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Group think among the political

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Jun 14, 2006

Sometimes I wonder if ordinary residents who get elected to public office suddenly become part of an “Elected Officials” club and thus feel compelled to support each other.

Like their personal support for each other: I am often at social events when the elected official in charge of the gathering makes absolutely sure to introduce every person in the room that has ever been elected to any office. There may be corporate CEOs attending, or vice presidents of universities, but it’s the elected officials who get recognized. And it’s usually with a fanfare announcement: “And there in the corner is the Honorable Former Mayor of Palo Alto (…fill in the blank).” By the way, we have scads of former mayors.

It sure sounds like a political club to me.

What prompted this thought about politicos supporting each other is the recent official outpouring for Measures A and C on the June ballot. I think nearly every elected official (council members, school board members) endorsed Measure C, which was the $490.8 million bond measure for the Foothill-DeAnza College District.

I watched the Palo Alto City Council at its meeting when it endorsed Measure C. There was a brief presentation by board members from the junior college district, and then totally supportive statements from each of the council members. Not a single question! Not a single qualm!

But there should have been. The measure was levying a $24 per $100,000 assessed valuation tax – so the average homeowner would be paying an extra $100 to $150/year to support renovating and repairing the infrastructure at the two junior colleges. And the previous bond measure by the district – also for building improvements — was only six years ago. Certainly that should have raised at least an inquiry, a skepticism, a question from local council members. But it didn’t.

By the way, I personally supported Measure C because I thought the money was needed. I went on the website and read everything. But the council members, in public, asked nothing.

Ditto for the legions of officials who supported Measure A – the half-cent sales tax increase for Santa Clara County – their outpouring absolutely amazed me. Our own County Supervisor Liz Kniss from Palo Alto cast the key vote to put the measure on the ballot, and then wrote op-ed pieces and letters to the editor. That’s fine. Just let us remember she supported it.

Sure, there were a few dissenters from elected officials, like Palo Alto Councilmember Yoriko Kishimoto. But most of the other council members went blithely along with their support, and some, like Mountain View’s Mike Kasperzak, sent out e-mails urging his friends over and over to vote for A.

Forget about the fact that it was a 30-year sales tax increase, and forget about the fact that it would have given anywhere from $160 million upward a year for county supervisors to spend as they wish— council person after council person voted to support the measure. Thank goodness the voters substantially rejected the proposal – it got only a 42 percent yes vote (and needed more than 50 percent).

Mountain View City Councilmember Greg Perry, who led the drive against Measure A, was bucking the establishment, but he well understood the pulse of the people. Maybe he should run for county supervisor.

My point here is this rubber stamp of approval. We have a group of very bright council members here in Palo Alto, and when I read that they endorse something, I would have appreciated knowing that they asked probing questions, heard from the opponents, analyzed the needs of the district, determined whether the half-cent sales tax was really needed.

Why? Because in endorsing these measures, they are lending their names to urge our support.

Did they do all their homework? Or were they merely scratching each other’s political backs?

I may be cynical, but I suspect they have realized that it is much easier to go to the voters to ask for more funds rather than to cut their own budgets. Cutting budgets is hard work. Asking all of us to fork over more of our money is the easier route. They have learned their lesson well.

The lesson we have not learned is to understand where they are coming from.

Comments (23)

Like this comment
Posted by H.T.
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2006 at 12:54 pm

Diana, it's good to have you back. We need somebody in this town to challenge the status quo and make us all think.

Like this comment
Posted by Diana
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2006 at 1:27 pm

And its great to be back!

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Posted by Annette
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2006 at 2:04 pm

Welcome back Diana. Kudos to the Weekly. So pleased to see our Palo Alto Herb Caen back in the saddle.

Like this comment
Posted by Vivvi
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2006 at 10:18 pm

I'm so glad you're back, Diana--your critical and informed voice is much needed in this town!

I much agree with your concerns about council members being a club unto themselves, but I say that THEY need to understand where WE (the people whose trust and financial assets they're handling) are coming from.

