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Is your Neighborhood Association helping?

Original post made by member, Midtown, on Aug 4, 2006

I've come to believe that the "neighborhood leaders" of our associations are not always working for the associations. At the PAN meetings, there appears to be nothing more than political positioning for individuals, and particular agendas. If chairing/vice chairing an association is a political stepping stone, shouldn't those individuals actually consider the neighborhood first?

Comments (34)

Posted by Annette
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2006 at 10:25 pm

I take issue with this assertion. Here are comments I wrote as Chair of Midtown Residnets Association in Spring 2004 that addresses this issue. BTW, none of our steering committee has used our positons as steppign stones for political office. So I am not sure where this email os coming from.
am frequently asked to describe the Midtown Residents Association (MRA), what we stand for and how we decide on issues. The MRA, its Steering Association, and committees are not so different from some neighborhoods and very different from others. I was struck by the similarity in our (MRA) style and that of the Barron Park Association. We have the same philosophy-Our role is to help ensure that the neighborhood's concerns and views are represented, rather than to be the neighborhood's representative.

MRA has several roles: First, as an information resource we provide you with information about developments, issues and events in and around the Midtown area. Second, we work with city officials-council, commissions, and staff-to inform them of our issues, concerns/needs and priorities. Third, we provide residents with help on how to be most effective in presenting their issues to public officials. Finally, we play a social role in sponsoring one or more yearly celebrations.

How we represent concerns: The MRA has started to conduct surveys on important issues affecting the neighborhood. Our most recent survey had a high response rate, producing a good picture of the views of the residents. We formed our 2004 priorities and activated committees based on your input. These priorities are Traffic, Midtown Commercial Districts, Welcoming New Residents, Writing a History of Midtown, and Communications to the Neighborhood. We plan to do more surveys, both in hard copy form and electronically. Your feedback is very important to us. This edition of our newsletter asks for your comments about the development of Greer Park.

Events: We work to bring important city and Midtown issues to you at neighborhood meetings and we sponsor a big ice cream social once a year in which we invite elected officials and staff to meet you over ice cream and issues in the park. Let us know what topics are of most interest.

Issues: We work to resolve issues that affect the entire neighborhood as well as try to help you work on your own local issues. We will help you connect with city officials as necessary.

Volunteers: As with all other neighborhood associations, we are a classic bottom-up volunteer organization: our focus and activity are largely driven by what volunteers are interested in working on. Volunteers are the lifeblood of every organization-the more folks who participate the more activities we can sponsor and the more work committees can get done. It is very easy to become involved in MRA activities; commitment need not be large nor long. Even a small amount of time and energy can have substantial impacts and be very rewarding.

Being a volunteer has another advantage; it can offer you leverage to achieve neighborhood goals. And if we aren't involved in an activity that you think we should be, contact me (or other steering committee members) to see if we can help you get something organized. The enclosed survey invites you to volunteer with us!

Thanks to all of you who have joined us as members, participated in committees, sent in suggestions and generally made the Midtown Residents Association a well recognized and well respected neighborhood association.

Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 5, 2006 at 2:29 pm

I don't attend College Terrace Residents Association meetings, but I do get emails, and I am farily impressed with the democratic nature of the group. It is grassroots democracy in action. Good for them.

The City Council needs to listen to the neighborhood groups, but it does not need to agree with them. The Council needs to look at the bigger picture. Sometines they do look at the bigger picture, as when they did the Mayfield agreement; at other times they cave in to neighborhood pressure, such as the Rickeys hotel fiasco.

There is no easy answer. It is difficult to govern. In the end, we deserve what we demand. Our demands may be our demise.

Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 5, 2006 at 6:37 pm

As long as the "leaders" are representing the association, I agree with supporting those individuals who represent us. But I have to agree, it appears that those who seem to be our reps, don't share information, theoy continue to push their agendas instead of polling the neighbors.

Posted by Annette Ashton
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2006 at 11:07 am

The reason I do not like blogs is that it is possible to be mean spirited and negative without revealing your identity. It is easy to be critical using innuendos and vague comments.

If you have specific complaints about a person or neighborhood, I suggest you talk to the leadership of those organizations, before you take shots in this fashion.

I, for one, am ready to step up to the plate and defend my actions and those of the Midtown Residents Association. We are proud of our accomplishments and the members of our steering committee.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 6, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Here, here! Volunteering for neighborhood groups is generally a big responsibility with little personal reward. Let all the critics who doubt it put a little volunteer energy into their own neighborhood groups for a change! It's easy to criticize from the safety of one's own armchair.

