Even as some Palo Alto City Council members apologized to the public for secret meetings with billionaire John Arrillaga and promised more transparency, they repeatedly struggled to follow state transparency laws during their meeting.
The transparency troubles took place Monday night during a discussion on the city’s response to a scathing report from a Santa Clara County civil grand jury, a panel of residents commissioned by the court to investigate government operations.
The report had blasted the city for keeping from the public information about Arrillaga’s offer to buy a 7.7 acre parcel of land adjacent to Foothills Park that was a deed restricted as open space and a large-scale plan for 27 University Ave. that Arrillaga proposed on behalf of landowner Stanford.
One by one, the council members apologize or tried to explain what had happened. But despite promises to do better, the meeting offered several signs that the Council is still struggling when it comes to transparency.
For one thing, the discussion started more than two hours after the 9:05 PM scheduled start time. That caused council watchdog Hurb Borock to say at the microphone, “By the way, it’s two hours after your ‘transparency’ agenda said this was supposed to be.”
Sticking to the Brown Act
As council members talked about changes they wanted to make in the response to the civil grand jury, some also began discussing changes to city policy to prevent secret meetings from taking place.
Councilman Greg Schmidt was making suggestions for rules to limit secret and closed session meetings when Councilman Larry Klein interrupted to say that the council couldn’t start creating policy because it wasn’t on the agenda. Discussing something that’s not on the agenda would be a violation of the Brown Act, Klein said.
Next, Mayor Nancy Shepherd created a subcommittee comprised of Councilman Schmid and Pat Burt and tasked them with using the councils suggestions to edit the city’s response letter to the report.
‘Serial meeting’ rule
That’s when Shepard asked if the city council members could simply send their thoughts and comments to Burt and Schmid, presumably by email, rather than continuing to discuss their critiques at the public meeting.
But City Attorney Molly Stump jumped in and told Shepherd that doing so would be a violation of the Brown act.
“The discussion needs to happen in public,” she said. If the majority of councilmembers discussed a matter with each other via email, it would constitute what’s called a “serial meeting”, which is prohibited.
Reporter kept out of meeting
When this Post reporter asked if she could attend the meeting yesterday at City Hall, the city clerk said it was not a public meeting. With only two council members in attendance, it wasn’t required to be open to the public under the Brown Act.
Burt initially said he was OK with a reporter from the Post attending the meeting, then reconsidered after talking to Stump. He said that Stump told him it wouldn’t be fair to make the meeting open without giving all members of the public the chance to attend.
One of the most shocking local stories in the past few days was how Palo Alto’s Community Cubberley Community center is becoming, in the words of city manager James Keene, a “de facto homeless shelter”.
The Cubberley parking lot is where car campers spend the night. They’re attracted by the bathrooms and showers at the city run community center. This was one of the observations made at a City Council policy and services committee meeting on Tuesday.
At the end of the meeting, in a 2-1 vote, the committee sent to the full council recommendation that the city ban sleeping in cars, something Mountain View, Menlo Park and Redwood City did years ago.
When it reaches counsel, you can bet that homeless advocates will fill the chambers, making dramatic presentations about how such a ban “criminalizes the poor.”
Every time the issue of homelessness comes before Council, the comments at the microphone are emotional, and the meeting becomes a show.
After an emotional outpouring against a proposal to ban car camping occurred at a July 18, 2011, council meeting, Keene shelved the idea and tried alternatives. One idea was to ask the city’s 42 churches to open their parking lots to car campers.
Two churches took the city up on the offer: University Lutheran Church at Stanford Avenue and Bowdoin Street and First Presbyterian Church at Copper Street and Lincoln Avenue.
But pressure from neighbors caused First Pres to back off. I understand the desire to ban car camping I wouldn’t want a camper parked in front of my house either.
That’s scary to a family with kids. And I certainly wouldn’t want car campers using my yard as their restroom. On the other hand, the streets belong to all of us.
If you’re down on your luck, and all you’ve got is your car, it’s extreme to say you can’t park that vehicle on a public street overnight.
Seeking a middle ground
How about we ban campers from residential streets, but allow them to park for no more than 72 hours in commercial areas where there are no homes? Palo Alto has miles and miles of such streets.
I don’t have a solution to the bathroom/shower question. It’s not the city taxpayers’ responsibility to provide bathrooms and showers. But restaurant owners, who are required by law to provide bathrooms, shouldn’t have to cater to the homeless either. Maybe the Opportunity Center on Encina Avenue would come to the rescue?
