Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 23, 2014

Around Town

PAY DAY ... Palo Alto has at least nine residents who make far below the living wage and often work well past midnight. These nine residents, known collectively as the City Council, make about $600 a month (the mayor and the vice mayor get a little extra), an amount that is scarcely enough to rent a closet in the city they represent. And even though serving on the council is a part-time job that carries plenty of non-monetary benefits (legislative power, fame and the warm feeling of doing a civic duty), some in the current group believe it may be time for a raise. The council's Policy and Services Committee discussed on Tuesday night a proposal to raise the stipend council members receive and directed staff to conduct further research on what their counterparts in similar jurisdictions receive in compensation. While the committee didn't make any decisions about stipends, members expressed interest in getting raises. Council salaries in California are set by state guidelines, with figures dependent on the city sizes. In Palo Alto, the council could raise its salaries by about $390 a month and still remain within these guidelines, City Attorney Molly Stump told the council committee. Any further changes could be made by amending the City Charter, which would require a vote of the people. Councilman Greg Scharff argued Tuesday that a Charter change is not something that the city should pursue at this time. Councilman Larry Klein disagreed and said he would support giving the voters a chance to weigh in on doubling the council's stipend (provided they also approve in November a reduction in council seats, a proposal that is expected to increase the workload of each member). "I think conditioning an increase on the reduction (of seats) would make it very clear to people that they have to expect more from the remaining seven," said Klein, who is terming out this year and who would thus not be effected by the change. The committee ultimately voted 3-1, with Scharff, Gail Price and Greg Schmid supporting and Klein dissenting, to resume the conversation once more information comes in.

SWINGS, DUCKS AND TATER TOTS ... Spectators aren't supposed to clap during City Council meetings, but no one complained when a group started clapping during Monday night's meeting after City Manager James Keene announced the city's latest earned accolade. This time, the city was getting kudos from the website Livability.com, which ranked Palo Alto as one of the top 10 cities in the nation for kids (at No. 8). Criteria for the ranking included quality of schools, the percentage of households with school-age children, cost of living and restaurants with kids' menus. In announcing the latest recognition, Keene assured the audience that the city did not stuff the ballot box. The website lauds Palo Alto's Mediterranean climate, abundant bike paths, a vibrant downtown, tree-lined streets, cultural events, educational opportunities and library system. "While parents pay a high price to live in Palo Alto Calif., their children can attend exceptionally rated schools, play in pristine parks and experience the benefits of living in the heart of Silicon Valley," the website stated. The cheering, meanwhile, came from a group of parents supporting the construction of the new Magical Bridge playground in Mitchell Park — a playground designed to accommodate children with disabilities. Later in the meeting, the City Council unanimously approved a budget ordinance that contributes funding for the project, which is largely financed through donations.

THE 'D' WORD ... When locally prolific architect Ken Hayes proposed rezoning a site on El Camino Real to accommodate 10 extra condominiums, he found sympathetic ears on the Architectural Review Board. Several members of the board, including Chair Lee Lippert and Vice Chair Randy Popp cited the city's housing shortages and argued on May 15 that it would be appropriate to add some density to the site near Maybell Avenue. City Hall officials are a little less enthusiastic about density these days, having suffered last year through a citizen revolt involving a separate rezoning proposal around Maybell Avenue. This week, City Manager James Keene said that the project (which would include 21 new units under the rezoning proposal and 11 under existing zoning) will go in front of the City Council for a special "pre-screening," before the application goes any further. Keene said that the decision to bring the project at 4146 El Camino Real was prompted by the community concerns about upzoning and the council's recent decision to put all "planned community" projects (which include zoning exceptions in exchange for public benefits) on hold.

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