Posted by Elaine Meyer
a resident of University South
on Aug 6, 2006 at 5:23 pm

Neighborhood associations are probably the most democratic institution we have. Everyone can participate. Everyone can speak up for what they believe. Anyone can start a committee - if other people want to work with you.

It is fashionable to blame neighborhoods for things they have little to do with, for example, the exodus of Albertson’s from Alma Plaza. If you had been reading the financial pages you would know that the corporation was having financial troubles and was closing many stores. Of course, before they close a store they neglect it and let it run down, so that it looks shabby and patronage goes way down.

Associations usually form when a big issue hits a neighborhood like oversized development, toxics in the environment, the desire for a park, whatever. Something that gets the folks interested. When everything is going along smoothly, most of us pay little attention to the community. Alas. That’s when the big money interests do what they want and to heck with the surrounding people. The god called The Market is invoked and we are supposed to say amen.

If a few neighborhood leaders become known and then run for public office, more power to them! You know what they stand for, which is not the case for people who haven’t been in the public eye.

I don’t know whether “member” really lives in Midtown, or what kind of “help” he needs, but he sounds as though he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but is dissatisfied with something. Midtown is a terrific model of a neighborhood association. Not only do they work with residents, they also promote the businesses in the Midtown shopping area. I wish we could do as well.

Posted by Annie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2006 at 10:14 pm

A few things:

"member" is somewhat overstating - neighborhood associations can do a lot of good, even though there are politics involved. Most people involved mean well, and along with the effort to organize, comes the power that goes with it. Some people use it wisely, some don't.

Elaine Mayer is also overstating somewhat, because her statement makes neighborhoods seem like victims, who should organize defensively, to protect themselves from some kind of 'attack' from the 'market', or 'development' - with concomitant results, delay of city process and stagnation. All this leads to rather adversarial relationships with the very people neighborhoods should be working to learn more about, and working WITH.

Hyatt/Rickey's is just one example of the above. There we lost a tax provider, and now it's a mess that nobody is quite happy with.

Posted by Bob Moss
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 7, 2006 at 12:59 pm

Lets get some things straight about the "power" of neighborhood associations and activities of private entities such as the Hyatt Corporatoin that closed and sold Hyatt Rickey's. Here are the facts behind what happened, verified by conversations with current and past councilmembers and mayors, ARB and Planning Commission members, and city staff.

In 1997 Hyatt came to staff and each councilmember with the plans for a total redevelopment of the site, about 300 housing units plus a hotel with about 320 rooms. Everyone at City Hall, without exception, told Hyatt it was too dense, too many housing units, and could not be approved. Hyatt ignored the objections and in 1998 submitted a formal request for a development with about 300 housing units and a 320 room hotel. This was when the neighborhood associations first objected to it as being too dense, an opinion also held by staff the councilmembers. Hyatt pulled back for a few years, and then returned with the same basic proposal. It went to the ARB and Planning Commission, and even though those groups objected to some aspects of the proposal, Hyatt pressed ahead. The common description of Hyatt that I heard from anyone at the council level, staff, ARB members, or planning commissioneers who dealt with them was "arrogant".

The final result was Hyatt's formal request for dense housing along with a 320 room hotel. In addition to the excessive density and adverse traffic and other impacts, some aspects of the design and layout also offended neighbors, the Planning Commission, ARB, staff, and the Council. The proposal was killed early in 2004.

Nobody objected to the redesigned hotel with about 320 or a few more rooms. Nobody and no neighborhood association refused to accept a new hotel plus a reasonable number of housing units, maybe 110 to 140 or so. Hyatt refused to budge or reduce their demands.

It wasn't neighborhood associations that defeated the Hyatt proposal and convinced Hyatt to close and sell out - it was Hyatt's total intransigence, arrogance, and failure to propose a reasonable compromise.

Posted by Annie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 7, 2006 at 1:16 pm

The language that you use to describe the other party (Hyatt) pretty much establishes my point. You say that "It wasn't neighborhood associations that defeated the Hyatt proposal and convinced Hyatt to close and sell out - it was Hyatt's total intransigence, arrogance, and failure to propose a reasonable compromise"

No matter your memory, there are many others who remember from a different perspective, and the result of what you claim as "non-interference" is that we lost the hotel, and the taxes emanating from it. And now there is nothing left but housing development, and everyone is crying about that. Is that a good outcome?

