News

20,000 businesses in Palo Alto — or 3,000? Consultant didn't find the other 17,000

New review shows city's business registry is still woefully incomplete and inaccurate

Despite vowing to reform its beleaguered business-registry program and hiring a consultant to lead the effort last year, Palo Alto has little to show for its efforts, according to a new review by the Office of the City Auditor.

The review, which is a follow-up to a damning audit that the city auditor released a year ago, makes clear that even with a new administrator, some of the most significant problems that have plagued the business registry since its inception in 2015 continue to fester.

The registration remains woefully unreliable and incomplete, with only a small fraction of local businesses apparently complying with the law and getting the required business certificate.

When the registry launched, city staff was put in charge of collecting data about Palo Alto's businesses. Dissatisfied with those results, the City Council gave the go-ahead to hire MuniServices LLC in 2018 to manage the program and make the data more reliable.

According to a July memo from the city auditor, however, the data that MuniServices collected from March to August 2018 "was not sufficiently reliable (i.e., complete and accurate)." Auditors used other existing data sources -- including the Office of the Secretary of State, Infogroup, Guidestar and the state Department of Tax and Free Administration — to get an estimate of the number of businesses in Palo Alto and determined that the number of businesses identified by MuniServices falls well short of the numbers in other databases — by about 85%.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

The auditor's office concluded that there are about 20,594 businesses operating in the city. The data provided by MuniServices included just 3,056 businesses. Some of the disparity can be attributed to how different data sets define "business," according to the auditor's review. The city's registry applies only to those businesses with "a fixed place of business" in Palo Alto; other data sets don't have that requirement.

Businesses without fixed locations may account for some of the 17,538 businesses not included in the MuniServices registry. Others may be businesses that had begun the process of forming but have not actually conducted business in Palo Alto, the review states.

Aside from the discrepancy in totals, the registry data that has been collected isn't always accurate, according to a Weekly review. In fact, it can be grossly incorrect. Tin Pot Creamery, a Town & Country Village establishment that looks and acts like an ice cream shop, is described in the registry as a "cyber security/fraud detection business." The Palo Alto Daily Post, meanwhile, is described as an "ice cream shop" and classified as an eating establishment. The General Atlantic Services Company, a private equity firm with a location on Hamilton Avenue, is called a "fast casual café serving fresh made to order juice sandwiches and coffee."

The audit also noted that the number of business certificates issued to local businesses declined from 1,929 in 2017 to 1,639 in 2018, the year MuniServices took over. At the same time, the 2018 registry showed that Palo Alto's business locations comprised about 77 million square feet, compared to about 30 million square feet in the 2017 business registry.

"The difference was due to at least in part to unusually large, erroneous values entered for some businesses," the new auditor's report states.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

As part of its initial August 2018 audit, which did not include an analysis of MuniServices' work, the Office of the City Auditor looked at the city's contract with the company, which called for the firm to institute numerous measures to improve data quality, including removing duplicate business addresses, assigning unique user accounts for local businesses and comparing registry data with listings in the downtown Business Improvement District to identify businesses that show up in one dataset but not the other.

The August 2018 audit found that while these steps should improve accuracy, the comparison with Business Improvement District data may be of "limited value" because that program exempts businesses not within its boundaries. And while the company was charged with collecting the data and administering the program, it did not include services to improve data reliability, according to the new report.

To correct that oversight in direction, in December 2018, the city signed a contract with Avenu Insights & Analytics (the parent company MuniServices) to administer the business-license program, which includes the requirement to "research and ensure the city's database of business is accurate and reliable." This includes cross-referencing and merging business records from various local databases, utility bills and use-and-occupancy applications.

Not all of the problems with the business registry are technical. Some are existential. During a meeting of the Policy and Services Committee last September, then-City Manager James Keene attributed the many problems with the registry to confusion over why the program exists and what it is meant to accomplish.

When the city created the registry in 2014 — spurred by a colleagues memo from former council members Larry Klein, Pat Burt, Karen Holman and Marc Berman — the chief stated goal was to get a better understanding on how commercial development impacts the community. The memo noted that traffic and parking impacts are at the "forefront of community concerns" and city staff argued that the business data can help the city "measure employment trends and business activity throughout the City in a cohesive and coordinated manner," according to a report from Keene's office.