First, we (rather than costly consultants)have the right to be asked for our views, within certain time-limits. In the last year, the council has swung from one extreme--allowing interminable debate and indecision (e.g., over public toilets, as your article described today)--to the other: scant public discussion and fiat announcements. Examples include (1)the behind-doors award of lifelong health benefits to council members and their families--when now some of the same folks are proposing cutting such benefits to regular city employees; (2)no recycling center of any kind for the edge of the Baylands (a NIMBY decision if ever there was one)--but an auto row would be ok because the city needs the dollars (thank goodness sesimic upgrading costs now make that impossible).

However, council members aren't bothering to get the views of this city's residents. How many of us really think that the police department needs a "Cadillac" building, to quote LaDoris Cordell? How many of us are convinced that the costly fiber-optic system is needed in order for Palo Alto to "assume its mantle of leadership" nationwide (as another council member claimed)? What's wrong with a sound and realistic perspective on this city's place in the order of things, instead of all the hype and glitz?

Second, and related: residents' assets are being used in ways that they either don't agree with or don't even know about--and the council routinely is oblivious. How many of us agreed to the million-dollar beautification of the council chambers, or the unnecessary consultants charging exorbitant fees, or art works such as the Egg on Lytton Plaza or the car on the edge of Bowden Park (the latest arrival, for the benefit of northward-bound Alma drivers)? And how exactly is the Utilities department spending our money? Our roads are a disgrace, our library is miserably stocked and staffed, we're up for three big fundraising tax-measures simultaneously--where does the city council's disconnect from sensible priorities and accountability end?

The council members need to remember that they are public servants, elected to use the pooled resources of the residents both responsibly and responsively. Until they seek to understand where we are coming from Palo Alto will continue to go downhill as a connected comunity.

Like this comment
Posted by Nat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 15, 2006 at 12:41 pm

See Around Town for my comment on Diana's published opinion in the Weekly.

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Posted by Bob Holmgren
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 15, 2006 at 5:55 pm

Doesn't a blog have links and stuff that add value to whatever points are being made. How is this different than a print column? Why call it a blog when it behaves under old media templates standards using people known in that relm? This in inbreeding at its finest.

Like this comment
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 15, 2006 at 8:52 pm

Back ... and on the mark ...
Keep 'em bloggin', Diana.

Like this comment
Posted by Nat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 16, 2006 at 1:34 pm

Transferred from "Around Town"

Welcome Back, Diana, and discussion

Around Town, posted by Natalie Fisher, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 14, 2006 at 1:14 pm

It's wonderful to have your columns available again. I thank the Weekly for that.

I tried to get the Daily editor to invite guest columns from residents, but she said the columns had to be objective! Go figure.

I totally agree with your published column on toilets in downtown Palo Alto and at the train station. You might know or not that the Human Relations Commission last week was considering a "Disturbing the Peace" ordinance submitted by Police Chief Johnson, the purpose of which is to make official that relieving oneself in unapproved places would be a violation of city code and would be cited. Such places include a stairwell in the city hall parking garage. I think this ties into your column.

I don't understand why the train station was closed for renovation and then closed again! You were speaking of the building, right? For trains and buses still stop there? I just don't get it. This is something our council should discuss in public.

Do you know why the City is trying to sell the new station rather than running it itself? Who paid for the renovation?

Like this comment
Posted by Steve Van Pelt
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2006 at 3:08 pm

Diana its great to have you back, BUT...

Regarding your article on Toilets at the Transit Hub:

(1) every CalTrain has at least one toilet; the newer Baby Bullet cars have one toilet per car (your article demonstrates why its necessary for CalTrain to provide toilets for its passengers).

(2) The Transit HUB serves more than just VTA buses. SamTrans, Dumbarton Express and Stanford Marguerite shuttles also stop there or close by. And there may be others I haven't seen.

