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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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The irony of it all: Dropped into a deep dark hole at city hall

Uploaded: Jun 16, 2020
How ironic! The city of Palo Alto has decided to sign a new lease with the Palo Alto school district to save $2.7 million, which will reduce the space the city and nonprofits use at Cubberley Community Center

That reduced use of the facility will help he city slightly reduce a nearly $40 million city budget deficit, because the city will save $2.7 million by turning over less to the district.

Bur in April the city council decided to keep all city employees on full-time to the end of June at a cost of $5 million, because it was the kind thing to do, although since city hall was closed, there was little work for them to do.

Score: Staff wins, public loses.

Debate about what to do to improve the dilapidated classroom buildings at Cubberley have been going on for seven years – with no action taken. I can remember board members from Heartfit for Life going to monthly city meetings but their report back: “no progress.” At one point there were suggestions to turn Cubberley into a health center for the community, particularly the aging – a great idea. Consultants were hired, more community meetings were held, and then nothing happened. So new consultants were hired. These consultants cost thousands, if not more.

The latest proposal from a consultant, who had lots of community input for this 35-acre site at 4000 Middlefield Road, was for a “shared village” operated by the city and the district, which included adding new space for nonprofits, a pool and other amenities.

Whoosh! All that work, time and money disappeared on Monday night when Palo Alto’s City Council decided 6-1 to forego all those plans for Cubberley to save the $2.7 million. What a loss for city residents. Only Councilmember Greg Tanaka suggested the city should take money out of future capital improvement projects to use it on Cubberley – an idea that needs to be pursued.

All this is also ironic because if decisions were made on Cubberley five years ago, we would have by now a wonderful new facility in this community. Instead we deliberated it to death, only to turn around and hire more consultants.

I am delighted that the city, which owns seven of the 35 acres, has found room for some of the nonprofits now occupying Cubberley, as has the school district.

Which brings me to other delays in this city. About 10 years ago the council approved having electronic digital signs that were going to be posted on public garages in the city to let motorists know how many vacant spaces there were and to signal which floors they were on. Great idea. San Jose had these 18 years ago. Nothing has happened yet.

It’s as if projects go into a deep dark hole at city hall and hibernate there for years before one or two might poke their heads up and become a reality.

Take the intersection at Embarcadero Road and El Camino, which is routinely tied up with traffic and long delays because of an inept traffic light system. I’ve been ranting about that for 10 years. At that time, then Traffic Manager Jaime Rodriguez was working on it but there was no progress. He left to form his own company, which was awarded a city contract to work on it, but 12 years later still nothing has happened.

Discussions about what to do about Caltrain crossings in town are now into a fifth year of debate, with nary a shovel in hand to begin work on it.

Palo Alto is the Gateway to Silicon Valley! How ironic, because if any company in this valley acted with such lengthy delays and kept on hiring more and more consultants, no new businesses would have started.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Pat Burt, a resident of Community Center,
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:47 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

The discussion last night clarified some things and muddied others.
First, upon repeated questioning, the city manager appeared to admit that he had not requested or been amenable to a sizable reduction in the lease amount the city would pay PAUSD in the near-term as an alternative to fundamentally changing the community center. The school leadership has indicated that they were prepared to reduce the city's payment while retaining the rest of the lease terms.
The impetus for the changes to the 30-year long use of the Cubberley as a community center was almost entirely a budgetary decision made by the city manager without any policy guidance provided in public by the council.
Many of the tenants are in the process of relocating, although often at higher rents so why couldn't the city have made up some of the desired savings from modest rent increases?
Other tenants will not be able to find new locations resulting in the community losing their services.
The council directed staff to try to renegotiate the new lease for just 30 months, but it's unclear why the district would now agree to shorten the term since that would undermine their flexibility in signing tenants or in school uses for the space. Once the city gives up control of this space, it is unlikely they will ever be able to get it back.
The council has one last chance next week to correct this mess. They can restore funding to public safety and community services budgets by only modestly slowing down the record-setting capital (infrastructure) spending for next year. In doing so, they'll also likely be able to accomplish even more of the infrastructure plan by re-bidding projects that are currently planned to proceed under highly inflated construction costs from the recent boom, and instead, they can take advantage of declining construction costs in the next 6-12 months.

