When the Palo Alto Metropolis Council agreed last month to vary the foundations for appointing members to native boards and commissions, considered one of its said purpose was to make course of clearer, extra constant and fewer contentious.
However because the council seems to formally undertake the foundations subsequent week, additionally it is getting ready for what guarantees to be a heated spherical of appointments, with the 2 outgoing council members seeking to cement their affect within the composition of key boards that will likely be advising the incoming council.
The council plans to take two actions on Nov. 30 which are seemingly at odds with one another. One is the adoption of a brand new fee handbook that specifies that fee appointments must be made within the spring. One other is the number of candidates that the council will interview for open seats on the Historic Assets Board and the Planning and Transportation Fee, which it plans to fill on Dec. 14, its ultimate assembly of the 12 months.
Whereas appointments to the Historic Assets Board are anticipated to be a humdrum affair that retains the established order (all three candidates are incumbents), the council’s determination on the Planning and Transportation Fee will virtually actually be a hyperpartisan tussle that can ship the fee in a extra pro-growth path.
The extremely political nature of appointments to the influential planning fee was on full show on Nov. 2, when the council voted to make its appointments in December fairly than to observe the protocols within the new handbook. The 4 council members within the extra pro-growth camp — Mayor Adrian Superb, Alison Cormack, Liz Kniss and Greg Tanaka — all moved to make appointments this 12 months, which can give outgoing council members Kniss and Superb an opportunity to reshape the fee. The three council members who’re affiliated with the extra slow-growth “residentialist” camp — Vice Mayor Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth and Lydia Kou — strongly opposed the motion, with DuBois accusing his 4 colleagues of “ramming this by way of.”
Kniss, who made the movement to make the appointments in December, argued that doing so would take a number of the strain off the incoming council, which she mentioned will likely be charged with making many selections about personnel positions and memberships on regional boards. She additionally prompt that if the council would not make these appointments this 12 months, some boards might see vacancies early subsequent 12 months, earlier than the spring appointment.
“We’re about have a time frame in January and February when all new mayors will battle with making an attempt to make all of the appointments made,” Kniss mentioned.
By making the appointments this 12 months, the present council can be sure that the 2021 council “a minimum of won’t have that individual space — that individual appointment problem — to fulfill on the similar time.”
The three council members who opposed her movement prompt that the timeline is pushed by pure politics.
“You are going to have individuals not appointed by a brand new council,” DuBois mentioned. “And for those who insist on doing this, individuals are going to recollect. It’ll be a disgrace. It’ll be by the slimmest majority potential.”
With its 4-Three vote, the council additionally agreed to increase by two weeks the recruitment interval for the 2 open seats on the planning fee, that are at present stuffed by Ed Lauing and Doria Summa. At the moment, the town had solely obtained two purposes, from Summa and from resident Kevin Ma, a software program engineer.
Since then, the town has obtained seven extra purposes. The checklist of candidates now consists of Lauing, who fell simply brief on Nov. Three in his bid for a council seat; architect Jessica Resmini; legal professional Rebecca Eisenberg; Kelsey Banes, regional govt director of YIMBY Motion; Doug Burns, a member of Barron Park Affiliation; Kathy Jordan, a neighborhood volunteer who has been essential of the council’s latest funds choices; and Alon Carmeli, a pc engineer who serves as managing director for multifamily residential properties funding and redevelopment at Greenpoint Actual Property.
Given the extremely political nature of the planning fee appointments and the fee’s present make-up, the council’s transfer to choose new members this 12 months is predicted to offer the newcomers an edge over the incumbents, making it extra seemingly that each Lauing and Summa will lose their seats earlier than the top of the 12 months.
Of the seven commissioners, Lauing and Summa are the 2 which have been most cautious about approving new developments and most vulnerable to difficult employees suggestions about new insurance policies or purposes. Each voted last week in opposition to permitting Castilleja College to extend its enrollment from 426 to 540 college students, arguing in favor of a extra gradual improve. Each had additionally opposed in Might a new ordinance that relaxes zoning guidelines for the development of accent dwelling models, arguing that the town must conduct further evaluation of the ordinance’s potential impacts.
