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Four new City Council members seated, choice of Palo Alto vice mayor debated

Original post made on Jan 8, 2008

A new Palo Alto City Council assembled for the first time Monday night, swearing in its four recently elected members and selecting a mayor, Larry Klein, and a vice mayor, Peter Drekmeier.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 8, 2008, 12:29 AM

Comments (32)

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 7:06 am

Thank goodness, Yoriko has finally finished her year as "mayor"-- a more apt description have been "finished her year promoting her own self-interests and appearing at photo-ops while ignoring the cities problems".
Now if she would only resign from the city council.
Considering her tenure, it will not be difficult for Larry Klein to do a better job.


Posted by Concerned Resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 8, 2008 at 7:48 am

I have to agree that the most important problems and issues facing Palo Alto were not addressed under her leadership. It has been difficult watching her focus on a green priority agenda. She was easily manipulated by the other green members of the council. Unfortunately, Klein is one of them.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 8:18 am

Concerned resident--well we better get used to it, we have Klein for this year and then he will be followed by Drekmeier.


Posted by Narrow ethics, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 8, 2008 at 10:30 am

Barton said he doesn't think he has a conflict of interest with Stanford. He may not have a financial conflict but he sure has an ethical conflict. Barton choses the narrowest possible definition of ethics. Money.
But then again, he didn't think he had a conflict on a below market housing project proposal even though his wife is an executive with the BMR housing developer.
His description of himself as ethical is not shared by everyone.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2008 at 10:42 am

"Launching his term as mayor, Klein cited the top five issues facing the council: the selection of a new city manager, climate protection, improving the libraries, constructing a new public-safety building and the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center expansions."

All good choices.


Posted by Karen White, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 11:08 am

I'd suggest that as a precursor to tackling these five important issues, we get a handle on the "true" 2008 cost of our infrastructure backlog and facility proposals going forward. The Public Safety Building Task Force (I was a member) was presented with four options for a new public safety building. The Park Boulevard site was the least expensive by far, at -- are you ready? -- $38 million including the cost of land. Then the architect refined the plans, presumably yielding a more accurate estimate, and the cost became $45 million. The most recent estimate is a whopping $61 million. Heaven only knows what the "real" cost will turn out to be. The cost of library improvement plans should be re-calculated, too.
Knowing the facts is important for making good decisions about these projects and more. There may be a need to completely restructure the City budget to accommodate increased capital improvement costs across the board.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2008 at 11:16 am

"There may be a need to completely restructure the City budget to accommodate increased capital improvement costs across the board."

The operative word, above, being "may". I think we're going to be just fine.

Equity certificates of participation have been floated as a way to finance the public safety building. We need leadership on that; it 's a strategy that can work. From there, we can move forward, confidently, with the library - knowing that there is a lot of positive community sentiment for major improvements to the library.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 11:17 am

I think your ideas, Karen, are good ones. Unfortunately our city fell woefully behind this past year on accomplishing anything worthwhile due to the single-minded goal of our former "mayor".
the idea of figuring out the actual cost is important since the council plans to put this on the November ballot


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2008 at 11:37 am

NSF, Perhaps it's time to set your sights on someone else? :) Our former Mayor did her best. Some didn't appreciate her tenure, but it is time to move on, don't you think?


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 11:48 am

Mike--She is still part of the city council and therefore still part of the problem (or the lack of solving the problem) that I see in PA.
Unfortunately I do not think she did "her best" for the city--she did her best for her own ego, to the detriment of the city and unfortunately she was aided and abetted by the council as a whole.
She is a public figure and a politician and is therefore open to criticism. However, since she is no longer "mayor", you will probably be hearing less about her from me, unless she reverts to her usual "too much traffic" persona during the upcoming discussions on important issues facing the city (which I hope the city council will now find the time to address).


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 8, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Larry has identified some important priorities, but there remains one elephant in the room, which most definitely ties in with "Taking Care of Business."

A Revenue Strategy.

This is a woefully neglected matter of dealing with our City's "top line" and it really cannot wait. There are multiple aspects to it, and when I was considering running for Council this past year, I felt it was, along with infrastucture, what I would focus on in a campaign.

I will do my best to work with our new Council on the matters they set as a priority, and I hope that I am not alone as an appointed Commissioner and a long standing member of this community who is of the opinion that Mayor Klein should think about making revenue strategy one of the priorities he sets for the City when he launches his term of office in his State of the City address.


Posted by Anna, a resident of Southgate
on Jan 8, 2008 at 12:37 pm

We never will solve our financial difficulties by focusing on a "revenue strategy". Palo Alto has loads of money compared to any similar sized city in the state. Its problem (shared with other cities, but magnified here because of the number of workers and size of the budget) is SPENDING - primarily on outlandish benefits for too many employees.

It's fine for those considering political careers like Mr. Losch to avoid riling up the unions - which have become increasingly active in local elections - by pretending if we take in more money, all our problems will be solved and we won't have to cut back on these crazy benefits that are bankrupting every public entity in the state. But when we get serious about solving this problem, employee costs - by far the biggest item in the budget - must be addressed.