But last September, Keene told the committee meeting that no one really uses the registry and everyone seems to be dissatisfied with it. And despite earlier arguments that a registry would be a useful tool for addressing traffic and parking problems, Keene told the committee that he has "never worked in a situation where the public is screaming for access to business registry data at all."

That said, no one is proposing to eliminate the registry. Councilman Tom DuBois, who supported the additional analysis by the city auditor, said at the September meeting that the quality of the registry data may be a reason for why people aren't using the data.

"It hasn't been good, so I'm not surprised no one is using it," DuBois said.

The need for accurate business data could become more acute in the coming months, as Palo Alto moves ahead with placing a business tax on the November 2020 ballot. While the council has yet to determine whether the tax should be based on employee counts, square footage or payroll (the various approaches taken by Mountain View, East Palo Alto and San Francisco, respectively), any approach would depend on an accurate accounting of local businesses (and employees) to achieve accurate revenue projections.

The council is scheduled to review an accept the audit of the business registry on Aug. 5, its first meeting after the summer break.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

20,000 businesses in Palo Alto — or 3,000? Consultant didn't find the other 17,000

New review shows city's business registry is still woefully incomplete and inaccurate

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Jul 29, 2019, 4:58 pm

Despite vowing to reform its beleaguered business-registry program and hiring a consultant to lead the effort last year, Palo Alto has little to show for its efforts, according to a new review by the Office of the City Auditor.

The review, which is a follow-up to a damning audit that the city auditor released a year ago, makes clear that even with a new administrator, some of the most significant problems that have plagued the business registry since its inception in 2015 continue to fester.

The registration remains woefully unreliable and incomplete, with only a small fraction of local businesses apparently complying with the law and getting the required business certificate.

When the registry launched, city staff was put in charge of collecting data about Palo Alto's businesses. Dissatisfied with those results, the City Council gave the go-ahead to hire MuniServices LLC in 2018 to manage the program and make the data more reliable.

According to a July memo from the city auditor, however, the data that MuniServices collected from March to August 2018 "was not sufficiently reliable (i.e., complete and accurate)." Auditors used other existing data sources -- including the Office of the Secretary of State, Infogroup, Guidestar and the state Department of Tax and Free Administration — to get an estimate of the number of businesses in Palo Alto and determined that the number of businesses identified by MuniServices falls well short of the numbers in other databases — by about 85%.

The auditor's office concluded that there are about 20,594 businesses operating in the city. The data provided by MuniServices included just 3,056 businesses. Some of the disparity can be attributed to how different data sets define "business," according to the auditor's review. The city's registry applies only to those businesses with "a fixed place of business" in Palo Alto; other data sets don't have that requirement.

Businesses without fixed locations may account for some of the 17,538 businesses not included in the MuniServices registry. Others may be businesses that had begun the process of forming but have not actually conducted business in Palo Alto, the review states.

Aside from the discrepancy in totals, the registry data that has been collected isn't always accurate, according to a Weekly review. In fact, it can be grossly incorrect. Tin Pot Creamery, a Town & Country Village establishment that looks and acts like an ice cream shop, is described in the registry as a "cyber security/fraud detection business." The Palo Alto Daily Post, meanwhile, is described as an "ice cream shop" and classified as an eating establishment. The General Atlantic Services Company, a private equity firm with a location on Hamilton Avenue, is called a "fast casual café serving fresh made to order juice sandwiches and coffee."

The audit also noted that the number of business certificates issued to local businesses declined from 1,929 in 2017 to 1,639 in 2018, the year MuniServices took over. At the same time, the 2018 registry showed that Palo Alto's business locations comprised about 77 million square feet, compared to about 30 million square feet in the 2017 business registry.

"The difference was due to at least in part to unusually large, erroneous values entered for some businesses," the new auditor's report states.

