Keeping Palo Alto running | February 10, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - February 10, 2012

Keeping Palo Alto running

Palo Alto considers replacing, relocating its aged Municipal Services Center

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's Municipal Services Center is a sprawling maze of industrial activity — a 16-acre complex where hardhats abound and utility trucks loaded with spools of electric wire stand alongside fire engines and as-yet-uninstalled gas lines, street signs, generators, sandbags, asphalt, rock and other utilitarian necessities.

This story contains 2527 words.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by President Not Sure, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2012 at 9:13 am

The first thing they can do is fix the potholes on East Bayshore Road, and eliminate the redundancy in bike lanes.

And then maybe put up another speed sign near the middle of it reminding everybody who drives down it that the speed limit is 35 mph, not 65 mph.

Posted by Palo-Alto-Can--Not-Afford-Itself!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2012 at 10:39 am

> Dornell, who worked for Utilities before moving to Public Works,
> said engineers
> and operations staff members have to communicate on a daily basis,
> a task that is slightly complicated by their physical separation from one another

The City owns a Fiber Optics Network. What it doesn’t own is any insight in how to use it. Video conferencing software has been on the market for years—yet, there seems to be no understanding of the possibilities of shrinking distances like the private sector does.

> Palo Alto responded to the report in 1998 by reinforcing
> the buildings with seismic bracing. But despite this addition,
> the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon
> Commission points out, the buildings are not expected to be
> usable after major quakes

And just how many of these so-called “commissioners” are experts in seismic engineering? At a minimum, the name of the outside firm that is making this claim should be made public, and the magnitude of the quake that they claim will lay these buildings low should be revealed.

> Paul Dornell, who oversees the Public Works operations at the
> Municipal Services Center, puts it bluntly.
> "These are the worst buildings you can possibly have in case of
> an earthquake," he said during a recent tour of the site.

There have been earthquakes in Palo Alto ever since these buildings were constructed. How much damage has been sustained in these earthquakes? And if this is true, then the City, and the Taxpayers, should be asking: “Why were these buildings allowed to be built in the first place?” If they couldn’t get it right then, who is going to guarantee that any new buildings are going to be “earthquake proof” this time around?

A lot of self-serving bunk going on here!

Posted by Wow! , a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2012 at 11:50 am

The municipal Services Center IS ESSENTIAL!!

Posted by Sonny, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Didn't the city retrofit these buildings in the 90's? Also, didn't Dornell retire about 10 year ago? Why is he still unboard giving advice on what he knows nothing about? He does not have an engineering degree, nor any kind of degree for that matter. This is where our tax dollars are going: the hiring of inept and unqualified people who rise to the top on dint of seniority. As Wood Allen said The key to success in America is just showing up.

Posted by William, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm

> Mark Michael, the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission member
> who evaluated the Municipal Services Center site

And what exactly is this person's background? Is he a bonded, certified, structural engineer? If not, why is he involved with decisions for which he has no special expertise, and for which he can not be held accountable if he makes claims that are not valid?

Posted by P.W.O.S., a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Paul Dornell is been retired for a few months and still milking it as a consolten. There is the biggest defective ever of people retiring and coming back making 50 to 75 dollars in hour as consultens it's call double dipping wow. Suck the life out of the rest of the workers.

Posted by peninsula commuter, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2012 at 9:03 am

Why not just rebuild/modernize MSC in place? Where else in Palo Alto will you find a 16 acre site? Foothills Park?

I think the old Los Altos treatment plant area is a better location for car dealers, if Palo Alto really needs to be involved with that. It is on San Antonio Road with direct access from Highway 101. You could even put a large sign there (on the Los Altos side of course).

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Not surprised by the plethora of "attack the messenger" comments on this (and every other) topic on this thread. The same people whining about making safety and preparedness enhancements now are those who will be whining "victims" later.

These irrational and constant complaints and attacks on city government/workers are predictable, boring, and really not befitting a city that supposedly has a high proportion of educated people.

If these Palo Alto residents are so unhappy, they should move.

