Tommy Fehrenbach to spearhead Palo Alto economic development | August 6, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 6, 2010

Tommy Fehrenbach to spearhead Palo Alto economic development

Former chair of Chamber of Commerce board named to city's economic development position

by Jay Thorwaldson

Tommy Fehrenbach, relationship manager at Borel Private Bank & Trust Co. and former chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, has been named the new economic development manager for the City of Palo Alto.

His assignment will be to try to reverse the economic fortunes of Palo Alto in the form of loss of millions of dollars in sales tax and other revenues in recent years.

Fehrenbach, known for his energy and outgoing approach to people, will begin his new post Aug. 16 as part of the city manager's office, city officials announced.

"As we confront the fundamental changes in our business environment, Tom's combination of Palo Alto knowledge, talent and experience will help us to retain our strong economic position as a center of commerce and innovation," Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil said in a memo Tuesday evening informing the City Council of Fehrenbach's selection.

Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, to whom Fehrenbach will report, co-signed the memo.

Fehrenbach replaces Susan Barnes, who retired in June but who has continued working part-time as a consultant pending naming of a new outreach manager. The salary for the position is $123,053 per year, plus benefits, according to the city's Human Resources Department.

"After an extensive search Tom was selected as the best fit for Palo Alto," Antil said.

"He brings experience as a small business manager here in downtown Palo Alto, which provides excellent insight to the needs of our small business community.

"Additionally, Tom provided leadership with the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, which gives him a broader business perspective," Antil said.

Fehrenbach has years of business experience, but also has a light side, participating in a video to promote Palo Alto as a site for a Google grant to provide high-speed fiber and broadband to Palo Alto last spring. He also has performed karaoke at local events.

In recent civic issues, Fehrenbach opposed a business-license tax that went down to defeat last year, but he earlier supported the concept of "civic engagement for the common good" as a top city priority.

Engaging the community with an eye toward the "common good" is completely different from simply engaging the community, he said.

"The common good ensures there's room for everyone's voice."

Fehrenbach commented on his impending career move:

"Although it's difficult to leave Borel, I'm excited to go to work for the city in this new capacity.

"There are certainly challenges to face — especially in light of these uncertain economic times. However, I look forward to engaging with the community around thoughtful economic development so that we may continue to make Palo Alto a great place to live and work."

He earlier was a loan officer for Stern Mortgage Company of Palo Alto, and was vice president and store manager of Sports Gallery Authenticated of Palo Alto.

In 2001 he received a bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies in social science, with a concentration on human resources and society, from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. He is a Palo Alto resident.

The magnitude of Fehrenbach's challenge was outlined in the introduction to the recently adopted $139.4 million city budget for fiscal year 2010-11.

"General Fund revenues are still under duress and are expected, at best, to climb slowly out of their trough," the introduction said. It cited evidence that the fund "has hit a 'revenue bottom.'"

But it warned that "continued high unemployment, low consumer confidence, restrained business spending, and credit restrictions could reverse or constrain revenue performance."

Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 6, 2010 at 8:52 am

Go Tommy.

I believe the new Palo Alto Economic Development Manager, Tommy Fehrenbach, will be the communicator that will allow an energetic conversation about taking actions outside the box.

Being from Palo Alto, he will be sensitive to our desire to preserve the qualities that make Palo Alto unique, but he also has the vision to lead a creative conversation about how to make the downtown more pedestrian friendly, including the possibility of closing some streets to car traffic.

There is a balance between the business interests of Palo Alto and the preservationists desire to retain Palo Alto qualities. Tommy will be able to bring those interests together.

He will just have to prove to the preservationist that his business background does not necessarily mean he is a hired gun of the high-density development interests.

Let's leverage what we preserve and find a win-win for both interests.

A lot of people will be watching your moves Tommy, so make sure your actions are inclusive and fair. (yes, fairness can be a principal in City Government). By the way, try to include residents from a broad spectrum of the City, and avoid the typical configuration of City insiders. And... no closed meetings, like other City managers have pulled (yes, I'm talking about you Chief Burns.) Show us how the power of sincere Citizen Participation and entrepreneurial energy can move the City forward.

Best regards,

Timothy Gray (former City Council Candidate)

Like this comment
Posted by Gillian Fish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2010 at 9:06 am

Mr Gray, it appears that you missed the fact that Mr Fehrenbach is a member of the Community Advisory Group (or Chief Burns' secret meetings as you called them)

Like this comment
Posted by Don
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Mr. Gray. I note that Chief Burns is posting his meetings on the web albeit a couple of months after a meeting. The purpose of holding "closed" sessions was to allow participants to express their views freely without being verbally attacked by those who disagreed with them. Seems to be working.

That being said, Mr. Fehrenbach has a tough job. More than 85% of new businesses begin small, and do not pay much tax to begin with. But how can one identify the person who could start such a business in the first place? Since more than 1/2 fail in the first few years, this becomes an ongoing task.

A solution many residents have a visceral aversion to is large, box stores. Yet they are the ones that generate the most sales and most tax revenue. Mt. View takes full advantage of this to their credit.

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