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City of Palo Alto plans major layoffs, program cuts

Original post made on Apr 9, 2010

The City of Palo Alto is planning to lay off dozens of workers, institute fees for visitors to its open-space preserves and require homeowners to pay for sidewalk repairs as part of an effort to close an expected $8.3 million budget gap in fiscal year 2011, City Manager James Keene announced Thursday evening.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 9, 2010, 2:46 PM

Comments (92)

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Posted by M
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm

layoff "dozens" of workers? Try 119.


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Posted by George Browning
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Look at David's posting of several hours ago for my comments.


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Posted by Mary G
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2010 at 3:20 pm

When will we finally realize that we cannot have services without paying taxes? In the boom years, this worked (sort of) but now it cannot. Everyone has to share in the pain, and I include taxes, retirement funds, co-pays on health insurance,businesses and second homes should not be included in Prop 13.......Schools are hurting, city services are hurting, roads are a mess. Come on guys - let's a;; take a part in this!


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Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Eliminate the $1M per year subsdiy for the PACT. This is one of the most egregious deals this city has on the books.


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Posted by Jenny
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Staff has chosen to eliminate the politically easiest things. There is no way they'd cut the $1 Million subsidy for the Children's Theater. It's much easier to cut 5 traffic officers!!!


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Posted by BARRY
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

I AM CONFUSED.THE OFFICERS ON THE TRAFFIC TEAM AND THE DETECTIVES ARE
POLICE OFFICERS, WHO HAPPEN TO BE ASSIGNED TO THOSE UNITS. IT DOES NOT SEEM FAIR TO LAY OFF THOSE OFFICERS JUST BECASUSE OF THEIR ASSIGMENTS. I DO NOT THINK THE UNION WILL ALLOW IT. IF THE UNITS
ARE SHUT DOWN, THEN THE OFFICERS MUST GO BACK INTO PATROL ETC.
WERE IS THE SAVINGS??. I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT NOT RUNNING FIVE
MOTORCYLES IS GOING TO SAVE MUCH MONEY. THE TRAFFIC TEAM MUST BE
A MONEY MAKER WRITING THE TICKETS. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE MOTORCYCLES?
SELL THEM OR STORE THEM?


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Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by there goes the neigborhood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm

"The city is facing a projected $8.3 million budget deficit in fiscal year 2011, a number that is expected to grow further in 2012, when Palo Alto is scheduled to raise its contributions to the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS)."

It's obvious the city can't afford to continually increase the funds required for pensions. As the cost of benefits increase, the number of employees the city can afford decreases. At some point we'll reach equilibrium but it will be with far fewer city workers and services than we have now.

Mary G, I'm curious, what are you proposing?


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Cancel ALL the greener than thou programs and the folks hired to run them; and all the requirements for construction that exceeds state and federal requirements. Restructure all utility billings to reflect the cost of providing the services, and cancel all disincentives.


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Posted by Watcher
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Folks its only going to get worse.


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Posted by chuck
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Barry,

The Traffic Officers and Detectives WILL go back to patrol when those positions are gone. They will not be the ones who are laid off. that will happen to the officers wih the lowest seniority. The savings is from the 7 salaries and benifits that will no longer be paid. Yes, the traffic team is a money maker and they also make the streets safer, but I guess the Admin decided they were more expendable. Traffic units are often the first to get cut by PD's when money gets tight for some reason. I doubt the bikes will be sold as I suspect the traffic team will be re-instated as soon as possible and it is cheaper to store them than buy new one's when that happens.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 7:29 pm

So, I wonder how much the city would save if it cut 25% of all management salaries above $100K?

PACT is also a recreational program that should pay for itself.
Why do sports programs like AYSO, NJB, and Little League pay for themselves but the city pays a huge subsidy to PACT?


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Posted by Jon
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Do you notice how the City is proposing to cut Officers from the Police Department but no cuts in staff from the Fire Department. That's because the firefighters are out there busily collecting signatures to get their budget busting petition on the ballot. They've obviously scared the wits out of the administration.


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Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 7:55 pm

The Opportunity Center is a real drain on our budget, both directly and indirectly. Close it.


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Posted by Gigo
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 8:07 pm

"So, I wonder how much the city would save if it cut 25% of all management salaries above $100K?"

Interesting question. Here's the answer from the database I made from City salaries that were posted on paloaltoonline here:

Web Link

Using only "regular" earnings, there are 147 managers who make over 100K
The "regular" earnings for these managers is 19,202,706.98. A 25% cut would yield a savings of 4,800,676.74


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Let's give Keene credit for getting out the big scissors. No matter what he suggests, an army of protesters will attack him.

Regarding some of his proposals:

* I'm concerned about any cuts in public safety.

* I think the city should pay for sidewalks because that's a basic safety/infrastructure issue. In general, I don't think it's right for the city to be supporting "beloved institutions" or spiffing up Stanford Ave. or putting kiosks on California Ave. while roads are potholed and buildings are falling apart.

* Charge for the shuttle and give vouchers to those who cannot afford it. I understand that most of the passengers are kids going to school, which is a good thing because it keeps cars off the roads. Those who can pay should subsidize those who cannot.

* Public art: I believe Los Altos allows artists to put pieces on public view for some period of time. Great exposure for the artist, no cost to the city, revolving exhibits for the public.