As part of its initial August 2018 audit, which did not include an analysis of MuniServices' work, the Office of the City Auditor looked at the city's contract with the company, which called for the firm to institute numerous measures to improve data quality, including removing duplicate business addresses, assigning unique user accounts for local businesses and comparing registry data with listings in the downtown Business Improvement District to identify businesses that show up in one dataset but not the other.

The August 2018 audit found that while these steps should improve accuracy, the comparison with Business Improvement District data may be of "limited value" because that program exempts businesses not within its boundaries. And while the company was charged with collecting the data and administering the program, it did not include services to improve data reliability, according to the new report.

To correct that oversight in direction, in December 2018, the city signed a contract with Avenu Insights & Analytics (the parent company MuniServices) to administer the business-license program, which includes the requirement to "research and ensure the city's database of business is accurate and reliable." This includes cross-referencing and merging business records from various local databases, utility bills and use-and-occupancy applications.

Not all of the problems with the business registry are technical. Some are existential. During a meeting of the Policy and Services Committee last September, then-City Manager James Keene attributed the many problems with the registry to confusion over why the program exists and what it is meant to accomplish.

When the city created the registry in 2014 — spurred by a colleagues memo from former council members Larry Klein, Pat Burt, Karen Holman and Marc Berman — the chief stated goal was to get a better understanding on how commercial development impacts the community. The memo noted that traffic and parking impacts are at the "forefront of community concerns" and city staff argued that the business data can help the city "measure employment trends and business activity throughout the City in a cohesive and coordinated manner," according to a report from Keene's office.

But last September, Keene told the committee meeting that no one really uses the registry and everyone seems to be dissatisfied with it. And despite earlier arguments that a registry would be a useful tool for addressing traffic and parking problems, Keene told the committee that he has "never worked in a situation where the public is screaming for access to business registry data at all."

That said, no one is proposing to eliminate the registry. Councilman Tom DuBois, who supported the additional analysis by the city auditor, said at the September meeting that the quality of the registry data may be a reason for why people aren't using the data.

"It hasn't been good, so I'm not surprised no one is using it," DuBois said.

The need for accurate business data could become more acute in the coming months, as Palo Alto moves ahead with placing a business tax on the November 2020 ballot. While the council has yet to determine whether the tax should be based on employee counts, square footage or payroll (the various approaches taken by Mountain View, East Palo Alto and San Francisco, respectively), any approach would depend on an accurate accounting of local businesses (and employees) to achieve accurate revenue projections.

The council is scheduled to review an accept the audit of the business registry on Aug. 5, its first meeting after the summer break.

Comments

Dendromecon
Registered user
Ventura
on Jul 29, 2019 at 5:56 pm
Dendromecon, Ventura
Registered user
on Jul 29, 2019 at 5:56 pm
35 people like this

Wouldn't the Palo Alto Utilities Department have a list of non-residential customers who have electric accounts? Their list might not capture all of the sub-tenants but it might be more accurate than the consultant's list.


margaret heath
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jul 29, 2019 at 9:18 pm
margaret heath, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jul 29, 2019 at 9:18 pm
39 people like this

When the auditor presented her report to the Council's Policy and Services meeting last September, which I attended, our then city manager, Mr. Keene, revealed why Palo Alto's Business Registry has had such a slow start and, after four years, still so incomplete that the data was completely unreliable. Mr. Keene didn't want it. I was quite surprised by his vigorous and quite lengthy argument against having a Business Registry. Among other things Mr. Keene stated that not only had no one ever asked him for this data, he himself had never needed this information during his entire time as city manager. Nor had he needed such data in any of his seven prior city government positions. He also noted that some might be disappointed with the data and how it might be used.

Mr. Keene's recommendation to the Committee was to take the concept back to the Council to discuss if and why they might want a Business Registry, how and why it might be used, and who would be permitted access to the data. In other words, go back to the beginning. Council member Adrian Fine, also in attendance, voiced similar concerns as to the value of having the Business Registry and who and how it would be used.

