Guest Opinion: Two campaigns for the heart of the community | April 30, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - April 30, 2008

Guest Opinion: Two campaigns for the heart of the community

by Jon Foster

The heart of a community is its civic spaces and its commitment to finding common ground on which its residents can come together, learn and exchange ideas.

This year, Palo Altans and those in the broader Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) — including all of Stanford and parts of Los Altos Hills — are joining together to support and sustain the bedrock institutions of our community: our schools (June 3) and our libraries (Nov. 4).

As I celebrate my 10th year in Palo Alto, I feel more than ever the strength and vitality of this community, which has become my home and in which I am proud to raise my children. As someone who has been involved with the schools since my two children reached school age, I feel first-hand the importance of providing quality settings for education — both at school and in community libraries that our children use heavily.

I was deeply impressed with the wave of solidarity in the community that resulted in the overwhelming approval of a renewed parcel tax in 2005 to support our schools' operating costs. That effort not only aided our schools but, with more than 1,000 people volunteering to help the campaign, it created a strong sense of community and forged friendships in a way that I could not have anticipated.

Now that our schools once again need community support, this time for capital-construction costs in the face of aging buildings and expanding enrollment, I am pleased and honored to again join with so many others who are committing time and energy to support our schools.

The campaign for a school facilities bond (Measure A), along with the upcoming library bond campaign in November, affirms our commitment to community through broadly inclusive and intergenerational efforts that demonstrate the civic spirit that makes our community great.

Many seniors who settled in Palo Alto after World War II are supporting improvements in the schools their children have long since left. They are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the parents of bright-eyed kindergarteners who will need the kinds of technology in schools that their grandparents never dreamed of.

Those same seniors and young parents, along with laptop-toting entrepreneurs and teens seeking quiet study spaces, have found common cause in a quest for libraries worthy of the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

Campaigns such as "Strong Schools for a Strong Community" and "Better Libraries for Palo Alto" are helping our community come together to sustain excellence in our city and schools — and celebrate the importance of our intellectual lifeblood.

It's no accident that these institutions need our investment today. For years, our schools struggled without funding for facilities improvements. Aside from a 1995 school bond, our school buildings have not been improved for more than 40 years.

Our libraries have suffered an even more pronounced neglect, striving to serve a growing population out of vastly outdated buildings and systems. Our campaigns are sending the message to this community that the time to invest in improving these structures has come.

Sometimes community discussions and debates revolve around issues that need to be aired, or complaints that need to be heard. Now, however, collective efforts to improve community infrastructure give all of us the chance to rise above specific issues and focus on our common, underlying values for our city and schools.

The school bond on the June 3 ballot will pay to accommodate projected enrollment growth in our district, improve school science facilities, build new classrooms, and invest in updating aging infrastructure, such as some portable classrooms. In the next five years, Palo Alto schools will have to serve an estimated 1,000 more children — the equivalent of two new elementary schools.The library bond on the November ballot will bring our libraries into this century and up to par, providing badly-needed renovation and replacement of our 50-year-old buildings.

As a veteran of earlier fund campaigns, I am acutely aware that a certain resolution and commitment to a community mindset are necessary for a population to vote to tax itself to improve its public facilities (although the school bond will not increase tax rates).

But finding that individual resolution and commitment and voting FOR both the school bond on June 3 and the library bond on Nov. 4 will pay off. It will pay off in facilities that children, families and seniors will enjoy. It will pay off by accommodating growth and changing use patterns for key structures in our community.

And it will pay off by leaving a positive legacy to the next generation of city residents and children.

One resident said earlier this year, "My question to those who argue against spending money on infrastructure: 'What will it cost Palo Alto if we DON'T make these investments?'"

What kind of future will we create for the next generation if we don't come together as a community and support these two ballot measures?

I hope that the incredible community spirit that animates both campaigns can help answer that question for local voters and affirm the core values that have made the Palo Alto community as strong and special as it is.

Jon Foster is one of four co-chairs for the Measure A campaign. He served in the same role for the PAUSD parcel tax campaign in 2005. Foster is senior vice president of global operations for a Palo Alto-based software company and lives in Palo Alto with his wife and two children. He can be e-mailed at


Like this comment
Posted by paraphrase
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2008 at 4:23 pm

"It will be wonderful if only you all did as I ask and never question anything."

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2008 at 4:47 pm

Question it if you must, but we are not afraid of questions. That is how we learn.

In return, I will ask you a question. "If your roof was leaking, your bathroom outdated, your car totalled, would you borrow money to pay for these improvements?" The answer is probably "yes". If the answer was even to give no more money back just pay the same interest for longer, would that help to make it even more so? The answer is probably "yes".

It can be argued that the money from selling schools years ago should have been saved for this, but the fact is that it was and it is now gone, even the principal. We can't sell more schools, in fact we can't keep getting rent from the properties we now own and are renting out as we need them. So, the rainy day money has gone, already spent. And now it is raining again.

Compare the schools to your own home and if you want improvements in the home to keep up to date, then why should our students be any different?

Now that you have questioned yourself, any more questions?

Like this comment
Posted by JSD
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2008 at 5:15 pm

What specific parts of the Measure A spending plan address the student population growth? Under what timeline?

Like this comment
Posted by paraphrase
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 30, 2008 at 9:43 am

Parent, to answer your question, if I had 5 bathrooms in a 2 bedroom house, I would consolidate and have 2 nice bathrooms instead of wasting money renovating all 5.

Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 1, 2008 at 12:00 am

It's hard to consolidate when the family is growing. More like having to add 2 more bedrooms to the house and spruce up the bathrooms.

Like this comment
Posted by paraphrase
a resident of Downtown North
on May 1, 2008 at 8:54 am

And yet, our neighbors only have one fantastic bathroom whereas we still need 5 rundown water closets, which we pay twice as much for! PA must just have an incontinence problem.

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