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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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How well is City Manager Ed Shikada performing his job?

Uploaded: Mar 20, 2023
Is Ed Shikada doing a good job as city manager of Palo Alto? In a closed session Monday night, March 20, council members gathered behind closed doors to assess the job performance of the city manager and city attorney -- an annual review.

I wish I had been a fly on the wall at that meeting. In fact, I wish that figuratively all residents who want to were flies on that wall. It is our money that pays the enormous salaries these two (and other employees) are getting, which increases each year.

If I were to assess Shikada’s performance, there are changes I would suggest, which are the result of my watching many council meetings and reading local newspapers daily.

My first concern are those high salaries this city pays its employees – costing us nearly $200 million a year, including benefits, for more than approximately 900 full-time and 300 part-time employees.

The council recently awarded a 4% increase in all base salaries in July 2023, and another 4% in 2024. Also, each employee will get $100 per month in “flexible compensation.” And third, the city will bring all managers salaries to “market level,” as determined by a survey of other cities.These new increases will cost $8.6 million over two years.

That is a large amount of money for a city of approximately 68,000 people. Shikada received $573,000 in 2021 – I don’t have his 2022-2023 level, but it keeps on going up; Plus in two different years he ranked sixth and then fourth in this state for highest city manager salaries – and California has several cities much larger than Palo Alto. Shikada also has 12 assistants who report to him to help with his duties. And few, if any, other cities' employees have every other Friday off (26 days off a year), plus 13 paid holidays with a new floating holiday just added this year. BTW, the city just gave a 20% salary increase to battalion officers.

Second, I would ask Shikada why it takes so long to get things done in this city. Residents and builders have long questioned why permitting and approval in this community takes months, oftentimes a year or two to get approved – with hefty associated fees. No clear answer yet – approval continues to take a long time.

A related question is why do certain already council-approved projects never seem to materialize? My favorite example is those digital signs at the entrances to our public garages that tell drivers how many empty spaces currently are available and on what level.

When then-council member Liz Kniss was stepping down from her seat in 2020, she asked Shikada when the digital lights would be completed, since the council had approved of them a couple of years earlier. “We’re working on it,” was his reply. Well, it’s three years later and the “work” is not yet completed. I’m not a traffic engineer, but if I wanted a digital car-counting system for a city garage, I would call up a company who could handle the job and it would be done! I know San Jose 15 years ago had every city garage equipped with digital lights indicating empty spaces.

Same delay issue is true for the traffic congestion problem along Embarcadero Road near El Camino – the school crossing traffic light is not coordinated with the traffic signal at the Town & Country entrance a block away, so motorists are often stopped twice waiting for lights to change. A the ECR-Embarcadero intersection, the left-hand turn lane on ECR usually has a lengthy queue that oftentimes requires drivers to wait through two or three cycles to finally turn onto Embarcadero. The problem: the traffic on Embarcadero is backed up because of the two uncoordinated signals.

The backup started soon after Trader Joe’s opened in T&C in 2008. I wrote several columns about this problem starting 13 years ago Finally my then-editor said, “Stop, not another column on this tie-up – you gave the city the message. They will get it done.”

Wrong. It’s 2023 and It’s still an annoying, continuing problem.

Next, I would suggest that the city manager, who sets the council agenda, with the assistance of the mayor at times, not put the agenda items the public is really interested in toward the end of the council agenda. The timing is such that frequently discussion on a major topic does not begin until 10 p.m. or so, at a point where council members are getting tired and many residents have already gone home. Maybe the manager wants it that way. A discussion on police encryption, a hot community issue, appeared late on the agenda. I asked one council member the day after why he voted “no” when I thought he supported getting rid of encryption. He said he was so tired at that point he couldn’t concentrate.

The council debate on fiber-to-the-home, a huge $144 million project, was approved in the late hours, after several residents had left the council chambers. That’s a big city expenditure that needed more public input and support than occurred that night. The fiber allows a faster internet connection to residents who opt to be connected to it, with a monthly charge. It is also a service already available by Comcast and AT&T, who have much more advanced knowledge on fiber than those individuals the city manager will have to hire.

