News

City puts Cool Block program approval on ice

Council will review the proposed $100,000 project next month after public discussion

Weekly journalists discuss this issue on an episode of "Behind the Headlines." Watch the webcast here.

A popular Palo Alto city program intended to bring together residents to make more environmentally conscious decisions while building a sense of community has some neighbors divided on whether $100,000 to fund the Cool Block program is money wisely spent.

The Palo Alto City Council was scheduled to vote on a contract with the Global Action for the Earth (a nonprofit of the Empowerment Institute) as part of its consent calendar, which contains items that are not discussed. But City Manager Jim Keene, a supporter of the program, pulled the item from the vote because some residents, including the group Palo Alto Neighborhoods, opposed voting on the funds at least until there is a public discussion. The council will revisit the funding issue as an action item at its April 2 meeting.

The city has previously endorsed two pilot Cool Block programs at no cost through the Empowerment Institute. Keene, who is listed as a "strategic partner" on the Cool Block website and as an adviser to the institute's broader Cool Cities Challenge, has expressed interest for years in such a program because it addresses the city's zero-waste and carbon-footprint-reduction goals and builds a greater sense of community on a block level, according to a city staff report.

Getting to know neighbors was one of the chief reasons proponents want the program to continue. In 2003, 70 percent of Palo Alto respondents to the National Citizen Survey, which the city takes annually, rated their sense of community as "good" or "excellent." That rate dropped to 56 percent by 2017, according to a city staff report. Numerous letters to the City Council by people who took part in the two pilot programs said Cool Block achieved something that many other city and neighborhood programs have not: getting residents to team up to make meaningful change in their neighborhoods and making them feel like they are part of a community again, they said.

"This is a wonderful program that inspires and it builds bridges," said Shannon Rose McEntee, a Sheridan Avenue resident.

Her neighborhood, which is mostly comprised of apartments and condominiums, doesn't have a neighborhood association.

"We have nothing that brings us together," she said, noting that even people passing in the hallways of her 55-unit condominium complex often don't say hello.

But doing something meaningful together and working on these problems is empowering, she said. The program also brought together neighbors of very different backgrounds, who found common ground. Her team included neighbors from South Korea, China and India, she said.

That's important as the city tries to find ways to better integrate and include its burgeoning immigrant population. The council has tasked the Human Relations Commission with coming up with recommendations for developing an inclusiveness policy. Last year, the commission hosted an immigrant speaker series to learn about how well its newest residents are faring. Many said they felt socially isolated and said they did not know how to make American friends.

Bret Anderson, a Palo Verde resident, said he has lived in his neighborhood for 20 years, but neighbors "hardly spoke to each other." But trying to reach a common goal brought people together, he said.

The program was so popular in one Midtown neighborhood they had to create a second Cool Block program on Webster Street, Annette Isaacson said. Her neighbors have each reduced their carbon output by 5,000 pounds, she said.

During the spring 2016 and summer 2017 pilots, block leaders met with teams of five to eight households on a block. They held nine team meetings that covered topics including energy conservation; emergency preparation; water reduction; what people want in their neighborhood, such as removing blight, adding a community garden or traffic calming; and what it means to engage in civic life.

The participants selected from 112 "action recipes" that included measures such as carbon reduction, water conservation, using less hot water, moving toward a vegetarian diet, shopping less, installing efficient lighting and retrofitting houses. They improved their emergency preparedness plans by storing up to seven days of food and water and establishing alternative lighting and ways to receive news in the event of a disaster.

Residents tracked their progress through a web platform built by the institute, which contains resources to help them achieve their goals. The first pilot had 15 households and helped adapt the program to Palo Alto's goals.

The second pilot took place over four-and-a-half months and involved 24 blocks representing 175 households. The pilots resulted in households on average reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent, exceeding the 25 percent target. Each household on average reduced its carbon output by 7 tons. Each household on average engaged in nine disaster-preparedness actions, among the outcomes, according to the Empowerment Institute.

In an email to the City Council, Lee Birdsey said she now bikes whenever she can and she and her husband only put their garbage can out once a month because everything else is recycled. They have supplies for a disaster and they now know who their neighbors are who might need extra help, she said.

"It really feels like a safe and warm place to live again after this program," she wrote.

Proponents urged the council to approve the program. If funded, the city and the institute would now roll out the first phase of what they hope to be a four-year project. The program could eventually be used throughout California and perhaps eventually worldwide. The $100,000 in funding for Phase I would target 30 blocks and would be completed by the end of this year. A proposed Phase II would scale up to 350 or more blocks -- about 25 percent of all the city's blocks -- and is not included in this funding round, but could be funded later at the council's discretion, according to the contract. The city would contribute $100,000 and staff time to the $200,000 program, with the Empowerment Institute matching the city funds with up to $100,000 in "in-kind" services.

Sandra Slater, Cool Block volunteer program manager for Palo Alto, said most of those services would involve customized web development for Palo Alto, data gathering, maintenance on the existing web service, e-newsletters, program marketing, recruitment, online tracking and coaching. So far, the institute has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the web programming for the pilot program. The city was not charged for the pilot programs. Staff is recommending tapping the city manager's more than $200,000 in contingency funds for Phase I.

But some residents are questioning the expenditure. They wanted greater accountability and a clear vision of what the program would cost if all phases were implemented.

"What is the cost for the following year, and the following year and the following year after that?" Rita Vrhel asked.

Palo Alto Neighborhoods, which represents 33 neighborhoods and three affiliates, asked the council in a March 2 letter to remove the Cool Block funding request and contract from the consent calendar. The organization wants public discussion on the merits of the investments, co-chairs Sheri Furman and Rebecca Sanders wrote.

The group raised questions about the completeness of the data and how it is tracked. They noted that of the 175 households, only 97 had reported their results.

They also expressed concern about current costs and any that might be added for future project phases. The contract would last through March 4, 2022, they noted, and they questioned why the city would engage in a four-year contract. The agreement states that a program and funding for Phase II is up to the council's discretion, however.

"The proposed work for $100,000 would target just 30 blocks or household groups. The cost per block/group seems extremely high and is not explained. Could we ever afford to replicate this across the approximately 1,400 such blocks/groups in Palo Alto?" they wrote.

Palo Alto Neighborhoods also said the proposal overlooks other city programs such as its Zero Waste program and an extensive and well-organized volunteer emergency-preparedness team, which are integrated with the city staff. There is no analysis of an overlap with other city efforts on energy and waste reduction in the staff report, they noted.

But Slater said in a phone interview that the Cool Block program isn't reinventing the wheel; it leverages existing programs, bringing in city staff to inform and recruit residents and spreading information about existing incentives, a sentiment echoed by several speakers at the council meeting.

