Documents obtained by San José Spotlight reveal General Plan Task Force co-chair David Pandori tried to delay a vote on a controversial housing measure last month, pushing the boundaries of appropriate conduct for the role.
This news organization made a public records request for communications between Pandori and his fellow co-chair, Teresa Alvarado, of urban planning thinktank SPUR. Texts show Pandori asked Alvarado to announce that a motion would not be made at the July 30 meeting on opportunity housing, an initiative to build up to four new units on a single-family home site near transit hubs.
“It’s not about preventing a vote,” Pandori told San José Spotlight. “It’s about voting at the right time.”
Despite Pandori’s request, a motion to direct city staff to study the issue was made — but failed.
“So at the start of the meeting would you make a statement that we are going to treat this meeting as a workshop… and that we won’t be entertaining motions,” Pandori texted Alvarado about half an hour before the meeting. He texted Alvarado again after the start of the meeting and asked her if she’d made the statement.
“I didn’t say that we won’t entertain (a) motion but that this is a listening session,” Alvarado replied.
Pandori repeated his request, noting Alvarado had reacted to a message he’d sent days before with a thumbs up.
“As we discussed, you should make it explicit that we won’t be entertaining motions,” Pandori said.
Alvarado disagreed, noting task force members have a right to free speech. “This is not officially a study session,” Alvarado said, repeating that the intent of the meeting was to gather feedback.
“You gave me a thumbs up on that issue in my text earlier this week,” Pandori replied. “I expect you to follow through on that.”
He followed this message with a screenshot of Alvarado’s thumbs up reaction.
“Stop harassing me David,” Alvarado replied.
The July 30 meeting lasted more than two hours and featured dozens of public comments on the opportunity housing proposal, many of them citing concerns about upzoning single-family neighborhoods and thanking Pandori for bringing the issue to their attention.
Planning Director Rosalynn Hughey said it could take two years before the City Council establishes new zoning rules once the task force brings recommendations to the council in the spring.
According to Hughey, the task force co-chair’s purpose is to facilitate discussion and can postpone action until a later date.
However, Planning Division Manager Jared Hart said no task force member, including the co-chairs, has the authority to prevent other members from calling a motion.
“It is within the purview of any of the task force members to put forward a motion,” Hart said. “I don’t believe (co-chairs) have that authority to not entertain any motions.”
Alvarado told San José Spotlight she felt it was inappropriate to stop her fellow task force members from making a motion on the topic.
“Anyone could make a motion at any time,” she said, adding she felt they had gathered enough public feedback and should now focus on listening to other task force members.
Pandori said his intent was to allow for more public input, not stifle his fellow task force members.
“When we talk about First Amendment rights … it’s not about the people who’ve been appointed to a government task force, it’s about the thousands of people who aren’t a part of government,” Pandori said. “I’d rather go slow and give people the chance to be heard.”
Democracy vs. dictatorship
Pandori, a prosecutor, former San Jose councilmember and mayoral candidate, accused city leaders of failing to notify neighborhoods about the proposed changes prior to the meeting. He said the Planning Department did not reach out to more than 200 neighborhood associations whose properties would be affected by the plan.
“If the process is flawed, the (task force’s) recommendations aren’t going to have much value,” Pandori said. “Democracy is not about efficiency. If you’re interested in efficiency, live in a dictatorship.”
Alvarado said the request was unusual because city officials were not asked to conduct community outreach in previous general plan reviews, which she and Pandori had helped lead in past years.
“We make no actual decisions, we have no authority to implement anything,” Alvarado said. “We are a sounding board and advisory body to the (San Jose) City Council.”
Both Alvarado and Pandori said they want to remain neutral on the topic of opportunity housing until the task force discusses it, but it appears Pandori has serious concerns while Alvarado is supportive.
Alvarado’s organization issued a letter on July 29 supporting the initiative. Alvarado said she didn’t see or review the letter, and abstained from the vote last month because she chaired the meeting.
Many public commenters who criticized the initiative on July 30 said they’d been alerted to the discussion by Pandori.
In an email to Hughey a few days prior to the meeting, task force member Leslye Corsiglia, who leads the organization Silicon Valley at Home, accused Pandori of “creating chaos” after a resident emailed concerns about the proposal.
“But, news for him,” Corsiglia wrote. “We can out chaos him!”
Pandori said he merely invited people to express their views.
“I’m definitely in support of the concept (of opportunity housing),” Pandori said. “There’s no plan here to rally opposition. The plan here is to engage people throughout the city on this.”
In an email to Pandori, Hughey said the planning department doesn’t reach out to residents ahead of General Plan Task Force meetings but would contact the city’s 207 neighborhood associations before the Aug. 20 meeting.
She said the city also encourages members to reach out to their neighbors.
The opportunity housing initiative will be discussed during the next General Plan Task Force on Aug. 20 at 6 p.m.
Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.