The way I would approach the budget is to prioritize the "less glamorous but essential needs," as Pat Burt said in his State of the City. These are the services that a city is generally expected (and maybe legally required) to provide to ALL residents, e.g.,

- public safety (police/fire/emergency preparedness)
- roads
- infrastructure

I'd add up all the money required to meet those needs and see if anything is left over. Then I'd prioritize all the other stuff the city is doing, including non-essential services like the Children's Theatre, Jr. Museum, Art Center, golf course, etc.

This exercise would show that the city cannot continue to pay for everything.

I'd then go to the residents (with spreadsheet in hand) and say:

- "We can pay for the essentials (hopefully!) and they're not up for negotiation."

- "Here's what we cannot afford. It's up to you, residents, to tell us what (if any) of the non-essentials to keep and how we pay for them. Do you want to pay more taxes? Do you want to privatize them? Do you have ideas on how they can be self-supporting?"

I would not make across-the-board cuts. And I wouldn't listen to crying children or small groups of neighborhood organizations who come whining to council meetings about their favorite service.

Some staffers will have to be let go, simply because the city can't afford to provide all the services it now offers. And those that remain can't expect the same benefits to continue. The current salary/benefit/pension packages are simply not sustainable.

One more thing: I'd tell Valerie Fong that she can't raise utility rates to balance the budget.


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Posted by George Browning
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 9, 2010 at 9:13 pm

This was posted on David's link (6 hours ago) also.

As one who will be affected by the proposed budget, I would like City Management to consider the following points:

Emergency Preparation is a Council Priority. How does the elimination of a Community Service Officer affect this? Safety of citizens is the highest government function.

Motor cycle traffic officers monitor red light running, speeding, sliding through stop signs, etc. When people become aware there are no traffic officers, expect an increase in traffic violations and a possible increase in accidents. Safety is the issue.

If the Police Dept. Investigative Services Division (ISD) loses 2 officers, will citizens have to make the journey to the county offices to report and settle cases involving fraud and financial loss?

Reduction of the City's vehicle fleet is long overdue. Cars for fire and police dept. command staff are a costly luxury. The handful of times off-duty staff might need a city vehicle should be filled by the use of the person's own car with mileage reimbursement.

The fees to use City playing fields should be increased. Field maintenance is costly and users should share more of the burden.

If private citizens repair sidewalks and trim trees, who is liable in case of an accident, the City or the citizen?

If 3 full time positions are eliminated in the print shop will departments go outside for needed service? This could mean costly delays and the possible use of city cars for delivery and pick up.

I am a resident who will be personally affected by many of the proposed budget decisions. Mr. Keene, who lives in Palo Alto, should also look at the budget as a resident as well as a City employee.

PS I don't recall seeing cuts in the fire dept.


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Posted by Norm
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 9, 2010 at 9:48 pm

I seem to recall that the police dept already passed up a salary increase while the fire dept went ahead and took their raise. And look who is getting cut now, not to fair. Not to mention the reduction to public safety..Crime is on the increase if you have not noticed, just look at this website on a daily basis.


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Posted by Really?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I read through the proposed budget and cuts on the city's website and am a little concerned about some of the cuts. First off, is the city really looking to cut motorcycle officers whose direct focus is on traffic? Correct me if I am wrong, but shouldn't this be a priority for our community? As for some of the cuts to parks and rec programs, I understand why they are needed. We could outsource the maintenance of the parks and likely save tons of money. If we are not paying benefits for these positions then we should save some money. I think that we can band together and work out some cost-sharing plan to keep some of the other more important programs rather than make full scale cuts. And as for laying off the police investigators that work on fraud stuff, are we really serious here?? I watched a dateline special saying that identity theft was the fastest growing crime in America. I personally know of three of my neighbors who were victims of identity theft. And how is it that the Fire Dept isn't facing any cuts? I see the fire guys and gals everyday randomly driving around downtown or at the grocery store buying groceries. My guess is we don't have enough work for all of the stations that we have in town. We got to think about this seriously folks!


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Good start, but would like to see more cuts.


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Posted by SLC Man
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Really- I have seen the samething. Seem like the Fire Fighters was more gas driving those big trucks to Civic Center rather that driving to a Fire! oh I forgot the last big fire was when Walgreens burned down! As the had to call for mutual aid to handle that! I don't really mean to bash the fire fighters, but come on guys! Times are tough, and everyone show have to except some cuts, Including the Fire Dept! And as far as folks worrying about some of the Police Officers loosing there jobs, that won't happen. The will be reassigned. Also some of the ones how drive a desk may have to go out on patrol once in a while.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2010 at 12:09 am

Time to STOP giving the school district 9 million a year.
No other city does.
We had just EIGHT foreclosures in the city last year. We can pay more taxes for our schools.


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Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2010 at 6:19 am

The bloated pension structure for municipal, county, and state employees will spell the death knell for California. Either a decision has to be made to cut these costly programs down to a realistic level or tax the residents of this state to high heaven. Additionally, all the loopholes in Prop. 13 need to be plugged or the hemorrhaging of revenue will just continue. Unfortunately none of this will ever come to be because politicians won't tell the voters anything other than they want to hear. The voters don't want to hear that they will have to pay more taxes or lose services so the pensioners, who have probably moved to Nevada or Texas, can continue to rake-in those exorbitant monthly checks. Salaries, wages, and pensions for government employees at all levels has far exceeded the scale in private industry. Allowing this situation to continue will just put budgets into a permanent free-fall. If you think having to make repairs on the sidewalks in front of your residence is bad, as they say folks, "you ain't seen nuthin yet!".


