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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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Districts One, Three and Four for ‘18

Uploaded: Mar 4, 2018
I. Background

Menlo Park Districts One,Three and Four should elect council members this November. Having said that, let me explain.

Preceding the 2016 Menlo Park City Council election I posted an analysis of the lopsided distribution of council members across Menlo Park geography here:


The graphic map of Menlo Park earned some note, as it highlighted the over-representation of 4 of our 5 council members from the far west side of Menlo Park compared with the remainder of the city. Another stark observation was with so much development and its consequences - such as rising traffic and housing demand – there was a noticeable lack of representation for the area of town most immediately impacted. Think Facebook 3.5 M square feet of office!

One 2016 candidate Cecilia Taylor, a resident of the Belle Haven neighborhood on the East Side came close, but lost her bid. This loss, and the lopsided west-side representation, cast a spotlight on city-wide ‘at-large’ voting – where all voters may vote for any candidate regardless of where they live.

II. A Phantom Lawsuit

As a consequence of the above, the City of Menlo Park was notified by Malibu Attorney Kevin Shenkman that he represented an anonymous party, and that, if the city didn’t reorganize into districts instead of ‘at large’ election model, that he would file suit against the city on behalf of his anonymous plaintiff. See, ‘Law firm threatens to sue Menlo Park over elections.’


Menlo Park has considered anonymous lawsuits before, which puts voters of Menlo Park at a disadvantage. We should know who is behind a suit . The public deserves to be informed. In this case, the public should be assured that the plaintiff has no personal interest in the upcoming elections or an issue coming before the council.

So now under threat of litigation MP has rushed through a public process to divide our city five districts each with separately elected council members. Fair enough.

III. A District Map and Plan Evolves

The council and city staff have engaged an outside demographer, and organized a citizen’s committee that evaluated the proposals, and effects on current council members. The review included potential models for a 5-district council and a 6-district council with an elected mayor. These models were based on geographic history of Menlo Park, data on race, income, education, and voter status. The statistical demographic data in this report is very interesting – if you’re a data wonk. I was impressed with the job the committee provided.

Also we now have an opportunity for the council to establish term limits. In my experience, 2 terms is more than enough. Three terms can and have produced council members who suffer fatigue, resulting in minimal participation, and passive acceptance of Staff’s recommendations. Three terms seem like torture for the incumbents – and residents.

Here is a link to Advisory Districting Committee Recommendations.

Here is the 5 district proposal:

IV. But hold on - there is an historical gotcha

Another issue the District Election Committee needed to navigate was how to phase in new districts over the next two elections – providing an equitable remedy while allowing current council members to sunset their terms. Upcoming in November 2018 are three seats up for renewal; and in 2020 the remaining two seats would up for vote. The committee proposes this sequence:

The plan remedies the Belle Haven (District 1) voter profile, and guarantees a BelleHaven resident seated on the city council. However, there remains a glaring problem with District 3 (Linfield Oaks – Felton Gables – Mills court, Vintage Oaks) which has suffered from a long history of minimal council representation with only 2 council members in 37 years.

This November election using either the 5 council member or 6 council member plus mayor scenario gives District 1 (Belle Haven) a seat. Currently the plan is to allow District 2 (The Willows) to hold an election that could give current Council Member Kirsten Keith running for a third term, bringing her imprint to 12 years; District 4 (Allied Arts and west) is also scheduled for an election that could hand a 4th term to current Council Member Rich Cline or a 3rd term to Council Member Peter Ohtaki. This sequence keeps the power base in the west side of the city and while the issue of race may not be a factor, the underlying issue of fairness is not being addressed.

If one looks at the geographical representation history throughout the city and applies the proposed district template, an anomaly emerges. The map below superimposes this historical data on the proposed five council member Plan 5-007a. While redistricting emerged from a desire to remedy a potential inequity for District 1 (Belle Haven), it turns out that there is another historically under-represented district when viewed through the same lens as Belle Haven. Take a look at the proposed District 3 (Linfield Oaks, Felton Gables – Mills court, Vintage Oaks).

