Almanac

News - November 10, 2010

Menlo Park: Cohen withdraws request for council to reconsider

by Sandy Brundage

The fate of a heritage redwood tree on University Drive may — or may not — return to Menlo Park City Council. Without explanation, Councilman Andy Cohen has now twice requested, and then withdrawn the requests, that the council consider reconsidering its vote.

The request did finally appear on the Nov. 9 council agenda, only to be taken off the day before the meeting, according to the city clerk's office.

On Oct. 26 the council voted 3 to 2, with John Boyle and Rich Cline dissenting, to pay an architect to attempt to design a house around the tree instead of immediately allowing property owner Kim LeMieux to cut the tree down.

Mr. Cohen's requests for reconsideration appear controversial in light of comments he made to Ms. LeMieux before the meeting.

He refused to answer when The Almanac asked whether he would now recuse himself from future council action on the tree.

The staff report on the councilman's request indicates that he assisted Ms. LeMieux in writing a letter to the council after the Oct. 26 vote. The letter states "three architects and three arborists, City planning staff and the Planning Commissioners have all conclusively agreed" that building around the tree is impossible without damaging the redwood. Ms. LeMieux called the hiring of yet another architect "an unjustifiable use of public funds" given the research she's already done.

According to City Attorney Bill McClure, recusals are required when a council member has a financial conflict of interest, or has shown bias either for or against an applicant.

"While there may be a question about the appropriateness of the comments alleged to have been made, I have not heard or read anything that would indicate that there is either a financial conflict of interest or bias in favor of or against the applicant," said City Attorney Bill McClure.

Known for criticizing the ethics of other council members, both in Menlo Park and beyond, in June Mr. Cohen filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) about a Redwood City council member's failure to recuse herself from voting on the Cargill Saltworks project while employed by a business association that endorsed it. The FPPC did rule that her conduct violated the conflict of interest policy.

At the time, Mr. Cohen said, "Even the appearance of a conflict is what I was taught should warrant recusal."

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