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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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Do Palo Alto city officials ever, ever have enough money?

Uploaded: May 23, 2022
Palo Alto has nearly a $1 billion (that’s a “B”) budget scheduled for this coming 2022-2023 fiscal year. That in itself is amazing for a town with a 62,000-plus population. And it causes me great concern about the increasing dollars the city says it needs to operate.

As City Manager Ed Shikada recently wrote to the city council, “The city’s long-term fiscal health requires additional sustainable revenue to meet community service priorities . . . sustainability is not achieved with existing revenue sources alone.”

Will that dollar “need” ever diminish? I haven’t seen that happen in years. And now the city wants to impose a business tax which, if adopted by residents, will bring in between $10.9 to $43 million annually (depending on the per-square-foot rate charged by the city).

About 10 years or so ago, this city had a $140 million general fund (not adjusted for inflation). This coming year the spending budget in that fund is $247.8 million. So, as I sit back and think about those sums, I ask myself what improvements have I seen in this town over the years? Buildings like the Mitchell Park library and the Junior Museum resulted, in part, because of a lot of community contributions. Great places! The new $23 million pedestrian-bicycle bridge across Highway 101, which took more than 10 years to plan and build, is a nice expensive asset, but it did cost a lot.

Let’s talk about why our city is spending nearly $1 billion a year; I will start with salaries. They’ve certainly been spiraling up this past decade. And nearly every year employees keep on getting increases – for doing the same work. Cost of living had an average inflation rate of 3.15% per year between 2016 and today. City salaries, in general, have increased more than that each year, especially if we include raises.

The city payroll last year was $124 million; the number of employees at city hall earning more than $300,000 rose to seven, the highest ever. City employees also got an additional $17.7 million in workers’ benefits, such as medical, dental and vision benefits. Plus, the city paid out some $49.2 million in employee pensions.

I don’t know about you, but, to me, that’s a lot of money and bennies.

According to the Daily Post, City Manager Ed Shikada was the top wage earner, collecting $385,896 in 2021 (the U.S. president got $400,000). Shikada has a lot of help in his job – his support staff (e.g., deputy city manager, assistant city manager, some assistants) amounts to about nine or ten positions. Second highest was Fire Capt. Mark von Appen who received $331,293. That includes $168,381 in overtime. And City Attorney Molly Stump took third place, earning $328,847 in total pay. She has several deputy attorneys on her staff.

Total pay can include vacation payouts, car allowances, etc. But it does not include health benefits, which all employees receive.

Bear with me, because numbers can be a boring read, but this is important stuff for residents to understand because our town of 62,000 is spending a massive amount of money, and the appetite for more money hasn’t changed much over the years.

Palo Alto’s operating budget will swell to nearly a third more this coming year, compared to last year, according to the Weekly. The operating budget slated for 2022-23 is $934.2 million, up 32.8 percent(!) from the current year. That includes the $237.8 million in the General Operating Fund, which goes to general business expenditures, including employee salaries. The Capital Budget funds major improvements to city facilities and infrastructure.

During last year’s deficit stage, the city cut back on employees; the payroll decreased by only 1.6 percent (about $2 million). Strange, since more than 100 positions were temporarily cut. And now Shikada wants to reinstate 39 full-time employee positions to catch up to previous levels. That would bring the city’s total to 1,015 positions.

Shikada’s budget proposal for 39 employees (and I hope I understood his numbers) include three firefighter trainees, four new fire department positions, including one admin, four additional police officers, two police dispatchers and a management analyst in Shikada’s office who would serve as the city’s “equity and inclusion officer” (?). In the Utilities Department, four new positions would be hired to help residents transition to “advanced metering infrastructure” -- “smart meters,” that will be installed on residents’ homes.

Early this month, to my surprise, Shikada said he wanted to add an additional 23 more positions, costing $3.7 million for the 2022-023 fiscal year, presumably getting to a 1,038 employee level. A lot of this money would come from the city’s proposed business tax – if it passes. Shikada is presuming it will, but given the inflation in this country, I am not sure people are willing to even have businesses taxed more.

These 23 proposed hires include detectives and offices for the Psychiatric Emergency Response team, a park ranger for the Baylands, zoological assistants at the Junior Museum to take care of the animals there (two porcupines, three lemurs, seven meerkats and 10 birds). Also, a downtown housing planner, and assistants for the libraries, community centers, etc. are on the hire list Not all are full-time posts.

The question I ask is are theyall necessary?

Phew. I guess I could toss all these increases and expenditures into the air and say, well, it’s only money, and if our city wants to spend it, why not.

But the Puritan in me says wait, all these expenditures need much more examination. It’s us who will pay for them – and us includes local businesses, which will pass on the business taxes to its customers – us.

