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Major City Issues Should Go to the Voters

Original post made by George on Sep 30, 2007

I favor representative democracy in Palo Alto, most of the time. However, when a truly major issue comes before us, I think there should be a mechanism to put it to a vote. For example, the City Council was pressured to support the historical housing deal, but there was a spontaneous uprising from the homeowners, and it was put to a vote (it was voted down, easily). Similarly, I think the ABAG 'suggestion' that Palo Alto build 3500 new housing units, including about 1700 BMR units, should be put to a vote. Perhaps the Stanford Hospital proposed development falls into this category.

I am not suggesting that most contentious issues should go to a vote, but there needs to be a mechanism to take the really big ones away from the Council, at least as a final solution. The Council already has the ability to put an issue to the vote, but I would like to see an additional tool, whereby the citizens can take control.

I think we should be able to circulate petitions to put specific issues on the ballot. It should be a high bar, in terms of percentage of qualified voters (but not absurdly high). Maybe this mechanism already exists, and I am not aware of it. Note: I am not talking about recall elections.

Any thoughts?

Comments (49)

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 30, 2007 at 6:25 pm

Democracy is an unjust form of government since 51% can do anything they want to the other 49%. We are a republic ruled by laws. What we need is a good court that will throw out these wild schemes that violate individual rights.


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 30, 2007 at 8:50 pm

The city spent $250,000.00 on a dysfunctional website. I think the public would have thought TWICE about approving this highway robbery.

There would be a lot less waste. Did you know that many many many successful ecommerce websites (whose goal is to sell stuff) cost much much much less than a quarter of a million dollars. And to make things worse, the ecommerce websites actually WORK!!!


Posted by Not-voting, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2007 at 9:49 pm

It costs money to place every issue on the ballot - lots of money. I'm happy to leave these decisions to our City Council, that's why we elected them.

Perhaps we need to vote on whether the City should spend the money to place every petty issues on the ballot.


Posted by Noah, a resident of University South
on Sep 30, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Not-Voting,
The cost of elections is a laughable reason why they shouldn't take place. It's funny that you only rarely hear of this reason, and almost always from someone who doesn't like what is on the ballet.

As to Joanna's point, I completely agree. If there were real open debate in our town, I'm quite certain that a $250,000 website would never have happened. In fact, I can hearby pledge that for $250,000 I can not only build a great website for the city, but I can build a secure and auditable online voting system for it to use as well.

Personally, I like the idea. Another thing to note: "Democracy" does not mean "51% rule", or "tyranny of the majority". It is rather a flexible concept of rule by the people, with or without representatives. George's interesting and original post simply asks that we consider changing some of our government decisions from the power of the elected few in the council, to a vote of the people.

Were this admittedly unlikely scenario to happen, there is a broad spectrum of options that we as a community could choose from, to hopefully meet our own town's needs.

One end of the spectrum: Vote on any decision affecting over $1000 of city money, resources, or staff. I think this is crazy and would require far too many votes and far too much information for each voter to understand (myself included).

Middle spectrum: Any decision affecting over $10,000 of city money, resources, or staff must be posted in a public, searchable, indexed way (i.e. on the web in a decent format). Anyone can object to any item and if they get some small number of co-signers, cause it to be brought up on the ballot. That number could be anywhere from 10-100 people, but must be small enough to not require paid lobbyists.

Other end of the spectrum: Vote on any spending / taxing decision affecting over $200,000 of city money.

Catch my drift? These are only the thoughts of a non-political-scientist, non-MBA carrying engineer, who would like to see our town *better* than it already is. I think this is possible...


Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Sep 30, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Noah - you can't be serious. I mean, $200,000 is not small change, but in a budget of tens of millions? You want to vote on hiring 3-4 people? Vote on rennovating two floors of office space? Vote on installing and/or replacing a bunch of streetlights? Vote on the legal strategy of pursuing a lawsuit, or settling one?

Personally, I would dread the thought of having to vote more than we already do. The propositions in state elections have mostly been a waste, and though I don't have the data on this, it seems to me that more and more of them fail. Tons of money is wasted in misinformation campaigns by outsiders and political schemers whose cares are narrow and whose grasp of unintended consequences is tenuous. Then, they end up in the courts anyway.

