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January 18, 2006

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Guest Opinion: Two years and counting Ö criticisms and challenges Guest Opinion: Two years and counting Ö criticisms and challenges (January 18, 2006)

by LaDoris Cordell

As I take a deep breath and dive into my third year on the Palo Alto City Council, I guess that I should be amazed at how well this city continues to function, in light of the constant barrage of criticism hurled at city staff and council members.

Iíve never experienced anything quite like this -- no matter what the issue and no matter what our stance, we just canít seem to do anything right.

When I was a judge I made decisions daily, many of which were controversial. There were more than a few people who were not pleased when they left my courtroom.

Still, I served for 19 years, emerging with my reputation for honesty and integrity intact. But with just two years of council work under my belt I have been attacked more than once in cartoons published in the cityís free daily, I have been demonized for voting against traffic barriers in a downtown neighborhood, I have been booed when I voted to place a hold on the cityís fiber-to-the-home effort, and I have been lambasted for expressing a desire to merely discuss lifting the non-resident ban at Foothills Park.

And it isnít just me -- my council colleagues, the city manager, the police chief, the assistant city manager and other city employees have, at one time or another, been targets of these relentless and oftentimes, personal attacks.

Truth be told, it has been wearing on all of us.

But then I remind myself that it is generally the same handful of people who regularly yell at us and complain at council meetings. I remind myself that the continuous attacks upon us by the free daily paper are what is to be expected from a paper whose sole agenda is to cater to its advertisers.

And, I remind myself that this is a city of 60,000-plus people, the great majority of whom generously view those of us who work here as well-meaning if occasionally benighted people who are trying our very best to serve this community.

Who knows? Perhaps Palo Altans have grown weary of the constant denigration of their elected officials and administrators. Perhaps the voters have come to the realization that the claims of the doom-and-gloomers are specious.

After all, recently we overwhelmingly voted in favor of the school parcel tax, which was vehemently opposed by a small but very vocal group of all too familiar individuals.

Could it be, then, that our community has had enough of the negativity that has so dominated the public discourse in our city? That would be wonderful, if true.

As I begin my third year on the council, I will be joined by three new council members, each of whom will bring a fresh vision to the council chambers.

I, too, will have some fresh ideas to propose. It is my intention this year to reach out to the City of East Palo Alto in an effort to create a joint summer youth-employment program. Working with the chambers of commerce of Palo Alto and of East Palo Alto, as well as with existing youth organizations, I hope to formalize a program wherein young people in East Palo Alto can be placed in summer jobs with businesses in Palo Alto.

I will continue to explore the possibility of lifting the entry restriction to Foothills Park, and to work with the Blue Ribbon Task Force as it determines whether the city needs a new police building.

When you add in the budget, the restructuring of the utilities department, emergency preparedness, the libraries, police auditing, traffic calming, and housing and retail development, this is going to be yet another busy year.

So, criticism and complaints be damned. I remain ever hopeful that we as a community can find better, or at least a bit more civil, ways of reaching decisions.

LaDoris Cordell is a former Superior Court judge in Santa Clara County and currently is the Special Counselor to the President of Stanford University. She was elected to the City Council two years ago. She can be e-mailed at

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