A less-perfect union? | September 30, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - September 30, 2011

A less-perfect union?

Palo Alto's labor unions struggle to remain relevant during tough budget times

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto and Wisconsin are thousands of miles apart — geographically and politically — but one wouldn't guess that by talking to the local labor leaders.

This story contains 3449 words.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Stepheny, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 30, 2011 at 9:38 am

YES on D will help Palo Alto restore fiscal responsibility.

Compensation features won through binding arbitration has escalated city costs for public-safety employees beyond long-term affordability:
- average fireman wage now $140,000 per year, total compensation is $205,000
- benefits add 50% to wages, about double the benefits offered by private industry
- 100% medical coverage for life, including dependents
- may retire with full benefits at age 50
- pensions are 90% of highest year's salary
- featherbedding rules: same number of firemen on duty 24 hours per day regardless of need

The repeal of binding arbitration is a necessary step toward gradually reducing the pressure on future Palo Alto budgets, and the tax burden on future Palo Altans.

YES on D.


Posted by Wow, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:04 am

Really interesting article. I'll try not to jump into the political and union fray or bash any group as it seems these threads often do, but there are some real impacts here for us in the community.

The loss of employees in some cases will hurt City services for years to come. I hope they are successful in filling some of those vacancies soon and of course downsizing where possbile.

Who knows how many fire and police employees we will lose. Losing 3/4 of the police managers can't be good.

Wow


Posted by Cut the Fat First, a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:09 am

First, get rid of the extra pounds of management fat at City Hall!

Begin in the City Manager's Office.

Next go department by department, lopping off the unneeded managerial pounds beginning with the Director and Deputy director in each department.

After that trim from the muscle and bone of rank and file worker bees if any trimming is need after the managerial fat has been lopped off.

Put City Hall management on a bureaucratic blubber melting diet that is long overdue!


Posted by steve johnson, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:20 am

There is know way we can keep giving these people full medical,full retirement at 50 buy them takeing 8 weeks the last year,10 sick days the last year it is absolutely ridicules,...........to tell you the truth the TAX PAYERS SHOULD BE THE ONE VOTING ON THERE CONTRACTS not the FOX that is guarding the hen house ,.wake up


Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:41 am

Why should police and fire employees in Palo Alto have special privileges that other city employees don't have? What's fair and equal about that? Palo Alto police and fire employees should have to negotiate like all other city employees. There should be no special privileges. I'm in favor of repealing binding arbitration. Check out www.RepealBindingArbitration.org for more information.


Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:48 am

Your own "Info Palo Alto" states that total assessed value of commercial and industrial space went from valuation of $3.85 billion in 1984 to $22.54 billion in 2011, an increase of nearly $20 billion, and that's billions not millions. And who benefits from that? Is it good for our community or only certain property owners?

Might we look elsewhere -- like that $20 billion windfall or capital gain or paper gain or what not -- to solve our numbers so-called problem and not scapegoat the workers, in our $147 million budget and five or eight per cent fluctuation? What about real estate transfer tax or some other creative ways to work with the real estate stakeholders -- public private partnerships, like at Lytton Plaza -- and not bash bash bash our rank and file?

I am NO on D.

As one of them said recently at Council, a propos of parking, (and not to jump from overall to downtown per se, confusingly), there are 4 million square feet downtown and only 10 entities own 60 percent of that: what are those people doing for our community, besides collecting rent?

The butler did it. I mean the meter guy, the last-hired firefighter, the public safety worker with a three-hour commute, the librarian who we won't help pay to finish college, yeah, that's the lime zone I mean lame zone ticket.


Posted by Retired Staffer, a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:51 am

One of the problems in the Utilities world is that the employees can't afford to live nearby. They tolerate the commute from the Central Valley because of the benefits for their families. Without those benefits they'll get their training here and then switch to employers that are closer to home. That leaves holes in the skills roster of the Utilities department. It costs $6,000 to train a heavy equipment operator, but Palo Alto chooses to spend millions on "anaerobic digestion" instead of employee retention.


Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 11:09 am

I find your cover offensive. "Less Perfect Union..." etc.

Are you mocking the preamble to the U.S. Constitution? For reference sake, let me remind my fellow readers the exact words that your cover story seeks to twist, play upon and pun:
We the People, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It’s hard to tell from your cover which side you would have been on in 1776. Or, who is it that is struggling to stay relevant?


