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We are the city's priority! Aren't we Palo Altans lucky!

Original post made by Diana Diamond on Jan 15, 2008

Fellow Palo Altans: In case you were wondering, our number-one city priority for 2008, as determined by our City Council last Saturday morning, is "civic engagement."

Yes, WE are the city's priority. The council wants us all to get more involved, somehow, although council members didn't quite specify what they wanted us to do.

At first, as they developed this priority, they thought it should read, "Civic engagement for the common good." But then a few council members realized that "common good" was subject to interpretation — and sounded more like a slogan than a priority — and they dropped that phrase.

Just because the council was encouraging civic involvement didn't mean people should get involved in arguments or disputes about things in this city. This is "not for upsetting things," and, "We don't want civic engagement to divide us," some council members said.

I guess that means we should just get pleasantly involved. One council member summed it up by saying this priority is "to engage people to participate in a meaningful way." One quipped that perhaps it should be "civil engagement."

I would have thought that Palo Alto's top priority would be controlling city spending, or finally fixing San Francisquito Creek or even building a new library or a new public safety building (those two buildings are the second of four top city priorities).

I am more than surprised civic engagement is the top priority.

Nor am I quite sure what is the problem with resident engagement so far. There were references to fewer people applying for seats on city commissions. But a little publicity could solve that problem. Plus we have lots of people who go to council meetings, perhaps not every week, but they go.

We have two newspapers in town devoted to what's happening in Palo Alto and lots of people write letters to the editor. The Weekly has its "Palo Alto Online" site and thousands visit it each week, where many comment in the sometimes contentious Town Square forum, while hundreds of us get immersed in blogging each other.

And when the city's newly designed Web site was found to be impossible to use, scads of residents complained loudly.

Mayor Larry Klein pointed out that only 40-plus percent of us who are registerted voters actually voted in the last city election. More of us should have voted, he said — a couple of years ago, when Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposals were on the ballot, more than 60 percent of Palo Alto voters cast ballots.

But in last November's election the most compelling items on the entire ballot were the candidates for our City Council, and I think the fact that more than 40 percent of us cast ballots is amazingly good.

Some council members suggested that ethnic groups were not getting as involved in Palo Alto as they should. Yet our council now has one Hispanic and two Asians on it. That sure seems like involvement to me.

The notion of civic engagement came from the group, Palo Altans for Government Efficiency (PAGE), which defines the term as "building civic and social capital toward the goal of making the common good first among equals in our community values." Hmm.

At Saturday's meeting several people stood up in support of this priority: Palo Alto homeowner groups, the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, Stanford's Continuing Education group, the Avenidas senior program, a PTA president, and a Human Relations Commission member.

Everyone suddenly was on the civic-engagement bandwagon.

The second priority, as I mentioned, is getting a new library and public safety building constructed in Palo Alto. That's no surprise since we've been talking about a public safety building since 1985 and rebuilding our libraries for almost a decade and a half.

A combined Mitchell Park library and community center is expected to cost between $31.5 million and $44 million (last April's numbers) for about 30,000 square feet. Add to that renovations to the Main Library for $9.5 to $13.5 million, while the Downtown Library needs about $5 million in repairs. Residents will pay for this through a bond measure we will be asked to approve.

By the way, I find it interesting that San Jose is building a new 22,000-square-foot library for only $13.6 million, which includes an Internet cafe, a community living room with a fireplace, a technology center, a teen room and a 100-person community room — plus demolishment of the current library. And that library is one of 20 new or expanded libraries in San Jose.

How come they can do it so much cheaper?

The public safety building originally had a $35 million price tag a couple of years ago; its estimated cost is now $60 million.

The third Palo Alto priority adopted by the council is "economic health of the city." This rightfully addresses budget issues, infrastructure, possibly restructuring staff and services at City Hall, and looking for more public/private partnerships.

The fourth and final priority for 2008 is "environmental protection." Council members debated whether they want the words "protection" or "sustainability" after their favorite word, "environmental." Protection won out.

That priority is also no surprise, given Palo Alto's favorite color: green.

Other priorities mentioned but not included in the final list were "city manager recruitment," updating "the Comprehensive Plan," "emergency preparation" and "renewing staff."

When City Manager Frank Benest was asked whether those not making the top four list would still get city staff attention, Benest said they would, but sometimes things "slip." But he assured us our top four priorities would be attended to.

So, fellow residents, engaging us in our community is now a 2008 city priority. Aren't we lucky!

Comments (22)

Posted by web critic, a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2008 at 7:50 pm


This is completely off subject, but I'm surprised you, with your web vigilance, haven't addressed it with the weekly....

Your picture on your blog is being displayed at 100X130 pixels, while the original picture is 120X156 pixels.

When a browser shrinks a picture, the results are usually bad, and such is the case with your picture. The original at 120X156 pixels looks much, much better.

If 100X130 pixels is the standard, can't you please ask some "techie" at the weekly to shrink your photo in "photoshop" (or some other graphics program) and repost it?

