Menlo Park election: Three file for two council seats

Rick Ciardella will challenge incumbents Cohen and Fergusson on Nov. 4

For a while, it looked as if incumbents Andy Cohen and Kelly Fergusson might not have any opposition in their bids for re-election to the Menlo Park City Council, but thanks to local business owner Rick Ciardella, that won't be the case.

Mr. Ciardella, a local landscape architect who sits on the board of directors of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, filed nomination papers with the city clerk's office on Friday afternoon, Aug. 8, beating the 5 p.m. deadline, and pitting him against the incumbents in the Nov. 4 election.

Mr. Ciardella could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mayor Cohen and Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson have publicly declared support for one another's re-election bids, and both incumbents filed their nomination papers on Aug. 7, according to Interim City Clerk Sherry Kelly.

Longtime West Bay Sanitary District board member Ronald Shepherd and Environmental Quality Commissioner Jeff Jahnke had taken out nomination papers, but neither filed papers by the Aug. 8 deadline, Ms. Kelly said.

Rick Ciardella

Mr. Ciardella is a former chairman of the board of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, and currently serves as the board's secretary. He served as chairman of this year's Connoisseur's Marketplace, the annual downtown Menlo Park street fair sponsored by the chamber of commerce.

Mr. Ciardella's Menlo Park firm, Ciardella Associates, helped plan and design the Trees for Menlo project to plant trees along El Camino Real. The firm has also been hired to help design Menlo Square, Willow Oaks Field, and facilities at Menlo-Atherton High School, according to the Ciardella Associates Web site.


Posted by too bad, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 11, 2008 at 10:17 am

Too bad Mr. Ciardella didn't see fit to actually talk with the incumbents or the rest of the council and instead force the cost of an election and divert energy and attention away from city work. He still could withdraw...

Posted by Civics teacher, a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2008 at 11:39 am

Too bad - a civics lesson-just because only 2 incumbents run, doesn't mean you don't have to have an election. Mr. Ciardella didn't force an election by choosing to run. Also, what? - do people who want to serve have to ask permission from those already serving in order to run? I guess they teach civics differently in MP. Anyway, thank you to all three candidates for opting to run for office regardless of the motivation. Too bad there weren't a few more willing candidates.

Posted by agree with too bad, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Aug 11, 2008 at 12:23 pm

Civics teacher, if you live in "another community" you may not be aware that our school boards often recruit only as many candidates as there are spaces available, and therefore do not hold elections, saving the schools quite a bit of money.

Mr. Ciardella did indeed force the election and the concomitant expense. If he had not chosen to run, the council would have voted on whether or not to hold the election, and probably would have decided that the city didn't need to waste another $30-50,000. Too, there are costs associated with the fact that two council members will now need to devote quite a bit of time to campaigning, time that they could have spent on council issues.

You may teach civics, but do you understand how local government works?

Posted by amazed, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 11, 2008 at 12:38 pm

AWTB, You sniff at Civics teacher, suggesting he/she doesn't understand how local government works. My question to you and "too bad" is: Do you know how democracy works?

Posted by too bad, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 11, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Yes I do understand democracy, and applaud anyone willing to run an election and serve. My only point was that part of democracy is to speak up.

Posted by Civics teacher, a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2008 at 1:56 pm

AWTB-I'm always willing to learn something new. If you wouldn't mind helping me do so, could you direct me to where in the Municipal Code or City Ordinances that it says the City of MP violates Calif. State Election Code and enables a local City Council to vote not to hold an election just because there is an even number of people running vs seats available. I'm not trying to be difficult, it just seems to me that such a process would be counter to the rights of people to write in candidates of their choice.

Posted by too bad, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 11, 2008 at 2:40 pm

I was just guessing that it could be done because other cities have called off elections. Atherton and Portola Valley I think. Probably needs a public hearing where anyone with concerns could address the matter.

Posted by Libby, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 11, 2008 at 3:02 pm

If there are only as many candidates as there are seats up for election, a city council can vote to cancel the election and appoint the candidates. It happens frequently in Atherton, but I can't remember it happening in Menlo Park in rencent years. Woodside has a policy of holding the election regardless of the number of candidates, which allows for late-deciding write-in candidates.

Personally, I'd rather spend the money and have an election. I don't like the school board's practice of avoiding elections because it robs us of the chance to question candidates and hear their views.

Posted by amazed, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 11, 2008 at 3:40 pm

By George, I think Libby understands democracy!

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 11, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Thank you, Libby and "amazed." (BTW, "amazed," you may want to share with me some time why you prefer to hide behind a pseudonym, but that's for another discussion.) Libby, you nailed it. Your position would make Jefferson proud.

"The information of the people at large can alone make them the safe as they are the sole depositary of our political and religious freedom."
--Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1810.

I, too, am amazed at this thread and the suggestion that it's cheaper when only two run for two seats, and no election is necessary. It may be even cheaper when nobody is running, like in China. But, you get what you pay for, as my grandfather used to say.

The ability of the people to elect; that is, to choose who represents them, is central to Democracy. And, as Churchill said so eloquently, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." So, let's have no more nonsense about the "costs" of the electoral process, unless we want to talk about expanding the Council to seven people, or elect the Mayor separately and for two years, or in some other way increase the power of the people to elect their representatives.

Posted by JB, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 11, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Dear Libby: The City Council and the School Board don't decide who can and cannot run for office. Anyone can run, so why don't you put yourself out there. Or maybe you'd rather just let others do the work while you sit back and complain anonymously?

