Menlo Park: Newcomer unseats Planning Commission's vice chair

City Council's appointment surprised some, including commissioner

In a surprise upset on what's considered one of Menlo Park's most influential commissions, Housing Commissioner Camille Kennedy unseated the Planning Commission's vice chair, Larry Kahle, by a vote of the City Council on Tuesday night (April 24).

Generally, incumbents seeking second terms are favored; however, the council made a marked departure from that trend, choosing Kennedy over Kahle.

Incumbent Drew Combs was reappointed, despite appearing to be a more controversial pick: He works for Facebook and is one of two commissioners, along with Susan Goodhue, who must recuse themselves from Facebook-related planning discussions and decisions – of which there are a growing number in Menlo Park.

Councilwoman Kirsten Keith had expressed reservations about reappointing Combs. "My concern is that in the next few years, with the Facebook Village proposal going forward ... I'm interested in making sure we get as much input as we can. (This) conflict concerns me."

Vice Mayor Ray Mueller noted that the city already has one council member and two planning commissioners recused from Facebook matters. "Conflicts will happen with Facebook in our city. That is for certain. It is growing larger every day. I don't think that should preclude people from public service," he said.

He also pointed out that Combs is only one of two African American commissioners in the entire city. "If we decided not to appoint him, the commission would be all Caucasian," he said.

In an interview, Combs said he looks forward to being a part of the Planning Commission's future debates and playing a role in the topics of planning and development in the city. He said it was bittersweet and surprising for him that Kahle wasn't reappointed.

"I've valued his attention to detail and his ability to really scrutinize projects," Combs said. "I think we probably disagreed more than we agreed, but I definitely think that his very detailed review of projects had a real value to the commission."

Kahle said in an email after the vote that he was mildly shocked by the outcome. "I don't know why the vote went that way tonight because I did take it seriously and thought I would be reappointed. I've served one 3-year term (no controversial decisions) and was looking forward to a 4-year term."

Council member Rich Cline said he knows Kennedy and wanted to show support, but also had assumed Kahle would get the majority vote. He said he would reconsider the vote if it had been 3-2.

The vote to appoint Kennedy was 4-1, with Mueller casting his vote for Kahle.

Mueller later explained his vote: "He worked hard, and his colleagues thought enough of his service to make him Vice Chair of the Commission. He would have more than likely become Chair upon his reappointment."

Mayor Peter Ohtaki said his vote was less about Kahle's performance on the Planning Commission and more a vote for Kennedy because, he said, she has applied several times for the commission and lives closer to downtown and El Camino Real than Kahle. Also, he said, he had been "impressed with her during our interview."

"I think Camille will bring new energy and views to the Planning Commission," he said.

Kennedy, in an email, said she believed it would be a long shot, but pointed to her credentials -- a master's degree in urban planning from the Harvard Graduate School of Design -- and time spent serving on the Housing Commission. Kennedy is also a major gifts officer at Palo Alto-based Avenidas, and is on the steering committee of Imagine Menlo, a group of Menlo Park residents that supports vibrancy in the downtown and across the city.

"I am looking forward to helping (the) City Council solve some pretty tenacious and complex issues facing our community and helping create a Menlo Park that has diversity (in population and purpose), uniqueness and is a fun place to live," she wrote.

Below are the other council appointments:

● Complete Streets Commission: Lydia Lee, Adina Levin, Philip Mazarra and Betsy Nash.

● Environmental Quality Commission: Tom Kabat, James Payne and Ryann Price. The commission has one two-year term vacant and two four-year terms vacant. They will draw straws to determine whose term will end in 2020 and whose will end in 2022.

● Library Commission: Alan Cohen, Ashley Chambers, Noopur Pandey and Katie Hadrovic.

● Housing Commission: Rachel Horst to the four-year term and Wendy McPherson to the two-year term.

● Finance and Audit Committee: Soody Tronson and Roger Royse

● Parks and Recreation Commission: Dana Payne


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15 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 26, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Larry Kahle is a good man and a good neighbor. Thank you for your service Larry.

3 people like this
Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 26, 2018 at 6:02 pm

Dagwood is a registered user.

Larry is a practicing architect plus there’s all the experience gained only by seeing dozens of projects, learning how staff works and the reasonable and unreasonable expectations of residents and developers. Lots of knowledge capital out the door here. Camille will do a good job but it’s wrong to suggest the PC needs new blood or somehow where she lives makes a difference. The PC is hugely constrained by projects as they come forward and building regulations. That said, she’ll be a good voice.

