Surrounded by the beauty of the Bay, the Palo Alto City Council adopted four priorities for 2007 Saturday morning.
Two of the priorities were carried over from last year. Emergency and disaster preparation will remain on the council's slate, as will building support for and planning the construction of a new public safety building and improving the libraries.
Implementing the recommendations of the Green Ribbon Task Force on Climate Protection and developing a "sustainable budget" that anticipates future expenses will also receive the council's focus in 2007.
The priorities were picked at a casual retreat Saturday morning at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, built out over the marshlands of Palo Alto.
The mood was light -- the strongest words came in reaction to Councilman Jack Morton's characterization of the city's budget problem as a choice between "families or potholes."
Councilwoman Dena Mossar called the dichotomy "raw" and Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg cautioned him to "be careful of the words you're using."
Otherwise, the council expressed near unanimity on its priorities, which is "almost the banner that our 2007 City Council is known for," Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto said.
Emergency preparation -- for earthquakes, the pandemic flu and other disasters -- was a top goal of Kleinberg during her year as mayor.
A draft emergency plan is expected to be completed in February and enhanced public communication and disaster recovery efforts remain incomplete.
The city hopes to plan a financing measure for library improvements -- including an expanded Mitchell Park library and possibly a community center -- and construction of a public safety building on the June 2008 ballot. Both projects will soon begin the environmental review process.
"We need to continue to make a statement to the public (that) this is really important," Vice Mayor Larry Klein said of financing the projects.
Climate protection, in the form of implementating the task force recommendations, was the only priority that won unanimous support. Last year, the task force was charged with planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city.
It made its final presentation to the council in December. Recommendations included measuring current emissions, promoting energy conservation and renewable energies, and encouraging alternatives to driving.
Several council members mentioned the importance of the budget and of finding an additional $3 million to direct toward infrastructure, such as roadways. But they had trouble rallying around a single goal -- until Director of Administrative Services Carl Yeats spoke up.
"Sustainable budgeting" is becoming a popular term in the municipal finance field, Yeats said.
"It really is looking out into the future and know what your liabilities are and learning how to prioritize," he said.
"It leaves a community unburdened," Councilman Bern Beecham said, expressing his support for the priority.
Councilman Peter Drekmeier was the only member who did not select sustainable budgeting as a priority. He said he felt it was important, but he thought it should be trumped by a focus on land use.
The council acknowledged that land-use issues, particularly the proposed Stanford Shopping Center and Stanford Medical Center expansions, are also going to demand attention this year. Nonetheless, development proposals don't need to be a priority to receive community focus, several council members pointed out.
"They're going to go on, they're important, but we don't have to make them a priority," Kleinberg said.
She noted that affordable housing was a council priority for three years, but last year the council felt comfortable removing it from the list because of the success it had generating affordable projects.
City Manager Frank Benest said he would report back to the council soon to provide a description of its priorities, suggested milestones and estimated costs.
(Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at email@example.com.)