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Measure M and City Council--An interesting conflict of interest

Uploaded: Nov 2, 2014
I find it highly ironic and disingenuous that those who complain when Union money plays a part in elections, see no problem when big developers use their vast resources to buy votes. They do so not by educating voters, but rather by confusing the issues to the point of making a reasonable debate impossible.
You might remember fellow residents, that during last year's Fire Board campaign, the Firemen's Union financial support of two of the candidates became a contentious point in the race, and maybe the defeating factor for the candidates backed by Union's funds.
Some could argue too, that the ability of two of the candidates on the winning slate to lend themselves significant amounts of money to run made that race a mockery of democracy.
Unfortunately, the fact that Measure's M opposition is being lavishly financed with money from the main beneficiary of its defeat reinforces the sad state of our political system, and shows how low our brand of democracy has fallen.
Much discussion has taken place around Greenheart's monetary support of the three incumbents running for City Council. As expected, those three incumbents have tried to minimize the meaning and effect of such support.
At the forum for those running for City council, all candidates were asked whether they saw a conflict of interest in accepting money from a developer whose business they would have to vote on.
Not surprisingly, the 3 incumbents said they didn't.
And in case you didn't attend the event, amazingly, there was no mention of Greenheart throughout the forum. Which I found almost surreal.
As if everyone there had agreed to use the more generic and polite term of "developer" to refer to the biggest spender of money in this election.
One council member declared that if anyone thinks his decisions as council member can be bought with a $500. donation from a developer, they would be wrong to think so.
(I looked at that incumbents' finance report and yes, there was a $500. donation from one developer. But that was not the only developer or rental property owner, there were several. This candidate must have forgotten to specify which developer he was referring too. And of course, there was the $900 donation by Greenheart to print his campaign materials.
Another claimed innocence saying that if someone wanted to drop leaflets on her behalf, she didn't have anything to do with it, and it could not be considered campaign contribution.
I beg you pardon? Someone prints and distributes propaganda to get me elected, and is not considered a contribution to my campaign?
I have a feeling none of the incumbents paused to carefully consider the repercussions of accepting tainted money. The amount is the least of my concerns. The lack of principles and vision in accepting it, is what got me writing about it.

In 2 days we will find out whether all that money confused enough voters into defeating Measure M.
But the tally results will only be the beginning of a series of battles in court and, as the opponents have been trying to scare us with, at the voting booth.
As write this, some are digging around to see to what extent the City might have worked behind the scenes to benefit the opposition to the Measure. If the allegations turn out to be true, a lot of explaining will have to take place, and we will be in for a lot more fighting.

It would have helped if all Councilmembers --currently running for re-election or not-- had kept a safe distance from the developer.
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Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by formerly undecided on M, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Nov 2, 2014 at 10:17 pm

So let's see - there are two tracts of underutilized land on ECR. Greenheart paid $46.5M for their 7 acres - Stanford's 8.4 acres is probably worth about $60M. By definition this is a big money high risk game.

People think the developers are only into this to "make money" - but the reality is they also don't want to lose money already invested.

So there's a 6 year Vision plan set up by legitimately voted in city officials - and now on Tuesday voter's get a chance to change the rules of the game (especially for Greenheart') and arbitrarily halve office space destroying all ROI calculations. The proverbial "board flip" if things don't go your way.

After the large legitimate investments made already - do you expect developers not to buy some ads? How much Greenheart or Stanford money actually went to candidates vs. the ads. Real numbers - not innuendo? Just because a candidate is against M - or a newspaper is against M - there are boundless unfounded accusations of "back pocket" deals. Where's the actual evidence of quid pro quo?

Is the goal to make Menlo Park the most business hostile city on the peninsula? Do people really like the vacant lots and delapidated car dealerships?


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth H, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 8:22 am

Shame on you.

How dare the City hire a Consultant to message against Measure M - a citizen's initiative - with taxpayer money. Where is the Grand Jury?! How many Staff hours were spent engaging with this consultant?

The Statement of Work included "Measure M is detrimental to the City's Goals." To engage all forms of media, including the City's own web site; purportedly to make it 'harder to accuse of us lying.' (Brandell)

Shame on the entire Council for letting this take place right under their noses.

Who is standing up for the Residents?

Someone has to take the fall for this... LET THE BACKPEDALING BEGIN.

Elizabeth Houck


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 8:38 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"How dare the City hire a Consultant to message against Measure M "

There is no evidence that what you allege was done.