I am a very well educated and politically active individual, but I don't have the expertise to cast an informed vote on many of these issues, nor do I have the time to develop the expertise. That's why I like being able to elect people whose qualifications I find satisfactory, and whose job it is to gather the information, sit through all the hearings, consult the experts, weigh the options, hear all of our opinions, and provide leadership.

If you don't like the results, use your vote to remove the officials responsible, and urge people to vote with you. OR, better yet, use other political means. We can certainly influence politics in between elections by communicating with officials, mobilizing people and resources, and working in a grassroots way.

I just can't believe that we'd get better government, overall, by having more votes on more issues.


Posted by outside looking in, a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 1, 2007 at 7:15 am

The problem with putting issue after issue to the vote of the populace, instead of to the vote of the elected person,is that then we end up with, frankly, many uninformed people making emotionally reflexive votes on single issues. This brings in a mish mash of reforms, sometimes completely at odds with each ohter, like what happens with the extreme number of initiatives at the ballot box.

You need to instead elect people who have the same philosophy you have about the future of this town ( growth freeze, or many more houses?) and what it will look like, and what the job of the Council is ( infrastructure, or national policy?)..then trust them to do the homework necessary to fulfill their promise to work toward whatever you elected them to do.


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Oct 1, 2007 at 7:23 am

Maybe we shouldn't actually vote on all the issues SkepticalAl mentions, but I bet if Noah could design a voting website, he also could design an audit-able site where citizens could express opinions on each city council vote. If Noah and the rest of us had been polled, we'd never have spent the 240k on the website. Somebody knowledgable like Noah would have pointed out the absurdity of it and shamed the council into squashing the idea. And I bet we'd never have spent $7 million on the unusable bicycle underpass. We'd likely not have over a third of our employees earning 100k a year with gold plated benefits to go along.

The council seems insular and responsive only to various interest groups in town. A mechanism where more people could communicate to the council seems like a good thing to me. It doesn't have to be a binding vote...but a polling system - one that couldn't be gamed - seems like a good idea to me.


Posted by George, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 7:49 am

I want to reiterate that I am talking about rare, high impact, issues, such as ABAG. The hurdle to qualify for the ballot should be high enough that only an aroused public could get the job done. This means that the everday stuff that the Council handles, even if controversial, would not go to a vote.


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Oct 1, 2007 at 8:51 am

Maybe we shouldn't actually vote on all the issues SkepticalAl mentions, but I bet if Noah could design a voting website, he also could design an audit-able site where citizens could express opinions on each city council vote - and maybe be polled.

If Noah and the rest of us had been polled, we'd never have spent the 240k on the website. Somebody knowledgable like Noah would have pointed out the absurdity of it and shamed the council into squashing the idea. And I bet we'd never have spent $7 million on the unusable bicycle underpass. We'd likely not have over a third of our employees earning 100k a year with gold plated benefits to go along.

The council seems insular and responsive only to various interest groups in town. A mechanism where more people could communicate to the council seems like a good thing to me. It doesn't have to be a binding vote...but a polling system - one that couldn't be gamed - seems like a good idea to me.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 1, 2007 at 9:58 am

Here is something for folks to chew on--I will be curious how it affects what people think should be taken to a ballot of the voters, -vs- handled by officials we elect to carry out the people's business. This is a current matter in Palo Alto that has gotten some press, and is being examined by the Parks and Recreation Commission, of which I am a member.

It is the dog leash law in town.

There is on the books an ordinance, voted by the people in 1955, which prohibits dogs off leash in Palo Alto. Period, with a couple of very tight exceptions. In order to change it, a proposed amended law has to go back to the voters, it cannot be changed by City Council.

I will not comment or provide my own opinions on the dog leash matter one way or the other in this forum, since it is a matter we are revewing at the Commission. I do offer it as fodder for discussion around the question posed at the start of this string around what matters go to the voters, and what matters we should look to our elected and appointed officials to deal with on behalf of the electorate.


Posted by George, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 10:19 am

Paul,

If there are enough dog owners to qualify a measure for the ballot, I would be fine with that. I think they would find out that the majority of PA citizens want to retain the current law, but that is not the point. My point is that it should take a major effort to qualify a measure for the ballot. However, it should not be near-impossible. I think you would find that only one or two measures would make it to the ballot each year.

