Some city employees to clam up about Planning Commission chairman’s DUI arrest

Alexander Samek. San Mateo County Jail mug shot.

By the Daily Post staff

A number of Los Altos city employees were told not to say anything to the public or news media when Los Altos Planning Commission Chairman Alex Samek was arrested for DUI after the CHP stopped his Tesla in autopilot mode on Highway 101.

Samek, who goes on trial later this month, fell asleep behind the wheel as his car cruised down the freeway, according to the CHP.

After Samek’s arrest, the city’s community development director, Jon Biggs, sent out an email to his employees on Dec. 3 saying:

“Our Planning Commission chair, Alex Samek, was involved in an incident this past weekend. If you are approached by any member of the media or a member of the public asking you for information or a comment concerning the incident — please let them know you have no comment and all inquiries and requests for information should be referred to the City Manager’s office.”

The email explains why there was so little comment coming out of city hall after Samek’s arrest on Nov. 30.

After Los Altos officials uniformly refused to comment on Samek’s arrest, the Post filed a California Public Records Act request for all of the city hall emails about the case.

Some demand his firing

In addition to Biggs’ instruction to employees to clam up, the city received some angry emails from the public.

“Please let me know why Alex Samek has not been removed as chairman of the Planning Commission,” David Weiss asked in a Jan. 9 email to Mayor Lynette Lee Eng.

“He serves at the discretion of the council and is clearly not worthy and it is up to council to take action. Not only was he driving asleep and drunk, but he is so morally bankrupt that he has pleaded not guilty rather than admitting his guilt.”

“If it were not for the great performance by the CHP, other innocent individuals would likely have been hurt because of his criminal behavior,” Weiss wrote. “What does the council need to remove him from his position?”

Eng’s response was, “Thank you. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to convey your thoughts on this matter.”

On Jan. 13, Weiss emailed Eng again, saying he heard from Councilwoman Anita Enander, who told him that Samek would be discussed at a future council retreat. If Enander had communicated with Weiss via email, her email was not included in emails the city provided to the Post.

Weiss expressed surprise that the Samek case needed to be discussed at all. “Why does drunk driving and lying warrant discussion? Has everyone lowered their morals to Trump?” Weiss asked.

Another email from Laura Schuster to Biggs said, “A car is now considered a deadly weapon. Imagine if he had killed someone — perhaps one of your family members. I hope you all think about that.”

If Biggs responded to Schuster’s letter, it was not included in the documents the city provided to the Post.

Biggs also got an email from Peter van der Linden, who wanted his comments distributed to the Planning Commission members.

Van der Linden said the DUI arrest shows Samek “lacks basic civic responsibility, which is required for public confidence in the commission. Samek’s disgraceful drunk driving put the lives of other road users and the police at risk. Samek must apologize and step down immediately.”

No action taken

City Council discussed its procedures for disciplining or dismissing a commissioner on Feb. 12, but made no changes in its policy and didn’t take any action against Samek.

Samek, a 45-year-old luxury hotel developer, is set to go on trial July 16 in San Mateo County Superior Court.

18 Comments

  1. Who is Briggs to tell other workers that they have no comments? Remember, the Silicon Valley Foundation had to clean house. Mr Briggs & Samek should both step down. I wonder if Biggs had free nights stays at any of Samek developments?

  2. Not the first or last instance of Biggs (and his boss, Jordan) attempting to cover up misconduct and other breaches of their duties (as public servants) at Los Altos City Hall.

    [Portion removed — please don’t accuse people of criminal offenses unless they have actually been charged with those crimes.]

    Check up on ongoing litigation involving the City where Biggs is named as a defendant…and watch him being brought to account in a court of law.

    All this has come to pass owing to the complicity of some past Council members who got kicked out of office in the Nov elections. It continues on owing to the complicity of current Council members who deserve to be held accountable by and to the public at Council meetings and in the next elections. After all we elect Council members to oversee and manage City Hall, not abet and enable and be complicit in their shenanigans.

  3. This article’s heading reads: “Some city employees to clam up…”
    However the content confirms Jon Biggs directed ALL, not “some”, city employees to not respond to inquiries and instead direct them to the City Manager.
    Is the heading wrong?
    Are there SOME city employees who responded to the Daily Post’s inquiries thereby disregarding Biggs’ directive?

    Another public record request would reveal other instances where City managers (Biggs, Jordan, others) directed City staff similarly.