The way the city works, the city manager can ask for more staff and more money, and there’s no downside in his asking. It‘s up to the city council to control the budget, and sometimes that’s hard to do because they all want to “get along,” which means there are few checks-and -balances.

So what is the incentive for the manager not to ask or the council to pare down his requests? And what is the incentive for the council to disagree with his asks?

Maybe it’s resident pressure. Maybe it’s up to us, in concert with the council. I realize the members already spend a lot of time on city business, but handling the budget is a big and important part of their job – or should be. Maybe we need to let the council know we are concerned.

Obviously, I am.
Community.
What is it worth to you?

Comments

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Scottie+Zimmerman, a resident of Midtown,
on May 23, 2022 at 1:59 pm

Scottie+Zimmerman is a registered user.

All this money piling up, and the City Council and City Manager have been unable to find the funds they agreed to pay for improvements in the dog kennel facilities at our animal shelter? Their "deferred maintenance" policy is really working out for them. It seems likely that the shelter, currently operated by Pets In Need, will close permanently in 2022. Zero maintenance.


 +   25 people like this
Posted by Terry Graham, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 23, 2022 at 2:40 pm

Terry Graham is a registered user.

Questionable spending habits have been a Palo Alto municipal practice for a long time.

The modus operandi is to allocate maximum taxpayer dollars for frivolous spending regardless of whether these resources are readily available or merely projected numbers.

The PACC rubber-stamp of approval process is primarily responsible for these bloated city expenditures.

Fiscal responsibility and restraint is the full responsibility of those we elect to serve as our city council members.

They are the ones to be held ultimately accountable for approving any questionable city expenditures.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sharon Johnson, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 23, 2022 at 2:55 pm

Sharon Johnson is a registered user.

By approving these additional City of Palo Alto payroll expenditures, isn't the city council stimulating both local and national economies?

We must look at the big picture.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 23, 2022 at 2:58 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Some weeks ago, the CC announced that the spending cuts made at the beginning of the pandemic had all been restored.

Why were they ALL restored? Why wasn't there a process to determine if some of those cuts could remain.

The assumption is always that every single expenditure the city is making is totally necessary.

This is not true of any organization that I ever worked for. I was often asked to move an engineer to a new project but to figure out how to still get the existing commitments made. In my personal life, I have to make choices, especially when costs go up.




 +   4 people like this
Posted by Bruce Harper, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 23, 2022 at 3:18 pm

Bruce Harper is a registered user.

These 23 new hires will enrich the overall atmosphere of Palo Alto by providing improved services to the residents of Palo Alto.

^ This is the sell line but many folks aren't buying it.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 23, 2022 at 3:32 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

I can think of several ways the CC are not spending our money and which would help us residents.

Restore the shuttles. In fact, improve the shuttles so that they serve our schools for students and other riders, so that they serve to bring commuters from our highway offramps to downtown business areas, so that they serve seniors and others who actually want to get to places other than Palo Alto, such as Menlo Park or Mountain View.

Give us electronic signage at our garages so we know before we enter whether there is space and where that space might be. Likewise give us pay by phone or simple ways to pay for 5 hours parking. Simple parking instead of all the color zones would also help.

Get on with undergrounding the utilities. Let's have no more outages due to flying wildlife or errant helium filled balloons. Let's have the security that our power won't go out when it rains or the wind blows.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Marvin Davis, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 23, 2022 at 4:01 pm

Marvin Davis is a registered user.

"I can think of several ways the CC are not spending our money and which would help us residents."

(1) Free Wi-Fi for all Palo Alto households including individual apartment units.

(2) Designated residential areas for transient RV dwellers and those preferring a homeless encampment.

(3) A restructured and revamped PAPD.

(4) A PACC measure to endorse and promote a publically elected mayor who will freeze all city employee salaries until 2035. This will discourage applicants from seeking an easy job.


 +   20 people like this
Posted by Bryan Bailey, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 24, 2022 at 8:02 am

Bryan Bailey is a registered user.

> It‘s up to the city council to control the budget, and sometimes that's hard to do because they all want to “get along," which means there are few checks-and -balances.

>> The PACC rubber-stamp of approval process is primarily responsible for these bloated city expenditures.

^ And therein lies the problem. PA residents should demand a recall election.

Three members of the SF Board of Education were recently tossed out by disgruntled parents via a recall election.

Disgruntled Palo Alto residents could easily do the same.

Do PA residents want effective city leadership or a bunch of 'yes' people who cater to every costly whim presented by the City Manager?

Replacing the City Manager would be another option.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 24, 2022 at 8:55 am

Online Name is a registered user.

What a farce when we still don't have fully restored services like library hours and an animal shelter, when it takes the city forever to process permits and execute other requests.

And what would replacing the City Manager do? Get him an EXTRA full-years salary and vesting when computing his retirement pay as former Mayor Kniss so charitabl6y gave him even though he was the ONLY candidate interviewed.