Mr. Keene concluded his arguments by stating that he and his staff had the expertise and competence to design an efficient Business Registry. It could have been up and running within a year and producing the data the Council wanted if they had asked him to do so. If Council wanted a Business Registry they should come back and tell him which other local city has a successful one and he would take a look at it.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2019 at 10:18 am
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2019 at 10:18 am
36 people like this

So is this incompetence or deliberate subterfuge?

I think either is possible and par for the course in Palo Alto council mismanagement.


Ray
Professorville
on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:21 am
Ray, Professorville
on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:21 am
10 people like this

Offhand, it appears that the Registry needs some basic work that has never been done. The purpose of it sounds fuzzy . . . a plan to collect fair taxes? Or a plan to help the community with traffic and parking issues? Or a plan to learn what the businesses do? Who works here? What's the impact on City assets? I admit that I don't know what the purpose is and suspect it is an example of the old saw about a duckbilled platypus being an animal assembled by committee, but if I were in charge of an attempt to make it work (and be thankful that I am not, I agree with you) I'd want to start with a definition of what a "business" is. Then have an objective the City wants to achieve and how a "business" can help. Finally, go about educating and working with known businesses to achieve the goal. (Don't bother telling me it is more complicated than that. I am sure it is. I used to teach management and the classroom is easier than the City Hall. Just saying. (Sorry, platypus.)


New city manager any better?
Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:39 am
New city manager any better?, Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:39 am
43 people like this

There never was a question about Mr Keene's primary loyalty to business and developers, nor Adrian Fine's. Fine is quite open about it.
Is our new City Manager doing any better?

What about Kniss [portion removed] and the others who supposedly represent us?


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:45 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:45 am
21 people like this

Posted by Ray, a resident of Professorville

"speaking for myself":

>> The purpose of it sounds fuzzy . . . a plan to collect fair taxes?

Yes.

>> Or a plan to help the community with traffic and parking issues?

Yes.

>> Or a plan to learn what the businesses do? Who works here? What's the impact on City assets?

Yes, yes, and yes. "Speaking for myself", I would like to figure out how the city could reduce the number of larger company employees downtown to make room for startups and small businesses. For example, presumably Palantir has ~2,400 employees downtown. Maybe they could be somehow encouraged to consolidate/move to a big campus somewhere to make room for the next crop of startups. Does anybody have a -registry- of all these large/medium businesses downtown? It would be nice to know who they are and how big they are. Is it possible that Mr. Keene did not want -us- to know for some reason? I wonder how many people are packed into 10,000 square feet these days in downtown.




I admit that I don't know what the purpose is


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:55 am
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Jul 30, 2019 at 11:55 am
24 people like this

@anon. "I admit that I don't know what the purpose is." I do. The purpose is to bring Palo Alto in line with every other city/town on the Peninsula who charges a business registry/tax. For small businesses and/or contractors who don't have employees who actually spend time in a brick and mortar building, but rather send their workers to construction sites the fee could be modest. Think of getting, say, $150 for every subcontractor who works here on these large construction projects. We could do a lot with that money. Every other city/town does just that.


gUS l.
Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2019 at 3:36 pm
gUS l., Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2019 at 3:36 pm
Like this comment

It was a stupid idea then, its a stupid idea NOW..
Stop with the behind the back shady taxes. ie Business alarm fees, Water Back Flow Testing Fees etc.


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 30, 2019 at 4:09 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jul 30, 2019 at 4:09 pm
2 people like this

My suspicion has been that this is in preparation of installing a business tax. First, find your targets, then bill them.

The real discussion I want is why we need a business tax.


Mark Weiss
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2019 at 6:17 pm
Mark Weiss, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jul 30, 2019 at 6:17 pm
1 person likes this

Why don’t we focus on payroll tax of the billion dollar unicorns and leave the 1000 to 20,000 schedule C people to our pathetic half lives ?


Commute traffic and parking
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jul 30, 2019 at 6:50 pm
Commute traffic and parking, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jul 30, 2019 at 6:50 pm
26 people like this

Because of the increased number of office employees commuting into Palo Alto there is a need for the larger employers to contribute to, if not completely fund, solutions to the traffic and parking problems they have and are bringing to Palo Alto.