Posted by Vote for me, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 16, 2020 at 5:54 pm

Looks like Patrick Burt is starting his campaigning early. He is popping up all over TSF spreading his wisdom and knowledge.
Too bad his first tenure ...(PORTION REMOVED)- little in the way of accomplishments except for constantly standing up for Karen Holman.

Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Jun 16, 2020 at 9:21 pm

As Hamlet, Prince of Palo Alto, decreed: "The Process is the thing."

Posted by Trish Bubenik , a resident of University South,
on Jun 16, 2020 at 10:37 pm

Trish Bubenik is a registered user.

WHAT??????????????????? $$$$$$$

Posted by Resident, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 16, 2020 at 11:07 pm

Residents of Palo Alto see the votes and motions. Liz Kniss and Mayor Adrian Fine have yet to represent the community needs. They seem to be there for the businesses and developers but never for the families and seniors and young folk who are paying their taxes into the City.

Ed Shakida have already shown his colors. His budget cuts are always into the community services.
There has been no budget cut into City staff and administration staff (even if they get every other Friday off). How about getting rid of the every other Friday off holiday of city staff? How about salary freezes?

Why did Ed Shakida go with a 5 million dollar pay out of salaries of administrative staff over the summer months, while city is cutting into nonprofit space in Cubberly, and community services. Whether services for seniors, or empty nesters, or young families or children, Ed Shakida, Mayor Adrian Fine and Liz Kniss are all on board with hurting families, seniors and children but protecting the city administrative staff and businesses.

Come voting seasons - remember who to vote out and who to vote in.
And here is to hoping we get a city Manager who actually will make the city run better, not self serve himself with no cuts to his administration, or decreasing the $5million dollar summer payout to city staff, while we have quibbled over $160,000 budget line item of College Terrace library who served families, seniors and had books, resources, and air conditioning provided to a large community

The needs of the few are being served for the needs of the larger community.

Posted by Good Riddance To PACC DEADBEATS, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:50 pm

With all the current discussion about Palo Alto police reform, it is also time to initiate Palo Alto City Council reform as well.

Why not create a referendum to remove ALL of these municipal
CHARLATANS (including the current City Manager) and start anew?

Personally speaking...I'm not voting for Mr. Burt either as he had a prior opportunity to prove his mettle as a visionary PACC member and his previous tenure amounted to very little.

It's time for some new blood at city hall in lieu of a bunch of self-serving, self-professed 'do-gooders' who accomplish VERY LITTLE in regards to the BEST INTERESTS of ALL Palo Alto residents.

It's also time for the PACC to begin distancing itself from developers whose only interest is in raping the Palo Alto landscape.

The 'old school' of Palo Alto politicians and sycophants chasing dollar signs needs to be TERMINATED once and for all.

The ramifications of COVID-19 is sending out a far larger message in regards to fiscal responsibilities and current PACC ineptitude.

Posted by Bob Ohlmann, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jun 18, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Bob Ohlmann is a registered user.

I applaud Diana Diamond for her efforts in supporting Palo alto residents. As a member of this community since 1967, and who have tried to vote the best people onto the City Council, I apparently failed to have elected members who could get things done instead of just debate. I attended a Council meeting recently and found only little discussion on major issues, and wondered how they could provide leadership for this community. Do they meet privately, violating the Brown act, to come up with the few important decisions they have made?

Posted by Vote for me, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 18, 2020 at 6:08 pm

Bob- no they go after low hanging fruit. The latest example is the council led by a real estate agent with her eye on certain local properties, pushing legislation that will drive them out of business in the name of public health.

Plus recycling council members is common practice her- Larry Klein, Liz kniss etc. they serve, accomplish little, then start pontificating on this forum about how much they know and run again.

Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Jun 18, 2020 at 10:47 pm

City Hall is our local First Church of Perpetual Process. The very purpose of modern city government is to conduct Process, and City Hall excels at Process. City Hall employees are evaluated in a Process according to the amount of Process they conduct in a year, measured by the money they spent conducting Process, the number of employees and consultants who reported to them as they conducted Process, and the external invisibility of their accomplishments.

Every year city governments hold a national convention to rate each other on the Process they conducted, accounting for the size of each city using a complex handicapping formula they work out through a perpetual joint Process. The general criteria mirror the employee evaluation Process.

