Menlo candidates campaign at forum


The council chamber was half full Wednesday night, Sept. 29, as the candidates for Menlo Park City Council took turns answering six questions submitted by the audience. The League of Women Voters hosted the event, which ran a good deal shorter than most interminable council meetings.

Incumbents Rich Cline and Heyward Robinson, along with educator Chuck Bernstein, Menlo Park Fire Protection District board president Peter Ohtaki, Planning Commissioner Kirsten Keith, and wildcard entrant Russell Peterson fielded questions.

Before the forum began at 7 p.m., residents milled around outside the chamber, visiting with candidates and picking up campaign fliers. Former mayor Gail Slocum urged people to vote for Mr. Cline and Mr. Robinson, and also suggested taking a close look at Ms. Keith. Doing his part to keep the forum lively, Mr. Robinson was overheard coaching a member of the audience on questions "someone has to ask."

After the candidates got a few moments to enjoy the view from the dais, the moderator presented questions about the city budget, the downtown specific plan, climate change, lack of collegiality on the current council, whether decisions should be made via ballot measures, and, of course, high-speed rail.

High-speed rail, downtown plan

Mr. Peterson, well known for his opposition to high-speed rail, declared, "There is a god!" when he got the chance to respond first to a question about how much time candidates were willing to devote to the issue, and how they would demonstrate the impacts of the project to residents.

He, along with every other candidate, went on to explain why he thinks the current high-speed rail plan should be derailed.

In an evening filled with generalities, Ms. Keith proved willing to offer specific proposals. She proposed raising the utility tax on gas, water, and electricity from 1 percent, citing Palo Alto's 5 percent as an example, to help balance the budget. She also put forth electrifying Caltrain tracks from San Jose to San Francisco instead of building high-speed rail.

Mr. Bernstein, whose voice boomed across the chamber, displayed the most passion in his responses, and did not hesitate to attack. Declaring the amount paid for the study that led to the downtown specific plan "shameful," he said, "I don't like what I've seen of the plan. I don't think I can even call it a plan. Parking garages -- who's going to pay for them?"

Mr. Peterson disliked allowing five-story buildings on El Camino Real, while Mr. Ohtaki suggested focusing first on attracting new businesses to empty lots and storefront. He pledged to fill the empty lots on El Camino Real if elected.

The remaining three candidates reiterated their support for the plan.

Ballot measures

A potentially controversial question about whether the council should make decisions instead of leaving items like pension reform (otherwise known as Measure L) and the Bohannon Gateway (Measure T) up to voters didn't stir up much discord. All six candidates agreed that ballot measures, while less than ideal, are sometimes necessary.

"If you were to ask me when I was first running, I would've said, 'no, absolutely not, you need to be a leader,'" Mr. Cline said. But he added that now he's realized some projects have a large enough impact that voters should decide. "Though the council should still take stand and vote on it. We did vote on Gateway."


At least one audience member wondered whether future council members could get along better than the current ones.

Ms. Keith pointed to six years of Planning Commission meetings and a broad base of support as proof that she knows how to work collaboratively. Mr. Ohtaki drew upon his experience with the diverse backgrounds of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District directors, suggesting that setting priorities can minimize internecine squabbles.

For Mr. Bernstein, the answer is simple. "It starts by talking to people, speaking clearly, frankly, directly, being honest, and above all, having respect for other people."

Distinguished from the other candidates by his lack of experience in holding a political office, Mr. Peterson said he'd stay focused on the issue and move on despite disagreement.

The incumbents, of course, have several years' worth of council meetings to demonstrate their working styles, as Mayor Cline said. Mr. Robinson stated he believes the council is less divided now than it was when he was first elected in 2006.

Climate change

Once again, the candidates found common ground, concurring that approving Proposition 23, which would freeze reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in California until unemployment drops 7 percent, is not a step in the right direction.

Discussion veered toward Menlo Gateway after Mr. Bernstein declared the current council hypocritical for approving what he regards as a non-green project. Ms. Keith, the planning commissioner, and Councilman Robinson countered by referring to the project's potential LEEDS certification and carbon-neutral status.

Instant replay

Video of the voters forum will be replayed on public access television, and also be available soon via, according to the organizers.

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Like this comment
Posted by Eyewitness
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

This news report's coverage of the WORDS used by Chuck Bernstein in his answer on "collegiality" completely missed the tone that everyone in the room observed on almost all of his answers. He spent a lot of time SHOUTING and his comments were ascerbic far too often. Thus, there was uncomfortable soft laughter in the room when he was the first to get the question on collegiality given the stridency of his prior answers.

