TO: Palo Alto officials: SUBJECT: Hurry up and get things done! | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Mountain View Online |

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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TO: Palo Alto officials: SUBJECT: Hurry up and get things done!

Uploaded: Dec 30, 2019
A friend of mine once explained to me how this city’s famous (and now infamous) “Palo Alto Process” came about. “We have a lot of bright people living in this town,” he said, “and if we are so bright, then the thinking is we need to come up with a right decisions on the problems confronting us. So we have to talk about them, search for possible solutions, deliberate about what we could agree on, and then three years later, we decide. That’s why it takes so long and it’s a process that is now part of the thinking in this town.”

Great answer but I question whether there can be one right solution. Sometimes there are controversies in town about what should be done, such as whether to build taller buildings or keep our current height limits, and both ideas are viable since we can’t predict the ultimate outcome. So we try to compromise, and that doesn’t always work.

The past couple of years the problems seemingly have gotten harder to decide because a) there is no “right” solution, b) there are unexpected delays in trying to accomplish anything, or c) it’s just plain bureaucratic inertia. The result: the council makes some decisions but then there’s no action.

I’m tired of waiting for something to finally get finished in this town. Our “to do” list is getting longer and longer. My examples are several, prompted by this week’s Palo Alto Weekly decade round up of events that helped me recall some of what went on:

• A bike-pedestrian bridge across 101 has been in discussion for 10-plus years – after a design contest was held and then the best bid was awarded and then rejected and the cost of the second-best went up and up. Current status: Not even shovel-ready. In the meantime, East Palo Alto built one in about four years.

• The rebuilding of the new firehouse on Embarcadero Road was going well a year ago, and then there was some sort of glitch and a work stoppage. I am still waiting for the renovated fire station.

• Grade separations across Caltrain tracks – I remember 15 or 20 years ago going to 8 a.m. regional meetings of city council representatives where discussions on the need for grade separations were frequent. Most cities have some form of grade separation worked out. Mountain View and Sunnyvale haven’t built any yet, but they know what they want. But not Palo Alto – we have yet another citizens’ committee studying what to do (after numerous public meetings) and a council decision isn’t expected until November 2020 – 11 months from now. Can’t the council and city staff decide something sooner? Guess they prefer appointing another committee “to study it” – a favorite council phrase.

• The Embarcadero Road--El Camino intersection continues to be a constant car clog-up since 2009.For 10 years I’ve complained about this many times (as have others) and have been told by the city “we’re working on it” and “it’s complicated. I wonder how many thousands if not millions of us have been held up at this intersection. And according to the new traffic engineer, this is not on the current priority list.

• Agenda-Lite – No, that’s not a new diet soda but instead a reference to the reduced number of items discussed by the council at their three-times-a-month Monday meetings. There used to be 15 or so action items; now it seems less than a handful are agendized. Can’t the council handle more things the way they used to? Or the city staff?

• In 2010 there was an early morning plane crash in East Palo Alto, which caused an electric blackout in this city for hours. Shortly after, city officials talked about the importance of having an additional power source in case there’s another incident. Nine years later, no action.

• Along those lines, what if we have another earthquake or gas explosion and lose our electric power, Internet and ourbcell phone services don’t work. What do residents do? How do we know where to go? We’ve had disaster emergency discussions and plans and training for years, but having a spot for residents to meet “depends on the problem.” OK, but once there’s a disaster, how do we find out about shelters?

• Another old refrain of mine – digital signboards at entrances to city garages to indicate how many spaces are open. I continually hear that the Bryant Street garage has big parking shortage problems, and drivers go up to the top where only permit parking is allowed, then down again, and up again. And this city says were have to control our CO2 emissions. Ha!

• The city did start on building a new city garage on California Avenue and will be finally building a new Public Safety Building. The latter has been discussed for at least two decades.

And finally, one thing Palo Alto has done well is adding more than 400 city employees since the 2010 era. Not that additional employees have made any difference in how much faster things are getting done.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Come, come. We do have Ross Road furniture and roundabouts and we do have the Arastradero/Charleston Pinball Machine.