Perhaps, as I suggested earlier, neighborhood associations might have considered working more closely WITH the Hyatt people. I saw much of what happened up close; I knew some of the Hyatt principals, and from their perspective, it wasn't pretty.

I stand by my earlier comments about how too many neighborhood association leaders often take an unnecessarily defensive posture relative to development, and other things. This isn't universally true, but it happens more than it should.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 7, 2006 at 5:04 pm

Not "everyone" is crying because the high density housing isn't being built at the Hyatt site. I'd have been happy with a new hotel (sans high-density housing), but since that wasn't to be, I'm frankly thrilled to see a new neighborhood go in with single family homes.

Rather than being bitter about it -- it's done -- how about putting a little energy into saving the retail at the Alma Plaza, which is NOT yet lost, and which can still be saved and improved? Frankly, it's citizens and the neighborhood associations that have taken the lead in saving that retail center.

Posted by Ann Moore
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 7, 2006 at 5:39 pm

I completely agree w/ you. Take this example:
While all the Neighborhood Assosiation's are chit-chatting and having their little "anti-burglary parties, it would be a perfect time for a robber to rob their house. Because everybody is "fighting burglary". Have you ever thought about that??!

Posted by Ann Moore
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 7, 2006 at 5:41 pm

I completely agree with you. Take this example: While all the Neighborhood Assosiation's are chit-chatting and having their little "anti-burglary parties, it would be a perfect time for a robber to rob their house. Because everybody is "fighting burglary". Have you ever thought about that??!

Posted by H.F.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 7, 2006 at 6:09 pm

I can only speak for two neighborhoods, but I've lived on the border of Duveneck/St Francis and Triple El for more than nine years, and I have NEVER been contacted in any way by either assn. Not a call, not a knock on the door, not a mailer, not a flier, not a poster on a lightpole. Until the Merc reported the police attendance at a D/St. F mtg to discuss the burglaries, I didn't even know there WAS such an assn, and I learned about Triple El only in the search to see which neighborhood I "officially" belong in. I'm generally pretty politically aware and vocal, I would have responded to any overture whatsoever. So I think it's a serious misrepresentation to make it look like the neighborhood association reflects the actual residents of the neighborhood. I'm guessing it's more of a social club for people who already know each other, or possibly for people who already share opinions, than any kind of genuinely representative organization. Congrats to the other neighborhoods if they actually have any kind of representative participation, or are working to achieve it.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 7, 2006 at 9:30 pm

Ask not what your neighborhood association can do for you, but what you can do for your neighborhood association. When you move into an area, especially if you are politically active, get out and meet the neighbors, ask about the neighborhood association, go to the meetings, volunteer to help. People running the neighborhood associations are not paid, they usually don't have more spare time than anyone else -- and believe it or not, they aren't deliberately trying to exclude you. Neighborhood associations are not going to be perfect -- It's not that easy to keep them going (if you doubt it, try it sometime). Remember the story of the Little Red Hen baking bread? A few people usually do the heavy lifting, and everyone else is a critic and too busy to help, until it's time to share in some benefit or credit.

Rather than sitting back and expecting everything to come to you, find out about your local association -- it's a lot easier for you to come to the mountain than ... well, you know -- neighborhood associations are what the neighbors make of them, and that means you, too.

Posted by Barry
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 7, 2006 at 9:49 pm

The Hyatt is gone- over! Now lets make sure we don't lose more of our tax base. Cities like ours need hotel and auto dealer sales tax. Take a look around us, other cities from SF to Gilroy are playing a active role in keeping business and bringing new ones in.

Posted by H.F.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 7, 2006 at 10:15 pm

I completely agree that it's each of our job to make the community happen. I've spent years as a political canvasser and organizer, and I'm all over the responsibility of every individual citizen to participate in government. And I grant that I tend to focus my energy on state and federal politics, and did not hunt down the existence of the local organizations for myself.

I just meant that I am underwhelmed by the bona fides of any community organization which is so entirely unconcerned with even making basic contact with its own community. It's a poor showing. It seems to me that if you want to wear the name of the whole community, then there should be *some* effort made to be sure that people in the community are at least aware of you.

It's a nice, quiet neighborhood, but in the last nine years, has there been no issue important enough to be worth so much as a flier?

I'm curious what I'll find when I make contact.