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Posted by Charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2010 at 6:35 am

I suggest cutting down the top city managers salaries by 10%. Eliminate those smiling middle management jobs altogether. STOP subcontract the tree pruning and sewer business to the third parties. Limit the number of times for tree pruning to once a year around the city (SAVEALOT)! Stop giving out money to any FEASIBILITY studies and you are not a fat cat anymore! Fortunately our real esate market is still healthy at this time. Can't imagine how the city handle the budget if it isn't!


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Posted by Mary G
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2010 at 8:07 am

There are a lot of good ideas here. Prioritizing the many demands on the city's money, having citizens pay for some of the things the city now pays for, renegotiating the retirement and health care packages (if the alternative is city bankruptcy, wouldn't the retirement negotiations be a better choice for everyone?), equitable pay cuts for management, etc. In the short term, we must find ways to save money - in the long term we need to rethink prop 13. Maybe phase in higher taxes for long term owners of second homes and commercial properties, reduce the ability of children and grandchildren to assume the prop 13 benefits, etc.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2010 at 8:24 am


A million bucks makes a difference.

It's time for the city council to stop catering to special interest groups. I understand some city council members have (in past, not sure about present members) been associated with certain groups they fund, like Palo Alto Children's Theatre, therefore have not been able to do a level-headed assessment of the one million per year subsidy of this one select organization, for a glaring example. There are TONS of nonprofits out there locally, equally deserving, that make it on their own. Time for the PACT to do this also. There may be other examples of patronage out there?! When it's one million bucks, it's time to look out for the city (as a whole) and it's best interests, not that of a select group.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2010 at 8:28 am

I have idly wondered at the oft-floated idea from citizens everywhere of "renegotiating" the sometimes bloated salaries/benefits/retirement of public employees (I am willing to honor that conditions and packages/terms vary among all the states, municipalities, government bodies), yet I have not once seen this happen. At a certain point, things may get so grim financially, it MUST happen. Obviously the hope is that taxes can be increased (or fees) Or that the economy will improve enough to get by and pass the buck a bit longer. Still, it appears structural deficits/financial trouble continue to loom...Too bad reasonable people can't work together in advance of a crisis to make the situation fiscally responsible and reasonable for all of us, public employees included.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 10, 2010 at 9:40 am

The move to cut the five officers from the motor cycle traffic team means those officers will go back on regular patrol. Since the City does not have a full contingent of Officers, probably none will be let go. However, this should cut the Police Department's overtime budget.

Meanwhile no sign of the City upsetting the firefighters by cutting their personnel or overtime. Don't sign their Petition which, if passed, will force the city to budget for 29 firefighters on duty at all times forever. Incidentally the Police have around 9 - 14 Officers on duty at any one time.


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Posted by john q. public
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2010 at 9:45 am

Is it true that if the firefighters get enough signatures, that the City will have to shell out $200K + to hold the election? That is like adding injury to insult. LOL


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Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

I've read a lot of good ideas. The proposed cuts in employees and services is a great start, but it shoudn't stop there. The fire department must be kept in check. Don't sign their petition to guarantee them life long employment and benefits. I just hope the city counsel has the guts to back the city manager.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm

"Removing a hired security guard placed at the Caltrain tracks to prevent student suicides could save the city $345,000." (The Daily Post, Fri., April 9, 2010, p. 47. With all due respect to the issue of teen suicide...why one earth does a minimum wage security guard cost $345,000?


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Posted by Eric
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 10, 2010 at 1:20 pm

One of the problems of letting police officers go is that the City has already invested over $100,000 and a years pay in each officer. A Police Officer spends many months at the Police Academy paid for by the City, then many more months with a Field Training Officer.

It is well over a year before they are able to go out on the street alone, and during that year they get paid by the City. That is a huge investment for Palo Alto.

If Palo Alto lets 5 officers go and 2 more from the fraud investigative department, they will be throwing away more than $700,000 already invested in their training and salaries.


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Posted by sarge
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Post Wrong
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 10, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Quoting from another poster: '"Removing a hired security guard placed at the Caltrain tracks to prevent student suicides could save the city $345,000." (The Daily Post, Fri., April 9, 2010, p. 47. With all due respect to the issue of teen suicide...why one earth does a minimum wage security guard cost $345,000?'

I have been informed by a city official that this figure is COMPLETELY incorrect. The Post has been asked to publish a correction. Private citizens and local foundations have contributed ALL the funds for the hired security guard at the tracks. The city budget has not been impacted by these deterrent forces that are helping keep our kids safe. The Post got this wrong.


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Posted by Close the libraries?
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Close ALL the libraries on Monday? Maximize inconvenience to the public and don't touch the HundredThousand dollar staff librarians. The two smaller branches are already being closed.
Better to lay off one overly high paid librarian for a while to save real money rather than close the libraries.


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Posted by Veritas
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Start the cuts at the top of the food chain where the bloated bureaucatic salaries reside, not among the janitors and traffic enforcement offices who do actual work.

