Menlo Park: Potential council candidates weigh in on initiative, conflicts of interest | July 30, 2014 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - July 30, 2014

Menlo Park: Potential council candidates weigh in on initiative, conflicts of interest

by Sandy Brundage

Two questions immediately pop up when newcomers announce that they may run for Menlo Park City Council in the Nov. 4 election: What do they think of the initiative, which will be on the same ballot and that seeks to change the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan? And what matters would they not be able to vote on due to conflicts of interest?

Kristin Duriseti, who has served on the Environmental Quality Commission for the past six years, pulled nomination papers on July 21. Her volunteering activities also include participating in the Oak Knoll Safe Routes to School steering committee and Laurel Elementary School's site council.

A graduate of Stanford University, she holds a master's degree in economics and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan. In addition to handling the accounting for her husband Ram's startup company, she works for Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment as the managing editor of Climatic Change.

That means issues such as the university's controversial mixed-use proposal for 500 El Camino Real, as well as portions of the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan that would affect the university's Menlo Park properties, would be off the table for her as a council member.

Ms. Duriseti said that as for other potential recusals, she would need to seek clarification from the city attorney before giving a definitive answer. "It's still early in the process for me, and I'm vetting these issues as well."

She extended that answer to cover her opinions of the specific plan initiative, and the specific plan itself.

"I don't mean to be evasive, but I think I still need to have clear guidance on the conflict of interest issue before I could comment on the initiative or specific plan," Ms. Duriseti said.

Andrew Combs

Fellow potential new candidate Andrew Combs was appointed to his first term on the Planning Commission in May. Prior to that, he served on the Bicycle Commission and has volunteered as a tutor at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. He pulled nomination papers for the council election on July 18.

He holds a bachelor's degree in urban studies from Columbia University and a law degree from Harvard, although he does not currently practice as an attorney, and has covered business and legal matters as a journalist for publications such as the San Francisco Daily Journal and American Lawyer.

He said that since he lives near the SRI campus, he would recuse himself from related matters.

As for the hot topic in this year's election: Mr. Combs sounded like he supports both the initiative and the specific plan.

He said he could "think of no better framework for future development in downtown and (El Camino Real) than the plan's 12 guiding principles."

However, his concern is that the specific plan, "especially in the absence of a vigilant council, allows for development that isn't true to many of those guiding principles."

That incongruity has led him to support the effort to put the issue before voters in November. Since major development along the city's main corridor will impact everyone's daily life, everyone should get a say, he said. "Simply put, I trust the voters of Menlo Park to make the right decision far more than I trust developers, Stanford's real estate department or the city council."

The willingness to allow voters, rather than special interests or a small group of people, to decide reflects his commitment to the democratic process and non-partisanship, according to Mr. Combs.

He said he hopes to keep an open mind during the debates of the election season, but right now is inclined to vote for the initiative.

The newcomers could find themselves facing three incumbents: Current council members Rich Cline, Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki have also taken out papers for the November election.


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