What a racket. I guess you need a huge City Manager's office to stonewall the press while publishing recipes and helpful health hints in the weeky Uplift newsletter.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Marie Erickson, a resident of Professorville,
on May 24, 2022 at 9:04 am

Marie Erickson is a registered user.

"...what would replacing the City Manager do? Get him an EXTRA full-years salary and vesting when computing his retirement pay..."

Despite the fiscal outlay, isn't the 'pay to go away' a standard City of Palo Alto operating procedure (i.e. dealing with PAPD improprieties)?


?


 +   24 people like this
Posted by David Lange DVM, a resident of another community,
on May 24, 2022 at 10:47 am

David Lange DVM is a registered user.

In the long run, you get who you vote for and if residents are disenchanted with the way things are, either remove certain PACC members via recall referendum or vote them all out of office during the next election.

Politicians only implement constructive reforms when voters and activists demand it.

The ultimate responsibility lies not with the PACC members but whoever elected them in the first place...you.


 +   25 people like this
Posted by Betty Travis, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 24, 2022 at 11:45 am

Betty Travis is a registered user.

The majority of Palo Alto resident voters are easily swayed by PACC candidate lip service only to realize later that they have been duped again.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 24, 2022 at 12:10 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Thank you, Diana Diamond, for writing about this. I can accept that government budgets are complex, but common sense alone leads to the conclusion that there's too little accountability and too little objective oversight. Palo Alto's money story sometimes seems to vaccilate frequently. I think that's odd. And I have sometimes wondered if this is tied to what the City Manager puts on the agenda - and when. Remember when the public service building was on the CC agenda for a vote? The City had money that week. A week or so later the CC was discussing the budget and THEN we learned that revenue, especially from the TOT, was down. We will never know if the vote would have been different if the sequencing had been different.

The same thing on a far bigger scale is going on at the State level. It is just plain wrong to have a budget surplus of nearly $100 BILLION. In what universe is that acceptable? And WHY WHY WHY is anyone in this state hungry or homeless? Tax dollars are supposed to be spent on the public good. Either do that or reduce taxes. But don't play games and sit on the money until a time that it suits a political agenda to distribute funds here and there. Yet Newsome is crowing about the surplus. Huh?

I do not know how government coffers and spending can be fixed, but I do know that repair is in order.


 +   30 people like this
Posted by Rachel Long, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 24, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Rachel Long is a registered user.

It is always easier to spend (aka waste) someone else's money (aka taxpayer dollars).

The PACC is no different than the Biden administration.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Zach Monahan, a resident of Stanford,
on May 24, 2022 at 2:19 pm

Zach Monahan is a registered user.

@Rachel Long

Rest assured, our country is not in any imminent danger.

As Cliff Claven used to say on 'Cheers', "it's a little known fact that..."

...there has NEVER been a former city council member who went on to become POTUS in the history of our nation.

Divine intervention?


 +   32 people like this
Posted by Von Halstead, a resident of Woodside,
on May 25, 2022 at 10:17 am

Von Halstead is a registered user.

"Tax dollars are supposed to be spent on the public good. Either do that or reduce taxes. But don't play games and sit on the money until a time that it suits a political agenda to distribute funds here and there."

An excellent point. While setting aside some fiscal resources for a rainy day is always sound logic, hoarding millions (or billions) of dollars to promote frivolous spending later down the road is questionable.

The solution in Palo Alto is simple...(1) the council members should be elected by and be representative of specific neighborhood districts, (2) the mayor should be elected directly by the Palo Alto residents rather than being chosen by the council, and (3) the city manager form of municipal government in Palo Alto should be abolished in its entirety.

It is up to the Palo Alto residents to initiate change, not the PACC, a puppet mayor, or the City Manager...all of whom have a vested and controlling interest in whatever goes on in Palo Alto.

It's time for Palo Altans to take their city back rather than constantly griping about matters they can actively resolve.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Consider Your Options. , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 25, 2022 at 10:22 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Diana Diamond, will you ever, ever retire?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 25, 2022 at 10:36 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Good journalists should be asking tough questions. That is part of their job.

Good journalists should be accurately reporting the facts and giving the public the opportunity to understand what is going on. That is part of their job.

Good journalists who just report what is said at CC meetings and/or repeat press releases are only doing half the job.

Please can journalists take note of this. We don't want to hear platititudes or prepared responses to obvious situations. We do want to see politicians squirm when asked a tough question and get called on their BS or avoidance to answer the question asked. We get too much of that.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 25, 2022 at 11:14 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

A City Council member once told me if a member does not "kiss up" (my words not his, but that is the idea of his comment) to City staff very little can be accomplished. Whether that is true or not, I do not know, however, after working a very long 4.5 years at the City of Palo Alto, I can belief it.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 25, 2022 at 11:14 am

Green Gables is a registered user.

