Changing the Culture at City Hall

What aspects of the relationship between Palo Alto citizens and its government would you like to improve the most? This is my response to that question on the Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) candidate questionnaire (600 word limit).

City Hall has squandered the confidence of too many residents in too many areas and none of them should be allowed to fester further.

City Hall needs to improve the representation of the perspectives and interests of the broad range of stakeholders, especially residents and businesses.

  1. City Hall is negligent in updating policies for changing circumstances. Example: Buildings in downtown are supposed to provide 4 parking spaces per 1000 sqft. But the density of workers started exploding during the dot-com boom 15 years ago. It is now common to have 10-12 workers in that same space.
  2. City Hall has been repeatedly caught showing favoritism, especially to developers. It helps them escape impact fees by accepting claims that don't pass a simple smell-test. It changes definitions. It fails to enforce significant rules. It cherry-picks the sections of the Comprehensive Plan and other policies that support the developer and ignore those to the contrary.
  3. City Hall ignores facts and experience in favor of dogma and ideology. Example: They believe that if you under-park a building, people will not use the surrounding neighborhood as a parking lot, but will instead use transit, regardless of the level of service it provides. Similarly they disregard that creating traffic congestion, either by overdevelopment or street changes, creates cut-through traffic. And City Hall has ignored that in order to get their children into Palo Alto schools; family will move into smaller houses vs the national average.
  4. City Hall is cavalier with our money. Example: The $4.5M renovation of their first floor. That nobody said Whoa indicates how bad the problem is. I flinch every time I hear Palo Altans are so rich that …: Don't they realize how many families are sacrificing so much to live here?
  5. There seem to be an inordinate number of problems managing construction projects. Mitchell Park Library is the poster-child for this. But it also seems to occur too frequently on tiny matters. For example, this summer, speed humps were installed to reduce speeding on my street. The dimensions are critical for determining the desired speed. Yet the City didn't get the measurement of what was installed until after extensive complaints by residents. When you see mistakes on something this simple, it suggests fundamental problems. When on Council, I hope to be able to push past City Hall's PR and find just where the problems are. If City Hall can't remedy this problem, can and should voters trust them to correctly perform upcoming construction?
  6. City Hall seems to have serious problems with basic management, such as record-keeping and use. The City has a sophisticated GIS (Geographic Information System) that is supposed to be used for recording and tracking constraints on properties, streets… When City Hall "misplaced" the deed restrictions on the donated 7.7 acres next to Foothill Park, one might say it was an anomaly. But not when it is the corner of Page Mill and El Camino. In the mid-2000s, City Hall identified the need for an additional lane for right turns from northbound El Camino. When the buildings on the block were redeveloped, the City forgot about this constraint, not once, but twice. Similarly on my street, when the City rebuilt the emergency pumping station, it unnecessarily extended it into space that was supposed to be reserved for a much-needed sidewalk. Is the problem with Staff or consultants? Is it a lack of training or people taking shortcuts because they have learned they won't be held accountable?

On Council, I will remind City Hall that Palo Altans deserve and have higher expectations of them.