Since 1983, we had a city auditor inhouse, one of four council-appointed officers. But a couple of years ago it was decided to hire an outside firm from Chicago, Baker Tilly US, for this auditing service. Now it is time to rethink it.

Why? Two reasons. Previous auditors could wander around the offices within City Hall, and have conversations with employees. Often, a former auditor old me, that’s the way an auditor foinds out about things going a bit amok.

But now Shikada, along with the council, gives the Chicago firm a list of items he wants audited. That sounds okay but it isn’t. If a manager does not want to reveal a problem, and air it in public, that problem could easily (deliberately?) be left off the list. And so, the manager can hide things more easily. I am not saying that is happening, but keeping an issue secret sure would be easy to do.

And finally, what about all the money this city is spending, even though it has an annual budget of nearly $1 BILLION. Maybe that accounts for some of the high spending, like the $144M for fiber, or even $400,000 for a play space with statues of dinosaurs.

On Monday’s consent agenda was renewal of a contract space to LAZ Parking for $2.3 million for a two-year contract for their workers to go around and ticket drivers who park in residential permit areas without the proper sticker. Yes, the city will collect money from those ticketed –but spending such a large sum for such a minor matter seems wasteful, to say the least.

Oh well, it’s only our money they are spending. Why should we care?
Democracy.
What is it worth to you?

Comments

Posted by Kenneth Chung, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Mar 20, 2023 at 4:33 pm

Kenneth Chung is a registered user.

(1) City Managers tend to draw large salaries + benefits in most noteworthy CA cities. Palo Alto is no different.

(2) "Rome was not built in a day" and PA residents need to take this venerable saying into consideration.

(3) If the PACC didn't have full confidence in Mr. Shikada and his administration, they would have fired him...right?

(4) Racism (aka xenophobia) is playing a clandestine role in this discussion.

We can do better than that both as a community and as a nation.


Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 20, 2023 at 5:03 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Ignoring the last comment, I agree with all Dianna says. My bug bear has been the parking signs at garages as well as improving parking generally and an app for payment and or meters. This has been discussed, as she says, and various approvals given but we are still waiting. This and traffic moving efficiently in various areas must come under his jurisdiction.

El Camino Real is in a terrible state and although I appreciate this is not the City's jurisdiction, it must be the Manager's job description to get the county to move on this. People are getting damage to their cars on a daily basis. This is not acceptable.


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Mar 21, 2023 at 9:35 am

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

Racism? Xenophobia? Those are serious accusations. Without evidence, they render the comment self-discrediting.


Posted by Richard, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Mar 21, 2023 at 10:51 am

Richard is a registered user.

I agree with Ms Diamond's comments. I wouldn't mind the salary if things actually got done more expeditiously and if systemic issues like permitting got fixed. From my somewhat limited observations when I've listened to council meetings, I don't think the council presses city staff enough on their findings and recommendations.


Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Mar 21, 2023 at 11:07 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"The backup started soon after Trader Joe's opened in T&C in 2008. I wrote several columns about this problem starting 13 years ago Finally my then-editor said, “Stop, not another column on this tie-up " you gave the city the message. They will get it done."

Wrong. It's 2023 and It's still an annoying, continuing problem."

Thank heavens our highly paid "leaders" and planners failed to take this into account during the 6 years of hearings about what years of Casti construction would do to Embarcadero traffic problems.

How many Traffic Czars have we had since these problems emerged and how many did the City Manager allow to ignore these problems so they could focus exclusively on bicycles? Three.

Let's give extra credit to our leaders for having the brilliance to award a multi-million dollar contract for fixing traffic light timing to the first Traffic Czar who wouldn't /wouldn't fix the extra traffic light for 15+ years.

Obviously our City Manager and the "Planners" all deserve even bigger raises. FEH.


Posted by We Told You So!, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 21, 2023 at 1:07 pm

We Told You So! is a registered user.