A City Council member once told me if a member does not "kiss up" (my words not his, but that is the idea of his comment) to City staff very little can be accomplished. Whether that is true or not, I do not know, however, after working a very long 4.5 years at the City of Palo Alto, I can belief it.


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Ryan Christopher, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 25, 2022 at 12:05 pm

Ryan Christopher is a registered user.

• "The majority of Palo Alto resident voters are easily swayed by PACC candidate lip service only to realize later that they have been duped again."

When the tail wags the dog, it is time for a change in Palo Alto government.

Since when does the City Manager and his cohorts issue directives to the PACC?

The entire Palo Alto City Council needs to be recalled and replaced by citizens who actually care about the community.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 25, 2022 at 12:21 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Thank you, Diana Diamond, for asking the hard questions that might inspire the City Council to do the same. The City Manager and "his cohorts" should answer to the City Council which should hold them accountable.

Remember several nearby communities have fired their City Managers ignoring directions from their city councils.

That's unlikely to happen here. But at least demand answers and make the City Manager and cohorts stop stonewalling on most issues. It;s OUR money they're wasting. I'd love to see how much 6 yr Casti fiasco has cost us while the City Managers (past and present) and their top staff (past & present)ignored and tap-danced the basic issues.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Laura Stephens, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 25, 2022 at 12:29 pm

Laura Stephens is a registered user.

The PACC is apparently no different than a typical high school senate comprised of toothless and shallow individuals more concerned with winning a trivial popularity contest that serves no actual purpose.


 +   30 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 25, 2022 at 12:43 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Von Halstead is exactly right: "The solution in Palo Alto is simple...(1) the council members should be elected by and be representative of specific neighborhood districts, (2) the mayor should be elected directly by the Palo Alto residents rather than being chosen by the council, and (3) the city manager form of municipal government in Palo Alto should be abolished in its entirety."

The Palo Alto City Manager position is one that is, essentially, accountable to no one. That's a big problem.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by funky, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 25, 2022 at 12:46 pm

funky is a registered user.

After reviewing the budget, it appears that public works and utilities accounts for over 50%. Public Works had the biggest increase. There are major changes needed for water treatment and the cost for this appears to have increased > the 3X and about 10% of the total budget. I understand that there might be things in the budget than should looked at, but those items seem to have little impact on the overall budget. Take a look for yourself... I might have missed something..... Web Link


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Patrick Gates, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on May 25, 2022 at 2:42 pm

Patrick Gates is a registered user.

In addition to being held accountable for their own oversights and poor judgement, the PACC should fire the City Manager, City Attorney and Chief of Police among others.

Now what are the chances of this ever occuring?

As another poster noted, the arse end of the pooch is controlling the dog.


 +   20 people like this
Posted by Alan Johnson, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 25, 2022 at 3:11 pm

Alan Johnson is a registered user.

A lot of Palo Alto resident discontent is being leveled against the PACC and much of it is justifiable.

A possible solution would be to initiate a citywide referendum which if successful, would have them all removed from office so we could start anew with a more constructive direction for the city.

This requires 6% of roughly 40,000 registered Palo Alto voters which in turn comes to about 2,400 signatures needed to put such a measure on the ballot.

Palo Alto government is no longer a democratic process but rather a meek steering committee controlled by upper level management.

Is this what Palo Alto residents want?


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Wilma Jenkins, a resident of Community Center,
on May 26, 2022 at 9:07 am

Wilma Jenkins is a registered user.

? Palo Alto government is no longer a democratic process but rather a meek steering committee controlled by upper level management.

?? Is this what Palo Alto residents want?

Most Palo Altans want (a) full disclosures from our local governing body + fiscal responsibility & restraint in approving municipal expenditures, (b) a transparent police department with fewer lawsuits stemming from inappropriate law enforcement actions, (c) reduced incidents of random street crimes & retail lootings, (d) an effective city policy towards dealing with the homeless population, (e) a ceiling on residential & commercial overdevelopment, and (f) a reduction in traffic gridlock & congestion.

And if the PACC cannot accomplish these basic goals, its members should be replaced.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Allan, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 26, 2022 at 9:41 am

Allan is a registered user.

Based on Diane's numbers of a city budget of $934.2 million and a city of 62,000 people, each member of the public is paying $1503 per year, or $125 per month or $4 per day. Looking at it this way, is it expensive to live in PaloAlto?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by James Lassiter, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 26, 2022 at 10:27 am

James Lassiter is a registered user.

"Based on Diane's numbers of a city budget of $934.2 million and a city of 62,000 people, each member of the public is paying $1503 per year, or $125 per month or $4 per day. Looking at it this way, is it expensive to live in Palo Alto?"

