Town Square

Post a New Topic

Editorial: Another Public Works communications disaster

Original post made on Sep 25, 2009

The abrupt felling last week of 63 mature holly oak trees in Palo Alto's California Avenue commercial district has triggered cries of dismay and outrage within the district and from residents throughout the community.

Read the full editorial here Web Link posted Friday, September 25, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (19)

Posted by Bad management, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2009 at 1:22 am

Not to mention so many streets in bad shape, and after repair, being dug up again by another public work.
These are examples of bad decisions and arrogant management, not poor communications.


Posted by I don't get it!, a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2009 at 7:10 am

Why does the author of this article always want City Employees fired? Even when he gets his facts wrong he wants someone's head. Maybe he should do some research before stating his opinion and he just might find out all the good that the City Staff does. Most people only have one or two bosses they must please all the time, City of Palo Alto Employees have 60,000 to answer to and every little issue is subject to public scrutiny. It takes a talented person to serve in the Public Sector and we should be grateful to those who have dedicated their lives and careers to make our environment a better place.


Posted by Facts, a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2009 at 7:18 am

There's a great old quote from the famous journalist Samuel Clemmens (some of you may recognize him better by his pen name as a novelist, "Mark Twain") who started his career as a newspaperman.

He said: "If you don't read the newspapers you are uninformed. If you do read the newspapers you are misinformed".

The man certainly knew what he was talking about!

Some things never change....


Posted by Facts, a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2009 at 8:10 am

To "Bad Management" -

The streets are not " after repair,dug up again" by Public Works. That is done either by the Utilities Departmant to repair things like gas or water leaks (you would want those fixed, right?) or by contractors for private development, when they are installing service to new buildings or homes.


Posted by Facts, a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2009 at 8:50 am

The Lytton Plaza project was not even a Public Works job. The contractor who put up the fence and is building the project was hired by a private "Friends" group using their money and matching funds from the City. They were not hired by the City, let alone by Public Works.


Posted by yes, bad management, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2009 at 9:34 am

"It takes a talented person to serve in the Public Sector ..."

Perhaps (the web page and a bunch of other indicators say otherwise). But if so, it is bad management that leads to this requirement. Good management makes it easy for employees to be productive and do a good job.

" The streets are not ' after repair,dug up again' by Public Works. That is done either by the Utilities Departmant to repair things like gas or water leaks (you would want those fixed, right?) or by contractors for private development, when they are installing service to new buildings or homes.

City management has influence over the order and timing of all these things. It is exactly what operational management is for. Sure, it's different people or different organizations doing the work, and when the city is flush with money it may not be worth the effort to actually coordinate city activities. But now that we are short of money, coordination to save money is a no brainer. It's bad management not to coordinate in order to avoid expenses and productivity hurdles to residences and workers.


Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2009 at 9:59 am

It's not just a communications problem, it is flawed decision making and disregard for procedure.

The issue is that sixty plus trees were removed, not that the community wasn't told it was going to happen. In addition, the required fourteen day waiting period was cavalierly ignored. This was just such a rush job - "easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission." I doubt for a minute that this was accidental.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2009 at 10:03 am

Public Works management hasn't figured out that the Frank Benest era is gone. It needs a shakeup.


Posted by Facts, a resident of another community
on Sep 25, 2009 at 10:07 am

To "yes, B.M." -

Dig a little deeper before you make such erroneous statements. Scheduled repairs and replacments ARE coordinated. Take a look at projects that have been done like the SOFA area or what is being completed now in College Terrace.

What no amout of "operational mangement" can schedule or coordinate is the timing of emergency repairs wherein Federal law governs the requirements for fixing gas leaks as an example, or the timing of new development driven by private sector investment where State law requires the provision of service on their schedule.

Theory of "operational management"is fine, but reality is somewaht different, particularly in a regulatory environment where many of the parameters are fixed.

I'm reminded of the axiom that "Theory says that in practice there should be no difference between theory and reality. Practice says that in reality there is".


Posted by Clean House, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Its past time for Glenn Roberts to go. Just like what they did with former Police Chief Lynne Johnson, City Council should give him a plaque, a standing ovation, and then quickly show him the door.

The Benest era is over. City Attorney Baum, HR Director Carlsen, and other holdovers from that time of scandals should also go.