Posted by Phillips C, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2011 at 11:12 am

Binding arb is an outdated relic that gives preferential privileges to fire and police employees. It has resulted in ridiculous compensation packages and work standards for police and fire. Although these are public employees, being paid for by you, the taxpayer, they have taken the taxpayer to the cleaners and we, the taxpayer, have outsourced our negotiations to an outside arbitrator. Binding arb is simply bad governace and that is why less than 5% of California cities have it and those that do are taking steps to repeal it. The unions that represent these employees are not interested in the health of Palo Alto-they are only interested in protecting these obscene comp packages. Let's level the playing field and treat all our valable city employees equally.


Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 30, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

Why I am voting NO on Measure D.

The public safety workers have not used binding arbitration since 1980. So why now has the city council, by a 5 to 4 vote joined the Wisconsin mentality to attack the rights of unions to have a form of arbitration when there are disagreements? For 30 years the negotiations have proceeded, the city council members have been able to resolve through negotiations the public safety workers' terms and conditions.

It seems only fair to me to have arbitration if the parties can't come to an agreement.

Let's protect the rights of the public safety officers who work so hard to make Palo Alto a safe place to live.

As a Palo Alto Certs' Volunteer, I can attest to the competence and dedication of the staff.
I have worked first hand with the firefighters and police to prepare Palo Alto for disasters, to educate the public and to work with our safety officers.

Support them by voting NO on D. I don't want Wisconsin thinking in Palo Alto.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 30, 2011 at 1:05 pm

The problem is that, apparently, the "arbitration" has sided with NOT reducing future costs that have been attempted several times. Makes me not trust the "arbitration process"..Tempted to go against arbitration as a result.

We, the employers, have tried to lower our future costs by tiering the pensions, but have been blocked by "binding arbitration". Time for we, the employers, to take back some power. Though I see the point made by Ms. Smith,and I in no way whatsoever want to see any grief fall on our city employees, I also have to say that we must defend ourselves and our future from any built in uncontrolled expenses.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Any worker can walk away from the job if they don't like what the city (and, by extension, the people of Palo Alto) offer them. We should not be under any obligation to use taxpayer money to pay anyone more than what they are worth, and that should be decided by the market and not by a self-serving union and a third party arbitrator who is not on the hook for the effects of his ruling (that burden falls to the taxpayers).

When there are hundreds of qualified applicants for every vacancy, for example, the market is saying the job is overpaid.

The relative lack of use of binding arbitration is misleading. The threat of it forces the city and its taxpayers to overpay relative to what the market will carry. This is unacceptable. No class of workers is entitled to privileged treatment on the backs of another class. Plus, as has been pointed out many times, if proponents of keeping binding arbitration point to its lack of use, then that same lack of use means they won't miss it when its gone.

Its a shame that our public unions have devolved into the most damaging special interest in PA politics -- they'd love to lay claim to all of my children and grandchildren's taxes to fund bloated pension obligations. Its about time we say "enough is enough," and start treating our public sector like everyone else (market rate pay, pay for performance, termination for underperformance, enfored productivity gains, etc.)


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 30, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Darn, I got all excited about the 45 positions the City needs to fill, and went immediately to the HR page to see if there was a job for me..but can only find 11 positions, none of which are my field. Engineering and IT look good, but I am far from that.

Where are the other positions listed?


Posted by Kim S., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Absolutely Yes on D!

Retirement at age 50, full health benefits, pension spiking. The public working sector is so far ahead of the private sector in terms of pay and benefits that something has to give.


Posted by Cut the Fat First, a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Michael has conventional eocnomic ideology to fall back on - until his own job is outsourced in the foolishardy race to the bottom America has signed up for these days. What's the outcome going to be? The top 5% with 95% of the wealth?

Instead reward productivty. Get some actual work done. Get rid of the bloated management at City Hall. The workers who actually do the work won't even miss the managerial bureaucrats who are shown the door.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I'm all for getting rid of all government bloat. I agree there is plenty of fat to cut in City Hall, and if that's a good place to start than so be it, but isolating a few public employees for scrutiny (management) when the problem of overcompensation is system-wide is a non-starter.

