All those things our city does – and doesn’t -- do | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |

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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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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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All those things our city does – and doesn’t -- do

Uploaded: Apr 16, 2019
I call this my potpourri blog because lots of good and bad things are happening in Palo Alto and I want your reactions to some of these issues. For example:

• Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada is asking the city council to award SEIU union members raises -- 580 employees a 3.5% raise on Dec. 1 and a 3% raise on Dec. 1, 2020, while requiring them to add an additional 1% of their salaries toward the "employer paid" portion of pension contributions. But wait, the Utilities Department will get even higher increases, soaring up to a max of 23.5% over three years. That’s a whopping increase. – a total of $13.6 million in pay and benefits over three y ears. Shikada said it’s because the Utilities Department has 23 vacancies that are hard to fill and higher salaries will attract more potential employees. He blamed the escalating housing prices, which may be a factor, but not the only one.. Yet according to the Social Security Administration, the cost of living in 2019 went up 2.8 percent, the largest cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in SEVEN years. City employees have routinely been getting raises, far higher than cost-of-living hikes. The city’s generosity is a bit perplexing. Is there any data to show that higher salaries will automatically attract more employees? Are the former employees who left the city asked why they are departing? Do we need 23 new replacements? Why didn’t the council get more involved in the decision? The SEIU did, and has already approved of the raises. Why is this salary increase on the April 22 council consent agenda (automatic approval section of the meeting) when it should be discussed? City managers want to treat their employees as best as possible, but it’s the council’s job is to control costs.

• How can I criticize a city tree? One of the things I love about Palo Alto are the tree-lined streets – although city trees are planted closer together on the north side of town than south of Oregon, so the north has more leafy coverage. I happen to have a liquidambar in front of my house, as do many streets in the area. The tree is a nuisance. It’s a conical rather than an umbrella shape, which means unlike a sycamore and other city trees, the tree limbs do not stretch over the streets and liquidambras provide much less shade. The biggest nuisance is the tree keeps on dropping pollen and pods on the ground all the time: “Inconspicuous chartreuse-colored spring flowers are followed by 1-1 ½” round spiky seed pods that persist through fall,” the nursery said. These hard pods drop on sidewalks and make walking hazardous – easy to twist one’s ankle. The official name is “liquidambar styraciflua – Palo Alto,” and from what I’ve heard, the city official who chose this tree thought it would be cute to have a tree named “Palo Alto.” Fun for him, but the rest of us have to sweep our sidewalks all the time to prevent people from falling. The liquidambars have beautiful fall colors, but for me that doesn’t outweigh the pod problem.. BTW, magnolia trees, another city favorite, are not much better. Their surface-spreading roots make it almost impossible to plant a decent front landscape.

• About five years ago the city council decided it would be a good idea to put electric sensor signs at the entrance to public garages to tell drivers how many spaces are currently available in the garage. San Jose has had these signs in place for years, and they are wonderful. But so far, not a trace of them here. Instead, the city is hiring a firm to provide a valet parking in some city garages. But weren’t the signs easier and cheaper? Why don’t we have them yet?

• And speaking of delays, it has been 10 years since the traffic flow problems erupted on Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real. The two traffic signals yards apart on Embarcadero are still not coordinated, and trying to make a left-hand turn from southbound El Camino onto Embarcadero sometimes takes three traffic signal cycles. Back in 2010 there was an effort to find a “solution” to this intersection problem. I am still waiting.

• One of the literary treasures in Palo Alto is the Friends of the Library monthly sales (second Saturdays and Sundays) of donated books from residents. There are thousands of books there, displayed in a logical order and selling at very reasonable prices (e.g., paperbacks at 50 cents, some hardcover books at $1.50). It’s a jewel of a place located in the far right backside of the Cubberley campus at 400 Middlefield Road.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 16, 2019 at 5:28 pm

"from what I've heard, the city official who chose this tree thought it would be cute to have a tree named “Palo Alto.""

Or, maybe the salesman named it with that in mind. But that doesn't explain the city's former obsession for camphors and magnolias, both being major nuisances and laughably unsuited as street trees in this area.

"Back in 2010 there was an effort to find a “solution" to this intersection problem. I am still waiting."

At the light, I presume? The solution is to move the Paly ped crossing to the other light and remove that third light. If city hall will give me $250k I'll say that i a nice .pdf for 'em, and maybe they'll pay some attention to it.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 17, 2019 at 2:35 am

The electric sensor signs at garages and a simpler payment method such as a phone app for parking would be a good idea and have been stated so many times by those of us who actually attempt to park in downtown occasionally for more than a couple of hours.

But of course, so much talk is easier than providing a simple solution. I am well traveled and find parking in Palo Alto is so much more difficult than other towns (yes towns rather than big cities) worldwide.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 17, 2019 at 11:15 am

Agree about the magnolias, which are always in a life-and-death struggle with the sidewalks-- they can't both survive.

But, I love the beautiful camphor and liquidambar trees. Web Link

Posted by Marc, a resident of Midtown,
on Apr 17, 2019 at 8:04 pm

I'm not sure why everyone you are surprised by nothing getting done in Palo Alto. The overriding goal for the city council, management and staff is not to get things done but to show that they can talk the big talk, think the big ideas that can't ever get accomplished.

Re: downtown parking. I was in many discussions where we said why can't we adopt the parking system that caltrans used, or other cities. The response was that Palo Alto had to investigate and invent their own solution. It would not be acceptable to do something that another entity already used.

Re:bike bridges. Why can EPA, MV, and other locales get bike/pedestrian bridges over 101 without a problem? Because they don't hold design contests, they use an existing, cost effective solutions.

Re: Embarcedaro, Town and Country, El Camino traffic situation. Sure you could sit down with the county traffic engineers and solve it overnight but then you couldn't justify all the research, consultants and expenses of trips to see how other cities solve their problems.


Posted by Nonresident, a resident of another community,
on Apr 18, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Nonresident is a registered user.

"Do we need 23 new replacements?"

The Council Appointed Officers Committee is meeting on April 23 to review responses to an RFP it issued for an "organizational assessment" of the Auditor's Office, which is probably the smallest office in the city. Why are they not doing a similar assessment of the rest of the city departments, especially Utilities, which is the largest department in the city?

Posted by Egomaniac on MPOS, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Apr 21, 2019 at 6:20 pm

Marc�" we do not have a bike bridge over 101 because we let clueless egomaniacs take over the project while spewing words like “ iconic" and “design contest". Then when their ego isn't massaged enough with a design contest, they throw a hissy fit and refuse to abide by the terms of the contest.

Posted by mary ann, a resident of Esther Clark Park,
on Apr 22, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Luckily my liquid amber tree in front of my house was not a city tree and I too it out. I have a friend who did twist her ankle as she tripped over one of there spiky pods in Redwood City. She ended up in the emergency room with a broken elbow and in a cast for months. These trees should all be ripped out.
My own daughter in downtown Palo Alto on a corner lot has both city trees of magnolias and liquid amber , the side walk and landscape are always a mess from trees dropping leaves and pods. Shame on Palo Alto for ever planting so many bad trees in one downtown area, Hawthorne and Emerson.

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