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Posted by Diana Diamond
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 16, 2006 at 5:41 pm

Thanks, Steve, for the correction to my column. I was on a Caltrain car a couple of days before I wrote my column and there was no bathroom. But I did not check the entire train. I had not realized that there may have been one on the train somewhere. I went online to Caltrain now, and indeed, the new cars do have a bathroom in each car! That is great. I sincerely apologize for my error.

And you are right that the transit hub serves more than VTA. The Marguerites are there, and pick of passengers around the circle, and this is a connection point for SamTrans etc.

Independent of that, the thrust of my column is that I still think there is a problem with a lack of restroom facilities in the area -- and in the downtown. If there were enough restrooms, the Red Cross wouldn't have had their problem. And the one 50-cent toilet way in the back of the depot is insufficient to serve all the people.

As the Weekly reported Wednesday, there are hopes that the City Council will pass a new ordinance next week that would prohibit urination or defecation "except at a lavatory facility."

To me, that is avoiding the problem. If we have ONE 50-cent public toilet downtown, what are people to do -- particularly the homeless? Making it illegal to urinate doesn't help those in need. I thought we were a compassionate community.

I would agree that we should have an ordinance if people simply don't want to visit a public facility, but if there are no such facilities, it seems harsh to punish those who may have no choice.

Sometimes I have been downtown and needed to go and I wandered into a restaurant to use the facilities in back, feeling guilty as I did so. But at least I am white, and blond, and female, and no one questioned me, so I was lucky. I feel sorry for others.

Like this comment
Posted by Pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 16, 2006 at 8:03 pm

Hallelujah! It's great to have you back, Diana! Thank you Bill Johnson and Jay Thorwaldson.

Your voice has been much missed. Since your departure from the Daily News, that paper has become irrelevant, comprising mostly purchased content, minimal local news and almost no local commentary.

Every community needs a lightning rod to focus attention on important issues and provoke public dialogue. Every newspaper needs columnists who challenge the status quo.

It's wonderful to have you heating up the kitchen again with your new column and blog!

Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2006 at 9:28 am

Perhaps it is time to consider an adptation of the batwing pissoire with a Le Funnele dispensor for those who need it. The requirement that every toilet be handicapped accessible has made public toilets impractical.Accomodating the handicapped is not well served just by handicapping every one else. Ideally the facility should be semi open to reduce the potential for hanky-panky and facilitate cleaning, should have a waterless sanitizer to eliminate the need to wash, and should have directions to a full service toilet. It should not occupy more than one parking space. It could even use waterless urinals to hold down the cost.

Like this comment
Posted by Carolyn
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2006 at 2:20 pm

It is important that all toilets be accessible to the handicapped. Those who are handicapped often are those who are less able to "hold it" until reaching a usable restroom. The availability of restrooms can be a deciding factor as to whether one may attend a given event. As people feel uncomfortable venturing from their homes, they become even less likely to do so.

Heck, why waste the parking space anyway? All we really need is a tall hedge with some nearby branches to assist in standing up. Oh, and please make sure the hedge has large leaves.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob J.
a resident of University South
on Jun 17, 2006 at 2:49 pm

It's nice to have Diana back, though I hope her return is noticed by other Palo Altans. I stopped reading the Weekly many years ago as it gradually became a mouthpiece for the City Staff. Even before that, the Weekly always had a snobby and condescending attitude (that I still notice as I browse through the stories on this site). I hope Diana has some influence at the Weekly and can bring them back to earth becuase they now have a golden opportunity. The Daily has lost its way in the past year or so. The original owners sold the paper to the Mercury News, and the new management seems to be out-of-touch with the community. They've turned the paper into a copy of the Mercury (as another person on this thread said). The gutsy investigative reporting has been replaced with fluff stories and editorials designed to offend nobody. Diana knew what it took to make the Daily a "must read" -- maybe she can do the same for the Weekly? At least I hope Bill and Jay listen to her.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2006 at 4:11 pm

"It is important that all toilets be accessible to the handicapped"
Why not make all parking spots handicapped only?
I worked on a lifeguard tower at a South county park. Someone suggested a toilet be installed so the lifeguard would not have to spend so much time off watch to attend to nature's calls, but, even though one had to climb 3 flights of stairs to get to the watch station we were not allowed to install a toilet unless it was hadicap accesible,which was impossible and the guard has to leave her post longer. I worked for a major denomination that was required to make all toilets handicapped instead of just one for each sex on each floor. The only way this could be accomplished was to remove one WC from each toilet room, thus reducing the total WCs. Anyway, what if 2 handicapped need to go at once? How about three? do we make every stall a handicap stall with the five foot diameter clear inside even if it makes construction uneconomical? Some folk are very generous with other folk's money.