The program aims to do what other programs haven't accomplished individually -- to interest whole neighborhoods in city programs such as the Emergency Services Volunteers and its Healthy Cities, Healthy Community resolution. Slater said that's in part human nature. People tend to have good intentions and know they should do something, but they don't get around to it. Being part of a group -- and accountable to each other -- helps introduce ideas, share with one another, grow a stronger neighborhood and build relationships.

"There is no forum to do that," Slater said.

"We don't know the people sleeping 100 feet from our heads. How weird is that?" Going to a block party is fine for meeting people, but she said it isn't the same as being on a team where people are doing something together. Other residents who took part in the program agreed, saying it has had a long-lasting effect beyond the program itself.

Every penny will be well spent, they argued, because the city will save money in the long run as people reduce their waste and carbon dioxide output.

Slater told the council that the city faces an "existential risk" because of climate change that it will be forced to address. John Kelley, who was one of the original block leaders in the early pilot program, agreed.

"If you delay; if you dither ... you could miss the opportunity to address the single most important issue of our time," he said.

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Comments

71 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 6, 2018 at 10:25 am

It's misleading to say: "Sandra Slater, Cool Block volunteer program manager for Palo Alto ..." since Ms Slater gets paid $65/hr by the City Manager's Office?

A better statement would be: "Sandra Slater, Cool Block Volunteer Program Manager ..." since it's her title and she's not working for free.

It might also be helpful to note Sandra Slater is co-founder of Palo Alto Forward. Obviously, the City Manager has not been completely transparent about his and PAF connections to this program.


66 people like this
Posted by Kim
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2018 at 10:34 am

Many of the people that spoke at the meeting are members of Palo Alto Forward. The city should be careful about funding an advocacy group interesting in urbanization cloaked in sustainability.

Regardless of your position on development, the city should determine if the funding is sustainable - what is the city paying for and how much will this program cost long term?


65 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 6, 2018 at 10:40 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Don't we have a funding shortfall? We already have Palo Alto Utilities preaching to us to conserve energy; they're running a $20,000,000 surplus this year which they funnel into the General Fund. We've already got the TMA preaching to us to get out of our cars.

Why do we need to fund another group to preach to us?

Also, how do we get in touch with Palo Alto Neighborhoods?


56 people like this
Posted by RITAVRHEL
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2018 at 10:40 am

Wish you had included the comment made at council by Eileen Fletcher indicating Sandra Slater was on the Board of the Empowerment Institute and therefore a beneficiary of any contracts issued.

Many people spoke to the benefits of being involved in Cool Blocks so why can they not "spread the word" on a volunteer basis.Unusal for volunteers to be paid.

Also missing in the Proposal were hard data or metrics; hard to judge the value of a program without data.

Driving home, I noted St Thomas Aquinas Church watered their sidewalk again with over-spray from the sprinklers while the large apartment house at the end of Gilman over watered their small patch of grass to the extent that water was running down the street and around the corner.

There are so many ways to conserve right in front of us. 311 will hear from me today about the above water waste.I encourage everyone to report water waste via 311. Thank you.


36 people like this
Posted by ritavrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2018 at 11:37 am

My apologies for stating Eileen Fletcher commented at CC last night. I meant to say Elaine Meyer. Thank you Elaine!


22 people like this
Posted by Cool Blocks are Cool!
a resident of Addison School
on Mar 6, 2018 at 11:41 am

Communities are best when individuals connect and nurture relationships. This is what Cool Block has been doing all around town! $100,000 is chump change for an important effort that strengthens our social fabric, decreases social isolation and encourages healthy living. Cool Block participants have shared and shown the benefits. Cool Blocks are the cool - let's have more of them!


60 people like this
Posted by $100,000 chump change
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 6, 2018 at 11:59 am

$100,000 is chump change to the rich, like the City Manager. Not to me.

$70,000 of it is budgeted as consulting fee for Sandra Slater, the rest for expenses, if I read that correctly. Just for year one.


26 people like this
Posted by So petty
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Sandra Slater has a multi decade record working on environmental causes. The Cool Block program appears to be doing excellent work for the city at a very reasonable cost. Is Palo Alto Neighborhoods worried that they will not be the only organization in the neighborhood? This smacks of extreme pettiness


62 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 6, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Good headline; I wish this sort of coverage had happened for PAN.

I listened to the entire meeting last night and as proponents of Cool Blocks spoke about what they like about the program I couldn't help but wonder where they have been for the last decade. Palo Alto has been promoting and Palo Altans have been doing much (if not all) of what Cool Blocks promotes. We have Zero Waste, we have PAN, we have Next Door, we have a sustainability program, we have various conservation programs courtesy of our utilities department, we recycle, we promote bicycling and alternative transportation, we will soon have a new bike sharing program (maybe two?!), etc. Cool Blocks is clever and catchy and well-packaged. But also redundant. Our City Manager could well have said to Mr. Gershon: "This is Palo Alto. We are WAY AHEAD of you!"

After reading the Cool Blocks website it seems they are essentially promoting a belief system and an approach to living that supports it. Moreover, the beliefs and the system are good.

But why does the City have to fund this? People who are concerned about climate change and combatting global warming can embrace the Cool Blocks philosophy and support it financially if they so choose. It is not unusual for people to take more seriously those things that they pay for directly and personally. People can also download the free iBook, The Cool Block, and get started.

Why, really, does the City need to fund this?


72 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 12:30 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

So now we're funding Palo Alto Forward? Their tentacles and those of Palantir, a company that employs key people in Palo Alto Forward, keep reaching into our city budget. Remember when they bought the Cubberley soccer field for their employee event?


28 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 6, 2018 at 12:43 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

The Cool Block program is a great idea.

It is clearly not redundant to other efforts as witnessed by all the people who spoke glowingly of their experience.

It supports a high priority city goal of our Climate Action Sustainability Plan.

It builds on successful pilot programs.

Since the start of the year the council has approved over $5 million in contracts without any item being pulled from consent.

This is clearly then not about the $100,000.

The program is a continuation of past efforts to expand the outreach.

It goes to a city goal of building community.

The claim that this $100,000 in a city that spends nearly $200,000,000 a year warrants taking council time does not pass the smell test.

This feels personal and vindictive against Sandra who has worked tirelessly on behalf of reducing GHG emissions in our city and bringing neighbors together.


78 people like this
Posted by Volunteerism is Wonderful -- Let's Not Corrupt It
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2018 at 12:53 pm

I was very disappointed to watch a throng of Cool Block supporters last night make it sound like their program was the most important on the planet.

Why are we selecting just one volunteer organization and then saying we'll pay its leader $55 an hour? What about all the other fantastic people serving our city, many for decades, and all our incredible volunteer organizations such as those that work on suicide prevention, services for people with disabilities, social equity, fundraising, and so forth? Is the city going to start paying all our other thousands of local volunteers $55 an hour too?

