http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2012/03/02/yeh-lays-out-vision-for-palo-altos-renewal


Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 2, 2012

Yeh lays out vision for Palo Alto's 'renewal'

Mayor's 'State of the City' speech focuses on infrastructure upgrades, citizen engagement

by Gennady Sheyner

Proclaiming 2012 the year of "renewal," Mayor Yiaway Yeh used his "State of the City" address Monday, Feb. 27, to lay out a vision for sprucing up Palo Alto's aged infrastructure and encouraging residents to become more engaged in city life.

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."

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

Comments

Posted by The-Taxpayers-Deserve-Better!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2012 at 7:40 am

> At times, the themes of infrastructure and engagement
> intertwined. Yeh described a recent "hackathon" at Stanford
> in which the city made its data on street conditions
> available to students, who over the next 24 hours came up
> with an interface that allows residents to learn about the
> state of their streets. Residents can punch in
> their address and get a complete breakdown of their pavement
> condition.

This sort of interface to the City's web-site, intended for reporting any number of problems, from pot holes to non-working street lights, has been suggested by people for over a decade. The City has ignored these suggestions, or claimed that it was "not possible" to create such software. And now they are getting non-professional, and presumably, unpaid, students to do this work?

The problem with this approach is that:

1) Someone needs to "own" the code. Code thrown together overnight has bugs, and someone needs to be responsible for the bugs. Additionally, who "owns" the code/ Does it belong to the City, the University, or the students who created it? Is it now open for residents to inspect, correct, and made additional changes which were not considered by those participating in the short "hackathon"?

2) The interfaces to the back-end database managers that will take resident-input data are generally not known to students, meaning that students are not the best programmers to put on such a job.

3) All systems need specifications. Anyone can throw a bunch of code together, but not everyone can build "systems" that are clearly specified, leading to a maintainability, and a high level of reliability, over time.

This is not the way Palo Alto should proceed in developing the various functions of e-government, an activity which is now years behind where it could have been with a vision and good city management.


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Nice but..., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2012 at 10:52 am

Nice, uncontroversial initiatives.
But he ignores the elephant in the room and the biggest city problem, the control a few developers have over the council and the planning commission. The corruption of big profits.


Posted by jardins, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2012 at 11:00 am

"an interface that allows residents to learn about the state of their streets."

I myself simply use my eyes!


Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 28, 2012 at 11:43 am

Let's give Mr. Yeh a chance to deliver on his promises.

However we need to watch the following closely:

1. How much of the budget is dedicated to building future reserves.

2. Are City services listed out in simple language and then prioritized?

3. Are meaningful reductions made to the size of our City government to make room for the "Catch up" of infrastructure and the "reserve" for future needs. Without meaningful progress on both counts, the words offered will go down in history as insincere political rhetoric.

4. The Labor Union has spent a lot of money getting Yeh to his current spot. Beware of any indication of Quid Pro Quo. There are many labor initiatives that are masked as "fairness to the workers", however in practice they are about escalating municipal costs and preserving privilege for the few.

5. Watch out for Mega Projects that sneak in under the Planned Community zoning, and violate density restrictions guised as environmentally friendly density near transit hubs. Know that sheep in Wolves clothing. Density not only impacts the quality of life in our neighborhoods, but gives away school access without compensation to the schools.

In short, we can support Mr. Yeh and wish him the best, but keep these potential conflicts of interest on your radar, and if you observe any of these things happening, scream like the City has been hijacked, because that is exactly what is happening.

More simply stated: "Mr. Yeh, don't go there."


Posted by bill g, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm

A major problem in promoting the ideas of the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission is the (to paraphrase Mr. Gray above) sneaking in of projects not prioritized in the IBRC report. Money to build any new projects will siphon scarce revenue from the 4.2 Million needed for catch-up (deferred maintenance) as well as building future essential reserves.

We could still be looking at a budget shortfall for the next one or two years. New programs will divert revenue and create a larger infrastructure which will add to over-burdened maintenance needs.

Mr. Ojakian points out previous Councils talked about similar programs to repair, replace and catch up on maintenance of City assets. Somehow these quietly died. All of us must smake the Council accountable for the effort this time.


Posted by nat, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I don't understand why the Mayor and Council would choose a venue for the State of the City speech where it cannot be broadcast on TV.
Only the Council chambers are set up to broadcast on the government channel. I had to listen to the speech on the radio, the Stanford station. The Weekly had the agenda Friday which said the council would be broadcast on channel 26. I'm surprised the city clerk would send that to the Weekly as it was wrong! And none of the local newspapers mentioned that it could be heard on the radio and at what station. This was a very bad idea and I'm surprised it got by everyone, including the city manager.


