City Council to review Sister Cities program

Neighbors Abroad could expand to include business and technology focus

Turning a cultural-exchange program into one of strategic business and technology partnerships, the Palo Alto City Council will discuss its "sister cities" program, Neighbors Abroad, tonight.

The potential revamping of the city's 50-year-old program to include a short-term, strategic business component could revitalize the aging organization while expanding Palo Alto's fledgling "Smart Cities" initiative.

Smart Cities is a business-exchange project the city has been exploring with China and that staff hopes to expand to other cities around the globe.

On Monday evening, staff will ask council members to authorize Mayor Greg Scharff to sign a Smart Cities partnership agreement with Heidelberg, Germany, in October. The agreement would serve as the experimental model for how the new business/cultural organization might function.

City staff would collaborate with Neighbors Abroad and other community members to add the Smart Cities concept to new and existing sister cities. The hope is that the new focus will lead more community members to join the nonprofit Neighbors Abroad while advancing the city's business and technology standing on the global stage, according to a new City Manager's report.

Staff lauded Neighbors Abroad's significance, saying it provided cultural, educational and ambassadorial benefits. But given the mental shift over the past half-century away from a post-WWII psyche, the Smart Cities model could "attract a broader range of citizens to volunteer in their efforts," staff noted.

Palo Alto established its sister-city exchange program in 1963 with Palo, Leyte, the Philippines. Educational and cultural exchanges followed with five other cities: Oaxaca, Mexico; Enschede, the Netherlands; Linkoping, Sweden; Albi, France; and Tsuchiura, Japan. The impetus for these exchanges came out of the Sister Cities International concept created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 to develop peace and understanding between nations as a deterrent to war.

But in the Digital Age, as the hub of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto is being courted by other cities with an interest in technology and business rather than culture. And representatives of some current sister cities have expressed an interest in a more focused relationship, especially related to economic development, according to the City Manager's report.

Neighbors Abroad has received support from the city only peripherally, with use of spaces, help with mailings, and city officials participating in meetings with sister-city dignitaries. But the organization's lifeblood has always been its volunteers, with a vice president to lead each sister-city relationship. That leadership is aging, and although it seeks new volunteers, the program could be at risk if new leadership does not materialize.

The staff report recommended continuing city support for Neighbors Abroad while reinvigorating the organization and making the city's relationships more relevant to its business and technology goals.

"We can leverage our existing international relationships and add some new ones, especially those that benefit our city and enhance our position in the global marketplace," the staff wrote.

The city has recently begun following a separate track with business-oriented exchanges through Smart Cities partnerships. A November 2012 exploratory agreement with the District of Yangpu, Shanghai, China, resulted in a pilot business-related student-exchange program with students from Palo Alto high schools. Yangpu has also expressed interest in learning more about Stanford Research Park and developing relationships with its companies.

Palo Alto has been invited to take part in an October "Smart City" conference involving green-technology leaders in China to help instill 21st-century environmental ideas as China develops its industries, which could affect Bay Area clean-air concerns.

The city of Espoo, Finland, and its Aalto University is also interested in collaborating with the Stanford Technology Venture Program and wants to pursue an exchange of government innovations and entrepreneurship ideas with Palo Alto.

But the jewel in terms of a collaboration between cities and a pilot melding of Neighbors Abroad and Smart Cities is Heidelberg, Germany. The European city is home to several scientific and technical research institutions. Topics of discussion could include energy efficiency, cloud computing, interactive digital arts and gaming, nanotechnology, biotechnology and medical devices, sustainable development, "smart" cars and renewable energy. The two cities would serve as gateways to European and U.S. markets, the staff report noted.

The council will also be asked to direct staff to design a government innovation and entrepreneur fellowship with Stanford, with staff providing an update to the council in the first quarter of 2014.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm

"Leverage our existing relationships", "add new ones", "enhance our position in the global marketplace". The next sentence in the City staff report might as well read "pump up the demand for office space". As far as "technology sharing" among companies, why would the City be involved in any way in that area? Anybody out there have any thoughts about any of this?

