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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Correcting Some Misstatements in the Weekly Editorial and op ed Today

Uploaded: Feb 3, 2017
I am a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) and I attended the council meeting Monday night and watched more at home.

Before I get to the editorial and op ed I want to mention three achievements Monday night.

One was the mayor’s decision to allow public speakers first. Second was the large turnout (24 I think) who came mostly to speak for more housing and choices and for flexibility in thinking about our path to 2030. Third was the positive engagement between council and representatives from Stanford on the possibilities on Stanford land in the city for more housing and transportation demand management success.

With regard to the editorial and op ed, the charge that the council overturned a CAC consensus is FALSE. From attending CAC meetings to reading the staff report it is clear that the CAC while showing many areas of agreement sent the council OPTIONS in six areas because there was NO consensus. These are

Cumulative cap
Annual limit
Housing sites
Building heights (for housing or mixed housing /retail projects)
Downtown cap
Development requirements
Child care (yes/no in neighborhood centers)

The cap choices referred to limits on various types of commercial development

Let’s start with building heights. There was NO CAC consensus, which is why choices were brought to council. In fact a majority of the CAC favored some exceptions to the height limit. The idea that the CAC favored retaining the 50 foot limit in all cases is FALSE.

So the council seeing no clear majority took the issues out of the Comp Plan so there could be MORE not less debate as resident positions are changing as council member Wolbach noted when he said he wanted to hear more from the community.

P.S. The vote here was 6-3 not 5-4 with council member Filseth joining the majority.

On housing sites after removing Town and Country from the Comp Plan list for housing the council voted either 8-1 or 9-0 to support the CAC recommendation again undermining both the assertion that the CAC was ignored and the FALSE implication that most votes were 5-4.

The Weekly or staff would do a service by tabulating the number of times each vote margin occurred.

With regard to performance standards a large majority of the CAC, after hearing from a subcommittee on this issue, decided that these standards were not ready now if ever for inclusion in the Comp Plan and again the council honored the majority CAC view.

The CAC did have a strong consensus (no vote was unanimous) that the cumulative cap was okay to approve and again the council supported the CAC.

There was a wide difference of opinion on the CAC as in the community about the merits of the other caps in handling impacts as opposed to focusing attention on all developments in terms, say, of reducing parking demand and car use. So the council left debate and decision on most of these issues for later as the ordinances come before council. Since there is no consensus in the community the council decided to hear more debate as the issues come up again. This is hardly “stifling” debate.

In the votes that I saw there were many more votes that were not 5-4 than 5-4 votes. I saw council members Filseth, Kniss, Scharff, Fine, Wolbach and Tanaka takes views that were “crossover” votes. And many votes were nearly unanimous.

With regard to deleting programs the council followed the procedure they used with the S/CAP in focusing on high level policies in a plan that goes to 2030 and addressing programs separately.

Readers should not confuse a disagreement on the direction of the city with false assertions that the council overturned policy consensus (it did not), that most votes were 5-4 (they were not) and that issues left out of the Comp Plan in direction to council Monday are unimportant and have disappeared from council attention (they have not).
What is it worth to you?


Posted by True Residentialist, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 3, 2017 at 4:57 pm


Thanks for setting the record straight. Are you suggesting that the CAC itself was full of conflict, and that the Council actually did its job by making some decisions after hearing public input? Crazy! Recall them now!

Posted by Downtown Grandma, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 3, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Thank you Mr Levy for setting the record straight. I think the editorial by Mr. DuBois was a clear effort to try to polarize our community where there is actually a lot more consensus than not. Not sure why Mr. DuBois felt the need to offer "alternative facts".
I've gone to many CAC meetings and watch the Council deliberations on TV and felt that the meeting last Monday evening was a great attempt to offer flexibility to the Comp Plan and actually found the different votes refreshing in that there weren't that many 5-4 votes.
I think Mr. DuBois should clarify or retract his editorial - and if he doesn't then the editorial board should. There's no place for "alternative facts" in Palo Alto.

Posted by Popcorn and public access, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Feb 3, 2017 at 7:06 pm

I was watching from home too and agree that the Weekly's reporting was completely off. Everyone should go back and watch the tape because what I saw was a Council that was more functional and less divisive than in recent past. DuBois' editorial reads simply as setting the stage for a reelection campaign and doesn't represent what actually transpired. Thank you Steve Levy for setting the record straight!

Posted by Thanks to the new council, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 3, 2017 at 7:09 pm

The op-ed by Mr. Dubois is really absurd. He complains about the "undermining of democracy?"

-- He, Ms. Holman, Mr. Filseth and Ms. Kou upturned decades of precedent by campaigning as a "slate", which led to this year's polarizing election (where that same gang received $130K from 5 local families, further undermining our democratic process).
-- After personally complaining about the composition of the PTC and CAC, he and his erstwhile majority packed both bodies with their allies.
-- After survey after survey indicated that Palo Alto's most pressing problem is the cost of housing, he and his "slate" kept housing off the agenda for two years
-- Now, he writes a misleading op-ed complaining about being on the losing side of several land-use related votes

I am so thankful that someone is keeping track and setting the record straight. Furthermore, I am happy that this council appears to be serious about drafting a Comprehensive Plan that will serve us well in the future.

