News

Council looks to upgrade City Hall technology

Palo Alto City Council approves design for $2 million project

Seeking to replace aged technology and further spruce up the City Council's main meeting room, Palo Alto is preparing to launch a $2 million upgrade project at City Hall.

The improvements include a reconstruction of the broadcast area in the Council Chambers, including replacement of the voting system, new projection screens and touchscreen monitors at the dais for each council member. The project, which the council supported Monday by a 7-1 vote, with Greg Tanaka dissenting and Greg Scharff absent, will be the council's most significant City Hall project since the 2014 renovation, which included a rebuilt lobby, a new Community Meeting Room and replaced carpets and upholstery in the chambers.

For the council and city staff, the project is a long-planned and necessary measure to address functional problems with broadcast technology. Jonathan Reichental, the city's chief information officer, said existing equipment is obsolete. When something breaks, staff has to purchase new parts on eBay because the technology isn't built anymore.

"The equipment we're using to run the hardware has expired and it's time for us to improve it and prepare this room for at least the next 10 years," Reichental said. "It's unsupportable the way it is and it's expensive and risky."

Most council members agreed that the project is overdue, even as they bristled at the high cost and urged staff to look at ways to drive down the price tag in the next few months, before the contract comes back to the council for final approval. Their reservations notwithstanding, the council endorsed the design option recommended by staff, which in addition to upgrading the broadcasting equipment, will also equip with Chambers with a large projection screen capable of displaying up to eight different monitors, including footage being broadcast from other public facilities.

Mayor Liz Kniss, who supported moving ahead with the improvements, noted that the current quality of council recordings is very low and that improving it will help the public track what the council is doing.

"I think we're looking at a leaky roof and saying, 'Let's see how long this roof will leak before we fix it," Kniss said.

Several council members, including Cory Wolbach and Tanaka, worried about the message that the upgrade project would send to the voters at a time when the city is facing an infrastructure backlog of $56 million and when the council is preparing to poll residents about a potential tax increase. This gap doesn't even include some of the newer infrastructure projects that the council wants to pursue, including a new animal shelter and assistance with the reconstruction of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo.

"Having a system that keeps working with more than thoughts and prayers keeping it running -- that makes sense," Wolbach said. "I think we can all get behind that. How that costs just under or just over $2 million is a little harder to wrap our brains around."

City Manager James Keene and Reichental, the city's chief information officer, repeatedly noted that the money will come from the city's technology fund, an account that annually pools money from various departments for citywide technology improvements.

"It doesn't compete for other things we do," Reichental said, "It's specifically for technology."

Tanaka wasn't swayed by this argument. He called the proposed improvements "excessively expensive" and likened the proposal to a "vanity project" -- a characterization that staff strongly disputed (about $275,000 from the $2 million price tag would fund the new screen; the rest would go to replacing broadcast equipment and making the room comply with Americans with Disabilities Act rules).

Tanaka, who characterized the upgrade as a "vanity project," said he was concerned about the "optics" of moving ahead with the broadcast upgrades. He proposed delaying a decision on a design option until after the city concludes its infrastructure poll, but could not sway his colleagues.

"I couldn't in good conscious support something like this now, especially when we're thinking about going to our residents this year to ask for more money," Tanaka said.

The project is currently estimated for completion in summer 2019.

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Temporarily-Abled
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 27, 2018 at 11:09 am

Dear Council Member Tanaka,

Complying with ADA and making Council meetings more accessible to those who need to watch from home is not a "vanity" project.

City Hall should NOT exclude those who require mobility devices.

There are two types of people in this world, the disabled and the temporarily-abled.


11 people like this
Posted by Tame it down
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 27, 2018 at 11:30 am

It is the audio equipment that needs an upgrade for years now. Sound in the room is poor, as well as sound on the videos of meetings. Liz Kniss finally experienced it when she was home sick last week and watched on TV. Welcome to the real world, Mayor Kniss.
Though I've noticed that the City Manager's microphone works well.

They were talking about multiple screens, big screens, lots of techtalk, very little about enhancing public access and sound. Note the useless. wasteful, huge screens in the lobby, it seems someone likes to buy big screens.
Follow the money.


29 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2018 at 11:34 am

Online Name is a registered user.

