Town Square

Post a New Topic

"Just Like Other Cities" Proposal

Original post made by Your Neighbor on May 11, 2007

"SOMEDAY IN THE FUTURE…."

City Council Announces "Just Like Other Cities Initiative"

To: Voters, Taxpayers, and Residents of Palo Alto

From: Palo Alto City Council

Subject: Palo Alto's "Just Like Other Cities" Policy

We unanimously voted at our recent City Council meeting to make significant changes to how the City of Palo Alto will operate going forward. Some highlights are listed below, along with the major reasons that led to this change.

We believe that this new "Just Like Other Cities" policy demonstrates that your Council is able to show leadership as the community has requested. We wish to thank the City Auditor, the City Manager and our colleagues in comparable cities, all of whom helped your City Council develop our "Just Like Other Cities" program.

HIGHLIGHTS

Effective at the start of our next fiscal year, City of Palo Alto staffs and departments will be sized in proportion to the population of Palo Alto, based on an average from the other cities we benchmarked. There no longer will be a question why city staffing and departments is configured differently than other cities under this Just Like Other Cities program.

As part of this process, some functions and resources that are not found in other cities also have been eliminated. This partial list includes:

Branch libraries, which will be closed,
Thousands of acres of open space and non urban parkland, which will be turned over to Mid-Peninsula Open Space
Childrens' Theater and Junior Museum, which will be sold to a private partnership
Daily trash collection and grounds cleaning at parks will be reduced to twice weekly
Classes and programs as described in the Quarterly Palo Alto Enjoy catalog
Use of city parks and school grounds for organized sports (please note that designated playing fields will still be available, based on an annual lottery)
City contributions to arts programs, homeless programs (including the Opportunity Center), seniors programs (including Avenidas)
Animal services, the responsibilities of which are yet to be re-assigned
Golf Course, which has been leased to a private real estate investment form
Airport, which will be restored to natural habitat, and also be managed by Mid-Peninsula Open Space
Utilities, which have been sold to PG&E
All City Commissions and Advisory Boards—your City Council will review and approve everything itself

Please note that there are a number of other functions and services that will be eliminated if they are not found in cities just like Palo Alto, and we will vigorously work to ensure that any functions or services found in Palo Alto will be Just Like Other Cities.

Of course, the City of Palo Alto will continue to comply with all local, state and federal regulations to assure that your city meets legal requirements, Just Like Other Cities.

MORE "JUST LIKE OTHER CITIES" CHANGES

We also are pleased to inform you that our zoning and planning policies have been adjusted to ensure that Palo Alto's residential, retail, and industrial areas are Just Like Other Cities. WalMart and Lowes already are in negotiation with our Planning Department and Stanford to add these important retailers to the Shopping Center. The land along El Camino Real and Arastradero which previously was occupied by auto dealerships will be developed by Safeway, Target and Home Depot.

We considered converting the land of the now eliminated airport and the golf course driving range into an Auto Mall, but this is not feasible. This may change when the dump closes. See the packet from our last City Council meeting for more detail.

The Palo Alto Process also has been eliminated, no other city has anything like it. We anticipate that this will enable developers to more efficiently develop new housing that draw from designs and architectural concepts found in many other cities nationwide.

In order to fund important infrastructure and city facilities, such as a public safety building, Palo Alto will do Just Like Other Cities, and sell land and other assets in order to pay for these other needs. This is a major reason why we sold the Utility, in a fashon Just Like Mountain View sold land in order to fund its City Hall and Community Center.

In the same vein, proceeds from the sale of the Utility will pay to replace the Forest Library building with a new public safety building, and workers at Lucie Stern Community Center will move into the old police quarters. As part of the negotiations with the private partnership for the Children's Theater and Junior Museum, all options for the Lucie Stern asset are under careful consideration.

WHY THESE CHANGES?

This policy change came about because you, the community, told us loud and clear that you would not pay one penny more for anything.

You already are paying too much to live here. You felt it just wasn't right to keep getting asked to pay more and more for things. While your city council can't make any promises about how much more you will pay for other things in your life, we are doing what we can so that you don't have to pay anything more to the City of Palo Alto.

