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Charge PACT!!!

Original post made by Soccer Team Mom on Apr 17, 2008

Diana Diamond, in her recent editorial about hidden, and continuous taxation of citizens, mentioned the following:

"An increase in park field usage fees — from $5 a season to an hourly charge"

Now let me try to understand something. The sports teams need to pay a lot more, yet the PA Childrens' Theatre (PACT), not only is provided a free venue, but PA also pays the entire operating budget (over $1M/year)!

What is wrong with this picture?

PACT is a complete ripoff! They need to pay their own operating expenses AND they need to pay rent for their faciility.

NO MORE SECOND CLASS STATUS FOR YOUTH SPORTS!!!!

If youth sport teams are to be charged additional fees, to pay for the new police station, then PACT needs be removed from nanny status. Let's not forget the $$ being spent for the current investigation of possible fraud by PACT.

AYSO, CYSA, Little League, Babe Ruth League, etc. are well run, and cost us taxpayers nothing, other than providing our parks for their use. Little League, according to my understanding, even contributes its own people to maintain Hoover Park infield.

PA Council, especially Larry Klein, will you please explain what your plans are for PACT?

Comments (66)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm

All good questions. It is about time the rest of us trying to do our best for our kids got help from the City rather than additional charges. I have had one child use the outreach from PACT at elementary school, but apart from that I pay for my kids' activities. It seems very unfair that those who want to do theatre get it free but those who do _ (fill in the blank) have to pay. Even the camps and classes the City run are not free.


Posted by Grandma, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2008 at 6:28 am

The Children's Theater and also the Children's Museum and Zoo get over a $1M. in subsidies from the City Council. The subsidies support not only Palo Alto children but children from surrounding wealthier neighborhoods like Menlo Park and Portola Valley who also participate in the Children's Theater

Rent for the use of soccer fields must be paid by parents. However, the soccer fields do deteriorate and must be refurbished regularly.

Is this fair, I don't think so. All such subsidies should be ended. However, it won't happen because the CT and Children's zoo are long standing North Palo Alto institutions.

Soccer Team Mom, this is a wonderful lesson about life for your kids, that life simply is not fair.


Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2008 at 6:56 am

Grandma

Where is the Line between NOT FAIR and ILLEGAL,Civic duty,antisocial,self serving,inept,etc

Now back up to FRANKIE's oral waste about BABY BOOMERS and what is the future of this city and world.

In this great city all the funding has been mismanaged, SWALLOWED up the the PUBLIC SERVANTS at the top SO<

THERE IS NO MONEY LEFT FOR THE CHILDREN OR OLDER CITIZENS services.

There was/is $900,000.00 + $500,000.00---- 1.4 million$$$$+ for frankie.
How much do you think he will spend on his remodel. Lets say$ 500,000.00.. The more he spends on himself the more money the city will give him?

HOW MANY OF YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE IN THAT BOAT???

The CITY will cough that right up..For a city manager who was asked to leave for failing to do his job well?

But No MONEY for the KIDS.

Grandma please explain that one to me, Wait while I get some of the children to hear it also.. For the future you know.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2008 at 9:05 am

Larry Klein is planning to do some carbon footprint testing at PACT. It will make a nice photo-op and one up Yoriko's climate change photo-ops from last year.


Posted by Youth Sports Advocate, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 18, 2008 at 9:28 am

The full impact of this decision will not be felt until some time next year. What we are already atarting to see is Palo Alto youth programs having to look elsewhere, outside Palo Alto, for playing fields. The cost increase is just to much to bear for most of the smaller non-profit organizations. Bear in mind these are not new start-ups - some of these organizations have been a part of our community for over 70 years!

Before the change to an hourly rate occured in February 2008 most organizations charged between $250 and $750 for a season. Now with the increase these same organizations are needing to charge in excess of $2000 per season just to stay in Palo Alto. I don't know abotu you but this ridiculous amount is well above and beyond most families sports related budgets.

If this the true intent of the Parks and Rec group? Do they in fact want to drive out the smaller local organizations and allow for only the larger out of Palo Alto organizations that can afford such a drastic increase? By doing so the maintainence for fields would be less hence the net revenue would be more.

Not quite what I would have predicted our community allowing to happen......


Posted by Sports parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2008 at 9:38 am

Having been involved in youth sports in Palo Alto for many years, this is beginning to worry me. I know that we do not have enough gym space for the number of teams who want to play in the winter season, but now it seems that we may have to move out of town for field sports. This is crazy, not only does it make no sense to let outside (probably adult leagues) take up our kids' playing space, but it encourages us to drive our kids to their activities rather than teaching them independence by letting them use their bikes to get there. It also increases the numbers of cars on the road and we all know that Palo Alto hates traffic and also global warming.

After school sports is really necessary to give sports orientated kids the ability to grow in their sports as well as direction and purpose which they wouldn't get elsewhere - you can't get a passionate baseball player to get the same satisfaction from putting on a drama. If we start losing our ability to have affordable sports then we are letting our kids suffer in ways we shouldn't tolerate.

Even in crime ridden areas, sports are being promoted as a healthy alternative to gangs and crime. If we take away what we already have, we are falling behind even the so called bad areas to live.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2008 at 10:10 am

PA Children's Theatre seems to be a "teflon" organization. I am here to state that there are other deserving youth music and arts organizaions headquartered in this very city and they do not get special taxpayer money courtesy of the PA city council. But why not?


Posted by Soccer Team Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2008 at 1:45 pm

If we are going to charge kids for using soccer fields in Palo Alto, why don't we charge them for using the libraries? If they ride their bicycles, should we also charge them for using our streets?

If we are headed down this road, in order to, indirectly, finance the new police building, then why is PACT immune? PACT is the elephant in the room that the Council refuses to address.

Larry Klein, where are you on this discrimination?


