Viewpoint - June 23, 2010

Letter: A sad performance from Menlo council

Asking Menlo Park voters to bless the council's approval of a development agreement between the city and the Bohannon Co.'s Menlo Gateway project is another sad example of our City Council's inability to make decisions.

Over the years a small, energetic and fearful group of residents, and even former residents, has intimidated and influenced our council and developers, alike. Although not elected, these negative groups have had remarkable success acting as "kitchen cabinets" for council members.

In addition, there have been threats of withholding election-year support from incumbents, conducting referendums or merely threatening referendums against actions taken by the council. Now we have witnessed Mayor Rich Cline and council members Heyward Robinson, Kelly Fergusson and Andy Cohen, in anticipation of a referendum against the Menlo Gateway development, place this matter on the November ballot.

In my eight years on the City Council, several controversial projects came before us. I had to analyze each project on its merits and after careful consideration, I was willing to vote yea or nay. I took responsibility and the heat for votes both to approve and votes to deny.

The current council seems consistently unable or unwilling to withstand the buffeting of negative pressure from these few loud voices and to stand up for their beliefs and a public process, which ends with decisive action.

That Dave Bohannon wanted the fate of his project to be decided by the voters speaks volumes about the poor business and political climate in Menlo Park. What's a man to do with a few sour residents lurking behind closed curtains ready to file a referendum application?

Our elected council members need to make decisions and be prepared to defend a voting record every four years.

Steve Schmidt, former mayor, Menlo Park


Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 23, 2010 at 6:44 am

Heyward Robinson kicked off his campaign last night in a shameful, obsequious, genuflecting, groveling performance in which he extolled the virtues of Gail Slocum. For a minute I thought he was going to propose that May 1 be a City holiday in honor of Ms. Slocum.

But for those people who don't understand the fine nuances of Steve Schmidt's letter here are the facts. If you are going to run as a leftist candidate you need the support of the leader of Menlo Park leftist campaigns for City Council. And guess who that is? Why none other than Gail Slocum. She is the field marshall. And assisting her are her trusted lieutenants: Paul Collacchi in charge of strategy, Dorothy Bender in Charge of databases, and Mary Kinney in charge of the precinct walkers.

And you must demonstrate publicly unquestioned loyalty and obedience to Gail Slocum to have her re-election machine behind your campaign. Heyward Robinson made it abundantly clear last night that he is "Gail's boy".

I'll be honest with you while I am not a huge fan of Steve he is his own man and will do what he thinks is best for the people not what resonates best with Gail's far left philosophy. With Heyward and Rich all you get are Gail's marionettes- and she has truly mastered the manipulation of those strings.

Posted by Paul Collacchi, a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2010 at 8:37 am

Just to note a few facts. Though I personally stay involved, somewhat, in Menlo Park politics, to my knowledge neither of the other individuals mentioned has participated actively since 2000. Both are private citizens, not former public officials, whose names should not be listed publicly with inaccurate claims about actions they never engaged in.

Hank's org chart is ten years old and needs to be updated. Bash me all you want, Hank, but let the others retire in peace. BTW, before going rogue along with Sarah, Hank was a strong supporter of mine, and I like him very much.

Next turning to Steve's comments. I respect and admire Steve and thought he was capable as a council member. I do not remember him being quite as decisive as he remembers.

More interesting is Steve's dismissal of the literally thousands of citizens who signed referendum petitions in Menlo Park, as a small group of fearful people. It's a really thoughtless characterization by Steve of knowledgeable individuals who participate in nuanced land-use debate. So let me re-raise the substantive issue.

In Menlo Park, there has consistently been little or no controversy on development projects that conform to the existing zoning code, and there has been extreme political resistance to projects which get special approvals, specifically rezonings, usually to be built at densities much higher than what is allowed in the zoning code. End of story. The data is very, very persuasive, though I'm sure that some will either have selective memory or cherry pick the data to miss this obvious point.

So, the issue is about planned development vs unplanned development.

The issue is about writing special laws for special interests, be they office developers or Greens who want high-density housing. To that end, the 2006 council moved ahead, correctly, with a Downtown plan, but incorrectly, by putting the M-2 plan on hold, by putting the Housing Element on hold, and by putting the General Plan update on hold. Yes, I understand that the Downtown plan has generated controversy and resistance, but that is bound to happen.

Steve Schmidt and other housing advocates who want high-density infill housing have no-one to blame but themselves for Menlo Park's lack of housing, given that neither Steve nor any other group in Menlo Park has pushed to update a Housing Element that has been obsolete since 1992. That's twenty years. And Steve was seated for eight of those twenty years.

The Land Use element of Menlo Park's General plan expires this year. MENLO PARK NO LONGER HAS ANY FUTURE LOOKING PLANS, either a Land-use Element or a Housing element to guide incoming development in the city. Therefore each and every project coming in to the city is treated as a "one-off", in which the developer tempts the city with some alleged benefit to entice the city council to write special one-off zoning laws to approve the project.

Zoning for dollars is now business as usual in Menlo Park.

In *THAT* environment, where there is no plan, where there is no shared community vision that resulted from a shared community planning process, there is going to be perpetual disagreement over land-use issues, because decisions really only reflect the will of a few seated council members, not the true will of the community.

