News

Smaller Palo Alto council? Voters say 'yes'

Measure D approved, reducing number of seats from nine to seven

Palo Alto voters agreed to reduce the size of the City Council from nine to seven seats on Tuesday night, when they passed Measure D.

The change will take effect in 2018.

The idea of shrinking the council size had been floating around for years before it finally landed on the ballot thanks to a 5-4 council vote in June. Championed by longtime community volunteer Roger Smith, it had won the support of dozens of past council members, neighborhood leaders and state representatives. Former mayors Sid Espinosa, Peter Drekmeier, Judy Kleinberg and Joe Simitian all endorsed it, as did Councilman Larry Klein and Vice Mayor Liz Kniss.

Reducing the size, proponents maintained, would bring efficiency to council meetings and align Palo Alto's council size with the governing bodies in communities of similar size. Menlo Park and San Mateo, for example, have five council seats, while Mountain View and Sunnyvale have seven.

Smith told the Weekly he was "very pleased" with the early results, even as he acknowledged that there are many votes left to count.

"People understand that this will save time, effort and money," Smith said. "My hope is it will make staff more effective. I've never talked to someone who prefers to have nine bosses to seven bosses."

John Fredrich, a council candidate who opposed Measure D, said he was on the "side that promotes representation and democracy."

"I wonder if Roger Smith and proponents will move on to the Supreme Court, where there's nine people and they seem to be bloviating quite a bit," Fredrich said at a special election event hosted by the Midpeninsula Media Center at City Hall on Tuesday night.

The proposal had split both the community and the council, with four members opposing even placing the issue on the ballot. Marc Berman was the swing vote.

During the campaign for Measure D, opponents of the proposal argued that Palo Alto benefits from having extra seats because it allows a greater diversity of views and makes it easier for council members to recuse themselves if they have connections with Stanford University and the council is discussing an item that has to do with Stanford. Council members Greg Schmid, Karen Holman, Greg Scharff and Pat Burt had all opposed placing the measure on the ballot. Mayor Nancy Shepherd supported sending the item to the voters but said she has no strong opinion on what the size of the council should be.

The majority of the voters appeared to back the change. With 7,483 votes counted, 4,250 were in support of Measure D and 3,233 were against it.

Palo Alto last changed its council size in 1972, when the number of seats was reduced from 15 to nine.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Given the strong residentialist outcome in this election, I wonder if the sitting (I-had-more-votes-than-last-year's-special-election-Measure-D) Council is regretting putting this forward.


1 person likes this
Posted by anon
a resident of Monroe Park
on Nov 5, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Current council members not on this year's ballot would not be affected by the change. Any incumbent not term-limited from running in 2016 would be able to run for re-election.

The size reduction would hit in the 2018 election... the terms of five incumbents would be ending but only three candidates could be elected to begin serving in 2019. That will make it imperative to elect more residentialists in 2016 if we want them to be in the majority. (Holman and Scharff will be term limited out in 2018.)

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 5, 2014 at 3:55 pm

> "People understand that this will save time, effort and money,"
> Smith said. "My hope is it will make staff more effective.
> I've never talked to someone who prefers to have nine
> bosses to seven bosses."

It’s doubtful that this downsizing of the Council will actually save time, effort, and money—as suggested by Mr. Smith—well, at least not in very large amounts, and certainly not enough for anyone to make note of in the future.

Staff generally doesn’t interact with all nice Council members—who are not their “bosses”. It’s possible, but there has been little evidence that that is true. Staff has complained, at times, about the impact of certain Council Members’ requests for information about various topics, but the claim that Staff has been burdened by “nine bosses” is simply not something that can be found in any historical record.

The Council controls the purse strings. They could have decided along the way to hire one, or more, staff for Council, to do the leg work that too often has been requested of City Staff. Council could have directed that more of the City’s records/data be moved on-line, so that access to those records would not necessarily require Staff time. The Council could have requested better indexing of the existing paper records, with these indexes being made available to the public on-line.

But the previous Councils have failed to do any of these things.

Downsizing the Council might mean a little more work for the remaining seven Council Members (in the future), but perhaps that increased load will provide the impetus to rethink how the Council does its business—using more Information Technology to provide access to information needed for their deliberations.

Nothing is guaranteed, but we can only hope.


Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm

>> It's doubtful that this downsizing of the Council will actually save time, effort, and money—as suggested by Mr. Smith

That might be true, but we do not know that one way or the other.

One thing though that is for sure that over time 7 people are easier to remember and differentiate ... i.e. brand, than 9 people, and 5 would be even better in my mind, because it allows persistence of memory, and a bigger effect of any one election when things go bad or good. Answerabillity is what has been lacking in Palo Alto City politics, and even extends into the business end of Palo Alto City.