Map 5-007a with Historic Council Residency.:

Table 1 below, shows that District 3 has had only one more council member than Belle Haven dating back to 1979. It shows that The Willows and West side have dominated city government for many years and should not be allowed to run a council candidate this year. This is an opportunity to balance representation on the council by guaranteeing a seat for Belle Haven and also allowing an entire section (District 3) of the city to finally have representation. District 3 shares some of the same land-use and zoning characteristics as Belle Haven. Thousands of square feet of office buildings have been approved in both Districts 1 and 3. The Willows and Sharon Heights can hold their district election in 2020 after district 1, 3 and 4 hold theirs this year.

Considering the historic representation of the proposed districts, Belle Haven is remedied. However, District 3 (Linfield) has the same characteristics as Belle Haven of no council representation – but similarly impacted by zoning decisions, as District 1. Specifically, nearly all east-west traffic traverses District 3, and District 3 has significant potential parcels for redevelopment.

Hence, District 3 should also be allowed to run a candidate in the upcoming 2018 election – by swapping Districts 2 and 3 in the above voting schedule. It has had only one council member in more than 25 years.

And this explains the above catchy screed title ‘One, Three and Four’ for ’18.

V. Please speak up and/or write the city council

The Redistricting Committee’s plans and recommendations will be discussed at a City Council public hearing tentatively scheduled for March 13, 2018. Please write the council at [email protected]

Table 1: Former Council Members And The District In Which Each Would Have Resided Had There Been District Elections In The Eighties.

District 1: Belle Haven
Billy Ray White 1978-1986

District 2: Willows
Bob Stephens 1968-1976
Ted Sorenson 1982-1986 and 1988-1992
Jack Morris 1982-1994
Gail Slocum 1990-1994
Steve Schmidt 1994-2002
Bernie Nevin 1994-1998
Paul Collacchi 1996-2004
Micki Winkler 2002-2006
Kelly Fergusson 2004-2012
* Kirsten Keith 2010-2018

District 3: Linfield Oaks, Vintage Oaks. South Seminary, Felton Gables
Peg Gunn 1980-1988
Andy Cohen 2004-2012

District 4: Allied Arts, Downtown
Gerry Andeen 1978-1982
Bob McManara 1990-1994
Chuck Kinney 1996-2004
Nicholas Jellins 1998-2006
* Rich Cline 2006-2018
* Peter Ohtaki 2010-2018

District 5: West Menlo Sharon Heights
Jan La Fetra 1986-1990
Kay Paar 1981-1984
Cal Jones 1986-1990-1992-1996
Gerry Grant 1988-1992
Dee Tolles 1992-1996
Bob Burmeister 1994-1998
Mary Jo Borak 1998-2002
Lee Duboc 2002-2006
John Boyle 2006-2010
Heyward Robinson 2006-2010
* Ray Mueller 2012-2016
* Cat Carlton 2012-2016

(* = currently serving on the City Council)
What is it worth to you?


Posted by typos, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 4, 2018 at 11:47 pm

This article is full of typos; Stu you should fix it.

Stu neglects to point out that he lives in District 3, and that 2014's measure M chose Fergusson over Stu (according to his own blog), or that Stu is not qualified to be on the districting committee because of historical political involvement. In 2006, Vince Bressler even put Stu Soffer on the front of his campaign brochure.

Further, the CVRA can only be used to address inequity in regards to protected classes: Black, Hispanic or Asian. It doesn't matter that Stu feel like his district is under-represented. There is no lawsuit Stu can file to defend this.

Lastly, city government cannot function with only four members, so we must have three districts on the ballot in November.

Posted by R. Todd Johnson, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 5, 2018 at 10:05 am


Thanks for the thoughtful piece. You make a point that is important for folks in the newly proposed District 3. As a longtime resident of Vintage Oaks, we have been incredibly frustrated by the lack of representation on the City Council and more and more of us are willing to be vocal and active about it in the future.

To @typos:

Yes, Stu should fix the typos in his piece, and so should you! [*It doesn't matter that Stu feel(sic) like his district is under-represented.] Throwing stones comes to mind.

Now to the substance of your ridiculous comments:

1. Your first three points are classic straw men. To what point in Stu's article are your responding? He never claimed to be eligible for the districting committee. Perhaps he is interested in running for the District 3 seat. I, for one, would support that run. He's a good and capable man who has served the City well in the past and, unlike others, doesn't seem to have done it with the sole goal of climbing the political ladder.