Palo Alto Online -- how about a story and comments about what residents like about Palo Alto? Some positive voices on this website might give the negative "regulars" some perspective.

Posted by Gary Gechlik, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I think this statement really says it all, "The possibility of car dealerships leaving Palo Alto is far from hypothetical. In 2001, the city's seven dealerships brought in $3.1 million in sales-tax revenues. The number dipped to $1.6 million in 2006 and to less than $1.3 million in 2010. By 2011, Ford and Nissan departed from their El Camino Real locations and Carlsen Porsche vacated its site on Embarcadero Road. The revenues remained under $1.3 million in fiscal year 2011, according to the city's recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. When McLaren-Fisker last year set up a dealership on El Camino Real and Arastradero Road, it was a rare bit of good news after a decade of dramatic decline."

If you frustrate reasonable people, eventually they leave. A tax base is about a positive relationship and community services. What is the cause of dramatic decline? It is not as simple as a temporary change in the economy. It think it has to do with philosophy. The type of people that are critical and obstructive are very different than the people that consider possibilities in an open minded way.

Posted by William, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

> If you frustrate reasonable people

Absolutely! The City government (the mix of professional employees and elected officials) has been attacking cars for over two decades. How much money has been spent on "alternative transportation"? Just recently the City Council has endorsed spending of over $100M on bicycle paths, bridges and underpasses. Most of the garages have been driven out of town, there are not very many gasoline stations around, and "transportation" issues seem to be at the top of the complaints of the resident's survey that was conducted for 2011 by the City Auditor.

Anyone think that the "professionals" at City Hall are inclined to recognize any of these things as negatives--since they created them?

The Internet has changed a lot of the way retailing works. Not clear how many people are buying cars on-line, but certainly this change in the way cars get from the factory to the new owners needs to be considered in this discussion.

The idea of moving the so-called "corporation yard" to make room for car dealerships, while the City Council and the planning department people are condemning cars as "Satan's Spawn" is one guaranteed to fail.

Best to incrementally fix this set of buildings over the next twenty years, and quite the big hustle to rebuild them in the grand fashion that Palo Altans "have come to expect".

Posted by William, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

By the way, the companies out there in the world (but not so much the US)is looking at very innovative ways to manufacture cars. The following video is a walk-thru the downtown Dresden VW plant:

Downtown Dresden (Germany) VW Plant:
Web Link

While the manufacturing costs are not openly discussed, relative to a more traditional factory, people in Germany can easily travel to the factory to pick up their car. In some cases, the costs of delivery and dealer prep can be saved, making this client "will-call" delivery cheaper for the new car owners.

These sorts of manufacturing sites/non-dealer delivery models could work in California. Obviously too large for Palo Alto, but if there were such a facility somewhere in the Bay Area, then there would be competition between the traditional car dealerships and this state-of-the-art factory. Who on the Palo Alto City Council is prepared to claim that these sorts of plants will never be operating in California and the traditional factory->dealership->customer model will stay the same for decades to come?

The world outside of Palo Alto is changing quickly. Sooner or later, people in Palo Alto will wake up and see that their "leaders" have not been doing the job that they should have been doing, since 1980, at least.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm

We cannot have it both ways. Residents complain when the city runs a deficit and has to trim services, yet they stifle efforts to generate new revenue. The need to develop Edgewood and Alma Plaza and address the flight of auto dealerships is not a new problem. It's simply been kicked down the road over and over in order to appease a few very vocal complainers. If we'd been willing to make it happen along the San Antonio cooridor, we could be enjoying the sales tax revenue that mountain view now enjoys courtesy of best buy, etc. Instead we took a closed minded "no big box" approach regardless of location and here we are scrambling for retail revenue. Stanford shopping center would like to expand and add an upscale hotel but, no, not here in Palo Alto we say, that would increase traffic. The list endless. We have to choose. Are we a small town, of 60,000? Or are we the tech capital of Silicon Valley?

I don't like traffic jams or concrete jungles any more than the next guy, but I think if we are sensible, we can maintain our city services and address our infrastructure needs without corrupting our idealic existence.