News

Finances, infrastructure
and the city's future

From housing growth to proposed Stanford redevelopment, City Council campaign issues show how city's changed -- or hasn't -- over past two years

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Just like two years ago, the 2007 slate of candidates for Palo Alto City Council includes an attorney, a CPA, a management consultant and an advocate for the homeless. But this year a registered nurse, several high-tech executives (one retired) and a real-estate agent are also in the running.

In total, 11 Palo Alto residents are vying for four of the nine seats on the council.

The campaign includes one of the youngest candidates ever -- Yiaway Yeh at 29 -- alongside faces more familiar to the civic crowd, such as Planning and Transportation Commissioner Pat Burt and former school-board member Greg Schmid.

The field also includes residents whose careers have exposed them to state governance and placed one in the White House, as well as individuals who have no prior experience in the public sector.

The civic issues worrying candidates in 2007 -- a deteriorating city infrastructure and stagnant revenues among others -- share some similarities to those two years ago.

In 2005, the rate of housing development and its impact on existing infrastructure had cycled back to the top of the list of community concerns. The debate over "slow-growth" versus "pro-growth" had been stoked by a number of developments planned for south Palo Alto and a feeling among some residents that the city had simply "run out of room."

Since then, construction has begun on six of the projects, from the large-scale D.R. Horton development on the former site of Rickey's Hyatt to Classic Communities' homes bordering U.S. Highway 101 in Midtown.

Plans for the much-debated Alma Plaza finally congealed as a mix of 51 homes, nearly 28,000 square feet of retail/commercial and community space, and approximately 8,900 square feet of public parkland.

For candidates who favored the preservation of neighborhood retail space, the project serves as a rallying cry for a more comprehensive city-planning process in the future.

The city two years ago was also grappling with a cloudy budget forecast.

Leaders expressed ongoing anxiety over the loss of businesses -- and in particular lucrative tax revenue brought in by auto dealerships and hotels. Candidates were asked pointedly which city services they would opt to eliminate.

Since then, however, thanks to the city's correction of a "structural deficit" that had Palo Alto in the red, the forecast has brightened a bit. But revenues have not substantially picked up; in fact, the city faced the need this year to come up with $3 million to plunge into the rapidly evaporating infrastructure fund. The situation has left many residents eager to hear fresh ideas from council-hopefuls for boosting revenue.

And infrastructure itself, from talk of "exploding toilets" to ongoing complaints about "dismal" road conditions, is squarely on the minds of this year's candidates. Several have cited the city's "30-year backlog of repairs" as one of their top concerns.

New issues have also gained prominence since 2005. Stanford Medical Center and the managers of the Stanford Shopping Center have announced massive expansion plans, which have already split community sentiments in half. While one group of residents hails the benefits of the hospitals, another set worries over projected traffic increases and the need to house new employees.

Still on the table are plans for upgrading the library system and constructing a new public-safety building, with city leaders expecting both items to go out for a bond vote in the coming year. The debate about the libraries remains unresolved, however, following the rejection of former Library Director Paula Simpson's plan for consolidating the five-branch system.

And finally, one issue that gained momentum in the past two years continues to attract candidates' interest. Combating global warming became a priority for the council this year, and several candidates expressed their eagerness to help the city move toward a more sustainable future.

Related stories:

  • The candidates

  • How they'll vote

  • Election 2007: Stories, links and resources

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