Town Square

Post a New Topic

'Civic engagement' is new Palo Alto city priority

Original post made on Jan 12, 2008

Generically endorsing a proposal pitched by a broad coalition of community groups, the Palo Alto City Council Saturday adopted "civic engagement" as one of four top city priorities for 2008.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, January 12, 2008, 6:35 PM

Comments (30)

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 12, 2008 at 10:38 pm

"Human Relations Commissioner Shauna Mora also asked the council to adopt civic engagement as a priority.

"That will mean reaching out to people, she said: "One of the ways to encourage more diversity and active participants is to give them more information and encourage them to participate." "

I couldn't agree more. our citizens are very, very busy people. Most have little time to engage the fine details of policy-making, or even gauge the impact that policy-making has on their lives.

I applaud the Web 2.0 initiative; it's about time that more municipalities began to take advantage of "all-the-time, everywhere" access to information - within interactive modalities.

I'm keen to see how those Council members who claim the environment as a priority respond to the ABAG initiative. Six is a strong majority on the Council, so there's some hope that we'll have an honest-to-goodness "good faith" effort to create a housing element that takes much of the spirit of the ABAG initiative into consideration.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2008 at 3:10 pm

I don't know what civic engagement means. It sounds like some sort of meaningless jargon that someone invented and expects the rest of us to understand.

Definition please.


Posted by Eve, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Here's a definition from the American Psychological Association posted on Wikipedia, Web Link

Civic engagement has been defined as "Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern."


Posted by Howard, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 14, 2008 at 8:53 am

In this case, "civic engagement" means "we weren't elected, but because we don't have a life of our own, we want to show up at all the meetings, spout off on what we think should be done, and otherwise have an untoward influence on what you, the elected representatives, do.


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 14, 2008 at 9:34 am

It's rule by pressure groups.


Posted by paying attention, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 14, 2008 at 11:39 am

Which is exactly why the City Council should encourage civic engagement. Without community participation, the few claim to speak for the many. What we have now is "rule by pressure groups." Bravo to the City Council for choosing to focus on engaging the public in a participatory democracy.


Posted by Yawn, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2008 at 7:52 pm

In the past, rooms that would see at least a hundred members of the public had been scheduled for the council retreat at both Lucie Stern and Cubberley Center it's more than a little strange that a council retreat that is supposed to have a topic of outrage would pick a room or have a room scheduled that only seated 20 members of the public. This speaks volumes about just how much they intend to outreach to the public.

The charter doesn't say anything about protecting the environment--so it's not clear why climate protection should be an issue upon which the taxpayers resources to be frittered away. It would be encouraging, however, if the council members pledged to walk, or take public transportation, to any public events that they intended to participate for the remainder of their tenure. Failing that .. guess we all can see what a hypocrite looks like.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 14, 2008 at 10:15 pm

"The charter doesn't say anything about protecting the environment--so it's not clear why climate protection should be an issue upon which the taxpayers resources to be frittered away."

We're all in this together. the Council mandate is an appropriate reminder of that.


Posted by David, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2008 at 1:00 pm

The council better think twice. We residents don't want to fund junk science hysteria! We should be focusing on the all too real needs of our city.


Posted by Muir, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 15, 2008 at 1:26 pm

as if cleaner air isn't a need?


Posted by Bob, a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2008 at 2:02 pm

CO2 is NOT a pollutant. It is a natural and safe gas in our atmosphere. It is created mostly by plants, animals and natural events like volcanic activity etc.
Scientists have found that the entire solar system is warming slightly - just like earth. Changes in the sun's activity is the cause. When the sun warms the earth more CO2 is emitted from natural sources. CO2 is an effect of warming - NOT the cause. Our planet has undergone many, many cycles of heating and cooling, long before the industrial revolution.
The proponents of man-made global warming have turned science on its head for political reasons. Frightened voters will gladly turn over their money and their freedoms to government control in order to be "saved" from inflated predictions of catastrophe.


Posted by Yawn, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2008 at 2:08 pm

> We're all in this together. the Council mandate
> is an appropriate reminder of that.