The Parks and Rec Commission was created, initially, to handle dog issues...the Council was tired of listening to that stuff all the time. The PRC has only advisory powers...the Council makes the binding vote. However, you guys on PRC mostly only get to hear from the dog owners, who are always there to complain. There is a silent majority out here, who do not want dogs off leash. I can envision a situation where the dog owners wear you guys down, and the Council hides behind your recommendation to allow dogs off leash. In other words, pressure politics wins the day. Luckily, only a vote will be able to overturn the original decision from 1955.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 1, 2007 at 10:26 am

George,

I appreciate your thoughts about the dogs off leash question, thank you for those. It is a thorny issue, not one that leads to a solution that will satisfy everyone, no matter how it is decided.

I welcome hearing what others think about the dog leash issue, and my reason for mentioning it here has more to do with what sorts of things should be a vote of the people, and what sorts of things are better handled by our city council and humble commissioners such as myself when it is called for. That is what I perceive to be the topic on this thread, and the dog leash issue illustrates one approach to what should be included and require a vote of the people.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2007 at 10:27 am

Paul

Thank you for your comments, I always appreciate them.

My feelings on this one, the dog law being part of this, is when something is voted on over 50 years ago, the validity of the vote after a large number of years is questionable to say the least. To begin with, those who actually voted are not likely to remain affected by it, if they are still in Palo Alto. Secondly, lifestyles and what has become the norm for most residents is very different. Lastly, Palo Alto itself has changed dramatically in the last 50 years particularly in the size of population.

Looking at the demographics of PA 50 years ago and the reason why a certain law was passed then is very different to what would happen if the law was to be voted today. It is always a good idea to revisit old laws as a matter of policy as I am sure that there are many statutes on the books that would be laughable now if they were enforced.

Revisiting old laws would not be taking liberties with the original voters wishes, just making them fit today's world just makes good common sense.


Posted by Bob Davis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 10:42 am

The dog leash issue illustrates well the point made above that the council (and apparently the PRC) is more likely to listen to special interests and ignore the greater public will in matters of benefit to the special interests.

With all due respect to Paul Losch, who is usually a very thoughtful commentator on this forum, I doubt if many people in Palo Alto think the current dog leash law is a "thorny" issue. My impression is that most people don't think about the issue much and if they did, would conclude that they're very happy with the situation.

That Paul Losch would characterize the issue as "thorny" perhaps reflects the pressure put on him in his position as P&R Commissioner by a few zealots among the many dog owners in Palo Alto.

It will be a shame if this turns into the latest political brouhaha in town, sapping energy that could better be focused on the infrastructure disaster and budget issues.


Posted by David P, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2007 at 10:50 am

I was bitten by an unleashed dog last week on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. The dog's owner was very apologetic, and claimed believably that this had never happened before. It came right out of the blue, she says, and she had no ability to stop the attack.

A stitch on my leg, a tetanus shot and a couple of weeks will leave me with only a scar and a new fear of dogs. I'm a 170 lb 50 year old male. This could have been tragic were the victim a small child (who seem plentiful in all the same places that owners like to take dogs).

Let's not re-open the leash law issue. What we have in Palo Alto is working well. I don't understand the argument on the other side. Are there really a lot of self-centered dog owners in Palo Alto who think "their" dogs aren't like all those other bad dogs who bite people?


Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:13 am

George, what you are proposing i.e. putting issues on the ballot that would otherwise be voted on by the City Council, would require amending the City Charter.

I have a copy of "Charter Amendment - 2005". The process to change the City Charter is long and protracted. First, you would have to prepare your Charter amendment, then you would have to hire a lawyer to vet your amendment. Then, to put your amendment on the ballot, you would have to collect around 6,000 signatures on a written Petition. This cannot be done over the internet because there is no way to verify the actual registered voter's signature, or their address as a resident of Palo Alto.

A group of Palo Altans looked into amending the City Charter in an attempt to reduce the size of City Council from 9 to 7. They realized the bar was set so high that it was almost impossible to achieve.

Good luck.


Posted by George, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:20 am

JW,

Thanks for the information. A Charter change SHOULD be a difficult thing to do. 6000 validated signature is a steep climb, thus there would need to be signficant public support. I could envision that other Charter changes (that are generally popular) could be bundled together (e.g. the 9 to 7 reduction on the Council), thus sweetening the pot. However, this is just speculation on my part.

Question: Is the Council allowed to put Charter changes to a vote?


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:26 am

The leash law was done by popular vote? And can only be changed by popular vote?! The leash law?? That's pretty loony.