Posted by Annie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 7, 2006 at 10:18 pm

So, what are neighborhood associations doing to keep retail? If anything, most seem to be against almost any change, whether it's retail or housing.

Recently, we just had a decision to keep a retail developer's property from being developed for mixed use, or to develop as he pleases. This was in service to "keep Fry's in Palo Alto".

I have a friend in Ventura park who kept telling people that Palo Alto caters too much to Fry's. Some neighborhood leaders also believe that Fry's is 'god' and we can't lose fry's under any circumstances. So now we have Fry's 'protected'; but Fry's can still go out and negotiate a deal with another city, while the developer now has retail/housing options limited on the Fry's property. You can thank neighborhood association leader influence for that bad decision.

Like I said, all neighborhood association leaders are not the same, but there are a few here who push it too far, and assume too much. The ones I'm talking about have a "neighborhood as victim' mentality. That's not healthy.

As far as Alma Plaza goes, neighborhood associations have caused unreal delay and confusion over that property.

I think if most citizens knew what was being said in their name by some neighborhood association leaders they'd be pretty shocked.

Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 8, 2006 at 11:06 am

H.F., it's wonderful to hear that your interest has turned to local issues and that you'd like to learn about the Duveneck/St. Francis Neighborhood Association. If you'll kindly identify yourself and/or phone me (number in the phone book), I'll tell you how you can join our listserv. I can forward our last dozen or so e-newsletters so you can see the range of issues of concern to our residents.

In addition to listserv postings, our public meetings on civic issues are always publicized in the local media and are well attended. Over the past few years, we've convened meetings on a range of issues -- public and traffic safety, Edgewood Plaza, San Francisquito Creek flood control and forums for City Council candidates among them.

We have recently begun collecting dues and will distribute flyers, when appropriate, once resources are in place. Would you volunteer to distribute them?

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 8, 2006 at 5:14 pm

If you look at the combined postings of "Annie, a resident of South of Midtown neighborhood", you will see that her complaint is not that neighborhood associations do not represent residents, but that they do.

Consider her statements on the PTOD. Although the PTOD included the California Avenue Business District, its impacts were targeted on the area south of Page Mill that is primarily retail and services. The declared purpose of the PTOD was to "encourage redevelopment as residential". Mixed use was encouraged by allowing office or retail as bonuses (not subtracting from the housing). Economics, geometry, parking constraints and experience indicate that much of this bonus would be offices (eg R&D) with minor retail such as coffee and sandwich shops (example, the proposals for 195 Page Mill which is part of the PTOD). Best information is that the PTOD constraints would have EXCLUDED Fry's from this area. Annie, attributing her information to "a friend", characterized this as having "Fry's 'protected'". She also references the argument that this (rejecting zoning that would likely exclude Fry's from its current site) undercuts the City's negotiating position with Fry's. What is the agenda behind such an extreme distortion of what actually occurred?

Note: PTOD/Fry's has been dealt with extensively on another thread - PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE IT HERE. I include details simply to indicate that Annie's agenda is different than what readers might suppose.

Disclosure: I, as an individual, submitted a substantial (8-page) analysis of the PTOD to Council that played a role in the Fry's site not being included in the PTOD. I am also a neighborhood leader (Barron Park). Although earlier surveys of the neighborhood demonstrated strong support for retaining retail and services in that area, the BPA did not have resources to do a survey to present to Council (doing a credible survey takes a lot time and effort). Instead, I sent information about the issue - including links to the City's reports - to the BPA email list along with information about how individuals could submit comments to Council. I had also notified members of the earlier meetings and workshops on this topic.

Annie's comments on Rickey's and Alma Plaza *suggest* that she is a partisan of a viewpoint where it is legitimate for a developer to off-load substantial costs of a project onto the neighbors and the general public. I disagree: The choice to subsidize a developer's project should be explicitly made by the public and not be imposed upon them by the developer. (Note: Annie acknowledges that she is close to the developer community, but doesn't say how extensive those links are and whether they are professional or personal).

Notice that Annie repeats the gross canard about Palo Alto losing revenue from the closing of Hyatt Rickey's. Hyatt decided not to rebuild the hotel because there was a glut of rooms and their site was not competitively advantageous. People did not stop coming here because the Hyatt closed - they simply transferred their business to other local hotels (which also had excess capacity). Palo Alto may have *gained* revenue because reducing the glut raised prices (by reducing the number and size of discounts being offered). Note: Annie may simply be a victim of a very successful PR campaign by the developer community and their allies who have circulated this claim, presumably in an attempt to weaken opposition to future excessive demands.