Cool City should withdraw its funding proposal and stop claiming it's more deserving than everyone else. And how about apologizing to all the other volunteers in town.


50 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 6, 2018 at 1:27 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Since the start of the year the council has approved over $5 million in contracts without any item being pulled from consent."

Maybe some of those contracts needed more oversight, too, as well as contracts awarded in years past. The Ross Road project comes immediately to mind. If, for example, the TMA is successful in paying commuters to carpool and for the public transit expenses, what will the budget be in 2 years? 5 year?

Preaching "sustainabilty" and conservation seem like polar opposites to the push for higher density and more development. Won't the new commuters and residents ever flush their toilets?

Let's see less preaching and more cost-effective government and fiscal management.


21 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Mar 6, 2018 at 1:35 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

Comment from Claudia Keith, city of Palo Alto spokeswoman, regarding Sandra Slater's position at the city:

"To my knowledge, she is a volunteer who has worked on Cool Block, Bike Expo and sustainability issues."

Comment from Sandra Slater regarding her position at the city:

"I am NOT an employee of the City and am NOT in the Board of the Empowerment Institute. Could you kindly set the record straight?"


28 people like this
Posted by Annette Isaacson
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 1:48 pm

I think the Cool Block Program is just what Palo Alto needs. We have two Cool Block Teams on our block of Webster St. because the first one was so popular. It was a wonderful experience to work together with our neighbors to reduce our carbon footprints and get ready for disasters, while getting to know each other better as neighbors. I have been a Zero Block Leader for years, but the Cool Block format has really given zero waste traction. There's something wonderful about talking with your neighbors about ideas for saving resources and preparing for emergencies and then actually taking these actions and reporting back to the team. Sometimes neighbors get together on a project, like a garden or insulating a house and help each other. In our neighborhood, everyone now has two neighbors who are their buddies. In case of an emergency these trios of neighbors will check in on each other to make sure everyone is alright. Because of the Cool Block Program, we actually got a neighbor to look into being the Emergency Service Volunteer for our neighborhood. $100,000 is a small price to pay for such a wonderful program.


64 people like this
Posted by About Sandra Slater
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 2:21 pm

While Sandra Slater is not a City employee, she will be paid most of the money from this proposed contract. Why should the City of Palo Alto choose one volunteer to start being paid when there are many volunteers who have worked tirelessly, for example, on Emergency Preparedness, who are not chosen to be paid.

So let the Cool Blocks effort continue as a volunteer effort if it chooses to do so. But it should not receive $100K of City money primarily to fund a former volunteer.


24 people like this
Posted by About Sandra Slater
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 2:28 pm

@ Online Name

See Web Link for PAN.

See Web Link for their Emergency Preparedness work.

Where are Cool Blocks materials posted? Are the materials open to the public, or do they require a fee for access?


26 people like this
Posted by Lorrie Castellano
a resident of University South
on Mar 6, 2018 at 2:36 pm

The comments about Sandra Slater and all the money she's made or will make from Cool block is simply false - bordering on libel. Sandra has worked as a volunteer for 5 years to get the Cool block program off the ground. Every cent spent has been her own money. The idea that Volunteerism is dead is preposterous. All the people involved in Palo Alto Cool Block are Volunteers! But for a program to spread, especially a proven, successful program like Cool Block, it needs financial support. Palo Alto is known for it's innovation and leadership in so many areas. It is important for the City to support this program and take the lead in Climate Change Solutions.

Everyone has a right to disagree but, at least, get your facts right!


42 people like this
Posted by JCP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2018 at 2:41 pm

JCP is a registered user.

How many posters here have participated in the Cool Block Program? I have, and I found it to be a lot of fluff, extra paper, and child-like exercises, and nobody on my block participated except for about 4 people.

The materials were verbose and the questions and tasks were not broken down into bite size chunks that most uninterested people might consume.

Like one poster has said, many of us have lived like this for many years. The benefit I found was in disaster preparedness, but that could be done at a much smaller scale with a smaller commitment that people might be to understand the obvious benefit. Teaching us how to recycle cans isn't that exciting.

Seems like it should be a volunteer program run by volunteers. If people need an excuse to meet their neighbors, they can do it without my tax dollars thank you very much.


29 people like this
Posted by Julan Chu
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 6, 2018 at 2:59 pm

I am utterly stunned at why the community is fighting about this. The multiple aims of this program are indeed to lower carbon footprint, prepare for disasters, conserve water, etc, but the one thing that ties all this together is neighbors supporting neighbors, and believe me, when a disaster hits, THAT social capital is going to be worth all of our weight, IN GOLD!!!

Our city govt and all its resources are to be commended for what they have done for climate change and for its' citizens, and I agree, we do not need folks preaching to us to behave in a particular way, but what city govt cannot do, is build true community, house by house, neighbor by neighbor, block by block. We each initiate that, individually and together, and the Cool Block Program enables us to do it in a great FUN way!!!


23 people like this
Posted by Lorrie Castellano
a resident of University South
on Mar 6, 2018 at 3:00 pm

I'd like to add a P.S. to my first comment:

I've lived in Palo Alto for 30 years and it wasn't till Cool Block that I learned about the city programs like Zero Waste, EVS, Energy Genie and more. I'm sure there are a lot of people like me who are not aware of these wonderful programs. Cool Block taught me what the city is doing and what programs are available. Even my neighborhood association didn't get me involved. I think Cool Block is a boon to all the City Programs. It's that "knock on the door" that starts it all!


34 people like this
Posted by Financial needs
a resident of Barron Park School
on Mar 6, 2018 at 3:01 pm

“But for a program to spread, especially a proven, successful program like Cool Block, it needs financial support. “

I find this statement curious.

Don’t proven, successful programs need less financial support to spread than unproven or struggling programs?


30 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2018 at 3:08 pm

Ms. Slater is listed as a "program manager" on the about us Cool Blocks website:

Web Link

so.....just saying; facts are facts


23 people like this
Posted by Lindsay Joye
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 6, 2018 at 3:37 pm

Lindsay Joye is a registered user.

The Cool Block program encourages neighbors to get together to learn and take action to be better prepared for emergencies and preserve resources for future generations. You can learn more about the program at: Web Link

The Cool Block program has been tested in multiple cities and shown to be successful in enhancing neighbor relations and could be a very effective method for the City of Palo Alto to reach our Sustainability and Emergency Preparedness goals.

I think the funding request is reasonable to provide the required support to develop the program for Palo Alto.


55 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 6, 2018 at 3:50 pm

I am furious that the City is dedicating 100K, just as a starter sum, to COOL BLOCK, another redundant program. The mission of COOL BLOCK to "promote connectivity" and "neighbor knowing neighbor" and "disaster resiliency" and "conservation" is already that of the neighborhood associations of Palo Alo, which have been established and in place for decades. However, we do it with $10 donations from members but NO financial support from the City Council!

