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A Call to Serve on Palo Alto Commissions

Original post made by Paul Losch, a resident of Palo Alto, on Nov 20, 2009

I have been on the City of Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission since 2004, and I am applying again as my term expires the end of this year. I am hopeful that City Council re-appoints me.

3 of my colleagues whose terms also expire the end of this year have decided for various reasons not to "re-up." My understanding is that very few people have applied to fill the vacant positions on this commission.

I also have heard around City Hall that this is the case with other commission openings that are open. I am deeply troubled that for all the talk of "civic engagement," and what appears to this writer as plenty of people with points of view around various matters Palo Alto, we are unable to attract a good number of quality candidates to fulfill these important responsibilities.

City Council ultimately decides policy matters, as our elected representatives. And they rely a great deal on what the various Commissions recommend to them. Council values the depth of knowledge and amount of time Commissions have to delve into issues that Council cannot, since they have only so much bandwidth.

The time commitment for serving on a Commission varies by the Commission and the degree of participation individual members choose to put into it. Speaking for myself, I run a small company in Fremont and am going through a divorce, both of which take up a great deal of my time. I still am able to participate on the Parks and Recreation Commission as we have our regular monthly meetings, special community meetings (such as the recent one about "The Dog Matter,") and meeting with staff about various topics that the Commission is addressing.

I know many people are busy with their jobs and their families, and are not able to allocate time to the duties of a Commissioner. By the same token, there are many capable people in town who are engaged in what goes on here and who can, if they choose to, make the time and energy commitment to take on these duties. These duties are an important part of what makes Palo Alto the type of city that it is, it is not busy work. It is policy work.

I am honored to have this blog space on the Weekly's On-Line service, and I am even more honored how many of you read it, and tell me that when I have a face to face encounter. I hope this posting is taken as a call to action for many of you to apply for a Commission opening that is of interest to you and where you can add value to the Community.

If you want to know what positions are open, please go to the City of Palo Alto web site or contact the City Clerk's office.

And good luck to those of you who decide to apply.

Comments (11)

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2009 at 2:51 pm


Could you perhaps explain some more about the screening process? I happen to know someone who applied for the Parks and Rec. Commission, a few years back. He was highly qualified, heavily involved in youth sports, a father, a lawyer, energetic and eager to serve. He got shot down.

I am not related to this gentleman, in any way. It just surprised me that he was not considered suitable to serve on the commission. If someone like him is not qualified, then maybe many other people would not consider it, becasue they would not want to invest the time and energy, only to be rejected.

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Posted by Amused
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Why waste years of time serving on a commission, when city council caves at the 11th hour to a handful of complainers that show up at one or two council meetings, questioning all your work?

Palo Alto has NO leadership, at any level. So let the tail continue to wag the dog, allowing an apoplectic council to react to 50 members of the public that protest almost everything, and out of a population of 62,000, that's not many.

It's becoming amusing, with all the drama and the constant stream of council & city apologies that have gone on now for what, 2 years?

Other communities (with FIVE council members) seem to get more done, and more efficiently.

Civic Engagement is a joke. Neither council nor staff can define it. There is a lack of engagement, for a reason.

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Posted by Not amused
a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Maybe the handful of complainers have legitimate concerns that the commission should have responded to earlier. Self righteousness isn't always the highest virtue.
Some commissions are more competent than others.

Like this comment
Posted by bagles
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 20, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Freeee bagles..that should win elections

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Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2009 at 1:10 pm

I'm afraid I have to agree with some of the comments here. I'd be afraid to join a commission because it would make me a direct participant in the 'Palo Alto Process' whereby anyone who puts forth an idea gets shot down from several directions at once. If anything does make it past the first volley, it is guaranteed to get mired for years in political wrangling, posturing, phony grandstanding and the like. I'm sorry for this as I'd enjoy participating in a functional city process and I wish we had one! Thank you for all you do for us!

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I'm afraid I have to agree with the posters. Being on a commission in Palo Alto seems to be a thankless job. While I applaud the work of all the commission members, the handling of the Downtown Library was kind-of a final straw for me. Why bother putting in the work when the City Council ignores your recommendations?

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Posted by Things have to change
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2009 at 3:34 pm

To be honest the Parks and Recreation Commission has a reputation for being controlled by one person. I have always thought that Parks and Rec is the Commission I could most likely contribute to; then one evening I saw them in action. I now realize why the other three Commissioners are not applying for another term.

Unfortunately Parks and Rec is not the only commission which seems to get taken over by a single person or small group of people, I have also seen this on the Library Commission and the Arts Commission. If you are not with the "in" group it's kind-of a waste of time.

It's sad but you only have to see some of these Commissions in action to realize why they are having problems replacing retiring Commissioners. I think it's time to disband some of them for a year or two and have a fresh start later.

Like this comment
Posted by I'm with them
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2009 at 10:55 pm

I tend to agree with the previous posters that the handling of the Downtown Library was also a final straw for me. If the City Council doesn't take you seriously and ignores your recommendations, then the position is for all intents and purposes toothless and a waste of time. A wise man learns from his mistakes. A wiser man learns from others mistakes. I agree with many of the posters that this is why there are now problems replacing Commissioners. You reap what you sow.

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Posted by Not amused
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2009 at 12:53 am

You may have an incorrect understanding of the function of commissions. They ADVISE the council. The council very often disregards the advice of commissions.
The council isn't supposed to be a rubber stamp, but to listen to additional information and insight. Yes it hurts not to have your advice taken, but that is the nature of any political process. Happens all the time.
The library commissioner thought she was in charge and the council was supposed to obey.
Funny thing is she is a board member of the organization that advocates "Civic Engagement." But she completely rejected the public's engagement and also the city council's engagement. I guess some people's engagement counts more than other people's.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 9, 2009 at 8:23 am

Dear Not Amused -

We understand that the commissions advise and their advice can be disregarded. The issue that people have with the City Council's disregard of the Library Commission is that the wishes of a handful of people who wanted more books at the Downtown Library took precedence over both the Commissions recommendations, but more importantly, over what the VOTERS of PA had approved for the Library Bond.

Then there is the very general issue that environmental anything takes precedence over financial responsibility and common sense with our Council...

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Posted by Not amused
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2009 at 11:52 am

"Mom" put it correctly.
<the wishes of a handful of people who wanted more books at the Downtown Library took precedence over both the Commissions recommendations>
The commission was against adding more books to the library, as though the bond issue forbids adding more books.
I hope the Dilbert cartoonist is paying attention to this bizarre scenario.

Environmental issues are not involved. Nor were finances involved. Please become informed.

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