We are all constantly in a struggle to improve our productivity to stay ahead of external competition. In my case I've had to work to continue to improve my skills and productivity to make sure I'm more than 2X as valuable as an engineer in India who will attempt do my job for half the cost, because at the end of the day my employer will do what is best for the company.

Why should government workers be any different? Why do they deserve to be exempt from the continual need to improve efficiency and productivity that the private sector deals with? If hundreds of qualified workers are willing to fight for a firefighter job at half the current compensation, why should the city and its shareholders (the taxpaying public) be forced to go with the less productive option at the expense of roads, schools, parks, libraries, or lower taxes?

It'd be nice is we magically subsidize comfortable upper middle classes for everyone, but using the tax dollars from the productive private sector to subsidize an out-of-market lifestyle for their public counterparts is simply wrong. The taxpayers deserve the most effective and efficient solutions for their money, nothing less. The public sector, through its unions, has devolved into a self-serving entity of its own, which consumes tax revenue recklessly with little control or accountability to the value it delivers in return for that revenue.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I find it remarkable that you wrote this lengthy article about city salaries and benefits and not once did you mention their actual salaries. Why don't you give just a few examples of what they make so that we can see for ourselves if the salaries are in line or not?


Posted by SPH, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Phillip C...police and fire are taxpayers too.
Carroll why should they get special treatment? When was the last time you had to fight someone and if you lost it ment your life? Why should other unions be able to strike but not Public safety unions? How is that fair?


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I see a fair amount of people making and or repeating completely false statements about binding arbitration. I suggest doing a little reading about what exactly is involved in the process before jumping to conclusions. If binding arbitration is the golden handcuffs so many people think it is then one would think the PAFD and PAPD would be at the top in salary and benefits in Santa Clara County and or Bay Area. Or that it would have been used way more often than the few times it has in over 30 years. In my opinion the City Manager and City Council are attempting to dodge any responsibility/accountability for the present economic situation the city and or area is in. Blame the Unions seems to be the flavor of the day. Union membership in America is at an all time low and there are still those who use an isolated example someplace as fuel to demonize unions. Everyday you hear and see that the middle class is shrinking. People work longer hours, less vacation, less time with family, etc. While those at the top, CEO's etc get richer and richer every year. Profits go up and up, jobs go overseas, people barely make it in two earner households. Those at the very top are rich beyond what most people can imagine and they have the working class turning on eachother! Look at the recently booted HP CEO as an example, 11 or so months at the helm at now he walks with millions upon millions for what most people would consider a terrible job while in charge. How many HP average worker/retiree could have health benefits, retirement or even a job still with the amount of money the ex CEO was given? Instead the elite have done a excellent job of blaming union workers. Funny, when a US company ships jobs off overseas they cut their labor costs bigtime, but for some reason the retail price never seems reflect the reality of reduced production. But the profits and executive pay goes up.
For an generaly well educated community one would think people would read between the lines when it comes to the local press and elected officials statements to see the reality of where we are. Instead it appears many people drank the punch handed out. How many Wall Street thugs are doing jail time for their part in all of this? most of us would do more prison time for robbing a hot dog vendor of $80.00. Millions of peoples lives were ruined and or they lost everything because of the crimes committed by many of those on Wall Street. White Collar crime seems to indeed pay. I would rather be roughed up and have my wallet taken than have my lifes savings and or retirement fund erased, home equity wiped out, etc. The person who punched me in the nose and took my $80.00 would probably do more time than those responsible for ruining peoples futures and lives. Union workers are a small minority of the general population, and as has happened since the begining in this Country be made out to be the cause of other peoples woes. Things never seem to change. Have you hugged a CEO today?


Posted by Hotopic, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 30, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Kim has got it right. It's outrageous for taxpayers who enjoy none of these incredible benefits to continue paying for them.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Jake says: " Everyday you hear and see that the middle class is shrinking. People work longer hours, less vacation, less time with family, etc."

This is correct. This is the reality of a competitive global market we live in. Where you are wrong, however, is to expect the same burdened middle class taxpayer that you just described to support out of market compensation and extremely out of market pension and retirement benefits for the "public" class. How many private sector taxpayers would you bleed out of the middle class to prop up your favored public sector workers, who you deem more deserving?