To the point of George above, that this protects us from the Council caving in to special interests - what a shame. If our Council is truly so weak (and perhaps it is) then we should look at reform there. An elected Mayor, accountable to the electorate, would help.

Direct democracy in most situations is expensive and cumbersome. We should focus our energies on how to get our elected officials to do their jobs well, not on doing their jobs for them.


Posted by Resident, a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:43 am

When I first moved to CA many years ago, I was truly surprised at the size of the election booklets that arrived prior to every election. I couldn't quite grasp why voters had to vote on so many initiatives, because I thought that was the job of the elected officials. I also resented the amount of studying I felt I needed to do (above and way beyond other states' elections) prior to the election.

Giving more small issues to the voter to decide, while I like the idea in some respects, I think is a bit much. I'm not saying the current system is perfect, but it works well enough to keep the city running along and gives me something else to gripe about. I much prefer that situation to having yet another issue to educate myself about in order to make an informed vote... otherwise, I won't vote on the issue. This could allow special interest groups who "get out the vote" to slant elections in their favor. Moreover, I think this would blur the bigger picture of problems that need to be addressed.

What I would sincerely prefer, is a more diverse city council whose members are not beholden to any special interest group and who are not afraid to confront the hard, practical problems that this city faces as a result of the enormous growth of the area. Budget, infrastructure, emergency services (incl. stanford hospital), sales tax revenues, .... if they can solve these problems first, then thinking about changing the leash law seems like very small potatoes.


Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:51 am

It seems that all this talk and much of the talk on this forum is how to control or stop poor leadership and huge wastes of the taxpayer/citizens money.With poor service or no service to show/give the citizens. Would it not be better to stop the poor leaders and hold them accountable for there GROSS MISMANAGEMENT of PUBLIC FUNDS? Would making more laws or regulations stop or control the leaders who do not follow the rules in the first place. These leader laugh at you/me,laugh at how feeble and powerless you/we are in not being able to control there actions or make them accountable for there actions /behavior.. To stop them.. They do what they want,when they want and nothing you say can or will do anything about it. They do not even give you/me the time of day. How many answers do the citizens get? How many times has the City of Palo Alto failed to even talk or explain anything to the public? How many times have they told you the public that this PUBLIC GOVERNMENT is none of your business. How many times have they gone to court to prove this to you/us. Address the ones making the problems first, do not just address the problems that these ones have made. Am I wrong or does this not feel/ appear to be a cold war going on between the CITIZENS/PUBLIC and the LEADERS of this CITY. City Counsil included. If you have worked for this CITY and not placed yourself on the special intrest list{this means selling your soul} you will feel as I do that DOMESTIC TERRORISM is alive and doing very well in the CPA. It also pays well. Human rights a long with fair play are just nasty little secrets that must be kept from the public. Make a mistake as an employee and your gone. Little harmless ones seem to get you the most punishment. Make a huge mistake,make this mistake for many years,hurt many people with this mistake,waste huge amounts of money with these mistakes,try to cover these mistakes up and you will get at least a second,third or more chances. Maybe a bonus and promotion also. Why have rule,regulation and laws when the leaders choose not to follow them and there is not a thing you can or will do about it? There comes a time and place where/when the citizens need/must stand up for the truth and the law. Seems we like to go after Presidents for ilegal actions in are United States of America but are local governments can run uncheck doing all the harm they can to the Citizens of the United States of AMERICA. The City of Palo Alto has turnned into a tranning ground for leaders of Domestic Terrorism. Cancer spreads if not stopped until the host can no longer support the disease any longer. Then in this case they go on to other city's or organization to infect them. Get the law/rule book out and hold the criminals accountable. Do not buy the "No Comment" BS that is being given to you, STAND up and FIGHT. You can not fight the worlds problems or your local ones from behind your computers keyboard alone, you must step out into the real world. You have the POWER, do not let these "Leaders" take it away from you or make you feel that you have none. Take this CITY back from the forces that have taken it away from you.... The PUBLIC/CITIZENS


Posted by George, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 12:05 pm

Terry,

I think you are overstating the case about direct democracy. I clearly stated that it should be a high hurdle. Council can continue going about its business...on 99.9% of the issues it faces on a daily basis. However, fundmantal issues, ones that will have a profound effect on life in Palo Alto for decades to come, deserve the consent of the governed.