The admirable Office of Emergency Services, which also operates on a shoestring budget, gives each association a vest, a backpack and a radio for each of the Block Captains, to prepare for a disaster. That is all the support the City offers the associations. Since the City apparently has money to spare, why not give it to the OES, which would put it to good use and dedicate it wisely towards emergency preparedness "at the grassroots level!?"

Again, since the City apparently has money to spare, how about giving it to the neighborhood associations, "to promote neighbor knowing neighbor," so we can pay for food at our annual picnics? Exhausted parents of young children may stay away since they have to bring a dish to share. In fact, to promote "disaster resiliency," and "grassroots connectivity" the City should pay for a shed for each neighborhood, supplied with rescue equipment, medical supplies, disaster stores, water!
City Council, how about paying for our printing costs, our banner, food for a winter social, spanking new state of the art radios, a directories for those who "feel isolated?" Surely an established neighborhood association will do a far more thorough job of reaching out to neighbors!
Palo Alto, give the neighborhood associations funding so we can be proactive towards conservation and recycling within our neighborhood. Paint our curbs with house numbers to "promote safety!" Give climate change to the city engineers to address!
COOL BLOCK has a place in communities with little civic engagement; that does not describe Palo Alto. Here, COOL BLOCK is a waste of money.

I will be letting my neighbors know that there are those in city government who spend our money foolishly, duplicating our efforts, while we don't even get crumbs.


25 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 6, 2018 at 3:54 pm

The Cool Block Program is holistic. It's not just about reducing our carbon footprint, it's not just about preparing for a disaster, it's not just about first aid, or recycling, etc. It's about all of these things and so much more. One of the MOST valuable aspects of the Cool Block program was bringing neighbors together, building community where little or none existed before. My neighbors, including recent immigrants from India, South Korea, and China, were so grateful to meet and get to know their neighbors. Not only has the Cool Block program helped us to become more Planet Friendly, Disaster Resilient, and Community Rich -- it has warmed our hearts. It's increased our "social" resilience which is so lacking in today's fast-paced, nose-in-your-cellphone culture. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn in many dimensions, with committed neighbors. The Cool Block program's holistic approach is the most powerful I've encountered in MANY years of being a volunteer and an activist. Bravo to the City of Palo Alto and to Sandra Slater for their commitment to strengthening Palo Alto in multiple dimensions. Palo Alto doesn't rest on its laurels, it continues to reach, explore, and succeed in new directions, just like Hewlett and Packard who saw an opportunity and made it happen.


20 people like this
Posted by Bret Andersen
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 6, 2018 at 5:06 pm

Cool Block volunteers have stepped up under Sandra Slater's high energy and committed leadership to build engagement on arguably our most important community goals. Many people have connected through this program and learned about how to make best use available city programs and neighborhood networks to improve their lives. Some people do not value engagement with neighbors in this way or they may find all the material elementary. But that is rare in my experience. The biggest problem is people being too busy to make it a priority that inhibits them from taking active part. But all of us need our communities to adopt sustainable practices and make the city programs that support them more successful and effective. I would like the city to have more and better ways to reach out and engage neighborhoods on projects, like the one on Ross Rd, for instance.

Cool Block has a significant online component and takes a systematic approach to community engagement toward measurable goals. It is open to all and as far as I know and experienced has had and should have nothing but synergistic interactions with city programs and volunteer groups like PAN, disaster preparedness coordinators. There is way more than enough work for any one group to do to get us to a sustainable way of life and build social cohesion. The proposed city funding is matched by the institute and covers the management, administration and support, including online tools and measurement. That is not an individual volunteer role and is much more work than a normal volunteer could do. The proposed program looks like a great investment given its results so far and it's future potential in an expanded form and another cycle of improvement.


36 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 6, 2018 at 5:40 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

So is Ms. Slater a paid employee or consultant to Cool Blocks as "program manager" and is/was Palo Alto planning to pay her also as a consultant / contractor under the proposed contract? Could/would she also be paid by, say, Menlo Park if they adopted Cool Blocks?

"I've lived in Palo Alto for 30 years and it wasn't till Cool Block that I learned about the city programs like Zero Waste, EVS, Energy Genie and more. I'm sure there are a lot of people like me who are not aware of these wonderful programs. Cool Block taught me what the city is doing and what programs are available."

I guess someone else must open your PA Utility bills because rarely is there a billing cycle without many statement stuffers/ ads for Zero Waste etc. telling us how to compost, how to put out our bins, etc. The bills also list city employees to call with questions about all those programs.

Sounds like a duplicative effort since we're already paying Zero Waste and the PA Utilities employees to provide that information. They also advertise constantly in Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Post etc. and often post on Next Door about tips, their seminars, etc.

Presumably we as PA Utility customers are paying for these ads and statement stuffers and for someone to post on Next Door. Should/ could we start laying off PA Utilities employees to save some money and lower our bills to avoid this redundancy?

As has been reported, PA Utilities had a $202,000,000 surplus this year alone that goes into the General Fund, up about a million from last year. A quick search shows these transfers have been controversial since the 1990s.

As per the PA Weekly article from THIS January, PA's being sued over these transfers.

Palo Alto faces legal challenge over budget transfers

Web Link


48 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 6, 2018 at 5:42 pm

The proposed four year Cool Cities contract with the Empowerment Institute placed on the council’s consent calendar includes the first year seed cost of $100,000. What has been excluded is any information about what the total cost to the city will be during the four years if the program expands as expected.

My understanding is that over the next four years the total cost to the city may approach $1,000,000. Why is this information not available in the council packet or available to the public? This appears to be less than transparent by the city manager who was, I believe, a co-founder of the Empowerment Institute and Cool Cities initiative and currently sits on the Institute’s board. In addition, is Sandra Slater a personal friend of the city manager? And if so, what role did that play in being offered this paid position?

Council and the public need to know what the expected four year budget will be before signing on, and weigh how that cost measures up against other priorities and demands on the city’s budget. Clearly the 97 households who did not drop out and are still actively participating in the current program are very enthusiastic, feel it has value. However, very little hard data has been presented to back up the claims that are made, there was no control group, or how many households dropped out, and why.


18 people like this
Posted by Thoughtful Reader
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 6, 2018 at 5:50 pm

I'm puzzled by the anger directed towards the Cool Block Program. From what I read in this article and comments, I don't see it as a redundant program, but an overlay program that helps the city get more value from its existing investments, and helps find recruits for programs such as the Emergency Services Volunteers. I think it is totally worth funding a pilot, getting data on the pilot, and then figuring out whether this is a worthwhile investment. I'd like to join the Cool Block on my street, and think that some of skeptics should sign up for the program and see for themselves if it is a good program.