I also don't think the pro public union crowd has figured out yet that painting the entire private sector with the "Wall Street CEO" brush is going to win the union a lot of votes. Wasting a dollar overpaying a public employee is the same as wasting a dollar bailing out a wall st. bank.

I loathe all government waste equally, and overpaid public sector workers are a huge source of this waste. I'm sorry that economic reality has called this into the spotlight -- maybe there was a time when we couldn't hire firefighters and other public sector workers for much what they are making today (with regular, defined contribution pensions to boot) but those times are long gone.

I work hard for a living and don't take handouts from anyone, and I likewise want to get what I pay for with my tax dollars, without an "overpayment premium" taken off the top.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 9:56 pm

It is a shame more of you do not do your research. 1st of all, with regards to retirement, your children and grandchildren will not be paying for the current public safety officer's retirement unless that officer is still working. Palo Alto contributes to PERS, for CURRENT employees only. They do not contribute to the retirement once they retire, it is solely funded through PERS (which is so financially stable, past governors have tried to "borrow" from PERS). So, yes it is true that we contribute a certain percent of their yearly salary to PERS WHILE they are working, we do not contribute or pay anything further after they retire.

The other misconception, is that public safety officers get a full retirement at the age of 50 years. It is true that they get to retire at 50, but they only get 90 percent if they started working age 20 years (after 30 years of working for the public). Right now, public safety receives 3 percent for each year that they work. So if you work 20 years, you can retire at 60 percent. This is what most departments pay. The cities that are having financial trouble, such as San Jose (who is non PERS), are lowering this and they are losing a ton of good public safety officers.

Let's be honest. We are not giving our public safety officers an exorbitant lifestyle. How many can afford to be your neighbor? I don't believe any PAPD officers can afford to live here (which creates problems in itself, but that is for a later time). They have to commute in. Several have over an hour and a half commute. This makes sense if Palo Alto is paying decent wages (we do not pay the most, but definitely not the least). If we significantly cut their benefits, they will plain and simply go some place else or work for the same amount, closer to home. Again, many of you say, feel free, go. Do you realize how much time and money training takes and how much overtime cost we will incur due to the shortage? They will go and we will be the losers in the end, as we deal with a shortage of well trained public safety officers and the expense of getting more up to par, so that they can leave after we paid to train them as well.

Our public safety employees have not had a pay raise in several years, which is a pay cut in itself as the cost of living has definitely not remained static. They are NOT asking for a pay raise now. They are asking for the right of appearing before a NEUTRAL party to help arbitrate, if negotiations get to that point (usually they do not). We will pass measure D and we will cut their pay and we will pay MORE in the long run.



Posted by Kim S., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:41 pm

By all means, let's be honest. at over $100K per year, police and fire department employees get to retire at age 50 at ONLY! 90 % if they've been working for 30 years? All of us private sector employees put in over 30 years and don't get a pension or health benefits. There's talk of putting social security payments starting at age 70 (a full 20 years after union employees) for the private sector! If the unemployed private sector had a shot at working for the city with less than the current pay rate and less benefits, we'd jump at the chance. It's time for unions and union employees to wake up!


Posted by Michael, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:52 pm

The above post makes an incorrect claim -- the taxpayers ARE on the hook for any shortfall in the PERS system - hence the term "unfunded liability". If the PERS system were truly self contained, the taxpayers would not have to stand behind it to bail it out if the unrealistic returns that are baked into the formulas (8% annual returns) or overly burdendsome obligations due to issues such as pension spiking. As such, our children are being left to pay the bill.

Everyone should be on defined contribution plans such as 401K. Why should a private sector employee's retirement be at the market's mercy while that employee remains on the hook to backstop a public sector employee's retirement if the market does not perform? The private sector is being exploited by the current rules and thankfully there is finally enough awareness around the issue to create enough backlash to effect real change.

The police are probably pretty fairly paid, and as such shouldn't be continually cited in the defense of the status quo. Little will change for them when we get our act together and start paying public employees market value for their services. The firefighters and half of the bureaucrats in city hall... that's a different story.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Clarification -- "above post" refers to the one by "Anonymous". Kim, I couldn't agree with you more.


Posted by What's real?, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2011 at 9:29 am

Kim, Thank you.