We have knocked down the old Jr. Museum and we do have a sideways Mitchell Park library (with no symmetry) with a dreadful parking lot layout. We also have some very odd bollards on Middlefield Road and a few no turn signals.

But otherwise, spot on!

Posted by who has the power?, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 2:07 pm

who has the power? is a registered user.

As set up in the city's charter the city manager operates very independently of the city council. The council has very limited powers to oversee the city manager. Although they can set policy and vote on specific actions they want the city manager to take it seems the city manager can delay or sabotage implementing these actions if it doesn't fit with their own goals.

Posted by who has the power?, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 2:11 pm

who has the power? is a registered user.

"... one thing Palo Alto has done well is adding more than 400 city employees since the 2010 era."

If you take into account all the jobs that used to be done by city employees but are now outsourced to independent contractors, the city is able to mask just what the total number of "employees" including those now "off the books" really is.

Posted by Correction, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 3:15 pm

The 101 bike bridge deserves criticism, but calling it “not even shovel ready" is incorrect: A construction contract was approved by City Council in November. Here's the weekly article:

Web Link

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Unfortunately, the city (i.e. James Keene) figured out how to quickly facilitate adding new office space and more jobs. I wish the city (Keene) hadn't been able "to get things done" so efficiently.

Posted by FedUp, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 30, 2019 at 10:33 pm

There is an election coming up in November. Vote for anyone who isn't an incumbent.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 10:14 am

Posted by FedUp, a resident of Midtown,

>> There is an election coming up in November. Vote for anyone who isn't an incumbent.

There are always a bunch of developer-friendly candidates in the mix. The trick is figuring out who they are, since they often say very soothing things, and then turn around and vote for upzoning deals with "public benefits" as cover. Don't be fooled.

Posted by Our fearless leaders, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 11:18 am

We have a current city council member and former mayor (Liz Kniss) that doesn't think we have traffic problems. She said so at a city council meeting. Our brilliant city leaders rewarded her by having her head up the new Traffic Study Commission.
Oh wow! ????????????

Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 11:51 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

City Council members seem to have to kiss-up to City staff if they want to get anything done. City staff is composed of people who want wonderful retirements, lazy people (I'll get to it when I have to or not) and stupid people. Management will trade in their vacation pay which is added onto their salary for retirement benefits. It seems illegal, but nobody can do anything about it. Seems as though all California city governments do this.

Posted by Diana Diamond, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 4:51 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

My response to some of your great postings:

Resident -- You make a fun point with the accomplishments -- the lawn furniture on Ross Road, the parking lot at Mitchell library that always seems to be short of spaces, etc.

I will reread the city's charter as to the power the council has over the city manager, but I do know he is hired by the council, reports to the council, and can be fired by the council.. If there are problems in the city not being handled, the council has to step in and direct the city manager to deal with the problems, solve them, take care of them. And the mayor, by virtue of his office, has even more oversight responsibility, in my view.

And in response to the bike-pedestrian bridge which is "not even shovel ready," an approved contract is not having a project shovel ready. Who knows when construction on that bridge will start?

Enjoyed reading all your comments!


Posted by Independent, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 11:24 pm

Regarding Caltrain - the only way to speed it up is to do expensive grade separations. Contrary to the sales pitch, electrification does not mean more frequent train service, only grade separations will permit that. And why would we want that? To make our town less livable, while we pay the price to make it that way? I don't think so. Is saving 7 minutes Palo Alto to SF worth $500 million of our dollars, and then losing that 7 minutes due to jam ups on Embarcadero b c Churchill is now closed? Nope. I don't think so.

Posted by Independent, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Dec 31, 2019 at 11:27 pm

Diana - how about focusing on the city council refusing to appoint a city auditor, contrary to the city charter? What are they afraid of at the city? Transparency? Accountability? Cost savings?

