Woodside council chooses newcomers for key posts | February 20, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - February 20, 2019

Woodside council chooses newcomers for key posts

by Dave Boyce

The Woodside Town Council ushered in something of a new era in local government on Feb. 12 when it decided which resident-volunteers to appoint to the Planning Commission and the Architectural and Site Review Board. The voting left two incumbent candidates without seats.

In one round of voting to fill three seats on the five-member review board, the council bypassed incumbent Thalia Lubin, an architect and board member since 2010, and appointed two newcomers — architect Christopher Matthew Green, and civil engineer and 2018 council candidate Frank Rosenblum — and incumbent Scott Larson, an executive at Stanford Children's Health.

In the review-board vote, with four votes needed for an appointment, Green and Larson received the votes of councilmen Sean Scott, Brian Dombkowski, Ned Fluet and Tom Livermore. Scott and Dombkowski also voted for Rosenblum, as did councilmen Chris Shaw and Dick Brown. Mayor Daniel Yost, Shaw and Brown voted for Larson and Lubin.

Lubin declined an interview request on the decision, and council members did not elaborate on their rationale for not reappointing Lubin at the meeting.

The council's appointments mean that there are currently 17 men on the three key governance bodies in the town and two women, according to Town Clerk Jennifer Li.

In appointing review board members, the rules say that the council "shall" appoint a licensed architect "if one is available." Of the two architects who applied for a seat — Lubin and Green — only Lubin is licensed.

"I was actually quite conflicted about this decision," Livermore told The Almanac. "I highly respect Thalia. She's been a wonderful contributor to the town for many, many years. We also had another architect, granted a practicing architect, and of course a civil engineer who was very qualified.

"In Thalia's case, I'm a proponent of people not serving too long. Frankly, I'm a proponent of term limits," Livermore said. "It's better to have fresh blood. Let's put it that way."

Dombkowski, in an email, said he voted for Green in light of his breadth of experience — including his work with historical buildings, his negotiation skills and his outsider's viewpoint — that combined to give him "the relevant experience, and that his experience fulfilled the intent of the Town's code."

Scott, also via email, noted the quality and diversity of the candidates and the fact of just three open seats. His decision was "challenging," he said, and reflected a combination of candidates that he believed "best aligned with the (town's) needs, direction and interests." Green, he said, "sufficiently met the intent /criteria for architecture experience."

Fluet could not be reached by press time to respond to a request for comment on the licensed-architect requirement.

With three seats also open on the seven-member Planning Commission, which is organized by town district, two candidates ran uncontested: newcomer and software developer Sani Elfishawy, who was elected by a unanimous vote to represent District 4, and incumbent Marilyn Voelke, an inactive attorney who was elected for District 2 on a 6-0-1 vote. Councilman Dick Brown abstained, but said he wanted "fresh thinking" on the commission.

Incumbent Elizabeth Hobson, who has represented District 6 since 2003, lost to newcomer Jim Bildner in a unanimous vote by the council. After 16 years on the commission, Hobson said that when she applied this time, she was unaware of Bildner's application, and that if she had been aware, she would not have applied.

"I would say 'Yes, take the new blood,' because I have been here a long time and I support the idea of getting new blood," she said before the vote.

Voelke spoke in support of Hobson before the council voted.

"More than 50 percent of the world is women," she said. "I am a feminist. ... I would urge you in your appointments, when you have qualified women, of which there are few that appear before you, that you seriously and thoughtfully consider that because you now have no women on the Town Council and, unless I heard wrong, no women on the (review board) and two on the Planning Commission. Please, gentlemen, be thoughtful."

Hobson's remarks did include a message for residents of the Glens neighborhood, who have been asking insistently for regulatory remedies to their plight of trying to develop parcels that are too small to comply with zoning regulations designed for larger properties.

"We're tackling a very difficult situation with the Glens specific plan," Hobson said. "These are difficult issues. I would like to assure those residents that we are going to work through that and we are going to get solutions that satisfy, I hope, 90 percent, 99 percent, 100 percent of the residents there who want to improve their situations on their lots."

Bildner served on a local government board in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. He has a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College, a master's degree in fine arts from Lesley University and a master's in public administration from the Kennedy School at Harvard University. He also has a law degree from Case Western Reserve University and is the chief executive of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a "global venture philanthropy firm supporting early stage, high impact social enterprises" with offices in Menlo Park and Boston, according to the foundation website. Bildner has been a resident of Woodside since June 2016.

New review board member Green is the director of retail design for Apple. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis and has lived in Woodside since May 2013.

Rosenblum is a professional engineer and president of Underwood & Rosenblum Inc., a civil engineering and survey firm in San Jose. He has a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a certificate in land surveying. He has lived in Woodside since 2013 and chairs the town's Circulation Committee.

A special place

Thalia Lubin was the last remaining member of a review board that had been regularly excoriated by some residents over what they said were the subjective qualities of their reviews of residential projects.

The board's mission is to protect Woodside's rural character by evaluating a project's character, its site planning, its building design and its landscape elements, as well as its consistency with the town's residential design guidelines and sustainability-oriented directives in the general plan.

Former mayor Dave Burow, an impassioned review board critic, said to the council that while the two "worst offenders" were no longer members of the board, Lubin and Larson "voted in lockstep with those people consistently throughout that period."

"There are good things being done," Burow said, "but there are still people who are racking up tens of thousands of dollars in fees (to architects) and delays in terms of implementing their projects, missing the window for excavation, and it's just not right. We should be trying to help our residents improve the housing stock in this town. Every town is only as good as its housing stock."

The residential design guidelines, he said, are about matters such as siting buildings, fitting them "into the land" and downplaying elements that make them look massive.

"I'm all for the ASRB guiding our applicants in that regard," he said. "But it's not about every window has to look exactly the same, or it would look a little bit better if this roofline was moved a little bit. ... We make people put tinted glass in their houses so the animals aren't affected."

"Why are we doing this to people? It doesn't make any sense," Burow said. "And most of them have to come back a second time (to the review board)."

Speaking on her own behalf, Lubin said she doesn't care about such housing details. "It's almost silly to be getting into shades of whatever, and I find that objectionable," she said before the council voted. "I think there has been a lot of subjectivity in the past and I think we've all learned from that." She recalled the applicability of maxims by architect and former council member Peter Mason: "Is it good design? Does it fit the site?"

In addressing problems applicants have with the review board, Lubin noted the benefit of an applicant starting with an understanding of what the board wants in a conceptual design.

"When you get a really good architect who understands what he's doing, you can do it in three pages," she said. "Some of these plans ... they come in with 10 or 12 pages. If we turn them down, they get very upset. ... I know what that costs to bring that project to the board."

Referring to conversations she said she's had with Planning Director Jackie Young, Lubin noted that a lengthy conceptual design may reflect an applicant in a hurry or willing to gamble on the project's sailing through the approval process. When it doesn't, "that makes us look bad," Lubin said.

"I see that (happening in) some of the more contentious projects," she said. She recommended explaining the process for applicants on one page.

Council member Scott asked her whether Woodside should have a reputation for "being a hard place to build."

"Woodside is a special place, and why is it special?" Lubin responded. "Because of the vigilance of everybody working together to keep it special. But there is the balance. That's what we're all searching for.

"I don't want the town to have that reputation, but I also run into architects ... who say, 'You guys shouldn't be so defensive. That's why Woodside is so special and everybody wants to move there.'"


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