..."It is a shame more of you do not do your research. 1st of all, with regards to retirement, your children and grandchildren will not be paying for the current public safety officer's retirement unless that officer is still working. Palo Alto contributes to PERS, for CURRENT employees only. They do not contribute to the retirement once they retire, it is solely funded through PERS (which is so financially stable, past governors have tried to "borrow" from PERS). So, yes it is true that we contribute a certain percent of their yearly salary to PERS WHILE they are working, we do not contribute or pay anything further after they retire."

The continuing fueled attack on public employees is disgusting.

The first year on cuts without medical or other emergency...maybe families can make it - but by the second year for mid level wage earners cushion is gone. Even cutting out vacation, dinners, new car, newspaper, cleaners, clothes, weekends at the beach,,,,NOW in well into the end of the second year it is desperate. Costs of rent, food, and gas have gone up. Total loss to income then equals 15 - 22% this year with increased cuts and costs over the last three years.

A worker earning an average of 70,000 are now after the contributions to benefits and the cost of living will be earning less than sustainability around $58,000. - 55,000 net after taxes and net pay contribution. Many employees while still working full time are being driven into bankruptcy, losing their homes and being forced to work second jobs while still working full time for the city of Palo Alto...and are sickened by the stress and financial burden while working more.

This in one of the richest cities in the country.


Posted by It's-Just-Reality-Catching-Up, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 11:14 am

> Attack on Government workers disgusting.

Well, maybe, but more likely it’s simply reality catching up with an “it’s all free in the library” mentality. The following link points to the growth of government workers over the past six decades:

Web Link

There are now more government workers employed in the US than there are workers employed in the manufacturing sector. Government workers produce little that directly contributes to the GDP .. certainly little that can be compared to their cost. The cost of the salaries and benefits, including lavish pensions, falls heavily on the private sector.

While private sector workers (non-unionized, anyway) generally understand that their jobs, and compensation, depend on their output (productivity), government workers believe that they have a right to “jobs for life”, and no obligation to be productive. Their salaries are generally a function of their length-of-employment, and have nothing to do with their expertise, or output.

As a taxpayer, or business owner, it’s not hard to become unhappy with “governments” having the power to tax without limit, for the purpose of creating a whole class of semi-dependent, and not-all-that-productive employees and want the situation corrected, one way or another.


Posted by We struggle too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 12:15 pm

And so? It's not just the labor unions struggling in this economy, but also many other people. When will you do articles on average people struggling out there, including in Palo Alto?


Posted by JT, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm

It's remarkable that the Weekly can write a long story about salaries at City Hall and not actually list one single salary. If people saw what they were making over there, they'd be hopping mad. Of course that's exactly why the Weekly won't list any salaries.


Posted by No-Limit-For-City-Salaries, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm

> Why doesn't the Weekly print City salaries?

Well, the do, from time-to-time--

Web Link

Web Link

City of Palo Alto 2010 Salaries:
Web Link

Unfortunately for Palo Alto residents, the Weekly too often seems to be more of a stealth PR arm of the City government, rather than a newspaper that is looking out for the best interests of its readers.


Posted by Jaco P, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm

These are the same people posting that were laughing at upper level management in the city making too little money during the bubble. If one of these upper level managers in the city were to walk right across the street to one of the dozens of start-ups downtown during their heyday they would have made 3x or maybe even more.

Now when times are tough people are calling for their heads because they're making too much money! It's called stability people. That's how the city can compete and hire top notch managers against the private sector, which has the cash flow and ability to pay more for the same talent.


Posted by No-Limit-For-City-Salaries, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm

> That's how the city can compete and hire top notch managers
> against the private sector, which has the cash flow and ability
> to pay more for the same talent.

Not even close!

First, define “top notch managers”? Certainly there is little evidence that public sector managers are “top notch”, given how much secrecy, or lack of transparency there is in the operations of government. “Employee rights” makes it very difficult to learn very much about any employee, particularly if he/she is fired.

There is little evidence that very many public sector managers come from the private sector. There is no profit motive in the public sector, so there is little a “top notch” public sector manager can offer a hungry-for-profit company—particularly the startup kind of company that only survives if it pushes its people beyond the breaking point. And then, most of these companies fail before they actually bring any/many product(s) to market.

No, what has happened is that the public sector has created a parallel employment system that does not see productivity, or innovation, as anything of value. Longevity, and passivity (not rocking the boat) become the hall marks of the public sector employee, and management almost always comes from this pool of “talent”.