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 3:03 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Independent: who told you grade separations will speed up Caltrain? You are misinformed. Caltrain does not slow down for these, and, in fact, traverses them at the same 79 mph maximum speed they are currently limited to elsewhere.

Per Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations, US train speeds are capped at 79 mph unless they have in-cab signaling. This has nothing whatsoever to do with grade crossings, as these are allowed to be traversed at up to 125 mph before regulations require their elimination with grade separations (or closures). Since they do not currently envision operating faster than 110 or 120 mph on the shared track with Caltrain on the Peninsula, this is why the CA HSR Authority does not currently plan to fund any further Caltrain grade separations.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 9:16 am

Posted by Independent, a resident of Esther Clark Park,

>> Regarding Caltrain - the only way to speed it up is to do expensive grade separations. Contrary to the sales pitch, electrification does not mean more frequent train service,

Some of your observations are sort of right, sort of wrong, but, basically, "orthogonal" to the issues. More frequent service will arrive without grade separations. But, just so folks don't get confused, "top speed" is different from "more frequent service", and, top speed is already pretty high. Higher than a lot of people realize when they stop on the tracks at Alma.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 11:12 am

Seeing as there's a sizable city staff here, I'd like to know if there's an itemized list of consultants and their contracts. It appears very often residents like myself hear of consultants, reference is made in Council meeting broadcasts, etc, and one wonders a bit at this reliance..
Are these outside consultants necessary?
How much do we Palo Alto taxpayers pay per year for outside consultants?
Is there strong evidence these consultants produce usable reports?

It's accountability I'm looking for.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 1:07 pm

Marie is a registered user.

It's pretty hard to plan for grade crossings when Caltrain is still debating whether to add 4 tracks from Mountain View to CA Avenue which, if approved, will greatly increase the cost of grade crossings at E. Meadow and Charleston and increase the need to seize property. If this goes through, as part of the Caltrain 2040 planning, all the money we have spent on costing out grade crossings will be for naught. HSR's initial proposal, before moving to the blended solution, was four tracks, and to close E. Meadow to road traffic.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 8:00 pm

Palo Alto's major problem is that its process cycle far exceeds its attention span. It is always starting over on issues it had dropped when it started over on the issues it had dropped earlier and will drop again a few months. So it goes.

Posted by Trish Bubenik , a resident of University South,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 8:24 pm

Speaking of transparancy, what does "OIR" Group stand for? Thanks.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jan 1, 2020 at 8:41 pm

Office of Independent Review

Posted by Trish Bubenik , a resident of University South,
on Jan 2, 2020 at 9:59 am

Trish Bubenik is a registered user.

Thanks, Musical!

Posted by Peter, a resident of Meadow Park,
on Jan 3, 2020 at 7:09 pm


You left off another stalled project: the expansion of our Community Shuttle that was supposed to cover the areas of south Palo Alto that was scheduled to lose the VTA Route 88 bus service. This project appears to have stalled and sure enough Route 88 was finally eliminated and the City of Palo Alto is no where close to implementing an expanded Community Shuttle Service.

As a result, as reported by the Palo Alto Weekly, many Gunn High students don't have an easy way to get back home if they have after-school activities they need to attend. And other residents who depended on the Route 88 service have no good alternatives to use.

Posted by Anneke, a resident of Professorville,
on Jan 5, 2020 at 5:54 am

I recently had a (very) short meeting with a City planner, who was eager to leave to pick up his child in one city and then drive home to another city. He did not know the neighborhood Professorville.

During the meeting, we discovered that City planners use a day-time ambient sound sheet (60db) for night-time ambient noise (40db). So, an air-conditioning unit that produces 60db during the day is allowed according to City planners to run at night as well. A decade ago, City planners used a day-time (60db) and a night-time (40) ambient noise sheet. When I mentioned to the gentleman that the present chart is not realistic, he kind of mumbled that I was right, but that he could not do anything to change it.

This made me wonder about how many of our city employees live in other cities, which may make them less interested in the progress of projects in Palo Alto.

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