^ Not sure what your point is but there are "roughly 40,000 registered Palo Alto voters".

So let's look at it this way...

Palo Alto residents who are under 18 do not pay property taxes nor do they vote in local elections in which case they should not be included in your fiscal analysis which implies that PACC approved expenditures in Palo Alto are somewhat reasonable and cost effective.

Try dividing that $934.2 million by 40,000 registered PA voters and your figures will drastically change, becoming more along the lines of $2400.00 per year (or $200.00 monthly) per adult individual.

Based on this revised calculation, are all adult taxpaying Palo Alto residents getting $2400.00 worth of directly related 'complimentary' municipal services annually?

"I don't think so, Tim."


 +   14 people like this
Posted by Louise Parker, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 26, 2022 at 10:57 am

Louise Parker is a registered user.

Prior to initiating a recall referendum, perhaps distraught Palo Alto residents should express these fiscal concerns en masse during the citizen's speaker period at the PACC meetings.

And if these concerns are met with either indifference or an assortment of cloud covering explanations, then it's time to proceed with a recall election.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Sheryl Johnston, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 26, 2022 at 12:19 pm

Sheryl Johnston is a registered user.

Replacing the current and entire crop of PACC members would be no major loss to the Palo Alto community.

Just how much have they actually done to make Palo Alto a better place to live?

ZERO


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Jenny Binford, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 26, 2022 at 2:30 pm

Jenny Binford is a registered user.

It's possible that the Palo Alto City Council has lost touch with the heartbeat of Palo Alto and has chosen instead to march to the drumbeat of the dollar sign and dubious appearances.

Palo Alto citizen/residents deserve active voices in City Hall that reflect their best interests and concerns.



 +   4 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 26, 2022 at 2:44 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I'm surprised at the acrimony direct toward PACC when it previous PACC's under Adrian Fine and before that Liz Kniss that A) Pushed for and approved every office development proposed, B) that approved every raise and gave the City Manager the incentive of an extra years comp to perform badly so he'd forced out, C) allowed 85 middle-income residents to be evicted from the President Hotel and now sticking us with a huge expenditure for downtown middle-income housing,....

This PACC and mayor deserve some praise for FINALLY questioning the Casti nonsense and the ridiculous way staff "studied" the proposal with the City Manages' (past and presnet) apparent approval.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 26, 2022 at 2:58 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Personally I would like to see Palo Alto residents pay more attention to Council elections.

Many people just vote names they have heard of or know from PTA or similar. Very few seem to know exactly what the different prospective candidates actually plan to do if elected. Many are good at hiding their campaign incomes or supporters from the electorate. Many hide their true spots until after elected.

Labels such as progressive, or residentialist, are completely misunderstood.

I think most Palo Altans are ignorant of what is happening in town until they see the street in front of their house being dug up, or a big ugly building being built on what used to be a charming library or childrens museum! Nothing wrong with updating a facility, but we are destroying what was here and the replacements are not in line with our small town feel. We need to get back to serving residents first and anyone with an agenda that says otherwise should not be on our Council.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Paul Stephens, a resident of University South,
on May 26, 2022 at 3:21 pm

Paul Stephens is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 26, 2022 at 7:59 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Online Name makes an excellent point: past Councils had much more to do with creating our present problem set than the current Council. I think this CC is more balanced than many we have had in recent years. And this group is at least trying to address some thorny issues. They are saddled, though, by the governance model. I think PACC is destined to be far less effective than it might be until the City Manager and his/her Staff work at the direction of the Council - in fact, not in theory.

Each of Van Halstead's suggestions needs to be implemented, but some of those will take years to implement. Sorting out the chain-of-command so that the City Manager is accountable to CC can and should start immediately. Mayor Burt can get this ball rolling.

Here's a suggestion for a starting point: require that the City Manager's Remarks during the CC meetings include status reports on major issues and what's being done to address problems. Residents can read all the fluff and other la la stuff online in one of the many communications that are sent out. What we need to hear at CC meetings is updates on the serious issues city management is addressing. We know we have problems; let's use Council time to shed light on what is being done about them. Getting substantive information will result in a more informed citizenry and context for Council decisions.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 26, 2022 at 8:44 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Here's a suggestion for a starting point: require that the City Manager's Remarks during the CC meetings include status reports on major issues and what's being done to address problems."

Status reports! What a concept! Incredible that this isn't being done now and hasn't been done in the past!

"Residents can read all the fluff and other la la stuff online in one of the many communications that are sent out."

Hah! How will I live without my weekly recipes from our huge and highly paid city manager's staff. Really curious about how they pick them: do they take polls? Hold task force meetings?

Seriously, when will the city get its act together, start addressing the real problems and stop wasting OUR money on what Annette too politely calls "fluff"?