I already mentioned the historical housing issue. The Council simply caved in to special interests groups, with very little thought about homeowners. The uproar caught them by surprise. They were forced to go to the ballot, where they were soundly defeated.

The ABAG housing proposal (3500 new housing units in PA) was not even on the radar screen when we elected the current Council. I can envision that our Council will get caught up in Green Fever, and make a quick decision in favor of ABAG. Clearly, this would profoundly change the character of Palo Alto, not to mention a big burden on infrastructure. Do we want to leave such decisions up to the current Council?

The leash law sounds trivial, and I don't have very strong opinions about it, other than that the current law seems fine to me. However, it IS a lifestyle issue that will affect all of Palo Alto. Those people in 1955 were probably upset with dog bites, and dog poop (some things never change)...thus they took it to a vote.

A sunsetting provision on initiatives, to the effect that such laws passed by the people, should, automatically, be put on the ballot every 15 years or so, makes sense to me.


Posted by k, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 1, 2007 at 12:37 pm

Paul, I am not a dog owner. I AM interested in the leash law and support keeping this law. If it were to be voted on again, then I would get involved on the side of the law.


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 1, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Mr. Losch,
You asked for comments re dog leash law.
In my opinion the dog laws in our town need to be tightened.
For instance:
a) A 6-foot leash length should be specified. (The code does not specify a length.) The other day I saw a dog owner with a reel-type leash let the dog out 20 or 30 feet so it could poop next to a front doorstep.
b) Dogs should not be allowed to defecate or urinate on private property (other than the dog owners). Having a plastic bag for poop should not give a dog owner the right to enter your property.
c) The definition of "barking dog" is much too restrictive--continuously and incessantly for a period of 10 minutes within a 15-minute period.

The San Jose code is much better--use it as a model.


Posted by bruce, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2007 at 12:43 pm

Many thoughtful statements. Thank you one and all - especially Paul who always makes good points. Too many things to vote on would cause the system to sink of its own weight. The voter would lose interest in trying to keep up with information needed to make informed decisions as noted above.

I think all laws, regulations, ordinances, etc. should have a Sunset Clause (date always to be determined) unless there is an overwhelming argument against it. The leash law is a case in point. Having said that, I think the leash law should be retained.


Posted by Karen Trotter, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 1:15 pm

I wonder if anyone knows the history of the 1955 Dog Leash Ordinance.

It would be instructive to know why this was passed by the voters rather than by the council. Was this a case where the Council refused to act because it was held hostage by some vocal (special interest) dog owners?

Maybe someone has access to the old Palo Alto Times Archives from this period to see what circumstances led to the vote on the Leash Laws. If it turns out that the vote on the Leash Law was overwhelming after a refusal by the Council to act, thats evidence that the 1955 Council was every bit a feckless and beholden to special interests as the current one is.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 1:20 pm

I'm onboard with R Wray. If anything the dog laws need to be stricter. i'm very tired of dogs ruining my landscaping because the owners are too lazy or arrogant to prevent them from urinating and deficating on my plants - which I spend a lot of money on.

I got into a shouting match with one woman whose mutt had trampled and pee'd on my newly planted annuals a month ago. She seemed to think there was nothing wrong with it at all: "Well he has to go somewhere", she said.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 1, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Thanks for the comments on the leash law, I am sure there will be more threads on that, as we will be dealing with it at the Commission in the coming months.

Out of respect for the original poster, I hope that it served to illustrate his question about what should be put to the voters and what we should be looking to our elected and appointed officials to address in their responsibilities to the City. One thing that I will note is the notion of sunsetting certain laws or types of laws, which merits further investigation. Sometimes "settled law" becomes more of a hindrance to current realities, not as useful precedent to follow. It is something commonly talked about when people are nominated for the supreme court and other judgeships, and can apply in comparable fashion at the municipal level.


Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 1, 2007 at 1:33 pm

George you ask: "Is the Council allowed to put Charter changes to the vote." The quick answer is "yes".

However, when a group of citizens approached individual members of the City Council about placing a Charter Amendment change on the ballot which would reduced the number of City Council persons from 9 - 7. The response was underwhelming.

The following suggestions were made privately by individual members of the City Council. They would also like to place the following Charter Amendment changes on the ballot:

1)Reduce the number of City Council persons from 9 - 7.

2)Have an elected Mayor for a term of 4 years, allowing him/her to run for re-election.