Why no cuts in the City Manager's office suite on the 5th Floor or in the HR Director's office? With fewer peons to manage, why not haul a few of the over-paid managers out of their office chairs near Jim Keene's and Russ Calrsen's offices. Not much sense in getting rid of all the braves and no chiefs when there were too many chiefs to begin with at City Hall.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Don't ever rely on information in the Post. They are wrong more often than right and do everything possible to distort information to inflame community reaction. This is a perfect example.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I thought I read a new public information/PR officer was recently hired by City of PA.
Oh, laying off librarians is a laughable idea of saving money - they don't make much.


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Posted by Close the libraries?
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2010 at 10:44 pm

If they don't earn much what's the point of closing all the libraries on Mondays? I find the idea of a day with all libraries closed uncivilized. At least Main should always be open.
The library clerks and lower status librarians aren't in the 6-figure range, but long time librarians get upgrades in titles, and raises, and do get 6-figure salaries.


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Posted by Librarian
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2010 at 11:03 pm

As a librarian from another community I found the 100k librarian salary laughable. The only people who make near that in our county are managers, anyone from the rank and file would only come close to that with enormous amounts of overtime. Even still, with a LOT of overtime, I can't imagine a librarian making much more than 80k. And like I said, that is probably with heaps of OT.


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Posted by HA
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 11, 2010 at 2:57 am

I live here but, we are in for a really big ride. changes need to be done from the past and future, too much inveted in BS laws to protect pention and lobbyst....stop asking Stanford to bail us out...


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Posted by Jos
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2010 at 7:32 am

The city always cuts services when there is a budget shortage. It does not want to acknowledge that its main spending is the bloated salaries and pension costs. If the union wants to save the jobs, why don't they accept a salary and benefits comparable to that of private jobs to help keep their colleagues' jobs.


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Posted by Phil
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 11, 2010 at 8:13 am

I have an idea..How about fill the vacant retail spaces all over town, alma plaza, the old shopping center off embarcadero, the vacant shopping center off san antonio road, make incentives to fill the university store fronts. This city is terrible at attracting business, which is the key for tax revenue, etc. Instead, libraries and green related BS take center stage. The city is responsible for its own demise. BTW, bad guys read this blog too.


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Posted by Rezy Dent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 11, 2010 at 9:42 am

Sidewalks are located on City property, and most sidewalk damage is upheaval due to adjacent trees, which are also on City property.

I'll refuse to pay.


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Posted by andreas
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 11, 2010 at 9:43 am

Phil has a good point: there is very little business in Palo Alto. A thin line of small businesses along El Camino, California Ave., University Ave., and a small cluster at Midtown. Many of the shops are marginal. That's it.

Too much regulation, too many City Council hearings, etc., make it unattractive for companies to set up shop in Palo Alto. I live near Alma Plaza. It's been abandoned for several years now. It would be better for firefighters and police to put their efforts into getting more business into Palo Alto.

Someone else wrote that we should raise taxes. Well... on what? Many are unemployed or underemployed. Many high-tech salaries have fallen because companies are offshoring to India or China.

We must cut costs and increase revenues. Increase revenues by welcoming stores and encouraging people to do their shopping in Palo Alto.


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Posted by Sean P.
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2010 at 11:36 am

I think some comments here regarding the petition from the Firefighters are misleading. My understanding is if they get enough signatures, any reduction in staff would have to go to a vote by the citiznes. The petition itself won't guarantee minimum staffing. I signed the petition because I think it's important for us to decide if we want to reduce staffing or not. City Council and the City Manager don't always represent our intrests. The City Manager seems to be hiring left and right for his office. He has an Assistant City Manager, a Deputy City Manager,two Assistants to the City Manager plus an Executive Assistant. That's where the cuts need to be made. Have you seen their salaries? Keene doesn't exactly lead by example.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2010 at 1:11 pm

As others have noted, the cuts need to start at the top. Management salaries are out of line. We need *No bonuses.* Bonuses are for good times, to retain people when they might walk. With 12% unemployment and almost every public entity in California in trouble, where would the managers walk to? In hard times, people should live with their base salaries, just like most people in Silicon Valley do.

The fire department needs to be part of the solution. What exactly are Battalion Chiefs and why do they make so much overtime? If they are managers, they should be salaried. If they are hourly, the city should arrange it so nobody has to work overtime. Overtime in the fire department is at ridiculous levels. The fire department keeps getting exempted from the normal budgetary process-- this has to stop. Otherwise, it eventually will lead to bankruptcy-- just look at Vallejo.

PACT is a glaring example of a recreational program that gets far more than comparable programs-- it should pay for itself.

And, I think we need more traffic enforcement, not less. I see people constantly running red lights and not stopping for children pedestrians near schools. The city should be able to easily make back the salaries of 10-15 new traffic cops near the schools just in traffic tickets between 7:30 and 8:30, and, 2:30-3:30.


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Posted by NT
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 11, 2010 at 3:01 pm

" Bonuses are for good times, to retain people when they might walk."

Yeah, but only in certain private industries. There is never a need in the public sector. The gold-plated retirement already make up for the lack of bonuses.

So, cut the bonuses and never bring them back.


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Posted by violin
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 11, 2010 at 4:51 pm

"I signed the petition because I think it's important for us to decide if we want to reduce staffing or not."

I would sign the petition if it would give me a vote to reduce staff. However, I'm pretty sure that's not the purpose of the petition.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm

To Violin,

That is what the "petition" is ALL about. That you, the voter have a final say in cutting firefighters or closing a fire station.