Posted by Lois, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2009 at 6:20 pm

What the City is saying is that cutting down 63 mature trees wasn't an error, rather, the error was they forgot to tell us.

I don't think simply notifying us would have saved the trees, the decision had already been made. We need a procedure in which the public has some say in making the original decision to cut the trees down ahead of time.

Unfortunately, in this case, the California Avenue Area Development Association had already decided the trees should be removed and replaced with Red Maples. They are not the residents; they are the retail merchant's Association of California Avenue.

Any amount of notification by the Public Works Department wouldn't have changed anything. All we would know is the trees are going to be cut down, and prepare ourselves mentally for a bare street.


Posted by pessimist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2009 at 8:36 pm

"California Avenue Area Development Association had already decided the trees should be removed and replaced with Red Maples. They are not the residents"

CAADA represents the property owners most of all. The major property owners drove this decision to replace the trees and that is probably their decision to make more than anyone else.

Public right-of-way is really just the property of the adjacent private property. If the City were to abandon a street, the right-of-way in almost all cases would revert to the adjacent property owners. Streets, street trees, sidewalks and other amenities are maintained for and by the City (the public).

This is actually a reason why half of Scott Park is partially still a right-of-way. If the City were to abandon the right-of-way, half of Scott Park would revert to the adjacent private properties.


Posted by Clean House, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2009 at 5:38 am

The Public Works Department Gang That Couldn't Shoot Streight. Incompetence blended with playing political footsy to please a few commercial property owenrs.


Posted by Facts, a resident of another community
on Sep 26, 2009 at 7:37 am

To "Clean House" -

At least try to get your metaphors straight in the middle of your diatribe. Public Works doesn't have guns - that would be the Police Department. And, the word is "straight", not "streight". Who is incompetent now?


Posted by Mama, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2009 at 9:35 am

Did you guys not read that there were community meetings when the project was being developed a few years ago? It's been part of the budget process since then with a description outlining the work which is discussed at numerous Finance and Council meetings. What were you doing those nights? Oh yeah probably posting inaccuracies here.

Could they have done this better...oh yeah much. Was it a contrived effort to chop down trees behind our backs...nope. Let's use this as a springboard for bettering the system and not for a witch hunt.


Posted by Fred Balin, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 26, 2009 at 10:00 am

FYI
Renowned arborist Barrie D. Coate will speak on tree selection for the replanting of California Avenue at noon, Sunday (tomorrow), September 27 at the California Avenue Farmer's Market in an area next to Paul's European Cobblery at Ash Street. His remarks will be followed by a question period from attendees.

Mr. Coate is a registered consulting arborist with more than 50 years of horticultural experience. He is Director of the Saratoga Horticultural Research Foundation, current arboricultural consultant to the J. Paul Getty Museum, author of numerous books, and regular contributor to Western Arborist Magazine.

This event is organized by citizens addressing the need for direct access to expert tree replacement information.

Please download and help disseminate the flyer at the following web link
Web Link

Thank you.


Posted by Facts, a resident of another community
on Sep 26, 2009 at 12:09 pm

To "Mama" -

You got it right - All OF IT - exactly right.

Thank you!


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2009 at 1:57 pm

"I don't get it!" writes, "Most people only have one or two bosses they must please all the time, City of Palo Alto Employees have 60,000 to answer to ."

Can we please stop making excuses for city staff? In business, it's common for people have to please multiple bosses in addition to customers and shareholders.

"yes, bad management" got it right: "Good management makes it easy for employees to be productive and do a good job."

Good management means setting objectives and holding people accountable -- a word not in the city's lexicon during the Benest years.

I think Keene recognizes the dysfunctional culture in the city and I hope he has the courage to make major changes.


Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Sep 26, 2009 at 6:16 pm

"I think Keene recognizes the dysfunctional culture in the city and I hope he has the courage to make major changes."

I'd like to think that is true, but when I see him do things like appoint Burns to PD Chief, and not terminate HR director Carlsen for his role in the CT witch hunt, I can only think it's just more business as usual.




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

Veggie Grill coming soon to Mountain View's San Antonio Center
By Elena Kadvany | 25 comments | 3,832 views

. . . Loved in Spite of Ourselves
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,687 views

The Dude Abides
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,617 views

Passover Joke
By Paul Losch | 6 comments | 489 views

The Cinderella ride
By Sally Torbey | 2 comments | 311 views