Palo Alto officials continued their drive toward a local transportation measure on Monday night when they agreed to form a stakeholder committee that will craft the measure.
The 16-member committee will be similar in some ways to the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission formed in 2010 to survey the city's infrastructure needs and come up with proposals to fund priority projects. It will be composed of business owners, residents and transportation experts, and its charge will be to bring forward a report to the council by November of next year.
The goal would be to bring a viable transportation measure to the voters in 2018.
By an 8-0 vote, with Tom DuBois absent, the council established the group to “determine a funding plan that will achieve significant reductions in congestion and single-occupancy vehicle trips in the community.” While a local business tax is expected to be part of the funding, the group will also consider parking revenues, grants and sales-tax measures. It would also consider best practices for reducing traffic and come up with its own proposals for minimizing car commuting among local workers and the community at large.
Mayor Pat Burt and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff agreed the infrastructure-committee model is a good one to follow, though in this case members would have interest and expertise in transportation. Burt also pointed, as a precedent, to the South of Forest Area plan, a land-use document for downtown neighborhood that was forged after intense collaboration by area stakeholders (Burt and Councilwoman Karen Holman were both part of that effort).
The new stakeholder group will include representatives from the newly formed Palo Alto Transportation Management Association and from Stanford Research Park, which has recently formed its own trip-reduction collaborative. The committee will also include a commercial-property owner, a small-business owner, a medium-sized-business owner, and experts in transportation, bicycling, affordable housing and nonprofits (with preference to Palo Alto residents in all cases). There would be a representative from the Palo Alto Unified School District, from Stanford Healthcare (or Stanford Shopping Center) and three residents (one from downtown and two from elsewhere in the city).
The council also agreed the committee should have non-voting members representing the Planning and Transportation Commission and the City of East Palo Alto.
Burt proposed the membership criteria and his colleagues largely embraced the suggested list. Most of the members will be appointed by the council, though the transportation associations and the school district will be expected to choose their own representatives. Burt suggested that an important goal will be to find members who are “committed to the outcome” of pursuing a tax measure to pay for transportation. So far, he noted, the business community has been largely opposed to the proposal.
“The support we get from businesses is that they see this as a major problem to their existential well-being,” Burt said. “My hope is that we're going to have enough enlightened business owners who will see that it's in their interests to solve this problem and that if we don't solve it, we're all toast.”
His colleagues proposed minor modifications to the process but basically accepted Burt's proposed framework. Councilman Cory Wolbach made the case for considering other types of funding measures so that the committee's purview “isn't pre-emptively limited to only a business tax.”
Councilman Greg Schmid, who like Burt is terming out at the end of this year, said he was somewhat worried about the length of time it would take to develop the new report. Recent stakeholder committees, including the group that came up with the infrastructure plan and the one that surveyed options for Cubberley Community Center, took more than a year to complete their task.
Holman also said she was concerned about the timing and lobbied for a June deadline for the new report. Others agreed that given the complexity of the topic and the wide range of opinions among stakeholders, the effort will likely take longer.
“I think we're going to have a bunch of stakeholders; they'll have different interests,” Burt said. “They'll need to debate, study and explore and flush things out.”