Who is Cordell trying to fool? Palo Alto Issues, posted by Michael Goldeen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 13, 2006 at 10:17 am
In her Guest Opinion in Wednesday's Weekly (Nov. 8), councilwoman LaDoris Cordell chastises Richard Rosenbaum for having the cheek to criticize the council's ready acceptance of a burdensome employee contract.
She may have raked him over the coals for having participated in or being a beneficiary of past decisions, but nowhere in her argument does she challenge or contradict the accuracy of his criticism. Despite her protestations, our council's performance in the recent salary and benefit negotiations is questionable at best. As a result we Palo Altans now face burdensome employee costs in the future.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 14, 2006 at 12:26 am
Why is the contract burdensome?
An article in the SF Chronicle on November 13 says: "The future cost of providing health care benefits to millions of retired public-sector employees in California could reach $140 billion and lead to spending cuts in areas such as education and transportation if governments don't set more money aside to meet the obligations."
Posted by Chris, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 14, 2006 at 7:39 am
Apparently periwinkle has not been paying close attention to the public discussion over the past few years about costs of providing services in Palo Alto, which many of us feel is way out of line mostly because of our labor and employee costs. If (s)he had been following the discussion, periwinkle would have seen that there is a strong - most would say overwhelming - argument that neighboring cities somehow manage to provide their residents with comparable ammenities and services to Palo Alto with many fewer employees per resident, and much lower associated labor costs. The outlandish contract recently agreed to by our council only magnifies this imbalance.
So, periwinkle, the question is not what services we'd like to do without. It's how can we pave our streets and provide libraries (something Montain View, for example does very well), at a cost in line with other cities?
Posted by Chris, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 14, 2006 at 7:47 am
And as for Cordell, it's quite clear that she's doing what she habitually does: substitute ad hominem and name calling for factual argument and analysis. As Michael Goldeen points out, Cordell does nothing to point out any weaknesses in former Mayor Rosenbaum's piece. Rather she challenges his right to participate in the discussion because of benefits he received as a result of his past service on the Council. Cordell, as she's shown in the past, doesn't have the temperament to be a productive member of the Council. We'd be better off without her.
Posted by Wolf, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Nov 14, 2006 at 9:57 am
"Cordell, as she's shown in the past, doesn't have the temperament to be a productive member of the Council. We'd be better off without her."
Indeed. Since she seems to worry about "global justice" issues much more than about street maintenance or other municipal services, we should send her away to deal with what interests her. To Berkeley city council, perhaps; to Sacramento, maybe; or even farther. Just let's do it as soon as possible!
Posted by Another Voice, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Nov 14, 2006 at 1:10 pm
I agree that the retirement costs our probably our most serious longterm fiscal problem for the city. I'd favor looking at increasing wages rather than maintaining our current system of retirement benefits and the ages that employees qualify for retirement. I also believe that their remain opportunities to make additional progress in improving labor efficiencies.
However, I think that we should recognize that we have achieved a significant reduction in the number of employees over the last few years and that much of the "low hanging fruit" has been picked in this regard. Also, the comparisons to other cities that I'm aware of indicated that PA provides many services that exceed the norm (branch libraries, open space, child care, children's museum, support for non profits, etc). I think that the assertion that there is overwhelming evidence of superior services for for the cost is very open to debate.
In addition to further reductions in costs, we made need to decide whether we'd choose to reduce services and/or increase revenues.
Posted by Periwinkle, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 14, 2006 at 11:11 pm
Indeed, I have been paying close attention to the debate over infrastructure obligations, employees benefits, municipal efficiency, and so on.
What Mr, Goldeen, you, and a few others don't see is any other way to think "iinside the box" to solve these problems. "Another Voice", above, has some interesting ideas - they're refreshing to hear, instaed of the tired old saw about "inefficient provision of services".
So, tell us Chris, which services would you cut? It's easy to whine about "inefficient employees", but when it comes right down to it, "Another Voice" is right - we're at a point after a LOT of leaning out where employee cuts mean service cuts.
So, again, tell us what you'd cut - assume your name was public, and you were going to be held accountable for the cuts. We're listening...
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Nov 15, 2006 at 4:10 pm
Periwinkle: I like to think "outside the box." Here are the services I would cut -- not because they aren't nice to have, but because they are not essential. Given the city's financial state, I believe it's important to focus on essential priorities, e.g., police, fire and other safety departments, roads (also a safety issue), infrastructure (fast becoming a safety issue because our buildings have not been maintained over the years).