2. Second, at least Stu is willing to express his opinion with his name attached to it. For all I know, you are Kirsten Keith seeking to tarnish Stu's character in order to preserve your seat, or even worse, her spouse engaged in more political campaigning on the "dark side."

3. Third, what a ridiculous point you make about the CVRA! As if THAT should be our standard for designing a fair district map and staggered elections. Since when has the purpose of government fallen to the low threshold of avoiding litigation. Whatever happened to the aspirational goal of fair representation of the people.

4. Finally, to your final point, you have clearly misread Stu's proposal.

The City Council needs to thoughtfully consider how to provide the best representation for ALL the people of Menlo Park, NOT how to make sure incumbents can retain their seats.

Posted by Fair is fair, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Mar 5, 2018 at 2:41 pm

This is a very interesting perspective on Menlo Park's district election dilemma. Other than giving Belle Haven a fair shot at representation, I do not like the district election model and prefer at-large elections. I believe we are cheating ourselves out of choosing all our council members. However, here we are. The City has decided to not go through litigation with this attorney who has brought city after city to its knees, winning every case he has filed.

Thank you Mr. Soffer for reminding Menlo Park voters that for too long our council has been in the hands of three neighborhoods. The irony is that the two neighborhoods that have suffered the most development over the last 40 years are in what will be called District 1 and District 3. Consequently, in addition to now correcting the racial inequity of Belle Haven's representation, we can also correct the power establishment of the West side of the city and the Willows.

The threat of a law suit has given us the opportunity to take a hard look at the data regarding race and economics in Belle Haven as well as a look at the lopsided strong holds that have been in place for almost 40 years.

The sequence of when each district will vote is a secondary element of the District Election process and we are learning that to level the playing field, we should ask the Willows neighborhood that has had 10 council members since the ‘80s to step back and let District 3 go first. With the ending of Council Member Keith's 8th year of the Council, she could take the lead and vote that the Willows neighborhood bows out graciously this year.

Thanks for shining light on this sequencing issue and a reasonable remedy

Posted by typos, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 5, 2018 at 2:50 pm

To @Johnson:

Stu can edit his article, but we have no way to edit posted comments.

> He never claimed to be eligible for the districting committee.

Yes, and that is the whole point, we should take the committees conclusions seriously.

> Perhaps he is interested in running for the District 3 seat.

Yes, anyone interested in running should avoid manipulating the districting process.

> He's a good and capable man who has served the City well in the past...

Yes, Stu served on planning commission and finance committee.

> at least Stu is willing to express his opinion...

Pointing out that Stu lives in District 3 is not an attempt to tarnishing his character.

> CVRA... should be our standard for designing a fair district map?

Yes, it has been reported that residents may prefer voting for the entire council. The districting process is happening only under the threat of a lawsuit. Adding additional goals will only complicates this situation.

> Whatever happened to the aspirational goal of fair representation of the people.

The current election process is the result of such aspirational goals.

> The City Council needs to thoughtfully consider how to provide the best representation...

Acutally, the council must follow the process prescribed by Shenkman to avoid a lawsuit.

> ...NOT how to make sure incumbents can retain their seats.

The districting process should not be a mechanism to affect incumbents in any way.

Posted by Good Neighbor, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Mar 5, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Even if council takes the "high road" by accepting the recommendations of the committee, District 3 will simply have more time for challengers to put together a winning campaign. We can imagine several potential candidates from District 3.

Posted by No 6-1, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:12 am

You can't add a City Councilmember and a City wide mayor without a vote of the public. To do so would be illegal.

Posted by R. Todd Johnson, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:20 am


I'm going to discount everything you say, given that you continue to use charged words (without support) and seek to proceed under the cloak of anonymity. (For example, I hardly see how writing his regular Op-Ed piece deserves the false light from you that Stu is somehow "manipulating the districting process.") (For all anyone knows, you are a current incumbent, or spouse or friend of a current incumbent.)

That said, I've spent a bit of time researching this issue and disagree completely with a number of your conclusions about the law, the lawsuit and what is and isn't possible in this situation. For all I know, you have as well and our differences would be something I would welcome the opportunity to discuss. (You know my name and should feel free to reach out to me through the many social media venues that would easily permit you to do so.)

