By Paul Losch
Get Ready for a Palo Alto Character ChangeUploaded: Oct 10, 2009
I write this with a heavy heart.
I think the vast majority of people who live in Palo Alto really love this place. Given how expensive it is on the one hand, and the great services and public education system it has on the other hand, people have chosen to live here.
There is a character to the City of Palo Alto that is going away. And I am not sure it can be stopped. Or brought back once it is gone.
The good news:
The school district still is first class, and will continue to be so thanks to the great parent involvement at all levels, the bond that will bring the schools up to date, and the terrific faculty and district administration
There are numerous volunteer and non-profit organizations that care deeply about certain things, such as open space and kids' recreation, who work well with the City of Palo Alto, and will operate as their resources enable them to, independent of dilemmas financial the City faces.
Stanford, which is facing its own challenges, is a great neighbor. Caveat: those who are responsible for Palo Alto affairs must see Stanford that way, or it leads to bad news.
The bad news:
A revenue strategy has not been developed, and the City has lost major revenue producing sources as retail areas remain unused, properties such as Hyatt Rickey's have converted to residential, and the best we can do is come up with Measure A to tax businesses here in town. (BTW, I don't have a problem with a business tax, the company I own and run in Fremont pays such fees, and it is a common thing around the Bay Area, Palo Alto is an exception here, not the rule.) The bigger problem is that places that have the potential to generate large sales and hotel tax revenue are leaving town, due to a lack of attention to revenue generation strategies.
Services will be cut and eliminated. I see no scenario where this will not be the case, and it leads me to the matter of Palo Alto employees?
In the current environment, there will be employees permanently laid off, in order to keep the City's finances balanced. I view this as a very sad thing, because I think that services will go away that will not come back, and because I perceive those representing a fine set of PA employees are doing them a dis-service. Keeping head count at current levels by adjusting benefit packages for health care and retirement does not appear to be something the worker leadership is willing to negotiate. Consequently, some people will lose their jobs, and those that remain will have to do the best they can. Even doing their best, less services will be available.
I predict that this will be a major source of complaint by the citizens of Palo Alto in the coming months and years.
I am not calling the shots, and the City has serious financial challenges. If I could dictate an approach, I would establish a permanent Commission that focuses on revenue strategy for a City that for too long has taken for granted the money that comes in.
I would keep all we have in services and require those who work for the City to take a lesser compensation package in light of the circumstances.
That appears to be an untenable option both for City leadership and those who represent the work force.
So, there will be permanent layoffs, major changes in services that Palo Altans have enjoyed for many years.
And, in my humble point of view, a change of the character of this City that is not for the better.