Palo Alto explores new partnership with neighborhoods

Council committee to consider new grant, ombudsman programs

Seeking to strengthen the ties that bind City Hall to the city's 37 neighborhoods, the Palo Alto City Council on Monday agreed to explore a slew of new initiatives, including free use of public facilities by neighborhood associations, more information sharing and a new ombudsman program that would follow up on pressing neighborhood issues.

The proposals were introduced earlier this year in a colleagues memo from Mayor Karen Holman, Vice Mayor Greg Schmid and Councilmen Pat Burt and Cory Wolbach. On Monday night, the council voted unanimously to have its Policy and Services Committee vet the ideas further.

The memo cites the city's expanding social media efforts and its recent strides to make more information available to the public, which includes construction updates from the Development Services Department, and the Open Data Portal that allows residents to easily obtain information like the city's budget and recreational services. Its purpose is to "build on these efforts" while adding much more face-to-face contact, the memo states.

Some of the ideas are fairly straight-forward and easy to implement. The four council members proposed, for example, recognizing neighborhood associations on the city's website with links to each neighborhood and association website. They also encourage each neighborhood association to identify a "communication officer" as an information liaison to the city.

Others will require more analysis. Among the most ambitious is the new ombudsman program with neighborhoods "to follow up on neighborhood or resident issues and facilitate conflict resolution when needed," the memo reads. The memo also acknowledges that the program would take some time to develop and may need to be considered in the budget cycle.

The committee will also explore a proposal to provide free use of public facilities to neighborhood associations for meetings. The memo also proposes one-time start-up grants for neighborhood associations to be used to attend the United Neighborhoods of Santa Clara County's annual conference and toward neighborhood association initiation activities.

The city already has a neighborhood-grants program called "Know Your Neighbors," an initiative that was unveiled in 2013 under then-Mayor Yiaway Yeh. The memo notes that the funds from these grants often don't go far enough in facilitating neighborhood activities.

"While this program has been very popular, frequent comments about the program include that the grant money is spent on permits for use of public facilities or street closure permits for block parties, leaving little funding for the event itself," the memo states. "The proposed programs below would be the City's first comprehensive neighborhood engagement initiative."

The one proposal in the memo that won't require new grants, positions or technological upgrades is to hold annual town hall-style meetings with council representatives and city staff "focused on different regions of Palo Alto.

"The meetings shall encourage both individual and neighborhood association participation," the memo states.

While the council has yet to fully delve into the issues, several residents have already stepped forward to endorse the memo's proposals. Annette Glanckopf, co-founder of the umbrella group Palo Alto Neighborhoods, strongly supported the new initiatives, particularly the move to make public space available for neighborhood meetings.

"Finding a space for neighborhood groups to meet without charge has been challenging," Glanckopf wrote in a letter to the council. "Some of us, have been fortunate to have the support of local churches or schools for meeting space; although sometimes with a charge. Most neighborhoods do not have bank accounts. Pay for space, reduces any monies raised to directly support neighborhood activities."

Glanckopf was more skeptical about the county's United Neighborhoods conference, which she said focuses on San Jose activities, and the ombudsman program. Such a program, she said, should be done in conjunction with Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN), a coalition of various neighborhood associations, or through PAN's executive committee.

"I would not support any new city paid staff for an ombudsman program," she wrote.

Fred Balin, a College Terrace resident and long-time government watchdog, asked the council to clarify the the ombudsman's role would be to help residents "navigate" and move to a "next-best resource in their quest for further information or clarification about a matter."

The ombudsman should not, however, be a new "single point of connection" through which neighborhoods would funnel issues, he added.

Residents should still feel free to pick up the phone or email other city officials to obtain information or resolve issues, he argued.

"It needs to be made clear to the public that Colleagues Memo does not imply in any way a reduction in who can contact and interact with staff," Balin said.

Like Glanckopf, Balin praised the proposal to make public facilities freely available for neighborhood meetings. His association currently holds board meetings at the University Lutheran Church. Before that, those meetings took place at residents' homes, where "the various owners/tenants may have had a natural inclination to restrict attendance, and residents who did not know the host well may have been less likely to attend."

Doria Summa, also a College Terrace resident, likewise praised the proposal for free facility use in her comments to the City Council on Monday. She said she supported neighborhood associations having more opportunities to meet in public facilities "without the financial burden of paying for the space and taking out insurance." Summa also had broader praise for the proposal and its goal to improving neighborhood engagement.

