Town Square

Post a New Topic

Palo Alto to amp up recruitment for commissions

Original post made on Apr 10, 2013

Serving on a citizen commission in Palo Alto may look to an outsider like a thankless labor of love, full of wonky public hearings, PowerPoint slides and constant reminders that some residents will inevitably be upset at the end of the day. Now, with applications on the wane and vacancies on the rise, the city is looking to show its volunteers that they are needed and appreciated.

This story contains 717 words.

If you are a paid subscriber, check to make sure you have logged in. Otherwise our system cannot recognize you as having full free access to our site.

If you are a paid print subscriber and haven't yet set up an online account, click here to get your online account activated.

Comments (23)

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2013 at 7:30 am

These are superficial band-aids as to why more citizens don't apply.

The council only wants commissioners who fall in line with their views, and the number of residents who follow their views and want to be shills for them is a shrinking pool of candidates. Look at what happened when the council voted in the developer mouthpiece to replace the knowledgable Feinberg (who was more considerate of the residentalist view) for Planning & Transportation.

Many times various members of council disrespect the process: they don't show up for the interviews, or the council will extend the deadline for applications because they don't like the applicant pool. Who wants to be disrespected in this way?

And some people who apply to gain more insight into the city as preparation for running for city council; however some city council members view that as a threat for when they run for re-election.

Like this comment
Posted by Sic-Transit-Gloria-Mundi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2013 at 7:36 am

Maybe Palo Altans are saying that the local government has too many requirements for Boards and Commissions. If people are of a working age, they don't have the time for attending the never-ending sessions that frequently don't result in anything meaningful.

Commissions like the Planning & Transportation Commission often make questionable, or self-serving, decisions--leaving too many people disinterested in being associated with that group of people.

The Architectural Review Board also needs some rethinking--since we are seeing a lot of large, ugly, buildings taking over Palo Alto.

The whole idea of self-governance is not faring well in this town, these days.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 10, 2013 at 9:08 am

I know well educated, thoughtful residents with experience in commission fields who applied and were not even interviewed!! Or they were considered 'too old'. The Architectural Review Board, the Parks and Rec Commission, and the Arts Commission have made so many very BAD decisions. The spineless Council only selects those with whom it would agree .The commission idea is a joke . Just look at what the Art commission has done. No, the City Council just lets the commissions do its dirty work and hides behind the commissions' skirts.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 10, 2013 at 9:11 am

I"ll add another category to the top of my list. THe PLANNING COMMISSION!!

Like this comment
Posted by Henry
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 10, 2013 at 10:05 am

Why would anyone want to serve on a commission? Seems like the only remaining reason is to advance a career, either professionally or politically (money and power). There's no sense of public service anymore; not on commissions and not most of Council.

Larry Klein is personally responsible for demeaning and alienating so many members of the public that it is stunningly disingenuous for him to make statements about honoring commissioners. Actions speak louder than words!

Like this comment
Posted by Truth be Told
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2013 at 11:08 am

The sad fact is, the City Council here has such a bad reputation locally, and the other local commissions, especially ARB, have bad reputations that reach farther and wider.
No one really wants that bad association!

Yet, how else will there be change in the status quo? However, it seems there can be no change as long as the current city council members sit, because they will not consider placing anyone who would truly be effective in any commission. It has become a losing proposition.

Like this comment
Posted by Waste of Energy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 10, 2013 at 11:30 am

It is favoritism that gets you on a Commission. A neighbor of mine with a PhD was denied a place on the Utilities Commission because the two vacancies went to North Palo Alto residents, and she was from South PA.

If a PhD from South PA can't make it onto the City's Utility Commission what incentive is there for other South PA residents to apply? Maybe you hadn't noticed but most Commissions are made up largely of North Palo Alto residents. South Palo Altans need not apply because you'll be passed over for North PA residents.

Like this comment
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Joel is a registered user.

As a former Parks and Recreation Commissioner I found the City Council
interviewing process daunting. I do think that all the commissions are needed and that our citizens owe their city the duty to pay back for all that we have been offered by living in such a great city. There are so many naysayers who would do well to be commissioners and then have the experience to back their complaints or not.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.

I served on the Parks and Recreation Commission for 9 years. My term ended last December, and I was asked to stay on for another couple of months, since City Council had not yet chosen the succesors to those of us who were moving on.

I enjoyed being a Commissioner. I stepped down purely because I felt 9 years was long enough, and other people should take on the job.

