Citing years of neglect by their elected leaders, south Palo Alto residents have gathered enough signatures to put a referendum to secede and form their own city on the June ballot.
"We're sick and tired of being ignored and treated like second-class citizens in our own city," said Sharon Littleton, a resident of Barron Park who spearheaded the referendum drive.
The referendum bid comes weeks after a city survey confirmed what many residents have long suspected: Those in the south are generally less happy than those in the north. Specifically, residents of south Palo Alto (defined those living south of Oregon Expressway) gave the city far lower ratings than residents in the north in categories such as "the city's overall direction," "quality of life," "services to seniors," and "opportunities to attend cultural events."
In addition, 35 percent of the respondents in the south reported that they haven't smiled in more than a week, compared to just 6 percent in the north.
For Littleton and her recently formed watchdog group, Palo Altans to Preserve Sustainable Good Vibes (PAPSGV), the survey was the latest indication that things have gone awry south of Oregon. Days after the survey came out, the group had launched a petition drive that attracted more than 4,000 signatures.
The upcoming referendum vote, which the City Council members have already rejected as "unnecessary and illegal," would form a new city called "South Palo Alto." The the new city's logo would be an apricot tree, a reference to the 2013 "Orchard Revolution" that overturned the council's approval of a dense housing development on Maybell Avenue.
"It's about time," said George McCallister, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood. "The south has been getting shafted for years. Just look at the difference. The north has its nice Lucie Stern center and we have Cubberley, which hasn't been maintained in decades and which the city doesn't even really own.
"They have a beautifully renovated downtown library, and we have this gigantic pile of rubbish that was supposed to be the Mitchell Park Library.
"They're talking about widening sidewalks. We don't even have sidewalks in some of our neighborhoods. What do they expect us to do?"
Littleton noted that although decoupling north Palo Alto from south Palo Alto will mean that sales tax revenues generated at Stanford Shopping Center, along University Avenue and along California Avenue will stay in the north, South Palo Alto will still include most of the Stanford Research Park.
"We've got their property taxes, utility user taxes and sales taxes," she said. "We'll be OK."
Though the City Council isn't likely to recognize the new city, even should the referendum pass, council members have already taken several actions to address the grievances of south Palo Altans. This includes dispatching 12 specially appointed "emergency happy teams" to the area to regale residents with magic tricks, balloon animals and free beer and cookies. The city has also contributed $500,000 to the new South Palo Alto Happiness Foundation to support educational and recreational opportunities in southern neighborhoods.
"While we reject the referendum, we acknowledge that residents in the south are unhappy and are taking steps to address the situation," City Manager Rob M. Kean said. "We are doing our best to turn those southern frowns upside down. Hopefully, we'll be successful and the percentage of residents rating their overall quality of life as 'good' or 'excellent' will improve from the current dismal level of 93 percent to a more acceptable 97 or 98 percent."