City seeks outreach help for Our Palo Alto initiative

Consultant to help city distribute data, solicit feedback

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."

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9 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 23, 2014 at 10:41 am

Another day, another costly consultant.

How about using -- or at least reading -- the comments here on Town Square?

You can now send the money to my Swiss bank account.

But the city won't do that because they really don't want our input; they just like claiming they're doing something.

How many years do we have to beg and plead for them to syncrhonize the timing of the lights at Embarcadero? How much time have we wasted sitting at green lights where we can't move because the next light is red?

Color me disgusted. PS: I"m STILL waiting for a response from Mr. Rodriquez on the lights. Any year now.

7 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 23, 2014 at 11:05 am

Another 'consultant'. More money spent. Hiring consultants who do not know the community. We have at least a thousand employees and we have to hire costly consultants? Ridiculous. Somebody at City Hall should/could figure this one out. This kind of survey could be handed over to journalism students at PALY and the other bright with-it students at PALY and Gunn. They could do a great survey with no cost to the city. The council just spent $180,000 to have a research study done on making outer Embarcadero into a parking lot for commuters. The traffic there now has escalated. This administration from top down is pathetic. Does Keene etc. listen? No. We as a community are not yelling loudly enough. Maybe with this election, the city and council will listen. Fed up.

5 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2014 at 11:08 am

We do not need a consultant for outreach. We need the city staff to start reading the comments provided in these forums. We need the citizens to provide well thought out comments - this forum does tend to get out of control with comments that are nor helpful to the situation.

Where is the money coming from? We also have the PACC meetings on TV so you can watch real time what is going on.

I think the city manager is getting a lot of heat so does not want to respond to comments - but have not seen any consultant respond to comments.

That brings up the next question - this forum is not meeting the expectations of the city residents when no one on the staff reads the comments and responds.

PA Weekly Staff - how can you fix this problem? We need the direct involvement of the city staff and PACC to these issues. The residents just get furious when they feel like they are talking to other residents and no staff is participating. Talking for two minutes at the PAC for citizen input is not working well - the PACC looks like it is just tolerating the people and there is no discussion.

1 person likes this
Posted by citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2014 at 11:52 am

How does this jive with the City's already having adopted a new Land Use Element? Before any of this, and before elections?

4 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I think a lot of this outreach and understanding of what the residents want can be demystified if the city hire residents for most positions. For instance, there is a utility supervisor opening on the city HR website, the only requirement is you have some sort of supervisory background and a high school diploma, the pay starts @ $100k+. I cannot believe that is the type of job Palo Altans will not do -- by the way, you work 9/80, every other Friday off.

4 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 23, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Seriously, the PA Weekly should convince the City to move its "outreach" efforts to Town Square. It's the only one of the 3 PA papers that has this capability. Maybe also teach them to respond to their messages from community member's reach.

If they think they're not up to the task, there are plenty of web community experts who could help moderate and hyper-local web communities with which to partner like Next Door.

You want to showcase PA as a "tech hub" of Silicon Valley, just do it. It's not rocket science. And it costs a lot less than the $4.5 MILLION the city is wasting for that guide to the first floor of city hall.

3 people like this
Posted by bp, no not that BP
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I agree with the comments expressed above. These are residents who take time to read about and be aware of the actions of the city council. I've written to certain members of the city council and have not received a response. If they would bother to read this forum they wouldn't need to hire another consultant.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 23, 2014 at 2:04 pm

It should be a basic job skill to be able to listen to your customer (in this case, the residents of Palo Alto); it should also be a basic job skill to be able to explain what you are doing in your job, to able to write a newsletter, etc.

To spend $175,000 to hire someone to do this for our city staff just is incomprehensible.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2014 at 2:32 pm

The City Manager does not like what he hears from knowledgeable citizens so he is having daytime "coffees" with workers who are neophytes, and now he is planning to have Pizza during the daytime for those same workers.

They can be recruited during the day with time off from work and not have to spend evenings at Council meetings like the rest of us do.

He needs these young people to support his development agenda.

3 people like this
Posted by ess oh ess
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Instead of Yet Another Contract, why not use the highly paid CIO, whose job it is to do all that stuff...

