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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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Palo Alto needs to prioritize its priorities

Uploaded: Feb 9, 2022

Palo Alto’s new priorities are nice. So very nice. The four the city council decided on for 2922 encompass many of this city’s worries and concerns -- all of which, the city seems to presume, are fixable because they are now “priorities.” Three of them are the same as last year’s. I guess those issues haven’t been solved yet, but it’s difficult to know because no measurements or goals were established, nor were deadlines.

The four official priorities are: A) Economic recovery and transition (cohesive vision for our commercial cores); B) Climate change – protection and adoption; C) Housing for social and economic balance; D) Community health and safety (crime, mental health, air quality, noise, sense of belonging).

D is the new addition. It’s such a basketful of wishes -- something for every problem in the city – like crime and leaf blowers and airplane noise. Are they each a priority, i.e., is air quality a priority in itself?? And what does the city specifically hope to accomplish? The council wasn’t quite sure although members offered many ideas.

And therein lies my problem. Each year the council gives us the city’s list of priorities, but then what. What are the specific objectives and goals of these priorities? Are they spelled out? How do we measure progress – monthly reports? If the city staff is measuring progress, how is it reported to the community?

Simply stated, I want something like a "to do" list. For example, if my priority was "Improve my back yard," I would list: a) trim trees and bushes, b) mow grass, clear leaves, c) buy 48 impatiens 5) buy four new rose bushes for back corner... You get the idea.

What is the goal for mental health, for example – or crime? Is it clearly defined? How does the council know the city has achieved what was wanted? If we don’t have measurements, then we can’t measure success. If the council doesn’t know whether the goal has been achieved, does it simply drop a priority after three years, as has been the case?

Some of the priorities, like climate, are good to put on the list because it acknowledges it is a local problem and well as a national and international one, and that the city will continue to work hard to do its part.
The areas of concern in the newest city priority (“D”) cause me concern, not because they are bad ideas, but they seem so vague, and intentions must be de.

Take airplane noise. Some residents have been upset about that for years, and have met with officials asking for less noise – or different flight paths to SFO or SJC. Flying over the Peninsula portion of the bay has been suggested. But Palo Alto is near two airports, both of which are international terminals, and it’s difficult to figure how all flights—going north and south – can fly over our little Peninsula bay. Will they bump into each other?

What about curtailing the use of gas-powered leaf blowers? Council passed a ban a couple of years ago, but police said they didn’t have the staff to go to those homes where residents have complained about the use of these gas blowers (and they can be noisy). I am guessing that this new priority will mean the city has to find a way to control gas-powered blowers. Yet gardeners like them because the battery ones are too slow, and in order to earn a decent living, they need to work fast so they can care for lots of customers.

Or take the “mental health” and “sense of belonging” goals, intended, I think, to look after the concerns of youth in this town. Are there specific issues here the city can solve? Or is this in there just because it makes us feel like a caring city – at least on paper.

I believe some of these issues can be worked on successfully. But the priorities are too broad to succeed in every area. They must be prioritized. And city leaders must decide what the city should do, create strategies and measurements, and continue to report every six months or so to the council and to a residents, so we know what is being done.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Just Another Day In PA, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 9, 2022 at 10:41 am

Just Another Day In PA is a registered user.

The PACC is an idealistic group of individuals who tend to overlook certain practicalities (aka reality).

It does not take Kojak or Dick Tracy to establish this premise.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 9, 2022 at 1:50 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

These are feel good lists, no reality there. They are undefinable goals and since they are basically the same every year we are obviously not doing well.

My priorities would start with infrastructure which would include things like traffic, parking, public transport, road maintenance, water and power distribution efficiency. It is amazing that we still don't have simple ways to aid us park with electronic signage or paybyphone systems. Or am I out on the loop on that one.

I would second that priority with crime. We have had more crime in the past few months and of late some really disgusting crimes in Safeway and coffee shops.

After that some transparency issues with fiscal responsibility coming into play. I can't believe the CC wants to bring in a business tax without any real definition of what specific outlay it will cover or how it will be monitored.