The city may well have hired a communications consultant but I have seen no illegal communication produced by that consultant or by the city. The city's Measure M web site is as bland and balanced as you can get.

Do you have specific examples of improper communications?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by fact checker, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 9:12 am

So "formerly undecided" wants us to base our vote on whether Greenheart can make a profit? Really? And this is a developer who bought properties with initially controversial approved projects and decided not to build them. Stanford has owned their property for decades; they will make a profit.

None of us knows what other kind of project they might build when M wins. We also don't know whether they need to downsize significantly anyway when their EIR comes back and shows the negative impacts that can't be mitigated. They acknowledge that they may need to downsize their project.

Stanford has owned their property for decades; they will make a profit even at the old rules that allowed less than half the overall development the specific plan and M allow.

Residents need to vote Yes on M to control how much office to allow downtown and how much new commuter traffic comes through our neighborhoods.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Chuck Jones, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 9:29 am

Why I am voting No on Measure M

I have read Measure M a second time, read through much of Save Menlo?s and the No on M websites and the Impartial Analysis of Measure M on Save Menlo?s website (see below).

A few key points to keep in mind are:

? It is a given that there is going to be more traffic when there is more development
? Measure M has good intentions
? But creates too many restrictions, potential for multiple lawsuits and city wide votes to change various provisions

From the impartial analysis of Measure M from Gregory Stepanicich, Special Legal Counsel for the City of Menlo Park, that is on Save Menlo?s website, it has three sentences that concern me. These mirror the concerns I have from reading Measure M.

? "The City Council cannot amend the definitions and development standards set forth in the Measure as these provisions can be amended only with voter approval."
? "In addition, voter approval is required to exceed the office space and non-residential square footage limits."
? "A priority clause states that the Measure prevails over all conflicting City ordinances, resolutions and administrative policies." (Maybe this is standard language but feels like it imposes/creates potential huge impediments and costs on the City).

Web Link

I also give credence that The Almanac, The Daily News, The Daily Post and Mercury News all recommend a No vote.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by formerly undecided onM, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 10:51 am

@Factchecker

Yep - it's perfectly reasonable to wonder if a developer such as Greenheart can generate ROI under the arbitrary changes that would happen if M passes. Assuming, of course, that you want to to see the blight on that side of ECR reduced. Otherwise what. Another failure like the Derry project. Basically a developer willing to commit upwards of $200M to buy land and do the buildout. May not seem like much to you - but with office space at about $50/sq ft it takes a fair amount to recoup expenses. How do you see this calculation? (Agreed that Staford is a different calculus and different property tax burn rate as well.)

Where are your "facts" regarding controversially approved projects. Seems like controversy is not in short supply here :-). Why should that bother me? This op-ed has a lot of fact free innuendo regarding the affect of Greenheart money on council members - without a shred of "facts" to back it up.

Regarding Greenheart - they actually made news in a national publication - as did SaveMenlo. You might find it interesting Web Link


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Martin,

" have a feeling none of the incumbents paused to carefully consider the repercussions of accepting tainted money. The amount is the least of my concerns. The lack of principles and vision in accepting it, is what got me writing about it."

You clearly support Measure M and than is okay by me as long as you have made a well-informed decision consistent with your own values and preferences. However, to suggest that the City council members are somehow tainted by and demonstrated a "lack of principles" accepting either support or small donations from developers and property owners is both unfair and unreasonable. This IS politics and I am simply happy to know who the donors are and how much they gave. Individuals can then decide how that impacts their personal vote. Expecting developers, realtors, businesses to stay out of a political fight is naive.

Why have you not been similarly outraged by many of the personal attacks aimed at Measure M opponents?

Elizabeth, our City Manager has rebutted Heyward's claim so your protest is unfounded.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Scott Lohmann, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Yep, I'm still a NO on M. And I really appreciate when people like "formerly undecided..." chimes in with some excellent questions, and some great reference material. The article that is connected to the web link is enlightening and I would hope is considered for the site. Even something somewhat resembling this type of incubator, would be fantastic for our town. The actual facts remain, the same group that flattened the Derry Project, and the same group that supports the council candidate that hurt our chances to do something with the State Theater, is behind SaveMenlo. If you want further blight, vote yes. If you FINALLY want development that would fix the blight, and drive tax revenue sooner, rather than several years from now...VOTE NO ON M.(The Derry Project has now been a non-tax revenue producer for now almost 8 years?)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by more fact checking, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 4:16 pm

"our City Manager has rebutted Heyward's claim so your protest is unfounded."