Joe Webb is no stranger to the streets of Palo Alto and nor are his racist views and anti-semitic remarks which grace the chambers of city hall from to time to time.
Local city leaders cringe and often criticize Mr. Webbs appearances during oral communications a time afforded all citizen to express their view points and grievances on a wide variety of political issues.
Subjects discussed during oral communications can be unpredictable. From the most vile and despicable racist remarks. To aerobic break dancing in the the hall way corridors.
The later is often met with smiles and laughter whereas critical comments are most always met with disdain.
Mr. Webb makes no qualms concerning his white supremacist vile views and will go to great lengths at driving his points home even taking his message to the streets of Palo Alto.
It has been purported that Mr. Webbs caustic views and protests have now include other city “covered facilities” causing city council, the community services department including the city’s legal department to enact new changes to an old ordnance which now appears to target Mr. Webbs Free Speech.
For that matter anyone’s Free Speech placing our First Amendment Rights on a slippery slope.
Assistant city attorney Donald Larkin is well known for directing, censoring and ordering the “blocking” of critical emails directed at city government employees.
Even going as far as approving the removal of the word “Bullshit” from public comment emails sent to city council elected officials. (LETTERS FROM CITIZENS TO THE MAYOR OR CITY COUNCIL 07/11/2012 page 49)
This newly developed ordnance language by city attorney Donald Larkin includes the following provisions:
“No person shall engage in threatening, loud and raucous, intimidating language or conduct directed at patrons, visitors or City staff on covered facilities premises, including in courtyards, doorways or walkways, in any manner which significantly interferes with the use of facilities by other patrons, visitors or City staff.”
Covered facilities are, “Defined to include all buildings and premises of the Lucie Stern Community Center, Children’s Theatre, Community Theatre, Junior Museum & Zoo, Mitchell Park Community Center and Field House, Art Center, Peers Park Field House, Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, Pearson Arastradero Preserve Gateway Center and Foothills Park Interpretive Center.”
In reality this newly revised city ordinance provision presents many interesting challenges to our Fundamental Constitutional right to Free Speech and to Peacefully Assembly.
This has led one concerned government watchdog, Palo Alto resident and attorney Aram James to question whether undue pressure or influence was placed on Palo Alto city council by members of the Jewish community and or other special interest groups to protect citizens from all unwanted hate speech. Hate speech which was allegedly directed at the Jewish community by Mr. Joe Webb.
Any time state or local governments subtly and covertly encroach on our rights to speak freely without debate, or “due process of law”, places us all of on a very slippery slope of potentially sending all of our rights including Free Speech forever off into oblivion if no one takes the time to seek and determine the real motivations behind the city’s attack on our rights to Free Speech.
We appreciate and laud Mr. James one man stand, to BAN one man in his attempt at uncovering the truth and all those behind this newly revised city ordinance and if any special interest groups were operating behind the scenes or who may have applied undo pressure on city council to enact these new ordinance changes thought a California Public Records Request.
And on May 14th 2012, local retired Public Defender attorney Aram James specifically requested the following information from Palo Alto city attorney Molly Stump. The contents read as follows:
Dear Molly Stump (Palo Alto City Attorney):
It was a pleasure to speak with you at last week’s city council meeting (May 7, 2012).
At the City council meeting of May 7, 2012, I expressed my concern to you—and later to the city council– that a matter on the consent calendar—later approved by the city council to wit:
Approval of revisions to regulations of the city of Palo Alto regarding prohibited conduct at or in Community Centers, Theaters Interpretive buildings and the Art Center—and more specifically under the section: Regulation of the city of Palo Alto regarding prohibited conduct at or in Community Centers, theaters, interpretive Building and Art Center—may well raise constitutional concerns.
And more specifically yet:
# 8 “No person shall engage in threatening, loud and raucous, intimidating language or conduct directed at patrons, visitors or City Staff on covered facilities premises, including in courtyards, doorways or walkways, in any manner which significantly interferes with the use of facilities by other patrons visitors or City Staff.”
It is my concern that the above language was designed specially to chill protected First Amendment speech—in this case –alleged hate speech by one Joe Webb.
The language as drafted in # 8 above may well be in violation of the First Amendment principal that regulations designed to regulate speech must be content neutral.