For starters, I would cut
- Jr. Museum and Zoo (7.25 employees)
- Art Center (8.75 employees)
- Children's Theater (8.5 employees)
All the above should be handled by private organizations, as has been proposed for the Jr. Museum.
Employee numbers taken from the approved 2006 city budget, which can be found at
Posted by Marvin, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Nov 15, 2006 at 5:18 pm
I agree with you completely Pat, but good luck getting those cuts through. PA residents want it both ways--they want numerous library branches, zoos, art centers and endless services, while maintaining a good infrastructure, but they do not want traffic or anything that will "negatively" impact their quality of life (i.e. no big stores or anything that will generate tax revenue for the city)--so where will the money come to pay for this???
Who knows,many citizens here live in a fantasy world--a bucolic community where all problems are put out of mind--money? who cares, the city can print it up, as long as nothing interferes with their personal atttitude of the way PA was 20+ years ago.
Posted by Periwinkle, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 16, 2006 at 12:31 am
Well, Pat, you're right about one thing - these cuts would not be popular. As for the tiny fragment of this city that you represent, I can't prove it, so let's take a "distance bet". If *any*of the services you mentioned above are eliminated, you win. Don't hold your breath.
Palo Altans love what this community offers, and they will find a way to keep most of the services we currently have, add some, and urge their city coundcil and city manager to find ways to pay for it without taxing them to the hilt.
Marvin, you're absolutely right about the small, vocal fragment of this community that objects to growing revenue here without taxation. That fragment is going to become more and more marginalized as Palo Altans tire of seeing their services threatened because a well-organized groups of 50 people show up at a City Council meeting to oppose an infill housing project, or granny housing, or a large retail venue like Target, etc. etc. Their days are numbered.
As for the City Council, there are indications that this Council is beginning to see the light. It has brought more focus than prior Councils to some vexing problems. Yet, this Council is still somewhat caught up in the Palo Alto Process. That will have to change, and it will.
This city isi going to evolve; that means change. I'm optimistic that we will find ways to keep our services - even add to them, without undue taxation. Leaders are beginning to emerge here. Stay tuned.
Posted by Former City Employee, a resident of another community, on Nov 16, 2006 at 11:22 am
Interesting reading but I think the point has been missed, was the new contract negotiated in good faith, was there give and take and value added by the contract? Did the management negotiating team work to address the benefit issuses? Did the management team get the direction and support needed to negotiate a value added contract? If any of these questions is answered "no" then questioning the councils ready acceptance is in order.
The issues of holding people accountable to do their jobs and fixing deteriorating infrastructure are important issues but the city has an obligation to negotiate and settle with it's employee unions.
Posted by David, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Nov 16, 2006 at 4:49 pm
I'm making a little list of a couple of "wonderful city services" which would not be missed:
1. Art in Public Places. The city spends over $100,000 to purchase and maintain dinosaur droppings cars with legs and electronic eggs. The program is run by a culture vulture who lives in Menlo Park. Getting rid of this "service" will improve esthetics of the city.
2. Seven people who work in Transportation Planning. What? Planning traffic? Creating monstrosities like the entrance to Paly? The non-timed stop lights on Sand Hill Road? Get rid of it.
3. Trench digging. According to the cities own figures it costs twice as much to have city workers dig a trench as to have an licensed contractor do it. Moral. Stop digging trenches.
4. Repeatedly digging up and repaving the same streets over and over again. Is this a "service?" Can periwinkle justify this?
I'm just getting started. This is really like shooting fish in a barrel.
Posted by Chris, a resident of the Monroe Park neighborhood, on Nov 19, 2006 at 9:05 pm
David is right. There is a lot of nonsense that could be easily cut.
But periwinkle misses the point - which has been made and documented over and over during the past several years: The argument I'm making isn't that the city does too much - though as David points out, there are many many things the city does that don't appear to offer measurable benefit to us residents. The point is that the city has too many employees spending too much to provide the services it does. They're inefficient (see David's #4 above), they're corrupt (witness the utilities scandal), and over managed (see the recent City Auditor's report detailing "Managers" with no one under them to manage).
Reasonably sounding comparisons have been made between Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto showing that the other cities get more out of their employees than does Palo Alto. (Contact resident Richard Placone for more information. I know he won't mind!)
A city government that can't pave its streets and keep public order - the basics of municipal government --is broken no matter how many zoos it has. Our city is broken. The recent workers contract only exacerbates the situation and makes more difficult a solution. This will be hard, and it's time the government - and citizens face up to that fact. Instead, when a former mayor raise the subject for discussion, current member Cordell attacks his character. For shame - on all of us.