    • I think the Post said “some” employees because Biggs only oversees employees in the planning and building departments. I would assume his order wouldn’t apply to people in other departments, such as parks and recreation, finance, public works or police, to name a few.

  4. There was a board-member/commissioner in Palo Alto who was forced to resign because she took a clay pot from a vacant yard! How is this Los Altos planning commissioner still on the board?!

  5. >How is this Los Altos planning commissioner still on the board?!
    Good question and an answer that doesn’t surprise:
    Because three Los Altos City Council members (Jan Pepper, Neysa Fligor, Jeannie Bruins) did not support the other two (Lynette Eng, Anita Enander) in getting him off board. As the Daily Post’s editor noted a while ago concerning Los Altos City Council: when council members, elected to oversee and manage City Hall, instead abet and enable staff’s bad behavior, what can we expect?

  6. Don’t these employees have First Amendment rights to speak about an issue if they choose? I would agree that they shouldn’t being speaking out when they’re on the clock (ha, ha, as if the city had time clocks for employees), but they have every right to talk about this Samek fellow on their own time to whomever they want.

    Also, it’s unclear but did this “gag order” (my term) apply to the council members? I get the feeling that the council took Biggs lead in going silent.

    It seems to me like this is an issue that should be openly discussed. I realize it might make Samek feel uncomfortable, but he got himself into this situation, so he should experience the consequences.

  7. People are so quick to criticize Alex Samek for getting a DUI. But there’s another side to the story:

    1. Instead of trying to drive his vehicle while drunk, he fell asleep and let the wise autopilot feature drive for him. I think that showed responsibility on his part. Drunken driving and sleepy drivers are real hazards. This Tesla feature seems to solve both problems. I say Bravo!

    2. It’s a reality that we will will have drunken drivers on our streets. So we should design our streets with them in mind. We should give drivers more room for error, and easier ways to make u-turns, wider emergency lanes, etc. So who better to serve on the Planning Commission than a veteran drunk driver? Alex Samek knows what drunk drivers need when they’re cruising around town. Let’s put his experience to work.

    I salute the council members who decided to keep Samek on the Planning Commission. Clearly, they agree with the points made above. They make me proud to be a Los Altan.

    • “It’s a reality that we will will have drunken drivers on our streets. So we should design our streets with them in mind.”

      I’m going to believe that your post is meant in jest!

  8. Let’s be clear – the technology developed by Elon Musk’s Tesla bears huge responsibility for bypassing the ‘predictable abuse’ standard set forth by the NHTSA.

    It’s only matter of time before driver skills drop significantly as people buy into Elon’s false promises of Self-Driving and calmly assume his off-the-cuff remarks promoting his technology (pumping his stock) as factual when they are merely driver aides and very far from autonomous technology.

  9. >So who better to serve on the Planning Commission than a veteran drunk driver?

    Taking your point to its natural conclusion: how about we therefore demand all candidates for Los Altos City Council and other Commissions have a record as a qualification (DUI, battery, hit-n-run, etc.) and the more serious their violations, the more attractive their candidacy. They would be excellent managers of the staff they would need to oversee, with each overlooking and protecting the other.

    Perhaps that reflects the reality that already is in place today?
    other

  10. I assume the Post wanted to hear what employees thought of Samek keeping his commission appointment after the incident, i.e., their personal opinions. Seems like that should be OK. However, it’s not unusual for organizations to tell employees to not talk to the press so the organization speaks with one voice — an official position.

    Samek should have been removed from the commission. Better yet, he should have resigned. The Los Altos council is way too timid when it comes to holding anyone accountable for anything — performance, ethics, whatever.

  11. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. The city of los altos has a history of covering up the misdeeds of their employees. One might want to look at the police department and ask about the time card fraud investigation that never happened. Coincidently, that was right around the time that former city manager Marcia Somers resigned. Oh and why did the former Chief suddenly resign in November 2016?

    • >However, it’s not unusual…so the organization speaks with one voice —
      >an official position.
      That may be usual for private enterprises but highly unusual for govt agencies and public servants. Common in Communist and totalitarian regimes and most unwelcome in free societies where open governance, accountability, transparency
      (the very same ideals Los Altos City Council members and staff tout and bsndy about) are desired and required objectives.

      >The Los Altos council is way too timid
      Amen. When would they muster the courage to call a spade a spade and hold those they oversee accountable? If not now, when?

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