It will look much, much better.

Posted by Civic engagement BeeEss, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jan 15, 2008 at 11:16 pm

It is not "civic engagement" it is "civil engagement" .. (in disguise)
If we get involved we are considered "VOCAL group".

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 16, 2008 at 7:08 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 pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2008 at 11:34 am

Thanks, Diana, for putting this nonsense in perspective. Did council members really say – in public! – that this is "not for upsetting things," and, "We don't want civic engagement to divide us"? YIKES!

Real civic engagement means listening to – and being open to – differing opinions. But anyone who doesn't "play nice" is branded a naysayer, a NIMBYist or worse. Confrontation in this town is anathema.

Kate: Bravo! You've identified the situation brilliantly.

Looks like our new council is no different from those that have gone before. "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss." Business as usual.

Posted by eeyore, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2008 at 6:54 pm

damn right you are- lets fix traffic, and boot the low lifes out of downtown while we're working.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2008 at 1:18 pm

> that only 40-plus percent of us who are registerted
> voters actually voted in the last city election

The number of Palo Altans who typically show up for city council elections has been between 30% and 40% for years.

Posted by Sparky, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 17, 2008 at 7:05 pm

As usual, our council is on the ball and focused on all the right things. What a bunch of mutton heads.

Posted by An Engaged Resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 19, 2008 at 8:50 pm

The woman who at the priorities meeting asked that the Public Works department be audited, because there should be lots of money there, made sense. Let's see if council members act on her suggestion.

Posted by Tim, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2008 at 11:40 pm


Eight replies after a week. Your negative, suspicious, whining rhetoric is getting tired and old. Goodbye.

Posted by Henry, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 23, 2008 at 6:09 pm

Right you are Tim! She will start attacking city employees soon because that is the only time she gets a lot of responses.
Too bad she never gets her facts right when she does.

Posted by Thanks, Diana, a resident of Stanford
on Jan 24, 2008 at 1:29 am

Wonder why Diana gets so many responses to these articles? Could it be that others see what she sees? Maybe the city employees should take a hint.

Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 24, 2008 at 2:01 pm

To Thanks,

Many it is because she writes in a way that gets the responses she wants. I have seen it first hand. Get the hint?

Posted by City Employee, a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2008 at 2:06 pm

We just laugh at city hall when you mention her name. Diana, keep the stories coming about us please. It breaks up the day to read them and like I said, it is good for a laugh!

Posted by City Employee, a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Oh, by the way- I'm reading this on my break. I'm sure that will piss off Diana.

Posted by City Employee, a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Oh and one more thing. Diana you should be happy I commented. It give this boring story of yours a "jump start". Before, you only had 8 responses in over a week.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2008 at 12:15 am

Too bad City Employee thinks problems in our city government are just a joke.

What a miracle it would be if Diana got serious responses to her editorials from city council members and senior management. Then we could all engage in rational debate rather than name-calling.

Ooops, I forgot! Our city council's "civic engagement" priority is "not for upsetting things." They don't like criticism or disagreement. Civic engagement so much more pleasant if we all just play nice.

Posted by Pat, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 25, 2008 at 9:46 am

The most recent survey of city services was ranked as being highly favorable in overwhelming numbers. It has been, and remains, one of the most prominent and desirable placed to live in the entire country. Our schools are nationally recognized. Yes, there are thing that can always be improved, and our civic leaders should listen to criticism. However, they should also be recognized for their outstanding work. It's not about not liking criticism or disagreement, it's about how much credibility the critic has when that is all they do. The critics also have a responsibility to be fair and balanced.

Posted by With-You-DD, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2008 at 10:46 am

> The most recent survey of city services was ranked
> as being highly favorable in overwhelming numbers.

As noted before, the survey is a joke.

> It has been, and remains, one of the most prominent and
> desirable placed to live in the entire country.

Because of its location in this part of the Bay, and its propinquity to Silicon Valley.

> Our schools are nationally recognized.

I wonder how many people in Tulsa, OK have heard of the Palo Alto Schools?

> The critics also have a responsibility to be fair and balanced.

Really? Since when?

Posted by City Employee, a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2008 at 10:54 am

I NEVER said city government or city problems were a joke. I'm proud to work for such a great city. I said someone was "good for a laugh". Get it straight.

Posted by Blake, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 25, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Another good post Diana! I enjoy your perspective and your style of writing.

Posted by Maria, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Yes, Diana is frequently good for a laugh, but, sadly, not when she is telling lies about you or your friends! What a pity the weekly uses her columns!

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2008 at 7:26 pm

"I wonder how many people in Tulsa, OK have heard of the Palo Alto Schools?"

I wonder how many people in Palo Alto have heard of the Tulsa, OK schools. Further, I wonder how many K-12 students in Tulsa, compared to Palo Alto, could find New York Citty on a map. Would you like to take that bet?

Palo Alto is not perfect, but it's one helluva better place to live than most places, or we wouldn't have people clamoring to live here.

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