That Bernstein does not seemt o be tempermentally suited to serving on our Council was voiced after the debate by an average citizen I chatted about how she thought it went. She stated she'd firmed up her decision to vote for Robinson and Cline and liked what they had to say and how they handled themselves, and agreed that we need their regional connections and experience to make a difference on getting High Speed Rail right among other things. But she then ephatically stated she was SURE who she would NOT be voting for -- Berstein. Too much of a hot head, she said. I have to agree.

So it's down to whether people prefer Ohaki to Keith for the third seat.

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Posted by andy cohen
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 30, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Despite some bad press here and elsewhere, Chuck Bernstein is a viable candidate, if for no other reason, because he is the ultimate honest, frank speaker in a world of hype. Don't minimize the need for honesty in a venue where most of the time one cannot be sure where people are really coming from. You will never catch Bernstein putting lipstick on a pig!

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Posted by Outside Looking In
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 1:59 pm

1 of 2 posts

Hands down, Ohtaki was the winner tonight! Bernstein was a close second!

Synopsis of the debate:

1) Ohtaki was clearly the expert on finances and disaster preparedness. He was articulate, calm, and factual. He understands setting priorities, instead of "micromanaging the size of a lawn." He is the only candidate with financial expertise and disaster preparedness and relief experience.

2) Bernstein was very passionate. He has a high level of integrity and a strong moral compass. His presence was definitely felt, and he seemed to channel the outrage people have toward politicians who do things to fulfill their political ambitions.

3) Keith is like a mini-Kelly Fergusson. Mary Gilles hit the nail on the head about the ridiculous solution of raising the UUT to pay City personnel! The UUT was already controversial enough and should not be used to sustain an unsustainable budget. At least, she was honest, but still... caveat emptor!

4) Peterson was entertaining but is not serious candidate in my book. He gave big kudos to Ohtaki when he emphasized the need to prioritize issues and focus on them.

5) Cline & Robinson, aka Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, couldn't really name any achievements "their" Councils could be proud of. In fact, Robinson admitted that Cline's Council would have to "take credit" for the success of previous Councils, such as the development of the Rosewood Hotel. Wow! I guess, that goes to show you they really didn't do much in four years. Measure T is on the ballot, but Mr. Bohannon's project is still not done!

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Looking In
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 2:00 pm

2 of 2 posts

Empty promises by the incumbents--

Four years ago, one of Cline's priorities was to "end slate politics" and to "restore honest and open government": Web Link. Looking back on the last four years, 2/3 of Cline's priorities were not done. He has engaged in "slate politics" to the max-- just look at all the 4-1 and 3-2 votes over the last four years!

As for open and honest government... remember the time Cline violated the Brown by calling an illegal, closed, and unnoticed meeting of the Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC) with the CA High Speed Rail Authority as noted in early July. This Brown Act violation is a result two possible situations: 1) Cline knowing violated the Brown and thought it would be easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission, and/or 2) Cline did not understand the Brown Act, although I’m sure he, like all elected officials, received Brown Act training. Whatever the scenario is, Cline is unqualified to be on the Council and certainly does NOT deserve another four years!

Where does one begin with Robinson? Besides serious anger management issues, I don’t know what other thing he’s been known for during his time on the Council, except believing that he would actually be elected to a regional seat on the MTC. HA! He lost because he reputation on a regional level is horrible. He is viewed by council lmembers of other City Councils as a crazy person!

However, let’s get down to his priorities from 2006… he wanted to “invigorate Menlo Park’s economy.” (Web Link) Taking credit for another Council’s work does not fulfill this priority! Besides endorsing Measure T, what exactly has he done to “invigorate Menlo Park’s economy?” Under “Mayor Robinson,” Sun Microsystems/Oracle left Menlo Park. To not know about this and then be reactive because of burdensome regulations is not “invigorating Menlo Park’s economy.” The list goes on and on.

Peter Ohtaki is the only candidate with financial expertise and experience in balancing a government budget. He is also the only candidate who is qualified and trained to put together a real disaster preparedness plan and deal with disasters.

Bottom line… vote for Ohtaki and Bernstein. Don’t know who #3 is, but it probably shouldn’t be anyone who is line with Kelly Fergusson, otherwise, you will have more dysfuncationality on the Council. Perhaps, voters should write-in their own names-- anyone would be better than the incumbents, for sure!

Like this comment
Posted by Mary Gilles
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Couple of comments about Chuck Bernstein's passionate remarks. He is an excellent orator and outshone everyone in his delivery. He is someone worth listening to. He states his arguments with facts, is articulate and convincing. It is entirely refreshing to hear someone actually show some passion about issues with which he/she doesn't agree. Clearly, Bernstein, Ohtaki and Peterson are running because they are not particularly happy with what has been going on at city hall and they let us know last night. Kirsten sounds like a buddy of the incumbents and actually proposes raising taxes to help fix the budget. If the residents don't take this opportunity to say no to incumbents or folks who consider raising taxes (instead of scaling back on government expenses), then we are lost. Bernstein, Ohtaki and Peterson are strict fiscal conservatives and this, above all else, is what Menlo Park needs.

