Below is a letter I sent to the Palo Alto City Council regarding a proposal to loosen up the restrictions on putting private names on public lands and buildings; this is on tonight's agenda:
Dear Honorable Council Members,
I am writing to you because I am disturbed about a proposal before the Council, that I read about in this morning’s Palo Alto Daily News, concerning liberalizing the process for the naming of public property by private corporations. I am completely against any public property being named after a private corporation in exchange for money. Honoring a special person or company because they have done valuable and worthwhile deeds for the City, without monetary compensation, is acceptable. But commercializing public assets is degrading and not fitting of our fine city.
Mayor Larry Klein reportedly said “… universities, museums and hospitals all use similar funding options and that it would lessen the fiscal burden on the city's tax payers…. I've thought about it, and I don't have any problem with it…. I think it's where the world is going. If someone wants to put up ten or twenty million dollars, I think that's a fair trade for us."
The problem with the Mayor’s view is that it reflects the same “world” delusion that you can get something for nothing. The Mayor and others are also falling prey to the dogmatic conservative drumbeat that government is bad and private is good. The great cost in commercializing public assets is that they are then in appearance, and in many ways in fact, no longer public assets. The public begins to view them as just another theme park or shopping mall. The City also becomes addicted to money from powerful corporations that then demand greater access to public assets at the threat of withholding their money. The fact the universities, museums, and hospitals sell naming rights isn’t relevant to Palo Alto as they don’t have a tax base and many of them are private as well.
If we need to raise money for a particular project, then let us have a discussion of the project’s merits, have the Council or residents approve it, and then raise the funds for it from the citizens of Palo Alto. Palo Alto is a rich city with no real shortage of funds from residents for worthwhile projects or services.
It seems the easy way out for staff to suggest and for the Council to approve the selling of Palo Alto to the highest bidder, but I beseech you to resist taking this path. Palo Altans are not afraid to open their pocketbooks for worthy causes. In the end, our city lands and buildings are some of the last public places in which we can hide from the onslaught of commercialization.