Palo Alto should harness its rich legacy as a steward and entrepreneur to strengthen its neighborhoods, support local youth, address the challenges posed by new development and make civic participation more enticing to residents, Mayor Karen Holman proclaimed in her State of the City speech Wednesday night.
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd in the new Mitchell Park Community Center, Holman touched on the many themes of last November's election, in which City Council candidates favoring slow-growth policies won three of the five open council seats.
Holman, who won the most votes before ascending to the mayor's chair in January, used her new visibility to encourage more transparency, promote citizen involvement and foster greater diversity.
In an address peppered with statistics, philosophical aphorisms and references to Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, William Shakespeare and the Velveteen Rabbit, Holman laid out the council's plan for addressing some of the city's pressing problems: retail preservation, traffic reduction and more support for the city's disadvantaged population.
She cited the examples of C.D. Marx, a former mayor who led the city's push to establish its own utilities system, and Apple's Jobs in making her case for Palo Alto to be a bastion of both stewardship and innovation.
The city, she said, has "an inheritance and an endowment," and it is "incumbent on us to care for it and manage it."
"Whether it's C.D. Marx, or Steve Jobs, whether the visionary or the pragmatist, the scientist or the artist, they are at home here," Holman said.
Both attributes -- stewardship and entrepreneurialism -- will be needed to address the challenges that will dominate the city's attention in the coming year, she said. These include the rapid pace of commercial development and the replacement of beloved retail establishments with offices. As examples, she pointed to recently departed businesses such as Jungle Copy, Zibbibo, Bargain Box and Avenue Florist.
Since 2008, she said, the city has lost 70,514 square feet of retail space. The city has also added 537,144 square feet of office and research-and-development space since that year, she said.
The city has seen retail space converted to offices and "local businesses leave Palo Alto for Los Altos, Redwood City and Menlo Park," Holman said.
"This is for reasons anticipated and never contemplated," she said. "It's the market forces, and markets work much faster than does government, so it's our job to address this as soon as possible."
She also spoke about the city's ongoing efforts to address parking shortages and traffic congestion. The solutions will come in many forms, including incentives to use public transit and encouraging bicycling to local schools.
"Whether it's Caltrain, transportation-demand management programs, Transportation Management Association, expanding of shuttles, bicycle facilities -- it's going to take everything we have and everything we can conceive of to address these problems. They are the price of success," Holman said.
She also returned to her common theme of improving the city's architectural-review process. Residents, she said, don't think about technical things like density or floor-area-ratio when they look at new buildings. The city's buildings, she said are "the most pronounced, the most long lasting outward expression of who we are." Therefore, the city should evaluate the review process with a goal of providing architecture that enriches our daily experience, Holman said.
"It is a more emotional reaction to how they relate to the building and cityscape ... and a reaction to impacts such as traffic and parking," she said.
Holman also used the half-hour speech to strike a personal and often idealistic tone as she recalled the people who inspired her and urged people to become more involved in their government and volunteer to improve the community.
Referencing civil-rights leader King, Holman told the crowd that "ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things."
"Find your place," Holman said. "And you do have a place. We all do. We all can make this a better world. Whether it is standing up to someone bullying another or leading marches, it all matters.
"Act as if the world is watching. Because it is," she said.
Watch the State of the City address here.