6 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2014 at 5:09 pm

This is why we need to elect residents to the council who already have a proven track record of commitment to our city, who have rolled up their shirt sleeves and put in untold hours of service to make a difference on Palo Alto issues they, together with other residents, care deeply about. Tom Dubois, Eric Filseth, and Lydia Kou, highly competent, each with different areas of expertise, have already demonstrated how deeply committed they are to preserving (and not further eroding) our quality of life in this residential city. And especially Karen Holman who, for years on the Planning and Transport Committee and on the Council, both huge commitments of time, has again and again demonstrated her expertise and been a sensible voice representing residents. Not afraid to speak out when her positions are at odds and unpopular with the majority vote. These four council candidates are not beholden to commercial interests or to those who will further their political aspirations. All four will not be afraid to speak up and challenge the attitudes and decisions at city hall that don’t represent what most people who live here want for their city.

6 people like this
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2014 at 5:21 pm

In December 2013, Keene hired a sustainability officer, who will hire (or already has hired) consultants to develop a Sustainability/Climate Action Plan.

In October 2013, Keene a parking manager, who will hire (or already has hired) a consultant to help the city form a Transportation Management Association.

Now Keene has to hire consultants to help the planning department communicate, i.e., write newsletters, post items on social media, and “grow staff expertise regarding in-person and online communication.”

The consultant will also help the city with Our Palo Alto program.

Apparently, the chief communications officer, hired by Keene in April 2013, needs help because according to the Daily Post (October 23), she “doesn’t know how many people have participated in Our Palo Alto events or visited the website.”

Does Keene ever hire anyone who can do his/her job without high-priced consultants?

And why does the city council let him get away with it?

7 people like this
Posted by guest
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 23, 2014 at 5:34 pm


I think Keene will need to hire at least one consultant to study his ability to hire people who do not need additional help with $250k a pop consultants.

5 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 23, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Good posts, MJ and Pat.

The wasted money spent on consultants is totally absurd. I'm with Pat on supporting Kou, Filseth and Dubois. I went to the candidate forum and was impressed enough by John Fredrich's views on reducing spending on nonsense like this to vote for him, too.

He's gotten very little publicity but he made sense. Here's the PA Weekly article on him Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Lenny
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Palo Alto officials are so out of touch with Palo Alto residents.

3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2014 at 6:05 pm

… another consultant another XYZ $$$$1,00s where does this end?

hopefully it ends with a new city manager who isn't in the city manager job to feather his own nest but rather to be a decent public servant!

enough is enough !!! we should not only vote for a more responsible and responsive city council, but a council who will be strong enough to make BIG changes in the staffing at city hall!!!

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm

> Tom Dubois, Eric Filseth, and Lydia Kou, highly competent,

Sadly .. none of these people have done much but stand on the sidelines and allowed a handful of "the faithful" to make claims about how wonderful these people are--without any of them ever having really demonstrated any large organizational management skill, or any idea what a municipal government is supposed to do.

Given how little each of these people have actually offered us during this campaign--it's only a matter of time before we are talking recall, if all of these people are elected.

4 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Huh….. Joe?????
those candidates you mention have not had a chance to prove themselves versus the proven BAD players currently in charge of running city hall.

Seems very odd to say they are "on the sidelines" when they have just offered to serve their community….but not yet in a position of power.

how are they supposed to be "not on the sidelines , until they are elected and have saved and have a record of their decisions.

5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm

The City Council needs to set the framework by exhibiting a value system
which is enlightened. Right now the City Council and staff are just self-serving and developer serving. They see nothing else and care only about
perpetuating the status quo. Filseth,DuBois, Kuo and Holman need to be elected in a landslide vote built on voter anger and the desire for massive change so that there is no mistake about what this vote means. Remember how
certain Council members tried to minimize the meaning of the Measure D vote?
This vote needs to have the impact of a ton of bricks if you want real
change here which a new Council majority can deliver.

3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 23, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Wait a minute - did Claudia Keith, the City's Chief Communications Officer hired in April 2013 at a salary of $175,000 quit? If not, shouldn't this be exactly the sort of thing that she handles? She was, as I recall, hired from a competitive field, presumably because of her skills, experience, and expertise. Certainly her title and compensation suggest that she is at a level that should be able to do this. Once again it seems that despite employing high level experts as full time employees we turn to the outside to get things done. Is this necessary as often as we do it? I also have concerns about how the Consent Calendar is used. I appreciate that protracted discussion about every decision the City makes would be ridiculous but spending money on a "service" that we arguably already have seems to me to warrant some discussion.

3 people like this
Posted by Julian
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2014 at 8:57 pm

There's an election coming up:

Here's the guideline: NO INCUMBENTS !!