You felt that if you were going to pay about the same for your utilities as PG&E, you might as well be paying them, not reinvesting the proceeds into other parts of the city. We considered keeping the utility and only charging you for the cost of operating it, but it became clear that such an approach would run counter to being Just Like Other Cities.

You are concerned about cost overruns on city projects, and are skeptical about doing anything else that runs the same risk. All such work will be contracted out from here on, so you can blame the contractor for cost over-runs.

You are unhappy that you have to leave town to shop, and your sales taxes are collected elsewhere. You made it plain, you want retail in Palo Alto to be Just Like Other Cities. WalMart will open in time for Back To School season.

By eliminating staff and services and selling assets that are not Just Like Other Cities, and welcoming retail that is Just Like Other Cities, we predict there will not be another bond measure or parcel tax for at least another 30 years.

At that time, depending on What Other Cities are doing, your City Council at that time may decide to make Palo Alto residents pay more for something.


Thank you for your active involvement in keeping Palo Alto a wonderful community in which to live.

Your City Council

Comments (7)

Posted by pam, a resident of The Greenhouse
on May 11, 2007 at 3:30 pm

No Bond or Tax Measures for 30 years?!

Where do I sign?


Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2007 at 3:35 pm

I'm sure that was meant to be funny, but most of it makes sense and much of it would improve things. Things I liked:

Branch libraries, which will be closed (we could have a great main and mitchell park then!)

Thousands of acres of open space and non urban parkland, which will be turned over to Mid-Peninsula Open Space (this is bad why?)

Childrens' Theater and Junior Museum, which will be sold to a private partnership (this is bad why?)

Daily trash collection and grounds cleaning at parks will be reduced to twice weekly

Classes and programs as described in the Quarterly Palo Alto Enjoy catalog - (could be part of the private partnership)

Use of city parks and school grounds for organized sports (please note that designated playing fields will still be available, based on an annual lottery) funny

Course, could be leased to a private mgt co

Airport, not our choice

Utilities, which have been sold to PG&E (and rates went down!)

All City Commissions and Advisory Boards—your City Council will review and approve everything itself


MORE "JUST LIKE OTHER CITIES" CHANGES

We also are pleased to inform you that our zoning and planning policies have been adjusted to ensure that Palo Alto's residential, retail, and industrial areas are Just Like Other Cities. WalMart and Lowes already are in negotiation with our Planning Department and Stanford to add these important retailers to the Shopping Center. The land along El Camino Real and Arastradero which previously was occupied by auto dealerships will be developed by Safeway, Target and Home Depot. (Stanford would never agree to the non-upscale, but the rest sounds like tax $$ and convenience for PA residents)

The Palo Alto Process also has been eliminated, no other city has anything like it. We anticipate that this will enable developers to more efficiently develop new housing that draw from designs and architectural concepts found in many other cities nationwide. (Yeah!!!!Ever tried building or renovating a house in PA?)

In order to fund important infrastructure and city facilities, such as a public safety building, Palo Alto will do Just Like Other Cities, and sell land and other assets in order to pay for these other needs. This is a major reason why we sold the Utility, in a fashion Just Like Mountain View sold land in order to fund its City Hall and Community Center. (Do we have land we could really, legally sell?)

In the same vein, proceeds from the sale of the Utility will pay to replace the Forest Library building with a new public safety building, and workers at Lucie Stern Community Center will move into the old police quarters. As part of the negotiations with the private partnership for the Children's Theater and Junior Museum, all options for the Lucie Stern asset are under careful consideration. (Sounds ok too!)

Just think, we could shop, drive on smooth streets, have an up to date library, a safe police station, maybe even storm drains and a safer creek!


Posted by Juliet, a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2007 at 10:25 pm

What is a Forest Library? is that a poetic allusion?a library in a park?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown
on May 12, 2007 at 11:54 am

I agree with Pam - where do I sign? This is by far the best proposal I've ever heard from Palo Alto city government. The only downside I can think of is that Palo Alto probably had to spend $5M on consultants to come up with this groundbreaking approach.