If, instead, you have a distinct interest in this issue and wish to remain anonymous (your right, under the Almanac guidelines -- a choice that has always befuddled me, given the behavior it seems to engender), then I will only view your posts as those of someone deploying dark tactics for political purposes.

I hope to learn it is the former, and not the latter.

-- Todd

Posted by typos, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 7, 2018 at 8:36 pm

To @Johnson:

> I'm going to discount everything you say...

Is that necessary? As stated above, I agree with you that Stu is a good and capable man.

> I hardly see how (this is) "manipulating the districting process."

There were strict rules to keep politically motivated people off the committee and out of the process. This is just good advice; people that intend to run for office should let the committee do their work.

> I would welcome the opportunity to discuss...

Yes, and I'm explaining how the districting process is intended to work. Some people may want this process to be a tool to knock out incumbents, but the community spoke loud and clear that this process should focus on what is best for the community, putting politics aside.

Until districting, anyone was free to run for city council in every election, but will no longer be the case. Stu is, and has always been, free to run for city council. Now with districts, residents need to wait four years instead of two, and every candidate is running for just one seat, which changes the dynamic.

> You have a distinct interest in this issue

No, but I thought is was worth noting some key data missing from Stu's analysis. The city has entered into a districting process under threat of lawsuit.

Finally, I don't with Stu about term limits, instead, I agree with Stu. In this post, Stu writes, "Three terms seem like torture for the incumbents " and residents," but on Oct 6, 2014, Stu endorsed Cline for his third term is this same blog. Web Link

Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:34 am

Referring back to the 2014 post - that was actually a good post. And not inconsistent with what i say about third terms above.

In the 2014 post referenced I say:

"Reelect Rich Cline and Peter Ohtaki. Usually when one desires to punish council members you remove them from office. In Rich's case the punishment is to serve a third term. You asked for it, big guy."

The final punch line, though, is that after the 2014 election Rich Cline sent me a Thank You note, saying, that the above was the best line of the election.

Rich is an adult, and can handle disagreements in jest.

Posted by typos, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:20 pm

Stu, good for you for bringing up that story about Rich Cline. Regarding your "torture" comment, if there was a three-term Menlo Park council member before Rich Cline, it was a very, very long time ago. Rich Cline is a great example of how third terms can be great for the city. What sets this council apart from previous councils is that they all are able to disagree on some key issues while still getting along. The strongest candidates running from any district will certainly seem endorsements from the current sitting council members.

Posted by Jack Hickey, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Mar 10, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

"Lastly, city government cannot function with only four members, so we must have three districts on the ballot in November."

D5 will have Carlton and Mueller until 2020. With 2018 elections in D1, D3 and D4, that makes 5. Postponing the election in D2 until 2020 would put it on the Presidential cycle which favors minorities due to increased minority voter turnout.

D1 and D3 should also be put on the Presidential election cycle by having the 2018 election fill those seats for the remaining 2 years of that cycle. To complete the process, the 2020 election for D2 should be for a 4 year term, and D5 should be for a 2 year term to put it on the Gubernatorial election cycle.

Final make-up: D1, D2 and D3 on Presidential election cycle; and,
D4 and D5 on the Gubernatorial cycle.

Posted by in other news, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 16, 2018 at 1:46 pm

@R_Todd_Johnson, it looks like Jen Wolosin has already pulled papers to run in Stu's district.

"Four people are planning to enter the race for Menlo Park City Council but one of them may not be able to run this year because of the city's districting process. The city is switching from an at-large election system to a system in which each council member represents a portion of the city. It's still to be determined if Vintage Oaks resident Jen Wolosin's neighborhood would be in one of the districts up for election in November. Wolosin has filed preliminary paperwork with the city for the November election, but candidates don't have to officially file until July. Wolosin's neighborhood would be up for election if the council decides on Wednesday to have six districts and a mayor who is elected citywide, according to a memo from Interim City Manager Clay Curtin. If the council decides to go with five districts, the seat in Wolosin's neighborhood wouldn't be up for election until 2020." -- Emily Mibach, Daily Post, March 16, 2018

Posted by committee, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Mar 21, 2018 at 8:25 pm


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