Posted by Grandma, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2008 at 7:40 am

Soccer Team Mom: Unfortunately, soccer fields wear out and continually have to be repaired. Also, the City has an agreement with the PAUSD that if School District soccer fields are used the City will keep them in good condition, this costs money.

Anonymous has a point, my kids played in the Youth Orchestra and I don't remember the CC giving them any money, why not?


Posted by Soccer Team Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2008 at 11:14 am

Grandma,

Libraries cost money, too, including initial construction, upkeep, staff, power, water, books, etc. Yet we do not charge kids an hourly usage fee. Our roads and streets also cost money to build and maintain, but we do not charge kids for riding their bicycles on them.

I don't mind a modest usage fee for teams to use our park fields, as long as there is also a usage fee for the libraries, PACT, etc.

It realy burns me up that PACT not only gets free use of the city owned theatre, but ALSO gets operating expenses paid for by the city, to the tune of $1M/year. This is outrageous. It is also discrimination against sports participants in favor of arts participants.

Palo Alto could make an immediate gain of $1M/year bu simply treating PACT like it treats other youth groups. This is long overdue.


Posted by Sports lover, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 19, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Soccer Team Mom, Get a grip. There is ONE children's theatre in Palo Alto; it serves multiple communities. How many sport fields are there? From the look of it, PACT is ALWAYS brimming with activity, as one empty playing field after another lies fallow. Look around.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 19, 2008 at 1:02 pm

SL, not sure I get your point. Since we "only" spend a $1M plus a free facility for PACT, that's ok, but because there are so many kids use sports fields and there are so many, it's ok to make them pay their own way?

PACT is an historical artifact from a different era; very few if any other cities supply free children's theater (to their own citizens and others). It seems like the beneficiaries should pay their own way for recreational activities, arts, sports, and otherwise. The city can provide the venue (at some nominal usage cost) just like playing fields; but let the beneficiaries pay for the programs.

Not sure I agree on pay-to-play libraries though, just as with schools - we all benefit from an educated citizenry.


Posted by Soccer Team Mom, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 19, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Sport lover,

I just came back from errands. I went past several playing fields. They were all packed with kids. In fact, there is a shortage of playing fields in Palo Alto. These fields are usually only empty when the kids are in school.

There are several theatres in Palo Alto, besides PACT , at the various schools. Most of the time, they are empty.

The main issue with PACT is that its OPERATING expsenses are paid for by the city. Just to be clear, it is run by PA employees. I would not have a problem with PACT, if it paid a modest fee for the use of the building, AND it paid for its own operating expenses. To be very clear about it, eliminate the city employess, then form a volunteer board that figures out how to manage a budject (from participation fees and sponsorships). This is what various sports groups do.

Why is PACT such a sacred (and very expensive) cow?


Posted by Sports lover, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 19, 2008 at 1:52 pm

"Why is PACT such a sacred (and very expensive) cow?"

Because it is a rare treasure. How many cities have a children's theatre? How many cities have sports fields?

And, please don't tell me that kids in Palo Alto have as much of an opportunity to participate in continual theatre experience, over their childhood, than they do sports in this town.


Posted by Soccer Team Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Sports lover,

A relatively small percentage of kids in Palo Alto are passionate about the theatre arts. I'm sure they and their parents do find PACT a rare treasure, especially since it is free. There are plenty of opportunities to continue on in the theatre through local schools and public/private, regional/national camps.

We, as taxpayers and citzens, should not feed discrimination. Treat PACT just like any other youth activity, including sports leagues. That would be the fair way. It would probably also inject new blood into the local theatre scene. Imagine that the current PACT building was simply rented out to various local youth theatre groups, with no bias on the part of PA city employees. This would provide greater opporunities, at all competitive levels. Maybe a local theatre travelling team could go to even higher levels.

At any rate, there is no way that we taxpayers should be footing the $1M/yr bill. That is serious money!


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2008 at 2:44 pm

The other thing that has been mentioned above but not made a big deal about is that PACT not only provides the experience for PA kids but for kids in surrounding communities, and none of them pay. Even if outsiders paid it would be more fair, but no. PA taxpayers are supporting after school activities for kids from out of town. It would make much more sense if everyone was charged for their experience and non-residents were charged more. But, I don't think there is any type of residents priority registration even, anyone can get in and get the best parts in the production regardless of where they live. Some may think this is fair, but is it really fair to PA residents.

When you register your child for AYSO or Little League, you have to provide as much documentation as to where you reside as you would to get them into PAUSD schools. That is what seems fair. We have volunteer organizations which make sure that they are providing spaces for PA kids to play sports, not for surrounding communities. They should be playing sports in their own areas.

Now, why shouldn't the surrounding communities do their own arts activities rather than take the best roles from PA kids?


Posted by Grandma, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm

When I lived in LAH my son played AYSO soccer in PA, however, he went to school in Palo Alto. Because we lived on the PAUSD side of LAH, I don't think we paid extra for not being a resident of PA. Over the years many PAUSD children from LAH have played soccer in Palo Alto.

Before we criticize the Children's Theater for allowing children to participate from outside PA at tax payers expense, we better find out how AYSO handles this now.


Posted by Soccer Team Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Grandma,

Boundry issues, while relevant, are not the big enchilada. The $1M subsidy to PACT for OPERATIONS (not even including the building), is the main issue.

The discrimination in favor of kids arts over kids sports, in Palo Alto, is huge (and VERY costly!).

PACT needs to be reformed, top to bottom. It will emerge stronger, in the long run.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 19, 2008 at 8:45 pm

And of course, no one is saying "get rid of PACT" - it is fine. The issue is how it is funded. We all agree that kid's theater is good, the arts are great, we are all for them. But if it meets a need, then the users (and other supporters) will pay for it.

