Finances. This is my response to a question on the Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) candidate questionnaire (600 word limit) that targeted some of the areas addressed here.
I am troubled by increases in City Staff, especially at the upper management level. The budget deficits during the recession forced City Hall to determine where staff cuts could be made. But since then, staffing has crept back up. New staff creates more costs than just salary, benefits and retirement obligations: Their new tasks can create substantial additional expenses, such as hiring consultants and construction.
Work expands to fill the available time. Especially for new upper management positions. The public justification for the high profile new jobs didn't demonstrate sufficient critical thinking. What was the cost -benefit? Why was a new position the only/best option?
City Hall seems to do a poor job at selecting and managing consultants. Consultants are necessary and controversial. Good consultants provide expertise and teams on an as-needed basis—for tasks that are too sporadic to maintain in-house talent. Bad consultants minimize their costs by blindly applying their standard templates, ignoring local conditions and expertise. They have you pay to educate their employees. Bad management of consultants includes poor division of tasks so that the knowledge of local conditions walks out the door when the contract ends. City Hall seems to tolerate, and thereby encourage, inadequate work by consultants. We see too much of this on traffic analyses and impacts of new developments.
I reject up-zoning-for-sale. For example, 27 University Ave (Arrillaga towers), 395 Page Mill (Jay Paul), and Maybell (Measure D). It lacks transparency, sacrifices control, has poor and controversial cost-benefits and is subject to a wide range of abuses. A related example is City Hall's consideration of selling 7.7 acres to billionaire Arrillaga for $23,000/acre. Their excuse for this obscenely low price (ignoring the illegality) was that Arrillaga would do some construction for athletic fields in the Baylands (no price given).
City Hall's current development policy seems to make us more vulnerable to the boom-and-bust cycle. They want Palo Alto to become even more of a destination for visitors from around the Bay Area—a dining and entertainment center and high-end boutiques. This is discretionary spending and is the first-to-go in a downturn. I remember how hard hit Cal Ave was. Yet City Hall trumpets the reduction of vacancies in downtown since the depths of the recession, not asking why those vacancies occurred.
City Hall has done a very poor job of providing shopping opportunities for the workers that daily pass through Palo Alto. For two decades, the neighborhoods along El Camino have unsuccessfully pushed for City Hall to support retail, both for sales tax revenue and for walkable retail for them. Yet City Hall's policy has been a combination of neglect and worse.
Watching Council, I am depressed by how much is spent on vanity and hubris: Council time, Staff time, consultants, and projects. Chant phrases like
first in the nation,
innovative and cost-benefit becomes irrelevant to many. Too many pay attention to only the hype and not the reality of Silicon Valley and innovation: Most first-movers fail, and early adopters incur huge costs (buggy, inefficient, badly supported) and are stuck with technology that is vastly inferior to what came shortly thereafter. Taxpayers shouldn't be funding short-term bragging-rights for the politically well-connected.
City Hall does a poor job of managing the workload of Staff. Addressing problems while they are still developing is far cheaper than waiting until after they have become crises. Yet the opposite occurs. For example, overflow parking into residential neighborhoods has been a problem for decades. Big example: The update of the Comprehensive Plan is badly overdue (and badly mismanaged).