Lets ignore the "Race Card" that was introduced.
And Lets inject the Preconceived Notions. The Elitist aspects?
It appears that The City Manager is doing like most
CEO's (as in SVB). Suck the life out of the Job.
Making sure that in the end, there is a Big pay-off.
Enhance His background beliefs & influences. Calling them as being more feasible.
Cater to the people of his liking to come live in the City.
It feels as though he were Hired for this exact thing.
Bringing the Exoticisms together. To cultivate & connect Palo Alto.
Making it more Exotic? You got what you hired for. Take the Warts with
the benefits. If any.


Posted by Tui Binh, a resident of Ventura,
on Mar 21, 2023 at 1:17 pm

Tui Binh is a registered user.

@Joseph Davis:
Racism/xenophobia can be subtle and no one in their right mind is going to admit it openly.

The Palo Alto City Council obviously has faith in Mr. Shikada and they support his policies.

And since the residents of Palo Alto directly elect their council members, the City Council is their spoken voice in these matters.

If the gripers are going to continually complain, consider electing different council members who reflect their concerns and positions on civic matters.

Until then, wait for the next election year and stop acting like poor losers.


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 21, 2023 at 8:24 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

Our current city manager has well mastered the finely-honed incompetence we have come to expect since Frank Benest. However, he has so far failed to elicit the fawning deference that Benest got from the councils he herded.

The randomly timed Embarcadero signals are probably an intractable problem as configured. Removing the one nearer the train tracks seems the only workable solution. Fence the sidewalks as necessary to channel pedestrian traffic to the remaining signal.

Fiber is a hoary issue that had wisely been put off until experienced commercial entities determined it could be implemented without losing money, at which point the city participation issue should disappear. I have no idea why our fair city wants to jump in now and spend $144M to subsidize Netflix and its kin. Maybe it galls them that a place named Chattanooga went there first.

Forget the garage signage. Not gonna happen. It's a civic service without glory.

Scheduling the most important items at the end of the agenda is an old, old council manipulation trick. What I don't get us why our councilmembers meekly tolerate it. Maybe I'm wrong about that fawning deference thing.

And I gather poster Chung is new in town, or he wouldn't be so naïve about City Hall procedures. But I do advise him to be cautious about hurling racism charges around. Not only can they cloak genuine infeasance, but slinging them frivolously kills their impact. You know, that calling wolf thing.


Posted by Teresa Yount, a resident of Mountain View,
on Mar 22, 2023 at 2:08 pm

Teresa Yount is a registered user.

Outside of addressing the homeless issue, it is somewhat perplexing how a wealthy community such as Palo Alto has so many internal & external problems and issues to address.

Things are different in Mountain View...residents here pretty much like and respect their council members and the city administrators rarely come under fire for overspending, neglect of duty, and questionable in-house empire building.

Perhaps PA needs to take some lessons from MV.


Posted by Ron Jackson, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 22, 2023 at 3:32 pm

Ron Jackson is a registered user.

I am OK with Mr. Shikada as City Manager as long as he distances himself from the burgeoning woke movement in city politics and administration...we don't need wokeness, just good management.


Posted by MyFeelz, a resident of another community,
on Mar 22, 2023 at 7:17 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

I've held back, but can no longer ... the "Rome wasn't built in a day" comment keeps coming back, like acid reflux. We aren't building a new civilization, and certainly not trying to build a new Empire for a naked emperor. We are living in an already-established society in a fairly new-to-the-map city, in a relatively new county, in a young state, in a country that's a newcomer to most of the world. Our stature as a "world power" is diminishing. Ed Shikada could feed all of Ukraine's displaced people for a year by donating half of his yearly income. So pardon me, if I am less than bubbly about our City Manager. His half-a-mil year paycheck (and that's only since 2021) and the fact that I can't check to see if his wife's pay has crept up to meet his or not, gives me a deep sense of suspicion of, if not empire-building, then flat-out nepotism. He's PA's City Manager, and she's the Assistant City Manager in Santa Clara. Could it be that they consult and strategize over the dinner table about how to do their jobs? Or, it could be simply that two birds of a feather found each other flying along the same trajectory and landed in very similar careers and very close geographically so they decided to feather their nests together. Or, it could be something else. But when I continue to monitor Transparent California for clues, there are none. And there's a reason for that. I don't know what the reason IS, because even though state law provides transparency of ALL government pay whether it's city, county, or state, it's dropped off the radar. At the very least, our Manager should spend a ***little*** bit of time reorienting himself to recent legislation and his duty to uphold the laws that pertain to him. Also he can provide the answers that the plebians ask about. And as a good faith gesture, he should also inform his comrades about the law so he can be seen as a beacon of virtue. But, he's not that kind of Manager.