BTW, while I am sure PACT is wonderful, there is other nearby children's theater groups - Peninsula Youth Theater in Mountain View, San Jose Children's Theater, Star Struck Children's Theater in Fremont, Alameda Children's Theater, and I'm sure many others. None of the others, I believe, is government supported. So you don't need tax dollars to have children's theater.


Posted by Gary, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 19, 2008 at 9:51 pm

I prefer macro ideological discussions, however, this local PACT discussion is interesting, becasue it is socialism in action at the micro level.

Apparently, some special interests, way back when, decided to form a local childrens' theatre, with PA city funding. One might ask why these interests did not follow a volunteer approach, like Little League or the Boy Scouts, but that is past history. For some strange reason, Palo Alto leaders, back then, decided to fund this thing. Another way of saying the same thing is that PA leaders were not confident of free expression, funded by free individuals.

Jump forward to the current day. PACT is under a police investigation for potential fraud; PACT is costing PA over one million dollars per year; Little League has a great private park, and the program is well run; the Boy Scouts are doing well; AYSO and CYSA are thriving; club and travel sports teams are thriving in general...etc.

The outstanding question is: How much better would the youth theatre arts be in Palo Alto, if the city did not pick up the bill? Where is the competition? Where is the free expression that comes from competition? When the government controls the funds, free expression is slowly extinguished into propaganda. For example, would PACT ever run a production that criticizes the current Islamist jihad? If not, why not?

Yes, I am, indeed, expanding the micro socialist model into the larger context. I cannot see any rational alternative approach. Socialism is a dead god. PACT is dead, in its current form, even if cannot (or will not) figure out how to write the script.


Posted by dave, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 19, 2008 at 10:09 pm

Some very good comments from both advocates. But I feel it comes down to a simple choice - continue the subsidy of PACT or have participants pay as do other organizations involving children.

There is not much difference between a theater building and a sports field. Both need upkeep and someone has to pay for it. I believe that users should pay whenever feasible. In our community most families can afford to pay for all or part of the cost of their outside activities.


Posted by Sports Lover, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 19, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Soccer Team Mom: "A relatively small percentage of kids in Palo Alto are passionate about the theatre arts."

Might that have something to do with exposure to the theatre arts? There seems a stunning lack of understanding about the dearth of arts education in our schools, and our culture.

I see jocks all over the place. When was the last time you saw a play represented on TV?

Sports facilities? We've got playing fields galore, and I, for one, would lobby long and hard to make sports efforts in this town pay MORE, and get allocated LESS, if PACT sees pressure coming from the sports community to deter the future of PACT. If you want a fight on this issue, you've got one.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Sports Lover, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 19, 2008 at 10:58 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 19, 2008 at 11:18 pm

SL, why are you itching for a fight? PACT has gotten a big subsidy for many decades - good for them. But now if people think it should be weaned off the government teat, you'll attack those people's favorite programs? That's not very neighborly.

As always, note that no-one is threatening "the future of PACT" - they are just saying it should rely on private funds. Do you think the private money would not be there? If so, that says something about the support level for PACT in the community. Personally, I think PACT would be able to fund itself privately, as just about all other children's theaters do.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 20, 2008 at 7:40 am

Full disclosure: I am on the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission, but these comments are my own.

For many, many years, there have been things provided to residents of Palo Alto at a very attractive price and which have become part of the fabric of the community. Our numererous sports organizations, played on ample playing fields that greatly exceed in count and quality those found in other communities, our children's theater, to name but two, are services, paid for in part of whole out of the city's services budget.

The city is now facing some serious budgetary challenges due to a stagnant revenue base and an infrastructure back log that can boggle the mind. These issues are forcing the community to make very unpleasant choices and deal with distasteful consequences of those choices.

I have seen many posts on this forum in which the notion of "cutting services" is extolled. We now are beginning to see what that actually means, instead of it being an abstract concept: it means raising fees for use of playing fields, it means bickering between different interest groups in the community about who is getting unfairly overcharged or getting unfairly subsidized, what we as citizens are entitled to have the city pay for in full and what is a shared responsibility, such as sidewalks repair.

I am afraid that this type of discussion is going to be with us for some time. For those who have been suggesting that the "services" that Palo Alto has are wasteful and should be cut, I would like to understand if this is what they have in mind, and if not, what specifically do they have in mind? No abstractions, tangible alternatives to charging more for playing fields or changing how children's theater is funded, please.

It is "easy" to revert to comments about the compensation structure that public employees in Palo Alto and all over the state have had for the past several decades as being a key culprit, and I do agree that the existing structure is actuarily unsustainable. But that is not a problem the we in Palo Alto can fix all by ourselves, making it very intractable, especially in the short term.

It is "easy" to revert to comments, as I have, that our tax structure that has been in place since Proposition 13 is now seriously out of whack, and whatever the original intent of Prop 13 was no longer is being met with the current state of affairs. But that is a "third rail" that few dare to touch or comment upon, and is probably more intractable than employee compensation up and down the state.

Which brings us back to where we find ourselves. If we truly value certain things, the using groups may have to be prepared to pay more directly for them than we have in the past. Sadly, there are some organizations without deep pockets who will fold or move out of Palo Alto as a result. I know this first hand, I have gotten phone calls from some of these people. Or, we as a collective community must say that the huge cost challenges we face around our infrastructure must be paid for in such a way that "does no harm" to the services and groups that are valued by many in the community, which implies funding these in other ways above and beyond what currently is available from the general fund budget. That means bonds, mainly, but it also means finding other ways to increase revenues in town, such as sales tax, hotel tax, other business development that can make up for the declining revenue base Palo Alto has experienced in the last several years.

I have my own opinions about how we should go about it, but that is less important to me than that people understand what we are facing here. We are where we are because we have chosen and have had the "luxury" of creating a certain character to this community that provides many things not found elsewhere. At the heart of this, IMHO, is what we wish the character of Palo Alto to be going forward, what the key elements are that comnprise that character, and what and how we are willing to pay for that character.


