Political Theatre – the Show Process
Los Altos zoning code downtown is on a theatrical path to roll-back. Here is 26 minutes from the hour spent on Discussion Item 12 – [Rolling back zoning] Exemptions to Downtown CRS Zoning. This was part of the May 8, 2012 Los Altos City Council Meeting. Besides attending it live, we’ve watched the original full-length city video of the meeting a few times now. We saw some pretty interesting political theatre. You know, a debate similar to one conducted by the American Wrestling Association.
Pull up a chair and enjoy the SHOW of due process. Slam, whack, shout, pound, feint.
In case you didn’t already know where Ron Packard stands on downtown development, you can hear him avow, “ I am absolutely opposed to 3 stories in the Core.” You can hear Val Carpenter say, “We went too far” with the zoning language change … “30 feet height limit.” Paraphrasing her, “Now there is constant pressure from developers to exceed the 30 foot limit…with towers, with HVAC equipment…in return for their providing some public benefit.”
You can hear Megan Satterlee complain that the language of Item 12 reads like, “Decision Made, Go Execute.”
You can hear City Attorney Jolie Houston extoll all the PROCESS and PUBLIC NOTICE that the citizens will enjoy over the coming summer months. There will be zoning text and zoning map changes, so it must by law go to the newly reconstituted [hand-picked?] Planning and Transportation Committee (PTC) and be introduced there with 10 whole days of public notice. There will be at least 3 more publicly noticed meetings. Aren’t we thankful for that?! And Ron Packard explained that the discussion and vote that evening of May 8 was not a “ramrod,” but just an extra–added pre-notice to those with interest.
You can hear the public speakers: Neighbor Hudnall, Brooke-Ray Smith of Pasarelle, and Bill Maston a local architect.
You can hear current Planning Commission (PC) Chair Jon Baer promise that when council sends it to the PC/PTC it will not be a long-drawn out “7 year process.” He assures them that when PC/PTC is included in the process the public will FEEL more comfortable. [So it’s more about feeling good about the process than feeling good about the outcome?] We guess this means Mr. Baer thinks he can get the PC/PTC’s step in the PROCESS done in a single meeting — one that will even end before 1 am!
You can hear City Attorney Jolie Houston warn everyone on the council NOT to say the words…
1) CRS/OAD zone [where Ron Packard owns property]
2) Names of project applications that have not yet received final city approval
You can hear Jarrett Fishpaw coin the term “height creep.” No it’s not a person.
You can hear David Casas caution the PC/PTC [Jon Baer] not to draw out the PROCESS or else it could become politicized, emotional, irrational.
You can hear Megan Satterlee seem to present some OPPOSITION. She argues for “form-based” zoning language, not height limit language. She says the language as written by Packard shuts the door on conversations with developers about public benefits, like paseos as described in the 1992 Downtown Plan. She says switching to a system of variances loses all the public benefits.
Later, in response to Satterlee’s seeming opposition, you can hear Packard agree to amend the language – to not to refer to “two stories” but rather to a height limit of 20, 25, 22 feet, something that “gets the same results.” He directs Attorney Jolie Houston and staff to work it out and send it along to the PC/PTC. He says he is amending the motion to get Megan’s vote.
a height limit of 20, 25, 22 feet, something that “gets the same results”
After all the talk and plenty of PROCESS, it passed unanimously.
The public and the stakeholders are going to get a smorgasbord of due PROCESS around this vibrancy-killing zoning rollback for the downtown core. Let’s gorge. What a treat!
All the political theatre makes us FEEL more comfortable? It still all looks like “Decision made. Go execute.’
Desirable outcomes are what people want. Process is actually a burden, a cost. Just because a zoning change will be “legal” and didn’t happen in one meeting doesn’t mean it isn’t a manipulative ramrod – just a ramrod that continues for months. After all, PTC has assured us it won’t be years.
UPDATE: May 18, 2012
We want to mention that at the end of the LALAH video (with libretto so you can follow along)…you can hear Megan Satterlee ask that the same reexamination of zoning heights happen for the CRS-OAD zone. She wants the Planning Commission to have the maps. She also seems to be asking to have it put on a city council agenda. But the City Attorney seems to be indicating that Megan has mentioned one of the forbidden words that are fraught with conflict of interest. It is unclear to us how her request is going to be handled.