Just don't expect it from the current crop of leaders...we'll probably wait for a crisis to act - though we shouldn't.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2008 at 1:42 pm

What I find interesting about the two sides (revenue generation and spending) of the above argument is that they are intertwined in a way that doesn't permit easy answers - including a focus on only one, over the other.

We do need to derive a more comprehensive - and milestone-based - revenue strategy. We don't have one. We should. There is simply no excuse for operating any large entity without such a strategy. Further, that strategy should include a strong business development component. Regarding the latter, it should be noted that although Palo Alto is a business destination, there is much more that can be done *beyond* the current mandate of traditional municipal business development to increase revenue here.

On the spending side, we've already cut spending to the bone, and compromised important services. As we begin to lose employees to retirement, we are going to have to figure out effective ways to replace the valuable intellectual capital that those employees take with them. We will not be able to gain those efficiencies with bottom-of-the-barrel payment and retirement schemes.

All that said, all sides are going to have to assume that there will pain as we go through the current and near-term challenges that our municipality will face. This will not be an easy thing to do, which is exactly why we will require forward-looking leadership to help us negotiate the displacement and consternation that surely accompany constrained times.




Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 8, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Anna,

Declining sales tax, auto dealerships moving out of town, a major loss in a hotel and the attendant occupancy tax, storefronts downtown, at Edgwood and Alma that remain vacant for years, to name but a few examples, have little or nothing to do with the cost side of the equation, let alone matters pertaining to relations with city employees. You may be of the opinion that those sorts of things and the attendant loss of funds available to support community needs are not important, but I happen to believe otherwise.

There are some legitimate issues around how employees are compensated which affect every municipality up and down the state, on that we are in agreement. It also is a matter that requires thoughtful action, to be sure. It's a different subject.

But to suggest we continue to let our revenue line stagnate while other cities near by are doing things to attract new revenues in keeping with the current environment is folly. There are many things that this city needs to get done, and every additional dollar we generate to support those things helps. But, we have to work to generate some of those funds, the days are past when Palo Alto was the economic center of the Peninsula.

It comes with the territory that anyone who has an interest in holding a public office (appointed or elected) in this town is going to have comments made about them, I can handle that. I can assure you however, that my involvement in Palo Alto affairs is hardly a career move. Believe it or not, some of us do it because we think we can help and want to give back. I have an ego, but I don't need it fed by volunteering my time in a public capacity, and that is not why I am involved. It certainly is not to pretty up my resume or for the money.


Posted by Anna, a resident of Southgate
on Jan 8, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Paul, I'm sorry you seem to have taken offense to my post: perhaps a sensitive point for you.

I did not mean to suggest (and don't think I did suggest) that a "revenue strategy" wasn't something the city should be doing. I agree with the implication of your remarks that the city has been entirely too blase (some would say arrogant) in neglecting the pursuit of revenue generating businesses.

My point of contention with you concerns your characterization of a revenue strategy as 'the elephant in the room'. That's just not accurate. Lots of people have been talking about increasing revenue here and otherwise. (It's just that so far it's been lip-service: our leadership class hasn't done anything about it.)

Contrary to what you say, the real Elephant in the Room that everyone in policy making positions is afraid to address, is employee costs - particularly the unaffordable health and retirement benefits. Palo Alto has a bigger problem than some other cities because we unwisely went on a hiring binge when June Fleming was City Manager a decade or two ago. These people will be retiring at the outrageous "2.7 at 55" rate in the coming years. No matter how many hotels you lure, and how many storefronts you open at Edgewood, and no matter how high you tax them, you're not going get a handle on city finances without slaying the employee cost Elephant. Check the budget over the past decade and a half. Even as revenues rose smartly during the dot com years, employee costs as a percentage of overall spending rose EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

Go attend the ribbon cutting ceremony at the next auto dealer you manage to lure to town. But don't think you're doing much to solve our long term problems until you confront the unions who seem to control the spending side of our ledger.


Posted by Danny, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 8, 2008 at 2:55 pm

"Not so fast" seems to have a vendetta against Yoriko Kishimoto. She/he has bashed Kishimoto on numerous occasions and for unusual reasons. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2008 at 3:22 pm

" No matter how many hotels you lure, and how many storefronts you open at Edgewood, and no matter how high you tax them, you're not going get a handle on city finances without slaying the employee cost Elephant. "

Hogwash. What Anna wants is to see services frayed. there is an agenda behind all this that belies all the "concern" for our city. People like Anna have for years been trying to find ways to make our city government "lean", and in so doing have been able to chip away at the meat of government so that now our city operations personnel are running on fumes.

Paul's call for a revenue strategy is correct, and Anna continues to do herself and the community a disservice in making the claim that the only way to save our city is to diminish the quality of employee that we hire to carry out city operations.

Perhaps Anna and the rest should review what neighboring municipalities are paying out to employees.