Never did I feel beholden to anyone on City Council. Most the Council Members I dealt with over the years are fine people, and I actually felt that they appreciated the time and effort our Commission put into things for Council's ultimate disposition.

I can't speak for other Commissioners or other Commissions. I don't think many members of the public understand how much goes into a non-
paying responsibility unless they actually walk in such shoes.

I have my gripes about recommendations various Commissions have made over the years. I have no doubt that some of mine were viewed with disdain by people in town.

It is truly sad that finding people to serve as Commissioners is so problematic. Recognition in any capacity is appreciated, and satisfaction from a job well done is countless.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 10, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.


Please cite the bad decisions that the Parks and Recreation Commission has made.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I think that although a lot of people in Palo Alto care about the city, most of us are very busy and don't have the time to commit to being on a commission or anything else. The recent school board and council elections both had very few candidates and that is beginning to look like a trend for Palo Alto.

Not sure how we can get over this one.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I'd like to see documentation citing these peoples claims about the city not selecting people because they were from SPA or were too old. I'd like to see evidence of the council only selecting people who will do their bidding - and I'd like to see just how that bidding has been carried out.

Just because you apply and do not get selected does not mean it is a conspiracy. It means someone interviewed better than you did or were more qualified. Having a PhD does not make you qualified. Just because you think a building is ugly does not mean it is a conspiracy between the committee and council.

Get over your bitterness as clearly rejected applicants and move on with your lives people. You are sitting in your isolated little homes complaining about a system that you have the ability to help fix. But you'd rather just spray your bitterness at being rejected around.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Commissions, Not worth your effort
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm

All comments stated above are equally important, and raise valid points. Common Sense I believe has really hit the nail on the head. Basically, from what I have heard and witnessed, the PACC wants who they want on these boards and commissions. And, yes they do feel threatened by certain applicants who might use their respective commission service as a springboard to run for city council. This is very ironic in the sense that, whenever people run for city council, the question about what civic engagements, or commissions has the person participated in always, and inevitably is broached. Those without a history of volunteering on these so called local commissions, etc., are not viewed as having enough local experience to be a PACC member. And yes, I heard Larry Klein say about five months ago, and call out at a city council meeting, the names of two applicants who he refused to interview for commission positions because the applicants had applied to other commission positions, and Klein felt as though these two people have been interviewed before, that he would not support their candidacy because they lacked so called experience.

Perhaps the fact that those applicants applied to various positions over time means that they are really interested in serving the city in some capacity. Why totally discard, and toss aside people who are demonstrating that they are willing to serve simply because they apply to various/numerous commission appointments? The very act that they are applying to more than one position demonstrates they have interest in serving the city in some capacity.

In addition, the application process puts lots of emphasis on unnecessary educational, and specific experience requirements. Perhaps, this also keeps some applicants away from the process as they might be interested in the overall subject and area of the commission, but the PACC might toss out the applicant for "lack" of specific experience.

All told, simply not a fair, and inviting process. No wonder the city is having a tough time recruiting folks.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 10, 2013 at 5:26 pm

So, PA Commissions,you would rather have the guy serving you your happy meal with nothing but a GED and no idea what a building plan is review the complex proposals brought before the PC?

If a person isn't qualified he should find another way to help. I don't want the city spending my tax dollars trying to help some poor smuck decide where his skills should allow him to volunteer. That's his job.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for all the postings above.

After reading a bit, then skimming the rest of the article, I was considering the possibility of volunteering.

However, gratefully the comments brought me down to earth, and I am grateful for the one who referred to meetings that seem to result in nothing... (I experienced enough useless meetings in corporate America that kept me from valuable deliverables, and it's much more efficient in Corp.Am. than any government I've worked with or in.

And the reference to the long application process on both sides.

Anything that involves the word "volunteer" should be quick, lean and inviting. You're asking them to give you their time, attention and expertise. The key word being "give." Don't make it hard for them.

If there's one thing our city government(and so many other forms of governance large and small) needs it's a true efficiency expert, an insightful outsider's view, for fresh perspective.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2013 at 6:58 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Why won't they post EXACTLY what they are looking for in a commissioner and save us all a lot of time.
A couple of years ago, I was goin to volunteer to shelve books at Mitchel Park...Unil I started on the fork. H. No, I am not filling this monster out.