Posted by Annie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2006 at 1:06 am

Gee, isn't it wonderful to know that there are some neighborhood leaders in Palo Alto - like Doug Moran - that can read the minds of others, and then attribute motives and agendas to them that are not there own? How convenient!! How fun!! How 'passing the buck"!!

I want to make it clear that I do think that *some* neighborhood association leaders do not represent the best interests, or the long-term interests, of the people they say they are representing. I hope that's clear enough, and doesn;t require further interpretation by Mr. Moran.

My point earlier was that nothing, or the wrong things (relative to revenue generation and community cohesiveness), seem to get done here, when certain neighborhood leaders, who are otherwise intelligent people, take it upon themselves to look at the "little picture" (just their neighborhood).

What's really amusing is Moran's terse request that we not go over PTOD issues again, on this thread, because we have purportedly gone over before on another thread. So what does Mr. Moran do? He continues going on about the PTOD. Oh, well...if you insist... :-)

Doug Moran can spin his support for his position to exclude Fry's from the PTOD all he wants; the fact remains that his support for that position - a position that was sustained with a City Council vote - has given Fry's one more card, and more advantage, in its future negotiations with Palo Alto, and with other cities, as it pursues its own interests. This is a mistake, period - and he knows it.

In addition, Mr. Moran, as a neighborhood leader, has also supported a position that took away the right of othe owner of the Fry's property to develop mixed use on that property.

So, if Fry's does decide to leave, the property owner will not have had benefit of early considerations of alternate uses of that land. The community and the developer will lose, because efficiencies that come with long term planning will be lost.

I am not a developer, nor do I support any specific developer interests. I do know a few developers, that's all. What I've seen for four decades (and especially the last two) in Palo Alto, is some neighborhood leaders have been rabidly defensive about change, and have helped muck things up in ways that has resulted in Palo Alto not being able to face the future with as many options as it could have had.

I don't know what Mr. Moran is talking about when he suggests that I have an agenda that supports developers. It's just the opposite. I'm looking for balance, and more streamlined process.

What happened at Hyatt/Rickys and Alma Plaza was a direct result of too many sous chefs in the kitchen, and the head chefs (city council) listening to them for too long a time. What has come out of that? Nobody seems to be happy about what has happened there. Is that a good thing, Mr. Moran?

We lost hotel revenue, revenue that Mr. Moran conveniently rationalizes away. He should speak with the Hyatt owners, and others who were appalled at the unneccessary delays brought about by neighborhood association handwringing.

He also talks about Alma Plaza with a voice that continues the subtle undercurrent of paranoia that is so often aimed at developers here, and amusingly tries to imply that I have an 'agenda' relative to those developers. With no offense intended, the phrase "unneccessary paranoia" pops up as a phrase descriptive of the spin that Doug Moran has given to my earlier post, and opinion.

I would ask Mr. Moran to look around, to look at our neighbors and see how they now outflank us with retail opportunity. I hope neighborhood leaders who share Doug Moran's unneccessary suspicions about developers might begin to consider the interests of BOTH developers and citizens (people like me), and understand that Palo Alto can no longer afford the kind of delay and overbearing diligence caused by neighborhood leaders who are serving narrow agendas that largely penalize our city in the long run.

Posted by Annette Ashton
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2006 at 9:00 am


You obviously have some issues with neighborhood leaders. I would welcome an off-line conversation with you, and we all would appreciate it if you would identify yourself. What have you personally done to improve the quality life in Palo Alto?

I would especially like to talk with you about roles - what is the role and POWER of a neighborhood association as well as what are the PROPERTY RIGHTS for developers. It is easy to take potshots at those of us who work tirelessly for our neighborhoods; we have worked hard to understand what the Palo Alto Municipal Code allows and does not allow and what the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan demands. We try to represent what we hear from residents. However, there are many folks, sometimes called the silent majority, that are not part of the initial conversation, do not work on issues, provide no feedback to council, commissions or neighborhoods. Then some of those folks freely play Monday morning quarterback. Are you one of those individuals?

I also take issue with your comments about neighborhood leaders trying to recruit retail. Many of us have tried to do so.....there have been successes. We "leaders" have spent time on the various mayor's retail committees and made strong recommendations. We want what the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan requires - walkable neighborhoods, with vital neighbohood serving retail.