So rather than try to build community consensus for the Green agenda of high-density housing, by going through an actual community process to update the Housing Element to include it, its easier to ride the coattails of some housing developer's project, which only requires the agreement of three citizens in the entire community, namely a majority of the city council.

In fact, Steve's argument can and should be turned on its head. In truth, only a small group of housing advocates has a genuine and passionate interest in high-density housing. In most elite and affluent Peninsula communities such as Menlo Park, most citizens see overcrowding as formula for decreased quality of life. Therefore, housing advocates know they have little or no opportunity to gain widespread public acceptance for their policies, hence they are more than willing to circumvent open public planning processes, and slam dunk high-density infill projects through special rezonings approved only by a majority of city council.

So shame on you Steve Schmidt, for failing to do the root problem analysis, and instead turning a structural planning problem into an ad hominem attack on those who rightly resist an unofficial housing policy. If your land-use agenda, whatever it is, is the will of the people, then get it adopted as part of the General Plan.

For the record, the Bohannon project does not conform to the zoning code and the General Plan vision for the M-2 area, and they city council has put their M-2 planning project on hold. In my opinion, Bohannon is right to ask for community consensus and the council was wrong to even process the application PRIOR TO completing its M-2 plan.

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 23, 2010 at 10:15 am

Paul, I still like you and support many of your causes such as restoring the wetlands in RWC. I even wrote a lengthy blog in the Almanac condemning the building of housing on the Cargill land. You are one of the few liberals who is actually fiscally responsible and cares about individual rights. Many liberals believe that individual rights should be subordinated to the State. I am not bashing you only acknowledging that you are a key strategist for the Slocum Re-election machine. That is not a criticism.

Posted by looking on, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 24, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Hank write above:

"I am not bashing you only acknowledging that you are a key strategist for the Slocum Re-election machine "

Hank wake up and get up to date.... You really think Collacchi is on the "Slocum Re-election machine" now! Gail has become part of Bohannon's development team --- gushing at every moment at how wonderful this project is and how wonderfully "green" it is. Yet Look at the numbers --- not green at all.

It as a new ball game Hank --- Wake up and smell the Roses...

If your side was smart they would really start a recall of Fergie.

Chances are it gets easily enough votes to un-seat her.

Posted by Two Peas in a Pod, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 26, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Whether it's Slocum or Collacchi, the game is to control the council. The Bohannon project may be an issue these 2 differ on now but they are in complete agreement that they have the ears of all 4 of the majority who live to run again and again. Some day, Menlo Park will institute a rule that each council member declares before discussing agenda items the names of every person with whom each has spoken regarding the item and that should occur before each one votes on the item.

Only then will the voters learn just who is running the city.

Posted by transparent, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 26, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I agree with the suggestion to require council members to disclose their private interactions as they relate to agenda items. The council members have all met privately with Bohannon to discuss his project. What transpired during those meetings? We'll never know. We do know that Bohannon personally threatened one planning commissioner who refused to go along with the program and meet with him.

It's a recurring theme, as Paul says. The issue is about bending the rules for special interests, be they rich residents, resident greens, or unions. One way or another, it needs to end.

Posted by no conspiracies, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 26, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Wow - you'd think that our councilmembers are mindless idiots.
I agree there should be transparency regarding special interests, such as Bohannon or the unions, whose project or issues are under discussion and will be decided by the Council. However, I think "two peas" goes way too far. Most of the councilmembers do not talk to anyone, including past supporters. They seem to think they know it all already. Andy Cohen is an exception. He actively seeks input from a wide variety of perspectives. I don't now how he makes his decisions, but I applaud his desire to get input from a variety in the community.

Posted by Clear as mud, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 26, 2010 at 5:42 pm

If we truly learned the names of the people 4 of these council members talked to before voting on an agenda item, the names would not be surprising and Colachi, Slocum and Morris Brown would appear often. Of course the council talks to developers, that's their job. Andy Cohen talks to everybody and his opinions change like the weather. It's a crap shoot to know how he'll vote. He was against the Bohannon Project but voted to place it on the ballot rather than vote against it.

It's all coo coo land up there in those council seats. You can only count on Boyle and sometimes Cline. The rest have to go.

Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 28, 2010 at 7:13 am

Paul Collacchi has extensive transportation experience. Gail Slocum does not- unless you count driving a Prius to the CALTRAIN station. She is very myopic when it comes to urban planning. She only wants zero net carbon footprint. Nothing else matters.

Paul, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the gridlock that will most certainly occur if this project is approved unless Bohannon addresses the increase in traffic. The Field of Dreams quotation "Build it and they will come" is truly appropriate in this situation. Only they will come in automobiles. And most likely, increases in vehicular traffic were not used in the footprint calculations that Gail so highly exults.

Bohannon agreed to reduce vehicle trips to and from the project by 17 percent below those guesstimated by the EIR. How can he control or even reduce that?

I am not saying that the project should be killed but traffic should be more seriously addressed for this project to move forward. One possibility would be to contribute to extending the Bay Front Parkway to Seaport Boulevard in Redwood City. Gail has her carbon offsets. We need traffic offsets too.

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