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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 24, 2003

New group aims to turn PAGE to 'better government'
Goal is to improve 'quality of discourse; may risk return to 'slate politics'

by Jay Thorwaldson

A new group called PAGE ("Palo Altans for Government Effectiveness") is hoping to launch a new chapter in city and school politics.

That chapter would be "civil discourse" in the face of divisiveness on the City Council and political organizing in the community that has overflowed into school district affairs, according to founding organizer John Northway.

"If you can't get the minutes straight, how can you hope to solve the financial challenges we're facing?" Northway asked, referring to recent council debates over requested verbatim minutes.

"We'd like to keep the quality of discourse on a higher level in the community," he said.

Rumors have been circulating for several months that formation of a group was afoot to give MPACT (Midpeninsula Action for Tomorrow) a run for its money - which if it occurs would bring back "slate politics" to the community. Slate politics, essentially a local two-party system, dominated city politics in the 1960s and early 1970s.

But organizers of PAGE have stayed uniformly mum about their plans. Reports of the group's existence increased sharply in mid-January as its organizers reached out into the community to enlist supporters.

Northway, a Palo Alto architect, reluctantly confirmed that PAGE organizers are engaged in outreach and said the group had been planning a major public announcement in early February. He said a public meeting has been scheduled for Feb. 20 at the Palo Alto Unitarian Church.

Northway has long been active in a variety of community organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce (where he created a task force to explore alternative transportation and founded Leadership Palo Alto).

He emphasized the intent of PAGE is to create a broad-based group of citizens "who want good and effective government" and who are willing to work for it, both in general and during political-campaigns.

He said reports that the group would reflect "developer interests" or would not endorse any incumbent members of the City Council for next November's election are completely wrong.

Another founding organizer, Palo Alto attorney and former Mayor Larry Klein, declined to discuss details except to say the group plans a major public announcement in early February.

In addition to serving on the City Council for many years, Klein was a founding member of a committee in 1970 that created the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

Northway said the formation of PAGE is clearly a response to the current split on the City Council, and the political environment in the community that supports the split.

Northway said PAGE is open to anyone except persons presently holding public office. Members need not be residents of Palo Alto, he said.

Northway said the founders hoped to get at least 100 persons signed on before talking about PAGE in public.

In addition, "We didn't want to come out during the charged atmosphere" in recent weeks, he said, referring to the controversy swirling around a closed meeting Oct. 30.

The mission statement for the new group, obtained from sources other than Northway, cites the importance of "civil discourse" to effective government, and states that government "works best when all views are heard, vigorous debate ensues, and timely decisions are made."

The organizers "believe the City and School District staffs function best when they provide their professional views without political interference or intimidation," the statement continues. Public input, the mission statement says, "should be consistently objective and should fully represent the range of views in our community."

It states the organization "will monitor our local government agencies, analyze the issues in depth, prepare position papers and testify before the City Council and the School Board."

In a related list of activities planned for 2003, the group cited five objectives:

* to form a committee to monitor land-use and transportation legislation and projects and "facilitate broad stakeholder outreach well in advance of public hearings," including on the pending "zoning ordinance update";

* encourage writing of guest opinions for newspapers using a standard of "fair analysis based on accurate information";

* create an "extensive reading and discussion course about Principles of Dialogue," and create a list of 10 such principles for community and neighborhood organizations to consider;

* sponsor two weekend programs, on "sustainability" in April and city and school finance in October;

* "participate in City Council and School Board elections."

Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at [email protected]


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