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Posted by violin
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 11, 2010 at 10:11 pm

No, the petition doesn't let me have a vote on whether we should increase the numbers - they take that for granted. If I have a veto over increase and am allowed to vote to force a decrease then I'm all for it.


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Posted by Sean P.
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Violin-What do you believe the purpose of the petition is? My take is that we as citizens would have the opportunity to vote if City Council wanted to reduce staffing levels of the Fire Department. Some of us might be comfortable reducing staffing and perhaps closing a station or two and feel secure that no disaster will ever hit our fair city (which includes the fire prone foothills). At least it would be our decision. But maybe some people don't want to be responsible to make that decision so if their home burns to the ground or a loved one dies during a medical emergency, the City could be blamed.


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Posted by Cal
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Glad to see that the city is ending the sidewalk repair program now that all the sidewalks north of oregon expressway are replaced. Maybe it is time that the city start making "hard decisions" regarding their budget. Let's start by eliminating redundant management jobs. Currently, the building dept. has three managers earning combined salaries close to $500,000, a building official, asst. building official, and a inspector supervisor. three managers to supervise 9 FTE employees! Why do we even need a building oficial let alone an assistant building official and a supervisory manager. all three management jobs can be delegated to the planning offical thereby eliminating 3 management positions, and that's just one department. every department within the city needs to find proactive solutions to combining management (the highest paid employee group) and find ways to stop eliminating reductions of working staff. Why does the city manager require 5 assistant managers in his department earning $1,000,000 plus in combined salaries while we pay his salary of $260,000+ with a generous benefit package? why are we still paying a former city manager's house payment and property taxes with general reserve funds? When would be a good time to start looking at the combined city reserve funds totaling over $200,000,000? When can we expect an answer to where $4,800,000 of city money disappeared from this years budget without any disclosure only to be covered by diverting $1,2000,000 of technology infrastructure funding for the next four years. How much of this missing money is included in the current deficit statement? sometimes the hardest decisions are the easiest ones when you can be honest and remember that you were hired to serve the public. Implying that reducing public benefits and city services is the only option to the problem should be the last option and not the first.


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Posted by NT
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 11, 2010 at 11:18 pm

"why are we still paying a former city manager's house payment and property taxes with general reserve funds? "

Is this true? How can this be justified?


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2010 at 6:48 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Councils have prided themselves on paying over market for officials who can advance their new age fantasies.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 8:16 am

The PAFD overtime issue needs to be fixed. However I am very uncomfortable with non-emergency experienced individuals (be it the city council or our 60,000 residents) voting on staffing levels. Take some of that overtime money and get an agreement with the union to temporarily staff a 3 person panel of "neutral" experts to tell us what our staffing levels should be. Take the politics and the emotions out of this debate.

BTW - to the person complaining about emergency fleet useage. Those people need to have the communication equipment, as well as the other emergency tools at their disposal. Some of those folks live more than 30 minutes away from CPA...

Closing the libraries on Mondays would help. Fortnight furloughs for all non- emergency staff has already been implemented in most departments...did anybody know that?


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Posted by Joan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

To NT

Yes. Benest 'bled all over the carpet' over this issue to allow him to stay in the house until his youngest graduated from the PAUSD. City Council was warned by some CC members who voted NO that if he resigned, Palo Alto would have to get another house for the new City Manager, (now Keene) and oops, we are in the real estate business. I think Klein was on the council. Ask him. In fact ask Klein if he voted for the utility tax which returns a big bundle to the city to spend. Why not buy ONE HOUSE for the City Manager....sortof like the Governor's Mansion (which California doesn't have)....or a church parsonage for the pastor.
Don't like it - get your own. And none of this subsidizing house purchase for any other official. Same thing for autos.


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Posted by charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 10:35 am

The MRI scan clearly shown the turmor is in the brain of the patient. Now who can be the surgent of this soon be broken city?
Bamkruptcy will end all the fantasies and prides with it!


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Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 10:49 am

Why is the city raising its contribution to CalPERS? I don't get any pension, why should city employees get such lavish benefits? I hope they realize it's leading to these cuts.

Guess we're finally feeling those prop 13 effects. They really should stop including commercial properties in prop 13 protections.


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Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 12, 2010 at 10:53 am

NO to contracing OUT. In the long run it DOES NOT save money.....

NO to us having to pay for sidwalk repair. THAT IS CITY PROPERTY. It would be great if the City would come down to Middlefied and Charlestion and do some Sidewalk repair. I think the next time I trip and fall in the 3800 block of Middlefield I'll sue the City


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Posted by NT
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:03 am

"Benest 'bled all over the carpet' over this issue to allow him to stay in the house until his youngest graduated from the PAUSD."

Is the city contractually obligated to pay his house payment and property taxes? What kind of stupid decision is that? For a bureaucrat? Insane.

Let's cut management salaries to the bone.


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Posted by Concerned Citizen who Read the Full Budget
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:12 am

Re: Firefighter's Petition: Signing a petition is a significant act. Please CAREFULLY reading its FULL text and consider its policy implications.

From Weekly, "The measure, which Palo Alto Fire Fighters Local 1319, hopes to place on the November ballot, would require the city to set the current staffing level at the department as a "minimum number" that must be "continuously maintained." Any proposal to eliminate positions, close a fire station or reduce the department's paramedics emergency medical services would require the approval of BOTH the City Council AND the voters, according to the measure." (My emphasis added.)

