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Menlo Park council works on ballot argument against specific plan initiative

Remarks were heated during a short Menlo Park council meeting on Wednesday (Aug. 6) to discuss the procedure for writing a ballot argument against the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan initiative, and the rising temperatures had little to do with the busted air conditioning at city hall.

The council held a special meeting to determine whether to allow Mayor Ray Mueller and Councilman Rich Cline to write and sign the anti-initiative ballot argument on behalf of the entire council as well as a rebuttal to any pro-initiative argument. That portion of the meeting was short and to the point, with a 3-0 vote agreeing that was an acceptable process. Council members Kirsten Keith and Cat Carlton were absent. The ballot argument is due Aug. 15.

During public comment, former councilman Heyward Robinson offered his take on an analysis conducted by Lisa Wise Consulting, hired by the city to examine the impacts of the initiative. Part of a grassroots group that produced a lengthy critique of the analysis, he said he took "strong issue" with characterizations of the critique as political rather than substantive.

"It's very, very detailed. ... You should be thankful, be grateful to have residents in Menlo Park that are willing to pick apart a study the city paid good money – taxpayer dollars – for. Your own staff should have done something similar." Mr. Robinson urged the city to "pull the report from the public domain and fix the errors."

Mayor Mueller, in return, took strong issue with the characterization of the critique as substantive rather than political.

"I've reviewed those issues and I frankly believe that most of those 40 points, if not all of them, are argument," he commented.

A letter the city received on Wednesday from a law firm representing the pro-initiative coalition could only point to one purported deficiency, he said. "And we have spent consultant money following up on all 40 other items of argument. ... I am extremely disappointed right now that we are wasting money chasing what I believe to be a PR effort."

If there are items in need of correction, the mayor concluded, the consultant will respond accordingly.

The letter, written by Olson Hagel & Fishburn LLP, asks the city to refrain from saying passage of the initiative could impact traffic in its ballot argument and impartial analysis. The attorneys contend that the traffic analysis conducted by Lisa Wise Consulting used a flawed methodology.

Council election

The 2012 council election was noteworthy for its civility. Now, with three incumbents – Mr. Cline, Mr. Ohtaki and Ms. Keith – up for re-election, the tenor of this year's campaign season seems headed in the opposite direction. So far, the challengers include Planning Commissioner Drew Combs and Environmental Quality Commissioner Kristin Duriseti. The filing deadline is tomorrow (Aug. 8), leaving open the possibility that more might enter the race.

The mayor appears to find the timing of the Wise report critiques interesting in light of the upcoming contested election.

"It's frustrating for me to be placed in a position where I must speak critically of the tactics employed by my neighbors and friends in Save Menlo, for whom I have personal respect," Mr. Mueller said after Wednesday's meeting. "But given the circumstances, I can't help but believe much of the recent charges that have been leveled against the very balanced consultant's report, are but a political pretext for the announcement of the anti-incumbent slate's last City Council candidate."

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