The Menlo Park City Council race this year is seen by many as an extension of the vote on Measure M. With three seats open, the candidates are the three incumbents and a trio of challengers.
Challenger Kelly Fergusson, a former council member who lost her bid for re-election in 2012, is a strong Measure M supporter, and says she entered the race because of her opposition to certain provisions in the specific plan. And challengers Drew Combs and Kristin Duriseti are supported by Measure M proponents who believe the newcomers would work toward changing objectionable provisions in the plan. The incumbents -- Rich Cline, Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki -- staunchly oppose Measure M.
In endorsing the incumbents in their bid for another term, we are in no way linking those choices to Measure M. In fact, we find ourselves in an awkward position: We believe that the council fell down on the job last year when it rejected a reasonable plea by residents to fix a key problem with the new downtown specific plan -- a lack of action that some argue was a major impetus leading to Measure M.
The residents, who included a number of people long active in civic affairs, wanted the council to lower the level, tied to a project's size, at which a public-benefit requirement would be triggered. That threshold had been raised significantly in the specific plan approved in 2012 after a long process that had played out primarily during bad economic times. Although the council reviewed the plan last year, it didn't touch the public-benefit trigger -- a big mistake in our view.
Despite that criticism, we believe that the incumbents have many strengths, and can point to a number of achievements during their tenure so far that justify returning them to office for another four years.
Among the council's accomplishments over the last two years are Belle Haven neighborhood projects, including the opening of a police substation and the launch of a visioning project that engaged a significant number of residents; beginning the process to change the binding arbitration procedure after examples surfaced that police officers' job protection might trump the public's interest when binding arbitration is called upon; and paying down the city's pension obligation.
And Ms. Keith, along with current Vice Mayor Catherine Carlton, successfully negotiated with Stanford to remove medical office space from its proposed development on El Camino Real and pay for a substantial portion of the cost for a bicycle pedestrian tunnel; she continues to work with Stanford to improve the project.
In passing over the challengers, we couldn't get past the fact that two of them -- Ms. Duriseti and Ms. Fergusson -- would have to disqualify themselves from discussing and voting on projects coming before the council from Stanford. At a time when Stanford is pursuing its plans for a massive development on its 8-acre property at 500 El Camino Real, having a council member, or two, who couldn't participate in the council's review and decision-making for the project hardly seems wise.
We're also troubled by Ms. Fergusson's insistence that her Brown Act violation when she was on the council didn't constitute wrongdoing. She had conducted what the act calls serial meetings with at least two council colleagues to lobby their support in her bid to be mayor in 2010. When the city attorney declared her actions a violation of the open-meeting act, which all council members are required to review and respect, she resigned as mayor. But she told the Almanac last month that her First Amendment right to advocate for herself trumps the Brown Act, a statement that raises concerns.
Mr. Combs is a man of intelligence and fresh perspectives, but he has lived in Menlo Park for only two years, and his public service here consists of about five months on the Planning Commission and about a year on the Bicycle Commission. Although Measure M supporters say he could be relied on to work toward changes to the specific plan, he told the Almanac that if Measure M fails, he would regard that as the will of the people and an indication of their support for the specific plan. Therefore, he said, he wouldn't advocate changing the plan to meet Measure M objectives if the measure were defeated.
As we endorse the incumbents, we also urge them to open up a new review of the specific plan's public-benefit trigger, and take action to adjust it before it's too late to have an impact on the Stanford project.
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