I'd say her claim is founded based on the email communications that were revealed between Smith and Brandell. Whether it was in the contract or not, Staff was using Mr Smith's services to sway the public. And yes, it would be helpful for everyone to actually see that contract, which for some reason the City declined to produce to Mr. Robinson.

The Grand Jury will sort this mess out and in the meantime we can expect more denials from City staff.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Tom Flaherty, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Mr. Jones, get a grip on reality, You put trust in newspapers? Newspapers have no unusual expertise in these matters. A stooge is simply in a position to disseminate information, and with bias.

This Malcolm Smith matter plainly stinks. There's much more to this matter than people now know. That plus Greenheart's conduct is all the more reason that we need to have Measure M in place.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by S. Simonson, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Elizabeth H. Agree with you 100%. The City Council and the City of Menlo Park have acted unwisely and with massive conflicts of interest. This will make attorneys drool, especially if measure M does not win. It's in all citizens best interests to vote YES on measure M.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" The City Council and the City of Menlo Park have acted unwisely and with massive conflicts of interest. This will make attorneys drool, especially if measure M does not win"

Here they go again - there is no endpoint for the Save Menlo/Stop Menlo folks.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by John Silverberg, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 10:49 pm

Chuck Jones:

Yes or no on M is not an easy decision.

Yes, growth will be accompanied by more traffic, but the mix of the growth affects traffic differently. More office creates more commuter rush hour traffic, when traffic is the worst already. More retail creates more daily trips but these are more local and spread through the day.

Citywide votes should be infrequent for a 30-year plan.

So, I'm voting in favor of M.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Tom Flaherty, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Nov 3, 2014 at 11:54 pm

"The City Council and the City of Menlo Park have acted unwisely and with massive conflicts of interest. This will make attorneys drool, especially if measure M does not win."

Thanks, Simonson. You are right on!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by formerly undecided on M, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 11:40 am

@Tom Flaherty

".. With massive conflicts of interest".

Please define what conflicts of interest. Was there a documentible quid pro quo. - or is this in your imagination?

Enough with the baseless accusations.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Tom Flaherty, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Hey Undecided. I wish the accusations were completely baseless. Menlo Park is already backtracking.

Anyway, voted a healthy YES on M .

Hope M wins so our city improves the proper way.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Menlo Park is already backtracking."

Hardly, a baseless accusations was made and it has been refuted.

Where is your contrary evidence?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Chancey Willworth, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Yet another reason to VOTE YES ON MEASURE M.






Daily Post Nov 3 2014

City Paid PR man for M messaging

By Bill Silverfarb
Daily Post Staff Writer

Menlo Park paid a public relations consultant more than $5,000 to draft language for its website about Measure M ? language that the initiatives supporters say is biased.

The consultant, Malcolm Smith, also proposed that the city draft talking
points for City Council members, opinion pieces and letters to the editor. But those ideas were rejected because they went "too far," City Manager Alex McIntyre told the Post yesterday.

"His work was mostly for the website. I'm not sure he did anything else. To my knowledge, he didn't," McIntyre said about Smith, who sent a proposal for communication services in March.

Supporters of Measure M. which proposes to limit the construction of new offices in the city's El Camino Real-Downtown Specific Plan area, have said for months that the city's overview of the initiative on the city's website is biased and is meant to sway voters from approving it on tomorrow's ballot.

The consultant's work is proof that the city has not taken a neutral stance on the controversial ballot measure, said former Mayor Heyward Robinson, a leader of the Yes-on-M campaign.

"The city has bent over backward to appear neutral while at the same time messaging against Measure M," Robinson said.

Smith sent a proposal for communications services to the city in early March and was cut his first check for $2,325 on April 28, according to city documents.

In his proposal, Smith said he could help the city inform the public about the "value and importance of continuing with the existing plan" adopted by council in 2012.

Proposal revealed through records request

The city released the consultant's proposal and a series of emails between Smith and the city's Senior Planner Thomas Rogers and Community Services Director Cherise Brandell on Oct. 30 to Robinson, who made a public records request for the information Aug. 29, Robinson told the Post yesterday.

Smith was the communications director for Redwood City for 12 years until 2013 but now contracts with that city for communications services.

Smith wrote in his proposal that talking points for council and staff, opinion pieces and letters to the editor should all be part of the city's communication goals related to Measure M.

Smith said messages could be developed to refute the arguments the initiative's backers are using to revise the Specific Plan.

Measure M is opposed by all five members of the current council.