I am very proud of what Midtown Residents Association has accomplished, attempting to recruit local serving businesses, improving our center with art funded by the Palo Alto Art Commission and working with Walgreens to bring in a small restuarant "Como Esta", to name a few steps....and for years encouraging the development of a Merchants Association, to protect our valued retail. This just happened last week. Hurrah!

I challenge you to come talk to me - perhaps at the Midtown Merchants Summer Festival in Midtown on August 19th. I will be at a table in front of Nature's Alley for part of the day.

Posted by Annie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2006 at 3:19 pm

Annette, I really don't have issues with most beighborhood leaders. Re-reading my posts will indicate that I didn't paint with that broad a brush. Also, I'd rather not get into what I've done for Palo Alto; let's just say I've been active for four decades in many community affairs, and have made humble contributions - nothing so grand as what you've been doing.. Some people might even say that I'm a neighborhood leader, of sorts.

There will always be a tension between property owners and developers. Sometimes developers want too much power, and sometimes neighborhood associations want too much power.

I've pointed out a few instances where neighborhood associations have gone too far. And in those instances I'll stick by my guns, so to speak. I did say at the outset that neighborhood associations were a good thing, and do a lot of good. Did you see that? If not, I welcome you to read my entry again. Sometimes I miss things the first (or even second, at my late age).

Also, I hope you don't see what I've written as taking potshots; for instance, I know of some of your work and you do an admirable job. You're a very inclusive person, and try to look at things from many perspectives. I have disagreed with your positions now and then, but that's life. How abouta Trader Joe's at Alma Plaza?

As for Monday Morning Quarterbacking, you're right - it's not easy to go out on the front lines and get your voice heard, after doing lots of groundwork. But I see lots of Monday Morning Quarterbacking coming from some neighborhood leaders, too. Just like you, I want to see a balance, and lately over the last 4-5 years I think we've been largely held back by neighborhood association handwringing.

What I saw happen recently on the Fry's decision was very disappointing. I don't think that the neighborhood position was representative of what many people I know in Venture Park would like, or on California Avenue, for that matter. That decision will hurt retail in the long run, and the revenues we take from retail.

Last, I haven't seen very many positive things come from retail committees. Can you name some things that had a large impact on retail development here that came from thoise committees?

In all, Palo Alto is now in a big bind, we are stuck without large retail stores. I just read that Home Depot is going to build the nation's biggest Home Depot branch in East Palo Alto. We have lost out to our neighbors because too many people fought the kind of change that would have brought them here. When you come right down to it, I don't really see strong support, even today, for retailers and commercial business.

Oh, and good going on that Merchant's Association...can't wait to see what comes out of that.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 9, 2006 at 6:09 pm

Strong neighborhood associations are the glue of our community -- I am heartened by so many of the posts, especially H.F.'s response. The reason our right as citizens to freely assemble is so important in the Constitution is that our power as citizens is only truly realized when we meet together -- the power one wields as a voting citizen is nothing compared to that of a voting citizen who regularly meets with a group of neighbors for the good of the community.

The times that I have been involved in significant political change have been in concert with cohesive, socially active neighborhood groups -- none of us could ever have accomplished the same had we made exactly the same efforts in isolation or even under the heading of a targeted political group.

Neighborhood associations are democracy in action. I think many of the people who criticize neighborhood associations are unhappy with the power they wield -- but it is an important, unstructured balancing power envisioned by the founders of this Republic. (It is no mistake that this right is guaranteed in the same Amendment as freedom of the press.) Citizens are guaranteed this power in the Constitution to offset the inherently overwhelming power and ambition of government and concentrations of wealth and power.

Yet while most people understand the power of the press, very few people - these days at least - seem to understand the power they could wield if they simply put more energy into being a part of their neighborhood community.

A socially cohesive neighborhood group can accomplish a lot; I would frankly be thrilled to see Palo Alto's neighborhood associations grow larger and stronger. And I hope they have fun at it, too, because the social aspects make the groups and the community stronger.

Posted by a member
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2006 at 8:58 pm

Again, what are the 2006 priorities of PAN? What is the status of those priorities? What I see is a couple of individual's concerns being addressed. I don't see press releases/conferences about what supposedly was identified as priorities for our neighborhoods.

Posted by J.O.
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 11, 2006 at 10:07 pm

I feel we are finally starting to get moving and gain some visibility into the Community Center Neighborhood Association, although I still don't know what they do and I have lived in the same house for over 20 years. We are having a block party in September and at this time we will promote our first Neighborhood Watch/CCNA meeting scheduled for 7:00 pm on September 21 at the Community Center Fireside Room.

