In a speech that lasted about 40 minutes and was delivered at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, Yeh briefly highlighted the City Council's progress on its five annual priorities — finances, environmental sustainability, land-use and transportation, emergency preparedness and youth well-being. But most of his address focused on explaining the city's drive to get its infrastructure in order and to inspire community engagement.
The focus on infrastructure has been Yeh's main theme since he took over as mayor last month. In his inauguration speech, Yeh declared 2012 as the "year of infrastructure renewal and investment." On Monday, he recapped the recent work of the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Committee, which surveyed the city's infrastructure needs and considered ways to pay for them.
"I'm eager to move forward with the infrastructure improvements that the community expects," Yeh said.
At times, the themes of infrastructure and engagement intertwined. Yeh described a recent "hackathon" at Stanford University during which the city made its data on street conditions available to students, who over the next 24 hours developed a website that allows residents to learn about the state of the streets they live on.
A subsequent version of this interface allows residents to upload photos of their streets, a function that city officials hope will engage them with Palo Alto's drive to accelerate the street repairs this year. Yeh cited the hackathon as an example of the city's willingness to solve problems in new ways.
Yeh said people often don't know what city officials mean when they talk about "infrastructure" — a broad word with many definitions. He catalogued the city's many physical assets, including fire stations, bridges and municipal buildings that make up infrastructure.
"Ultimately, our physical assets support our community. Yet they often go unnoticed until something goes wrong," Yeh said. "A street with too many potholes and cracks, a sidewalk pushed up by tree roots, a community center's classroom with a leaking roof, or offices for our police department that won't withstand a significant disaster."
Yeh said he has directed staff to analyze the possibility of using the city's gas-tax receipts as leverage to borrow $12 million to repair streets. The goal of this "enhanced funding program" is to make the repairs without relying on the city's General Fund or additional taxpayer money, he said.
Yeh also said the city may ask voters for a bond measure for other infrastructure repairs, but only after it has considered every other option for paying for the needed improvements.
Another major council priority in 2012 will be figuring out how to pay for much needed upgrades of the city's worn down and seismically vulnerable police building and the fire stations near Rinconada and Mitchell Parks. He said the council would hold a special retreat later in the year (one of three that would focus on infrastructure) to consider its options.
"As you know, our police building and fire stations currently suffer from decades-old wear and tear. They have doubtful functionality in the event of a major disaster in our community."
Yeh also ran through the city's efforts to engage local youth, a council priority for the past two years. He mentioned the new Teen Center that will be built as part of the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center and the Teen Advisory Council that will work in the newly renovated Palo Alto Arts Center. He called on businesses to participate in the city's effort to make teens feel welcome.
"What can you as a business do?" Yeh asked. "One idea is to create deals-of-the day or week for our students. Another is to highlight how students can patronize your business. Think creatively how to incorporate high-schoolers with internships over the summer. Open up your business world to the curiosity and commitment of our youth in Palo Alto."
A major part of Yeh's address focused on what he called the city's "human assets." He noted that about 30 percent of the city now identifies as Asian or Asian-American. Yeh, who is the city's first Chinese-American mayor, said that while some cross-cultural interaction inevitably occurs in local schools, the city also has a proactive role to play in bringing the community together and "knitting a strong social fabric."
To that end, Yeh plans to hold a series of "Mayor's Challenge" events — athletic competitions designed to bring neighbors together. Yeh introduced this idea during his inauguration speech last month. On Monday, he provided some details.
The first event, Yeh said, will be a community-wide ping-pong tournament that would take place on Sunday, March 25, from 2 to 5 p.m. at five locations: the Palo Alto Family Y, Cubberley Community Center, Jordan Middle School, Terman Middle School and the Campus for Jewish Life.
Three other challenges will follow later in the year and will pit neighborhoods against neighborhoods, Yeh said. The winning neighborhood will be the one with the most residents participating, he said.
"The goal of the Mayor's Challenge is that by the end of the year, many of you will feel the foundation for the tradition of neighborhood identity and activism has been strengthened," Yeh said.
Yeh also briefly summarized the city's recent accomplishments, particularly in the field of environmental sustainability. This year, he said, the council is spearheading two initiatives intended to keep Palo Alto in the forefront of green innovation. One, called Palo Alto CLEAN, encourages businesses to install solar panels and sell power to the city. The other is creating a carbon-neutral policy for the city's electric portfolio.
"These initiatives will help transform the physical energy infrastructure of our community," Yeh said.
READ MORE ONLINE
The text of Mayor Yiaway Yeh's State of the City speech has been posted on Palo Alto Online. To read it, search for "Yeh lays out vision."