16 people like this
Posted by Gunn Junior
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 6, 2018 at 6:03 pm

We need to take climate change seriously and do something about it. All of us can do more to reduce our carbon footprint. Please support this pilot program so we can figure out if it can make a difference. Do it for the kids in Palo Alto like me.


30 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 6, 2018 at 6:13 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"As has been reported, PA Utilities had a $202,000,000 surplus this year alone that goes into the General Fund, up about a million from last year. A quick search shows these transfers have been controversial since the 1990s."

Correction: It's a mere $22,000,000, not $202,000.000.

Sorry about that.

We cam all care about climate change and conservation without yet another local program. Many of us already belong to the Sierra Club etc. that are lobbying the DC politicians for whatever good it will do and are working to elect state and national leaders who are outraged at what's happening to the EPA etc.


19 people like this
Posted by Paul Heft
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 7:21 pm

Being a Cool Block participant, I appreciated the opportunity to join other residents of my block to jointly address our concerns. No doubt about it, other organizations are offering many ways to get involved and contribute to our community--but in my case, focusing on my immediate neighborhood made all the difference. It was a treat to learn about the neighbors on my block and work with them, without having to sign up to be a block leader or big time volunteer--in fact, that was the attraction for me.

I encourage the City Council to fund expansion of the Cool Block program. (I also hope they are funding neighborhood associations in one way or another.) Cool Block offers a different way to involve citizens in making changes--citizens like me, who are not likely to become active in the large organizations. I suspect that will become increasingly important as we all work together to make HUGE changes, especially to deal with climate change. Like it or not, "Normal" will be disappearing in Palo Alto as elsewhere. As neighbors discover that we can link together, person to person and with support from city government, I hope we will be able to help each other through the enormous transition ahead.


42 people like this
Posted by Not a good use of money
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 6, 2018 at 7:46 pm

Not a good use of money is a registered user.

Plenty of Palo Alto neighborhoods have fostered community without this kind of money behind it. Let's encourage grassroots community-building, rather than money-funded community building from leadership that may have an agenda.


17 people like this
Posted by Say Hey
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 6, 2018 at 8:37 pm

[Portion removed.] I've done the Cool Block and am a BPC too. Not to cast aspersions, but frankly the BPC program left a lot to be desired. I was given some instruction, a walkie-talkie and told to get my neighbors prepared. No one in my neighborhood was really interested when I approached them. I appreciate the communication chain of command, but the program didn't really do much. When I joined the Cool Block I did it because I wanted to know my neighbors better. I've lived here for over 30 years and the young families that my kids' grew up with have all gone somewhere else and the ones that remain don't have much contact anymore.

The Cool Block was really an eye-opener. We came together and over the time we met (about 5 months) we became friends, have supported each other, shared knowledge and became much more aware of how our decisions and houses are really thoughtful about climate change. I thought I was doing all the right things but realized through the program that there was so much more my wife and I could do. My neighbors were all so grateful for the opportunity to work together and we're now sharing, caring and much more connected. I now know that in an emergency we'll be able to work together as a team.

This program really allows residents the opportunity to do all the things we know we're supposed to do (get ready for disaster, reduce our energy etc) but don't really have the structure to do it. The Cool Block is a deep, thoughtful and comprehensive program that has lots of robust research behind it and those who say it shouldn't be funded and not have a staff person just don't have any idea of what the program is about. How about trying to help the Cool Block instead of trying to blow it up.


15 people like this
Posted by Hip Grandma
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 8:55 pm

So why are emergency people (PAN) so upset about a climate change program? Aren't we ALL concerned about global warming and how we can be part of the solution? We all have different ways to go about it but we all have a common goal.
This program looks like one more way to achieve that goal. It's a lot of money but we also all know that we need to make investments in energy efficiency etc. Sounds like this program has more depth and ability to move the needle than anything I've ever heard of. I have some friends who've been through the program and they loved it --learned a lot, reduced their energy and have gotten ready for the earthquake. This is a lot of money creating a lot of value across disciplines.
Also agree with Say Hey that the postings are really kind of nasty and personal. Guess it just proves that we need a program like this to bring us together.


15 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 6, 2018 at 9:37 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I agree with say and hip grandma and all the participants who have gone through the program. I have watched Sandra work hard over these past years and do not see the program as redundant but rather as adding value in support of two city goals--reducing carbon emissions/saving energy and community building.

It feels like a lot of personal attacks on a really good person and some PA nastiness that has everything to do with local politics and nothing to do with the Cool Block program.


7 people like this
Posted by modest proposal
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 7, 2018 at 1:00 am

We can "bring together residents to make more environmentally conscious decisions" by publishing everyone's utility bills. The City has these data. Just like City employee salaries, which there seems to be no problem in making public. We could expect the egregious consumption outliers to begin cutting their profligacy or to begin issuing excuses. Many of us could hide behind landlords or apartment buildings or other cooperatives, but each parcel address should show usage which could be tracked for reduction targets. This would not be pitting residents against each other, it would be "building a sense of community". With the result that the coolest block will be the one with the most ghost houses.


4 people like this
Posted by Monica Stobe
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2018 at 11:40 am

I want to say that being a part of the CoolBlock Beta Group as group leader for "Team Holly Oak" was an extremely satisfying and valuable use of my time. We bonded in a way that I hadn't since we moved to Midtown in 1994. I truly feel connected to my block in a way I never have. Could I have made those connections before and after my kids left for college? Yes, but this gave us a purpose for meeting, good conversation, and an opportunity to find out about resources on the block as well as in the community.

I have known Sandra Slater for since 1989 and we are lucky to have people such as Sadra who can work 24/7 on trying to save our planet. Yes, women have traditionally been paid nothing for their labor, both volunteer and in the home, but is that the way we want to continue? I for one, do not!, Sincerely, Monica Stoe


38 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2018 at 3:14 pm

I am happy for everyone who has embraced COOL BLOCK. There are many volunteer groups within Palo Alto; some residents will find their niche in one over another. I applaud your involvement. Many of the volunteer programs within Palo Alto overlap in mission statements and activities, which is good. To each his own. Please do get to know your neighbors.

However, I don't want to pay for it. I don't want to pay the million dollars over the next ten years for the volunteer pilot program that is COOL BLOCK. Please continue as a volunteer pilot program with no publicly paid employees and no public funding. It is an insult to every other volunteer group that you are funded.

Again, the long established neighborhood associations have not received annual funding from the city, ever, and yet our main mission and organization is emergency preparedness. Again, why does the city not fund emergency preparedness for earthquake, the latter always, always an immediate threat, and yet city council will be funding COOL BLOCK's mission of climate change awareness?! Again, to the tune of a million dollars over ten years?!