Vote for newcomers. Who will then fire Keene and hire a city manager who listens. And who will also fire the staff person responsible for the traffic lights by T&C.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2014 at 8:59 pm

> those candidates you mention have not had a chance to prove themselves

And that's the point. They have provided very little in the way of any insight into their views on City management, finance, and other important issues. We have no insight into what they will do when the Unions decide to demand unreasonable wage increases. We have no idea what they will say to ideas of outsourcing the increasing salary demands of people who are producing less and less every year.

We don't even have any idea how they will stop "growth". We can look at their mailers, and that is all we get. We can look at the people who have donated to them, and ask--what do these people want in return for their money? But what answers do any of these challengers provide us?

5 people like this
Posted by John Fredrich
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 24, 2014 at 8:47 am

After another marathon Monday night meeting in which planning, rail trenching, and parking structures held pride of place, the reconsideration of the $4 million plus Council chambers makeover got tabled for later consideration.
Now, if you assume that the 3 Councilpersons who are standing for election in little over a week ask that the newly proposed spin doctor item be removed from the consent calendar, can you also assume that it will come up at around the midnight hour in the proceedings ?

The question of Claudia Keith is a pertinent one. The public's problem with the Council is not that they do not understand what is going on. Many know altogether too well. The issue is that the Council continues to obfuscate, dilly dally, and annoy with endless posturing.

The reason that I am running on reducing City staff is that there are way too many snipe hunts going on at City Hall. And, as someone who's been watching this for 40 years now, I know who is to blame.

Not just the elected officials, but the voters who put up with this nonsense time and again.
Karen Holman has tried to inject a note of rationality, as has Greg Schmid. Pat Burt seems to be coming on board.
Could you all give them just a little help on November 4th ?

Maybe some of you need to find 5 candidates to vote for in this election ?

2 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 24, 2014 at 9:37 am

Thanks, John. Good to see one of the City Council candidates showing up here here for a change. And how wonderful to see a candidate actually talking about waste!

Do you mean the city has scrapped the $4.5 million guide to the first floor of city hall or the council renovation? Or is that guide still planned.

3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 24, 2014 at 11:05 am

Kudos to Mr. Fredrich. I liked his answers at the LWV Forum and I think he is spot-on here. It's a shame we don't have someone with his mind set managing operations at City Hall. I bet he was a great teacher!

1 person likes this
Posted by Rich
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 26, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Another tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars squandered on yet another consultant. Thank you city Hall for reminding residents why it's important go vote and hopefully get some meaningful change in City Hall.

2 people like this
Posted by City needs a listening coach, not a propaganda coach!
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 27, 2014 at 1:20 am

Last week I read in local newspapers that on the Consent Calendar (that is without possibility of discussion of citizens) of the City Council was approval of a contract with outreach experts in order to better and more convincingly communicate the City’s agenda to the community.

In the context of the newspaper articles it struck me as a propaganda minister. That is just we need. Palo Alto voters have been clamoring for a City Propaganda expert for years.

In the package for the council member it reads:

In April 2014, the City of Palo Alto (CITY) officially launched Our Palo Alto, a civic
engagement and community outreach effort focused on creating opportunities for conversations about issues and ideas – beyond City Hall.

The conversation still does not seem to happen: in the California Ave district one 30,000 sqft office building after another without retail and little residential space is approved. Each time violating the comprehensive plans strictures beyond the setback and height restrictions.

After my ironic introduction, let me say, seriously, that for some time now an ever louder chorus of complaints has stated that in interaction the City (or its officers and employees) is generally tone deaf, very high handed, and not receptive to what citizens have to say. So what the City and its organs and officers need is a “listening coach”, not a “propaganda coach”. We citizens have understood only too well what the city has done to our way of life. Nothing could be further from reality than the statement by council candidate A.C. Johnston in his interview with the Palo Alto Weekly, that he with greater finesse could have prevented measure D.

Measure D is a recent prominent example of how out-of-touch the City Council is with residents. Even after all the hearings and debate, they were not only shocked that it was defeated, but unable to understand why. Several were openly dismissive of the results.