Posted by Garden Gnome, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2012 at 1:31 pm

The mayor is losing focus.

What we should be concentrating on is finding ways to pay for the health benefits and pensions for our city workers. All this other stuff, such as police, fire, utilities, and street repair are just getting in the way.


Posted by Nice but..., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Timothy Gray mentions "Mega Projects that sneak in under the Planned Community zoning, and violate density restrictions guised as environmentally friendly density near transit hubs. Know that sheep in Wolves clothing."
We'll soon see how he votes on the next 65,000 square foot Mega Project on Alma Street, and whether he tries to trim down the 84 foot high tower, the 5 stories high, reduce the parking shortage etc. and whether he can stand up to the charm and $$$$$ of Jim Baer and the $$$$$ developers.


Posted by graphics, a resident of Southgate
on Feb 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Council Watcher, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2012 at 5:16 pm

The venue/setting for the City's "State of the City" was a poor choice. Many residents are accustomed to hearing and seeing Council activities in their homes. It's not important where meetings are held, but they should be conveniently available to the public through TV and radio. A goal of our Comprehensive Plan is to encourage public participation in local government which must include easy access to such activities.


Posted by Jerry Tinney, a resident of Monroe Park
on Feb 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm

As a native born Palo Altan I am a bit dismayed to find out that mayor has to show the citizens that the condition of our roads is bad, on a computer. If no one can tell that the roads are in poor condition bye looking at them, then they most likely don't need fixing. If this is the only thing our mayor can find to do, maybe it would be better if he just took a day off. The computer can be a wonderful tool but it shouldn't replace common sense.


Posted by Steven, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 28, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Its good that an Asian-American is mayor. I hope he can do something about the racism in the community. At universities entrance exams we have to get higher scores than White Students for admissions. Chinese language immersion is smaller than French or German or Spanish, although Asians are by far the largest minority now in Palo Alto and growing. Gunn high school is 50 percent Asian and growing fast. However any time there is talk of exam stress it is always said that it is Asian students who are the worse when this is not always the case. The city should reflect the cultural roots of the people who live here not some past population.


Posted by Robert, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 28, 2012 at 11:49 pm

@Steven of Charleston Meadows

The percentage of Asian students at Gunn is only 40%. I didn't know that. Does this mean 40% of Palo Alto residents are Asian? I don't think so. What kind of racism do you see in the community? BTW, I am Asian but not Chinese.


Posted by The-Taxpayers-Deserve-Better!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 29, 2012 at 8:58 am

> I don't understand why the Mayor and Council would choose a venue
> for the State of the City speech where it cannot be broadcast on TV.

Ditto.

The reasoning for this was clearly to pander to people associated with the Jewish Center. If there were an issue of finding a place to hold such a meeting, that reason should be openly promoted. The public auditorium at the Cubberley Center, which is paid for by the Utility ratepayers, would be a better choice that a facility associated with a religious group. This was a poor decision on the part of the planners of this event.

> The city should reflect the cultural roots of the people
> who live here not some past population.

This is a very odd point-of-view. Chinese are well-known for honoring their ancestors--most definitely a "past population". This young man (most likely) seem to have little insight into the nature of the American experience, which has had its problems, but has tried to create a new society, based on openness, more than closure, based on a governmental structure that is more self-healing-than-not, rather than the closed, elitist oligarchies that have been at the core of China's governmental structures for thousands of years.

This young man seems to have missed the point that at the core of the American experience/experiment is the belief that societies that are "class-free" are more likely to survive into the future, than ultimately collapse under their own weight.

This frequent reference of Yeh's to the increasing Asian population makes one wonder just how much Yeh understands about American history, or his commitment to our form of government, and our long-term efforts to create a "class-free" society.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Feb 29, 2012 at 10:09 am

PA Online: Thanks for removing David Pepperdine's previous anti-semitic remarks BUT here we go again....

Note the remark from the writer now called "The Taxpayer's Deserve Better" that the Mayor's venue was chosen " to pander to people associated with the Jewish Center."

Do we hear such charges when the mayor appears at other venues in the community?

If he had appeared at a Presbyterian Church or at a senior center would there be a snide comment? Probably not. But, I'd bet he is being careful not to appear at an Asian school or church and he SHOULDN'T HAVE TO BE since the community has such a significant Asian constituency,

Mayor's --- like all politicians --- speak at constituent venues all the time and THEY SHOULD.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 29, 2012 at 10:22 am

Before attending this event, I had never been to the site. It was a very nice auditorium, less than 1/4 filled by the 100 or so spectators plus about 40 "dignitaries". If I understood correctly, the JCC promised Palo Alto the use of the center 10 times per year as a concession or part of the agreement for the construction permit or zoning or whatever needed hammering out. Maybe someone can clarify. Anyway, we got it for free or already paid for it or however you want to look at it. Seems like a good decision to use it. At least I no longer see the place as a mysterious bunker on the corner of what used to be a very open intersection. We will always have accusations of pandering, which should be okay as long as Palo Alto remains an equal-opportunity panderer. There were a couple video cameras, so perhaps someone will come up with a way to broadcast live from there in the future.