For many years developers have been very astute at manipulating the system to enable them to get away with providing completely inadequate parking for their commercial ventures, outsourcing the cost and problems to residents, aided and abetted it sometimes appears by city employees.

Keep in mind that property taxes from commercial property are on a steadily decreasing trajectory every year as a percentage of the total, due to loopholes in the law, now down to approximately 25%. During a council meeting some years ago then city manager, Jim Keene, admitted that an analysis showed the commercial sector does not cover the cost of providing city services to them, a surprising admission from someone who always seemed to be very pro-business and continuing to expand office development without restraints.


He Must Go
Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2019 at 8:43 pm
He Must Go, Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2019 at 8:43 pm
16 people like this

Business Registry is a pretty simple idea. It’s not that had to figure out and how to enact it. But like most things in this city they lack real leadership.

In the article and some of the responses your not really sure what a Business Registry is supposed to do.... so here is exactly what a Business Registry should do. 1. First what it Is... It’s an application first. Like in most cities we need to know what you want to do in our community. Is it suitable for the location your proposing. 2. How many people are you planning on employing at this location. 3. Do you have other licenses as part or your business, ie: liquor, health department, etc. 4. Do you plan to use or store chemicals or other hazardous materials as part of your business.

These are the types of things that should be asked before any business is allowed to set up shop in our community. These are things that are typically handled in the Community Development Centers up and down the peninsula and it was supposed to be but again there is no leadership in our Community Development Center since Peter Pirnejad left Palo Alto.

The current leadership under George Hoyt is only worried about continuously changing the fee structure that we all pay for permits, inspections, and plan checks. There’s no leadership. We have all information through utilities to verify all current businesses. It’s not that hard the real lack of leaders that are the highest paid within the city have no leadership skills. They hire an outside contractor to put together an incomplete list. Who authorized that.?

He Must Go


It can't be that hard
Palo Verde
on Jul 30, 2019 at 10:01 pm
It can't be that hard, Palo Verde
on Jul 30, 2019 at 10:01 pm
27 people like this

Wow. This is ridiculous.
Of course, the city should know how many businesses, how many employees, and what they are doing in our town.
It's appalling that we don't already know this.

Incompetent.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2019 at 9:09 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2019 at 9:09 am
4 people like this

Posted by It can't be that hard, a resident of Palo Verde

>> Of course, the city should know how many businesses, how many employees, and what they are doing in our town.
It's appalling that we don't already know this.

I wonder why the former city manager did not want or need to know this information, then?

>> Incompetent.

I dunno about that. Developers said he was -extremely competent-. Perhaps "competent" is not the relevant concept here. Perhaps you mean to ask whether he was serving the existing residents well?

TBH, I'm not excited about the city collecting additional taxes from every out-of-town plumber who unclogs a drain. I would just like to tax now-big businesses to encourage them to move their commuter traffic out of town. We have too many people driving to work here. Let's stop building office space, maybe set minimum office space standards per person, tax something that will reduce the number of people driving into this city.



Abitarian
Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2019 at 11:00 am
Abitarian, Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2019 at 11:00 am
24 people like this

Of course, we need a business registry and developing one should not be a particularly difficult assignment. Just recently, we were reminded that 1969 technology brought humans to the moon and safely home.

Once again, we need to question why city hall cannot accomplish even basic tasks. While many reliable consultancies are available, why do city leaders always seem to choose the duds?

Is this a matter of abject incompetence or outright corruption?


Online Name
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 31, 2019 at 1:03 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 31, 2019 at 1:03 pm
34 people like this

How much did Mr. Keene pay the consultant for such an absurd and inaccurate study? Whatever it was, it should clawed back from his ridiculously high retirement benefits.

Did no one think the report was odd when we know that commuters are over-running us at a 4:1 ratio? Maybe it's like the "nope. no traffic problems here" claims from our officials when they want to ignore real problems.


margaret heath
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jul 31, 2019 at 2:19 pm
margaret heath, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jul 31, 2019 at 2:19 pm
26 people like this

There are various models to tax businesses that have a physical presence in a city. And it can exempt small businesses with under a certain number of employees and individuals from a business tax. I'm thinking small medical offices, tax preparers, insurance agents, retail, restaurants. Some cities charge by the commercial square footage, possibly paid for by the building owner, employee headcount.

