As the Palo Alto City Council sets its eyes on 2020, members are preparing for another year in which the city's transportation problems top their list of official priorities.
That's the indication from a survey that council members took in preparation for their annual retreat early next year. And it should come as little surprise to council watchers. Even though the council's guidelines set a three-year limit on priorities, transportation has been a glaring exception. It has appeared on the list, in one form or another, since 2013.
The list of ideas for official priorities was released on Tuesday night, just before the council's Policy and Services Committee was set to discuss the council's annual process for adopting them. Some suggested keeping all four priorities from the current year: climate change; grade separation; traffic and transportation; and fiscal sustainability.
For city staff, the priority-setting process is more than a conceptual exercise. City Manager Ed Shikada noted that this year the city had established a work plan for each of the priorities, which are defined as issues that receive "increased focus from the council" in a given year. The only item on this year's list that had a specific goal was "grade separation," with the council initially hoping to reach a preferred alternative on the redesign of the rail corridor by fall of this year (the deadline has since been moved to spring 2020).
Councilman Greg Tanaka suggested that the council set goals that are actually measurable and achievable. In prior years, priorities have been "generic, not specific, not goal oriented and aspirational," he said.
"I think staff can be more effective in general if they are given more specific and concrete types of goals," Tanaka said.
His committee colleagues, Chairwoman Liz Kniss and Councilwoman Lydia Kou, agreed and supported a motion recommending that next year's priorities be "more focused, in such a way that they can actually be accomplished."
The council's continued focus on traffic mirrors results from recent community surveys. When the 2018 National Citizen Survey asked residents what one change the city can make that would make them happier, 23% made comments pertaining to traffic concerns. Housing followed with 21%. No other issue had more than 10%.
Some council members proposed changing the terminology. One suggested "traffic congestion relief" be added to the priority list, while another recommended "transportation and mobility." A few also recommended keeping grade separation as a 2020 priority. The list of ideas released Tuesday did not specify which council proposed which priority.
Other proposed priorities were affordable housing and homelessness; climate change, particularly as it pertains to sea level rise; the reconstruction of Cubberley Community Center; and to "Make Palo Alto fun again."
While the committee gave little indication of what other priorities will appear on the list, its three members agreed that the 2020 priorities should be more tangible and achievable than those in the past.
Residents now have a chance to weigh in on what priorities the council should adopt for 2020. On Wednesday morning, the city put out an invitation through its Open City Hall platform for the public to submit their own ideas. The survey will remain open until Jan. 31, shortly before the council's annual retreat. To fill out the form, visit opentownhall.com.