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Council should deal with local issues, not partisan state props

Original post made by Diana Diamond on Sep 19, 2006

The Palo Alto City Council debate last Monday night on supporting federal, state and county issues went way over the top for me. The council spent more than an hour debating their views on a myriad of issues not directly related to Palo Alto.

I am changing my mind on whether the council should spend time voting on issues outside of our local jurisdiction. I used to feel that such votes were all right, provided they were limited to critical national issues (like a resolution opposed to going to war) or on issues that directly affected our community (like money from the state for flood prevention).

But Monday night's potpourri of council votes on such topics as immigration reform and a $2.60 tax on a pack of cigarettes made me feel like this is becoming a free for all – any council member with a strong interest on a given issue can ask the rest of the council to go on record in support – and, if Monday night is any indication, the council does just that.

We did not elect our council members on any partisan platform; Indeed, I am not sure whether some council members are registered Republicans or Democrats. So then why are they voting on partisan issues? And how can they do so – when most of us had no idea what their points of view were when we elected them?

Here is a sampling of what the majority agreed to support Monday night (and subsequently allows others to publicize that the City of Palo Alto officially supports these points of view):

Proposition 1C — the Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act of 2006
Proposition 1E — Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006
Proposition 84 — Water Quality, Safety and Supply Flood Control, Natural Resource Protection, Parks Improvements measure
Proposition 86, a $2.60 per pack "Tax on Cigarettes Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute" that would go to health care
Proposition 89 — "Political Campaigns, Public Financing and Corporate Tax Increase and Contributions and Expenditure Limits. Bonds initiative statute"
Proposition 90 — "Protect Our Homes Act" — a property-rights initiative that would amend the state Constitution to limit the use of eminent domain.

In addition, the council also approved two national issues, as recommended by the city's Human Relations Commission.

One dealt with immigration — a resolution in support of immigration reform that "upholds the principles of justice, fairness and equality." The second was a "Voter Confidence Resolution" that offers an assortment of recommendations, including a voter-verified paper ballot, uniform and inclusive voter registration standards, and reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act now before Congress as H.R. 9.

The council previously agreed to support Santa Clara County Measure C, up for a vote this November. The measure would severely limit the development of 400,000 of the county's 860,000 acres.

I don't know about you, but when we get such a plethora of measures and propositions that the council supports, it makes me feel uncomfortable, and makes the council look partisan.

Council members who want to vote on such issues say they are doing their civic duty. But they are doing so as individuals; we never asked them to do so as elected officials.

Those council members that oppose taking stands on state and national issues say this is not local council business. Both Councilmembers Bern Beecham and Dena Mossar fall into this category, as does Larry Klein frequently.

And, as Councilmember John Barton pointed out after more than an hour's discussion on these items (and I paraphrase), "When do we get to talk about Palo Alto issues tonight?"

Comments (17)

Posted by Marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 20, 2006 at 8:42 am

Why bother dealing with issues directly affecting PA (loss of tax revenues, Alma Plaza, Edgewood plaza, etc. etc.) when you can spend time discussing issues outside of the local jurisdiction?
It is another excuse for our so-called leaders on the city council to avoid addressing issues that are relevant to our city.


Posted by Fred Balin, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2006 at 8:49 am

Diana,

Did not see Monday's meeting, but I'm surprised if the council endorsed Prop. 90. Can you confirm?

Under the marquee of combating abuse of eminent domain, the measure also severely and effectively restricts local governments' ability to limit existing zonings.

That is one reason staff is rushing to complete the city's decision-making process on the zoning update to the commercial and mixed use zones as well as the issues of conversion of commercial use to residential by November 7.

I would include at least Prop. 90 as an issue worthy of consideration and discussion by the council and important for residents to hear.

As for the concept of local councils taking on regional, state, and/or national matters, the issue is very clearly grey. Hey, is that the color of Palo Alto?

-Fred Balin 9/16/06

PS: Believe the Santa Clara Land Conservation Initiative previously supported by council is Measure A not C.





Posted by Mary G, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2006 at 12:18 pm

We have enough unresolved local issues to discuss. I resent the council taking time to discuss national issues at the expense of local ones. When will we make decisions about libraries and grocery stores? I would like to know which council members voted for or against these discussions, so I can adjust my vote accordingly!


Posted by Anna, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2006 at 1:04 pm

It might be interesting to do a correlation analysis: Of those Council members that push partisan agendas, how many of those members have an interest in pursuing a political career beyond Palo Alto, or are up for re-election, or are looking to otherwise enhance their image for other reasons?

Sponsoring and voting for such things certainly helps to reinforce a personal political stance that resonates with various voting sectors, including our own community - thus aiding in re-election here, or in county/state-wide races.

This isn't to say that sponors aren't passionate about their various deeply help beliefs, but what practical good can come of discussing and voting on these things when there is more than a full agenda of work to complete on local issues.

Perhaps we should have a "non-Palo-Alto" issues night at a local cafe, paid for only by participating citizens (not the city) where community members and Council members can discuss these things, to break up the tedium of the "everydayness" of Council agendas.

Imagine having to be a staff member who has already worked a full day, having to sit by while your various bosses debate matters that they weren't elected to discuss.



Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2006 at 5:00 pm

At its 9-18-06 meeting, Council OPPOSED Prop 90! Shame on Diamond for getting this wrong, even accidentally!


Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2006 at 5:12 pm

At Council's 9-18-06 meeting, during the discussion of item 14, Council Member Mossar said that staff hadn't explained, in its staff report, why the city should take an interest in the measures it proposed that Council support or oppose -- and next time they should. If staff provided such an explanation, and Council agreed with it, would Diamond be content?


Posted by Elaine, a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2006 at 9:27 pm

The long discussion had the effect of diverting attention and participatiion from the big, money item that followed.


Posted by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger
on Sep 20, 2006 at 10:01 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

My sincere apologies. I misheard the vote, and when I talked with a council member after the meeting, that person also misheard the vote. To clarify: the counci considered, but voted against Proposition 90.

Thanks for all your corrections! I really do appreciate them.

Diana


Posted by Louie, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 21, 2006 at 12:28 am

Hoel...."At its 9-18-06 meeting, Council OPPOSED Prop 90! Shame on Diamond for getting this wrong, even accidentally!"


gee, looks like Hoel must be perfect - eiether that, or he's full of shame :)


Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2006 at 7:10 pm

Whether electronic voting machines can be trusted is not only a national issue. The state of California and the county of Santa Clara also have specific responsibilities.

Also, making the voting system trustworthy shouldn't be a partisan issue.


Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2006 at 7:33 pm

One argument against Council's making resolutions about issues Council is not able to deal with by itself is that they take time.

For the 9-18-06 Council meeting, staff put an item about several resolutions (item 14) on the agenda's Consent Calendar. Had Council left it on the consent calendar, it would have taken Council no extra time (unless Council members needed to recuse themselves or wished to vote no). But it was pulled from the Consent Calendar because at least two Council members had valid concerns about it. This ended up taking more time than if the item had been placed elsewhere on the agenda in the first place.

Council Member Mossar first requested that two of the resolutions within item 14 be voted on separately from the rest, and Mayor Kleinberg agreed. Later, Mossar requested that each of the resolutions be voted on separately, and Kleinberg agreed. This negotiation took time. It would have taken less time if the resolutions had been separate agenda items in the first place.


Posted by Mary G, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2006 at 10:27 am

I would be interested in knowing how much staff time and council time is spent on these "extra" issues. Does anyone know?


Posted by Marianne, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 22, 2006 at 3:37 pm

Have to agree with Jeff Hoel - if Ms. Diamond is reporting in the paper, she should take the time to be sure what she says about the Council is accurate. She has previously opposed them so should be careful about her facts. Other stories she has done have been incorrect or exaggerated. The editor needs to get her to improve!


Posted by Brandon, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 23, 2006 at 11:30 am

Thank you Diana. As a former resident of Berkeley, I can tell you that once a City Council decides to go down this slippery slope, it is never-ending. Why not condemn the genocide in Darfur? Or address the Kyoto treaty? Or . . . well, you get the point. The "bright line" should be to keep it local, lest we become mired in addressing state/national/international issues that the Council has neither authority over nor the ability to affect.


Posted by Lee The, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Sep 26, 2006 at 12:12 pm

If a Palo Alto cop decided to spend an hour of every workday helping out at the Senior Center, what would you think? Wouldn't you consider this peculiar behavior grounds for firing the cop, even if you thought the Senior Center was a wonderful institution?

Likewise, even if you believe the President of the United States of America ought to establish a Department of Peace, shouldn't you consider it grounds for recall if a Palo Alto City Council member voted in favor of taking up this issue?

Both cases are examples of malfeasance--"misconduct by a public official." Don't be distracted by whatever virtue the issues being considered may have. Public officials have a job to do--their job--and every minute they spend doing someone else's job, they aren't doing their own. They might as well have gone to the beach, for all the difference they're making.

So unless you think Palo Alto's budget shortfall is a non-issue, along with the continuing loss of retail businesses, the coming city employee pension time bomb, street crime, deteriorating infrastructure, earthquake and flood prep, gross misconduct in the city's utilities department and more--you should support tossing out of office all the City Council members whose behavior (as opposed to their lip service) shows they do regard all these as non-issues.


Posted by Jon Foster, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 26, 2006 at 5:14 pm

The Palo Alto City Council spends a tremendous amount of time addressing issues that directly affect Palo Alto. As a result, I see no downside to the City Council, if it so chooses, spending a modest amount of time reviewing specific ballot propositions upon which Palo Alto residents will cast votes and making endorsements as they see fit. I think it is helpful for interested members of the community to know how their elected leaders feel on county-wide and state-wide ballot initiatives and I don't see any evidence that the time the City Council members spend evaluating and discussing these initiatives comes at the expense of their efforts on purely local matters.


Posted by Marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 27, 2006 at 2:20 pm

On the contrary, it appears to me that the PA city council spends a tremendous amount of time trying to avoid REALLY addressing the issues that affect PA. They are willing to have more meetings on an issue, hire consultantsm form sub-committees, hold hearings etc.
But directly address and issue--never


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