Issues & Answers

Many of my answers reflect my beliefs today.  This section is a work-in-progress that will continue expanding until Election Day. If what is here now doesn't answer your questions, please come to one of my events, or check back here later.

To get to know me, it would be best to meet, however, if that is not possible, then I encourage you to read my biography under the About Me tab. It is much more than a resumé: It explains why I am running and covers key formative experiences. It gives insight into my values and I hope it gives you confidence that you can trust me.

For those who are interested, Doug Moran has provided a collection of questionnaires from the 2014 City Council election. 



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.

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Managing Development and Growth

Development. 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.

The City's influence over development is predominantly through zoning. One of the key roles of zoning is to fairly share civic infrastructure among all the property owners. City Hall has, and is, allowing excessive development to overwhelm our infrastructure: our streets, parking, schools, parks, and other civic facilities. City Hall has allowed this through:

  1. Persistent failures to update the Zoning Ordinance for new realities, such as the increased density of workers in offices.
  2. Under assessing developments for their impacts.
  3. Increasing densities allowed based upon unsupported assumptions, such as there being viable public transit and other infrastructure.

Another key role of zoning is to provide for a balance of the many types of land-uses needed for a city to serve the needs of its residents. Different types of land-use have different values. Without zoning, this balance would be destroyed as properties migrated to the uses giving the highest financial return. Zoning maintains this balance while allowing property purchasers to base their offers on what gives them a reasonable return-on-investment. Alma Plaza is a prime example of what happens when this system breaks down: A developer was able to flip the majority of the property for more than 3 times his purchase price on the expectation that he had the clout to get a zoning change contrary to the City's Comprehensive Plan.

Balance means more than just the infamous Jobs-Housing Balance. It includes land-uses such as retail. City Hall doesn't seem to understand that there are many important subcategories of retail and that they need different conditions to thrive. Palo Alto is increasingly becoming a place of coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques, with the places that people like me use to shop have closed or moved (Redwood City and Mountain View).

City Hall's development policy is dominated by the New Urbanism/Smart Growth ideology. It’s a feel-good dogma that breaks down when you start looking at details and spotting the contradictions. For example, New Urbanism calls for Most things to be within a 10-minute walk but its adherents don't hesitate to put a major housing development over a mile from its elementary school and where the children would have to walk along busy commercial streets and cross El Camino.

Listening to the advocates, I hear a vision focused on high-income people and those without children. I work in residential real estate and that is not the Palo Alto my clients want. And it certainly isn't the Palo Alto that I moved to and wants to maintain. If you ask, these advocates may acknowledge that Palo Alto is a built-out city, but that disappears from their proposals. We cannot continue to approve developments based on assumptions that the impacts will be significantly less than what experience has shown. Or that mitigations, such as broadly viable transit, will magically become available. We need to be realistic about funding and politics.

Many of our problems, and constraints on how we can address them, come from outside: from regional agencies (ABAG, VTA, MTC) and from the State Legislature. To have a reasonable chance of getting heard, we need to have a coalition of cities that have similar problems, and the best chance for that are Council members who are intent on making that happen.

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Quality of Life

What does Quality of Life mean to me. Relative what I could do on Council, what are my concerns, what needs attention and what would I do? This is my response to that question on the Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) candidate questionnaire (600 word limit).

Quality of life is largely defined by your opportunities, and in Palo Alto those opportunities largely flow from the residents. Sometimes it is the direct personal interaction. Although I know there are many talented and accomplished people in our community, I am often surprised at their achievements. For example, a Nobel Prize winner lives one block over from me and Academy Award winners a few blocks in the other direction. Another is a famous mountaineer.

Opportunities also exist because there is a critical mass of participants. For example, we have a community that not only cares deeply about its schools, but provides substantial enrichment, both from the adults and the children.

City Hall's biggest role in this is enabling or discouraging you from taking advantage of these opportunities, and that role can be small or crucial.

For example, it used to be that when your child had a play date with friends, you would park and at least briefly socialize with the other parents. But when all the parking is taken, as it is in some sections of town, you call ahead to have your child ready and honk when you arrive.

