News


Purpose of Bohannon polls questioned

 

A polling effort by land developer David Bohannon has elicited "grave concern" from some Menlo Park city officials, and little more than a shrug from others.

Questions about what Mr. Bohannon is trying to accomplish in a second round of public opinion polling -- and about what impact, if any, the poll will have on continuing closed-door negotiations over a million-square-foot office/hotel complex proposed by his development company -- were the subject of about 45 minutes of discussion at the City Council's Jan. 12 meeting.

In an interview, Mr. Bohannon portrayed the effort, featuring phone surveys and focus groups, as an extension of an earlier survey on his project. He said he wants to "talk to people directly" about new issues that have been raised, specifically regarding the project's greenhouse gas emissions.

A handful of residents, most prominently former council member Paul Collacchi, have pressed the council to force Mr. Bohannon's company to offset the project's emissions -- a view that seems to have gained traction among some council members.

Mr. Bohannon said he is also trying to prepare for the possibility of a referendum.

Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson and Councilman Andy Cohen, who constitute the council's subcommittee on the project, said they met with Mr. Bohannon Jan. 12 to express "grave concern" about the most recent polling effort. Ms. Fergusson said she worries that Mr. Bohannon will use the results of the poll to exert pressure on the City Council, or that he will use them to determine whether he wants to circumvent the council altogether and take the proposal directly to voters in a ballot initiative.

"These activities really could be used to undermine the negotiations," Ms. Fergusson said. "This kind of information could be used to go around the council, and it could be used to apply pressure to us to compromise in a way that we feel is not in the best interests of Menlo Park."

Ms. Fergusson said she encouraged anyone who takes the survey to write down the questions verbatim, saying she doesn't trust Mr. Bohannon and the pollster he hired to accurately report the survey's methods.

Asked if he wanted to comment on concerns voiced by Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Cohen, Mr. Bohannon said, "Not really. ... I thought the other council members did a good job of dealing with it."

Noting that the council receives plenty of petitions -- business interests who oppose plans for a revamped downtown have informally polled hundreds of people over the past few months, for example -- Councilman John Boyle asked why this one seemed exceptional. Mayor Rich Cline said he would expect any business to try to control the conversation around such a proposal.

Still, the fact that the poll is being conducted in the midst of the negotiations didn't sit well with Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Cohen. Given the scope of Mr. Bohannon's outreach efforts, Mr. Cohen suggested that the city conduct its own poll.

Mr. Bohannon maintained that a ballot initiative is not in his plans, at least not at the moment. Morris Brown, who led a 2006 referendum campaign that Mr. Bohannon says provided much of the impetus for the poll, said he has no intention of waging another such campaign.

But the possibility that the issue would be decided by popular vote hung over the council discussion. Mr. Boyle said the city would be well-positioned to defeat an initiative, in the unlikely event that Mr. Bohannon launches one.

"You're thinking we could win such a campaign?" Ms. Fergusson asked.

"I'm thinking, if we can't, we should be embarrassed," Mr. Boyle replied.

Comments

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Posted by citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Fergusson and Cohen need to resign if they think they have a monopoly on asssessing and influencing public opinion. I'm gravely concerned about their understanding of democracy.


Like this comment
Posted by realist
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 24, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Citizen, want to reread the article? They aren't trying to monopolize anything; rather, they are pointing out Bohannon's efforts to subvert the negotiations. I am proud that our volunteer council members are not afraid to speak up. Some councils would be too cowed by the power and influence that accompanies great wealth to dare state the truth.

I agree with John Boyle; if Bohannon get this on the ballot, he will be crushed. He's already irritating everyone in town with his incessant polling, telephoning people dozens of times in one day.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2010 at 10:39 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"These activities really could be used to undermine the negotiations," Ms. Fergusson said. "This kind of information could be used to go around the council, and it could be used to apply pressure to us to compromise in a way that we feel is not in the best interests of Menlo Park."

Democracy means giving everyone the opportunity to be informed and to express their wishes. The Council was elected by the citizens to represent the citizens' interests not to do their own thing.

Council members should welcome a better informed citizenry and Mr. Bohannon is contributing to that process. If Mr. Bohannon's contribution is self serving and not balanced then others should speak up to provide the balance.

Once elected officials start quashing the right of anyone to speak up we are all in trouble.


Like this comment
Posted by realist
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Bohannon is trying to manipulate the citizenry, not inform them. There is a difference. And Kelly isn't trying to gag anyone, so get over your first amendment histrionics. The problem with Kelly is that she doesn't seem to fully realize that her constituents aren't idiots. Bohannon's heavy-handed methods are raising red flags for a lot of people, and he can't buy enough perfume to transform this pig of a project.

Kelly would be smarter to insist that she be allowed to sit in on the negotiations. Our city council will be remiss if they do not have a single delegate in the room with Bohannon and Rojas.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Realist states :"Bohannon is trying to manipulate the citizenry, not inform them."

One person's propaganda is another's truth. Each individual should be trusted to decide what to believe and what not believe - it is not the job of elected officials to "shield" the citizens from information.

If elected officials don't trust the citizens to make good decisions then it is the elected officials who are wrong.


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Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Well said Peter. Kelly (and sometimes Andy), with the help of Paul Collachi, have historically manipulated information to match their agenda. They know how effective it is. Let the two camps of manipulators balance each other.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Preamble to the Brown Act says it all:
"The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know."

And Council Member Boyle is correct - if the Council cannot counter Bohannon's information "I'm thinking, if we can't, we should be embarrassed," Mr. Boyle replied.


Like this comment
Posted by Just Wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 25, 2010 at 9:23 pm

So, Peter, I take it you're "on board" with the Supreme Court's ruling letting corporations and the like spend gobs of money putting forth their version of the truth?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Just wondering stated:"I take it you're "on board" with the Supreme Court's ruling letting corporations and the like spend gobs of money putting forth their version of the truth?"

Good question - why don't you start a new discussion on that issue?


Like this comment
Posted by Gunslinger
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2010 at 9:07 am

Just don't let them push poll anyone. You know, asking broad, assumptive and buzzword-driven phrases that do as much to manipulate as to ask a question


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

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