"I believe the goal of increasing neighborhood participation and interaction between city government and neighborhoods is a laudable goal and the specific recommendations in the memo represent a step forward in reaching that goal," Summa said.

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6 people like this
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 22, 2015 at 10:06 am

Now if we only had some public facilities in my neighborhood or adjacent to hold the meetings!

Like this comment
Posted by Green Acres resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 22, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I know our neighbor Barron Park has an association. Do we have one?

4 people like this
Posted by Shirley
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Space might be available through the City at Lucy Stern Center, or the meeting space that was incorporated in the Alma Street Micki's and Grocery Outlet building, that was suppose to be a benefit

5 people like this
Posted by GT
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 22, 2015 at 2:07 pm

How about using that "public space" in the patio confiscated by Caffe Riache.

6 people like this
Posted by Frances Roth
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 2:54 pm

I feel that the Barron Park and Greenacres parts of Palo Alto are like stepchildren with almost no services. HOw about extending the Palo Alto Shuttle into this area? It is a long walk to the VTA on El Camino for our residents. So how would we get to the city facilities for meetings if we do not drive?

1 person likes this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 2:57 pm

The proposal to have associations to attend the County's United Neighborhood conference is great so to gather ideas of what is working and not working in other city's neighborhood associations, as well as to have awareness of what other cities have in place or are facing moving into the future. Remember, Palo Alto is named as one of the snobbiest cities. Recommend we get out there and find ways to receive as well as share.

While PAN wants to be representative of the neighborhoods, it appears they are more of a channel of passing citywide events to the neighborhoods. It would be greatly information as to the reason for their existence and what it is that it champions.

9 people like this
Posted by Community Rooms
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2015 at 3:09 pm

I like the suggestion about Riaci's public space.It's time to take back what belongs to us. And other so called public spaces that have been privatized.

So called Community rooms that used to be free now cost a lot - more than neighborhood organizations can afford. and they want you to have insurance.
It's a good way for the city not to be bothered by letting people use the rooms. Make it so complicated, people don't even try.
And reserving so called community rooms at the libraries, you need to hire a lawyer to figure it out. The rooms are locked, like it was private property.

Of course they need to see that facilities aren't abused, but the bureaucratic rigmarole is ridiculous.

12 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2015 at 3:30 pm

I think PAN is wrong to insist it be given a central role in what evolves from this initiative. It's stance sounds more than a little self serving. Who made PAN the only way our neighborhoods access the city about concerns? Two or more tracks serving our interests can exist at once and enhance community.

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Shameless self-promotion: People interested in this topic might want to look at two of my earlier blogs on this:

- "Disengaged 'Engagement'" (March 14, Web Link): I criticize the proposal as being much too little and too limited.

- "Neighborhood Associations: Why they are still important" (March 10, Web Link): A discussion of the various roles neighborhood associations can take on may facilitate your thinking about what sort of neighborhood functions are important to you, what City Hall can do to support that, and whether the current proposal addresses it.

If the current outline doesn't include your priorities, consider letting the Policy and Services Committee (subgroup of City Council) know.

3 people like this
Posted by Lydia Kou
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 4:16 pm

The west side of Alma, south side of Page Mill and Oregon has no community centers, we have to rely on good business neighbors. Creekside Inn has been involved with the Barron Park neighborhood since before my time, as have Driftwood Market and Cibo Restaurant. We need a community center near Gunn, Terman, Briones and Barron Park schools for the kids but also for adults to gather for tai-chi classes, chess games, table tennis, exercise/yoga classes, conversations, etc. Mitchell Park Library and community center is too far for our many neighborhoods on this side of the tracks.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2015 at 4:18 pm

There's a ton of rooms for use by communities at the new Mitchell Park library. Has anyone applied to use them? Do they get used?

Like this comment
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2015 at 5:41 pm

I think you have to pay for the Mitchell Park meeting rooms.

6 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 22, 2015 at 5:41 pm

"Residents should still feel free to pick up the phone or email other city officials to obtain information or resolve issues, he argued.'
Oh, gee, how kind of you.
I strongly disagree with communication city - neighborhood associations. Why? I was never contacted by the supposed one in my neighborhood and I have lived here over 10 years. After a long time a neighbor happened to mention how to get online with them, had only the vaguest notion of this supposed spokeswoman for my neighborhood previously! - and I decided not to bother at this point. They do NOT represent me by any means. I have never been contacted for input or my opinion on anything in this neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by Amazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Anytime local governement gets involved, things will go bad. Look at all the highly socialized countries.