Posted by Eric, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2008 at 7:41 am

So the CC votes not to support PACT anymore, what will they do with the $1M. they save. Finance the new Public Safety building of course. Is that what you want?


Posted by Sports parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2008 at 9:02 am

Whereas I see that, as Paul says, money is tight and must be increased somewhere or city services must be cut, I also see a flaw in his argument.

Take for example AYSO. If this year we have x number of kids playing and we charge y dollars for registration for a season, we have xy dollars as income. Out of this money, we have to pay for things like uniforms, fees and insurances, and rent for fields. Rent for fields is completely necessary or else we have nowhere to play or practice. Next season we increase our membership for 5% and we increase our registration by 5%. This means that we have more dollars to pay for higher costs like rent, but we also have more teams and need to find more space for these teams to play and practice. AYSO is a sport which is played outside in the fall and for the last month or so of the season we have serious light problems and since most of our fields are not floodlit, we have to stop practice sessions by 5.30 p.m. at the very latest.

For these reasons, perhaps AYSO could cover the costs of increased rent by increasing registration fees, but the intrinsic problem remains that as enrollment in the organisation increases due to more kids living in PA due to more homes being built, means that we are stuck with the number of playing fields we have and the times we can use them. To anyone who thinks we are overflowing with field playing space, they should talk to the volunteers who oversee field space with schedules and teams, etc. Little League is slightly different because it owns its own ballpark, but only a very small percentage of games and practices can be played there compared to the total number of teams and players. Otherwise, LL is like AYSO and has to pay rent for a small number of suitable places to play baseball. Additionally, LL has paid out to help improve the diamond at Hoover Park to bring it up to current LL standards for its majors teams.

Now, yes of course if the rents of the fields go up and since we don't have additional space to rent for sports, then of course the only way to pay for these rents is to make the registration fee per player higher. For this we still only get the same number of facilities even if we increase our enrollment, just tighter schedules to get everyone a chance to play their games or have practice.

NJB basketball is in a similar predicament with gyms and last season had to have many Palo Alto teams practice in gyms in Redwood City or Menlo Park. This may be not relevant to the discussion about field space, but the feeling of our sports teams having to travel out of Palo Alto for practices and games is the same. We do not want to do it.

Now let's look at PACT. The kids here don't pay anything and presumably the more kids that apply for one production, the harder it is for them to get a good role. The more kids moving into PA mean that probably it will be harder for them to get a good role so their interest in coming to PACT may not be there. However, if more kids come into PA they might just prefer to do sports because they can be guaranteed a place on a team if they register in time. Also, PACT is open to other city kids (whether or not they go to school in PAUSD or not). PACT kids don't pay anything, but they have a facility and at least 3 full time paid city employees. These costs are borne by PA taxpayers and any increases in costs will come out of city coffers.

Somehow, things do not look very fair here. I don't want to get into an argument about how worthy or beneficial sports v arts are to a child's development, and there are other arts activities in PA which are self funding and run on a similar framework to our youth sports, so it does seem that those kids who choose to do PACT and seem to always get the plum roles, are in a position of getting something that their sports or music peers are having to pay for, which sounds wrong to me.

If the City truly wants to raise revenue, then it should realistically think about charging a fee to all children who register for a production. It is that simple. Charge a fee and let them pay for their activities just like everyone else.


Posted by Kerry, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2008 at 9:07 am

Paul Losch,

You have outlined the problem, in a general way. I am glad to see that you are not offering up Prop 13 reform as the answer. You are actually talking about cuts or raising taxes.

Many of us are opposed to tax increases, becasue we do not trust our city leaders with the money. They are prone to pet causes (e.g. environmental bureaucracy, Opportunity Center, unaffordable libraries, etc.). Speaking for myself, I think there might be some support for a targeted tax increase for infrastructure (revenues kept separate from the general fund), if the CC would demonstrate some good faith by cutting some programs, such as PACT.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 20, 2008 at 12:51 pm

What I find missing from any of this is the sense that a community is made up of many diverse interests. To claim that students in Palo Alto have just as much access to the arts, as an organized venture, as they do sports, is a pure fantasy.

Theatre is by its very nature far more cost intensive than playing baseball; there are facilities to maintain; there are many different aspects to production - from technical, to costumery, to set design, etc. etc. etc.

The same goes for things like music instruction, and many other arts-related activities.

I know sports like the back of my hand; I've coached, and I've played at rather high levels. From my experiences in sport, and the arts, I can honestly say that they are both valuable addenda to a child's experience, but again, there is simply *no* logical way to make claims about the paucity of sports access as compared to arts access in this community.

There are *dozens* of sports activities made available to all kinds of student, in addition to ongoing athletic exposure in physical education - not to mention the wall-to-wall coverage that sporting events get in the media, compared to things like theatre and music .
The arts are challenges in our culture. Sport is *not* challenged.

Last, we have a choice re: the way we frame forward fiscal challenges. We can view them as zero sum (as I see everyone doing here), or we can view them as opportunities to innovate new ways to raise revenue, and create new efficiencies (inside the box) that help us not only *keep* our service levels whole, but actually *expand* those service levels, while maintaining fiscal sustainability.

Palo Alto is going to find out what its made of in the next 5-7 years; we're either going to shrink our service levels and think poor - leaving most of the opportunity to those among us who can afford everything out of pocket, or we're going to hunker down and make some really good things happen, in a way that leads this region, and starts a new generation of innovators - this time from the public side of the enterprise spectrum.

The choice is ours. Somehow, I think that the letter choice is what Palo Altans are all about, and that given the choice, that's what they would work for.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 20, 2008 at 3:48 pm

A good hunkering down will do us all good. We have our own "inconvenient truth" - we spend like rich folks when we are mostly middle class. It will do us all good to live within our means, focus on what is basic and important (like police stations, schools, roads, and libraries), and ask that most other programs (airports, golf courses, swimming pools, arts, youth sports, etc.) pay their own way.