With so many non-resident serving businesses located in Palo Alto, many residents think it is entirely reasonable at this point to know who is operating here, what they are doing, and how many employees they have, just as other jobs-rich cities do. Given the traffic and parking problems associated with and exacerbated by being so jobs-rich, also entirely reasonable to put a business tax on the ballot. Something that some council members have actively resisted, not surprising given either their professional or personal affiliations and/or links and/or their campaign donor base. Also city hall culture operating under Mr. Keene's management, style with his famous "white glove treatment" directive to staff concerning people interacting with city hall. It is not, on the whole, residents who are cultivating city hall relationships and lobbying.

Before the city can have a business tax there needs to be a robust business directory. Mr. Keene was very against a business tax, and that tells you all you need to know why, under his watch and despite a directive from the city council in 2014, he made sure that the comprehensive collection of data for a business registry was a failure.


History Buff
another community
on Jul 31, 2019 at 6:21 pm
History Buff, another community
on Jul 31, 2019 at 6:21 pm
10 people like this

Sounds like the DMV.

How many city employees have failed at what should be a simple, straightforward task? How much money has the city spent on this, and similar efforts, since 2005?

"PA DAILY EDITORIAL 1-15-05
Business fee would do more harm than good

A proposal to expand the Palo Alto Police Department space at City Hall has
City Manager Frank Benest¹s staff scrambling for ways to fund this $45
million project. One idea we are hearing a bit too frequently is that part
of the cost could be paid by creating a business license fee."

The police building is at $106M and the business fee/license/tax is still a mess.

Nothing changes, but at least there's now a new PR person (at a salary of $180,000/year) to put a good spin on this story.


PA Grandma
Community Center
on Aug 1, 2019 at 10:30 am
PA Grandma, Community Center
on Aug 1, 2019 at 10:30 am
12 people like this

Absolutely Palo Alto should have a business registry. It's hard to believe the Chamber of Commerce (is there a Chamber of Commerce?) doesn't already have a list of the businesses in Palo Alto. It can't be that hard.

Name of Company, Owner/Owners of Company, Incorporation location, Gross income, net income, Address/addresses of company buildings in Palo Alto, Number of full and part time employees, Addresses of Owners, employees, etc. How many people commute by car. How many people commute by train. ETC.

I'm sure there is more information needed, but get the city manager to put together a spread sheet, send it to the companies to fill out, give them a deadline, and make it happen. The companies have to have all that information in an easily accessible electronic format. If the companies are publicly traded, they have to provide quarterly reports on the company status.


musical
Palo Verde
on Aug 1, 2019 at 1:33 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Aug 1, 2019 at 1:33 pm
3 people like this

^ My company has no idea how I commute to work. Yes we get the usual questionnaire, but can answer whatever we calculate to be the politically correct response, just like our politically correct responses during the interview process.


New city manager any better?
Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2019 at 11:44 am
New city manager any better?, Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2019 at 11:44 am
14 people like this

This is some kind of sick joke.
In a city brimming with computing talent they can't figure out how to collect this information?
How about starting with Utilities Dept accounts. Just for starters.

Business interests have successfully stopped this. Ask the Chamber of Commerce.


margaret heath
College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2019 at 2:39 pm
margaret heath, College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2019 at 2:39 pm
39 people like this

This was not incompetence. It was deliberate. As then city manager Mr. Keene strongly pushed back last September, when pressed by Councilmember Dubois as to why, after being directed by council four years ago to initiate a fully functioning and comprehensive business registry, vociferously (to my eyes belligerently) argued that essentially he had thought all along it was a bad idea for businesses located in Palo Alto to have to register with the city. The underlying assumption that if there was a robust business registry in place that would be the first step toward a business tax, which he was clearly against. Perhaps he forgot that there was a member of the public sitting behind him in the conference room, or knowing he was about to retire didn't care about being polite or more discreet.