We have plenty of laws on the book. Everyone needs to redoect and follow the PAMC. End of story and no need for neighborhood association.

Like this comment
Posted by Amazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:39 pm

Sorry- typo....I meant to say RESPECT

3 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:46 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"Anonymous" of D/StF: "I have never been contacted for input or my opinion on anything in this neighborhood."

This is the sort of arrogant entitlement that makes community involvement so difficult. "Anonymous" holds that unpaid volunteers are to blame if they don't spend however much time is required to contact him and people like him, but that it is too much to expect of him to do a trivial and obvious web search for that information.

News for "Anonymous" and his ilk: If you want servants, you need to pay them. If you *choose* not to participate, that is your fault, not others. Take responsibility for your actions, and inactions.

1 person likes this
Posted by roger
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

good ideas city council--keep up the good work

Like this comment
Posted by Amazing
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 22, 2015 at 7:39 pm

And please.,.. If you are a realtor do not volunteer for this since I am tired of having to recycle all your adds. Next time use email and save some trees!

10 people like this
Posted by PAN?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2015 at 7:50 pm

PAN seems to be the collection of really old NIMBYs who just care about convenient parking. It has outlived its usefulness, and probably never really represented its neighborhoods.

3 people like this
Posted by Make suggestions
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 22, 2015 at 10:18 pm

Instead of vague criticisms of organizations you don't do anything to support, how about saying what we DO want neighborhood associations to do?
OK, I'll start:
I think residents should push back on the power exerted by the developers and their architects who are ruining the ambiance of the town.

And stop the city staff from spending so many millions on things that don't benefit us -like %4.5 MILLION to remodel their lobby.

I started, now you say what else you want.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2015 at 3:39 am

Mitchell Park Community Center rooms & pricing: Web Link

Non-profit rates from $41 per hour for ~45 person room, up to $104 per hour for the whole El Palo Alto room seating 500.

Looks like they want a million dollars of insurance for groups over 150 people, or any size serving alcohol.

Then there's the fine print about up to $750 cleaning deposit, $29 per hour for a facility attendant if evening or weekend (4 hour minimum), IRS number or 501(c)3 letter to verify non-profit status, and equipment fees if wanting a projector or coffee maker.

3 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 23, 2015 at 10:33 am

@ Douglas Moran, [portion removed] I did not "choose" to participate or not, in fact in a prior city I was involved in a neighborhood group for earthquake safety/preparations; rather the history here is I found myself occasionally reading local articles mentioning (in a minor way, admittedly) an organization that I have never been given ANY introduction to or knowledge of, speaking as if to represent my opinion on city matters. I object to that, sorry. Unpaid volunteers?! I don't even know this woman, who in past as spoken as "president" or "head" and I don't know the current status --- she (as it was or is a she) spoke up "on behalf" of my neighborhood, and I see not legitimacy in that when a fairly longtime homeowner like me has 1)never received a flier 2)never received a representative of the organization stopping by. As I noted, it was about two years ago when a nearby neighbor happened to make some mention of this group and I inquired about it, and the neighbor said she could give me the login info or some such. When I looked at the site, it looked out of date. I dropped the matter. I am astounded this makes you feel I am a bad person.

Like this comment
Posted by Make suggestions
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 23, 2015 at 10:47 am

Anonymous: Instead of arguing with Doug Moran and criticizing those who do participate, why don't you say which issues you would like your neighborhood association to advocate. This thread is your opportunity.

3 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 23, 2015 at 1:13 pm

@make suggestions, I do not have a particular issue at this moment to bring up; what I wanted to publicize was that it is incorrect for the City to prioritize taking input/feedback from all neighborhood associations 1)IF they are 1)unknown to residents in the apparent catchment area 2)those residents have not been contacted for feedback or given any tool/method as to how to even give input to the association.
I was never informed by anyone about this association - to be clear.
Perhaps these associations should do a walkthrough every year. My street has had a lot of turnover, I feel it is unlikely my neighbors are all involved and voting and volunteering in this association while I have known nothing for most of these numerous years. Most likely, they, in their also busy lives, have not known anything about it.
I can believe some associations are legitimate, of course! - all I know is that nobody, not even people on my street, has EVER brought up the subject of the apparent association in my area. Over time, I noticed a name in a few newspaper stories, these listed a "president" and various assertions were made on city issues. I do not feel this is legit. Once, about two years ago (?), I remembered to ask a neighbor who has lived here longer, and this person expressed the slightest knowledge of this ("our") association - that's the entire extent of the matter. I am perfectly capable of expressing my opinion and being involved politically and in the schools, for example, but I do not think city officials should give great attention to declarations from some of these purported neighborhood associations.
Thank you, over and out.