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Jessica Zhao, a resident of Community Center,
on May 27, 2022 at 7:47 am

Jessica Zhao is a registered user.

• Based on Diane's numbers of a city budget of $934.2 million and a city of 62,000 people, each member of the public is paying $1503 per year, or $125 per month or $4 per day.

•• Based on this revised calculation, are all adult taxpaying Palo Alto residents getting $2400.00 worth of directly related 'complimentary' municipal services annually?

Both wrong. We pay $40K per year in property tax on our modest Palo Alto home and do not receive anywhere near $40K annually in county and city services.

Where does all this money go?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Clarice Denison, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 27, 2022 at 9:57 am

Clarice Denison is a registered user.

> Based on Diane's numbers of a city budget of $934.2 million and a city of 62,000 people, each member of the public is paying $1503 per year, or $125 per month or $4 per day.

>> Try dividing that $934.2 million by 40,000 registered PA voters and your figures will drastically change, becoming more along the lines of $2400.00 per year (or $200.00 monthly) per adult individual.

"Where does all this money go?"

It is my understanding that much of it goes towards infrastructure improvements which in turn benefits everyone.

While $2400.00 per year may seem like a lot of money to some people, it is a miniscule amount for the privilege and opportunity to reside in Palo Alto.

The property taxes are another story. Unless one was fortunate to be sheltered under Proposition 13, the exorbitant price of housing in the more desirable bay area communities naturally results in a higher 1% taxation depending upon the current assessed valuation on one's home.

It is unimaginable to picture someone paying $50,000.00 in yearly property taxes on an overpriced and overvalued $5M Palo Alto or Los Altos home but one must pay for the privilege of residing in a nice town.

It is not for everyone.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Ray Miller, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on May 27, 2022 at 10:12 am

Ray Miller is a registered user.

" It is not for everyone."

Housing advocates should be taking this key factor into consideration.

Palo Alto and Los Altos are expensive cities to live in and they are not intended to accommodate everyone despite an overwhelming desire on the part of unrealistic individuals to force themselves upon these communities.

The property taxes should be enough of a warning and if a prospective renter, rest assured that a good portion of one's rent goes to cover these taxes.

The Palo Alto City Council should declare a moratorium on all new housing developments in Palo Alto even if it conflicts with ABAG mandates and results in a lawsuit.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Alicia Morales, a resident of Ventura,
on May 27, 2022 at 10:41 am

Alicia Morales is a registered user.

According to the City of Palo Alto webpage regarding council members:

Key Responsibilities:

(1) Set City?wide priorities and policies and direct the City Manager to apply them.

(2) Make final decisions on all City matters.

(3) Adopt Ordinances and Resolutions
Approve the annual budget.

(4) Act as a Board of Appeals.

The PACC is not fulfilling its commitment to Palo Alto residents on items (1) (2) & (3).

(1) The PACC has apparently forgotten (or overlooked) the fact that the City Manager answers to them and not the other way around.

(2) Final decisions on all city matters rests with the City Council and not the administrative managers employed by the city.

(3) Budgetary expenditures and approval are the domain of the City Council and here is where they are falling short by meekly acquiescing to the directives of the City Manager.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Marie Lewis, a resident of Professorville,
on May 27, 2022 at 11:38 am

Marie Lewis is a registered user.

"...meekly acquiescing to the directives of the City Manager."

Why doesn't the Palo Alto City Council members take a stand and put an end to this dictatorial reign?

As others have mentioned, the PACC is solely responsible for allowing matters to get to this point.

As my father used to tell my younger brother, "grow some balls."


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 27, 2022 at 12:53 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I urge you all to write to Mayor Burt and the city council and refer them to this blog and the comments here!

[email protected]

[email protected]

You might also ask why it's taken them 6 long divisive years to FINALLY start questioning Casti and the review process, especially for its Transportation Demand Management which ONLY counts driveway traffic and which Casti itself is responsible for monitoring. Mayor Burt FINALLY called it a TDM CIRCUMVENTION because the way staff set it up, it's a license to game the system.

PACC evidently only started to question the claims after massive efforts by the neighborhood groups that spent LOTS of their own money and Rita Vrtel who spent only 30 hours documenting laws/regs staff SHOULD have followed.

Back to Ms Diamond's question about how PA never seems to have enough money and rarely seems to deliver what we're handsomely paying for!



 +   2 people like this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 27, 2022 at 2:56 pm

Annette is a registered user.

The current CC may be the one to finally gain traction on the chain of command issue. Greer Stone is challenging Chief Jonsen's claim about encryption being a mandate. That's huge. I do wonder, though, why the City Manager didn't question the claim as Councilmember Stone did. I think the answer is that Stone is more in synch with the community than the CM who famously imposed a severe and unnecessary curfew on us two years ago. As I recall, Jonsen supported that curfew. That makes two big tails wagging the dog. Kudos to Greer for pushing back. I hope we see more of that and an eventual righting of the tail/dog dynamic.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by City Observer, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 28, 2022 at 9:03 am

City Observer is a registered user.