It appears that the way responsibility for the city was originally divided between the council and the city manager, the city manager has great autonomy and independence.


Agent 42
another community
on Aug 6, 2019 at 10:09 am
Agent 42, another community
on Aug 6, 2019 at 10:09 am
16 people like this

I am sure the folks at Palantir have this information and much more already.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Aug 6, 2019 at 4:50 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2019 at 4:50 pm
16 people like this

Margaret Heath has correctly pointed out that the failure was (is?) deliberate. The initial year was nothing short of a joke. I recall sitting in CC the night the person in charge was scheduled to report on the status of the registry and it was clear that he didn't have a clue about what he was doing. He took notes as Councilmembers asked questions, promising to get back to them with answers. As the audit revealed, things didn't get better.

If you were tasked with something your boss didn't care about or support would you work hard on that or on something that mattered to your boss? I wouldn't expect much success on this unless and until CC makes it clear to the City Manager that it is a critical priority. Even so, it is rather embarrassing (amusing even) that iconic Palo Alto cannot count heads.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 6, 2019 at 5:24 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2019 at 5:24 pm
14 people like this

So Mr. Keene practiced subterfuge in this whole matter while the city was paying a "consultant". Why do we hire consultants when we have city personnel who are suppose to be hired with specific skill sets for the jobs?

Since Mr. Keene is now gone let's hope that his replacement has a more disciplined frame of mind relative to organizing the cities business base. And while you all are at it please note who is paying taxes and who is not paying taxes. Giant cries in the debates relative to Amazon who is paying no taxes. Are we so desperate that we are handing out locations for businesses that do not pay taxes?

I think it is time that we open that subject up and find out how many "under the table" actions are on going in this city and work to correct them. Maybe that was Mr. Keen's major worry.


It's Not Being Fixed!!!
Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2019 at 5:52 pm
It's Not Being Fixed!!!, Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2019 at 5:52 pm
12 people like this

Lest anyone think the new city manager and crew are one bit better, here's an excerpt from an August 2 memo from them to the Council:

** Since these new measures were put into place for 2019 activity and the business registry audit and subsequent analysis looked at 2017 and 2018 data, the effect of these new measures on improving the quality of the business registry data is not yet known. City staff in charge of managing the business registry program and the oversight of the MuniServices contract may have additional insights into the new measures that were implemented. **

What a masterpiece of misdirection. First, why should the city manager's office tell the council to go ask someone else? Those people report to the city manager. Can't he just pick up the phone and ask them?

Plus, the registration period for the 2019 business registry ended four months ago. How hard would it be to provide a count of how many businesses registered and the total employees, parking places, and square feet they reported ... after four months??? Anyone competent could produce that a day after registration ended. Sure, some cleanup and pursuit of non-reporting companies may also be happening, but the initial totals would tell us if say fewer companies reported or their numbers are way off.

The Business Registry is another in a long line of incompetent City Hall screw-ups: 27 University, the Palantir tent, the bungled Edgewood Plaza agreement, grade crossings, the President Hotel ... add your own to this list.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2019 at 8:28 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2019 at 8:28 am
10 people like this

Posted by It's Not Being Fixed!!!, a resident of Crescent Park

>> The Business Registry is another in a long line of incompetent City Hall screw-ups

I have to argue against this yet again. I see no evidence of incompetence. City Hall has been getting what it wants: growth of jobs; lots of people commuting to and working in town. That may not be what -residents- want, but, apparently, for some reason, we don't count.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 7, 2019 at 7:27 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Aug 7, 2019 at 7:27 pm
9 people like this

It would seem to me that there should be a computer print-out that lays out the businesses in the city with the specific information that is required - # of employees, size of property, number of commuters and spaces for them to park. size of company for reporting purposes - taxes. It could be divided by regions in the city. Need to include non-profits. That is important since many companies register as non-profits yet have a large portfolio of activities. Oshman / JCC has a lot of people who park in residential streets - who are they? Employees?

The magic of reporting in to one location with information is that all those businesses have to fess up as to what they are doing. The end result is ACCOUNTABILITY.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

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