Palo Alto, so as to avoid wasting time discussing infeasible proposals.
  10. There needs to be a better balance of people from north and south Palo Alto, as well as more representation from community groups other than Palo Alto Forward. City Council should have final approval of appointments.  We can provide the names of several qualified persons.

Note that the undersigned residents are in substantial agreement with the concerns expressed, although minor disagreements do exist.

Sheri Furman, Midtown
Cheryl Lilienstein, Barron Park
Annette Glanckopf, Midtown
Norm Beamer, Crescent Park
Jeff Levinsky, Duvenek/St. Francis
Peter Taskovich, Meadow Park
Neilson Buchanan, Downtown North
Tim Gray, Charleston Meadows
Elaine Meyer, University South
Mark Nadim, Palo Alto Hills
Douglas Moran, Barron Park
Becky Sanders, Ventura
David Schrom, Evergreen Park
Robin Bayer, Evergreen Park
Joseph Hirsch, Green Acres

Jun 262015

Palo Alto should approve funding to bolster chances of preserving mobile-home park

 We Need Your Help

The County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday (June 23rd) to set aside an additional $6.5 million towards preserving the park for its residents and affordable housing, making the total set-aside by the County $14.5 million, all coming from developer fees paid by Stanford.

On Monday, June 29th, the Palo Alto City Council will be voting on taking next steps towards matching these funds. This is  a critical juncture for the City Council to take action towards keeping Buena Vista’s residents in their homes. In order to encourage them, we are suggesting that folks:

1)      Write letters to the City Council
Urge them to take steps to match the County’s funds and preserve the park. These will be very influential to the Council in understanding our community support for affordable housing and for keeping Buena Vista residents in their homes. The Council can be reached as a group here:

2)      Attend the City Council meeting on Monday night. There is a good chance that this is one of the last meetings we’ll be asking folks to come to before there is a deal to approve, so it will be worthwhile for supporters to come out. The item is scheduled to be heard by 6:40pm, so I recommend arriving by 6:15pm.  We won’t need folks to speak – they have a long meeting that night, and they’ve heard from many of us already – but we do need to show that the broader community supports preserving the park.

Jun 252015

Supervisors allocate another $6.5 million,
contingent on match from Palo Alto

Santa Clara County supervisors on Tuesday upped the ante in a bid to preserve the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park when they unanimously voted to allocate an additional $6.5 million toward the cause, contingent on a similar match from Palo Alto.

With little discussion, the Board of Supervisors voted to contribute $6.5 million from its affordable-housing fund for the purchase of Buena Vista. The new allocation raises the county’s potential contribution toward preserving Palo Alto’s sole mobile-home park to $14.5 million.

On June 29, the City Council will discuss Buena Vista and consider its next steps. If the council chooses to match the county’s contribution, the total set aside by the city and the county would go up to $29 million. All of the contributions pledged by the city and the county thus far would come from funds designated for affordable housing.

[Read full story…]