In the case of PACT - if, with a 75 year "boost" of government subsidy, it can't make it on its own, then I guess that tells us something. I suspect it can, though. But it isn't easy prying people off the government teat, so there will be anger and recrimination. Hopefully our elected officials are strong enough to see it through.


Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 20, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Mike, I'm with you. You say, "there is simply *no* logical way to make claims about the paucity of sports access as compared to arts access in this community." I agree, and celebrate the best aspects of athletic culture that we promote here -- especially in as much as it fosters an ideal of strength and fitness (over weakness and extreme thinness) for girls.

Children who excel in sports here, it seems to me, get no end of support and attention. I only wish the same were true for children in the arts. But just look at our local newspapers. Every week both the Daily and Weekly devote page after page to prep sports. It's covered in exhausting detail. The same kudos simply doesn't get sent in the direction of our children who excel in the arts. Maybe they get thrown the occasional bone of a play review, a feature on an individual, gifted child musician. But there's no "student artist of the week" to match the student athletes that get regularly lauded.

Like Mike, I value the arts equally but worry that the imbalance in reporting reflects the fact that our community sees them as a luxury, rather than the amazing training grounds for public leadership and creativity that (like sports, in their own way) they are.

Sure, this is may be a good time to revisit how the Children's Theater works, which children it primarily serves and the fee structures it imposes. But I really hope that our city council understands that in the Children's Theater we have a rare, successful theater arts program that, in a sports-worshiping culture, offers children who'd otherwise be seen as athletic failures a life-sustaining experience. Whatever we do, we need to be sure that we don't end that opportunity in the name of defending the already-privileged place of sports.






Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2008 at 11:07 pm

One of the big problems is that the city has embarked on many new projects without reviewing the needs of existing services. During the past few years we've seen money spent on the Roth building, Homer bike tunnel, environment, etc... when instead the money should have been devoted to rennovation our existing facilities.

Do a search for the city of palo operatin budget. Although very abstract, a few things popped out for me: salaries & benefits went from $83 million to $92 million in three years, contract services are $10 million, city manager's office budget went from $1.3 million to $2.0 million in 3 years...

Overall, in 3 years, the operating budget went from $127 million/year to $140 million/year; and extra $13 million/year to spend, yet we hear that our city is on the brink of poverty! positions cut! yet when a new priority comes along, like an environmental coordinator position comes along, there's money to pay for it. It just doesn't make sense, and until the council or city manager can explain it, voters will have a tough time approving more taxes.


Posted by James, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2008 at 2:57 am

A couple of people on this thread have complained that sports get more attention than theatre arts. That is true. Logically, I deduce that sports has more demand compared to the performing arts. The newspapers report on sports, beause there is more demand to read the sports section, than the arts section. Nevertheless, the Weekly reports on the arts extensively.

With that said, how does this basic fact figure into whether PACT should be run through a volunteer board versus paid city staff? The original poster questioned the $1M/year of city money spent on PACT operations, while youth sports groups operations are paid for by participants. That is a very fair question, and it has nothing to do with whether a newspaper reports on sports or arts. An argument can be made that a volunteer board would enhance the interest in theatre arts.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2008 at 9:06 am

I really don't want to enhance any comparison between arts and sports as to which is more beneficial. But, coverage in a newspaper is not the way to judge which is being treated better. I have had kids in sports who have never had their names in the paper and their friends in arts who get their names in the paper for getting a good role in the school play.

No. To judge how well the sports are treated is to look at what is really going on. I have had one child in basketball where the only option for his practice has been to drive to Redwood City in the rush hour for an hour's practice, or to have gym time from 8.00 - 9.00 p.m. on a school night for a 9 year old, or even to have to practice in a school outside in January at 7 - 8 p.m. with lights from coaches/parents cars. Is this treating kids fairly?

Some may say that Mayfield should help the soccer crunch. I was at one of my child's games last fall where an adult watching one game was hit by a soccer ball being kicked by a team warming up for the next game. This adult yelled at the kid to watch and respect elders and not kick balls where people were watching. This poor child was just warming up under the supervision of the coach of that team and the coach was oblivious to what had happened. In other words, Mayfield is so filled up on busy Saturdays from 8.00 am to beyond dark that these type of accidents must happen much too frequently.

Baseball needed improvements to Hoover diamond, so paid for them. But, there are so many teams that there is not enough practice fields available without doubling up. This could prove to be dangerous as anyone who has ever been hit by a flying baseball can testify.

Have you ever tried to find a place to take your kids to swim on a hot spring day? We had a hot weekend just a week or so ago and there is nowhere to swim unless you are a member somewhere.

Yes, there may be more coverage in the local newspapers for kids sports, but do the kids actually look at the newspaper unless someone tells them there is something there that might interest them. I doubt it. We do have a local sports section here on Town Square where sports results can be posted but again, do the kids use it or is it just the parents?

I have seen many threads here about school or local sports and also about local arts production by kids, particularly at the high school level. There is no reason why someone could not start a thread about the local elementary school play if that is what you are interested in. (Palo Verde is doing Puss in Boots at the beginning of May and rehearsals are well under way). (Paly Choir has a spring concert at St. Mark's Church on Colorado Ave. on 2nd May).

So please don't try and make comparisons of unjust treatment as being worse for either group. Alternatively, we could just try and improve what we have for everyone.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:30 am

It isn't youth sports vs. youth theatre (arts). There are OTHER youth arts organizations here which we fund through donations, fees, grants, etc. and not taxpayer money! What elevates PACT to special status to the tune of 1M per year vs. these other youth arts organizations??