Like this comment
Posted by Carolyn
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 17, 2006 at 11:23 pm

No, I don't really mean that each stall should be that way, but if there's to be only one toilet at a given site, I would hope that it would be accessible.

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 20, 2006 at 8:46 am

The big issue coming up will be whether the TKCJL/BUILD Development at 901 San Antonio Road will be granted their PC zoning change. The TKCJL wishes to exceed Palo Alto's 50' height limit by 10'. They have doubled their FAR since their plans were first revealed. 800 vehicle trips a day are expected in and out of the site, 250 of them will be employees. .07 parking spaces have been provided for each housing unit and their Cultural Hall will hold nearly 300. Where will all the traffic go - down our residential streets? Where will all the vehicles park - on our residential streets?

Like this comment
Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Jun 20, 2006 at 4:17 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

I've gotten a lot of feedback about the lack of toilets at the depot. It seems to me that one quick solution would be for the city to provide a couple of PortaPotties there. As unattractive as they are, they still do the job, and they are a lot better than one 50-cent toilet. Also, commuters don't want to sit around and wait for Stanford or the city to rent out the train station to some coffee shop or whatever and then let that person decide whether the indoor toilets at the train station can be used by the public.

Your thoughts?

Like this comment
Posted by Edna
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 20, 2006 at 7:05 pm

So many of us were devastated when the Daily silenced the voice we all relied on. Thanks for coming back!

Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 23, 2006 at 3:57 pm

Re "Political Club". I agree with your comments on the way our City Council often seems to address an issue. Sometimes when they vote, I get the impression they are still running for office and don't want to offend a single voter or fellow council person - in spite of the fact that several are termed out. Of course one or two may be eyeing another political position.

While I may agree with a council member's position on a subject and the subject's subsequent approval, I would feel more comfortable hearing questions before the voting. Has the council member read up on the topic? Does he/she show they understand the trade offs? Have long term consequences been considered? Are they quiet because they haven't studied the issue? Is it pay back time?

Your example on the recent Measure A elected offical's support is an excellent one. Thank goodness the voters saw the pernicious consequences of giving present and future supervisors a blank check with no restrictions. I believe much, if not most, of the money would have been spent on the BART extension to San Jose. North County would have again been given a few sops at best.

Like this comment
Posted by Diana Diamond
a resident of another community
on Jul 10, 2006 at 2:34 pm

I have the same name as this other lady, but for some reason, she is giving out my email address.

Please stop.


Like this comment
Posted by an observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2006 at 2:17 pm

A great example of politicians supporting other politicians was a Guest Opinion in the May 31 issue of the Palo Alto Daily News - did DD stop reading her former paper? :-)

It was an endorsement by Peter Drekmeier (PA City Council member) and Bob Brownstein (former budget director for San Jose) of Proposition A (the half-cent sales tax increase). Their justification for their endorsement was that it had been endorsed by other politicians and by groups that would receive money from the tax. That they thought that this was a valid argument supports DD's observation

Like this comment
Posted by Blame ourselves
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

We always have to remember..we are driven by our need for social acceptance. Our electeds are no different, and once in the club, dont' want to "rock the boat" of the go along with the group think in action.

Doesn't matter what the promise is. It always comes back to High School and being with the "in" crowd. From local high school politics to DC politics..nothing is different.

Once in office, we HAVE to hold them to their promises, and if they don't vote the way we elected them to vote..we MUST vote them out.

We have only ourselves to blame.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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