So now PA's going to spend another $2,000,000 on top of the $4,500,000 it spent in the Council Chambers a few years ago AND separately it's lobbying for another "infrastructure" tax increase and is polling a few residents about what type of tax is the most acceptable.

Will the 'improvements" reflect the number of people who are watching the CC meetings from home? Or will the CC continue to claim that our views don't count unless we sit there?

Good thing there's no spending shortfall or unfunded pension liabilities here. Spend, baby, spend.


9 people like this
Posted by EllenU85
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2018 at 11:49 am

EllenU85 is a registered user.

For 2 million dollars can the City live stream Council and Commission meetings to the public?

Can the public, staff and council members participate from home or phone?

Participating in person Monday night is impossible for many mothers, handicapped seniors, and caregivers, etc.

How many watch Channel 26 on a Monday night? What are the metrics? How do you make it - "must see TV" ?


10 people like this
Posted by Waste of money
a resident of University South
on Mar 27, 2018 at 1:18 pm

I'm definitely not going to vote yes for a infrastructure tax after hearing about this. Why not just use one of the free broadcasting tools like Youtube or Facebook live instead? So much for being a high tech city.

What are the priorities Council!!


2 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 27, 2018 at 1:28 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Since sound engineering for the wheelchair bound ( others and I have the same fate ) , I could and do buy everything from a place just down 101 called eBay.
Most corporations MUST get rid of electronic assets every 4 years to keep the tax deductions, so they try to give it to Goodwill.com, which also competes with eBay. ( my first wife is a CPA and knows this. In some cases, the equipment sat in a warehouse and was never used!
You are not only recycling equipment, you would also be supporting Goodwill's mission too! I have created 5.1 home theaters using top of the line DENON and DCM and BA speakers. Typically, everything is at least a 10x savings or more. Touch screens, a rack full of audio equipment, central servers ( one to control the audio in each room, others to handle e-mail traffic and to stream video over the 'net ) and you have the best working systems for far less money. Hey, if you want to spend $2,000,000,I'l telecommute with a local IT tech to make things happen! You fit equal opportunity guidelines and yo get a retooling of City Hall !
I'm on LinkedIn under Telehealth Services, giving access to patients and doctors, worldwide.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Participating in person Monday night is impossible for many mothers, handicapped seniors, and caregivers, etc."

Ah, but we've heard time and again from the mayor and other cc members that unless we're actually sitting the room, our voices, cards, emails etc. don't count.

Maybe a follow-up article / interview's in order. Too bad that the votes already been taken on the $2,000,000 expenditure.


2 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 27, 2018 at 1:50 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

@ online name:

That I why I said servers to handle video streaming. Yes, YouTube has been great for Social Engineering but I don't think you want the PAPD found doing beat-downs or harassing people about their Constitutional Rights. Everyone with a cellphone camera is an instant reporter on YouTube. Everybody wants control but few have the money to make it happen.


14 people like this
Posted by double dipping
a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2018 at 2:11 pm

What I don't undertand is when the council takes the money from one fund and spends it, is it still not the money belonging to those who pay tax. If there are aspects (technology) of the council chambers that need updating, research the most cost effective way to get this done. WOW - the council didn't select the most expensive option, but went with the middle estimate. Is there not one person alredy on salary in the city, to review where and how the money be best spent. At the same time - why wasn't the handicapped access redesigned the last time there was very expensive remodel. Is that where the council saved our tax dollars?

I totally enjoyed the front page of the Daily today -- 2 mil for an upgrade and sprucing up the chambers. And another article about a poll to see if Palo Altans want to tax themselves for infrastructure projects. And the school district is exploring a revenue measure. What form of altered reality places these two situations on the front page, and expects us to think this is good governance?.

There was a woman who really wanted to buy the $1000.00 dress but decided not to. When she got home, she told her husband that she didn't buy the $1000. dress and now had $1000.. to spend on shopping.


7 people like this
Posted by AccuracyCheck
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2018 at 2:29 pm

City Council did not approve the Council Chambers upgrade last night. Staff were not asking for any dollars. The purpose of the action item was to elicit guidance on design options only. However, Council did ask staff to return with lower cost options that meet ADA, safety and support minimums. Accuracy in reporting is more important than ever.