So thanks for the article, I agree with you completely. Your backyard analogy is right. Let's see a list of specific targets, timelines for their completion and announce when the targets are met. If they are not met in a year. If they are unattainable, they should not be there. If they are more than 75% there keep them for another year. Otherwise, why bother?

Posted by Moctod, a resident of University South,
on Feb 10, 2022 at 10:51 am

Moctod is a registered user.


Thank you very much for this posting.

I believe that there is an exception to the lack of planning, and that is with "B) Climate change �" protection and adoption", albeit one that has not been widely published.

Check the meetings and minutes of the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan Ad Hoc Committee which is in session as I write this. This very like-minded ad hoc committee has decided to make a local gesture to save the world from global warming by terminating natural gas service to the single-family residents starting in 2025 and reaching completion by 2030.

They are now discussing how to provide loans/ grants to pay for the enormous cost of buying and installing electric replacements for natural gas forced-air heating, water heaters and stoves.

These decisions to end natural gas service should have started with a polling of all of our residents to see if we want to pay for these very significant expenses. The public also should be told that once those new "smart" electric meters are in place by 2025, we will go from a simple two-tiered systen based only on usage, to a three-tiered system that varies by season and time of day that will charge our residents significantly more when demand on the grid is highest, evenings and during the day. In other words they plan on forcing, by using very high rates, our residents to refrain from using electric power when we most need and want to use it.

So, after paying tens of thousands to convert to all-electric appliances, we will be faced with massive increases in electric rates. Get ready, as the plans are hiding in plain sight.

Posted by Julie Packard, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Feb 10, 2022 at 11:58 am

Julie Packard is a registered user.

Despite whatever the PACC has to say on gas, we will not be replacing our Wolf stove with a electric range just to save the planet when other highly industrial countries (i.e. the PRC) have made minimal efforts to curtail global warming on their part.

We are not proponents of electric ranges, (no heat range control), EVs (most of which are ugly designs including Teslas), or non-gas powered heaters which provide heat when the AC grid is down).

Call it non-eco minded but so what?

Posted by Jacob Steinman, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Feb 10, 2022 at 1:35 pm

Jacob Steinman is a registered user.

As a long time Palo Alto resident, I pay my utility bills and property taxes on time BUT I do not answer to the City Council nor do I adhere to any of their hare-brained ideas.

The only reason global warming and climate change are pressing issues is because of unsustained increases in population both global and local.

No one complained about gas-powered cars, gas stoves, fireplaces, and gridlock 'back in the day' because there were fewer people adding to the pollution.

We do not need anymore new children or people on Earth for the time being.

Posted by NeilsonBuchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 10, 2022 at 5:16 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

This idea of monthly written progress reports has merit as soon as the helter/skelter of covid era subsides. However, there must be consensus on which projects or issues warrant this level of visibility. It would be reasonable for staff to write a few informative sentences describing current activity on 3-5 major issues.

The concept is a simple snapshot of work-in-process. It could create a sense of momentum and confidence. Palo Alto citizens often set unreasonable expectations from staff. This concept must have focus of a few key issues.

Posted by Phyllis Geharty, a resident of another community,
on Feb 11, 2022 at 8:09 am

Phyllis Geharty is a registered user.

Palo Alto has changed. We used to reside in Southgate during the 1960s and it was a quiet & politically moderate town compared to Berkeley which was more of a left-wing college community.

Nowadays it appears the PACC is intent on repairing the entire world via its progressive measures and this effort in itself is both highly unrealistic and impractical.

Do-gooder types generally make a bigger mess of things.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 12, 2022 at 4:29 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

When you visit Open Homes now on the Real Estate Market check out the kitchens. The high-end homes have new gas stoves. Homes now on the market have all new kitchens and bathrooms. Some retain the heating system which works very well. Relative in the Oakland Hills has a new gas oven - he reports that everyone is upgrading with gas and expect that this feature will be grandfathered in. How can Coldwell Banker be so wrong?

How can a tiny committee - an advocacy group control the residential economy of any city when we all know that this is a high tax state. Homes are now selling for over $3M. Being totally dependent on electricity is wrong headed because we do not have the most up-to-date power grid at the state level. And the power grid in part is driven by gas - gas is very clean. Sorry - the state does not have it's ducks in order when it comes to the power grid. Hydropower is going to get very tricky as we run out of water and are not upgrading the dams. Again, and one "message' and "idea" is addressed as a single line-item concept when in fact it has a whole number of criteria which are required for success. Whoever the group is will be expected to be able to address the criteria for success of any scheme to change the other competing concepts. We have no control of electricity at the state level grid - that is a fact.

