Almanac

News - August 13, 2014

Heated ballot measure exchange at Menlo Park council meeting

by Sandy Brundage

Remarks were heated during a recent Menlo Park council meeting 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 on Aug. 6 to determine whether to allow Mayor Ray Mueller and Councilman Rich Cline to write and sign the anti-initiative ballot arguments on behalf of the entire council.

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 Aug. 6 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 mayor appears to find the timing of the Wise report critiques interesting in light of the upcoming contested council election.

Three incumbents — Mr. Cline, Peter Ohtaki and Ms. Keith — are running for re-election. The challengers are Planning Commissioner Drew Combs, Environmental Quality Commissioner Kristin Duriseti and former council member Kelly Fergusson.

"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 the Aug. 6 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."

And indeed, Ms. Fergusson announced on Aug. 8 that she is running, with the blessings of the pro-initiative faction.

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