Maybe the PACC is intimidated by the city's upper tier management and fearful of offending them.

True leaders know when and how to effectively put the hammer down in order to keep the ship on course.

And so the question remains...are the PACC members demonstrating true leadership qualities that serve the best interests of all Palo Alto residents or are they happy just to be there?

If it's the latter, perhaps they should all consider resigning and joining a mutual admiration society.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robert Chang, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 28, 2022 at 2:16 pm

Robert Chang is a registered user.

It is my understanding that the current City Manager of Palo Alto once served in a similar capacity of a major urban U.S. city, namely San Jose, California.

So it should come as no surprise that he is attuned to big city governance and applying some of these practices to Palo Alto.

Palo Alto is not a major U.S. city and if not for Stanford University, it would be a residential blip on the radar screen.

If Palo Alto residents desire a 'small-town' vibe they should elect council members who share that vision and who will in turn hire a small town city manager.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 28, 2022 at 4:35 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Robert Chang is right that Mr. Shikada served in San Jose where he always showed up on the top 5 lists of the most highly paid city officials. The details are fuzzy but I recall he was forced out of that position which is why he learned to negotiate for the extra year's compensation and vesting if he's fired for cause or forced to resign.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Brenda Capshaw, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 29, 2022 at 8:02 am

Brenda Capshaw is a registered user.

"...he was forced out of that position which is why he learned to negotiate for the extra year's compensation and vesting if he's fired for cause or forced to resign."

Smart man. It's called having a contingency plan (aka covering one's bases).

Now the question is...why did the PACC approve such an arrangement?

Did anyone on the council vote against it or did they agree to the terms in unison?

As others have noted, the PACC bears full responsibility for whatever transpires in Palo Alto.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Brent Taylor, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 29, 2022 at 8:37 am

Brent Taylor is a registered user.

*...why did the PACC approve such an arrangement?

** Did anyone on the council vote against it or did they agree to the terms in unison?

^ It is my understanding that the current city manager was handpicked by a former PACC member and mayor.

The other PACC members obviously approved of this selection because it is also my understanding that the current city manager was the only one interviewed for the job.

A municipal democracy at work or another example of loaded dice?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Charles Maynard, a resident of Professorville,
on May 29, 2022 at 11:33 am

Charles Maynard is a registered user.

"Palo Alto government is no longer a democratic process but rather a meek steering committee controlled by upper level management."

"Maybe the PACC is intimidated by the city's upper tier management and fearful of offending them."

"...the current city manager was handpicked by a former PACC member and mayor."

"A municipal democracy at work or another example of loaded dice?"

• Perhaps the majority of Palo Alto residents are incapable of promoting and maintaining a true municipal democracy.

The PACC is somewhat reflective of these considerations and as a result, perhaps they are predisposed to make sweeping citywide decisions that they consider the Palo Alto populace is incapable of comprehending.

(portion removed)


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Myra Steinberg, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 29, 2022 at 11:46 am

Myra Steinberg is a registered user.

The PAPD police encryption issue is also reflective of a local government that shuns transparency and accountability


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 29, 2022 at 12:51 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"The other PACC members obviously approved of this selection because it is also my understanding that the current city manager was the only one interviewed for the job."

You're right. Former Mayor Liz Kniss rushed through his hiring and said something like he must be hired immediately on his terms lest PA "lose" him. He was the only candidate interviewed. There was quite a bit of coverage about this at the time.

At the time, the PACC composition was totally different with many of her pro-development acolytes like Adrian Fine and Corey(>) Wollbach, a group that was referred to as Liz's Kids,


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Patrice Winslow, a resident of Community Center,
on May 29, 2022 at 2:15 pm

Patrice Winslow is a registered user.

"Former Mayor Liz Kniss rushed through his hiring and said something like he must be hired immediately on his terms lest PA "lose" him. He was the only candidate interviewed."

@Online Name

Based on your input, two questions immediately come to mind...

(1) Why was hiring the current city manager so imperative and what unique city management talents or skills did he bring to the table that made him such an exigent and critical hire?

(2) Being new to Palo Alto, were the 'Liz's Kids' a key political voting bloc on the PACC and if so, what were their motives and aspirations?

Lastly, are there any PACC members who are truly in touch with the Palo Alto community?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Adrian Valdez, a resident of Ventura,
on May 29, 2022 at 3:08 pm

Adrian Valdez is a registered user.

In the absence of Online Name's possible reply, may I add my humble 2¢ worth?