I am sure you recall the below cited language from the famous U.S. Supreme Court Case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886):
“Though the Law itself be fair on its face, and impartial in appearance, yet, if it is applied and administered by public authority with an evil eye and an unequal hand, so as practically to make unjust and illegal discriminations, between persons in similar circumstances ….the denial of equal justice is still within the prohibition of the Constitution.”
As an aside: it is my contention that all discrete communities in Palo Alto deserve and are entitled to equal protection of the law—but not –absent some compelling state interest or concern—special protection.
In other words—if the language allegedly used by Mr. Webb outside of Palo Alto theaters was hateful and targeted at one particular community –that community does not –regardless of their disproportionate political sway in the community –if that is in fact the case—become entitled to special provisions or regulations that would allow them to avoid unpleasant or targeted hate speech – hate speech that would otherwise be protected by the constitution –specifically the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the California equivalent.
In order to determine –under what circumstance and subject to what if any specific undue pressures by particular community interests the above–# 8 regulation was drafted and subsequently passed I will be asking –pursuant to the California Public Records Act— for a wide range of potential public records touching upon the above issues and concerns.
As you might guess I would be troubled if there is any effort by anyone to limit my access to public records I would otherwise be entitled to –because of any undue and continued pressures –if any –related to what some might consider a very sensitive and potentially politically explosive community and legal set of issues.
In other words, in an effort to be direct— I anticipate and in fact expect a full and total good faith compliance with the letter of the law re this particular CPRA request that I am now making.
If any of this CPRA request is not –per your opinion –sufficiently focused so as to allow you to fully comply I am requesting that we meet at your earliest convenience in order to ensure that my request is adequately narrowed so as to allow full and timely compliance by your office.
Pursuant to the California Public Records Act I am requesting all of the following:
(1) Any and all documents –no matter how memorialized touching on the drafting of and subsequent passage of the above revised regulation:
(2) I am asking for all documents whether in written form—electronic form, etc., of all of the following parties-staff members of the city of Palo Alto –including memos to and written by James Keene, Greg Betts and members of their respective staffs re the above regulation. Any and all other letters written by city staff or letters to staff re this issue.
(3) Letters, e-mails –other forms of traditional communications—and more recent forms of electronic communication—by citizens complaining about the above situation—regarding the Joe Webb ordinance and his alleged disruptive – alleged hate filled speech—alleged intimidating speech and conduct.
(4) Any and all other documents –including but not limited to the above going back a period of 24 months prior to the drafting and passage of the above regulation on May 7, 2012.
Aram B. James
832 Los Robles Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306
Editorial note: All concerned citizens of Democracy should be reminded. Especially city attorney Donald Larkin who’s been sworn to protect the United State Constitution and our right to Free Speech.
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Thank you Mr. James for your one man stand on a what appears to be a blatant one man BAN!!
Up-date. California Public Records Request (Joe Webb CPRA 06-11-12) data released by the city of Palo Alto allegedly shows in-part responsible parties involved in the one man First Amendment BAN (Joe Webb) on protected speech.
Theater employees called 911, alleging that a man was handing out pamphlets in front of the theater door, harassing patrons and creating a disturbance. Officers talked to the pamphlet distributing man and theater employees, determined that there was no trespass or other illegal activity, and departed.
The pamphlets protested the contents of the play being performed at the time. The play was a historical piece about Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent in the American south accused of strangling a thirteen year old girl who worked in the factory. Frank was tried and convicted of the crime, then lynched and hanged by a mob.
The events are often cited to illustrate the perversion of the justice system by anti-Semitism in the early 20th Century. The pamphleteer’s literature took exception to the play, describing it as perpetuating a myth of Jewish victimhood. Two days later, he complained to the Department that he had been threatened with arrest and treated in a rude and unprofessional manner by officers.
The pamphleteer also asked about the ethnicities of the various officers and opined about their character and competence based on his assumptions about their ethnicities, suggesting, for instance that one officer was probably an “affirmative action hire” while another was “a good German boy.” A Lieutenant took the pamphleteer’s complaint and opened a
citizen complaint investigation. Another Lieutenant met with the pamphleteer a month later and recorded a statement from him regarding his complaint against one of the officers from that night.
The rest of the complaint investigation, however, was not formally assigned to an investigator until two months after that and was completed a month later. The Department determined that the citizen’s allegations were unfounded. Recommendation: The IPA reviewed the police reports of this arrest as well as the exhibits, including photographs of the scene, the pamphlets that were distributed, and the hate crime policies of the PAPD as well as the County.
