The three Palo Alto City Council incumbents who will likely seek re-election this fall – Karen Holman, Greg Scharff and Nancy Shepard – will have a lot of explaining to do during the campaign about what’s happened in the past five years.
And when it comes to questions, at the top of the list should be city’s cozy relationship with billionaire land developer John Arrillaga.
The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, a group of citizens convened by the courts to investigate local government operations, released a scathing report last week about the city’s secret dealings with Arrillage.
The grand jury said that the city kept secret for nine months Arrillaga’s plans for a 10-story office building complex at 27 University Ave., where MacArthur Park restaurant is now located.
When the plans were revealed, just about everyone was astonished about how out of scale the project was to the rest of the city. Everyone except friends of TheatreWorks, who were promised a new theater by Arrillage as a “public benefit” for the ill-fated project. Billionaires can buy friends.
At the same time the city was working with Arrillaga on 27 University, it was also secretly negotiating to sell him 7.7 acres joining Foothills Park, which would have allowed him to expand his estate there.
It was the definition of a sweetheart deal. It never went through, but it will still be a fair question to ask Holman, Scharff and Shepard, “What were you thinking?”
- “Why didn’t you alert the public to this proposed secret deal?”
- “Were you suspicious when you were told to visit the site in groups of three?”
That’s a Mob trick don’t create any evidence
By going there in threes, they were able to legally bypass the Brown Act requirement that they publicize their meeting in advance.
- “Did you think something was unusual when you were told that nobody was supposed to take notes?” That’s a Mob trick don’t create any evidence that can be used against you later.
The civil grand jury report didn’t break much new ground. It confirmed what this newspaper and others had already reported about the city’s dealings with Arrillaga.
But what makes the report important is that it was an objective investigation by an outside party, a group of people from San Jose who have no dog in the fight.
They took a look at what was going on in Palo Alto and were appalled.
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