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2018 at 2:52 pm

If this was so necessary and has been for some time, why oh why was it not done when the other upgrades were done when screens and other waste of money changes were made a few years back. It seems that if priorities were made then this work would not need to be done now.

I just can't believe this.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Accuracy Check, this quote from the article sounds like approval, no? Sure there was some posturing about making the design cost-effective, largely because they want us to approve another tax increase.

"The project, which the council supported Monday by a 7-1 vote, with Greg Tanaka dissenting and Greg Scharff absent, will be the council's most significant City Hall project since the 2014 renovation, which included a rebuilt lobby, a new Community Meeting Room and replaced carpets and upholstery in the chambers."

Granted there was all the obligatory posturing about being cost-effective since they're going to be asking us for a tax increase -- something which they're quite candid about.


"Several council members, including Cory Wolbach and Tanaka, worried about the message that the upgrade project would send to the voters at a time when the city is facing an infrastructure backlog of $56 million and when the council is preparing to poll residents about a potential tax increase. This gap doesn't even include some of the newer infrastructure projects that the council wants to pursue, including a new animal shelter and assistance with the reconstruction of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo."


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 27, 2018 at 5:08 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Thinking about comments above by EllenU85 and the_punnisher, this would be a bargain is the community could remotely weigh in and vote on the issues, presentations, etc.

Community outreach / input at its finest. And think of all the single-passenger trips downtown this would save.


8 people like this
Posted by AccuracyCheck
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2018 at 5:38 pm

@Online Name, here is the motion that Council voted on (7-1) last night:

A. Refer this Item to the Finance Committee with direction to evaluate options between Design Option 1 and Design Option 2; and
B. Direct Staff to continue to value engineer the project, continue to identify options to reduce the overall cost, and identify items that can be completed incrementally.

In other words, the project was pushed back to staff to find ways to reduce the costs and to do the work, perhaps over several years. It also needs to go to Finance Committee now too. No approval was given and no money was committed.

Facts and accuracy matter.




11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2018 at 5:55 pm

"Seeking to replace aged technology and further spruce up the City Council's main meeting room, Palo Alto is preparing to launch a $2-million upgrade project at City Hall."

And come November the voters need to upgrade the intelligence behind the dais.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 27, 2018 at 6:49 pm

I'm so glad to see this opportunity before us.
Our leaders need the best technology to rule us with wisdom and excellence.
The poor leadership flaws and mistakes of the past will be wiped aside, and we will enter a new age of outstanding leadership by placing the proper tools and tech in the hands of our rulers.
I say Yes! and Yes! and Yes again!
More spending on city hall yields better performance by those who rule us all.


4 people like this
Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2018 at 8:37 pm

AccuracyCheck is correct; this item was not approved last night.

Council referred the matter to the Finance Committee (Kou, Tanaka, Scharff and myself) for further review of which elements are most important, most urgent, and where it stands in priority with all the other things the City needs to fund.


7 people like this
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Mar 27, 2018 at 9:42 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

Thanks for your clarifications, @AccuracyCheck and Eric Filseth. The story does not say that the council approved the funding Monday. It does say: "Most council members agreed that the project is overdue, even as they bristled at the high cost and urged staff to look at ways to drive down the price tag in the next few months, before the contract comes back to the council for final approval." I also think that the 7-1 vote, and many of the comments, made it pretty clear that most council members favor going ahead with the repairs. Because the council directed the Finance Committee in its motion to evaluate alternatives between Option 1 ($1.8 million) and Option 2 ($2 million), I think it's accurate to say that it expressed support for the project -- even if the funding component won't be finalized until later.


16 people like this
Posted by Poll
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2018 at 10:35 pm

I was in the midst of responding to the City poll about this infrastructure tax when I saw this article. Do they think the voters are idiots? I'm am totally mad about this. Can you believe the city is trying to get us to pay $250/year in new taxes for a $150M infrastructure deficit yet they can blow $2M on making a fancy council chambers?

It looks like Eric is trying to distance himself from his vote.... oh wait, he is running for re-election


9 people like this
Posted by Paying through the teeth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 28, 2018 at 11:32 am

I would not recommend you take any City Polls.