The main thing that they left out was to cut the salaries and outrageous benefits packages of city employees, which we've heard were needed to allow the city to compete for employees during the dot-com boom. In the private sector, those bloated compensation packages ended years ago. Perhaps this news hasn't reached the Palo Alto city council yet--it's hard to pay attention when you are worrying about global warming.

Oh, and can we retire the planning commission while we're at it? Or do they have a few more pins that they need to stick into poor citizens trying to remodel their dilapidated houses?


Posted by Noah, a resident of University South
on May 12, 2007 at 2:10 pm

Where do I sign up?

Seriously though, I question why our city has almost double the number of employees than surrounding cities. My estimate is that we have about 500 more employees than we need (we have somewhere around 1100-1200 employees where other cities nearby with larger populations have 500-600). Figuring salaries, benefits, and overhead to be 75k/year, this amounts to $37.5M per year on extra staff.

What can we do with the extra $37.5M per year? Here are some wild ideas (not necessarily the best / most important, but just for fun). Note: these aren't my favorite projects - just a sampling of what I see people asking for. Also, these could be done in parallel, so the year numbers are just for conversation sake.

Year 1: Fully funded brand new library - at a cost 30% higher than San Jose's new library. I'm sure if the city "offered" the library system $37.5M, they could figure out how to get a new building for it. Forget the $50M library at double the cost of San Jose.

Year 2: Brand new Police / Safety building. Same thing, $37.5M should really be able to afford a new building.

Year 3: Fully eliminate the backlog of basic street & infrastructure repairs.

Year 4: Total overhaul of the storm drain system, starting with replacing or tearing down the Chaucer bridge.

Year 5: Oh what the heck, we have 40k houses and almost $40M in cash, why not outfit the entire city with fiber to the home. Even if individuals didn't want it, it would surely raise home & commercial real estate values.

Year 6: At current market rates (just over $10k/home and falling), we can start a 10 year city funded plan to add solar power to all homes & offices. More realistically (both practical terms and efficiency of scale), we could have a wholly owned CPAU set of renewable energy farms (wind, solar, hydro, etc), in just a few years.

Year 7: I just can't think of what we need with an extra $37.5M / year. Maybe general upkeep on the place, eh? Maybe we'll not let our infrastructure degrade so quickly. Oh yeah - that surplus would be roughly 2x the school parcel tax. We can repeal that and still fund it out of city coffers.

Year 8: By now (and along with the fiber to the home), we should be able to speed up utility undergrounding. I'm sure we can get that done in < 5 years for 100% of PA homes, with the extra ~ $5k over that time period.

Anyone want to vote me for Mayor? Just kidding - I have a full time job, but am always willing to help out with technical infrastructure & low-cost private solutions.


Posted by just thinking, a resident of Midtown
on May 19, 2007 at 2:01 pm

If you go bak and look at posting related toaddressing the unhoused/homeless situation, there is one regarding actions proposed (and stalled) in Berkeley, and that we should copy them. But if you look up Mayor Bates' proposal, he cite Palo Alto as an example of what they should be doing there.
Is that putting the cart before the egg, or the chiken before the horse when one advoctes copying those copying us to deal with something by us copying them????


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on May 19, 2007 at 4:20 pm

Now THIS is a good posting. So provocative and thoughtful that you can't tell if the proposal is serious or mocking. Superb job.

I personally think a lot of the proposal has merit and that the overall concept - a fresh, clean sheet approach to what is Palo Alto and what's important - seems overdue and very stimulating. I have noted that on many issues, a vocal (supposed) minority defends the status quo and there's not enough in it for the distracted (supposed) majority to get organized.

So, as the poster illustrates, let everyone's ox be gored, and the return, we get a more cost effective city, with a few, widely supported points of difference, like our schools, maybe a brand new central library, and, hey, that Stanford place. (Just my personal favorites, the actual ones can be filled in through political process.)

Fred


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Touring the Southern California “Ivies:” Pomona and Cal Tech
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 5 comments | 2,762 views

Chai Brisket
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,963 views

Couples: Parallel Play or Interactive Play?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,133 views

Sometimes "I'm Sorry" Doesn't Cut It
By Cheryl Bac | 6 comments | 1,110 views

SJSU Center for Steinbeck Studies to Honor Author Khaled Hosseini on Weds Sept 10
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 695 views