Last week I reviewed the issues and background leading to this year’s election. Now it’s time to consider the Brave Eight who have volunteered for three slots.
This has been a difficult election to review. I came up with three criteria as a prism:
a) No third terms. Our City Council should not be the place to perch until an incumbent finds a better perch elsewhere. Menlo Park deserves better.
b) Identifying the best to manage the city manager from the dais.
c) Best understanding of residents’ concerns
A: Preamble: Sidewalk Democracy and Sunshine
I joke with friends in other tech hubs that, as evidenced by the preponderance of telephone and power poles, Menlo Park is more Mayberry, RFD than Monaco. If we had Floyd the Barber (a character in the 1960’s Andy Griffith Mayberry series) we could have Norman Rockwell compose a cozy painting with the candidates around a barber chair next to Cafe Zoe.
I attended the District 2 candidate forum on October 2 at Cafe Zoe in the Willows.
For me, questions and responses clearly highlighted the differences between candidates seeking a first term as opposed to seeking a third term. Menlo Park voters, and District 2 historically, are a well-informed, tough audience. You can’t fake it talking to them – it isn’t giving a lunch talk..
It went down like this: the two candidates, newcomer Drew Combs and incumbent Kirsten Keith, were asked: Would you support a Sunshine Ordinance? (This is what we call a ‘Yes/No/I Don’t Know’ question. There are only three responses that don’t get you into trouble.)
Kirsten’s response was initially unresponsive. But Kirsten let on that there wasn’t consensus on the council. There was no consensus because Kirsten – as mayor at the time – did not support placing the item on the agenda for the full council’s consideration. Drew, on the other hand, was unambiguous in his support.
A Sunshine Ordinance, proposed by Councilmember Mueller, requires the City Manager, Staff and Council (and I assume the Planning Commission) to keep a calendar of when they meet with ‘interests’ having business before the city. Like developers, perhaps. Why is this important? When rank-and-file members of the public speak at council meetings, they have only 3 minutes to get their point across.
Conversely, those contemplating projects, or working on projects, can meet with staff, possibly out of public view, for more than three minutes – over lunch perhaps, or at a Stanford game. Remember – public speakers only get 3 minutes. Project applicants have non-public opportunities to meet with staff.
I researched the history of how this request was handled: See Menlo Park Sunshine Question in Limbo
“…. He (Mueller) said that he has asked City Manager Alex McIntyre repeatedly if the matter will be put on a council agenda, but was told the agenda was too full. In an email dated June 13, Mr. McIntyre told Mr. Mueller that the mayor had "indicated that she is not interested" in putting the item on a council agenda.
When asked why the proposal is not being brought to the council for discussion, Mayor Keith said in an email to the Almanac: "If an issue is urgent, we will certainly address it, as we have been doing. ... We had many items that we could not take up this year at goal setting because of limited staff resources. I have many additional things that I would also like to achieve as Mayor this year. Unfortunately, staff has limited bandwidth to get everything done, as we all discussed at council goal setting."
Sunshine was killed before it was even discussed, and that discussion doesn’t take a lot of time. Kirsten as Mayor could have championed the idea, but didn’t. This year’s candidates could champion the idea, and take credit. (Let me know).
But wait, there’s more!
Lo and behold, a month later, July 2017, the Arrillaga library proposal was first floated. Did the shiny object of the potential Arrillaga library gift get in the way of a Sunshine Ordinance? See, Arrillaga offers...
Council Member Ray Mueller tried out his calendar concept for five months, maintains his form of such a calendar here: It’s easy to do, but his council colleagues didn’t voluntarily follow suit, so he stopped posting his calendar.
A couple of other cities on the peninsula have instituted sunshine ordinances.
A Gaggle of Candidates / Happy Days
B.District 1 (East Side Belle Haven):
What I find surprising is that despite-expanded opportunities, no Latino candidates are running - although they are the largest ethnic group in the District. Nor are any Pacific Islanders. Why is this?
This Almanac Blog page previously included the voice of Belle Haven resident Martin Lamarque, whose last post on July 20, 2015 was titled “At the mercy of developers and their allies in City Hall”, where he lamented:
“Unfortunately, in schemes in which big-money-makes-even-more-money, our City Council's approval is nothing but a mere formality developers have grown accustomed to counting on.”
Does this sound familiar? Well, that’s the perception. How do you correct that?
One approach is for someone from District 1 to create their own blog on the Almanac. Please! Tell us all about your concerns and ideas regularly. When you put your name behind your words you get instant credibility.
While districting was born out of the inability of underrepresented minorities centered in Belle Haven to gather a critical voting mass, its demographics are changing. It is being gentrified. In 10 years it won’t be recognized as the Belle Haven of 1980, or 1990, or 2000. District 1 will be a melting pot.
The three candidates for District 1 today reflect this diversity.
There are three candidates for District 1, East of Highway 101.
1) Mike Dunn (https://www.mike4menlopark.com/why/)
Mike did not respond when I reached out via his website…. And did not appear at the candidates forum on October 1. I am unable to consider his candidacy at this time. I hope he stays involved.
2) Cecilia Taylor (http://www.taylor4menlopark.com)
Cecilia notes this slogan on her website. “Menlo Park, 5 Districts, One City.”
We need to keep this in mind.