I used to be able to spontaneously go to the gym when I had gaps at my work. But with traffic congestion, I find myself scheduling those trips. By itself, this is a minor inconvenience, but for many of us there are so many of these that they become significant. But I have heard from some seniors that they have stopped going altogether to their morning exercise classes, even physical therapy, because the strain of the trip negates the benefits.

I hear from some seniors at my end of town that they have largely stopped going to lunch and activities at the Avenidas senior center because of traffic. They miss not only the activities themselves, but the friendships and the opportunities flowing from them.

Local stores are an important part of the public space. You bump into friends and neighbors there. Just seeing each other reinforces a sense of community. And casual interactions can lead to opportunities. The further away the store, the less likely these encounters. City Hall's policies have led to many of the places I shop no longer being in Palo Alto. Periodically, City Hall expresses deep concern about the well-known, highly predictable effects of its policies, but history indicates that this will be brief and have little impact.

Parks, community centers and other public facilities are also important places where people connect and community-building occurs. These facilities have not kept up with population growth. Palo Alto is a built-out city and increasing the capacity of these facilities will be very difficult and very expensive. City Hall's current policy is to allow developers to proceed with projects and pay impact fees on the speculation that City Hall will eventually find a way to provide those facilities at that price.

There are those who cite a vibrant downtown as a key measure of quality of life here. They are talking about what is known as café society—people who spend lots of time in restaurants and strolling. But that is a different world from mine. For me and most of the people I know, the downtown restaurants are for special occasions.

As a community organizer I have organized cultural events for my neighborhood (Barron Park) and civic activities city-wide (Emergency Preparedness). For newer and smaller groups than mine, dealing with City Hall can be daunting, and I look to improve that.

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Finances

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 world-class, first in the nation, landmark and 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).

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Neighborhood vs. City-wide Concerns

How would you balance neighborhood and city-wide concerns? Responses to Questions on Issues from my profile at SmartVoter.org (400 word limit)

I reject the premise that neighborhood and city-wide concerns are in conflict. The neighborhoods are the key part of the city. When the neighborhoods resist having unfair burdens on them and their quality of life diminished, special interest groups demonize the residents as NIMBYs (Not In My BackYard). Is it NIMBYism to resist calls to sacrifice so that others may reap excessive profits? Is it NIMBYism to protect the community that you sacrificed to become part of and have invested in, both financially and emotionally? Is it NIMBYism to resist frequent assertions that Palo Alto needs to become more like Manhattan?

Too often city-wide concerns is code for the agendas of City Hall, the regional bureaucracies and the politically well-connected. Is it a city-wide interest to have even more office workers at a cost of increasing cut-through traffic and overflow parking in the neighborhoods?

City-wide concerns is also code for ignoring the impacts of projects on nearby neighborhoods. There is a city-wide concern to provide more housing, but that shouldn't trump supporting neighborhood-serving retail. Is the benefit of a few more housing units worth the cost of a whole neighborhood now having to drive further for basic retail? Especially since statistics predict that less than a third of the employees in that housing will work in Palo Alto? And somehow concerns that affect many neighborhoods across the city are treated in isolation, rather than as a city-wide concern. For example, overflow parking into the neighborhoods. College Terrace worked long and hard for a Residential Parking Permit (RPP) program. It was supposed to serve as a template for Evergreen Park and then the neighborhoods around University Avenue. Instead, City Hall delayed and delayed and is reinventing an RPP for downtown.

City Hall sees having a vibrant downtown—a regional entertainment and dining destination—as a city-wide issue. But has downtown ceased to be useful for many residents? Those in neighborhoods not close to downtown tell me that they rarely go there, a combination of too much trouble and nothing I want.

As a residential Realtor of 17 years, I am constantly reminded of why people want to buy in Palo Alto. They come here for the schools, for a yard so that the kids can play, for the sense of community… Palo Alto's neighborhoods are the community, not just where people park themselves when not at work.