First, it will cost the city money to put this item on the ballot if the union gets enough signatures. More importantly, City Council has to deal with a long-term structural deficit that is largely related to employee benefits packages. There will be general cutbacks in services, etc. as we can see in this week's announcement. Council also will need to negotiate with the unions to deal with the long-term structural deficit. As a matter of policy, each of us should consider whether or not we want to tie Council's hands in these negotiations by requiring a vote of the people (who are generally uninformed about specific city budget and staffing issues). Presently, we can hold Council responsible for the budget because they have authority to manage it. If we don't like how they use that authority, we have the opportunity to vote Council members out of office. The question I hope we'll consider is--do we really want to take budget management authority away from our elected officials?

In my opinion, this UNION petition proposes bad policy that would eliminate leverage Council may have in negotiations with them. I hope Palo Alto residents are smart enough to see through it.










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Posted by Jim
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:19 am

I for one, would love to have the say on whether we close my fire station or not. I don't trust the past council or this council. I signed it.


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Posted by Dan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:27 am

Wow, a lot of good ideas, and some no-so good ones. My take:

- If you want to participate in PACT, they pay something in dues. The majority can afford it (they do for AYSO and Little League), and those who can't can apply for a "scholarship".

- People aren't going to fix their sidewalks unless the city forces them to legally. That's probably going to more money that it takes to fix the really bad ones.

- Firemen save lives. I have no problem with their being available all the time. But maybe we have too many on payroll - although we can't afford the overtime. Most businesses balance that out to have the correct staffing to cost the right amount.

- Maybe the SEIU will come back and see that it would be better for everyone to pay a healthcare co-pay and drop some of the retirement benefits to save some of their members' jobs.

- It's a benefits thing, folks. Our commitment as a city to the people who are already retired is what bankrupts us and until people in the city (unions as well as leaders) do something about this, it will never get better.

- Don't sign the fire petition, Let our elected officials do their jobs, and if they don't - send THEM packing. The last thing we need is a "special election".

And for all those NIMBY's out there. You have successfully resisted new hotels, new supermarkets, car dealerships, and other revenue generating entities and now your complaining about what now has to be cut. That's the way it works, guys. You need revenue if you want to have something to spend.


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Posted by Mom whose kids walk and bike
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:47 am

Am I the only parent who noticed that this proposal eliminates ALL crossing guards city-wide AND the Traffic Team (the motorcycle cops who patrol school routes and throughout the day ticket the turkeys who run stop signs and speed around the city like they are somehow excused from observing the law? Are these cynical cuts...or what?

My kids walk to school every day. They have to cross some really busy streets. If we want kids to walk and bike to school in our CITY (this is NOT a suburb), we HAVE to have crossing guards! What are they thinking? Even SUNNYVALE has crossing guards, for heaven's sake.

I see law suits in the city's future. Safety first. Supporting theater is nice, but the private donors can step in there. Public street safety is the city's RESPONSIBILITY--legally. First things first.


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Posted by Anciana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm

I completely agree with Dan. "- Don't sign the fire petition, Let our elected officials do their jobs, and if they don't - send THEM packing. The last thing we need is a "special election"."


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 12, 2010 at 12:38 pm

The time bombs left for the public by decades of politicians that didn't have the courage to do the right thing. The Public Employee unions made sure that the people elected were favorable to juicy union contracts and retirement benefits. That's why firemen and police get paid so much and retire at age 50 with 90% of their highest salary (which is itself a crock because they work overtime like crazy the last year to boost their final "salary") and full medical benefits. When the city was small and growing it could afford the few retirees but the juggernaut is coming and its not going to be pretty. And in another sign of the power of the unions, the firefighters are planning to get an initiative on the ballot to guarantee their jobs. Sure wish I could do that where I work!

The problem really is a structural one; small town politicians come and go, so few dozen determined people (and the public safety people are determined because its their pay on the line) can determine elections time and again. The solution is simple: close the Palo Alto fire and police departments. Contract for these services with the County. It would mean no need for an expensive new police headquarters, and is the only hope to rope in the escalating pay these people demand for themselves. Otherwise we're going to be bankrupt just like Richmond in a few years.


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Posted by former Palo Alto resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 12:39 pm

I am sure if Palo Alto proposes that home owners fix the side walk in front of their homes other communities will follow suit. That is such a crock! We don't own the side walks as home owner..maybe we should if we are required to fix them for the municipalities.

As far as crossing guards are concerned our city only provides them near the school sites and they are school staff on rotation ( teachers, janitors and parent volunteers. You should should feel fortunate that your city has provided this service thus far.

It will be sad if children have to pay to be in show at the Children's Theatre, especially when the City is making money on the shows the children star in ....somehow that doesn't seem right...does that not fall under child exploitation? hummmm : (


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Posted by More employee benefits
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Are these still true?
City employees get reduced utility rates.

Purchase of job-related computer software, hardware, high-speed Internet access,
telecommunication equipment and home office equipment/furniture may be reimbursed under the Section (a) $1,000 tuition reimbursement benefit.


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Posted by allen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm

How about finding some revenue? I think this is mostly sales tax as I don't think the city has any other tax options. We can start by allowing some car dealers to expand. Why does Mountain View get all the new retail outlets? And Alma Plaza should be a big store so we have a place to shop and keep our sales tax money in the city. Wake up people, don't block all progress.