Posted by Big budget for kids, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2008 at 11:07 am

The amount of money the city spends on children's activities is astronomical.
Possibly the largest portion of the budget. In addition to schools, there is sports, theater, libraries (mostly for children), lots of silly programs there, community center space and programs, park playgrounds and staff, and more.


Posted by Daniel, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 21, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Let's introduce some facts into the discussion. Children's Theatre DOES charge it's participants. It charges participants for camps such as Playing Along and others. It charges for educations programs such as Conservatory. It also brings in substantial revenues from Outreach Shows, Second Saturday Shows, regular season shows, Hotdog shows, Wingspread shows. Some activities are free: kids are not charged to participate in regular stage plays.

I do not begrudge Soccer Mom and others their activities - and nor do I want to see a charges for field use. I think we could have common ground - but we all have to stop begrudging others what they got - be in field or theatre access - and look at the facts.


Posted by Periwinkle, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2008 at 2:40 pm

"The amount of money the city spends on children's activities is astronomical.
Possibly the largest portion of the budget."

And who do you think is our future? Where would the money be better spent, on the street in front of your driveway?


Posted by Priorities, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2008 at 2:46 pm

"Where would the money be better spent, on the street in front of your driveway?"

How about traffic calming in College Terrace and Downtown North, hiring consultants to further study Alma Plaza redevelopment, converting Embracadero Road to one lane in each direction with traffic circles and carbon footprint testing for all residents of PA.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Granted as Priorities states there is a lot of wastage in PA City spending. However, investing in our future is not one of them. However, as most parents pay for their kids activities, I think it quite fair that the PACT kids should pay for their involvement too.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 21, 2008 at 3:35 pm

The $1M city money spent on PACT is the NET amount - it is actually $1.23M, offset by $293K in revenue (specifically, $129K in ticket sales, $69K in travel reimbursement, and $95K in program fees). So yes, they charge for some things, but we are still provide $1M in subsidy. (Source: 2007-09 Operating Budget, p 117).

The Junior Museum also gets a $700K operating subsidy, though my guess is that it gets broader use. Do they charge admission?

The Art Center (what is that anyway?) also gets a $700K subsidy.

Camps, classes, etc. get about a $400K subsidy, though on $1.8M in revenue, which suggests a much lower subsidy per participant.

The golf course gets a $100K subsidy, on $3.3M in revenue.

Cubberly as a facility makes money, producing a $700K surplus (per the budget anyway).


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2008 at 4:25 pm

How much does Palo Alto Utilities get? And, how might a sale of PAU ease many of our infrastructure burdens? Maybe this is a bad idea, but I want someone to show me why.


Posted by Dave, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2008 at 4:48 pm

It would be amazing, as well as good governance, if Palo Alto actually ever produced a straight-forward, completely transparent, and easily understood budget metric. It could be something as simple as an Excel speadsheet.

All this tiff between PACT and everybody else could then be seen in rational terms. Of course, such a budget would also include so many other items, such as the golf course, envionmental preservation (e.g. Foothills Park), Opportunity Center, Lucie Stern Center, etc. Don't forget sidewalks and streets and utilities. The critical thing is that they be line items, by individual programs. Put a search editor on it, so that it is easy to extract each item. Group the items by theme (e.g. youth sports or youth arts or adult recreation, etc. - NOT by department!). Make it easy for us to see it, and understand it!

An informed citizenry can vote in an informed way. As it is now, we can only figure out which opinion piece, or campaign sign we like better.

I didn't even know that PACT got $1M per year, until the police investigation started.


Posted by Make the case, a resident of Duveneck School
on Apr 21, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Mike,

The sale of PA utilities, although a short-term bonanza, is really just a tax increase in the long term. PG&E, or whatever utility bought it, would increase fees to cost out the deal, then it would simply raise additional fees to provide for current services. However, if we sold Foothill Park, for development of multi-million dollar mansions, it is all gravy. Of course, we would then lose our (seldom used) opportunity to catch blue gills in the lake, and hike the trails. We could also sell off development rights in the baylands, for new car dealerships (why is that old dumpsight preserved for foxes and birds?). We could also shut down the Opportunity Center, and use the building for something productive to the Downtown, like a police administravte building. We could consolidate the branch libraries into one main library.

There are so many things we could do, Mike, without raising taxes (direct or embedded or hidden).

Wutcha think?


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2008 at 5:29 pm

MTC, I don't agree with your ideas, although most of them would raise money. Why don't I agree? Because these ideas violate the core values of most Palo Altans - me included.

Anyone guessing what would come of a PAU sale is doing just that - guessing. My interest is to see this proposition studied. I want to see PAU properly valued, so that we might get an idea what PAU would bring in a sale.

If that number is too low (less than $800M), then forget it. However, if it's shown that we could get that much, or more, Palo Alto might seriously consider a sale.

Incidentally, a sales contract for PAU could control future rate increases, for a time, until Palo Alto would have a chance to use some of the sale money to solar-enable most Palo Alto residences, and buildings.

Again, maybe it's a bad idea, but I want someone to show me why. Why aren't we donig the diligence? After all, PAU *is* a business asset. Leveraging and optimizing municipal assets that are run as quasi-businesses (which is what PAU really is) is sound public financial practice. It's done all the time. Why aren't we doing that?

In the meantime, I suggest we continue to fund services (that border on treasure) like PACT, until we find motivations that are more reasonable than most of the the zero sum ideas I've seen proposed here.



Posted by Big budget for kids, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 21, 2008 at 5:52 pm

"The amount of money the city spends on children's activities is astronomical.
Possibly the largest portion of the budget."
Periwinkle Mike responds:
And who do you think is our future? Where would the money be better spent, on the street in front of your driveway?
No, Periwinkle Mike, I just think it would be nice to know how much of the budget goes for children's fun and entertainment. I'm not talking about schools.
No, I don't want it spent on my driveway, but I wouldn't mind better street repair and better collections for adults in the libraries.