It is unfortunate all these recent events are pulling us together but I am confident that we can rally our neighbors in support of each other.

I have never received any information from my neighborhood association, at least in recent years that I can recall, so I feel it is important to talk to one another, post flyers and provide email contact info to the specific groups. I'm pursuing this in order to keep our neighborhood safe and foster some community spirit.

Any one in the Community Center community, please come to our meeting on September 21.

Posted by Bill W.
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2006 at 11:02 pm

As a former Downtown North resident, I can tell you I was shocked when I heard some of the things that came out of the mouth of our association president. At council meetings, he -- like other neighborhood leaders -- would claim that he was representing the views of residents. And council members would say that they were influenced by neighborhood leaders. But we, the residents, never were asked our opinions on those issues. The association meetings were infrequent and rarely noticed in advance. It was impossible to find out how to run for any of the offices. When votes were taken, the people running for re-election counted the votes. I'm not kidding. And then they refused to say how many votes each candidate got -- they would only tell us the winners and losers. I moved just as the road barricade controversy began, but I wasn't surprised to see a second neighborhood group rise up in opposition to the original group.

Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 14, 2006 at 11:36 am

The tone of the discourse in this thread is rapidly degrading. I can't see anything productive coming of this. I see similar things happening on other blog interactions on this site.

To the PA Weekly...anonymous submittals are dangerous. People are careless with the facts and seem to forget decorum when their identity is not attached to their statements. We are a community. I would strongly urge people to write only with their names and address attached. If you aren't comfortable attaching your name to something, you probably should not be saying it publicly.

I hear well-intentioned people on both sides feeling frustrated, angry and hurt because the dialogue has degraded. What good can come of this? This certainly cannot be helpful for community building.

In the future, I hope that the PA Weekly will insist on identity disclosure (name and address) as they do in the paper. This is appropriate and seems to have the effect of causing people to think more carefully before they "speak."

Whatever side of an issue we are on, it's important to be respectful of people who may have differing opinions. Using simple good manners is an important part of contributing to building a community. What we say on-line has an effect on our community. Please be thoughtful.

I think there is agreement and disagreement around this issue. I can say that I have observed neighborhood leaders (I am a representative for Greenmeadow Community Association) and I think most do try to act in the best interests of their neighborhoods. Getting involved is a great way to ensure that your neighborhood association is properly representing the majority of residents. Involvement may simply be attending meetings and getting informed, and VOTING.

Neighborhood associations don't always oppose development. Sometimes we collaborate with developers and the city to find solutions to problems that arise from deveopment. Sadly, Hyatt is a bad example. I was involved in that project. Most of what Bob Moss said is correct. However, he left out two important facts. The neighborhoods NEVER oppposed the 320 room hotel nor did they oppose all of the housing. They opposed SO MUCH HOUSING IN ADDITION to the hotel on that site. There was plenty of traffic impacts data to support these concerns. A 320 room hotel with less housing would have been acceptable but that deal was never put on the table. (All of this is a matter of public record.)

Finally, the Hyatt hotel was lost because of 9/11. The bottom fell out of the hotel industry...hence, the glut of hotel rooms that Bob mentioned. Mark Sollitt, the developer representative said as much. No one, including Hyatt, foresaw this happening. Loss of the hotel was regretable, but also unavoidable.

Finally, revenue analysis of the proposed hotel/housing complex was done and it was shown that it would have been a revenue loser for the city because it added SO MUCH housing in addtion to the hotel.

Greenmeadow Community Association, Inc. circulated a petition at the time that was signed by representatives of more than 90% of the households in our neighborhood opposing the project. We worked hard to make sure that we understood the position of a majority of the community by holding numerous neighborhood meetings and doing the footwork involved in circulating a petition.

Each association is different. They reach out to their residents in different ways. Some are more democratic than others in nature. My observation has been that the more people get involved, the more democratic the association becomes.

Rather than casting stones...let's work together to build on Palo Alto's past success in creating a wonderful place to live and work.


Penny Ellson, Chair, Civic Affairs Committee
Greenmeadow Community Association, Inc.

Posted by em
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 14, 2006 at 12:17 pm

at best, neighborhood associations represent the many voices of the neighborhood.

at worst, they represent a few people and ignore the rest of the neighborhood. we know all about this in downtown north.