When governments exceed their limits, they become the problem--not the solution.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 15, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Hey Bob. You got the global warming thing all wrong. It isn't a conspiracy between the scientists and big government, it's a scientifico-Wall Street cabal cooking up the next bubble to make well-placed people really really rich, just like with the internet bubble and the housing bubble. You can read all about it at this link, Web Link .

It's OK, pal. It's private enterprise at its best: it's big finance setting up to fleece you and the treasury again. So relax, hand over your money again, and enjoy the show.


Posted by David, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2008 at 4:00 pm

A fool and his money are soon parted. That is his and your right, Paul. The rest of us don't want fools voting to part us from ours.


Posted by R Wray, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 15, 2008 at 4:15 pm

"to make well-placed people really really rich"
You mean Al Gore with his carbon credit business.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 15, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Fools don't need to vote, David, just to watch. The necessary votes have already been cast, by very smart people, during the Reagan, Gingrich, and DeLay/Bush regimes. Everything is now in place. Sit back and relax and enjoy the show.

It's OK, R Wray. Al Gore is being a capitalist.


Posted by Laughter is good for the soul, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Wasn't it fun when Ralph Nader called Al Gore a right wing extremist? Really though, Gore is just a greedy, elitist liberal. And fools do vote, Paul. All the time. They vote for people like Al Gore.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 15, 2008 at 5:39 pm

Gee, if fools voted for Gore, and Gore got the majority of votes, that makes fools the majority, doesn't it? And if the majority are fools, and the majority voted for Bush in 2004, then the fools voted for Bush. No consistency at all.

Are you sure this is what you meant?


Posted by Laughter is good for the soul, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2008 at 6:28 pm

Please, Paul take a course in logic.- Your reasoning is foolish.
Some fools can learn from their mistakes. Then they are no longer fools and they stop voting foolishly - as in the 2004 election.


Posted by NoLaughingMatter, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jan 16, 2008 at 1:58 am

No, Laughter is good for the soul, fools are fools - they'll do the same stupid thing twice - as in the 2004 election.


Posted by kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 16, 2008 at 7:13 am

This has to be the 'silliest' priority to date. The Council was elected to study, make decisions, act - and DO. Collectively in the past it has done far too much talking and nitpicking and seemed afraid to take a stand on obvious problems. The Council should know by now what the residents want: FIX THE CREEK, fix the website, fix the streets, control the employee salaries, benefits, and high-brass 'perks". It it wants to be 'green', then be fiscally 'green' - the color of money. Clean up downtown Palo Alto of the dirt and aggressive panhandling and drunkenness and obnoxious behavior. All this civic engagement just means that the Council will talk to the Chamber of Commerce and special interest groups, and there will be 'showy' consensus meetings but probably rarely with the neighborhoods where the Council might get an 'earful' and might learn the truth . Then they will talk with this board and that commission and in a year nothing will have changed. And they will send out another very selective survey to people who haven't a clue as to what is going on because they are too busy making money and stock options from early morning to late at night. Maybe the only thing that civicly gets many people riled up is what happens to their little darlings in the PAUSD. This civic engagement is a smoke screen for just 'talk, talk, talk'. Nothing is going to change.
Posted by Kate, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, 3 minutes ago


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2008 at 10:19 am

I agree that there are a lot more pressing priorities than "civic engagement."

However, improving communication with residents is a good thing. I just hope council members realize that electronic communication is essential -- and that it's a two way street. Past councils only paid attention to people who showed up at (endlessly long) council meetings. Thus, the tyranny of the minority. But have you ever tried to get a response to an email to council members? Even if you ask specific questions, few can be bothered to respond.


Posted by Henry W., a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2008 at 10:34 am

kate is right, it is a smoke screen but if you look at the sponsors, it looks like a smoke screen for the Stanford development.
Chamber of Commerce=developers,
PTA=Dan Dykwel, realtor, (PTA is good window dressing, they front for the developers)
Stanford Continuing Studies=huh??
Avenidas has Stanford's major developer on its board.
Kiwanis ??
PAGE=business and Stanford executives


Posted by William, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2008 at 10:53 am

> Kiwanis ??

