Around Town | March 22, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 22, 2013

Around Town

RECUSE ME ... The issue of not enough parking downtown hits close to home for members of the Palo Alto City Council, and not just because they get an earful from exasperated downtown residents seemingly every week. Several council members live downtown or have interests in downtown property and are thus by law can't participate in any decisions that would impact the area. On Monday night, this almost became a problem. The nine-member council had no legal barriers in its discussion of big picture issues such as valet parking in downtown garages or incentives for workers to eschew their cars for other transit modes. But things got hairy when conversation to turned zoning restrictions and parking-permit programs, with one council member after another leaving the room to avoid a conflict of interest. Mayor Greg Scharff and Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd stepped out of the room because they have interests in downtown properties; Councilwoman Karen Holman had to leave because she lives downtown and has received income from the downtown Palo Alto History Museum; and Councilman Marc Berman ducked out because his house is near the commercial downtown district. City Manager James Keene also had to miss for the second half of the discussion because he lives downtown. By the end of the discussion, only five council members remained behind the dais. At one point, Councilman Larry Klein had to stop talking because Councilwoman Gail Price left the room momentarily, depriving the council of a quorum. At another point, City Attorney Molly Stump advised the council that "there should be no parties going on in the backroom among those who recused." One downtown resident pointed to the shrinking number of participating council members as evidence of the problem's urgency and pervasiveness. "If we don't get to this problem very quickly, the entire council will have to recuse itself," Michael Hodos told the council.

NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND ... In 1965, Lyndon Johnson established Medicare, Bob Dylan went electric and Palo Alto began a massive effort to bury its wires providing electricity underground. All three gifts have gone through transformations but keep on giving. Palo Alto has converted about 46 percent of the city's overhead lines to underground, and officials estimate that the expensive effort will take another 70 years to complete. At the City Council level, however, the project seems to be losing momentum. This week, the council nixed a proposal by staff to establish a new citizen committee to gauge community sentiment about the ongoing program. Some council members said the committee could be a valuable means of explaining to the public why a neighborhood's electricity hasn't been undergrounded yet. "I think very often it takes our public getting involved to be able to understand and explain to others why something hasn't happened," Councilwoman Liz Kniss reasoned. Mayor Greg Scharff alluded to the effort's "astronomical costs" and said it's important to have a committee that would engage the greater community on what he called a "lingering issue." Councilman Larry Klein disagreed and said the council doesn't need to create a "buffer zone" between itself and the community for the purpose of explaining to constituents that the city doesn't have the dollars to bury the wires. He also argued that the city has recently become a little too eager in setting up citizen committees, which he said consume staff time and resources. "I'm in favor of birth control on committees," Klein said. "We've been adding them quite rapidly in the last few years." His argument carried the day and the council shot down the staff recommendation by a 4-5 vote, with Pat Burt, Karen Holman, Gail Price and Greg Schmid joining Klein in opposition.

POLLS ... In November 2014, Palo Alto voters will likely head to the polls to vote on a bond measure to fund repairs of the city's buildings, roads and other infrastructure. More immediately, though, city officials have polls of a different sort on their minds. The City Council on Monday discussed projects that may end up on the bond measure with its pollster, David Metz of the firm Fairbanks, Maslin, Maulin, Metz and Associates. The firm will start polling Palo Alto residents next month to gauge their "initial temperature" about the proposed projects, which range from building a bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 to repairing sidewalks. The council agreed to drop acquisition of the downtown post-office building and completion of Byxbee Park from the list of potential bond-supported items and to add funding of the new Palo Alto History Museum.


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm

So the city is commissioning another poll!! In another area, kniss proclaimed that the council is the guardian of public health. Well shouldn't the council also be the guardian of our infrastructure health? This is not a new problem and now it is being deferred for at least another 2 years! And f you think new council members are the answer, it is not. We get new people on the council and you think things will be different now, but they all start looking for personal pet and feel good projects to waste their time on.
And we need a history museum like we need a hole in the head or s this. Bone being thrown to the council member who thinks everything's historic in palo alto?

Posted by Poll Cat, a resident of Professorville
on Mar 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm

This is one subject that should be obvious to the Council members: no poll is needed to define the problem. It is a well-known and well-discussed fact that downtown workers park in Professorville an Downtown North because otherwise they have to move their cars every two or three hours--and have a hard time finding another spot.

FOR DECADES citizens and downtown employees have asked the Council to give them a reason why an employee cannot just buy a permit to park where they work. But nothing has ever, ever been done about it, and it is at a loggerhead now with homeowners returning home to find they can't park anywhere near their own house at the end of a day.

The Council has all the information and input they has been accumulating for three or more decades! There is simply no need for a silly poll to waste more money on.

I wonder if Council members DO have holes In their heads, and someone has filled them with rocks.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Wow, tonight I went downtown for dinner with a friend. It was packed. I can usually find a parking place, or in a pinch always find a spot in one of the parking structures, but tonight I had to go all the way up to the top of the structure between Bryant and Forest to find a space. When we came back it was even more packed, there were no spaces in the whole structure on the way out.

I'm thinking Palo Alto does need another structure somewhere now. I used to never use those things, but they are really great. What would help is some kind of automated system to keep count of free spaces and display a count on the entrance.

Posted by Plenty garage space, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Not sure what Anon means by a structure "between Bryant and Forest." Those streets intersect. Do you mean City Hall?
Last Friday eve I drove downtown at 7 pm. In the Cowper Street garage (off Univ.) I found a spot easily on the 3rd level, it was half empty. First and second levels were full.
The public doesn't know where the spaces are. Whose responsibility is it that they are so ignorant? And that the restrictions end at 5 pm.You can park for any length of time.