3)Elect individual members of City Council by District.

and, the poison pill:

4)Repeal the successive two term limit for City Council persons which would allow them to run for re-election any number of times.

These could be bundled in such a way as you would have to vote for all or none of them. It is unlikely that any future City Council will place any Charter Amendments on the ballot which might affect their authority.



Posted by LuEllen Purcelli, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 1, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Paul Losch says, "... I am sure there will be more threads on that, as we will be dealing with it at the Commission in the coming months."

Is it Ok to ask WHY we will be dealing with the leash law? I have heard no outcry that there is something wrong with the current situation. The current law was passed by voter initiative, so would require a voter initiative to change: This is very expensive, so one might ask if is this something that the city should be spending time and resources on? What's going on here? This sounds like the result of someone with an agenda.

Would MR. Losch care to comment? Does anyone else know why city officials are looking into changing these laws. Something seems not quite right.


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Oct 1, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Anyone who thinks we should loosen our leash laws needs to read this story (again if you didn't see it last winter when it ran in the Weekley). It concerns a small child that was nearly killed in Palo Alto by a dog that "had never done anything like this before. Story here: Web Link)


Posted by The Real Anna, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 2:03 pm

Anna, "Maybe we shouldn't actually vote on all the issues SkepticalAl mentions, but I bet if Noah could design a voting website, he also could design an audit-able site where citizens could express opinions on each city council vote - and maybe be polled."
-------

And who would be expressing opinions? And thus, who would end up being polled? The same small crowd that posts on PA Online? Probably.

Bad idea.

I favor a smaller Council, and an elected Mayor, for one BIG reason - to get things done! Polling, as suggested, would simply ramp up the Palo Alto process.

We need ACTIVE leadership in this community (and neighboring communities). Currently, we're only now waking up to the need for speed.

Polling? I've had enough of polling. It's time for leadership.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 2:06 pm

JW, I LOVE that charter amendment package (even the term limit appeal). In a small town, it is hard to find good Councilors (not to mention mayors), so keeping them on (at the voters' pleasure of course) seems smart to me. I'd take that package in a heartbeat. How can that deal get done?

George, sorry, I was reacting more to the leash law and other comments re direct democracy. I cautiously agree that irreversible, large-scale decisions like major land use plans (including an order of magnitude increase in BMR units) might be worthy of plebiscite. That's a character of the town issue.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 1, 2007 at 2:07 pm

A smaller council and an elected mayor are great ideas? will it ever happen here in PA? I doubt it.
the "elite" who run this city will never go for it---it is one of their perks--you get elected to the city council, you get to "play" mayor for one year--without any responsibilities or accountability. You get to push your "agenda" for the year, while ignoring major problems facing the city and you get to have no end of photo ops,
The city council has become a good old boys network. Remember a few years ago, there was an empty seat--instead of appointing some new blood/a fresh face, they dug out Laine Wheeler. Now they have Larry Klein on the council again. This year there was talk of Fazzino making another run.
What a joke our council is.


Posted by The Real "Real Anna", a resident of University South
on Oct 1, 2007 at 2:12 pm

The hope is that the prospect of citizen input, via poll or otherwise, into actual City Council Actions might encourage more people than the usual forum commentators from making their views known. It would be a much more direct pipeline into the council, and focused directly on the issues to be addressed at each council meeting.

Such direct input might also make the council more responsive to a broader cross-section of the community than the current vocal interests.

I don't disagree with your smaller council, elected mayor ideas, but I hardly think they're mutually exclusive with making citizen input to City decision-making more efficient and useful.

Say Hello to Mike of College Terrace when you run into him, by the way.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2007 at 2:25 pm

I am pleased to see that Paul Losch says that leash laws are going to be on topic again.

I hope that this means that rather than relaxing the strict laws at present, there is instead more availability to dog owners to off leash their dogs legally in the right places at the right times. There has been a lot said on the subject of dog runs at the city parks and if there is going to be an increase in the number of dog runs, the size of the dog runs and the times available for dog owners to use facilities and share the parks, then I am all for it. I would also like to see dog classes arranged by the city rec. dept. These classes would be for anyone interested to learn about dog ownership, training dogs and also how to approach dogs for those who are nervous. I see young children in charge of dogs, and young children afraid of dogs, both would find such a class useful. I also think dog ownership classes should be mandatory with each dog licence issued.

Lastly, I think, as someone above said, that long leashes should be banned. They are a nuisance.