Posted by Make the case, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2008 at 6:47 pm

Mike,

Your fantasies aside, about restrictive covenants, e.g. "could control future rate increases, for a time", on a possible sale of the PAU, it is a pie-in-the-sky dreamland, otherwise known as a delayed tax increase, in order to get an apparent free ride at this moment. Very irresponsbile public policy, on your part, Mike.

You are a fairly easy read, Mike. You want to raise taxes in order to continue the run of services in PA, without any serious cuts. Nice try, but the party is over. It is time for, at least, some zero-sum thinking in PA.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2008 at 8:43 pm

For BBFK

Less than 6.2% of the PA budget goes for children's fun and entertainment. That includes

$5M for Youth Services in the Community Services budget
$1M for PACT in the Art budget
$2M (based on 40% kid usage in the library survey) in the $5M Libraries budget

Compare to 37% for Police and Fire.


Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 21, 2008 at 9:04 pm

For Mike, regarding the possible sale of the Palo Alto Utilities--
What would a buyer get for their $800-million plus? Is it just the value of the profits from the revenue stream? The physical assets consist of wire and poles, plus underground water, gas and sewer pipe, plus the electric substations, water treatment plant, etc. But those by themselves don't generate profits, since we're just buying water, gas and electricity at wholesale and selling it at retail. Am I missing something big?


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2008 at 9:39 pm

William,

Thank you for making my point, with your question. We don't know, do we? That's why I'm interested in formally "valuing" the PAU asset. What are its physical assets worth on the private market? What is subscriber demand for services worth to a buyer (because the "sell through" of service provision is where the profits are, right?)? What kind of leverage - if any - can we extract from PAU? Are there potential cooperative arrangements possible with other utility service providers? etc. etc. etc.

Why don't we know these thing?

Again, maybe this is a bad idea, maybe it's a good idea. Maybe it's a mixed-bag idea that would take us down a path we haven't considered.

In any case, it's not difficult to imagine, and execute, new paths to new revenue generation.


Posted by Make the case, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Mike,

It may not be difficult for you to "imagine, and execute, new paths to new revenue generation", however I see you imagining new tax increases, under the cover of short-term sales of assets. You even suggest that capital obtained from asset sales be put into a local government plan to force low-efficiency solar panels in PA. This is truly silly stuff, Mike. When solar panels become efficient enough to retrofit on homes, homeowners will buy them up, and install them themselves.

Do you have even the faintest idea of economics, markets and design, Mike? You come off sounding like something out of the Soviet Union five-year plans. Very silly.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:53 pm

"You even suggest that capital obtained from asset sales be put into a local government plan to force low-efficiency solar panels in PA."

Where did I say that it would be "forced"? There seems more than a little bit of paranoia present in your missive, above. You might look into that.


Posted by Make the case, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 22, 2008 at 7:03 am

Mike,

Subsidies to provide 'incentives' combined with rules and regs that punish non-compliers. Yes, Mike, force.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 22, 2008 at 12:06 pm

MTC, WHo said anything about rules and regs? Try again, and do look into that problem.


Posted by Make the case, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 22, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Mike,

Example: Recycling in PA. It started with a publicity campaign. Then 'free' (taxpayer subsized, directly or indirectly) recycling bins were provided. Then the fees at the dump went up, largely to force people to recycle. The carrot first, then the stick. Don't forget the hidden tax embedded in this deal: If a profit is derived from the recylcing of materials, it iwll not be used to suppress rates, but it will be seen as a profit center for the city (to its general fund...thus a tax).

The same thng will happen with solar retrofits. Using your scheme, the PAU will be sold, and that windfall will be used to incentivize (subsidize) the retrofitting of relatively inefficient panels. For the non-takers, the electricity rates will be adjusted upwards, in order to force them to go solar. In the meantime, PG&E, which bought PAU, will increase rates to pay for the purchase. Double whammy. Another hidden tax.

Mike, if you would just get off your command economy gig, solar will go faster, and better. In fact, it will surpass your fondest five-year-plan dreams. Subsidies will slow it down, and make it worse. The solar industry is on the verge of major breathroughs. Don't stifle them with subsidies. Instead, enhance them with competition.

This sky is falling, chicken little stuff, only the governemnt can save us...is the real paranoia. A little self examination is in order here, Mike.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 22, 2008 at 1:42 pm

MTC, How many "free" taxpayer subsidies underwrite the tax breaks that pollution-spewing corporations make? How much of the corporate pollution burden are you and I forced to bear, as the mythical "free market" exists only in the imaginations of those who don't understand the vagaries of real power - i.e. corporate power.

I'm a capitalist - through and through. It appears that you, like many others here don't understand one of two (or both) realities.

1) That there is no such thing as "pure market forces"
2) That capitalism is built on the optimized leveraging of intellectual capital, and policy that fails to unlock the potential of that capital results in zero sum scenarios.

You make me laugh when you argue about solar, re: subsidies. In fact, the solar technology markets, just like all other technology markets, are a result of heavily subsidized research initiatives - - initiatives that are later leveraged into the marketplace with private capital as a vector.

Incidentally, all your "command economy" insinuation does wreak of a kind of unwarranted paranoia about these things. Seriously, that angle alone is reason enough to dismiss your arguments out of hand, because they're so far off the mark relative to the marketplace, ,which is far more complex than you seem to believe (or are capable of imagining?).


Posted by Make the case, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 22, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Mike,

No, I am not a perfectionist, markets or otherwise. I am a pragmatist. Markets are not perfect, but they tend to be very pragmatic. All the government subsides will not overcome supply and demand. On the other hand, government subsidies for basic research and defense development certainly do have spillover effects into the private economy...yes, I agree with you on this point. For example, the Internet was originally a defense development.