Say Hey, you maligned the emergency preparedness program in the Palo Verde Neighborhood. None the less, when a disaster strikes, it will be neighborhood volunteer BPCs and CERTS, with vests and radios and rescue equipment, who come to your street to check for gas leaks, rescue those trapped, offer first aid, extract people from cars or buildings and use the network to call true emergencies in to the command center. You will be stymied because emergency response communication will be centralized. AdobeMeadow has good participation as a neighborhood so we may actually end up on your street as adjunct help, as we have in past drills. Of course, our resources will be limited to what we have scrounged up over the years, since the city council gives the small neighborhood organizations no funding for medical or rescue equipment, let alone "neighbor knowing neighbor."

The city should buy each neighborhood association a shed with medical equipment and rescue equipment for use by the trained neighborhood volunteers. If Keene can can give COOL BLOCK a million dollars, he can give the neighborhoods ten million dollars.


24 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 7, 2018 at 4:16 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Will someone knowledgeable about the facts of the contract please disclose the terms? There seems to be no question about the $100k for the first year, but the all-in cost for multi-years is an important detail that is missing. I have now twice read $1M. I am hoping that is a mistake.

Also, what happens when the "honeymoon" ends and people are no longer as enthused about Cool Block as they are now? That happens. I was once quite involved with PANDA which ultimately became the CERT program and part of OES. Inertia was an issue. Enthusiasm fades. And spikes following weather events and earthquake activity. PAN probably experiences the same pattern. I think PAN should be funded at least a little, but the fact that it is all volunteer means that when enthusiasm fades and activity drops, there's no dollar cost to the city. Not so with Cool Blocks. The city will pay regardless of participation level. I find that problematic. Is there an exit plan?

Also, our City Manager has a tendency to grow the management side of city staffing. What is starting with 1 person could well grow. That equates to more salaries, more benefits, more pensions. If we were a city defined by minimal volunteer engagement we might have to take that route. But as another poster mentioned, we are good about volunteering. This gives us the latitude to avoid certain expenses.

The devil is always in the details. I think it is time to disclose those.


19 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 4:16 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Ceci, funding the neighborhood associations is a great idea and/or cutting employees of PA Utilities since this duplicates or triplicates their efforts and that of Zero Waste.


21 people like this
Posted by $100,000 chump change
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 7, 2018 at 4:31 pm

Many people testify to Slater’s ability and hard work. No one is questioning her competence.
However, there are a number of questions about her background.

Questions:
- has she or has she not consulted for the city
- she is a founding member of PA Forward which actively campaigns for housing construction, and whose major goal supports her occupation, construction design.
- she owns a Design consulting firm specializing in green building techniques
- she does, or does not, have a financial interest in a local Construction company
- $75,000 is her fee for one year of the project

She is a featured member of the Empowerment Institute “Team.”
The Empowerment Institute appears to be led by a charismatic guru with lofty, vague, spiritual goals.
“Enabling people to envision and realize their dreams was the approach they called “empowerment.”
Oddly, its web site contains an ad for cosmetics.
_____________

How the $100,000 will be spent -City Staff Report Exhibit C

BUDGET SCHEDULE NOT TO EXCEED AMOUNT
Basic Services:
Local Campaign Staffing ($65/hour program manager) $75,000.00

Reimbursable Services:
Communication and Marketing $10,000.00
Research $15,000.00
Sub-total Reimbursable Expenses $25,000.00

Total Basic Services & Reimbursable Expenses $100,000.00
Maximum Total Compensation $100,000.00


30 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 5:32 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Why couldn't Ms. Keith simply admit Ms. Slater would be a paid consultant rather than claiming she wasn't an employee, something all of us knew. It's the game-playing with this project that's so infuriating.

Since commuters outnumber residents by 3:1 -- soon to be 4:1 -- to what "Cool Block" do they belong? Who's preaching to them to conserve energy and get out of their cars? We've got the TMA telling US to pay the commuters' commuting expenses while the employers pay nothing and keep shifting the costs and lower quality of life to us?

With all the Palantir employees on our various commissions, what are they doing to preach energy conservation and sustainability to their guys in Washington?


25 people like this
Posted by pares
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm

It does surprise me that some posters say they weren't aware of many of the things that Cool Block promotes. Where have they been? Our Utility has been promoting these practices for years, even had a flyer which compared your energy uses to other neighbors. The schools have been promoting energy saving practices for decades. We have disaster preparedness programs for many years too. How could anyone miss our recycle bins that are set out each week?

What about neighborhood potlucks and other events that the neighborhood associations promote? Cool Block is redundant!


15 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2018 at 9:12 pm

@OnlineName
Hi!
(I don't understand your suggestion that we should dismiss PA Utility employees because their role is a duplication of Zero Waste. I believe the latter to be a program of the former, but I could well be confused.....?)

ON the original topic: Your last post is right on target!!!
As you point out: Palo Alto will soon be facing a commuter traffic tsunami.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2018 at 10:10 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Ceci, sorry I was unclear. I ws trying to say hat since CB would duplicate much of what PA Utilities has long been doing that you don't need both. I can't see city staff or even the CC wanting to face the political fallout from supporting layoffs in favor of CB? [Portion removed.]

For decades -- as pares and others have said -- PAU has spent a lot of time and money on outreach. How much have they spent on composting education, for example? Look at all the promotion for programs like Green Energy complete with the city-provided yard signs so homeowners showcase their willingness to pay more for utilities. We've had seminars on sustainable plantings that cut water use, Zero Waste contests, energy conservation apps, etc. etc. etc.


16 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 8, 2018 at 10:22 am

Online Name is correct. PALO ALTO already has strong, proactive conservation programs, and they are very successful ones. We don't need to pay COOL BLOCK to triplicate official efforts.
I have embraced the programs promoted by PA Utilities for decades: compost bins, removal of my lawns, unthirsty plantings, paying a bit more for the environmentally responsible energy source, replacing appliances, recycling, safe toxic waste disposal....there is an upcoming gray water presentation.
It is also of note that ALL remodels and new construction in Palo Alto are forced to build green. I just remodeled and we had to document it: energy efficient windows, roofing, heating, ceiling vents, low flow everything, permeable slab..............you are fined if you do not design within parameters.

So, I am happy for the proponents of COOL BLOCK if they are newly discovering conservation and the way to protect mother earth, but I should NOT HAVE TO PAY A MILLION DOLLARS OVER TEN YEARS for duplication of what is already in place.

Again, I say City Council should be funding the neighborhoods. My dream is to have an emergency shed in each of the neighborhoods, filled with wonderful life saving equipment: fire extinguishers, airways, a jaws of life, intravenous equipment, a portable cot, axes, ambu bags, arterial C clamps for big bleeds, oxygen tubing, elastoplast, sutures, vascular clamps, headlights, pick axes, flashlights, Aspen collars, epinephrine, syringes, lidocaine, compression vests....my list goes on. There are plenty of trained medical personnel living in Palo Alto who could help stabilize or save a life on scene when the Richter 8 earthquake hits. Triage will be effect so help will be sent elsewhere: Hospitals will be be overwhelmed with life threatening traumas; the fire department will be sent to the collapsed school or burning apartment house. Therefore, the firetruck is not coming for you any time soon, the ambulance will be greatly delayed and the only help here is your neighbor. We will be on our own in the neighborhoods to care for one another and the golden hour may be our responsibility.