Smith wrote in his proposal that a key message would be to highlight how Measure M "would set an economically chilling precedent for requiring a vote on future projects, dramatically slowing the pace of potential development and improvements."

As far as the language on the city's website, Robinson said much of it is skewed in favor of the Specific Plan and against the proposals of Measure M.

The initiative simply defines that private balconies cannot be counted as open space as the Specific Plan allows and caps a limit on the total amount of office space that can be built.

Unintendend ripple effects

"Open space that is calculated only at ground-level would likely affect the feasibility of some, if not all, developments, and could result in unintended ripple effects (e.g., if more ground-level area is required to be dedicated to landscaping, it may effectively encourage/require taller buildings)," Smith writes on the website.

Robinson said Smith, however, fails to recognize in his overview the potential benefits of ground-level open space such as less massing of buildings and larger public gathering areas.

Early last month, Menlo Park resident George Fisher asked that the city retract the Measure M language on the website.

Fisher previously served as a neighborhood representative to sit down with Stanford officials about their plans to build offices, housing and stores on El Camino before the council formed a subcommittee to negotiate with Stanford on the project.

Fisher says that Smith's assertion on the website about how "all non-residential" uses have the same impact on the city is false.

"It's a complete misstatement," Fisher said.

Retail, office and hotels have different impacts, especially related to traffic, he said.

A city can make fair statements and educate the voter about the initiative but it hasn't done so in the case of Measure M, said Fisher, a 40-year resident of the city.

Smith is no longer contracting with the city, McIntyre said.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by formerly undecided on M, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 9:02 pm

@Tom Flaherty

I don't see evidence of the city backtracking. What are you referring to? A quote from the city manager? Anything?

Basically I see the city saying the guy did a website - which would have required time to read M and the DSP - solicit input from the hiring person - testing - maybe software compatibility with existing city files. Easily a week of work.

It would be interesting to know who hired Malcom Smith - what process was used to review the work.

Before you accuse me of working for the city - I dont. I'm a retired hardware engineer.

I just like facts not innuendo.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Kingston Jamison, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Don't know how the vote is going on this Measure M. Hope it passes, but if Menlo citizens make a mistake and more than 50% fail to approve it, there are at least two good things.

1. The city council will be much more careful now and

2. We can renew a Measure next year to correct the mistakes which will be made because M is not in place.

Let us just hope M wins.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Nov 4, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
0 minutes ago
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
At 11 PM here are the results with 23 0f 25 precincts reporting:
Measure Votes By Mail Early Voting Election Day Grand Total Votes
YES (37.23%)
1,328 16 1,054 2,398
NO (62.77%) *
2,320 33 1,690 4,043

Measure M will be defeated.

We now have the challenge of coming together as a community to build a better Menlo Park.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Kingston Jamison, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 12:46 am

Sad voting results. Most of the NO votes were purchased. Menlo will now go downhill. Be prepared for legal action , referendums, long public comments, litigation, etc.

The yes on M people should be happy, because the no on M people are the losers.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 7:08 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Kingston:

what a baseless accusation. My vote certainly wasn't "purchased." None of the people that I know that voted against M had their vote "purchased."

And you're right about the lawsuits. I fully expect the pro M crowd to be filing suit any day now. They've shown themselves to be nothing more than obstructionists. Fortunately a majority of voters figured that out.

Sounds like sour grapes from the pro M crowd. You lost. It's time to move on.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 7:23 am

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

@Kingston

SaveMenlo outspent Menlo Park Deserves better 10 to 1 (SaveMenlo Spent ~$100,000 and Menlo Park Deserves Better spent ~$10,000) so I am not sure where you get your data. We were both community lead organizations.

Menlo Park and it's residents were the winners here in the long-term.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by formerly undecided on M, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 7:42 am

@Kingston Jamison

Wow my vote was bought?!?! That's news to me. Do you know when I can expect the check. How much is it? <sarcasm mode off>.

Seriously - do you think you win points by insulting almost 2/3 of the voters. You guys need a campaign advisor. I highly suggest "charm offensive" - as opposed to insults.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Nov 5, 2014 at 10:48 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As I posted yesterday before the results were known, here is what I hope happens and what I will work for:

1 - A collaborative effort with all of the concerned citizens to reaffirm their support for the deliberative process of the Specific Plan and the efforts of the Planning Commission and the City Council,

2 - An outreach to Stanford and Greenheart to submit revised proposals that reflect the outcome of the election,

3 - A commitment by both Save Menlo and Menlo Park Deserves Better to serve as a positive forces moving forward by encouraging dialogue and collaboration.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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