(Note: I was NOT endorsed by Sierra Club although I was interviewed by four members of their policy committee in September at Terry Trumbull’s Palo Alto home, and two members of that group said that they either voted for me in 2009 or would likely vote for me in 2012 — reminds of the Emerson line about “winning the respect of intelligent people…”)
2012 Sierra Club, Loma Prieta Chapter
Candidate Questionnaire for City Council
Name: Mark Weiss
Campaign manager & Office Address:
Election ID (FPPC):
Phone: (650) 305-0701
Please Send a JPEG photo of candidate: Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not embed the photo into the email as our layout person can not copy it with the resolution needed for publication.
Are you a Sierra Club member? (NOTE: membership is not required for endorsement) No.
Helpful Hints for completing this questionnaire: We are looking for what you actually accomplished. For example, were you were a member of elected body during the process of xyz or did you shepherd the issue through the process. Please describe how YOU moved an issue through a process to success.
Questionnaire (Candidates, please provide explanations with your answer and please include the original question with your response.)
1. The club considers your past record as the best indicator of your future action for the environment. What have you done, especially in a community leadership context, to protect natural resources and the environment? In 1992, a combination of factors, a set of recent external events, such as the first Gulf War, the Rodney King Riots, the SF Earthquake a couple years prior, and the Oakland Hills Fire combined in my mind to lead me to choose to abruptly change my path – I was a freelance copywriter at mainstream SF ad agencies and want to become an activist; I eventually joined Bay Area Action, where I worked on an Earth Day event and a Native American perspectives committee and then founded something called Earthwise Productions, a concert company. As the name implies, Earthwise was informed by my readings and experiences in the environmental movement. I am an entrepreneur and activist, and blogger and little of Earthwise’s doings involve the environment per se (the first events were benefits for NGOs). Earthwise to me means “like the earth” in the way that clockwise means “moves like the clock’s hands”; it meant adapted to a niche, like a tree-specific type of moss, et cetera. To the extent that my business is so tiny I sometimes think that that fact too is consistent with environmental thinking in that mainstream corporate capitalism is predicated on a growth model that is not sustainable; I’m doing less harm at this scale than if I had become Another Planet or Bill Graham Presents. I do not think of myself as environmental leader, on the other hand, but I feel I understand “deep ecology” and other green dictums. SEE ALSO APPENDIX “MARK WEISS 900 MORE WORDS ON HIS ENVIRONMENTALISMS” attached
2. What do you regard as the major environmental and conservation issues facing the City/Town/Enviro District and the Bay Area as a whole?
3. What are the principal areas of the environment that you will work on if elected? How will you deal with them?
2 and 3: the most obvious debate is about Bixbee Park, Measure E and the compost facility. Leaders like Tom Jordan and Emily Wenzel are determined to keep fighting against the facility, and to keep the park a park. I wrote in my blog and on Patch that I agree with them. I think building a local facility is less green than doing nothing or waiting for a regional solution.
It’s hard for me to think of Palo Alto as environmentalist given the build-build-build, go-go-go attitude toward development. Even the green certification of building projects I take with a grain of salt; for instance, I wrote a satire about my contention that simply put two housing units at 420 Cambridge might be “green”, but four units – what was built – is “greed”.
Another example of how I think – and if 420 Cambridge is too specific this might be too general – but how can any environmental movement in the U.S. take itself seriously while, for the last ten years or so the U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq; what are the environmental affects of those two humongous initiatives? Just as you seek to speak about campaign finance in 11) below, greens could and should be more vocal on the profligate and immoral defense-dominated budget priorities of our nation. Speaking of which, why isn’t there a viable Green Party in the U.S.?
The Sierra Club and the Loma Prieta Chapter care about a range of environmental issues and each year we prioritize issues that are the most critical for our area. The following questions are based on these priorities.
1. What is the status of (insert your city)’s climate change plan? Are goals being met and are the enough? What would you do to reduce greenhouse gas generation locally, regionally, and nationwide? What do you do as an individual to reduce your GHG generation?
2. Describe (insert city)’s green building program? What more can be done to ensure that all new construction and remodeling incorporate green building principles? How would you go about it?
Land use, Transportation & Transit Oriented Development
3. Climate action plans for the peninsula call for reducing traffic by increased use of walking, biking and public transit. It has been shown that increasing density and adding a mix of uses, e.g. combining retail, residential, and commercial, along with urban design that promotes walking and biking as well as comprehensive parking solutions, is most effective in reducing vehicle trips. What are your views about the creation of downtown and transit hub specific plans that zone for building heights sufficient to generate significant economic value that will benefit your entire community? What types of projects would you support to provide people with an alternative to the private auto? How would you include affordable housing?