Solar panels do, and should, benefit from basic research provided by the government. However, their application should not. You want to subsidize thousands of 10% efficient solar panels on PA roofs. This would be a major mistake. Why not wait until solar panels can be produced, cheaply, at 30% efficiency? At that point, everyone, who has not bought into your scheme, will flock to the market and install them. However, those who did buy your scheme, would be very reluctant to make aother investment...and they will stick with the low effifiency crap.

You need to go back to Econ 101, Mike. Your essential problem is not with corporations, but with free choice among individuals.

In the meantime, and going back to the original theme of this thread, we need to de-fund PACT. It will become stronger (and more honest), if we do.


Posted by PACT Parent, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2008 at 3:30 pm

we as a family use both the playing fields and have auditioned for several plays at PACT. I feel that it would be fair for children who audition in the productions to pay a participation fee like other community youth theaters do, I am guessing that 100 for residents maybe 150 for nonresidents. It does not appear that nonresidents are given preference, you have to fill out an audition card, and I havent seen out of towners yet get cast. I know everybody here loves the productions, but I see the same set of children get the parts each time. Either pick plays that have a wider variety of roles when casting, since you fill out a casting card, and give an opportunity to someone who has tried out 6-7 times to even be some kind of an extra. We have gone to auditions for several years now, and I see the same set of kids each time. If the city is going to subsidize the theater give half the parts, like leads to those who merit, and maybe rotate the other parts so that all interested children get a chance. Otherwise, the city is paying a lot of money so a very small group gets to participate, in comparison to say all the children who use the pool or playing fields.


Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 22, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Bing! Thanks PACT parent for that succinct summary of the issue. The few get a great deal, and defend it vigorously - and why not? We need the City Council to stare down this kind of special interest group and get the city on the sounder fiscal course.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 22, 2008 at 3:47 pm

MTC: "Why not wait until solar panels can be produced, cheaply, at 30% efficiency?"

Right, why not? Who said that shouldn't happen? Not me.

Parent: "I know everybody here loves the productions, but I see the same set of children get the parts each time."

That's not exactly the case. there *is* a reward to participants who show up, and contribute - just like a baseball coach for a junior league will tend to put the kids who try the hardest into the lineup.

The difference here is that there are dozens of youth sport league opportunities, not including sport activity being offered in the schools. This is not true for the arts.

In fact, other areas, like science (which is a VERY competitive intellectual "sport") receive a small fraction of the help they should receive, relative to what they pay back to society in the form of well-rounded youth.

Sport is important ("a sound body, in a sound mind); sport, well used, can teach values of hard work, fairness, cooperation, etc. etc. That said, so do the arts. Not everyone is a "sporting type". Not everyone is an "arts" type. There are clearly more opportunities for the former, than the latter, in our culture. That's an imbalance that should be redressed. PACT is about THAT, and SO much more.

It's disingenuous to set up a conflict between the sports and the arts. They're both necessary, but one is funded to a larger degree by public money - and that "one" isn't the arts. If you doubt that, let's add up the value of public money in Palo Alto that's tied up in playing fields, sports activities, etc. etc., and match it up against physical facilities that are dedicated to the arts...no contest.

Again, we need not go there. What we need to do is create opportunity to drive more revenue into Palo Alto. Zero sum is not the way to go, especially not in Palo Alto, because everyone has got to win. :)








Posted by Make the case, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 22, 2008 at 4:06 pm

Mike,

Agreed. We should wait until the efficienty of solar panels are at 30%, and cheaply produced. Then the market will allow thousands of PA homeowners and property owners to voluntarily put them on their roofs. You see, Mike, incentives are not required. Good to have you on my side. Perhaps I misunderstood your approach.

Of course, we are left with the daylight plane issues. If I put solar panels on my roof, will my neighbor agree to keep his trees trimmed, in order to protect my solar energy? Will I agree to share the cost? This one is an interesting green dilemma.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Thanks PACT parent for supporting what many of us assumed. Your honesty is refreshing in this debate.


Posted by Henry, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Think about how finances are distributed throughout the public school systems (all supported by the tax payers) between their sports programs and art programs and you might see a little more balance in this so called windfall that PACT is receiving.


Posted by Big Budget for kids, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2008 at 11:38 pm

Anonymous Mike made up some figures about the portion of the budget spent on children's fun and entertainment. One serious wrong number:
The library budget is not the number you cited, it is 6 1/2 million dollars ($6,544,766).
This doesn't include the capital budget from which the children's library was rebuilt, nor does it include the large sums contributed by the Library Foundation and the Friends of the Library. (another half million?).
A considerable portion of the budget is spent on children, not as you glibly suggested, based on the proportion of their usage. There are librarians totally assigned to children, and programs for them DAILY at the library.
I don't have the time to chase down your other imaginary numbers but I thought at least one should be corrected.
Funny how easy it is for you Anonymous Mike, to toss out fictional numbers.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 23, 2008 at 12:52 pm

BBFK makes up something about "figures about the portion of the budget spent on children's fun and entertainment."

Might I suggest that a Children's Library is more about education, than fun and entertainment. We're talking about ARTS programs. It's laughable to hear anyone suggest that the arts are as well supported as sports. Laughable.


Posted by Big Budget for kids, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 23, 2008 at 3:30 pm

Mike, the only thing laughable is your pretense that you didn't make up those budget figures and then percentage on them. An appropriate response would be an apology for your 'mistake'.
The Children's library is undoubtedly used for educational purposes. However, today's library web page features these 4 items:
What Are You Free2 Do? Free2win prizes! Check it out.
Kids Yoga with Shyamoli BanerjeeSaturday Yoga with the Kids- April 26
After school Special: Reverse American Idol Who is the WORST kid singer in Palo Alto? Find out on Wednesday, April 23.
Andy Z: Music, Dancing, and Singing Kids' Music Concert at College Terrace Library- April 30
Fun and entertainment, yes. Educational? I don't think so.


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