City Hall, if you have money burning a hole in your pocket, fund the neighborhoods FIRST, long before COOL BLOCK. Give the neighborhoods money for emergency preparedness, annual picnics, directories, water barrels, conservation, communication. Shame, shame, shame on CC for having bypassed the neighborhoods for all these decades.
God never gave me that pony when I was eight, but today, City Council can give me my shed(s).


13 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 8, 2018 at 10:46 am

Becky Sanders is a registered user.

Folks how about we cull through what we're experiencing here?

1. The facts: All that happened Monday night was that the City Manager wisely chose to pull the item from the Consent Calendar, based on the level of civic engagement it prompted. In this way the Council can provide a public hearing on this funding allocation. That's all that happened.

2. Keeping it Civil - Let's not make this issue a personal attack on anybody. Let's not "catastrophize" events or excoriate one another. Let our cooler heads prevail and let our awesome democracy do its job.

3. What's good - We have a lot of folks who are volunteering around topics of carbon footprint, emergency prep, community building and civic engagement. That’s great.

3. The Context: The gentle folks who are just trying to make a difference through their chosen vehicle -- the cool blocks program -- are perhaps reeling from the outburst from other members of the community. Where did all this anger come from? Is this backlash commensurate with the relative importance of the city funding an environmental program to the tune of $100k? Maybe. Maybe not.

What we are witnessing, imho, is the spring held back effect of a frustrated electorate who sees their influence at City Hall dwindling in light of the pressures of the vested interests confronting Palo Altans on so many fronts. Money makes things happen. Palo Alto has a pension deficit of $800,000. How are we to deal with that? Money of developers pressures City Hall to curry favor, money of large corporations backs lobbyists to influence city housing, zoning, parking policies, etc.; Stanford is a moneyed behemoth whose seemingly endless expansionist programs impact every aspect of the lives of Palo Altans like our roads, our schools, our parking, pollution, etc. And even the money of new homeowners building basements pumps our precious groundwater from our water table out into the sewer system and no one cares that this precious resource is lost. Profits trump everything, it seems.

This backdrop, I believe, is why folks who are less concerned about corporate profits and more concerned about people whom they have lived side by side with all their lives, started to pull at their collars when Cool Blocks went on the consent calendar as a slam dunk, especially in light of the fact that:

a) this work is already being done by other volunteer/paid sources - granted, however, NOT in the way proposed by Cool Blocks;
b) the volunteers, who have dedicated decades of hours to volunteering particularly in e-prep, without even dreaming of funding from the city, have to wonder, "So what have we been doing all these years? Playacting? What are we, chopped liver?" I have been here since 1990, but I only just caught the civic engagement bug about 3 years ago. What about our colleagues who have been on the case for 10, 20, 30, 40 years and beyond? This effort appears to “take over” their work and negates their efforts and insults them.
c) The relationship between the advocates of the program and the money for the program and who will benefit financially from this program is not fully understood.

All will be revealed in good time. I don’t really know why I am writing all these comments at the tail of a long, convoluted comment thread, except that I believe in the good people on both sides of this issue, so let’s try to see if we can’t work together so that all our voices are heard and maybe some new ideas we haven’t even considered might result from our conversation and collaboration.


16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2018 at 11:07 am

Annette is a registered user.

@Becky Sanders; I like your message and think you make a very good point about the Consent Calendar. The Consent Calendar is, I think, often a trigger. So City Watchers pay attention. I appreciate that some diligent residents caught this and that the matter was pulled as it clearly warrants discussion.

@Ceci - way back when the CERT program was PANDA there were 6 trailers that were stationed at our various fire stations. Each trailer was supplied with various search and rescue tools, water, ladders, first aid supplies, etc. Many hours went into developing the inventory and maintaining each trailer. I believe the 6 trailers are now managed by OES. The trailers are an excellent resource. At least they were; hopefully they still exist.


20 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 8, 2018 at 12:01 pm

@Annette--yes, I have viewed the trailer at the Mitchell Park Fire Station and I assume you are correct that others exist. My contention is that is of little immediate use to the furthest neighborhoods, so many streets away.
My neighborhood has discussed a shed for Mitchell Park placement, which is central to our neighborhood. We could access it on foot and move equipment in an emergency to the home in need. How much more important it would be for neighborhoods far from the fire stations to have immediate access to emergency supplies! By the time we run or even drive to the fire station, a life could be lost. In the hospital setting, I have seen poor outcomes because of the time delay to rescue. Simply immediate access to a fire extinguisher or a ladder might save a life.

@ Becky--I love you for being a peacekeeper and so kind. You are a gracious, tactful ambassador for PAN, to be respected. We need leadership such as yours.


13 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 8, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Correction: AdobeMeadow has discussed an emergency shed placement for RAMOS PARK, not Mitchell Park.


16 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Becky - your statement "Palo Alto has a pension deficit of $800,000" got my attention b/c that is a number that could easily be managed. Below is an excerpt from an October 2017 article that Gennady Sheyner wrote about our unfunded pension liability. Unfortunately, the pension freight train that is coming down the tracks is HUGE.

"It's a problem as vast as it is vague: an unpaid pension bill that stands at more than $300 million and keeps on growing in ways few can comprehend, much less predict."

We cannot keep kicking this can down the road as it only grows. I also think we cannot keep adding to our fiscal obligations. Slipping an undetailed contract in on the Consent Calendar for "silent approval" is not a good way to conduct City business.


13 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 8, 2018 at 4:22 pm

Becky Sanders is a registered user.

@Annette serves me right for not proofing. Our pension deficit is $800 million! Not $800,000. My apologies!

@Ceci - Thank you CeCi for your support. Congratulations on your honor at being recognized at City Hall on January 18. You are a rock star -- another one of the quiet behind-the-scenes folks who make Palo Alto an amazing place to live. See you around town!


15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Oh @&#*#! The unfunded liability is $500 million worse than I thought? That is a fierce growth rate in just half a year. We’re in trouble.


20 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 10, 2018 at 11:10 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Speaking of unfunded pension liabilities, aren't we already paying the City's Chief Sustainability Officer a healthy salary plus benefits? I was reminded of his existence because he's currently featured on the City's Facebook page

I'm curious also about what sort of compensation Mr. Keene currently gets from the umbrella Cool Blocks organization and what he'll continue to get as a PA retiree collecting benefits.