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 23, 2023 at 6:43 am

Annette is a registered user.

Diana Diamond is right on all counts. CC needs to take measurable, steady steps to reverse the CC/CM dynamic so that CC controls and manages the CM. The tail has been wagging the dog since at least the days when Benest was CM and the impact of that is not beneficial to residents. Like compound interest, only in a negative way. The longer this lasts, the worse the impact.

The composition of the CM's staff is in itself an indication of priorities. It might make sense if the problems mentioned didn't exist or were at least lessening, but that is not the case. And the cost of maintaining that staffing is arguably not sustainable, especially when pension obligations are factored into the equation. And the Friday thing for City employees has got to be a contributor to the permitting problem. I think the arrangment is, technically, a flexible 9/80 schedule but when every other weekend is a three day-er, productivity takes a hit. So of course it takes a long time for things to get done.

The current model benefits those employed by the City, especially the senior staff, but it isn't good for those reliant on City services. A mutually-beneficial model would make a lot more sense. If we had that, some of the persistent problems might be solved.

Good for Ms. Diamond for raising this issue; I hope something comes of it.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 24, 2023 at 8:58 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Thank you to Diane Diamond for a very good report. My feelings are that this city is somehow not as interesting as it was way back when, I know that Covid hit all cities hard. We seem to be missing the places you can walk to and go in for a treat. Restaurants, book store - that was gone before Covid. Why have these interesting places left? Was that due to the city management? We used to have a toy store. I am not sure of the hows and whys that all of the interesting places are gone- they were always filled up with people. This place is just not interesting now and I do not have a great interest in going downtown.

I took my family to the new hotel - The Graduate - it was empty of people. WE ate in the bottom floor area - not a great menu or offering. I was disappointed. Overall I am disappointed with how the city is fairing at this time.


Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on Mar 25, 2023 at 12:41 pm

Neilson Buchanan is a registered user.

OK, criticism can make everyone feel better or bad. It is role of columnists to throw barbs and wake up government and citizens.

I dont agree with several of Diana's comments, but I trust city council to evaluate competitive compensation for city employees. City council and staff seem to stumble around timelines. Mayors come and go each year with sets of new expectations for staff to decipher

My personal peeves are the public garages without modern signage to attact people to our sagging University Avenue businesses and restaurants. Hundreds of empty parking spaces are free de facto advertising. Word of mouth is still dominant in the internet age. Now I see major studies and efforts to redesign University Avenue commerce without solving the basic stumbling block...parking. Yes, parking.

VTA and CalTrain are not reliable solutions for the noon to midnight customers we need.


Posted by Eeyore, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 26, 2023 at 10:47 am

Eeyore is a registered user.

I've long been in favor of firing Shikada as I see Palo Alto decaying around me. The CC also deserves a lot of blame since they are largely given him free reign. The CC are all essentially inexpert volunteers with no experience in city planning. It has proven to be a recipe for disaster.


Posted by Calvin Wong, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Mar 26, 2023 at 11:11 am

Calvin Wong is a registered user.

@Eyeore...

How can Palo Alto residents blame the City Council for these various municipal problems and blunders since they were the ones who elected the council members in the first place?

Unless one is willing to accept that individual resident voter decisions indirectly impact these recurrent city problems, nothing will be resolved.