The city doesn't use the polls to help figure out how to serve the community or what the majority wants/needs.
The city council already has decided what they want to do and they use the poll data to craft the vote language (amount, who pays, who doesn't) to ensure it will pass.

Consider Measure A.
A poll was used to determine the marketable school improvements, the limit on the amount of the tax increase people would pay, the target payers for the tax (property owners) and allowed those over 65 to be exempt from the tax, and used the data from the polls to ensure adequate margin to pass when put to a vote of all registered voters.

The poll data allows refinement of a measure by asking people what they would be willing to pay and under what circumstances they would support it. If you participate in their poll, you are just guaranteeing they can craft language and target payers so THEIR measure for what THEY want will pass.


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 28, 2018 at 3:33 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

My comment was more tongue in cheek. However, any upgrade has to meet ADA and access requirements including the ability to stream video. That is what " open government " is about. Heck, if you want voice control instead of touch screens, that can be done as well. These pieces of technology are already in place in other venues.
Right now, an orthopedic clinic enters patient data by wireless touchpad. Properly set up, rooms can be fitted with secure wireless data and voice information transfer, eliminating microphones and " mike fright ". On video streaming, you can have LIVE two way communication during actual meetings. You have a REAL open meeting, with viewers being able to ask questions LIVE. Any competent Susadim should be able to do this. The same for " white board presentations; now we can have a paper copy of the " white board " complete.
Everything I have described has already been done. Corporations already do telemeetings, it is far cheaper time and money wise than shuttling people around for meetings. No new technological breakthrough is needed. All te engineering is done. People just have to set things up. No " consulting " is needed. Just do it!


2 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 29, 2018 at 11:06 am

Annette is a registered user.

The optics may not be good on this, but we all know that one downside of the tech world we've built here in Silicon Valley is that periodic upgrades are a fact of life. And the cost to do that nearly always involves sticker shock.

Council: please take into account the many comments about ADA and home participation. The latter is no doubt complicated but it would be GREAT if residents could log in and register virtual attendance and agreement or disagreement on actions. There's oodles of tech genius here, surely someone can figure out a way to provide such access with built-in protections to prevent abuses of the opportunity.


6 people like this
Posted by Tame itdown
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:20 pm

When the City Manager spent some $4.3 Million to remodel the lobby (and his own office?) not long ago, I recall wondering whether he left out some vital parts, like the sound system, so that he could come back and ask for more millions to finish the job. Seems to be exactly that.
Instead, they reupholstered and recarpeted everything, both expensive and unnecessary.

The focus on big screens obscures the fact that there is little about enhancing public access and government responsiveness.

Note the useless. wasteful, huge screens in the lobby. It seems someone likes to buy big screens. and pretend that it is good for the community.

Greg Tanaka made a good point. Hardware becomes obsolete very quickly, it makes no sense to buy fancy stuff when similar items, like personal electronics (ipads and the like) can be purchased for a fraction of the cost.


6 people like this
Posted by Margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 30, 2018 at 12:18 pm

We urgently need a new police station. How about postponing these upgrades and earmarking the money i the technology fund for installing all the new technology and technology infrastructure that will be needed when the replacement police station is built. Otherwise, the money in the technology fund will be spent here and there, and when it comes time to install the technology in the new police station the city staff and council will be coming cap in hand to taxpayers for the money to do so.

Safety and building the new police station should be the highest priority, then unfunded pension obligations and long overdue infrastructure replacement and repairs.

My hope is the Finance Committee will look long and hard to separate out and postpone the "fun" expenditures that certain groups hard lobby for, from what are the primary responsibilities that a city should provide for as a first priority.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2018 at 12:33 pm

The trouble with technology updates is that by the time something new has been agreed, it is out of date by the time it is installed.

I think this is a fool's errand.


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

So what us the CC proposing to cut to make up for this expenditure?

By the way, if you've gotten the city's latest phone poll about how to pitch and pay for their huge tax increase proposal you might be shocked at type of new taxes they're contemplating to fund their latest spending spree.


Like this comment
Posted by Kevin
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 3, 2018 at 11:34 pm

Kevin is a registered user.

Council and most board and commission meetings are live streamed on the Internet, you can see them here:

Web Link

Meetings are usually either on channel 26 or 29.


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

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