With four open seats and no incumbents running for reelection I'm surprised at the lack of interest. I am appalled and concerned about who will serve and how little choice the public will have in voting for candidates.
As in the past, I know several people have been encouraged to run in this election. This approach usually produces the same result: People are flattered and yet don't feel they have the time or the support to consider serving on the council. The encouragement method never seems to produce the interest it should.
What is equally disturbing is the limited press coverage encouraging people to apply and the value of serving. Instead, the typical press coverage too often excoriates city government officials or council members for one thing or another.
From my perspective there seems a lack of credibility when chastising elected officials for their actions while there is no encouragement to get good people to run.
Qualified candidates often don't run because there is a perception that the public is overly demanding and there is a negativity surrounding serving. The public may not realize that the council position is a volunteer role and council members are paid a very small stipend, about $7,000 per year. As a community we need to set our expectations appropriately and not demand too much of our elected officials if we expect good people to step forward and offer to serve.
Having served as a council member, I can say it had many rewards. I met and got to know many great people. It was a stimulating learning experience. I had to learn about a wide variety of interesting matters. I was fortunate to serve with some conscientious council members, who were hard workers and good people.
The public buzz thus far about this election has been about the lack of female candidates, and I certainly understand that concern. I always served on a council that was equally female and male. The other typically mentioned issue is land-use decision-making. Though this is an important matter I think this election has several equally important issues and needs candidates to champion them.
This leads me to what I believe are some important matters in the upcoming election and the type of person who should consider running.
1) Expertise on utilities will be important. Though the potential for blackouts or brownouts seems a thing of the past, reliable energy and water resources are not guaranteed. Palo Alto has always been blessed with excellent representation on utilities, including its recent service by Councilman Bern Beecham, who is term limited from office. That quality of representation needs to continue and one good source for a qualified candidate would be a member of the city's Utility Advisory Commission.
2) Traffic and transportation is an ongoing issue. Fulfilling the goals set forth in the city's Comprehensive Plan, Bicycle Master Plan and other transportation policies is vital if we are to avoid long-term traffic gridlock and other negative environmental and economic impacts. Recent actions by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in cutting bus services, the non-stop increase in the cost of gasoline and several other disturbing trends make an understanding of transportation solutions and techniques a valuable asset to have in a council member.
Two champions in transportation matters, Judy Kleinberg and Dena Mossar, are also leaving the council, and replacing them is important. Members of several community organizations could provide expertise, including a Bicycle Advisory Committee member and others involved in transportation efforts. Other obvious sources for qualified candidates are our Planning and Transportation Commission and our Architectural Review Board.
3) Given the current state of our libraries, public safety building and other facilities it seems imperative to have someone who would understand and champion important capital projects vital to our community's overall well-being. Members of our current Library Advisory Commission and the recent Public Safety Building Blue Ribbon Task Force have knowledge and an understanding of what is needed and why.
4) City finances and budgeting are an on-going issue. What money should be spent, the decision process used, and how wisely we used our money are vital matters. It would be great to have a candidate with a finance background along with other skills.
5) Of course there is the need to understand our social services needs, public safety, business needs and many other matters, including the Stanford Medical Center and Hospital proposal and community health care needs.
But ultimately good public service comes from having good public officials -- and that only happens if there is a good field of qualified people from which to select.
Personally, I can think of a minimum of 10 residents who could run and would make good council members. In our lively local democracy, it is more than a duty to seek office; it is a privilege and an honor just to be able to run, win or lose.
It is not too late. There is still time to file. The deadline for submitting papers is Aug. 17. I'm hopeful other candidates will enter this year's election and provide residents with the opportunity to have the best possible City Council.