To kick off a new year, the newly constituted Palo Alto City Council will meet Saturday to set its annual priorities and orient its four new members. (View the agenda)
The informal meeting -- scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Lucie Stern Community Center, 1305 Middlefield Road -- offers the council its first chance to discuss key issues facing the community.
New Mayor Larry Klein raised the issue of priorities or goals at his inaugural meeting Monday, listing the council's top five assignments for 2008. They include funding the public safety building, generating support for the library bond, the expansions of Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center, hiring a new city manager and improving the city's environmental track record.
But Klein said Wednesday he doesn't think those issues, despite their importance, are necessarily priorities: "My take is that a priority is something you wouldn't ordinarily focus on," and which needs immediate attention, Klein said.
Hiring a manager or providing police and fire protection aren't priorities but are necessary to keep the city operating, he said.
But Councilman Sid Espinosa said Klein's list captures the city's priorities for the year.
"That's a really full agenda for any city council," Espinosa said.
Councilman John Barton said he agrees the city's goals are "relatively clear."
"Clearly we need to work on the library and public safety building funding," Barton said.
But the opening of the city manager position -- and other top leaders -- provides the city an opportunity to reconsider its organization, Barton said.
"Is this an opportunity for the new city manager to rethink our structure and get leaner and meaner?" Barton asked.
He also hopes the council will focus on its relationship with the community and encouraging civic involvement.
The city's leadership needs to be more accessible to all sectors of Palo Alto, especially those who have not traditionally been involved in municipal governance, Barton said.
Klein said Palo Altans for Government Effectiveness (PAGE), a group which advocates for civic participation, has said it will urge the council to focus on community engagement as one of its 2008 priorities.
In addition to PAGE, the proposal is supported by Avenidas, the Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and the Stanford Division of Continuing Studies, according to an e-mail from Barbara Spreng, PAGE chair.
Councilman Pat Burt is also focused on improving community participation, although he thinks that rather than introducing new programs, the city could involve residents more informally, with both residents and the city benefiting.
It's essential to engage the public to promote the library bond and public safety financing, Burt said.
And a key tool could be the city's Web site, which could provide opportunities for volunteerism that would help the city, Burt said.
Burt said he asked city staff to include reports about priorities in previous years in the council's retreat packet and online.
Last year, the council's top four priorities were emergency planning, climate change, improving the libraries and constructing a public safety building and sustainable budgeting.
Klein and Burt met late Thursday morning with City Manager Frank Benest to discuss shortcomings of the existing, widely criticized city Web site and how best to engage local experts in helping improve or make it into a more two-way site to engage citizens.
Priorities shouldn't change very much between years, Burt said. He plans to advocate for setting two-year priorities Saturday, he said.
"I really think of the retreat as one of the most important meetings of the council," Burt said.
He said he would like a large public turnout and said he doesn't think enough has been done to publicize the meeting.
Councilman Greg Schmid, whose top priority is emphasizing land-use planning, said he's looking forward to learning more about his colleagues.
"I think it's great to start the new term in an informal settling where you don't have any distractions," Schmid said.