Palo Alto city council engages in Mob tactic – Eliminate the evidence

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.

Secret meetings

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.

Unanswered questions

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?”

Other questions:

  • “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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2 Replies to “Palo Alto city council engages in Mob tactic – Eliminate the evidence”

  1. Good story, Chad. Another point about 27 University is it is actually simultaneous with 456 University potentially back-online as a place for public events: City of Palo Alto staff actually took what they were hearing from residents about wanting leadership to work with the landlord (not Arrillaga) at The Varsity Theatre and suggested to Arrillaga that his massive office towers monument would go over better with Theatreworks as the poster-boy, or patsy or whatever you want to call it.

    There are relatively fewer people these days passionate about the fate of 456 University and what government could or should do to enact the people’s will, but the historical context is that in the 1990s thousands of citizens signed a petition trying to urge City Council to not grant the zoning change that resulted, for 15 years or so, in a retail use for the historic Theatre.

    The Grand Jury report of June 6, 2014 finds there is corruption involving one developer and two deals, but it remains to be seen how widespread is the rot or what anyone can do about it.

    Not sure why you picture the editor of a local paper here, but the local press — the Weekly, the Post and to a lesser extent the Daily News — were cheerleaders of the project in their real-time coverage of it and certainly not aware and were not looking for any pattern of secret dealings or corruption. They under-play the report, in my opinion.

    Who are taking credit for being the whistle-blowers? (I don’t blame them for being discrete).

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