Posted by Annie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2006 at 1:35 pm

Sometimes anonymity is a good thing, as long as the dialogue is monitored. This is a monitored forum, and although it occasionally gets edgy, frontal personal attacks and insults aren't tolerated.

Anonymity permits people to say what's on their mind in ways that otherwise wouldn't be possible, due mostly to social conventions, delicacy of relationship, and the realities of local politics.

If I were a neighborhood association leader, I would welcome all comments, and learn from them.

Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Aug 14, 2006 at 4:24 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

Penny is right in being concerned about the drifting of some discussions on Town Square toward the edge of acceptability, and we have stepped in a few times to either delete a comment, remove a portion of a comment, or in one case "lock" the discussion to prevent further postings. We are watching this very carefully because we don't want to make Town Square an unsafe place for people to post their honest opinions, fearing they will be attacked in a disrespectful way by others.
So far, I don't believe that the ability to post anonymously is what is creating the greatest risk, however. Some of the strongest comments have come from those who do provide their full names. This was especially true in the earlier debate on the role of the Friends of the Library.
Taking this topic as just one example, I think the participants here have done a good job at staying focused on the issue (whether neighborhood associations and their leaders are actually in touch with and represent residents) and have not engaged in personal attacks. Criticism is different from attacks, and can be delivered in a respectful way. Most posters have done that in this topic.
We will continue to monitor how all of the Town Square discussions develop and requiring registration, with full names, remains an option. We also have built into the system to restrict a topic to only registered (full name) users, although we haven't used that tool yet.
Please keep posting any concerns or feedback about how you think we are doing at balancing the benefits of unfettered access with the importance of maintaining civility and a positive sense of community on Town Square.

Posted by J.L
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 15, 2006 at 12:25 pm

Looks like we have more "neighborhood association" influence weighing in on the Alma Plaza scene. Looks like the "neighborhood" wants a Trader Joe's. How quaint.

I wonder if anyone has taken the time to ask Piazza'a or JJ&F what a Trader Joe's would mean to local markets, or their businesses, specifically.

This is exactly the kind of limited, one-dimensional thinking that I've referred to in past posts.

These are the same people who will complain bitterly about how "developers" are responsible for the loss of small retail in Palo Alto.

I hope the City Council ignores this last attempt to "get it just right" (whatever that is), and just lets the developer "get on with it". We've had enough interference from the "chosen few" in Palo Alto. It's time for a new day to dawn.

Posted by member
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 15, 2006 at 8:13 pm

Please read Jay's excellent editorial.....It is no different in 2006 than in the 60's! So called leaders still pursue their own agendas. If it's called Neighborhood Associations, PAN or United Palo Altons, until it represents the majority, it is nothing more than personal agendas! "When a in 1966 a proposal was made to move the City Hall back downtown, a fellow named Dick Stock, self-appointed chair of a group called United Palo Altans, insisted the City Hall should stay at Newell and Embarcadero roads, where it was plunked in 1952 over the objections of Walnut Drive and Community Center neighbors. "

Posted by resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 15, 2006 at 10:37 pm

Well I have to say that I know many of those whose comments are here, and though I respect some of them I think they are mistaken in their belief that they represent their neighborhoods. I do not actually live in Greenmeadow, but they have claimed to repesent my neighborhood before the council before. We are next to them, but not eligible for membership. That does not seem to stop them from claiming to represent us when the want to.
There are real issues with representation and this type of misrepresentation cheapens those who are trying to represent their neighborhoods.

Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 23, 2006 at 3:11 pm

To the poster of the last submittal...

Greenmeadow Community Association always tries to be clear about the boundaries of our neighborhood with City Council and other public bodies (Sometimes we state the number of households we represent (270). Sometimes we state how many people within the community voted on an issue at a community meeting. Each household is allowed one vote.).

All households in GM are invited to participate in our civic affairs efforts. We notify them of meetings via a monthly newlsetter that is hand delivered to every GM home, e-news, sign boards, and occasionally flyers.

Please give an example of a public meeting at which this sort of misrepresentation has occurred. We always try to be extremely careful to be clear on this point. If you are going to impugn someone's good name in a public forum, you really should provide some facts to back up your claim.

I'm not sure where your neighborhood is (you don't provide that information). However, you signed as a GM resident. This puzzles me.

Penny Ellson
Chair, Civic Affairs Committee
Greenmeadow Community Association, Inc.

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