Not to completely dismiss 1, 2 and 3 and well-intentioned best efforts by good people focused on exact policy on these issues, but a lot of these questions seem to start from a premise of letting builders and business dominate the debate; some of these concerns seem pretty superficial; societal change, if humans actually want to conserve our habitat, to keep it human friendly and democracy-friendly (and moving towards peace), has to be much more fundamental and a deeper green. On parking per se (and I admit I am jumping between way too vague and way too specific) I notice that the same two or three people who arguably have too much say and too sway and push through too many and too large development projects – and the core of my campaign is to question this, or poke through it – also are the ones who are the self-appointed “parking czars” and thwart the efforts of residents to get traction on their concerns about downtown workers parking in the neighborhoods.
In the context of, as I see it, leadership being unwilling, afraid or unable to address the issue of development out of control, it feels a little bit trivial to trumpet our bike friendliness. Or there is a dissonance. I think the commercial real estate industry is a threat to self-governance. Not that we don’t need a measure of it, but nowadays, in recent memory it does not seem like proposals are properly vetted. And our planning commission was gutted, replacing an experienced and diligent Vice Chair with a group of young “yes men”. The difference between a potion and a poison is the dose.
I don’t have a plan to fix all this but am merely pointing out – where no one else seems willing – that there may be a problem in a special interest—commercial real estate developers who have so much power that they are beyond rapproach; this dynamic, if it exists, impacts environmental concerns and fundamentally may be a warp in what we think of as democracy per se.
I saw the presentation at council about Cool Cities with Acterra; my initial reaction was we were doing fine with our local approach; tell me more.
I think of Palo Alto as having a vacuum filled by a leadership system that is not actually representative of what citizens want, is severely compromised, and that environmentalism gets lip-service rather than having us a substrate for potentially-world changing innovation, the way apparently our region has for technology and computers.
When I was hanging out in environmental circles, in the early 1990s, people said that they would stand in front of Al Gore events, waving “Earth In The Balance” and chant “Read Your Own Book!” There are layers and layers of approaches and ideologies and players and counter-players (“green-washing”) and I am sorry to report I am not sure we’ve made any progress. (On the other hand, in the prologue to the book there is a quote attributed to a Palo Alto activist Gary Lapid who may be the first one to quote Gandhi “Be the Change you wish to see in the world” – and as I said above, to the extent that my tiny Earthwise Productions keeps me from, for example, helping an oil company – something I did back in the day, write ads for Chevron – I took that much to heart. I also like to say, “People call me an activist but I do so little that I am more of a passivist”.
It’s fair to say I am not so much running for Palo Alto Council as standing witness. I’m a participant but on somewhat limited terms. I am hoping, at the very least, to have the opportunity to say something, at a candidates’ forum, that sounds intelligent and that a small group of people will agree with. And build from there.
Open Space & Urban Recreation – Access to Nature
4. In these tough economic times parks and open space are affordable ways for residents to spend their leisure time. However, these conditions also make maintenance a challenge. How will you ensure that residents in your city will have access to safe and enjoyable parks and open space? This is what I mean about the premises of some of these questions: “tough economic times”? What about the recent and somewhat local creation of $100 billion dollars worth of wealth in the form of the Facebook IPO? How can we simultaneously be complicit with a system that creates billionaires and (let the poor stay poor) and claim that we have no money for parks? Palo Alto has a roughly $150 million budget; I haven’t looked at these numbers recently but our parks maintenance budget I am guessing is around $2 million per year (a lot of which we outsource, supposedly saving money). I’m not an economist but I would think we could find a way to save these parks, which are probably worth hundreds of millions. I recently rang City Hall to complain that are subcontractor was mowing the lawns at 7 a.m. at Cogswell Plaza – staff called back and said they were not to supposed to start until 9.
Water Conservation & Recycling, Rivers & Creeks
5. California will continue to face increasing droughts, what is the most important water-related issue for [insert your jurisdiction] and what policies or actions would you advocate to address this issue?
1) I haven’t worked on this part of my platform yet.
2) Although I have not asked him to endorse me or work on my campaign, I have an old friend who is former Santa Clara water board commissioner and staff lawyer, Greg Zlotnick who I could tap, so to speak, to help shape my views here. When I went to their re-interviewing process, I mentioned his name to Palo Alto Utilities commissions Eglash ad Foster, neither of whom said they had heard of him.
3) Not to risk being the Malcolm Gladwell of responders – he of making too much story out of too little data, but when Labor Council recently hosted a candidates forum and served Kirkland brand bottled water, a candidate for water district held up a bottle and claimed it was regulated less closely than our tap-water.
4) there’s a local artist Linda Gass who makes art out of water policy, whose work I like. Other art/ideas influences: “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain, “Imperial” by William T. Vollman; the movie “Chinatown”.
