With the Our Palo Alto initiative stretching into its second year, city officials are preparing to hire an outreach consultant to assist planners in soliciting public input about local planning efforts.
The City Council is scheduled to sign off Monday on a $175,000 two-year contract with the firm Flint Strategies to assist the Department of Planning and Community Environment with outreach. The firm will work with planning staff to "improve public noticing and the department's regular e-newsletter and website, expand the department's use of open data and 21st century communication tools, and grow staff expertise regarding in-person and on-line communication."
Much of the work will involve soliciting feedback on the city's chronically ongoing update of its Comprehensive Plan, which began in 2006 and proceeded in fits and starts before the council agreed to hit the "reset" button yet again last year. Now, the city hopes to adopt the updated document by the end of 2015, though there has been some disagreement on the council about how much upgrading the city's land-use bible really needs.
Earlier this year, the council rejected a proposal by staff to study four different alternatives for future development. Three of those entailed severely limiting commercial growth (they differed largely in degree), while the fourth proposed approving developments based on their ability to meet cutting-edge "net zero" criteria as it relates to such things as water consumption and car use. In an August discussion, the council largely agreed with Councilman Larry Klein's argument that the update has undergone a "mission creep" and that its scope has gone beyond the council's initial intent.
Though staff is now expected to return with a more modest scope for the Comprehensive Plan update, the new contract indicates that the city plans to continue with the Our Palo Alto initiative, which includes but is not limited to the update effort. A new report from the planning department notes that the initiative "envisions community dialogue around important ideas and projects (actions), as well as larger planning efforts like the Comprehensive Plan update."
The city launched the Our Palo Alto initiative this spring with a series of events focusing on the city's demographics, housing affordability and growth strategies. According to the scope of services, the consultant will be charged with working directly with the planning department to "build staff expertise, develop communication strategies that share data and information as a routine part of the Department's work, and prepare outreach materials specific to their programs and projects."