Paul has the right idea; we need to make this town more profitable, and *manage* our future.

My great concern is that we're simply not set up with a governance structure that optimizes long-term planning. We need something beyond a large body of elected policy makers. I sincerely hope I'm wrong about this, but if not, what impetus is there to alter governance structure. None, I'm afraid.

btw, a simple change in governance structure would only be Step 1 in moving toward fiscal sustainability. We would still require enlightened policy-making, but at least that policy-making would have a rudder, instead of having to deal with a large change in prevailing wind every two years. (and no, the latter is not metaphor-speak that places value on the statements of Council members; they're all good people)


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 3:33 pm

My criticism of yoriko is not for "unusual" reasons--it is based on her incompetence as a mayor and city council member and her ability to only care about her own selfish interests. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Not so slow, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 8, 2008 at 4:55 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Not so slow --you clearly have issues with criticism of certain members of the city council--not sure why, but I am in my rights to criticize Yoriko. She is a public figure and a politician.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Drekmeier, while having a pro-environmental streak, is relatively new to the council and has been pretty quiet and also has not been mayor. Yoriko has been on the council for years it is always the same song and dance with her--climate change and too much traffic--regardless of the context or how her position effects the city she was elected to lead.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Better City Priorities, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Top PA Priorities:

1) Hire an appropriate City Manager and Assistant City Manager.
2) Generate an accurate asset statement for the city's assets.
3) Review Asset Statement for assets to be sold.
4) Create a 5-Yr/10-Yr Building Maintenance Plan.
5) Review Maintenance Plan To Determine Maintenance (Expenditures) Needed For Next Five Years.
6) Conduct a 10-Yr Review of so-called $100M Infrastructure Plan (created in 1998).
7) Review 10-Yr Progress of JPA (created after Flood of '98).
8) Review Status of Palo Alto Government Information Management Systems.
9) Develop a 5-Yr plan to reduce employee head count by 15%. Surplus funds to be used to pay for building/infrastructure refurbishment.


Posted by Karen White, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 5:24 pm

Better City Priorities writes: "9) Develop a 5-Yr plan to reduce employee head count by 15%. Surplus funds to be used to pay for building/infrastructure refurbishment."

This was where I was going in thinking we may need to redesign our budget. But we should be sure that in reducing positions we are at the same time reducing the overall cost of providing services and reducing our employee pension and benefit liabilities. My views on this are closer to Anna's than to those who favor a "tax more and spend more" approach. Even with sensible employee-cost reductions, it will be important to increase revenues to keep up with relentless infrastructure cost escalation.



Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2008 at 5:31 pm

I think Not so fast simply finds Kishimoto a perfect target -- a small, gentle woman who is very unlikely to hit back.


Posted by Not so slow, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 8, 2008 at 6:04 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 8, 2008 at 6:41 pm

Paul--why would yoriko want to "hit back"? Is she immune to criticism? Who knows if she even reads these threads. Why do you assume that needs protection from you? What does her gender have to with anything?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Curious, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Quite a bit of bickering here... we seem to have gotten away from commenting about the article. How long is each mayor's term? Kishimoto's seemed unusually short to me, but then again I could be wrong. I'm also curious about Klein. He's been mayor twice before; anyone know how he did or what policies he stood for?


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 8, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Hmmmmm........

Although each has a differing style, there is not a single person on our City Council who is incapable of being extraordinarily willful. That, btw, is not a negative quality. Thus, please let's not paint any one member of the Council as "small and gentle", in such a way that s/he is unable to strike back. One can be extraordinarily aggressive in a gentle way. The last Council session with Kishimoto as Mayor would provide a clue to what I'm saying.





Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2008 at 6:48 am

Palo Alto had a 10 millon dollar surplus (last year) with millons in a untap reserve. Not doing to bad.
Need to do something about keeping money in Palo Alto though. I'm finding it harder to spend my money in the city I live. Don't tell I'm not trying. Live here for 27 years and the choices keep getting less, when it comes to this.


Posted by Becky Trout, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jan 9, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Becky Trout is a registered user.

Curious,

In Palo Alto, mayors serve for one year -- Jan - Dec. They are selected by a vote of their colleagues. Mayors run meetings, often serve as a spokesperson and represent the city at various events, but they have the same powers as any other council member.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2008 at 11:16 pm

From not so fast: "Paul--why would yoriko want to "hit back"? Is she immune to criticism? Who knows if she even reads these threads. Why do you assume that needs protection from you?"

Relax. Breathe. Even if she read this thread, she is very unlikely to hit anybody for it. So stop worrying. And you don't need protection from me, either. I have only pity for you.

Mike: I didn't write that anybody "is unable to strike back." My words were "very unlikely to hit back." Go look. A subtle difference to you, maybe, but a very different meaning to a reader.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 9, 2008 at 11:35 pm

Paul, My point stands - i.e. "One can be extraordinarily aggressive in a gentle way. The last Council session with Kishimoto as Mayor would provide a clue to what I'm saying."


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 10, 2008 at 9:18 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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