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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Politicians Are Still Politicians: The Growth Debate Reversals

Uploaded: Jul 31, 2018
It was a most unusual Palo Alto City Council meeting Monday, July 30. It was politics at its worst – or for some of the council members, perhaps politics at its best. And even here, in our fair city, some of the arguments they offered were not only a dramatic reversal of their earlier statements, but adroitly used to disingenuously bolster their points of view.

But before we begin talking about the office growth cap the council was debating, Mayor Liz Kniss made a surprising – incredible? –comment when talking about traffic in Palo Alto, one of the underlying concerns about more growth. She told the audience that she drives her car a lot and there’s really not a big problem. “I think some of our reports of traffic are really exaggerated. I think if you are willing to try alternative routes, not your normal route, I think you will find the traffic is not as overwhelming as you think.” Really? Our traffic problems are all because we drive the wrong streets, or are mental exaggerrations in our minds?

But does she drive around during commute times, when roads are packed with cars? What about Charleston and Arastradero, or Page Mill Road? What about noon hours at the El Camino-Embarcadero Road intersection or the daily congestion in one of this town’s most expensive areas, Crescent Park. One resident there said she is sometimes forced to park her car three blocks away and walk home – it’s faster than battling the traffic. Others struggle to get out of their driveways.

But back to the council meeting. The debate was focused on whether a citizens’ initiative to limit the future office growth in the city from 1.7 million square feet to 850,000 square feet by 2030 should be put on the November ballot or adopted by the council that night. The pro-growthers, Mayor Liz Kniss, Adrian Fine, Greg Scharff, Cory Wolbach and Greg Tanaka, indicated they wanted voters to decide in November while the slow-growthers wanted a decision that night.

Councilmember Greg Scharff had argued a while ago that the initiative was “pure populism.” The comprehensive master plan had recently been adopted and now some 3,1000 residents wanted it changed. Yet on Monday night he and Kniss argued that the only democratic way to decide was to put the initiative on the November ballot and let all the residents decide, and not have the council vote that night. How can one argue against populism one month and for a popular vote soon after?

Adrian Fine argued that if the reduced office growth cap was imposed, then the city would lose some of its hefty impact fees it was collecting from developers. Well, if a new development creates extra problems like more traffic, not provide enough parking, etc., the city collects “impact fees” to help remedy the problem. Yet these fees do not really cover the full cost of fixing it – the city has to fork out the difference. So if Fine says the city will lose some of these fees if there is less development, that is true. But the reality is with less development, there will be fewer impacts on our quality of life the city and will spend less repairing the damage the new developments produce. So we’ll save money.

Cory Wolbach, who didn’t say a word during the discussion, did an about-face from his nearly consistent pro-growth votes, and instead voted for council approval of the initiative. He wants to get re-elected to his council seat in November and he could see the outburst of public support for reduced growth. Yet he had previously argued that slicing the growth cap would result in fewer city services, but never mentioned that Monday. Politicans do things like that. And they also flip flop.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 31, 2018 at 7:12 pm

"he [Scharff] and Kniss argued that the only democratic way to decide was to put the initiative on the November ballot and let all the residents decide, and not have the council vote that night. How can one argue against populism one month and for a popular vote soon after?"

Gee, didn't the council decide two other issues Monday night without agonizing if they should be on the November ballot? And hasn't it voted on many other items in the past? That's called legislating, and legislating is what city councils do, right? And how many of those unsung items come to the council with 3100* citizen signatures? The council simply did its job.

Scharff and Kniss were being dutiful politicians, mindful of their obligations to their sponsors. They were trying to get the issue on the open ballot where their office developer backers could have a good shot at it using their mega war chests. Wolbach has some hard explaining to do to his warbucks providers.

*Gentle hint: check the 3,1000 number in the article.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 31, 2018 at 11:00 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I've written to Mayor Kniss to tell her I'm shocked by her comment on traffic and that I have no alternate route home. I reviewed the various traffic "improvements" that have made my street so much more dangerous -- like putting bollards at most intersections that prevent cars from passing turning traffic, thus making gridlock and congestion even worse.a

I copied several other city officials, noting that maybe the can do something about specific traffic problems and maybe even help get a response from Mr. Mello who stopped responding to us years ago since we have no official neighborhood association.