Very pro-government business owners and similarly oriented individuals.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 16, 2008 at 11:00 pm

looks like it may be business as usual with the new city council.
A new "prioirty' to focus on while inoring the major issues and having to make tough decisions.
I guess this may be an issue with the holdover of some "veteran" council members, with their own agendas, which do not involve the best interests of PA. time for a photo-op.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2008 at 8:58 am

NSF

You are right on, but you forgot to add about the fact that there are also hanger on candidates from the last election still trying to do their bit of trying to influence the council they were unsuccessful to be elected to. Not that they shouldn't do it, but that if this was what they would have done if they had succeeded, we should remember this next time they run.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2008 at 10:26 am

The biggest problem is the way council members and Benest define "priority." Certainly different from the definition I'm familiar with: Priority: highest or higher in importance, rank, privilege, etc.: a priority task.

From Web Link

- "My take is that a priority is something you wouldn't ordinarily focus on," and which needs immediate attention, Klein said. (If you wouldn't ordinarily focus on something, why would it be a priority?)

- Hiring a city manager or providing police and fire protection aren't priorities but are necessary to keep the city operating, [Klein] said." (How can something be required to keep the city running but NOT be a priority?)

- Topics that almost made the list include recruitment of a new city manager, a 10-year update of the city's Comprehensive Plan, and replacing key staff members who are retiring. Those will be happening anyway. (At what level will they be "happening"? AFTER the priority list items are attended to?)

From Web Link

- Emergency preparedness, a top priority for the last two years, was dropped from the list after receiving only four votes, but will remain important, council and staff members said. (What's the difference between "important" and "priority"?)

- "If you don't make it a priority, it'll get done, but we're just not going to be as strictly accountable" in terms of making regular reports, City Manager Frank Benest said. (There's the key: accountability! Our government should be "strictly accountable" on everything it does, not just four priority items.)

The only way a priority list is meaningful is if the topics are listed in order of importance – and that includes the mundane tactical items as well as the long-term strategic. There can only be one list – not "priorities" and "these will be done anyway."

Then you manage to the priorities, you budget to the priorities and you're held accountable for everything.

Can you imagine leading a priority session and going back to a corporate exec staff and board with the list our city council came up with?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2008 at 11:07 am

Maybe the problem here is semantics, not to mention a lack of understanding of the role and function of local government that is managed via the Strong City Manager-Weak City Council partition of power.

Clearly the priorities of the City (Manager) are public safety, availability of high quality public services, management of the municipal assets and the budget. The role of the City Council (or so we are told) is to make "policy" (such as voting on decisions that exceed the authority of the City Manager), not actually be involved with "running the city".

While the priorities of public safety, etc., are obvious, they are not codified in the City Charter. The Council does have some leverage in determining the level of these services via the funding cycle (and hence the value/priority of each of these services to the residents and property owners).

There is nothing in the Charter about a yearly retreat where the Council is given an opportunity to provide the City Manager "new priorities". This little ritual has evolved over the years, and while "nice"--may not be needed. At a minimum, what is needed is a better name for these "directives" to the City Manager -- such as "Council Priorities", or "Council-specified Additional Priorities". Certainly organizations tend to latch on to shorter names when possible, so it seems they have adopted "Priorities", which is certainly confusing to those in possession of a dictionary.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2008 at 11:09 am

What is in a name. A door, is just a door, whatever you call it. So is a chair, a window, etc. etc.

Why all this discussion when we have a list of problems to deal with. Let the council stop the talk and just do it.


Posted by Laughter is good for the soul, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2008 at 10:29 pm

NoLaughingMatter,
Yes, SOME fools did do the same thing twice. After voting for Gore in 2000, they voted for Kerry in 2004!


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

Post a comment

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

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

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

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

*Required Fields

On Tour at Selective Schools: Chapman, La Verne, Redlands, Whittier
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 1,684 views

The dress code
By Jessica T | 15 comments | 1,515 views

Two Days to Save This Dog?
By Cathy Kirkman | 13 comments | 1,010 views

. . . People will never forget how you made them feel.
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 872 views

It Depends... Disguising Real Characters in Fiction
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 297 views