Almanac

Viewpoint - June 5, 2013

Guest opinion: Why I resigned from the city's Transportation Commission

by Charlie Bourne

I recently resigned from Menlo Park's Transportation Commission after serving since 2005, and I've been asked by several people why I did that; this is a brief response to that question.

My decision to resign was triggered by the Brown Act violations forced upon the commission by the city's transportation department management at our May 8 meeting and the subsequent May 13 meeting of the Bike Commission, because of the city staff's desire to speed up the approval of a consultant's plan (which was not a plan) for an Oak Knoll Safe Routes to School project. These violations were pushed by staff in spite of my warnings then that this appeared to be a clear violation of the Brown Act. The staff had brought forward a "Discussion Paper No. 3" and urged that it be sent to the City Council with our approval as a "plan."

But this was simply the latest in a long series of demonstrated shortcomings by the city staff and its management, and their attempts to limit the scope of activity and influence of the commission. The most recent assault was the attempt by the city manager and staff to eliminate the video recording and minutes of this important committee.

The city staff, city manager, and council (by its acquiescence with proposals by the planning department) have worked actively to keep the commission from focusing on, and commenting on, things that really need its attention. These include the transportation issues associated with recent big projects such as the Stanford Medical Center, Downtown Vision Plan, and Stanford El Camino Real plan. The city planning department drew up a process for the Downtown Vision project that excluded the Transportation Commission from seriously participating in that review process. Our requests to city staff to get those matters on our agendas and to get staff to provide relevant information to permit such a review were declined, citing council approval of that process. Furthermore, the transportation department staff would not give us their comments on the environmental impact reports that were published for these projects.

Our attempts to include the commission in a review of the transportation issues associated with the Stanford Medical Center were rebuffed.

Similarly, the commission was not permitted to review the transportation issues associated with the current Stanford El Camino Real project.

These are the kinds of critical reviews that the commission was designed to do, but has not been permitted to do.

Shortcomings of the transportation staff management have also been evident in the poor oversight they've given to consultant reports. Such reports have been brought to the commission for review and approval that were found to be poorly written, with content issues, and judged to be of lesser quality than should be expected of professional consulting firms. The city deserved better, and the reports were sent back to the consultants for rewrites. The shocking part of these actions was that the transportation staff itself had not even read or critiqued these reports before they were brought to the commission for approval.

Twice in 2011 I asked the council to allow us to review the ECR/Downtown Specific Plan EIR, but received no response from any council member other than Andy Cohen.

Without some change in council attitudes and oversight, and some change in all levels of city staff, I see no future for this commission other than deciding where to paint the curbs red.

Charlie Bourne has lived in Menlo Park since 1958 and served on the Transportation Commission since 2005.

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