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Posted by Jon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm

PLEASE don't sign the Fire fighters petition. It's just a ploy to ensure full employment. They're hoping that a "special election" hurdle will stop anyone reducing their staffing. Let's remember that the firefighters unlike the police have done nothing to help the salary situation.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Well can't say im surprised, but it looks like my early posts have been completely vindicated.

10.3 million in cuts and 119 positions and how much from the Fire Department. 1 position.

I think the Council member had it right last year when they said the fire department was giving the City the finger.

Look at the facts.

1 position cut out of 119.

Firefighters are the only ones who took a raise last year.

Fire Managers were the only ones who received bonuses this year.

Firefighters haven't taken any cuts yet while managers and SEIU took significant cuts last year.

And the nerve to go for a petition to lock the city out of making cuts.

It's disgusting and everyone should vote against them.

This is pathetic.


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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Jim: "I for one, would love to have the say on whether we close my fire station or not. I don't trust the past council or this council. I signed it. "

Then you can pay for it yourself.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by cc
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm

It's a done deal folks. They have enough signatures now.


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Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm

rem, what makes you think that contracting out isn't cheaper? No benefits to pay, no retirement to fund. The City has been contracting out Oregon Expressway for ages, and thinking about it in Public Works (Parks) for a long time. Why would they do it if it were not less expensive? Less supervision is needed for contractors, which also saves management salaries/benefits/retirement.

A lot of cities require residents to maintain the sidewalks (even put them in when the house is built).

Paying for Benest to remain in that house is like giving a multi-million dollar bonus to a coach who quits (see Univ. of Oregon). Stupid.


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Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm

1) Cut the "planning" department and/or reduce the salaries. First they destroy California Avenue by cutting down the trees. Then once the trees are planted, they want work on a "plan" to tear up the sidewalks to widen them and reduce the traffic lanes. Nonsensical. Wasteful. Leave it alone already.

2) Take another look at the Parks Department. They held a nice meeting for dog owners where about 8 city staffers were paid to show up. Not only was nothing done, but the one widely supported sensible money-saving idea was ignored. Yet again, they closed half to park to reseed it. YET AGAIN, they've neglected to water it so the grass is dying.

How much did it cost for 8 people to attend the evening meeting, probably on over-time, and how much did it cost to reseed the park so it can die? Whatever it is, it's wasteful spending.

3) Traffic accident over-staffing. Some teenage girl talking on a cellphone ran into our car parked on the street. How many people and vehicles does it take for that? 3 motorcycle cops, 3 cop cars, 1 fire truck and 1 ambulance. There were about 10 or 12 employees there. It looked like a war zone. How much did that cost? I guess their rudeness to us the innocent homeowners was extra.

4) Stop subsidizing employees' utility rates, Maybe if they paid full-freight, they'd realize a fine objective would be to cut costs rather than worrying about fine-tuning their other vague "mission statements." If they cut utility rates, we'd all have more to spend and sales tax revenues would rise.


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Posted by LOve OUr Friefighters, but disappointed in their union tactics
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Even if the firefighters petition got enough signatures, they still have to take this idea to the voters. If you goofed and signed without understanding the policy implications, you can stop them in November.

If you are going to hold Council accountable for the budget, you must give them authority to manage the budget. This is the kind of foolishness that created the mess in Sacramento. Not in our town, please!


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Posted by CHinCider
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:48 pm

To "former Palo Alto resident, a resident of Menlo Park -

You might want to check the facts a little further before making such posts. Most Cities already require property owners to be responsible for sidewalk repairs at some level, either 100% or 50/50 - including Menlo Park! This is one of the many "extras" that Palo Alto has historically provided beyond what other Cities do. Many say Palo Alto should do business like other Cities do - you can't have it both ways, even though many Palo Altans seem to think they are entitled to such extras.


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Posted by carlitos way
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

1.- Cut management salary by 20% and eliminate perks, from the bottom management position to the Mayor and lay off redundant staff
By the way who runs the city, the Mayor or the City Manager? Do we really need both?
If they complain just fire them, we have a lot of folks out there looking for work without that attitude of entitlement. Dont' tell me because their skills are very hard to find LOL that is an old one.

2.-Eliminate the Ambulance Service and cut 20% employees from the Fire Dept.

3.-Eliminate the practice of "bonuses" giving. For Pete's sake, what are we a private bussines? From whom's pocket this money comes from? I tell you what if you work for my city and agree to work at the minimum wage We The People of Palo Alto might give you a bonus a the end of the fiscal year, only if after all our expenses and financial obligations are paid off and WE end up with a profit.

4.-Stop all that green stuff shenanigan and "better than thou" mentality, just take a break as soon as the economy is firmly in positive field you can have your composting plant and all that silly stuff. Right now is not the moment to put some money that the city doen't have , at a time when the bright people at the top are considering cutting services and passing some of the cost of some to the residents. In what planet are you? Maybe you live in a bubble or worse..

5.-Impose a tax(if they already have it make it bigger)on home builders and construction companies, due to the heavy equipment that is moved trough our streets daily and damage the pavement creating cracks and potholes, just drive around and you will see .

6.- Eliminate the funding for the PACT.