Rather than blame the PACC or the City Manager, perhaps best to further scrutinize who you are voting for...unless you are a firm believer in city management by PACC proxy decisio s.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Mar 26, 2023 at 12:29 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

When a person is hired for a high level job there are a number of facts and projections of where the job is suppose to go and what resources a person has to deal with anomalies. There is a projected budget for the next five years.

What assumptions he was hired under and the projected budget are now not applicable. The state has chased out tax paying companies and wants the city to take on non-tax-paying situations. Out of state companies are buying up what ever good commercial locations that exist in the city. He is working with a zero-sum game here.

Possibly he needs to lay out where the city was when he was hired and where it is now. What is our tax base? - in part property taxes paid to the county. That is property owners and commercial companies. Now the state of CA is actively trying to destroy all of the elements that make up a successful place to live - good roads, good water, good schools, stable every-day predictable activity by the city and state. Each city is suppose to work these issues with the state but the state is not cooperating. Mr. Berman is part of the equation. If he keeps throwing his hand in with the dominent legisative positions in Sacramento despite they are not
legal or best for the state thennwe are all in collective trouble.


Posted by Kait Marcus, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 26, 2023 at 2:19 pm

Kait Marcus is a registered user.

Dear Ms. Diamond; Thank you for an excellent piece of journalism. As a PA native and former resident during adulthood who has now moved to points north (Climate Best by Government Test) I see your words as keeping the debate alive on how to best manage our piece of this important part of the world.

I have a recently retired acquaintance who worked in San Jose city middle management. She paid her "dues" by giving 20 years of service. This means she will now receive $360,000+ annual salary and benefits for the rest of her life. She, like all other city workers, including Mr. Shikada, feels fully entitled to this obscene draw.

This is a problem that isn't going away. If our city workers were effective, it might be slightly less of a pain point. But the countless problems fester in all communities, as you brilliantly pointed out here.


Posted by PH, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Mar 29, 2023 at 2:40 pm

PH is a registered user.

Once upon a far away time, the Menlo Park City Council would meet early in the year to discuss its entire yearly agenda to prioritize its desired outputs. After we did that, we handed the list to the City Manager and said, "Tell us which of these items you can accomplish this year, understanding that local government is frequently impacted by non-local requirements. Here's what we want done, you tell us what you can do."

Having done this, we were very clear on what the City would be doing and how well staff was doing to accomplish those things that it said it could do. Compensation could therefore be pegged to outputs.

The previous city manager, JD, under who the program began was replaced by the new city manager, DB. DB was very good at delivering on his commitments. JD, not so good. DB later went on to become SM County Manager. DB poached many PA staff members to work for Menlo Park.

It can be done, but Council has to delineate and oversee.

Staff salary issues are impacted by competitive salaries.

As someone who worked in and was compensated on output-based professional sales my entire career, I wanted to go further and compensate both mgt and line personnel on outcomes, but that was a bridge to far for my non-sales colleagues.

But yes, if we found say, a way to give mgt staff a $1M bonus to legally reduce, say, employment densities and housing demand to targeted goals, they would find a way to do it, and the $1M would be mice n*ts compared to how much affordable housing subsidies are required.

In Staff's defense, most government service work is not paid for directly as fee for service. Therefore demand for service is able to swamp their capacity to serve. If service were market priced, raised to regulate demand it would be different, but then people would complain that only rich citizens could afford service.

So, in part, you are applying market expectations to government service.


Posted by Two Sides, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Apr 6, 2023 at 10:38 pm

Two Sides is a registered user.

They are terribly understaffed and overworked. Can you imagine being in a deep hole in the street, trying to dig and not hit other utilities, working on a water main break in the dead of night on a holiday during a pandemic while wearing a mask? Then a resident comes out complaining of the noise and that they can't shower? Trust me, staff doesn't want to be there either even if it's double time. They're just there because it's their duty. They are essential workers who left their families just so our residents could have basic utilities. Who do you think would want to work for you for any less? Neighboring cities pay better and don't have residents who cry about everything and call up the chain when they don't get what they want. So many good employees that have worked decades for this city have left because they are underpaid and unappreciated for the amount of bs they do for you.


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