City Council

Los Altos Parking Committee – Transparency or Hypocrisy

Transparency is for the other guy, not me! PhotoCredit: Pando.com
Written by lalahpolitico

This is an update on the City’s investigation into allegations made by the FOLA group on Feb. 9 that the City-wide Los Altos Parking Committee violated “open meeting” laws, also known as the Brown Act. The Committee was suspended Feb. 12, and since then our City lawyer has hired an outside law firm to conduct an investigation. About a month ago, as part of the investigation, all City-wide Los Altos Parking Committee members were asked to surrender all personal emails pertaining to the work of the Committee.

The investigator’s instructions may not have been perfectly clear at first, but there also has apparently been a fair amount of non-cooperation followed by foot-dragging. Anonymous sources say that at first, virtually all persons associated with the Los Altos Parking Committee were determined to NOT cooperate. Lalahpolitico: there is no love lost between FOLA principals – Ron Packard, David Casas, etc. – and the preponderance of members of the Los Altos Parking Committee. The word enmity comes to mind.

Jean Mordo Los Altos City Council

Jean Mordo Los Altos City Council

After a short time, both the Council members who are liaisons on the Committee — Jean Mordo and Jeannie Bruins, recognizing they ran for office on platforms of transparency — decided to cooperate. At that point, 6 members were still NOT cooperating. One council member agreed to try to convince the 6 holdouts that transparency was the right course of action; 3 came into line.

Lalahpolitico: We don’t yet know about the rest. Kim Cranston, who through the years has represented himself as an advocate for transparency, is a known holdout. Hypocrisy? He claimed in the Daily Post of March 25 that “he is fully cooperating.” That would be a change. Council member, Jean Mordo told the Daily Post, “I believe almost all members have complied or are in the process of submitting all their materials.” The point is that the investigation is taking so long, not because of poor communications, but primarily because of reluctance to comply. So does that mean there is something to hide?

Lalahpolitico Analysis: Hiding Something?

Hiding something? Well yes, possibly. Spokespersons for FOLA assert that there is enough evidence presented in their allegations letter for the investigators to find violations of the Brown Act, even without any emails!  So if committee members are using the extra time to sanitize their emails and materials, then so what, and who cares? Presidential candidates do that too. 🙂

Kim Cranston, commericial property owner and member of the Los Altos Parking Committee

Kim Cranston, commericial property owner and member of the Los Altos Parking Committee

Crime and Punishment – At worst, any “serial communication” among an unlawful majority of the Committee would be a misdemeanor, with a small fine. Plus, some sources  are of the opinion that the investigators are likely to find any violations as unintentional and not malicious, just sloppiness. I am told the District Attorney usually expects the jurisdiction to propose and carry out a “REMEDY,” so that the behavior stops. Furthermore, one source has suggested that the remedy could simply be to finish the usual multi-step City review “process.” Charges are seldom filed.

Let’s not drag this out; it is essential to set a deadline for Committee members to finish surrendering emails and other materials.

Hypothetical “Remedy” – Finish the usual process

  • Keep the City-wide Los Altos Parking Committee in “hiatus,” without “disbanding” it.   [A fine line?]
  • Let the 2-3 person subcommittee working on the Executive Summary get together and produce an Executive Summary. Put that on front of the unchanged Report documents.
  • Let those Committee Report documents be submitted to City staff as is usual. Staff will flag their concerns, adding them to the Report documents.
  • Send the Reports with staff concerns to the Planning and Transportation Committee. PTC adds its input at publicly noticed meetings.
  • Send the Reports to City Councilmembers with staff and PTC inputs. Put the Council discussion on the Council calendar and agendize.
  • At publicly noticed meeting(s), let City Council discuss and make changes to parking ordinances, zoning….or NOT make changes as it sees fit.

It’s not the motion, it’s the meat

This hypothetical “remedy” is almost the same outcome AS IF FOLA HAD NOT complained at all about the City-wide Los Altos Parking Committee. What have they gained? Lalahpolitico hopes all the “press” swirling around the Committee has alerted the general public that they need to pay some attention to the CONTENT of the Parking Committee Reports and ITS RECOMMENDATIONS. Some of those are very questionable. So if the Los Altos Parking Committee Reports are not thrown out as FOLA has requested, dear reader do pay some attention to the process, as it moves along to the Staff, PTC, and Council review. The Recommendations if implemented could really CHANGE DOWNTOWN.

 

Other tidbits – Sorensen Lawsuits, Packing the PTC

 

Jon Baer, Current Planning Commissioner

Jon Baer, Former Planning Commissioner, likes Main & State pretty much the way it is now, but does favor development on the periphery

Spokespersons for FOLA have claimed that even if all the questionable RECOMMENDATIONS in the Los Altos Parking Committee Reports were accepted by City Council and implemented, the Sorensens would be still be unable to build. They are facing lawsuits from investors, “not just about the delay, but for fraud.” “A project would not get a loan from a bank with such lawsuits in play.”  Therefore, “FOLA’s concern is to protect ALL of downtown,” not to stymy one particular development.

Spokespersons for FOLA suggest that the Los Altos Parking Committee intentionally delayed bringing a preliminary final draft of their recommendations before the PTC for several months in 2015. Perhaps they were waiting for Ken Lorrel and Jon Baer – two PTC members who were likely to be hostile to the recommendations — to be OFF the Commission? It’s plausible.

Lalahpolitico: Do Councils and downtown owners “play politics” with the Planning Commission? Yes. In 2012-2013 the Ron Packard council [principals of FOLA] reconstituted the then two separate Traffic Commission and the Planning Commission into a single Planning and Traffic Commission(PTC). The rationale at the time was that developers got mixed and conflicting messages from the two commissions, felt frustrated, and experienced project delays. That sounds very plausible, but it also a fact that a “squeaky wheel” commission member or two was not reappointed to the new PTC.

And now in 2015-16, the Parking Committee possibly did wait more than several months for Jon Baer and Ken Lorrell [FOLA members — “keep it pretty much the way it is now”] to be OFF the PTC. Hey, it’s politics.

Lalahpolitico does not expect the tradition of packing of the PTC with “people who agree withs you” to stop any time soon. Remember, Council appoints Commission members. 3 council seats are up for grabs November 2016; 2 incumbents may run and 1 councilmember is termed out.

BOTTOM LINE: Keep an eye on parking

Watch the Parking Issue. Do you think Downtown has a parking problem? Are you ok with very inexpensive restriping of the plazas to squeeze in more cars? Who should pay for maintenance of and any improvements to downtown parking infrastructure? The residents? The shoppers? The downtown owners? Should residents manage the mix of businesses downtown through the Council? Or should more market forces be allowed? Are you ok with food courts?

With all the focus on Downtown parking, Lalah wonders what happened to the “City-wide”parking part of the Committee’s assignment? Still Undone?

About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past couple of years.

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