I'll let you know if I ever get a response.

Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Aug 2, 2018 at 7:19 am

mauricio is a registered user.

Lixz Kniiss's comments are another demonstration how out of touch she is with the consequences of the urbanization aka "vibrancy" she has been pushing for decades. Her comments are absolutely mind-boggling. Hopefully some of the voters who are fooled by her name cognition and pro residents claims before elections will now realized what a wolf in sheep clothing she has been.

As far as Wolbach, he voted to they way he diid for only one reason:To save his seat. If he is er elected expect him to rejoin this unfettered growth fellow travelers and push for eliminating the growth cap.

Posted by Stay out of Bolinas, a resident of Greater Miranda,
on Aug 2, 2018 at 11:22 am

Most residents realize that the comments by Maurucio/Online name/Curmudgeon et al are not indicative of the feelings of Palo Alto voters. Kniss may have a low approval rating among the 4-5 posters that constantly bash Kniss (and other councilmembers), but they are just a few people (and one of the above does not even reside in Palo Alto!!!!). Kniss has received the most voters during her last election. Surely people cannot be too upset with her if so many vote for her and to suggest that voters do not know whom they are voting for is an insult to local voters ( a common tactic of Maurucio/Online name/Curmudgeon et al).
one also has to wonder if the above mentioned posters are actaully associated with a certain local "news" source, who needs to keep discussions going for financial reasons

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 2, 2018 at 12:23 pm

Good to see some Double D takes on all this!

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 2, 2018 at 12:30 pm

I'm sorry, we were discussing cap size not cup size.
Greg Schmid in 2012 took me aside and suggested that, running for Council, attempt #2, as Tim Gray and I as also rans resurrecting the term, in homage to Enid Pearson and Emily Rentzel, The New Residentialist (sic) and we got 7,000 and 6,000 votes respectively, of people who found fault apparently with either Liz Kniss or Mark Berman -- lord heavens, why? -- and me paying bubkas on campaign signs or buttons -- zilch -- or my GF did on her own but below the reportable limit -- Rob Syrett drew a portrait of me -- he said to focus on the downtown cap as the line of retreat and then counter-attack against the Billion Dollar Special Interest the Real Estate Cartel (my words, or I'm paraphrasing). At the time the Downtown Cap was something that Palo Altans for over 20 years were keeping an eye on and it implied a MORATORIUM.

Flash forward, or looking back to recent past, and the cap is a yearly speedbump or whatever.

Welcome back, Double DD.

Posted by Abitarian, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 3, 2018 at 3:05 pm

Regarding Liz Kniss' comments about traffic...

You know who doesn't have the option to choose alternate routes or avoid rush hour? Ambulances, fire trucks, and other first responders. The consequences of their delayed arrival can be deadly. As mayor, public safety should be front and center of Ms. Kniss' decision process.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Aug 4, 2018 at 12:04 pm

@Stay out of Bolinas, funny how authoritarians who can't stand being questioned always claim that people who disagree with them are "paid" by some nefarious being.

As has been said during the women's marches etc. where millions showed up and the authoritarians claimed they must have been paid by George Soros or some other bogeyman, please send the checks now!

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Aug 5, 2018 at 7:04 am

Thank you, DD, for all that you write. Monday's meeting was indeed incredible, and not only because of our mayor's unfathomable remarks about traffic and parking. There were the lectures on democracy. And the silence from Wolbach who normally talks long about every issue. And his vote. And the voting light mix-up that resulted in a re-vote. Talk about peculiar!

Posted by Bobbi, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 6, 2018 at 12:07 pm

Thank you

Posted by First Responders, a resident of Barron Park,
on Aug 7, 2018 at 10:28 am

There is nothing more NIMBY than playing the "first responders" card. My god, if there is a bit more traffic in my neighborhood, PEOPLE WILL DIE! Get a grip.

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