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 11, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Thanks, JB. Not to be too anonymous, that stands for James Buchanan, 15th president of the US. Right?

Posted by election watcher, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 11, 2008 at 10:37 pm

Forgotten in this thread is the fact that Fergusson and Cohen SHOULD be made to defend their decisions to the public. I hope that this election will address that. Fergusson was ready to hand over several million to a property developer for the Park Theater. Both she and Cohen (and Robinson, Cline) gave the keys to the city to the employees in the form of a thirty percent hike (about $10 million) to their pensions. And as if that weren't enough, they just hiked police pay by about 27 percent. That's OUR money these people are spending like drunken sailors.

Posted by pragmatist, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 11, 2008 at 11:25 pm

No, it's not forgotten. It is totally appropriate to insist that the council members explain their reasoning and their votes. Go to a council meeting and bring it up during public comment. Or email or call them, any one of them, and ask your questions. Most council members will meet with you for coffee.

If the city had decided to hold an election with only two candidates, nothing would have required them to attend public debates or provide explanations. Delusions of democracy aside, it makes no sense to spend a lot of money we don't have on an election.

As it happens, that's moot anyway.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Aug 12, 2008 at 8:36 am

"Delusions of democracy"? Sounds as if you've given up the fight, pragmatist. That makes you part of the problem.

Posted by Laura, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 12, 2008 at 9:03 am

Just to clarify because there seems to be some confusion...

The School Board doesn't decide not to hold an election if the number of candidates matches the number of open seats. It's California election law.

Also, you can't just put in a name for "write-in" candidates. They have to file papers to be considered as a write-in candidate with the City Clerk by a particular date (not sure what that is for this election). If every person in Menlo Park "wrote-in" Thomas doesn't mean he gets the seat, unless before the election he had filed papers proving that he was willing and eligible to serve. Otherwise, people could be "forced" to serve or put in an awkward position.

I think it's always good to have an lets all sides be heard, concerns and ideas voiced outside the parameters of a very formal city council environment (particularly where one of the candidates runs the meeting).

And, I'm sorry, but if Richard Ciardella (and I don't know the gentleman or his views), but if he differs on something from the candidates, do you really think they'd change their minds because he shared his thoughts at a meeting? I haven't seen that kind of response from most of our city council members.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 12, 2008 at 10:00 am

What was Rick Ciardella's opinion on BevMo and Whole Foods? What is his position?

Posted by Prudence, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 12, 2008 at 7:05 pm

Elections have value, but money saved can be spent on something else.

On the other hand, Menlo Park Elementary School District has a longtime cozy practice of recruiting candidates only from wealthier neighborhoods. Among other things, this enables them to preserve the fiction that there is no crime in their schools.

Info correction: Menlo Oaks is indeed surrounded by Menlo Park on three sides, but it is not part of Menlo Park. That means Laura will not be voting on this Council race, unless she convinces her neighbors to annex before November. She is very welcome to do so.

Posted by Libby, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 13, 2008 at 10:58 am

But "Laura" could have voted in the Menlo Park school district race, if there were an election. The two candidates are from the school foundation, and that's probably all we'll find out about them, since there are only two candidates for two seats.

In the grand scheme of things, elections are not that expensive. Investing in democracy is money well spent, in my opinion.

Posted by amazed, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 13, 2008 at 2:38 pm

From Prudence: "Elections have value, but money saved can be spent on something else."

Of course it can, but what could be more valuable in a democracy than an election campaign where issues are discussed and people pay more attention to what their current elected officials are doing?

In response to Martin's concern about posters being anonymous: How do you know that Libby is really Libby, Martin? In fact, how do we know you're really Martin Engel?

Posted by Libby, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 13, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Dear Prudence,

I'm thinking of all the money that's saved in countries that don't hold elections. Where does it go? Gulags? Gold-plated latrines in the palace of the president-for-life?

Where would you like to see it go?

Posted by too bad, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 14, 2008 at 7:49 am

wow, you'd think that there had never been a well-publicized opportunity for candidates to file, that if there had been only two candidates the city would not have had to hold a public discussion about whether or not to hold an election, that there is such a clamp down on expression of individual beliefs that no one could question incumbents in any other way than during an election.
Democracy is alive and well here. There is no need to get into the fear mongering of some of these postings.

Posted by amazed, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 14, 2008 at 10:53 am

I'm not sure what "too bad" considers "fear mongering." But if he/she is applying the phrase to those who are challenging posters complaining that someone is running against the incumbents, thereby "forcing" us to have an election, I think the description is misapplied. I find the views on this thread interesting, whether I agree with all of them or not. Public debate -- real discussion vs name-calling and diversionary ploys -- helps keep democracy alive, as do lively election campaigns.

Posted by too bad, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 15, 2008 at 2:45 pm

To Amazed, I was responding to the implications in Libby's postings that Menlo Park would be one step away from gulags and presidents-for-life if no election were held when not enough candidates step forward to have a race. That didn't happen in other cities who chose not to hold elections. Why here? In my book, that is fear-mongering.
Please note that I did not call anyone names, just characterized some statements as fear-mongering. There is a big difference.
I'm actually glad that there is such support for honest debate. Let's hope that happens.

Posted by amazed, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 15, 2008 at 4:24 pm

To "too bad": Another thing I'm amazed by (and thankful for) is the generally civil tone of this thread. I wasn't suggesting that you called anyone names -- my comment was more a statement about how public debate typically seems to devolve in our culture and on the political scene. And I see your point about the "gulag" comment.

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