While Councilmember Gordon Wozniak thinks it would be a stellar idea to develop the old Wright’s Garage at 2929-23 Ashby Ave. as a restaurant and shops, some criticize the District 8 councilmember, saying he should keep an open mind on land-use questions that may come before him.
“I strongly support this project for various reasons,” writes Wozniak on the Kitchen Democracy website, in which the public can weigh in on various municipal questions. (The site is www.kitchendemocracy.org.) Responding to a Wednesday call for comment from the Planet, Wozniak checked with the city attorney, who did not return the Planet’s repeated calls for comment. He said she advised him that he might have to recuse himself if the project comes before the council.
“I did talk to the city attorney,” Wozniak said Thursday morning. “I may have to disqualify myself if [the zoning board] passes the project and it has an appeal [to the council],” he said.
“If the city attorney rules that I’ve pre-judged the case, I’ll follow her advice,” he said.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington is among those questioning Wozniak’s post on Kitchen Democracy, contending that councilmembers are required to maintain open minds on land-use matters that could come to them on appeal.
He pointed to a document called “Key Ethics Law Principles for Public Servants,” written by the Institute for Local Government: “Public officials cannot participate in quasi-judicial proceedings in which they have a strong bias with respect to the parties of facts,” it says.
Wozniak has “predetermined the merits of the project before a public hearing,” Worthington said.
Councilmember Dona Spring is also critical of Wozniak’s post on the Kitchen Democracy site. She told the Planet that the city has precedent for asking councilmembers to recuse themselves when they have taken a position on land-use projects. Pointing to an incident in 2002 where she had spoken out publicly in opposition to a matter regarding Tune Up Masters on University Avenue, Spring recalled that the city attorney insisted she disqualify herself from participating on the question.
“You’re supposed to come in with a clear and open mind,” Spring said.
Spring pointed out another precedent: former councilmember Miriam Hawley followed the city attorney’s advice in March 2001 when she recused herself from a vote on a project proposed for 2700 San Pablo Ave., based on a letter supporting the project she had written when she was an AC Transit board member.
In a phone conversation Wednesday, Wozniak explained why he had posted his thoughts on the web site, where people would view them. “A number of constituents had been asking me what my position was of [the proposal],” he said and added on Thursday that the discussion on the web site allowed him to understand the public’s concerns, such as parking.
Wozniak noted that some 81 percent of the 187 people expressing their opinions on the web site supported the project and 9 percent opposed.
But one “no” voter posted an angry comment, condemning Wozniak for taking the Kitchen Democracy poll into consideration. Karen MacLeod wrote: “People can vote more than once and so can the people trying to ruin our neighborhood, even if they do not live in our city! I could live in San Jose and vote. Using this information is an irresponsible way of representing your constituents.”
Still, “yes” voter Ginger Ogle writes: “Gordon Wozniak’s argument makes sense to me. I agree that particular block is very ramshackle, and the proposed improvements would be a benefit….”
Worthington said he further objects to Wozniak using the site as a public platform, since it is partially funded by monies from Wozniak’s city officeholder account and approved by a vote of the council (although the $3,000 has yet to reach Kitchen Democracy, Wozniak says).
Wozniak, however, contends that opportunity to respond on Kitchen Democracy is “open to anyone in the city.”