Posted by Randi Kayne, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 14, 2022 at 11:48 am

Randi Kayne is a registered user.

"I do not answer to the City Council nor do I adhere to any of their hare-brained ideas."

Add me to this list as the PA City Council is clearly out to lunch-clueless on civic matters in which they have absolutely no expertise, reasonable logic, or any noteworthy examples of sound municipal judgement.

They are strictly small-time politicians, some of whom share county supervisor aspirations where they can wreak even more havoc.

Vote them all out in the next election as Palo Alto is deteriorating.

Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 14, 2022 at 12:37 pm

Eeyore (formerly StarSpring) is a registered user.

@Phyllis Geharty x2

We need a "Do not do" list as much as a "Do" list. I'm tired of the City Manager narrowing our streets and placing barriers that make it even more dangerous to be a pedestrian and cyclist in our city. We don't need to build-build-build and making changes just for the sake of change.

Slow down!

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center,
on Feb 14, 2022 at 4:55 pm

Neal is a registered user.

A "Do not do" list is a great idea. Diana, that's a great topic for another column.

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 14, 2022 at 4:59 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Charleston today seemed a mess when I turned from Fabian. No work appeared to be done, but lots of cones and less space for travel. It seems that people will be avoiding Charleston and using side roads instead.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 14, 2022 at 5:38 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

What did we learn this weekend at the Super Bowl? LA is the second biggest city in the country. LA is in the State of CA. Palo Alto is in the State of CA. There is NO State of Palo Alto. What I am reading above is illegal from a number of major categories. The State of CA has legal rules and laws concerning property law, taxation of property, property insurance, and banking.

Who is on the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan Ad Hoc Committee? And which PACC member is sitting in on this committee? Is any city budget assigned to this committee? Please clear up what is going on here, who is participating, We need some real facts here.

Palo Alto is a relatively small city with a small profile within the state total. We are dependent of other entities within the state to provide utility functions.

Posted by Pat Markevitch, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 14, 2022 at 11:13 pm

Pat Markevitch is a registered user.

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,

The members of the Ad Hoc Committee are Pat Burt, Olson Cormack and Tom Dubois.

Other cities are also discussing eliminating gas to the home. In a state where the power grid is shut down during certain times of the year because of high fire risks, eliminating natural gas is insane. Is there a way to stop this?

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 15, 2022 at 4:27 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Where I live in south PA a number of homes are being reinvented for resale. One Eichler down the street just sold for $4+M. Another in the next block for $3.5M. One house on my block has been upgraded and another is now in process. All have new kitchens and bathrooms - that is your water heater that uses gas. I visited an Open House in Mid-town - heated by solar and gas stove in kitchen - all new. A gas stove is a selling point.

The recent fires in CA are caused by electrical lines confounded by trees. Electricity is not a natural product - it has to be created and conducted to homes. Gas is a natural product and is now used to help generate electricity.

Your residential home insurance is provided with one set of circumstances. When those circumstances change your insurance rate changes. That is one reason that when upgrading they try to keep the same footprint of the original house. But the amount of digging and earth movement for new pipes is a giant effort. We are talking about a lot of digging now - a lot of insurance rate changes across the board.
Note about loans to homeowners - now becoming a bank? People who have mortgages are paying two finance entities? I can see in new developments where this could be part of the original homes financial criteria because you are starting with raw land. But in this city you are only re-inventing on existing criteria for heating and cooking.
What about restaurants - they use gas stoves. What about your major cities in this state? What about PG&E? No major city runs on only electricity.
We are talking about major rate changes for utilities and home insurance. Also changes the tax base of the home when you make a major change to the house plan.

Based on what I saw last night of the town Council and their discussions on Cubberly and it's upgrades the city is swimming in unresolved issues and asking the wrong questions. We did not vote for this. It is not a climate issue - it is a monetary and legal issue.

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