6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 10, 2018 at 5:23 pm

@Online Name - your question makes my point about redundancy and cost. Thank you! Below is a snip from PAOnline announcing the addition of a Sustainability Officer. Base salary in 2013 was $153k; article says that translates into $500k/yr in benefits and overhead. The $100k for Cool Blocks is essentially a lure; the program will cost much more than that. One of the above posters recommended that we stick with volunteerism. Given the real state of City finances I think that is the most responsible approach.

=========
City of Palo Alto hires first sustainability officer | News | Palo Alto Online |
Web Link
Dec 9, 2013 - Gil Philip Friend has been selected as the City of Palo Alto's first chief sustainability officer, City Manager James Keene announced Monday. ... First, the base salary of $153K translates into roughly $500K/yr when one factors in benefits and overhead (office space, support staff such as IT, HR,…).


6 people like this
Posted by $100,000 chump change
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 11, 2018 at 1:53 pm

>I'm curious also about what sort of compensation Mr. Keene currently gets from the umbrella Cool Blocks organization and what he'll continue to get as a PA retiree collecting benefits.<
I wonder too,

This is how they describe him:
"ONE OF THE COUNTRY'S MOST ELOQUENT PHILOSOPHER KINGS..."

Jim Keene
City of Palo Alto Partner

"Jim as City Manager for the City of Palo Alto is responsible for integrating The Cool Block program into the city’s various agencies and developing, in partnership with Empowerment Institute, the strategic plan for the program’s implementation. He also serves as a key advisor to the Cool City Challenge.

Jim has previously served as City Manager for Berkeley, California and Tucson, Arizona and County Manager for Coconimo, Arizona (Flagstaff). His life long commitment to public service is driven by passion for sustainability, community building, civic engagement and innovation to transform local government. He has taught at University of Maryland, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Virginia. Jim is also one of the country’s most eloquent philosopher kings around the important role of cities which he describes this way: “Aristotle said: ‘The City is a partnership for living well.’ Today, more than ever before, the future of our world depends on how we live together in cities. Our destinies as citizens are intertwined.”
Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 11, 2018 at 4:15 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 11, 2018 at 8:02 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

What's wrong with asking about Mr. Keene's current and future compensation from CB, esp. since unfunded pension liabilities are such a hot topic in the news in Palo Alto and while Gov. Brown is trying to reign in govt. employees collecting pensions from multiple municipalities?

Also, please go back and reread the 2013 article Annette posted about the appointment of the Chief Sustainability officer; the comments are particularly interesting, especially Doug Moran's cost analysis.


14 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 12, 2018 at 10:42 am

[Portion removed.]

The radios my husband and I have as BPCs for emergency preparedness are so weak that we could not be heard more than two blocks away during the last drill.

[Portion removed.]

To illustrate: If there were a Richter 8 earthquake, 5000 victims of serious trauma in Santa Clara County will be in need of placement on a ventilator to save them. from life threatening injuries. There are less than a thousand ventilators in Santa Clara County so heartbreaking triage will be instituted to decide who gets a ventilator, who does not and who is taken off the ventilator to put someone more viable on. Chaos will reign in the overly impacted hospitals. Mere broken limbs will be turned away if they are not life threatening and even if so, care will be delayed. We are on our own in the neighborhoods.
There are enough medical personnel living right here to care for the injured. IF we had medical equipment and IF we had rescue equipment: a ladder, a crowbar and fire extinguisher.............. an airway, intravenous equipment, an Aspen collar....... we could save lives.
Council, fund the neighborhoods, not sustainability.


15 people like this
Posted by MK
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 12, 2018 at 11:00 am

Here's another vote against CB for the following reasons:

1) It requires buy-in to a vague belief system shrouded in feel-good verbiage. The goal is climate action, plain and simple: Web Link, and the rest are hooks to accomplish this goal. We all want to improve the world but we all have different opinions and ways to do it. Mine overlap only minimally with CB's, and I've done the work to find the data to determine the best use of my time and funds, and it's not shaming neighbors into buying in to this program.

2) Excellent points by many that the inarguable benefits of CB, disaster preparedness, are already being done quite effectively by volunteers and have been for decades. The others are mostly already done by good programs by PA Utilities.

The problem is, we can comment all we want on PA Online and it will have no impact. We need to make city official aware that there are many "quiet majority" residents who don't constantly check the city calendars and aren't vocal, but are doing our part in our own ways.


15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 12, 2018 at 11:32 am

Annette is a registered user.

THANK YOU to Ceci K from Adobe Meadows and MK from Palo Verde for your posts from earlier this morning.

City Council: I hope you are giving sincere consideration to what these two are saying. From my perspective, the $100k for year 1 is not the key issue. Redundancy, need, and the real $ cost that the $100k commits us to for the term of the contract are what's key. At some point we need to curb our spending; this is a painless place to start. With regard to the argument that this is an existential issue; by definition shouldn't existential issues be addressed individually?


19 people like this
Posted by CeCi Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 12, 2018 at 11:38 am

I will be meeting with a city representative and a CB advocate to compare and contrast city needs and city resources. We will be discussing COOL BLOCK in relation to our present city priorities and funding. Useful information, I hope, will be exchanged.
If you could send me or post here the names of the city resources, both paid and volunteer, which complement the mission of COOL BLOCK, I will take that forward.
Canopy, Zero Waste, PAN, OES, as examples. cecihome@gmail.com 650-493-0804.
Regardless of anything, I hope I can convince both representatives that funding emergency preparedness now will indeed save Palo Alto lives.
CeCi Kettendorf, RN


2 people like this
Posted by $100,000 chump change
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 15, 2018 at 1:43 pm


Wait, there's more!
The total cost for the year is $ TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND.
100,000 IN-KIND from the Empowerment Institute plus $100,000 from the city, which would be used to pay $75,000 for Slater's consulting.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 15, 2018 at 3:21 pm

First, I think that the Cool Block program has a lot of positive elements. It improves neighborhood engagement while getting people to voluntarily reduce their environmental impacts. And Sandra Slater deserves much credit for her volunteer work launching the pilot.
The questions about the staff proposal though are legitimate. First, if this funding to expand the pilot is approved, what would be the eventual cost annually for the full scale program that is planned? Based on the current cost per participating household or block, it would be over $8M per year. Even discounting the costs for economies of scale would still be many millions. Does the city have those funds available, would this be the best use of them, and is the council and staff prepared to make that level of commitment if the pilot goes well?
Second, we have other great volunteer programs in the city. Why is this particular program, with its limited success to date, more worthy for such a commitment than the very successful emergency prep volunteer programs? These efforts have operated on shoestrings for years and their volunteer leadership is just that, volunteers.
These are the questions that should be thought through publicly before proceeding with this transformation of the program from a volunteer group supported by the city to a program and staff paid for by the city.


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