Her task has been compared to herding cats and rolling a boulder up a mountain, and by all accounts Jessica Sullivan has excelled.
Sullivan, who in 2013 became Palo Alto's first-ever parking manager, spent her year working on more than a dozen parking initiatives, from new garage technologies to establishment of a nonprofit to manage downtown's commute programs.
Sullivan's crowning achievement in 2014 was the creation of a downtown Residential Parking Permit Program, which aims to provide frustrated downtown residents with relief from commuters who park their cars all day on neighborhood streets. Drafted after nine months of bickering, negotiations and compromises by downtown residents, employers and property owners who participated in a stakeholders' group, the program won unanimous approval from the City Council on Dec. 2.
Her leadership did not go unnoticed. Toward the end of the year, Sullivan was feted and applauded by those who participated in the process at just about every meeting where the parking program was discussed.
"I have heard so many positive comments about your efforts, work and diligence and your commitment that we all should applaud you, and I do," Councilwoman Karen Holman said at the Dec. 2 meeting.
One of the few people who did not laud Sullivan at that meeting was downtown resident Neilson Buchanan, a member of the stakeholders group and a long-time proponent of the parking program. That was not, however, because he disagreed with those who celebrated her accomplishment.
"The most important thing to do is to quit complimenting Jessica because someone is going to hire her away, and the whole thing is going to collapse," Buchanan warned the council.
Despite its name and location, the Palo Alto Airport wasn't under the city's control until August, when the City Council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agreed to transfer operations of the small but busy Embarcadero Road airport from the county to the city.
The agreement was the conclusion of a turbulent ride that began seven years ago. The county, arguing that it was losing money on the venture, sought to terminate early its 50-year lease of the airport, which was set to expire in 2017. The city accused the county of letting the airport fall into disrepair and agreed that local control would be best. The county's ongoing disagreement with the Federal Aviation Administration, unrelated to Palo Alto, didn't help matters. It ensured that there wouldn't be any federal grants for any county-run facility, including the one in Palo Alto.
Into this bureaucratic mess stepped Andrew Swanson, whom the city hired in April 2013 to fill the new position of airport manager. It fell to him to complete the negotiations with the county and begin fixing up the airport.
This year, he hit milestones on both fronts. In a quick conclusion to a long process, the council unanimously approved the transfer agreement on Aug. 11. Two months later, the city announced that it had received a federal grant: $500,000 to repair the airport's dilapidated runway and taxiway.
The airport still faces plenty of questions about its financial future. It will need at least a few years of loans from the city's general fund, though Swanson predicts that it will be in the black in 2018.
In September, the council approved a construction contract to begin improvements. The funding and repairs wouldn't have been possible without the airport transfer, and Swanson deserves credit for getting the job done.
"It was multiple different things that needed to happen to be able to get to this point," he told the Weekly after the construction contract was awarded. "Over the last year, those things have all got us to where we are today."
There are two camps in Palo Alto's debate on city growth: one that sees a split between slow-growth "residentialists" and a pro-growth political establishment and another that rejects the very notion that there are two camps. If the citizens group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning espouses the former view, the fledgling group Palo Alto Forward epitomizes the latter.
Nobody personified the spirit of collaboration better than Palo Alto Forward co-founder Elaine Uang, a mother of two who lives downtown and whose passions include design, architecture and transportation. This year, Uang served on four different citizen committees: ones devoted to exploring a limit on downtown development; getting residents involved in the Comprehensive Plan update; passing a new Housing Element, which plans for future housing; and establishing a downtown Residential Parking Permit Program. She has become a familiar face at City Council meetings, and Palo Alto Forward now has an email list of more than 1,000 people.
In discussing Palo Alto Forward, Uang highlights the diversity of views that its members espouse. Though its stated goal is to work for better transportation and housing options, Palo Alto Forward includes members with different perspectives about what exactly that means and how much more growth the city can handle. Uang said she'd like to see Palo Alto get more people out of cars, further reduce greenhouses gases and make downtown more vibrant. But rather than advocate for particular measures or candidates, she is hoping to bring together for a civil discussion residents who have been pushed apart by Palo Alto's recent land-use debates.
"I think there is a really good opportunity and space to say, 'Let's step up. Let's talk about the things that we value and the things that we want,'" Uang told the Weekly. "A lot of things happen in other towns that we can really learn from. We have a lot of diversity of perspectives and we welcome more."
"I'm a big believer, spending my career in the private sector, that time is money," Roger Smith told the City Council in May, when he made his case for reducing the council's size from nine members to seven.
For the next few months, the founding president of Silicon Valley Bank devoted plenty of time and money to a crusade that faced significant skepticism and opposition at just about every step. Though Smith argued that many Palo Altans share his view that trimming the council will make governance more efficient and effective, most council members weren't so sure. The measure only landed on the ballot after a 5-4 vote, with an ambivalent Marc Berman casting the swing vote. Even Mayor Nancy Shepherd, who in 2013 co-authored a memo with Liz Kniss and Gail Price urging that the item be placed on the ballot, characterized her support as "51 to 49" hardly a vote of confidence. The group Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning came out against the measure. Strikingly, not one of the 12 council candidates seeking a seat on the council spoke out in favor of it (though many spoke out against it, characterizing it as inimical to democracy).
Undeterred, Smith funded a campaign in support of Measure D and enticed dozens of dignitaries to lend their signatures (if not their cash) to the effort. His once-quixotic quest proved successful on Nov. 4, winning 54 percent of the votes.
The victory was pure vindication for Smith, who briefly ran for council in 2005 but ultimately withdrew from the race. Smith told the Weekly he was "very pleased" with the vote, saying it will "make staff more effective."
"I've never talked to someone who prefers to have nine bosses to seven bosses," Smith said.
The change will take effect in 2018.