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Posted by Cities-Are-Local-Not-Global-Endeavors
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2013 at 8:52 am

> Staff lauded Neighbors Abroad's significance, saying it
> provided cultural, educational and ambassadorial benefits.

It also seems to be providing some people prone to fantasy cushy jobs on the City payroll.

> Topics of discussion could include energy efficiency,
> cloud computing, interactive digital arts and gaming,
> nanotechnology, biotechnology and medical devices,
> sustainable development, "smart" cars and renewable energy.

While these topics are all "hot", and will doubtless be the focus of hundreds of billions of dollars of private, and possibly general government, investment--none of these topics are relevant to the role of local governments.

Some of these topics might be appropriate for State-level governments to be investigating, but small, poorly managed governments like Palo Alto, after its stellar performance with projects like Mitchell Park, should renew its efforts to mind its own business, and get the streets paved, and trying to find efficiency of scale by working with neighboring governments to reduce costs.

What the employees of the City of Palo Alto, or its elected City Council, can add to the investigations of nanotechnology defies the imagination.

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Posted by member
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 12, 2013 at 11:09 am

It has already been established by the Secretary of State Clinton in her closing speech the problem of technology transfer between the US and China, all else is a top level government issue. Palo Alto, as a small city government, is not technically competent to encroach into this subject and has no authority to do so. You have nothing to sell. Collaboration on these topics resides in private companies and universities. Stanford is equipped to handle this on their own terms as are the private companies -they are doing just fine. Palo Alto is not Stanford. Palo Alto is re-thinking the cost of maintenance of infrastructure as a bond issue or extra tax. Reconsider what the city is doing bottom line - all actions requiring funding, and print that so the public can see the whole picture. Put a priority on the whole list - the public will tell you what needs to go.

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Posted by Bad Idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2013 at 11:27 am

China is not a reputable country for Palo Alto, or anyone for that matter, to do business with. Very poor quality control of products, human and civil rights violations galore, etc.......very dishonest government.

This is why so many Chinese wish to leave China!

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Council is correct in determining that Heidelberg is a much nicer place to visit than Yangpu, China. However, perhaps if the Council upped their doses of Lithium these manic visions of their place in the world would subside and they could focus on the mundane business of running (or not interfering with the running) of our City. If not, they should at least promise that our City will NEVER (again) pay for council or staff to visit one of our "Sister Cities".

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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2013 at 1:23 pm

This is the City going off on a tangent in pursuit of its vision
of Palo Alto as a global tech hub with office towers.

Like this comment
Posted by Joni Reid
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 13, 2013 at 12:29 am

As chairperson of the Enschede (The Netherlands) sister city of Neighbors Abroad I find the Palo Alto On-Line News was remiss in failing to mention that Enschede and Palo Alto signed an Economic Agreement in 2007 which addresses the cooperation between the two cities regarding hi-tech, particularly clean energy, programs. Officials from Enschede have visited Palo Alto on several occasions starting in 2005 and as recently as October 2012, and Palo Alto officials have visited Enschede in the past and will be going again in the Fall of 2013.
Joni Reid

Like this comment
Posted by Spend, spend, spend
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2013 at 8:40 am

The City Council needs to stop wasting big money on these fruitless vacations/ business trips to foreign cities and stay home. They should be earning their keep instead of spending money they claim the city is so short of.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2013 at 9:41 am

Why not put the sister cities up for a vote and use the money to pay for infrastructure instead.

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 13, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Can the city please put a dollar amount on the funding allocated to this purpose? It is hard to tell if the trips are being funded 100% or only for the time allocated to the meetings. How much budget are we talking about? The city budget needs to print the breakdown of the items they are pursuing, along with the projected overruns on the Mitchell Park Community center.
Also, what is the product(s) being discussed? Palo Alto does not produce technology - it buys existing products.

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