Cheryl Lilienstein, president of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, sent a candid open letter to all City Council members Wednesday, urging them to walk the walk when it comes to following their own "stated goals of open government, transparency, inclusion, data driven decision making and completeness." The letter does so by laying out five major issues the city faces and offers suggestions for how to implement concrete solutions. Issue No. 1 tackles "impartial ballot language," asking the council to investigate how San Francisco creates impartial ballot language (hint: a referendum is "not impartial if the city attorney writes it") and to pass an ordinance that establishes a process whereby creators of a referendum work together with the city attorney to "create ballot language that is actually impartial and satisfies both parties," Lilienstein writes. "This would be efficient and waste less time and money producing legal challenges and make for a more amicable relationship between parties. It's also the right thing to do." The second issue tackles Palo Alto's management needs, proposing that City Council seats should be fully paid positions "in order to attract great leadership." (She doesn't suggest the salary level, however.) Issue No. 3 is a familiar one: residents' continuing distrust of traffic reports. Lilienstein writes that the city should create a short list of vetted traffic engineers that developers must choose from and also require any studies undergo peer review before heading to the planning department for approval. Next up: "distressingly inefficient" City Council meetings. Lilienstein blames this on the fact that staff reports are issued only days before meetings and suggests that the city require all reports be submitted at least 10 business days in advance of every council meeting. "It's a process that all too often results in delayed decisions, and creates ineffective, inefficient, incomplete meetings, elongated and disorderly discussions, and poor outcomes," the letter reads. "Staff reports released with too little time to read/reflect/consult/question or gain clarity create cynicism about staff and council, even when everyone is working hard to produce a good outcome." In her last and final issue, she argues that staff reports make recommendations but fail to spell out the impacts of proposed developments. Lilienstein deems this "bad governance" and suggests each report follow a standardized format, include possible alternatives and state which parts of the Comprehensive Plan are being addressed — and not addressed — by the proposal.
BROKEN BOARDWALK ... The Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center Boardwalk, which runs between the Interpretive Center and the bay, is on its last legs and has been closed due to unsafe structural conditions, the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve posted on its Facebook page Wednesday. The organization said that saltwater and weather have caused the majority of the pilings and support under the boardwalk to gradually decay and break. "Over the years staff has made many repairs to the boardwalk; however, now the majority of the support pilings and structure of the boardwalk are broken," the post reads. "Most likely the entire boardwalk will have to be replaced. Given the environmentally sensitive location and future changes in sea level rise, the city will study how best to address the problem." City staff is in the process of requesting capital-improvement funding for a study on the best route for repairing and/or replacing the boardwalk. This analysis will likely begin late this year or in early 2015. The boardwalk was installed more than 40 years ago, in 1969 (the same year the Interpretive Center was dedicated). More information about this project is available from John Aiken, manager of the Junior Museum and Zoo, at 650-329-2111.