Palo Alto officials have an arrogant and lacadascial attitude that is hard to match and very angering when one runs up against it and there is nothing to do. That is where a lot of improvement could happen in this city. Meanwhile the people who can hide behind all this incompetence make off like bandits.


Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:12 pm

I meant "lackadaisical" i.e. :
1. without interest, vigor, or determination; listless; lethargic: a lackadaisical attempt.
2. lazy; indolent: a lackadaisical fellow.

see Palo Alto City government ;-)


5 people like this
Posted by The Ideal
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2014 at 6:16 pm

It would seem optimal to have the city divided I to council districts, and council member elected from each district, as in San Jose.

That way there would be an even distribution of representation, instead of a huge majority of representation in North Palo Alto.

Whether that would mean more than nine or fewer than nine members is anyone's guess; it would certainly be more fair than it is now!


2 people like this
Posted by UnintendedConsequence
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 6, 2014 at 7:13 am

Two effects of reducing the city council that are interesting:

- there will be fewer open seats in any election.

This means that getting elected from a field of 8-12 candidates will be much harder.

This will tend to favor incumbents, who have more name recognition.

This will also tend to favor those who receive the local newspaper endorsements - name recognition.


1 person likes this
Posted by very interesting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2014 at 7:25 am

Wayne Martin

"The Council controls the purse strings. They could have decided along the way to hire one, or more, staff for Council, to do the leg work that too often has been requested of City Staff. Council could have directed that more of the City's records/data be moved on-line, so that access to those records would not necessarily require Staff time. The Council could have requested better indexing of the existing paper records, with these indexes being made available to the public on-line.

But the previous Councils have failed to do any of these things.

Downsizing the Council might mean a little more work for the remaining seven Council Members (in the future), but perhaps that increased load will provide the impetus to rethink how the Council does its business—using more Information Technology to provide access to information needed for their deliberations.

Nothing is guaranteed, but we can only hope."

Previous councils have failed to do the logical things you suggest Wayne because of what CrescentParkAnon mentions - status quo allowed them to hide behind their incompetence.


1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2014 at 11:05 am

TheIdeal:
> It would seem optimal to have the city divided I to council districts, and council member elected from each district, as in San Jose.

Might NOT-BE-TheIdeal ...

If you think about this, it more or less gives representation by real estate, which is almost the same as one dollar one vote and sensibly to be avoided.

If you wanted to have better representation you would allow a representative per such and such number of people. But Palo Alto is too small for that kind of representation to really do what it should be designed to do and it would turn out to be just another factor is trying to manipulate things, like gerrymandering. We'd be better off or the same off without it, wouldn't we?


I don't think there is any data or premise that says reducing the council will result in favoring incumbents ... how would that work if everything else is constant?

The thing I did this election was to just vote for NON-incumbents.

What really gives incumbents an edge is the ability to vote for multiple candidates. If we go back to the ideas above of representing groups or people, it makes better sense to have each resident vote for the person they think will represent them the best, and NOT to be able to vote for others. Think about this.


1 person likes this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 8, 2014 at 12:40 am

Rainer is a registered user.

Maybe the citizens are not so much in favor of reduction.
Measure D had to be answered in such a convoluted form that I had to look 3 times to figure out if no meant no, and some politically astute people told me they got it wrong..
Seems to be a biased hatchet job like last year on the Maybell referendum. It is a Typical case of one obsessed fanatic with money to finally getting something on the ballot with a wording which leads people astray.
We should address the size of the Council again next year - maybe the new council can restrain the City Attorney to come up with an un-biased wording..

Unbiased like in:
Do you want the city council reduced from 9 to 7 members. Yes or No



3 people like this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2014 at 3:48 am

Sea REDDY is a registered user.

Dear citizens

What I gain from this mandate are a few things:

1. Citizens are tired of 'delays' in decision making.
2. The Monday night meetings are long;
3. Management of projects: need kick-butt style; get it done
4. Running city hall meetings need real change; cut the 'crap' get to the 'point'; less 'buzz words'; more common sense is needed
5. Drop all the formalities like madam mayor; honorable madam etc., talk by first name; we do that industry; ask Tim Cook or Mark Z. Everybody calls him Tim or Mark.

Am I wrong?


respectfully

6. People want results. It was their way of expressing CHANGE


Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2014 at 9:48 am

I like the suggestions about dividing up Palo Alto into districts, similar to San Jose, that way you would get even representation from all the geographical areas of Palo Alto, including the never represented foothills.


Like this comment
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 8, 2014 at 11:04 am

There was a campaign in favor of Measure D in newspapers and online advertising. There was no campaign against Measure D.


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

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