Posted by The Real Anna, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 2:30 pm

Our community is pretty efficient in getting its inputs to Council when important issues arise. I've seen great turnouts (hundreds) in Council chambers on all sorts of issues.

The City Council has been pretty good about applying polls, but has overdone that practice a bit, in recent years. Polling is far more efficient than online feedback, as the latter has no controls for objectivity, or multiple votes from the same person.

I think that those who are now lookig for more ways to get "community feedback" are well-intentioned, and passionate about their political views.

What I fear is that the same, rather small, crowd of "regulars" and the small peripheral groups that they influence, would be the ones feeding back to Council.

I wonder if those who are pushing for more feedback would be interested in a grass roots campaign to residents wh oordinarilyy *don't* pay yattention to these matters - like parents with small children and a job, or residents who have recently bought in to Palo Alto (especially in the Southern regions of our city, where the real growth is) to hear what they have to say about improving their commuting plight via more infill housing growth, or their opinions about the state of Palo Alto services.

I don't see a need for more polling. What we really need is more efficieent ways to engage the residents of this community about issues that impact their daily lives - includingn the costs AND benefits of proposed developments.

There is a lot of ignorance in Palo Alto; most of it coming from a lack of time.

So, the real challenge: "how do we get people involved, in a far more broad way than heretofore?"

I think the answer to this is more active community associations, and better outreach from the city. We don't have enough of the latter, performed in ways that give a far more accurate view of the realities than those spun by the press, or small groups of hobby horse politicos whose influence is, thankfully, on the wane.

Our city, and our region, needs to wake up, and grow up.


Posted by Anna, a resident of University South
on Oct 1, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Perhaps I did not make myself more clear. My proposal for a "poll" would be an online poll that would have safeguards to prevent multiple votes, or votes from non-residents from fouling the results. This is easily technologically feasible: many corporations do it already for proxy solicitations and the like. The process has been vetted by the SEC and works well.

I agree 100% that lack of time and ignorance is a major reason we don't get more participation from some residents. I doubt if most young parents have time to go down and listen to the blowhards at the local community association. But I bet they might be willing to express their opinion in an online poll (or other opinion expression mechanism) if they thought the Council would actually see it.

I've been to community association meetings, and they're full of the same activist types that haunt these boards. A "grown up" city might move beyond the 19th Century modes of citizen involvement into something more in tune with the realities of 20th century life...


Posted by The Real Anna, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Anna, We're in somewhat more agreement. ;) Although, I wonder if providing a polling opportunity would result in sufficient feedback. "If you build it, will they come?" is a question worth asking.

I say build it, and see...


Posted by Resident, a resident of University South
on Oct 1, 2007 at 3:59 pm

"Anna" of University South neighborhood says:
I've been to community association meetings, and they're full of the same activist types that haunt these boards.
Which community association meetings are you referring to?


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2007 at 4:12 pm

The way to get people to become interested in these issues is to actually talk to them. In the past week, I have spoken to neighbors, friends at Church, parents at sports fixtures and people at school. In many cases, I have not had to bring the subject up, they have. I always tell people that I am not telling them who to vote for, but I don't think I have invaded their space, just been helpful.

People tend to want to be informed, often they don't know where to start.

If each of us spoke to our neighbors and friends, it would make a big difference.


Posted by Do not understand?, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:48 pm

I am new to this forum. Did I miss something or was this topic about Major Issues going to the public for them to vote on. How did it become a dog leash debate. With all the problems this City has I do not see how all this talk is about dogs and there leashes? Lets get real. The only person who seems to make any point about what has happened to this City is the Fireman? What is wrong with the people who live in this town.
I moved here a short time ago. Now I am finding that most people who live here are lost some where. Do you not have elected officals to run this City. Who elected them? Who do they answer to. If you elected them do you not have some say in what they do and how they do it?
Ignorance is the one thing that seems to be alive and well in this City.


Posted by Terry, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 1, 2007 at 5:56 pm

Welcome, DNU. You'll enjoy getting to know our little circus here.

The Council (and School Board) are not well regarded and the city, generally, not well run. I think those are givens. The questions revolve around what can be done about it. The question is gets harder because of a meaningful group of people (many of whom have been here a while) who don't want to change anything, an over-hang of noblesse oblige, and hard time finding quality folks who want to step up try to run the place.