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Posted by eyes wide open
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Dear Outside Looking In,

Please elaborate on the "mini-Kelly Fergusson" comment. I realize they are both women, but I'd love a more detailed explanation. Is Ohtaki a "mini-Boyle"? Are there other "mini-" candidates we should be concerned about? Does this mean people that like Fergusson will like her also, just not as much, or that she has the same ideas, but only a subset?

True, the best way to sustain an unsustainable budget is to spend less. If you were asked this question, I assume you would propose some cuts. You are not "on the spot" like the candidates were, you have all the time you need to do research, and propose something. What cuts would you propose?

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Sep 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Menlo Park, these posts you see are prime example of what happens when rats get in the floor boards. They cannot be seen often, but you can hear them scratching around. They will run and scurry away when confronted, they will eat away the foundation of the house and they will leave you will nothing but waste.

These are the old school politicians of the past.

Mary, Hank, Morris, and the old, scared anonymous posters all combined. I know the Almanac will edit this, because they only allow the insults to hit a few electeds, when there are so many worse things said in this forum.

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment, personal attack]

Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 30, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.


You have to be kidding me! To complain about anonymous posters when you have NEVER used your real name is laughable if not insulting.

Chuck Bernstein was the ONLY person to implore the current council to NOT increase pensions on that fateful night four years ago, when they gave the SEIU & AFSCME the keys to the bank vault. His fiscal conservative credentials are easily witness in his interactions when he was on the budget committee (disbanded by the council) and in speaking to the council at various times. So I am not sure what you are jabbering about but he is the real deal.

Peter Ohtaki is the ONLY candidate with extensive experience in negotiating with public emlpoyees and improving the city's position. His work at the Fire Protection District has been praised by EVERYONE he worked with (go ask them, I did). His deep financial background make him indispensable to Menlo Park getting back on a solid financial footing. He is EXACTLY what this city needs. Someone who wants to do something, not talk about it 9for hours and hours at council meetings), but actually DO IT!

You will not find two more reputable candidates to take this city into the future.

Roy Thiele-Sardina

Like this comment
Posted by Virginia Chang Kiraly
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Sep 30, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Totally agree w/you, Roy!

Hands down, Peter and Chuck were the best last night! They deserve to be on the Council. Vote for Peter and Chuck!

Like this comment
Posted by You have to be kidding
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 30, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Shoudl we be surprised that the same Andy Cohen that has repeatedly been criticized for attacking/emotional outbursts that he often later "regrets" and tries to backpeddal on is enamored of Chuck Bernstein who last night showed once again the kind of acerbic yelling we have seen on many other occations when he has appeared before the Council. WHether or not you agree with Chuck B's substantive points, this is really NOT the kind of approach that works on the council as we can plainly see with Andy.

Ohtaki should be running from Bernstein as fast as he can. Instead he is giving his fliers to Berstein's people and having them handed out with No on T fliers too even though Ohtaki told people privately he supports T.

Ohtaki - which is it??? DO you endorse Measure T or not -- or are you playing coy just to get the Bernstein's and Cohen's of the world to distribute your literature for you?

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Posted by And the winners are
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Were you people watching the same debate as I was? There is no doubt that "Eyewitness" had it right.

Cline and Robinson won the debate, with a toss up between Ohtaki and Keith.

And for sure the biggest loser was Bernstein, who showed his true colors with his needlessly shrill and loud approach, revealing quite a hostile demeanor.

I can't imagine how dysfunctional the Council woudl be with Andy Cohen sitting up there with Bernstein. Heaven help us.

Actually we can help ourselves by not voting for Bernstein!

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Posted by fact checker
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 30, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Dear you have to be kidding,
There has been someone on the council with anger management problems - or have we forgotten the Sheeper-Burgess Pool discussion?
Therefore, Heyward, don't cast stones when you live in a glass house.

Heyward Robinson is not emotionally or psychologically fit to be in public office.

Like this comment
Posted by Thanks Mary!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Mary Gilles says: Bernstein, Ohtaki and Peterson

Thus my votes will be: Cline, Robinson and Keith!

Thanks for the "voter guide" Mary!

Like this comment
Posted by Thanks Mary!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Oh, and by the way, Bernstein in particular isn't fit to be a dog-catcher.

I'm amazed he's in the child care biz - no way I'd ever send a kid to his outfit!

Like this comment
Posted by Astroturf
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm

The fake groundswell for Chuck is soooooo convincing.

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Posted by Outside Looking In
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm

To Thanks Mary!:
Last night, Robinson blew his top again when he accused Bernstein of "shouting at all of us." My impression was that Bernstein wasn't shouting at all-- he just had a more resonant voice.

