After commissioner’s autopilot DUI arrest, city grapples with firing policy

Alexander Samek. San Mateo County Jail mug shot.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

Los Altos Planning Commission Chair Alex Samek has attended just one meeting since he was arrested zooming down Highway 101 while allegedly passed out drunk at the wheel of his Tesla on autopilot — and now, City Council is looking at its policies for firing commissioners.

At the annual council retreat last month, Councilwoman Neysa Fligor suggested that Mayor Lynette Lee Eng call Samek to ask him to resign, which Lee Eng said she was uncomfortable doing.
Samek, a 45-year-old luxury hotel developer, didn’t return a request for comment.

“I am concerned about when a mayor is asked to do something like that in a sensitive situation,” Lee Eng told the Post yesterday (Feb. 19). “People would take it as an abuse of power, of my position.” Instead, Lee Eng said she wanted the council to reestablish a two-member personnel committee to handle such issues. The subcommittee was operating as recently as 2013, according to the city website, but has since been disbanded.

Then, at the end of the council meeting on Feb. 12, Vice Mayor Jan Pepper suggested that the council look at making it more difficult to discipline or dismiss a commissioner.

She proposed that the council consider requiring three council members, rather than two, to place the discipline or dismissal of a commissioner on a council agenda.

Pepper also suggested that the council require such an item to be placed on the agenda at a council meeting and to suspend any discussion of disciplining a commissioner until the council considers that rule.

Now, council is set to consider that proposal at its meeting on Tuesday. City Manager Chris Jordan placed the item on the meeting’s consent agenda, a list of proposals deemed uncontroversial enough to be approved without discussion.

Is it about Samek?

Yesterday, Lee Eng stressed that the policy changes aren’t specifically targeting Samek, though Councilwoman Anita Enander said that a reasonable person “would probably draw an inference.”
Lee Eng also said she didn’t understand why Pepper would want to tie council’s hands in disciplining a commissioner by amending the Council Norms and Procedures, a 20-page document outlining policies on city governance.

Pepper didn’t return a request for comment.

“We have to make sure (commissioners) understand that they represent our whole community, and that given the understanding who they represent and no one is above reproach,” Lee Eng said.
Lee Eng said she wants the council to “clarify” the policy for disciplining or removing commissioners in the city’s Commission and Committee Handbook, an 11-page document instructing commissioners on their role in the city government.

The handbook requires commissioners to attend at least 75% of the regularly scheduled meetings each year during their term of office. The council can also remove commissioners for missing three meetings in a row.

Missed meetings

Samek, who was arrested Nov. 30, chaired the Feb. 7 meeting after missing the Dec. 6 and Jan. 17 meetings. The Dec. 20 and Jan. 3 meetings were both canceled.

Planning Commissioner Sally Meadows said she wasn’t under the impression that any meetings had been canceled because of poor attendance, and said that the Dec. 20 and Jan. 3 meetings were canceled because of the Christmas season and light agendas.

Samek was arrested around 4 a.m. on Nov. 30 after CHP officers allegedly saw him asleep at the wheel of his gray Tesla Model S, which was barreling down Highway 101 at 70 mph.

The officers tried to pull Samek over using their overhead lights and siren, but the car kept going.

So the officers got in front of Samek and drove in front of him for about 5 miles, making the car’s autopilot function slow down and come to a stop on the highway, north of Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto.

The tactic was a first for the CHP — the officers were thinking on their feet, officials said.

Samek refused to give a breath or blood sample at the jail in Redwood City, so CHP officers had to obtain a warrant to draw his blood.

The blood test showed Samek’s blood-alcohol level was .12%, higher than the legal limit of .08%. Samek pleaded innocent to DUI on Jan. 4.

6 Comments

  1. Alex Samek knows, should know, and is reckless not to know he had passed out drunk while driving and posed a very serious risk to the lives and welfare of many. Is it not the right thing he RESIGN and spare the City and others from what are irrefutably his own problems? What’s called for most here are values such as honor and accountability. Alex, do you have them or not?

    As for Pepper’s efforts in making it more difficult for City Council to hold those acting on behalf of the City (whether staff or Commission or Council members) accountable: no surprises, it is just reversal to form for her. She (with Bruins and Mordo) were front and center in enabling and covering up staff’s many abuses, lies, misrepresentations. By proposing to increase to three (from two) the number of Council votes needed to discipline a wayward City agent she is only making it harder to hold someone accountable.

    Feb 12 the Council approved Pepper with Enander spearhead efforts to “increase transparency between the City and residents.” Her actions detailed above does wonders to increase confidence and trust in her…only if you are gullible and naive and ignorant of the evidence and her record.

  2. What a bunch of PC whimps!
    He serving in a volunteer position on the Planning Commission. He betrayed the trust of the people of Los Altos by operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. He has no entitlement to the position and is not even regularly attending the meetings. Move on…

  3. Completely baffling… Surely there is something in his contract that gives the council instant powers to sack him – though asking him to resign might be a more reasonable approach given the circs. In the absence of previous history for drink-driving (or even unsociable drunkenness), we should be careful of pillorying Mr Samek… we have (mostly) all had too much to drink and made fools of ourselves. Unfortunately for him he did it at the wheel of a car… and got caught, of course. The punishment should apply to the act of allowing himself to have too much to drink in the first place, knowing he had his car with him, not the act of driving (let alone sleeping whilst driving) whilst drunk as, anyone with any intelligence realizes, the very nature of the effects of alcohol erodes the ability to make sensible decisions. So even if he had no intention of getting drunk, the alcohol took over and caught him out.

    This is one reason why many European countries have adopted a zero alcohol limit for driving. That way, as the ‘nominated driver’ you simply don’t get into a position where your alcohol-addled brain has to decide if you are fit to drive or not.

    I just thank goodness he was in a Tesla on Autopilot and no-one got hurt. The usual non-Tesla drink-drive-sleep scenario usually has a much more serious outcome and one that happens thousands of times every day the world over. At least Mr Samek looks pretty unconcerned about the situation from his mug-shot… perhaps he was quietly thanking his lucky stars (and Tesla’s engineers) that he was still alive at the time the photo was taken?

  4. Los Altos is not beholden to keep a boozer on board. Why is a hotel developer on our Planning Commission anyway? With the many recent unpopular development variances, we need more objective commissioners. Our city council has not vetted candidates in the public interest. Mayor Eng is correct – it is not her job to phone and let the rest of the city council take a pass.

  5. >Mayor Eng is correct…

    And not just on this Samek business. On many other items as well where she is keen on bringing back accountability and transparency back into City Hall and Council.

    She won’t succeed without Los Altos residents speaking up and supporting her. There are several, including Council members, who would rather protect and provide cover for staff. Council member Jeannie Bruins is on record lecturing Mayor Eng Jan 2019 on how to go gentle in asking staff questions and to not conduct an inquisition (when an inquisition and a guillotine is what is in order). Council member Pepper is on record asking for three votes to put something on an agenda making it harder to get something done and thereby providing cover for the likes of Samek.

    Residents, time to demand Council act to oversee our interests by managing well affairs at City Hall and those who volunteer for City commissions. Those members who want to serve as enablers of bad behavior ought to be put on notice by residents.

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