The whole City volunteer process has more time consuming APPLICATION paperwork, than the US Navy did when I enlisted.
Citizen: Yes
Over 18: yes
Any Felony convictions: No

OK, Swear in

Like this comment
Posted by PA Commissions, Not worth your effort
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 11, 2013 at 9:11 am

To Anon, thanks for your response.

But if it pleases the court, what's wrong with someone who "flips" burgers at McDonald's serving on a PA Commission? Currently, there is one gentleman who works at our local McDonald's who was a Real Estate Agent, and found himself at odds with that industry when the housing bubble hit in 2008/2009. He is currently a Supervisor at this McDonald's site. He has an expansive knowledge base, and the fact that he took a job at McDonald's during one of the worse recessions of our American economic history, shows his willingness to work any decent, and honest job, in order to feed and house himself, as well as continue to contribute to the Federal and State tax revenue base.

The problem with our current society, too much judgement about others, when you have no idea what they are capable of, and what they know simply because you cannot get beyond superficial things like a job title, what vehicle the drive, and where/how they reside. At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we all have value. I do agree with you that if people want to volunteer, there are many outlets in the city, and one does not need to start with a commission seat.

Like this comment
Posted by Waste of Energy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 11, 2013 at 9:58 am

Sadly, Commissions are highly political in this town, it's who you know that gets you on.

Answering Elizabeth who wanted to volunteer for something in Palo Alto. A friend of mine has been a volunteer at the Police Department for the last 20 years. He's never been interviewed, had his credentials questioned or even researched, no references or background checks have ever been made. At the beginning he was accepted very willingly and graciously. But, try to get on a Citywide Commission, things are very different!!

Like this comment
Posted by Sic-Transit-Gloria-Mundi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2013 at 10:28 am

A couple of people have mentioned problems with background checks when they wanted to volunteer for various activities--like helping out in the library. The need for these checks should be obvious--given the increasing litigeousness of our society, coupled with the abuse of children in public, and church, settings that is now common knowledge.

These checks are the price we have to pay for living in a "modern" society that is attempting to provide some sense of safety for people utilizizing public facilities.

We need to keep this matter separate from that of Board and Commission members--who don't deal with children, routinely. No reason that these folks should not be expected to file FPPC Form 700s, and undergo a background check, like everyone else--but the issue of whether their appointments can be removed from the realm of the "totally political" is one of the questions we should be focusing on here.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 11, 2013 at 11:09 am

Commissioners are not back ground checked. They do have to fill out conflict of interest statements. The applications are just a few pages long asking basic and generic questions about why one is applying. Should't take more than a few minutes to fill out. All applicants are always interviewed.

Working at McDonald's does not disqualify you. Has this perfectly amazing and brilliantly well qualified friend of yours ever applied for a commission? He would be quite qualified to serve on the PC it seems. The art commission maybe not, but planning sure. All I'm saying is everyone here is complaining already about how incompetent the commissioners are now, I can only imagine how awful the complaints would be if there were no qualifications or vetting of the commissioners You want it both ways - or at least whatever way is suiting your current rant.

And yes, before you start personally attacking me, I know what I am speaking of. I have served on a commission for years. I chose to remain anonymous though because of the sheer anger in the community toward the public servants.

Like this comment
Posted by Sic-Transit-Gloria-Mundi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2013 at 11:41 am

> I can only imagine how awful the complaints would be
> if there were no qualifications

And what qualifications for Boards and Commissions in Palo Alto are you talking about? Are these qualifications identified on any of the forms that are required of applicants? Can you provide any examples?

By the way, the only qualifications for elected office are: 1) California resident, 2) 30 days residence in jurisdiction where candidate is seeking elected office, 3) no felony convictions.

Again, no reason that all people seeking any kind of public office, or advisory capacity, should not undergo a quick backgrond check. Given the possibility for conflict-of-interest situations in modern life--other kinds of checks should be considered, such as local financial, or economic interests.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2013 at 8:20 am

Some of the folks who lash out against city boards, city elected officials, and city workers ought to serve on city boards to put their beliefs on the line.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


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

Sam's Chowder House Palo Alto to become burger chain
By Elena Kadvany | 23 comments | 10,713 views

New York College Tours
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,928 views

Family Planning: Both Agree Before Getting Pregnant
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,207 views

Sing and celebrate
By Sally Torbey | 5 comments | 470 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 23 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away more than $4 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. When you make a donation, every dollar is automatically doubled, and 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.