Posted by Another true Palo Alto Residentialist, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Feb 3, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Thank you Mr. Levy, for your clarity and courage. You were a true direct witness to what occurs at the CAC and Mr. Dubois was not and yet makes grand statements about what the CAC does and the Comprehensive Plan is or was meant to be. Not acceptable on his part. I thought the "Opinion" by Mr. DuBois was horribly polarizing and full of invective for no good reason. I also reacted by thinking "alternate facts". If he disagrees with a position of his fellow Councilmen and Council women, and feels he is not getting his way, he could do so with rational, civil discourse. Instead he blasts insults,, personal attacks at those who don't agree with him. Truly unnecessary Mr. DuBois. Don't create a civil war or provoke just to get attention.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 4, 2017 at 12:26 am

It always amazes me that people can't see any viewpoint other than their own. Two people watching the same events unfold see totally different things occurring depending upon their perspective. (portion removed) Ask yourself ... Do you think people would be upset about what happened at the council meeting if all the decisions made were totally reasonable and ideologically neutral?

(portion removed)

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 4, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Disagreeing with statements is not equivalent to correcting misstatements. To be honest, you are only contrasting your judgements against the editorialist's judgements.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 4, 2017 at 1:10 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@Dan and Curmudgeon

There is what is called the Rashomon effect named after the famous 1950 movie by Akira Kurosawa that tells the different perceptions of people viewing the same event.

So people can disagree on whether the meeting members were reckless hijackers.


My blog is mostly about facts that were misstated such as

The council overturned a CAC consensus. That is contradicted by the CAC meetings and by the fact that the CAC offered CHOICES on key items to the council. If there was consensus there would have been no need for choices. So that charge is FALSE on the facts.

The charge that the CAC favored keeping the 50 foot height limit is FALSE on the facts. The most votes were given to choices that favored some exceptions to the height limit.

The charge that votes were mainly 5-4 is FALSE on the facts including the vote I cited where removing the height limit from the Comp Plan was 6-3 with council member Filseth joining the majority and the many 8-1 and 9-0 votes.

Similarly the charge that the CAC had a consensus favoring specific performance requirements and that the council disrespected the CAC work by eliminating them is FALSE on the record.

These are not disagreements on the behavior of members> these are as stated corrections of inaccurate factual allegations.

Disagreements will remain about the best course for the city to take but these are different issues from correcting what actually was the CAC position on the issues voted on Monday and incorrectly characterizing the number of times the votes were 5-4.

It is also true that on most land use policies the CAC was in consensus and their recommendations were adopted. On Monday the areas where there was no consensus were the focus of the meeting as was appropriate since the areas of agreement did not need to be discussed at length.

Not liking the outcome of a vote or meeting is different from and should not be confused with blaming or mis characterizing the process.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 4, 2017 at 1:22 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I have deleted comments about the best approach to growth in Palo Alto. That is another topic and I am happy to write another blog on that topic.

This blog is about Monday's meeting and the Weekly editorial and op ed.

A portion of Dan's comment and Curmudgeon's comment speak to that issue and remain posted.

A portion of Dan's comment that was deleted speculated on the motives and actions of some council members about future decisions. Another post was completely off topic and has been posted probably 40 times on the main Weekly Town Square.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 4, 2017 at 5:01 pm

"There is what is called the Rashomon effect named after the famous 1950 movie by Akira Kurosawa that tells the different perceptions of people viewing the same event."

Precisely. That's why I contest the claim of divine objectivity implied by your "Correcting Some Misstatements..." phraseology in this thread's headline. As your movie citation illustrates, it is unjustifiable.

Posted by Mark Michael, a resident of Community Center,
on Feb 7, 2017 at 8:00 am

Steve, thanks for your public service on the CAC (and IBRC) and for clarifying the recommendations and options that the CAC submitted to Council. Alternative facts and polarization should be avoided wherever and whenever they arise. Doing the hard work of long term planning is challenging enough without dragging the public into the mud. It is interesting to observe the elusive nature of a Vision to carry the city through 2030 that acknowledges the inevitability of certain changes that are happening all around Palo Alto. Perhaps the Council agenda should begin with public engagement and vigorous debate about the Vision, rather than dancing around the central question and leaving it for last.

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 7, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I think we're on the right track. Keep things that could change, for good reasons, out of the Comprehensive Plan. Let current conditions prevail as direction CC should take on many issues going forward. Identifying specific programs like they are cast in concrete shouldn't be the purpose of the Comprehensive Plan in my opinion. Flexibility is required. I often wonder what value there is in having a Comprehensive Plan. Hasn't the current one been violated many times?

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of North Whisman,
on Feb 8, 2017 at 4:08 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I mentioned this before: If you want to see examples of forward thinking and ways to handle both an aging population and provide housing for the future, Englewood, Colorado might give everyone a chance to see how this planning actually works! Using Google, you can learn how long the future planning started and how things unfolded. Their planning WORKED. And you can see the Mountains to the West....

Posted by Jeff, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 10, 2017 at 11:20 am

I attended a few CAC meetings and agree that it offered diversity of opinion rather than some illusory consensus that was later sabotaged. By the way, even 5-4 votes are still a democratic majority and I did not understand Councilmember Dubois' comment that democracy was shanghaied. A majority is a majority.

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