Posted by Jaco P, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm

@No-Limit-For-City-Salaries

I'm referring to when potential managers are in college the only way local governments and cities can compete in hiring 'potential' managers is by offering them these incentives. Being innovative?! How are they supposed to create new developments when NIMBY's like you just sit back and ruin any advancement they try and make?

It's people like you that make their jobs so difficult. Transparency? How about some transparency in the private sector, for they were the ones that got us in this economic mess in the first place. Our city government IMO is very transparent, all meetings where important decisions are made are all public and you can attend anyone you want. You just probably choose not to and instead sit behind your computer bad mouthing other people.

You think the managers are talentless? I'd sure like to see you try and run a city such as Palo Alto being completely 'transparent.' In fact what idea's do you have anyway to improve our city? I'm all ears.



Posted by No-Limit-For-City-Salaries, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2011 at 5:30 pm

> I'm referring to when potential managers are in college the
> only way local governments and cities can compete in hiring
> 'potential' managers is by offering them these incentives.

No rational organization hires “potential managers” right out of college. They do hire “entry-level” employees, who might, after training, and evaluation, and some longevity with the organization, qualify, and be promoted into a management position.

> Being innovative?! How are they supposed to create new developments
> when NIMBY's like you just sit back and ruin any advancement they try and make?

This is simply an absurd remark. There is no relationship between NIMBY’s (Not in My Back Yard) residentialists who often are opposed to poorly thought out, and documented government projects, and the financial problems facing governments at all levels.

> It's people like you that make their jobs so difficult.

Again, not a rational comment to insert into this discussion at this point. Hence, no response.

> How about some transparency in the private sector,

For public companies (about 5000 of them), there is the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) which forces a fair amount of transparency, as well as the various trade presses. However, the Private Sector does not have the awesome, and often unchecked) power of government. Nor does the Private Sector have the cloak of “Sovereign Immunity”, which offers a lot of protection to individuals operating as elected officials and government employees.

> Our city government IMO is transparent ..

You are welcome to your opinion, but it would not be hard to prove you wrong. Here are a couple starters: when is the last time the City Auditor has actually audited the 1) Fire Department, 2) Police Department, and 3) the utilities?

> I'd sure like to see you try and run a city such as Palo Alto being completely 'transparent.'

Very simply done. Adopt a policy of “sunshine” (see what the City of San Jose has done), and put:’

1) All records on-line in a searchable format.

2) Replace the current search engine with something like Google’s

3) Add a layer of topic indexing, which is over-and-above what Google offers.

4) Put all project schedules on-line.

5) Put all manager’s schedules on-line.

While there is still yet more to do to make Palo Alto’s government as transparent as possible, these very simple projects would go a very long way towards the goal of almost total transparency.


Posted by John, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm

The taxpayers are not represented other than as a source of income.

While we are busy WORKING and raising families, the unions and developers are working 24/7 to raise taxes and change zoning for their own interests.

When the taxpayer says enough is enough he/she is called a NIMBY or anti-union.

Do cities really need such highly paid managers? Fill the potholes,
provide fire/police services, cut the grass in the parks. How hard is that?


Posted by SPH, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2011 at 11:06 pm

John: you act as if fire/police and union reps have no families to raise and do not pay taxes. I said it earlier, they pay taxes too. So in a since they are paying part of their own salary.


Posted by PERSon, a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2011 at 12:06 am

I see that public employee -bashing is still the favorite sport of this crowd. How many of you would willingly subject yourself to the public criticism and abuse that you so readily dish out?

The irony is, when your stock options were cushy, you called us chumps for working for the government at a fixed salary. Now you resent the fact that we still have jobs.

How about just chilling out and enjoying your beautiful city?


Posted by Steven, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 4, 2011 at 8:00 am

The argument that public employees pay taxes too is ridiculous. Soaking the taxpayers with above market salaries and pensions is not magically OK because some of the money is then returned to the system. Everyone pays taxes, except those on disability pensions (another often-abused spiking method used by public sector employees).

Like most of the people who pay the salaries of our public servants, I'm not a wall street CEO nor does the private sector rain easy money on me, . The sense of entitlement our public workers (through their unions) have shown in recent years is why my vote has flipped against public employees, and will stay that way until there is some sanity and accountability restored to our government.