We concur with the Department’s finding with regard to the complaint about the face-to-face interaction with the pamphleteer by PAPD officers. He was questioned respectfully while other officers ascertained the circumstances from other witnesses.
When the pamphleteer appeared offended by the questions posed by one officer, another officer took over to attempt to establish a better rapport. Officers and supervisors were patient and unbiased in their treatment of the pamphleteer. Moreover, the ranking supervisor at the scene made a legally appropriate and prudent decision to simply withdraw. We have misgivings, however, about the handling of the case after the call for service at the theater was resolved.
Upon receiving a citizen’s complaint from the pamphleteer, the Department opened a complaint investigation. But it held that investigation in abeyance while pursuing a “hate crime” investigation relative to the same incident. While the activities of the pamphleteer were not regarded as actually constituting a hate crime, PAPD supervisors believed that standard County protocol categorized this as a possible “hate incident” or “bias-related incident” that required documentation and review by the District Attorney’s office prior to investigation of the citizen complaint. A supervisor completed the “hate incident” investigation and submitted the documentation to the D.A.’s office, which declined to file charges.
At that point, the Department restarted the citizen’s complaint investigation, completed it, and concluded that the complaint was unfounded. This staggering of the two ongoing investigations – citizen’s complaint and hate incident – raises three potential problems.
First, the supervisor who commenced the citizen’s complaint investigation by interviewing the complainant was at the same time responsible for putting together the documentation of the “hate incident,” instructing the officers involved in the incident to write reports and preparing this package for the D.A.’s review. This confusion of roles risks confusing the objectives of these two investigations. Second, the PAPD standard procedure invoked in this case appears to be based on a very broad understanding of the County Hate Crimes Policy.
The Santa Clara County Law Enforcement Policy Statement Regarding Hate Crimes (adopted August 2008) admonishes participating police agencies like PAPD to commit to thorough and effective investigation of hate crimes as well as their tracking and reporting to a centralized authority.
It defines a hate crime as a crime committed for reasons of bias toward someone because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other specified characteristic. Since the pamphleteer was determined at the scene not to have committed a crime, the incident would have to fall, if at all, into the other category addressed by the Policy Statement, a “bias-related incident.” Participating agencies are told to document, collect and store records of bias-related incidents but are conspicuously not required to report the incidents to the D.A. The decision to do so in this case was therefore a discretionary one by PAPD.
A week after the incident, the Department received several calls from citizens associated with the theater who complained that no action had been taken by the police against the pamphleteer. They also received an allegation that the pamphleteer had spit on a member of the public during the incident, and the District Attorney’s office suggested the Department look into these allegations. Unfortunately, this information is not reflected in the documentation of the citizen’s complaint or hate incident investigations.
We recommend that such information be documented whenever it relates to Department actions during an investigation. Third, in order to accommodate the hate incident investigation, the PAPD held back on completing the citizen’s complaint investigation for an additional three months, delaying and potentially undermining its response to a complaining member of the community. The interruption of the citizen’s complaint investigation in favor of the hate incident investigation might also make the Department vulnerable to the accusation that the hate incident investigation was in some way retaliatory.
The IPA would like to emphasize that we believe that PAPD personnel handled the original incident quickly and cordially and made a determination in the field that was commensurate with the law and good police practice. We are also convinced that the citizen’s complaint investigation was thorough and unbiased. Finally, the hate crime package was carefully researched and assembled. It is also evident that the Department did not expect the D.A.’s office to file criminal charges based on the “hate crime package” of reports related to this event.
Rather, the information reviewed by the IPA indicates that the PAPD submitted the package in order to maintain a consistent procedure with bias-related incidents and as a precautionary measure to comply with the County Hate Crimes Policy. There was not the slightest indication of a retaliatory motive. Nevertheless, the chronology of these investigations and the precautionary investigation and submission of the incident to the D.A. may create the appearance of bias against the complainant because of his odious and unpopular viewpoint.
The complainant was informed of the results of complaint investigation. We recommend that PAPD proceed swiftly with all citizen complaint investigations and that it consider adopting a more literal interpretation of the County Hate Crimes Policy, thereby referring crimes committed for reasons of bias to the D.A., but not non-criminal bias-related incidents.