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Pressures for Growth

Palo Alto and surrounding communities are under economic pressure to grow and environmental pressures to live and work closer together. How do you envision Palo Alto responding to these pressures? Responses to Questions on Issues from my profile at SmartVoter.org (400 word limit)

The pressure to grow in Palo Alto is not economic, it is political. Does Palo Alto have a shortage of jobs for its residents? No. Does Palo Alto need to grow to get more income to support its services? To the contrary. For the types of growth being promoted, analysis indicates that the costs are greater than the revenue produced. We must not confuse the economic interests of the broader community with the profit motives of some individuals and corporations. Excessive development is overwhelming our infrastructure: our streets, parking, schools, parks and other civic facilities. As a built-out city, it is increasingly difficult and expensive to expand that infrastructure. City Hall has encouraged excessive growth by not having projects pay their fair share of realistic assessments of their impacts on the community.

Similarly, the claim that there are pressures to live and work closer together is based on the assumption that we need to have a much larger population here and uncritical assumptions about its benefits. For example, the advocates of this are hostile to homes with yards, disregarding the huge benefits of being able to let children play there while the parent is inside working.

The advocates of putting high-density housing near transit resist thinking through the details. The elementary schools serving the CalAve Caltrain station area are well over a mile away. Are parents really going to have their children walking or biking along busy commercial streets and then cross El Camino, during rush hour? I was reminded of this on a recent trip down El Camino: A father and two sons of elementary age were trying to cross. One fell and got tangled up in his bike and the other couldn't decide whether to proceed or go back to the sidewalk.

The intersections on Page Mill at both El Camino and Foothill Expressway have long been close to failing (2 decades?). A recent City report says that the one at Foothill is failing and the best remedy is a huge construction project (grade-separation), but that the problem could be reduced by improving traffic flow at El Camino. Yet City Hall's policy is to encourage development whose consequence will be to inject even more traffic into that intersection.

As a Council member, I will focus on getting realistic assessments of these impacts, tracking cumulative impacts and keeping a skeptical eye out for side-effects and unintended consequences.

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Traffic and Parking

What proposals do you have to alleviate the traffic and parking situation in Palo Alto? Response to Questions on Issues from my profile at SmartVoter.org (400 word limit)

The first priority is to not make these situations worse!

The first part of this is obvious: Avoid creating more traffic and parking demands. The second part is easily forgotten because there is so much pressure to be perceived as doing something: Carefully analyze potential solutions to avoid shifting the problem elsewhere and potentially making it worse.

For example, the VTA proposal for El Camino to dedicate a traffic lane in each direction to buses. While their presentation now acknowledges that significant vehicle traffic will be displaced to nearby streets, there is no assessment of those impacts. Adding traffic to already congested streets has disproportionate impacts. The GreenHouse Gas (GHG) savings from people switching to buses could easily be overwhelmed by the increased GHG from vehicles stuck longer on congested streets. That doesn't factor in the value of the time of people stuck in the congestion.

Some of that displaced traffic will wind up cutting through neighborhood streets, making them less safe for residents. How do you value that tradeoff?

The VTA proposal is based on the assumption that travel time along El Camino is the biggest barrier to increased bus usage. What I hear from people is that the key problem is poor connections at one or both ends.

Similarly, I am highly skeptical of the amount of resources City Hall wants to expend on cyclists wanting to ride along the major arterial streets. The vast majority of people I talk to don't want to ride on those streets. If changes to the arterials push more cars onto the bike boulevards and residential streets, isn't this going to be counterproductive?

In considering what is possible, City Hall needs to consider not just the technical aspects, but the political and financial impacts. For example, the primary benefit of Caltrain electrification is that it will increase capacity by allowing trains to run more frequently. The problem is that during peak hours Caltrain is already running near the maximum that doesn't create crippling congestion on the cross streets that would then spread to the parallel streets (Alma and El Camino). Grade-separation is needed to avoid this (de-synchronization), but while electrification has been budgeted, its prerequisite of grade-separation has not. Complicating matters is that the transportation needs of the Peninsula have been a poor stepchild to those of San Jose, both internally and moving workers from the East Bay to SJ.



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  • Douglas Moran
    followed this page 2016-09-16 15:49:16 -0700