Facing sustained public outcry, Council reverses course

Palo Alto Matters – March 24, 2017

Moving quickly to assert itself, the new Council majority used a fast-track voting process to limit debate and sideline the Citizen Advisory Committee’s Land Use recommendations – only to retreat after two months of public backlash.

The City’s Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan), mandated by the State, defines the City’s long term vision and goals and provides the policy foundation and implementation guidance for all City action. The Land Use Element of the Comp Plan sets the parameters for planning, zoning and regulation of future commercial and residential development and use, neighborhood centers, parkland, public facilities, etc. As the City grapples with the challenges of recent and future growth, the Land Use Element is of particular interest to many in the community.

After several years of false starts to update the Comprehensive Plan, the City appointed a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to make recommendations about what Policies and Implementation Programs should be included in the update. Two years of difficult compromise, in cooperation with City staff, produced consensus recommendations across all Elements of the Comp Plan, including Land Use. Where policy consensus was not reached, options were put forward for Council consideration.

Most of the teed-up policy options were debated. However, when it came time to accept or reject the “consensus” items, in an unusual and unexpected move, Mayor Scharff imposed a fast-track voting process to limit debate. The new Council majority quickly approved a motion by Council Member Wolbach to remove all the recommended Implementation Programs from the body of the Land Use Element.

The unusual voting process and its outcome created confusion on the dais, uncertainty among Councilmembers and staff as to the legal implications of the majority’s so-called “reformatting” of the Comprehensive Plan, and stirred immediate public controversy.

Get up to speed on what the fuss was all about:

Editorial: A reckless majority

In stunning surprise, new council majority upends planning process

The five members who make up the new, more development-friendly majority on the Palo Alto City Council blatantly stuck it to their four colleagues and the community Monday night with what appeared to be a carefully orchestrated take-over of the critical land-use portion of the new Comprehensive Plan.  Read on…

Guest Opinion: When democracy is hijacked

by Tom DuBois / Palo Alto Weekly – February 3, 2017

Monday night, in a brazen display of power, some members of the Palo Alto City Council massacred our Comprehensive Plan, the shared long-term vision that guides all of the city’s work.  Read on…

Guest Opinion: City Council makes wise decisions on land use

Recent actions ‘strengthen local participation and democracy’

Last week the Palo Alto City Council reviewed a series of policy and program choices sent to them by the Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) and staff. A Weekly editorial spoke of a “reckless majority.” Councilman Tom DuBois went further in an op-ed using words like “democracy is hijacked” and “massacred our Comprehensive Plan” and referred to his council colleagues as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  Read on…

Comments submitted to CAC

by CAC members Don McDougall and Jennifer Hetterly – February 21, 2017

With a poorly considered action, Council has:

  1. Threatened public trust;
  2. Destroyed hard-earned consensus;
  3. Undermined the contextual cohesion of the Plan;
  4. Removed Plan transparency; and
  5. Hindered the City’s flexibility to act.

We recommend reconsideration by Council and a unified voice of concern from the CAC.

Read full Comments here

Open Letter to City Council

by CAC members Len Filppu, Annette Glanckopf, Jennifer Hetterly, Hamilton Hitchings, Shani Kleinhaus, Mark Nadim, Alex Van Riesen 

We respectfully acknowledge City Council’s prerogative to revise or reject policies or programs recommended by the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Comprehensive Plan (CAC). Nonetheless, we feel compelled to formally voice our objection to:

  1. The wholesale removal of all implementation programs from the body of the Land Use and Transportation Elements, or any other Element of the Comprehensive Plan; and
  2. The fast track voting process employed on January 30, 2017 that allowed for their removal without full opportunity for Council debate or public comment and without a clear and common understanding of the impact of that action.

Read full Letter here

Memo to Council from CAC Chairs

We recommend Council reverse its January 30, 2017 action to remove the programs of the Land Use element from the Comp Plan and retain the programs within the element as they were originally planned to be located.

Read full Memo here

Guest Opinion: A different view of the Comp Plan process

‘The process has stretched out interminably and at a cost far in excess of what anybody could have imagined in 2008,’ former councilman says.

The Weekly’s Feb. 2 editorial (“A reckless majority“) and the sibling guest opinion by Councilman Tom DuBois (“When democracy is hijacked“) take serious issue with the Comprehensive Plan decisions of the City Council majority in response to the recommendations of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).  Read on…

Amid backlash, city to reconsider decision on Comp Plan

Citizens committee blasts City Council’s vote to remove programs from land-use guide

by Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly – published March 17, 2017

Palo Alto officials will revisit on Monday their controversial January decision to strip all programs from the city’s guiding land-use document, the Comprehensive Plan — a move that some characterized as a “formatting” change and others decried as a betrayal of public trust.  Read on…

Making amends

Admitting its January “irrationality,” council backtracks on Comp Plan

Palo Alto Weekly Editorial – published March 24, 2017

Faced with a strong backlash from residents across Palo Alto’s political spectrum and angry colleagues who felt disrespected, the City Council majority that had in January abruptly voted to remove the implementing programs from the draft revision to the Comprehensive Plan reversed course with a do-over Monday night.  Read on…


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