Robinson has serious anger management problems. He should not be in public office. I'd hate for him to be dog catcher-- that would be animal abuse!

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Looking In
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 8:33 pm


At the end of the day, it's none of my business who votes for whom. However, I am concerned about Robinson's emotional and psychological state. He cannot control his emotions or his temper and, quite frankly, may end up making decisions based on his emotional state rather than quantifiable metrics and numbers and being level-headed. Anyone who sees himself as a "young JFK" has a tremendous ego and thinks only of himself and will throw the tantrums of a two-year-old to get the attention he needs/wants!

And, I'm equally concerned about someone like Cline who hasn't really learned about transparent government. The fact that Cline could not answer the question about whether the initiative process is good or not just shows his normal tendency to waffle and be indecisive. That is not leadership, and he's the mayor?!?

Neither are qualified to be in elected office and should not be re-elected. Boot out the incumbents!

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Looking In
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Dear Eyes Wide Open:

Re your statement "mini-kelly fergusson"-- for one thing, I certainly would NOT raise the UUT to cover employee compensation. Re cuts, unfortunately, the public employee unions have locked in an expensive contract, and the Council gave them more! Why is that??? How about NOT increasing expenses? That really shouldn't be a new concept!

What about looking at consolidation and outsourcing? That could potentially help save money. Let's actually reduce the structural deficit, instead of having open reqs budgeted in the budget-- get rid of positions that shouldn't be filled!

This Council is locked in the 19th century in terms of compensation. Unfortunately, the Council majority don't have the creativity or the political will to look at different compensation structures because they want to be re-elected.

No one says that being "put on the spot" is easy. However, if you're a candidate, you should know what to expect. It was very apparent that Keith wasn't as articulate as the other candidates.

You have given me food for thought... maybe, Keith's not a mini-Kelly Fergusson after all. Keith mentioned she would vote for "Prop. 32." I'm sure she meant AB 32, but that was signed into law three years ago by Gov. Schwarzenegger and completely out of her jurisdiction-- it's a state law. At least, Fergusson would know have known that!

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Posted by eyes wide open
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 30, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Dear Outside Looking In,

I'm glad you were taking notes. There is definitely something to be said for being able to walk in off the street, and provide thoughtful answers, yet other responses to that question were mostly rhetoric. I was appreciative that Mayor Cline chose to "tell it like it is", but then he's actually seen the numbers and is making these difficult decisions right now.

Like this comment
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm

I was really disappointed that questions on the 2 major ballot measures L and T were not presented. They were brought up only in context of other questions.

Whoever decided what should be presented did a poor job. And yes, for sure the proper questions on Measures L and T were submitted.

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Looking In
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Dear Eyes Wide Open:

I'm not sure if "that question" to which you're referring is the Prop. 23/AB 32 question. If so, then I agree w/you that the responses were, by and large, rhetorical.

As for Cline making "these difficult decisions right now," I'm not sure what you mean. Cline has the reputation of being indecisive, so I'm not sure which decisions you're referencing. He couldn't even give a straight answer about whether the initiative process should be used by residents!

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Looking In
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Dear Morris Brown:

I couldn't agree with you more! The two most important ballot measures in Menlo Park were not given the time to be discussed, and like you, I know those questions were submitted. What a disappointment!

While I believe Prop. 23 is an important statewide issue, I honestly believe that Measure L and Measure T have more immediate relevance to Menlo Park's future than Prop. 23 and AB 32. Besides, these two measures are also important issues being tackled at the state level-- revenue generation and expense cutting.

Like this comment
Posted by Bernstien supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 1, 2010 at 9:30 am

Chuck Bernstein had by far the best responses to all the questions.
Isn't there a much simpler explanation for the loud volume - that this was the first time he had used the city's microphones from the dais? It is unfortunate that there had been no testing of the system prior to the start of the session. Clearly, it was new to him.
The system was not new to Robinson, who flew off the handle at one point.

I have known him in many other settings, as a dedicated, caring, friendly, collegial,funny - and yes passionate - person. He is beloved by teachers, children,and staff at his schools and those who know him through city task forces, youth sports and scouting.
We are exceedingly fortunate that someone with his business executive skills and can-do strengths is willing to serve on our Council.

Like this comment
Posted by Bernstein supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 1, 2010 at 10:09 am

I should have made it clear I was speaking about Chuck Bernstein when I said the following:
I have known him in many other settings, as a dedicated, caring, friendly, collegial,funny - and yes passionate - person. He is beloved by teachers, children,and staff at his schools and those who know him through city task forces, youth sports and scouting.

We are exceedingly fortunate that someone with his business executive skills and can-do strengths is willing to serve on our Council.

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

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