4 people like this
Posted by character
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 26, 2018 at 6:51 pm

It sounds like Combs was only reappointed because he's African American. A better argument would be that the quality of his character and his dedication to the residents of Menlo Park trump the fact his employer is Facebook.

5 people like this
Posted by Character?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 26, 2018 at 7:16 pm

More was said regarding Comb's performance than what was quoted in the article.

9 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 27, 2018 at 6:26 am

Drew Combs by working for Facebook has a conflict of interest for sure. As to development, traffic is probably the biggest problem. With all the expansion on the east side of Menlo Park, due to the growth of Facebook, we are gridlocked during the morning and afternoon, evening commute. No solution period.

Why would the council appoint Facebook employees??
Facebook is in the pocket of the council anyway, the chamber of commerce, and other social groups within our area.
Facebook is so invested in Menlo Park.

The decision to appoint Drew was a bad one. There are many persons of color on the east side of Menlo Park that could be appointed because of race. But wait, Facebook has given monetary awards to some of those that represent that area too?

Politics....a real problem for us in Menlo easy fix. We here will always be victims.

4 people like this
Posted by conflict
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 27, 2018 at 12:24 pm

If Carlton has financial conflicts voting on Facebook issues, she could recuse herself from voting when Facebook employees apply to city commissions. As it stands, Kahle is now the first commissioner not to be reappointed because he's caucasian.

13 people like this
Posted by offensive
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 27, 2018 at 4:39 pm

Conflict writes: "Kahle is now the first commissioner not to be reappointed because he's caucasian."

See you at the Trump Make America Great Again rally!

10 people like this
Posted by Good Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 28, 2018 at 7:21 am

Facts are pretty clear that Larry lost his seat because the Council majority voted to put the new person on the commission.

Cline's comments make it obvious as he appears to regret it by saying he voted to show support, and he would revote if it made a difference.

12 people like this
Posted by Follow the money
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 28, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Kennedy was appointed because her past affiliations and experiences let the council know that she would not ask too many questions about future developments. Kahle may have been doing his job too well!

The council bought Combs' allegiance by making sure that he got a job for which he was not qualified. Granted, he can't vote on Facebook expansion, but he can vote on everything else.

It's all about greenlighting development and generating profits, not about vetting projects properly or about doing what is best for city residents and our city's future.

22 people like this
Posted by Kate Kennedy
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 29, 2018 at 2:33 am

Peter Ohtaki's comment about Kennedy living closer to downtown and El Camino Real than Kahle is baffling as a rationale for not voting to re-appoint Kahle. Larry Kahle is my neighbor in Suburban Park, so I know that he lives a 10-minute drive from downtown and El Camino Real. I can attest that we're just as cognizant of the issues facing the downtown corridor as anyone living in West Menlo. Larry is a talented, experienced architect with deep knowledge of how the planning process in Menlo Park works, and for him not to win reappointment, I have to believe something is going on beyond what was discussed in this article. It simply makes no sense.

Like this comment
Posted by Menloshopper
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 30, 2018 at 9:52 am

Menloshopper is a registered user.

Since Cline voted for winner may be possible for him to ask for ‘reconsideration’ of vote under council rules.

2 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 30, 2018 at 4:49 pm

so really not an upset, just one incumbent commissioner moving commissions.

Like this comment
Posted by no mojo
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 30, 2018 at 8:20 pm

Had the vote for Kahle come before Combs, Mueller may have only cast one vote... for Combs.

• Kennedy: Ohtaki, Carlton, Cline, Keith
• Combs: Ohtaki, Carlton, Mueller
• Kahle: [Mueller], Cline, Keith

Kahle just doesn't have the votes.

6 people like this
Posted by Confusing
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 30, 2018 at 9:11 pm

No mojo, your post is confusing.
The actual vote cast by the Council was as follows:

Combs: Cline Ohtaki Mueller
Kahle: Mueller
Kennedy: Keith Carlton Cline Ohtaki

Carlton and Keith each only cast one vote for Kennedy.
Mueller voted twice, for Combs and Kahle.
Cline and Ohtaki voted twice, for Combs and Kennedy.

Like this comment
Posted by no mojo
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 30, 2018 at 10:21 pm

Any way you slice it, Kahle just doesn't have the votes.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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