When the Woodside Town Council voted on April 14 to reject a proposed ordinance that would have set limits on the size of basements in town, two council members -- general contractor Dave Tanner and architect Peter Mason -- had clients in town with underground projects recently submitted to the planning department.
The town's current regulations have no size limits on basements. After a study session on the topic, the council voted on a temporary ordinance, proposed by Mr. Mason, that would have set limits while a council subcommittee continues its study of the matter.
The ordinance would have limited basements to the maximum floor area allowed on the property for above-ground structures, and would have allowed 50 percent of a basement to extend beyond the building's footprint. It failed to get the necessary super majority of six votes needed for an urgency ordinance, but had it passed, it appears likely that Mr. Tanner's and Mr. Mason's projects were too small to have been affected.
Why didn't the councilmen recuse themselves or say anything ahead of the vote?
"I didn't really think I needed to, but maybe I did," Mr. Mason said. He said he did not feel conflicted during the discussion and saw the evening as a chance to talk about a very complicated topic rather than an opportunity for action.
A temporary ordinance never had a chance of passing, but a proposal was one way to get a sense of the council's view, he said.
Later, Mr. Mason told the Almanac that he talked with Town Attorney Jean Savaree and was told that, since basements are a town-wide issue, there was no need to recuse himself. Besides, he said, the project had been submitted before talk of a temporary ordinance.
Mr. Tanner, who said he consults "constantly" with Ms. Savaree, said he did not see a need for disclosure. "I play as fair as I can possibly ever play," he said, adding that he is sensitive to "even a hint of a problem."
The timing of the submittal to Town Hall had nothing to do with the temporary ordinance in that he'd been working on the project for over a year as he talked over options with the property owners, he said. He added that he'd talked them out of much bigger basement.
The proposed urgency ordinance came before the council at the request of Planning Director Jackie Young. So far in 2015, town staff have received nine proposals for residential basements, which is more that the town normally sees in a year, she told the council.
Recent proposals for basements dramatically intensify use of the properties, she said, noting that such intensification does not align with the rural tone of the town's residential design guidelines and general plan.