For example in her election write-up, Web Link , Lydia Kou describes some interaction with City Government which drove her not only be active with respect to Proposition D (Maybell), but eventually to become a candidate for Council:
“My involvement started 10 months before the 2013 election.
The first public out-reach meeting revealed that a variety of legitimate concerns by residents were being ignored. For example, traffic impacts on major safe-routes-to-schools for three schools: Gunn, Terman and Juana Briones.
I strongly believed that residents needed to be alerted to these issues and to understand the various options. As a leader of my neighborhood association, I worked to get that information to residents ahead of the second public out-reach meeting so that they were aware of the importance of the meeting and would be able to participate effectively. Yet residents' concerns continued to be ignored, or worse, belittled. I was so infuriated by this that I took on a leadership role advocating for the residents.
I and many other residents spoke at the May 22nd hearing before the Planning and Transportation Commission, only to be chastised.
These commissioners are appointed by Council and one of their primary responsibilities is to ensure that the many viewpoints have been considered before the issue moves on to Council for decision. This utter failure of the current Commission is yet another argument for why we need a Council that will make better appointments.
The previous summer, the Council had made the Commission even more unbalanced and biased. They replaced a commissioner who was highly knowledgeable and a strong voice for residents (Susan Fineberg) with a developer whose civic involvement was all outside of Palo Alto (Michael Alcheck).”
My own favorite example is the dismissive and condescending attitude by Council when a citizen (I forgot who) brought up to the Council the idea discussed in Palo Alto On-line ( Web Link )which Councilors proudly say they ignore) to instead of using $90 million for a new police station, to earthquake proof and expand the existing fire stations, which can be done one at a time, as money is available. A distributed system, Japanese style, is much more suitable for community policing, with much quicker response times in case of a major disaster. The California City of Ontario has such an ipad based system. See 911 magazine, Web Link .

If you do condescend to take in public news, you may remember that 2 weeks ago a woman who had rolled down 500 feet on a ravine on Mount Hamilton was found with her family’s ipad (and a police officer help with the ipad), after both the GM on-star system and the police with their own equipment, could not.

2 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 27, 2014 at 3:06 am


O vey, are you wrong.

DuBois, Filseth, and Kou, and yes, incumbent Holman, the “Four”, have gone through a grueling 2 months of kick-off meetings, discussions, back yard coffees were they were grilled by old and young. I found out everything I wanted to know. And they have actually in the last year worked very hard on traffic issues and Measure D. Without Measure D, we “reformer” residentialists would never have gained the critical mass to be able maybe overthrow the existing power structure in City Hall.

[Portion removed.]

Holman was one of the 2 incumbents (the other is Greg Schmid) who have stood up for us ordinary residential folks, DuBois and Filseth were CEOs of high tech companies where you cannot survive without having financial and people management skills, and Kou has the most impressive back ground of all. Read her write-up about her life [ Web Link ]

As a l self-made small-business woman (my daughter worker for her store when she was in High School) , a self-starter, and called “The Organizer” (that was the PA Weekly’s headline for her), and as a Realtor knowing the town in and out – she probably put the fear into the usual power brokers and that is the reason the Weekly did not endorse her, but the Democratic party machine candidate Wolbach. The Weekly said: “Cory Wolbach is a Palo Alto native and product of our schools. He is an aide to State Senator Jerry Hill”. That qualifies him?

Obviously the power brokers furiously struggle to find a way to keep a pliable majority on the council beholden to the developers. They have given up on Johnston chances (hej, Yale-Harvard graduates are a dime a dozen in Palo Alto) but hope that with Scharff and Wolbach they could cobble a 5:4 majority old style together. Get up and convince your friends to vote the right way! It is up to you Joe to prevent this.

As to the money donors, I went to the posted donors on the City website, Web Link . I am very comfortable with the supporters of the “Four”, I know many of them. Most of the money is raised in small donations, they did not give themselves $25,000 loans, they do not have out of state donors with large donations, or unknown committees with a $10,000 contribution,
[Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by language
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2014 at 8:51 am

like everyone, I am disgusted with the waste of money

How do we get a law about how much Council can spend on the consent calendar? 25 cents would be too much for this council.

The 2 minute limit for residents is also silly when staff has full control. Not that I want to hear more than 2 minutes either but for certain topics it should be an interactive process with the city.

So this particular outreach effort - it's about a single topic? So the next time the CIty needs to outreach, they'll pay another $175,000. Some of our problems could be solved with that money, it's revolting.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2014 at 9:00 am

PA On-line system - you are competing with the MP Almanac and the MV On-Line systems for managing this system to serve the people of the community - which includes the residents and elected / appointed / hired officials.
Along with the printed Weekly can you please send in someone who will interview the city manager as to why people on the payroll of the city seem incompetent to do their jobs and need consultants to help them?

As to outreach I think this is the forum for that but the city manager and his staff need to participate and identify themselves as participating.
I have yet to see anything about the outreach person and what they are attempting to do input into this system.

We have a big political problem here - the city manager through the hiring of consultants is building a "consensus" on his ideas which it appears are untested in the residential marketplace of ideas until the after-the fact bad results implode upon us.

Please help tighten up this system with input by city staff - identified by name - as to what is happening on the many programs in process. Thank you

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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