It's still a good town (Stanford, foothills, good neighbors, great weather), but city government is nothing to write home about, I'm afraid.


Posted by Unhappy Majority, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2007 at 8:16 pm

Where is the discussion of how democracy is not 51% rule? For a bond to pass it has to get 2/3 or 66% to pass. The minority rules in that case.


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 1, 2007 at 10:12 pm

There is no difference in principle between 51% or 66% or even 99.9%. Socrates was one man democratically committed to death unjustly.


Posted by rick, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2007 at 11:17 pm

I have been thinking about the possibility of forming a group of concerned citizens who aren't happy about what is going on in this city.
They would gather signatures to create ballot measures on major issues in this city.

Like: Limiting high density developments in residenal areas or putting a moratorium of a few years on them to determine the affects the current ones have on traffic.

Another issue: Some people have unlimited rights to do with their property what ever they like and others are not allowed to do anything reasonable. This could be complex issue ,but the final result would be a clear precise defined what the rules are.

Another major issue is what to do with the large "Flood Zone" that exists in the city. Will we become or are we a "Little New Orleans"?
Sitting around waiting for the heavy rains that are bound to come?

We needed a election on the Alma Plaza. Thousands of shoppers will be affected by the conversion of this shopping center to housing.

Another major issue is how to solve the housing/jobs inbalance. More housing or less commercial office buildings which produce no real tax or income to the city. There is lots of vacant land West of El Camino that could be used for housing and much of it is walking/biking distance to Stanford Industrial Park or the Stanford shoping center and hospital.

One of the greatest disasters on voting on an issue was the postcard voting on the storm drain parcel tax. Not sending in your postcard turned out to be a "YES" vote for the tax. I recall that only about 6000 people turned in a yes vote ,but it passed (out of a possible 25,000 residents.

There are a lot of reasons we need to vote on major issues.
Entrenched incumbents have a great advantage.
The establishment chooses people who think the way they do and they get the support of all the local newspapers as they are in some way connected to businesses in the area and they advertise in the papers. The newspapers have almost always been against ordinary residents and find phony reasons to run them down.
The elected people really don't represent the residents. They pretend to when running for office then go on to be wined and dined by the developers and ignore neighborhood issues.

Even when elections are held there is misinformation or withheld information. The 800 High St high density development was approve by an election, but the voters weren't told that the big electrical substation across the alley was going to be moved out of the area as the developers told the city council members and was mentioned at some of the meetings. This move is being planned and is going to cost the ratepayers of the city between $5,000,000 and $10,000,000.
I only saw it mentioned once in the newspapers and I guess plans are in progress, in what seems like secretly, by the city and Stanford. It's not clear how downtown is going to get power from a substation over on Stanford land. Overhead powerlines or undergrounding?

The existing substation site will be used for low cost rental housing for the low paid people who work downtown I guess. A 500 sq ft unit will cost someone about $500,000 to build. Hope us taxpayers aren't going to have to pay for this. The contractors who build it will probably be making about $300,000 per unit in profit. Maybe about $50,000 per unit, goes into underground parking space for the low income people who will live here.

Does anyone know the process of getting issues on the ballot? I know a lot of signatures are required. What else is needed? If enough ,only a few, signature gathers are recruited in each neighborhood it could be feasable.


Posted by hate negtivity, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 2, 2007 at 12:51 am

rick, good luck, but it ain't gonna happen. why? because all your initiatives are negative ones. it's a turn-off...


Posted by JW, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 2, 2007 at 5:51 am

Well, George, it looks like you may get your wish. Two bond measures may go on the ballot next year. Council voted last night to go forward with the Library facilities bond measure and presumably the new Public Safety Building will also be on the ballot.

Of course, we will also have another School Bond measure on the June ballot.




Posted by George, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2007 at 6:04 am

JW

Bond issues are a subset of the type of initiative procedure that I am talking about. Can you imagine what would happen if we left such taxing and spending authority up to a vote of the Council?


Posted by rick, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2007 at 12:48 pm

Hate Negativity thinks:

Preparing for the coming flooding is a negative measure

Limiting high density housing in a single family residental neighborhood is being negative.

Allowing housing on undeveloped lands near jobs is negative.

Taxing commercial properties for the city services they get now and pay almost no taxes to the city is negative.

Building low cost houses maybe a half mile from downtown to reduce the cost by maybe one half is negative thinking.


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