The article does say that Yeh noted 30% of Palo Alto identifies as Asian or Asian-American. I don't think he caused that. It's just the hand he was dealt, growing up in this city like I did and going through our public schools. No reason to question his commitment or understanding of our government or history. As for a "class-free" society, I'd prefer that we all tried to show a little more class.


Posted by The-Taxpayers-Deserve-Better!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 29, 2012 at 10:41 am

> Do we hear such charges when the mayor appears at other
> venues in the community?

The same complaint would have been made. The problem is one of special interests in Palo Alto. When the current police chief was chosen, he as given an "Anointment" ceremony in a private room on the Stanford campus. The public was not invited, nor was it welcome, at this promotion ceremony. Why?

There is a growing problem with secrecy in government in general, and this is particularly true during the administration of City Manager Keene. If he (or the Mayor) had decided to stream this session to the public, then maybe the venue would not have been so important. But they did not. So far, there is no evidence that it was recorded, and uploaded to Youtube, or made available from the City's web-site. Why?
In this day and age, people can get video streams on the iPhones, iPads, laptops, and who-knows-what-pads. Why would a City government that continually proclaims itself to be the "center of the Universe" be so contemptuous of the public at large?

The City has, from time-to-time, attempted "outreaches" in South Palo Alto. In general, These outreaches have been fairly poorly attended, whereas events at City Hall tend be fairly well attended. Notice that the Weekly article did not provide a head count for those attending.
The comment about pandering to special interests stand. Yeh was the recipient of a lot of non-resident contributions. At one point, his contributions were about 80% non-resident. There was considerable money made available to him from labor unions that "late filled", so that those contributions slipped by media attention.

Residents have every right to expect openness. So far, we're not seeing it under City Manager Keene, and Yeh doesn't seem to keen about that aspect of our form of government either. If this event had been held at Stanford, or in the home of one of Palo Alto's billionaires—you bet there would be notice, and complaints!


Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm

The JCC is for all Palo Altans and local community members regardless of their beliefs or ethnicity. In fact, the City of Palo Alto has a deal to use this beautiful gathering hall ten times per year, for meetings, concerts, outreach, what have you.

It's a great community asset, whether or not one joins.

The mayor's speech event was a great event.

The only other event I have been to in the two-plus years history of the venue was a live radio show with Sedge Thomson's "West Coast Live".

This could be a huge asset for South Palo Alto --if we can figure how to make use of it.


Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm

it's amazing how people can have such differing views on all this, what they say, like the proverbial elephant petting zoo.

My take on the speech per se is although I support and like YY is that he is being too soft on developers and that the IBRIC is just a giveaway to builders and developers and concrete-mongers.

I don't think he is a puppet of the unions at all.

My pithy summation of his speech -- which may or may not appear in one of the other news sources is "more ping pong, less pothole" meaning I want programming that builds community, like his upcoming table tennis tournament -- and less emphasis on the proposed $300 million for infrastructure. It kinda reminds me that I took my Toyota to the shop yesterday to get a headlight replaced and they called me back to say I had $1,100 other things they were willing to do for me. Gonna half to sleep on that and drive around - perhaps carefully -- with my little wheezes and sputters for a while. And today I took Caltrain. If you get my analogy.

Regarding pinp pong per se, I was amazed to walk upstairs to the fitness center and see former mayor Leland Levy playing a mean game of table tennis; he has a vicious topspin forehand drive. We joked about asking YY if he plays with a penman's grip (the upside down grip favored by Eastern players but generally indicating a sophistication for the game).

I was gonna title my blog post on this topic Paddle Alto Bat Mitzvah "bat" being a pun on the proper British name for racket/paddle and the Hebrew coming of age ceremony.

Should be an interesting year leading into the local elections (and national) which starts in June. I see a perhaps healthy schism in what I thought was a too homogenous council with Yeh-Holman-Price-Schmid on left and Scharff-Klein-Shepherd-Burt joined sadly in my opine by Sid on the right.


Posted by Nice but..., a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

> I don't understand why the Mayor and Council would choose a venue
> for the State of the City speech where it cannot be broadcast on TV.
I also agree.
Mr Yeh's focus on his own ethnicity and his own age group may reflect a self-centeredness that is not suitable for a Mayor of a diverse town.