Menlo transportation commissioner resigns, criticizing city staff | May 29, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - May 29, 2013

Menlo transportation commissioner resigns, criticizing city staff

by Sandy Brundage

Charlie Bourne has resigned after nearly six years of service on the Menlo Park Transportation Commission, citing Brown Act violations by city staff and attempts to stop the commission from reviewing projects.

He didn't mince words while speaking before the City Council on May 21. Mr. Bourne described a deteriorated relationship with city staff, saying his resignation was triggered by recent Brown Act violations forced on the Transportation Commission by staff despite his warnings, and poorly written consultant reports that weren't reviewed by staff before they were presented to the commission for approval.

? The frustration came to a head on May 8, when the commission agenda stated that commissioners would discuss a report on the safe-routes-to-school project for Oak Knoll Elementary School, but did not state on the agenda's synopsis that they would be making recommendations and forwarding the plan to the council for review.

"The public — Oak Knoll parents and neighbors — had no advance notice that a plan of immediate and direct interest to them was going to be voted on that night," Mr. Bourne said.

Describing the plan as deeply flawed, Mr. Bourne wrote staff that he was "disappointed that the Project Steering Committee did not receive copies of this report and have an opportunity to review it before this meeting. I'm sure that many of them would have appreciated the opportunity to voice their concerns with this project at this meeting."

He also took issue with the limited degree of involvement the commission has with large projects, such as the Stanford-Arrillaga proposal, Stanford Medical Center, and downtown/El Camino Real specific plan.

"Our request to city staff to get those matters on our agendas and to get staff to provide relevant information to permit such a review were declined, citing council approval of the process," Mr. Bourne told the council. "Furthermore, the transportation staff would not give us their comments on the EIRs that were published for these reports."

In addition, he pointed to an attempt by city staff in April to have the council agree to have the Transportation Commission meet in a smaller area at the Civic Center, one without video capabilities. Currently the commission meets in the council chambers, allowing the meetings to be recorded and archived online.

The item somehow wound up on the council's consent calendar — normally reserved for routine business requiring little discussion or public comment. The council declined to accept that, and instead asked for the item to be placed on the regular agenda at a future meeting.

What this all adds up to, from Mr. Bourne's perspective, is the marginalization of the Transportation Commission.

"These are the kinds of critical reviews this commission is designed to do, but not permitted to do," Mr. Bourne said. He later concluded, "Without some change in council attitudes and oversight, and some change in all levels of city staff, I see no future for this commission other than deciding where to paint the curbs red."

Transportation Commission staff liaison Rene Baile did not respond to requests for comment.

The Almanac reported last year that two commission meetings had to be canceled due to Brown Act violations; and that staff took steps to prevent it from happening again.

Councilman Ray Mueller, who served on the Transportation Commission with Mr. Bourne before being elected to the council, said he was frustrated by the circumstances that led to his colleague's departure. "I take his resignation very seriously, and appreciate he left the commission the way he served, guns blazing."

He said he shares Mr. Bourne's concerns. "I know and appreciate our transportation staff have been buried in work and short staffed this year, and a new transportation manager just started a few weeks ago. Still, in my view the underlying problem must be corrected. The Transportation Commission needs to be included in city planning matters."

Any commission that deals with transportation impacts will at times stir public unrest or criticize city staff and City Council, Mr. Mueller commented, but that criticism is essential to the city's planning process.

What can be done? As might be expected from Mr. Bourne, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley and a man with a long list of professional honors that includes the 2004 Book of the Year award from the Association for Information Science and Technology, he has a few ideas.

One, the council should insist that the Transportation Commission have a direct, major role in reviewing any projects with a transportation component, instead of relying only on the Planning Commission. Two, increased council oversight of transportation and public works staff.

He'd rather not waste time — Mr. Bourne has called for the commission to be immediately included in the ongoing review of the proposed Stanford-Arrillaga El Camino Real development.


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