Posted by SPH, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 4, 2011 at 10:14 am

Steven: Using the argument taxpayers are fed up is also ridiculous because, like you said, "everyone pays taxes."

A since of entitlement? With which public workers? The police have forgone their raises 3 years in a row to help the city. I will grant you fire but do not lump all public workers into one group based on fire's actions.

I love liberals flip all of a sudden. For years republicans have been saying the public sector has too many benefits and arguing against pensions. Now that times are hard you agree. I have always been against corrupt unions. I only mention the taxes because it is fatuous argument when the public workers are also tax payers.

Lastly, we are blaming all the cities woes on fire and police when the departments account for only 23% of budget. We should be scrutinizing the whole budget. The supposed budget shortfalls does not fall on the fire and police shoulders alone.


Posted by Ernesto USMC, a resident of Ventura
on Oct 4, 2011 at 11:04 am

Steven is right, and the math is simple -- If I'm a public employee, I have every incentive to want taxes to go up. With six private sector taxpayers for each public sector employee, any additional tax that I have to put into my own pot is matched by six more private sector revenue sources. This is why public sector unions always push for more revenue, not less. The union argument is essentially "Everyone chip in to pay me, I'll even chip in too so nobody can complain." The public is not so easily fooled.

SPH: I would caution against characterizing people on the left who are fed up with government waste as capricious flip-floppers. The attitude and entitlement of the unions through the recession, as well as better information about the scope of the waste, are the prime catalysts for the evolving political sentiment, not a lack of voter backbone. I agree that the entire government should be examined very closely for waste. The firefighters are currently getting a lot of attention because they are the most blatantly inefficient sector and their union is the most militant.


Posted by SPH, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Ernesto what incentive did the police have to for go their wage increase multiple times? The police have not acted in a selfish manner and yet we throw them under the same bus.

I will characterize liberals in this fashion because they did not listen and now it is coming back to bite them. Liberals caved into the unions and they act surprised over unions since of entitlement. Protect the worker at all cost until it effects you.


Posted by Common Sense, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 5, 2011 at 5:21 am

Well....double the down on job loss in September..the most lost jobs in 2 1/2 years.

Web Link Granted, some of it military personnel cuts..the rest is private.

Keep killing the jobs with "federal stimulus job plans" and "federal regulation" and "federal taxes" and watch what happens to the tax base for public employees. Locally, keep preventing the building of tax-paying businesses and watch the businesses go to the less difficult areas.

As federal spending/GDP increases, as taxes rise...private jobs decrease, lowering the tax base. As local taxes and regulations prevent businesses...they leave, lowering the tax base.

It is counter-intuitive at first, but the bottom line is if we keep killing off the private jobs, we kill off our tax base, we get fewer taxes. Proven in many countries, and in our own history time after time.

Best solution to increase tax revenue? Take the job killing government out of the way.

Then, once we are back to full-throttle, don't promise more in outlays for the future than we can possibly pay. We, as a nation and as a city, are struggling with "too high of a mortgage" and have to bring it down.


Posted by S.Coen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 5, 2011 at 10:00 am

Hi Ernesto, so you feel that the firefighters are blatantly inefficient and that they are a militant group? How bazzare to think that way. I am very dissapointed that someone of your calibar ( USMC) would truly feel that way about a professional group who also puts there lives on the line to " serve" all of the taxpayers in Palo Alto. Why don't you take some time and go by your local fire station and talk to them about their jobs. You might find that they are not militant but are just hard working professionals who do put there lives at risk for us. Maybe they are not as busy as New York City or San Francisco but when they do respond on an emergency call they face the exact same problems as any other firefighter. Ask them about there training and hiring tests. Ask them about there continued training that is always changing to keep up to date with the higher level of education and Incident Command Systems training as well as Hazardous Materials training, Rescue and Building Collapse training, EMS/Paramedic training and alot more.
So rather then do the talk do the walk to your neighborhood fire station and say " hello".
Contact their Fire Chief/Police Chief to see if you can watch how they normally train at there Training Station ( Fire Station-6) to see first hand and get to know who your firefighters are. This goes for everyone. Go by your local fire station and say "Hi". Have a great day.


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