Brian Hamachek has strong feelings about Palo Alto’s land-use policies.
The software engineer and Palo Alto’s newest City Council candidate opposed Castilleja School’s redevelopment application, which the city approved earlier this year, and he believes developers in general have way too much sway over city leaders, he said Monday.
He hopes to change that by joining the council, which will have three seats open at the end of this year.
Though he hasn’t served on any local boards or commissions, Hamachek said he’s been following local politics for about 15 years, ever since he emailed council members with concerns about the traffic impacts of a Trader Joe’s store that was getting built in Town & Country Village. The responses he received demonstrated to him the many nuances and variables that go into planning decisions and prompted him to apply to serve on the Planning and Transportation Commission.
Though he didn’t win an appointment, Hamachek said he remained engaged in local issues, including the Castilleja project a few blocks from his home in Old Palo Alto. The council, he argued, was spurred to approve the project by threats of a lawsuit.
“I think that overall, developers have gotten a little too much power,” Hamachek, 36, told this news organization. “We just kind of accepted the fact that projects will get approved.”
On his campaign website, Hamachek argues that residents do not need to accept the “San Jose-ification of Palo Alto.” It’s up to the residents, not developers, to decide where housing should happen and how it looks.
“We need housing that is affordable for our firefighters, teachers and the other lower-income families that have always been an integral part of the fabric of Palo Alto,” he wrote. “We do not need Santana Row style cookie-cutter ‘luxury’ apartment complexes, which prioritize density and profit over well-established aesthetics and community values.”
As a tech professional who has worked for numerous startups before joining HP, Hamachek strongly believes in the power of technology to enhance civic life. In 2014, he was one of the judges who evaluated apps at the city’s hackathon. Today, he supports the city’s move to expand its small but profitable fiber network citywide, a project that the city has been exploring for two decades and will gradually unfold over the next few years.
“I really think that should be pursued,” Hamachek said. “I think it’s expensive but it’s one of those projects that we don’t even know the benefits of until it’s built. And I think there will be tremendous benefits.”
He feels the same way about grade separation at the rail tracks, particularly if it involves building a tunnel for trains — an alternative that the council had considered but ultimately rejected because of high costs.
Hamachek is less enthusiastic about a potential business tax, which the council is preparing to place on the November ballot. A new tax, he said, could hurt local businesses.
“I think in general, we need to be doing everything we can to support local businesses and not increase the burden on them,” Hamachek said.
Hamachek is the seventh candidate to enter the council race. Joining him on the ballot will be Ed Lauing, chair of the Planning and Transportation Commission; Lisa Forssell, a member of the Utilities Advisory Commission and producer at the design studio at Apple; Hope Lancero, a medical researcher at Stanford University; Vicki Veenker, a patent attorney and mediator; Alex Comsa, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker; and Julie Lythcott-Haims, an author and former dean of freshmen at Stanford University.
Council members Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth are both terming out at the end of the year, while council member Alison Cormack is concluding her term and has opted not to see a second term.