Expanded version of earlier story.
Anyone doubting the power of ideas and wanting to be proven wrong would have been well served by attending the Woodside Town Council meeting on the evening of Oct. 29.
The council faced complaints from a boisterous standing-room-only crowd of more than 75 residents worried about preserving Woodside's "rural character." With Councilman Peter Mason absent, a unanimous council agreed to dispose of three ideas broached during a spring 2013 brainstorming session from a community task force considering options for the town center's next 20 years.
The three ideas the council committed to completely dismiss were:
■ A multi-tier parking garage. It will not be included as an option to address a chronic shortage of town center parking spaces in a built-out area with no land available for more parking spaces.
■ A rearrangement of traffic lanes to alleviate congestion. Woodside is a route to the coast, and weekend events such as pumpkin festivals or large bicycle tours headed into the foothills can generate mile-long traffic jams on Woodside Road.
■ Planning Department maps that use colors or polygons to make visible an expanded planning area for addressing town center traffic circulation issues. There is broad consensus on developing safer pedestrian and bicycling routes through neighborhoods near town center. However, a map from the brainstorming session included those neighborhoods within a large orange polygon that appeared to expand the official borders of town center. Residents expressed alarm about the implications of that visual demarcation on their property values.
The residents also demanded a prohibition on affordable housing downtown and on asking voters to amend two longstanding measures (J and 1) intended to secure the downtown's character. The council avoided committing to either, citing the complex nature of state housing mandates and the likelihood of slight amendments to Measure J to accommodate safer routes to school.
Community meetings are set for early 2014 to further sound out the public on priorities. Council members said they would be hiring a professional facilitator to run the meetings, and declined offers from residents opposed to outsiders getting involved and suggesting that the council choose one or more community volunteers to facilitate.
In more than an hour of public comment, residents demanded, as they have since May, the council's reassurance that the offending ideas are completely off the table. Resident Greg Raleigh complained repeatedly about a lack of transparency on the council's part. He spoke first and read from his letter, in which he articulated the five offending ideas.
But his first words were to inform the council that he would be ignoring the three-minute time limit for each individual, which he then did. At one point after his time had elapsed, he remained standing and held aloft a mockup of the map depicting the offending orange polygon.
After the next speaker yielded his time, Mr. Raleigh rose again and soon got into an argument with Mayor Anne Kasten, who was instructing him on parliamentary procedure.
"This is the attitude that has people so upset," he said. "You keep telling us this isn't important. It's important to us. It's my time to talk. Sometimes I'm a little angry. ... Please remove those things so we don't have to keep worrying about it."
Many residents included in their remarks their "100 percent" support for Mr. Raleigh's points.
"If these things go forward, you're going to fundamentally change the nature of Woodside and I think that's a tragedy," said Leon Campbell.
"We want to know where our council stands on those five items," said Malcolm MacNaughton.
"Brainstorming is great," said Rob Solomon, "but these five are really bad ideas."
"I think you have some trust to earn back," said a resident of Tripp Court.
When asked in an interview if the turnout had been orchestrated, Mr. Raleigh described it as a grassroots movement fueled by six or seven letters that circulated online. "Everybody tried to say the same thing, but they didn't know how to say it," he said. "If you don't have a unified voice in politics ... you get nothing. I think it's great that it worked that way."
Occasionally, another point of view was heard.
"I don't understand what all this upsetness is about," said Marne Page. "The crazy ideas will be jettisoned. ... We're supposed to able to talk about controversial ideas."
"I think when you do a planning process, you think of all ideas," said Thalia Lubin, a member of the task force involved in the brainstorming. "All we're talking about here is ideas. I'm not going to throw out any ideas until we've heard all of them."
"I'm sorry you felt compelled to leave your separate lives and come out to protect yourselves," said Councilman Tom Shanahan of the gathering. "I think we should try to stop meeting like this."
"It's very frustrating," said Councilman Ron Romines, "to see that you're all here because of a misunderstanding of this process."
Mr. Romines noted "widespread discontent" with walking and biking in Woodside. "It's not a very friendly place sometimes, even just walking from place to place." Parking is scarce and there is at least some demand for a community gathering place, he said. "We're going to need to go forward with a process, but it won't include the things that you are strongly opposed to."
There will be tradeoffs, he said. "We're going to have to give serious consideration to how those problems are solved. That's why we need a facilitator." But, he added, "solutions come from the town, not the facilitator."
"The Town Council," said Councilman Dave Burow, "did not start this with a top-down process or agenda. (But) the truth is not really important at this point. The truth is sitting in this room."
"I understand the stigma of living in a polygon," Mr. Burow added. "I certainly would be fully supportive of not drawing any polygons, but they have to finesse (circulation issues) somehow."
"I am really concerned about the statements that you did not know what was going on and that this was a closed process," Councilwoman Deborah Gordon said to the residents. "How do we communicate with you and know that you're actually hearing it?"