2 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@ "Anonymous" of D/StF:

By any reasonable measure, you *have* chosen to not participate in the neighborhood association, and repeatedly. That is your right. However, because *you* choose not to participate in a neighborhood association doesn't mean that City Hall should be precluded from working with neighborhood associations to communicate with the many who *do* choose to participate in those groups.

Details on "Anonymous" choosing not to participate.
You participate in this online forum, but for the neighborhood association that you acknowledge long-term awareness of, you are unwilling to sign up for email or visit a website. Instead you expect them to come to your doorstep -- presumably repeated trips in order to catch you when you are at home and available to talk.

And you reject the use of email/discussion groups to keep you informed of events and issues, expecting them to drop hardcopy on your doorstep ("fliers" was your word).

6 people like this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2015 at 2:29 pm

The Comprehensive Plan, written in 1998 says:

"All Palo Alto neighborhoods will be improved, EACH TO HAVE PUBLIC GATHERING SPACES..."

Yet as Lydia Kou points out, (and as the Cubberly Working group noticed) the area south of Page Mill and west of Alma is a DESERT with regards to public resources. This needs attention if the vision is for ALL of Palo Alto to enjoy living here. We deeply need a community center on this side of town.

I applaud this council for offering to make meeting space available at no charge for public meetings.

The libraries have nice meeting rooms, yet close too early for after-work meetings, and hours are quite limited and unpredictable when compared with other municipalities. It would seem that if the city can afford to hire TWO new assistant city managers (one with a generous housing allowance), and ANOTHER city attorney, there should be money allocated so that the lovely new libraries can be open longer hours for public use.

Mitchell Park Library and Rinconada are open more hours than the others yet are still inadequate and not predictable since nearly every day is different:

Mon: noon - 8 pm;
Tues: 10 am - 8 pm;
Weds: 10 am -8 pm
Thurs: noon - 8 pm;
Fri. & Sat: 10 am - 6 pm;
Sun: 1 - 5 pm

By comparison Cupertino could actually be host to an after work meeting by being open until 9 PM most nights:
Monday 10 - 9
Tuesday 10 - 9
Wednesday 10 - 9
Thursday 10 - 9
Friday 10 - 6
Saturday 10 - 6
Sunday noon - 6
Holidays & Closures

1 person likes this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 23, 2015 at 5:21 pm

"@ "Anonymous" of D/StF:

By any reasonable measure, you *have* chosen to not participate in the neighborhood association, and repeatedly. "

Sir, I truly have NO IDEA what you are talking about.

I explained - clearly - that I was NEVER informed about any neighborhood association in any form - and therefore, decline to agree that this supposed entity speaks for me with regards to the City of Palo Alto.

The ONLY way I had any inkling about this supposed entity was over time, reading the local newspapers, seeing a handful of times a name of an association and a "president" and wondering about it, with NO indication as to how to contact or join.
Nobody ever spoke of it - EVER - on my street. On an occasion, I happened to think of it and inquired to my neighbor who made the most half-hearted acknowledgement of this supposed entity.
Therefore, I decline to give great recognition of this entity as something active, important, or representative of my residential neighborhood.
I have read of other neighborhood associations in the City of Palo Alto who have been described in local newspapers with identifiable leaders and mentions of surveys of their members or at least some effort to contact or survey those in their apparent catchment areas.

4 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: "Anonymous"
> "...I was NEVER informed about any neighborhood association ... The ONLY way I had any inkling about this supposed entity was over time, reading the local newspapers... with NO indication as to how to contact or join..."

A *Palo Alto Weekly article* on the neighborhood that lists the association president by name and with her telephone number and email is returned as the SECOND item in the results of a Google search on "duveneck st francis neighborhood association" (Web Link). The very FIRST search result is a link to the neighborhood's Yahoo Group.

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

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