6. What is your position on stream setback requirements for development? Do you believe current requirements are too strict, too lax, or just right? Too lax.
7. What would you do to help preserve wildlife habitat, wildlife corridors, and biodiversity (in the Bay Area or Calif.) in the face of pressures from the growing human population?”)
Zero Waste and Extended Producer Responsibility
8. Do you know where the yardwaste and foodwaste collected in your city goes? Explain the problem with using organics as alternate daily cover at landfills? Will you support a statewide ban of organics from landfills and from any form of high temperature energy generation facilities like gasification or incineration of mixed waste?
9. Will you push your city and the county to adopt an ordinance requiring drug manufacturers to pay for programs to collect unused and expired medications similar to the one recently adopted by Alameda County?
10. Will you lead your city to adopt polystyrene take-out food packaging bans and single use bag bans? NOTE: Delete the bag ban if your city has already adopted the mandatory ban, same with take-out food ban. If your city has done both, just delete this entire question.
What about “seven generations” philosophies wherein native cultures allegedly would not implement a policy or action unless they felt that seven generations into the future their children would agree with and understand the change – how does that differ from quarterly based corporate earnings reports and corporate culture and what are the implications for recycling? That plus Paul Hawken, “Ecology of Commerce” and the idea that the manufacturer should be responsible for the waste?
I do not have well-thought out stances on some of these topics. I could revise or re-post later in the campaign, even if that will not help you in selecting someone to endorse. I am always trying to learn.
11. The impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision is becoming distressingly clear with the infusion of huge sums of outside super PAC money in recent state ballot measures and in the upcoming elections. The damage to the environment, as well as to the general health and welfare, will be felt at national, state, and local levels. Will you support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, end constitutional corporate personhood, and stop this corruption of our elections and political system? In March, while listening to a lecture in San Francisco by Jeff Clements, I texted Palo Alto Mayor Yiaway Yeh suggesting a local initiative supporting the repeal of Citizens United. I believe I am the first Palo Altan to have suggested this. I am pleased to know Sierra Club is on this.
1. Tell us about your campaign readiness, including funding, volunteers, and organization. Please bring examples of your prior and current campaign literature. Campaign readiness is a relative term. I am one of only six people even qualified for the ballot, for four open seats. I ain’t doin’ much, but there are about 15,000 Palo Altans even more apathetic than me. I have not formed a committee. I have not hired a campaign manager nor spoken with any consultants. I will not accept any contributions to my campaign. I do not plan to spend any money on the campaign. (It cost me $25 to file). My stance on contributions comes out of my concern with Citizens United et cetera.
My plan is to write about the issues on a blog at wordpress called “Svayambh-PA: or, New Residentialist Platform”. There are about 10 events, debates and forums in the election season here, which I plan to take part in. I am not seeking any endorsements from groups or citizens, but would be honored in many cases to earn the acknowledgement from people I respect or groups I support and have followed. With the caveat that, for example, I consider myself pro-worker but do not necessarily agree with the entire platform of the Labor Council who interviewed two candidates. And I think of myself as environmentalist, but am doubtful that my various thoughts and beliefs constitute a platform overlapping with the various projects encompassed by Loma Prieta chapter. I think I have more to learn on these topics than to teach.
I am a serious person but use clowning and humor to mask my concern. What’s that expression? If I wasn’t laughing I’d be crying. I want to make a difference in my community, in what I think of as progressive ways. I think my participation in the election process has potential to impact some of my issues of concern, but it is not a full-on process. I hope I am opening a new thread of debate on some of these issues, or introducing new methodologies, like Brian Eno’s “oblique strategies”. I work with arts and artists; this process informs my understanding of certain artistic projects and creators, and will impact my future dealings with artists. And I think policy-makers could learn from artists, that some global problems may only find a solution if artists approach the problem.
People say “no one could win running for office with your restrictions” or “no one except Ladoris Cordell has ever won with your tactics, and she was already a judge”. Others call me names: clown, moron. I mean no disrespect, to the people whose issues I have not delved deep enough into, nor to the current leadership whose actions I object to. I think our community benefits from a variety of voices, and from a choice of tactics.
2. Please list your endorsements. If they are on your website – please just insert your URL.
See above regarding my endorsements
3. Please include below an exact copy of your ballot statement as submitted to the County at filing.
End of Questionnaire — this is the best I can do right now. Thanks for asking!
edit to add: the Twain book I inserted above reminded me of one of my favorite inspirational book, Wendell Berry’s “What Are People For?” which, in my copy, features a T.H. Benton illustration on the front cover — click thru to “back cover” to check it out.
If I get to it, I can publish a reading list and film list apropos of my campaign for City Council. I also am somehow drawing inspiration here from about a half dozen visual artists or their works.