Whereas Lauing, an govt recruiter who has chaired each the Parks and Recreation Fee and the planning fee, has steadily characterised the dearth of inexpensive housing in Palo Alto as an “emergency,” he has additionally clashed on coverage points with the members who favor quicker and extra aggressive motion to advertise progress.
He and Summa had each opposed in 2018 the establishment of the “affordable housing overlay combining district” — a brand new zoning designation that provides density bonuses and different zoning exemptions to affordable-housing tasks and that was utilized by the nonprofit Alta Housing to win approval for a 59-unit growth often called Wilton Court. Lauing had argued on the time that the town ought to expeditiously approve the event by way of the normal “deliberate neighborhood” course of however prompt that the town take extra time to additional refine the brand new overlay district, with the purpose of making completely different requirements for tasks that present models for low-income residents and those that goal the “reasonable” earnings stage (regardless of the fee’s opposition, the council permitted the zoning overlay, which has not been utilized by any builders since Wilton Courtroom).
Lauing’s latest council marketing campaign was endorsed by Palo Altans for Smart Zoning, a political motion committee that favors extra slow-growth insurance policies and that had additionally endorsed present council members DuBois, Filseth, Kou in addition to Greer Stone, who will be a part of the council in January. As such, Lauing seemingly would have been a shoo-in for a contemporary time period had the council adopted its newly permitted course of, which might have given Stone and Pat Burt a vote within the new appointment as incoming council members. The truth that the appointments will as an alternative be made by a council that features Kniss and Superb makes his reappointment prospects far much less sure.
Summa, who has been the fee’s most frequent dissenter and its staunchest critic of insurance policies that calm down zoning guidelines to advertise progress, may see her time period come to an finish. A Faculty Terrace resident who has lengthy been lively in native politics, Summa had solid the only no vote within the fee’s determination in August to rezone a two-block stretch of San Antonio Road to spur housing manufacturing, which included approval of a 102-apartment growth. She was additionally the only commissioner to oppose the creation of the “housing incentive program” that grants density bonuses to housing developments in downtown, California Avenue and El Camino Actual — a place that places her at odds with each her fee colleagues and the council.
If the council votes to exchange Lauing and Summa with extra pro-growth candidates in its ultimate assembly of the 12 months, it should observe a sample of partisanship that goes again to a minimum of 2012, when the council voted 5-Four to nominate actual property legal professional Michael Alcheck over incumbent Susan Fineberg, who was identified for deep scrutiny of latest growth proposals. In 2014, former Commissioner Arthur Keller lost his seat by a single vote to Kate Downing, an legal professional and former member of Palo Alto Ahead who left the town after publicly accusing the city of failing to address the housing goals. Former Commissioner Asher Waldfogel, who has made contributions to council candidates within the “residentialist” camp, additionally misplaced his bid for a contemporary time period in December 2019, when the council voted 4-Three alongside partisan strains to appoint attorney Barton Hechtman to the seat.
Regardless of the council’s report of politicizing appointments to the planning fee, each Kniss and Cormack argued earlier this month that filling the seats this 12 months is a sensible — fairly than political — transfer. Cormack mentioned the present council ought to “do the work that’s in entrance of us” fairly than defer to subsequent 12 months’s council. She additionally prompt that, as the latest council member, it will have been harder for her to “make actually nice votes within the first couple of months, since I used to be nonetheless studying the job and all of the individuals.”
Filseth disagreed and known as the council’s determination to make appointments earlier than the top of the 12 months “wildly inappropriate” and a “unhealthy thought.”
“And if we go this — and it is going to be by the barest minimal margin — I hope that is the final council that indulges in this type of factor,” Filseth mentioned simply earlier than the 4-Three vote.