Cecilia's website says, “Together we can improve our quality of life.” She is a voice for Belle Haven; wants more planned development; affordable house; transportation (Dumbarton Rail); local services, including a full-service grocery store, a pharmacy, a full service bank, and a public library.
In 2016 I heartily endorsed Cecilia Taylor and signed her nomination papers. Cecilia Taylor is a regular attendee and speaker at City Council meetings. She formed and manages the Bell Haven Action foundation (https://www.bellehavenaction.org) with funding from the UnaMesa Association. One of their projects is a ‘grab and go’ breakfast pilot for Belle Haven children. Cecilia also shepherded the naming and dedication of a local park to Karl Clark, a WW II veteran.
She has the longest on-the-scene experience District 1, and is a leader in improving prospects, in Belle Haven.
3) George Yang http://www.georgeyang2018.com
Menlo Park: Yang announces run for Belle Haven's City Council seat
George’s website claims “Belle Haven neighbors (need) to gain independence from the Ravenswood School District. Since the city council has little to say regarding this matter, I will support School Board candidates who intend to lead the movement toward independence.” While I agree with this statement, this suggests that George is running for the wrong position. It is not an issue under the City of Menlo Park’s control (other than advocacy and zoning.) Also, the school district question has dynamics better discussed in another post.
I’ve met George and was very impressed with his business experience, understanding and capabilities. Long distance business travel is part of his work.
He is on the Menlo Park Sister City Committee. He is a permanent board member of the Asian Pacific American Political Association (APAPA). APAPA is against red light cams.
George Yang is an asset for District 1 – and the council.
C. District 2 Willows – Bay Road:
1) Drew Combs https://drewcombs.nationbuilder.com
I’ve known ‘No-Drama’ Drew since we both attended the MP Police Citizen’s Academy… and then socially. Drew has a law degree from Harvard – the #3 law school in the US News rankings. He also writes for the Los Angeles Business Journal, a legal news source in southern California.
He is on the Planning Commission. His work for Facebook precludes his participation in voting on Facebook issues on the council – although he has had the same restrictions while serving on the Planning Commission.
Don’t be blinded by the billowing smoke blown over this non-issue. Drew on council is no different than Drew’s need to recuse himself from the same matters on the Planning Commission. One could argue that Kirsten Keith’s historically reliable support for Facebook has been more valuable to Facebook in zoning than if Drew were a voting tool on their behalf. Nonetheless, recusing oneself from voting still allows that citizen to speak as a member of the public during public comment and in writing as a citizen.
City Attorney Bill McClure indicates that he will ask the FPPC for an exact ruling on his situation should he win.
On a 5-member council, having one member recused should not be a problem – unless less one or two of the other council members are travelling to China, or other fun spots. But then, I’ve advocated increasing our council from 5 to 7 seats, which would have cured that. See Can council meetings be more efficient. https://www.almanacnews.com/blogs/p/2017/11/27/can-council-meetings-be-more-efficient-andor-more-fair
2) Kirsten Keith – Incumbent http://www.kirstenforcouncil.com
Kirsten’s professional background includes a law degree from Golden Gate University. Kirsten is certainly experienced in Menlo Park City issues. But two terms is enough – for anyone.
Kirsten is ambitious politically in San Mateo County and the State. In 2012- only a little over a year after taking a seat on the MP council - Kirsten decided to run for county supervisor – and lost. What is to assure Menlo Park residents that after gaining a third term she won’t run off before this term is fulfilled - thereby precluding selecting Drew today?
D. District 4 - Downtown
1) Betsy Nash (https://www.betsynash2018.com),
Betsy Nash was born in Menlo Park and has lived on Santa Cruz Avenue for 31 years. She’s been active in the Bicycle and Complete Streets commissions, and in local school districts. We need Betsy Nash as an advocate for quality of life decisions on the council.
2) Peter Ohtaki (http://www.peterohtaki.com) - Incumbent
Peter grew up in Menlo Park.
Peter Ohtaki has the similar strengths as Ron, below. I’ve worked with Peter on the Finance Audit Committee – and he once picked my brain on some patent issues. He’s had two terms – and his clear strengths and ability to get along with many people tests my own belief in my no-third-terms rule. I’ll finesse this by proposing that would Peter ascend to city manager.
3) Ron Shepherd
I have worked with Ron Shepherd on the Chamber of Commerce Board. He is a consistent, cheerful community volunteer. He is a CPA, and I consider him a fiscal conservative, who understands public agency book keeping and finance as demonstrated by his terms on the West Bay Sanitary District. From repeated service calls from our house to West Bay I see how organized they are – and how they follow-up on customer satisfaction.
However, out of the three choices, Ron is not the one I would look to for a ‘No’ vote on a project that would negatively impact quality of life. Ron is the guy I would look to for understanding city finances and the annual reports, and managing an organization via its Manager. And we need Ron Shepherd too while our city organization is in disarray!
District 1: Cecilia Taylor
District 2: Drew Combs
District 4: Ron Shepherd / Betsy Nash
Finally, history teaches that it is prudent to hold your paper ballots until closer to the due date. Additional information could emerge between now and then and you may alter your initial thinking.
Also --- the City maintains all campaign filings of all candidates where you can see their contributors; you too can play along at home. Here: https://www.menlopark.org/1385/City-Council-candidates