7.- The City has a responsibility to keep providing sidewalk replacement and maintenance service, IT IS THEIR LAND.

8.- Tighten up the screws when negotiations for new contracts with the employee unions come due.


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Posted by college
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm

How much does it cost to cut those trees on the California blvd. will it save one policemen's position? And can we use the pay for the person who makes that stupid decision to save the job for the firefighter?


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Posted by NT
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm

"Even if the firefighters petition got enough signatures, they still have to take this idea to the voters."

Sure, but you know how that's going to go. They'll use scare tactics (unless you approve, the risks of your house burning down will soar, etc.) to stampede voters.


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Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Millie, the employees cannot get breaks on their utilities unless they live in Palo Alto, AND if they were employed before that benefit was written out of the contract in the 80's (or was it the 70's?). Come on, how many employees do you think can actually afford to live in Palo Alto?!? You are arguing about something that barely exists anymore. It would be better to think about the fire dept., and how they want to be untouchable. I'm sure they think they can strong-arm people into voting for their elite status. Who's going to organize and pay for a vote to change anything in the fire dept. after this gets passed? I always wondered why they were exempt from randon drug testing that anyone with a commercial license has to do, required by the Dept. of Transportation. Cuz they're special!

Does the City own the land underneath the sidewalks, or is it an easement? Anybody? I think they own the planting strips, but each householder puts whatever they want in them and maintains them.


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Posted by Does not compute
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 12, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Jim Keene does a nationwide search to find an assistant that hails from across the country (imagine the learning curve!) and pays her $200K, then he plans to get rid of actual workers. How is this good?


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Posted by Firefighter
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 8:07 pm

To Reality Check,

When I come across someone like you, it is ALWAYS comes out, when pressed about why you dislike the Firefighters...it's because you try to become one. But, because you did not pass the physical, the tests or oral interviews, you were not hire.
You need to get over it.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 8:12 pm

If you were a city employee before 1972, you get a discount on your utilities bill. Last count, I think there was 4 retired employees that still live in Palo Alto. The discount I believe is around 20%.


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Posted by worker
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Jim Keene lays off all these hard-working people, and hires a new assistant City mgr who makes $200k+.

What deficit?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Catherine
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:22 pm

According to what we've been told, if there is a planting strip between the street and the sidewalk, that strip and the sidewalk are city property AND according to City Ordinance, the homeowner must maintain that strip - cut weeds and may plant flowers, bushes, etc. (Seeing the badly unkempt curb strips around town, that is evidently not very well known.) IF there is no parking strip between the curb and the street, the city owns the the sidewalk AND about 4-5 feet of yard. Street trees planted years ago in yards are usually on city property, and the trees belong to the city. So do the roots, and the city has in the past even offered to repair a cracked sidewalk in the 4' or so. Not so with cracked driveways. Nevertheless, this sidewalk repair fee and another for trimming city owned trees will severely impact homeowners not only with cost, but with threatened liability issues, and the legality of this has to be investigated. Wasn't the Utility tax supposed to cover such things? I applaud former Councilman Jack Morton's challenge to the City Council tonight first to look first at the Public Safety budget - salaries and benefits and pensions.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2010 at 6:30 am

"Firefighter": Everybody loves firemen. Sure, as a kid, I fantasized about being a fireman. We all visited the fire station and sat in the trucks. It is just that firemen have to be subject to Budget Reality just like everyone else, public and private. Right now, in many cities, compensation for firemen has completely gotten out of hand. (So, by the way, has compensation for city "management" jobs.) "We" don't hate "you", we love you. "You" are just getting paid much more than we can afford. We can't afford to pay you an infinite amount just because we love you. We citizens do not want to go bankrupt (see city of Vallejo) paying for firefighters. The median family income in California is around $65K-- the Bay Area is around $75K, and, most people have modest retirement income. How do Firefighters compare? You know the answer.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2010 at 9:59 am

"It will be sad if children have to pay to be in show at the Children's Theatre, especially when the City is making money on the shows the children star in ....somehow that doesn't seem right...does that not fall under child exploitation? hummmm : ("

The 2010-11 budget says the CT generated $268,100. However, CT expenses for 2009-10 were $1,159,421.

The CT employs 7 people:
1.0- Manager, Arts
1.0-Theatre Specialist
1.0-Program Assistant I
4.0-Producer Arts

I would much prefer the city fund sidewalks and cut non-essentials like the Children's Theater the Jr. Museum & Zoo ($1,132,310), the Art Center, the golf course. These are all nice to have, but serve only a small part of the population. Let the Friends make up the differences, let them become self-supporting, or let them be taken over by private groups.

As Mayor Burt said in his State of the City, " community efforts won't be able to meet our less glamorous but essential needs. To that end, later this year I intend to appoint a task force of top professionals from our community to develop a comprehensive plan for the repair of our infrastructure from our roads and sidewalks to our major buildings."


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2010 at 10:20 am

I think if you do some research you will find the fire department is probably the only city department that has not increased in size over the past 25 years, the police are cutting non emergency programs. It looks like the fire department does not have any non emergency programs to cut.


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Posted by ten18
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2010 at 11:07 am

When you have rank-and-file firefighters pulling down $172,000 per year in salary and overtime (that is documented and apparently not unusual), the situation is completely out of control.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Hot button issues certainly bring all hands out on deck. I see Firefighter and pat in posts above. Marvin, where are you?


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