Palo Alto's Process has consistently ranked very highly, which is a notable point of pride for both undisgruntled resident fans of Palo Alto city government. City Hall is clearly very good at doing what it does, which is Process.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jun 19, 2020 at 11:00 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"Take the intersection at Embarcadero Road and El Camino, which is routinely tied up with traffic and long delays because of an inept traffic light system. I've been ranting about that for 10 years. At that time, then Traffic Manager Jaime Rodriguez was working on it but there was no progress. He left to form his own company, which was awarded a city contract to work on it, but 12 years later still nothing has happened."

Thanks for reminding us. I propose a clawback from Jaime's contract for all the time we've wasted sitting at that idiotic traffic light while city "management" and the CC ignore our complaints. As I recall, his "consulting" contract was for $3,000,000 -- not counting his lucrative retirement package.

25,000 DAILY Embaracadro car trips x 365 days (including late nights, weekends and summers when school's out) = 9,125,000 x 10 years = 91,250,000 STOPS sitting there fuming at this pricey idiocy.

The waste and inefficiency of the unproductive consultant gravy train must be addressed by all the CC candidates.

Sloganeering about sustainability, exhaust fumes, anti-idling sloganeering, banning gas-powered car registrations etc etc. is SO much easier than actually FIXING things.

Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jun 19, 2020 at 11:07 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

When Jaime Rodriguez was hired by the City of Palo Alto he already had that business of making traffic signs.The City BOUGHT those signs which are placed in Palo Alto from him. Employees of the lovely City of Palo Alto have to sign an agreement that says they won't moonlight but that had no bearing on Jaime Rodriquez so said the previous City Manager. Several members of the public and at least one former City Council member told the City Council AND City Staff NOT to put the pedestrian stoplight at Paly and the stoplight at the T&C and Paly driveway. Nobody gave a flying fig so we have traffic (before the coronavirus) backed up for a few blocks.

Posted by Ronster, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jun 19, 2020 at 1:23 pm

Ronster is a registered user.

Ever tried to get something through the planning department? Cut half of it and 2/3 of the regulations.

Posted by Heidi Schwenk, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Jun 19, 2020 at 3:42 pm

Heidi Schwenk is a registered user.

Harry Merkin, Is Process truly the goal of City Council, Hall and Manager?

Yikes, if any business conducted themselves by process instead of Performance - Successful Completion of a Process; they would be out of business in weeks.

Please run for Council, as I wish everyone who has written knowledgeably about what is wrong with the Entire City Government would. I also encourage knowledgeable PA Community Members to write Opinion articles. All citizens need to know the history of the City Council, the Members, who works for progress to meet the communities needs and create a friendly, safe, healthy and inclusive City!

I've lived in Palo Alto since 1990 and feel strongly that it has become disproportionately void of inclusivity, community and general happiness. Our Culture is at an all time low. Even my children, late 20's don't like visiting and don't want to live here even if they could.

Where are the creators, artists, and dancers? Where are the passionate, loving and caring people?

I think Palo Alto needs to encourage and allow cultures to display themselves, of course with masks on! I think the best event in Palo Alto is California Avenue's Farmer's Market on Sunday, 9am to 1pm. Everyone who attends, even if they aren't shopping for food, but watch the activity of all the different people, are enjoying themselves and feel a part of something special Palo Alto. The second best is visiting the Elizabeth Gamble Garden. The third best is walking and biking the many sidewalks and bike paths all around the city, Stanford campus, the Stanford Mall, and the Baylands.

Palo Alto does not need more Developers unless they are going to Promote Community, Beautification and Inclusivity of all cultures and levels of income.

Posted by Pat Is Spot On., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 19, 2020 at 4:28 pm

Pat Is Spot On. is a registered user.

Pat gets it. Even if we need to delay the Cubberley redevelopment for a time, This is the wrong approach to rewriting the lease. We need a plan and funding strategy that works for the long-term. That means they need to rethink the budget that staff laid out.

I'll vote for Pat. He helped get the city moving on an infrastructure funding plan, led on pension reform, shall I go on....all while he led the city through successful recovery from the last recession. Not bad.

I'll vote for him.

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