In response to questions #1 and #2:

(1) As in major sports, star players are highly coveted and demand high salaries.

(2) Supporting a high profile pro-development civic leader often provides a viable gateway to pursue higher political aspirations of one's own later down the road.

And in response to 'Lastly,' there are no current PACC members who are truly in touch with the Palo Alto community.

If so, we wouldn't be having this conversation about city governance, internal management, and fiscal restraint.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 29, 2022 at 6:36 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Patrice Winslow, Adrian Valdez makes valid points but here's my 2 cents:

(1) Why was hiring the current city manager so imperative and what unique city management talents or skills did he bring to the table that made him such an exigent and critical hire?

You'd have to ask Ms Kniss those questions. People tried and failed to get answers.

(2) Being new to Palo Alto, were the 'Liz's Kids' a key political voting bloc on the PACC and if so, what were their motives and aspirations?

Yes, they were all pro-development and never met an office project they didn't like. Ms Kniss's famous denial that PA had any traffic problem prompted such outrage they had to have a special City Council meeting to let people vent. No concrete action was taken and the spending on traffic barriers, traffic "calming" devices/obstacles continued.

And continues now even though it's mandated that the Bay Area somehow absorb 2,000,000 more people in the next several years.

One might think narrowing roads, creating choke points is counter-intuitive but there's lots of money to be made from construction.

Ms Kniss is now president of the League of Women Voters and is now pushing for campaign finance reform that limits the contributions residents can make but not those from developers, non-profits and corporations that have backed her and others.

Office projects were routinely approved without regard to parking and congestion and claims are made that no one wants/needs cars any longer so developers get the highest possible density. That's why many neighborhoods now have Residential Parking Permits where residents buy parking permits.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Naomi Wick, a resident of Community Center,
on May 30, 2022 at 7:36 am

Naomi Wick is a registered user.

"Ms Kniss is now president of the League of Women Voters and is now pushing for campaign finance reform that limits the contributions residents can make but not those from developers, non-profits and corporations that have backed her and others."

Curious...how does one become president of the League of Woman Voters following an investigation and subsequent fine for violating campaign laws?

The Palo Alto Online report below:
Web Link


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Paul Jessup, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on May 30, 2022 at 9:08 am

Paul Jessup is a registered user.

There are always two sides to a coin.

While Ms. Kniss may have drawn political support from the pro-development faction, current council members Burt, Kou, and Stone received political support from a 'residentialist' coalition and are also under investigation
for campaign finance abuses.
Web Link

It's simply a matter of on what side of the political fence does a candidate position themself as the financial opportunities are readily available from either side of the fence.

Too many voters fall prey to a candidate's contrived sincerity, often overlooking the simple fact that these aspiring officeholders are all politicians who will do anything to get elected.

Kniss/Fine/Wolbach are no different than Burt/Kou/Stone as neither faction is wearing a white hat.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Calista Harris, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 30, 2022 at 9:21 am

Calista Harris is a registered user.

It is very disturbing to read that the PACC has compromised itself to the point where a recall election might be justified in order to ensure that the Palo Alto municipality can get back on track to best serve all of the residents in Palo Alto.

No more lip service and 'under the table' political contributions!


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on May 30, 2022 at 10:55 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"Residentialist faction" = US, the taxpayers, which is who the city is supposed to serve.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Peter Cross, a resident of University South,
on May 30, 2022 at 11:35 am

Peter Cross is a registered user.

"The State of California anticipates a budget surplus of $97 BILLION, a record for California or any other state. The surplus was driven by taxes on capital gains, which reached their highest peak since 1999..."
source: The Week/May 27, 2022/pp 32.

The City of Palo Alto is a microcosm of the state. More tax revenue equates to more money to spend.

"Residentialist faction" = US, the taxpayers, which is who the city is supposed to serve."

@Online Name

The "Commercial (aka development) faction" = THEM, another group the city willingly serves as it is a viable source of additional municipal revenue.

We should not look a gift horse in the mouth.

Palo Alto has become so paved over with high-rise/mixed-use development projects that it no longer matters anymore.

Just be grateful that most of these developments are in South Palo Alto and not in the more refined northern portion of the city.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by MaryAnne Jamison, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 30, 2022 at 11:52 am

MaryAnne Jamison is a registered user.

> Just be grateful that most of these developments are in South Palo Alto and not in the more refined northern portion of the city.

We rarely venture into the San Antonio Road mixed-use shopping district or South PA/Barron Park area along ECR & could care less about what goes on in that section of town.

It is another world far removed from Old Palo Alto & it is primarily up the the residents in that locale to express their discontent with further development.

It is always best to fight one's own battles and not to drag others into the conflict of interests, miles away.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Pete Gerrity, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 30, 2022 at 1:13 pm

Pete Gerrity is a registered user.

* Von Halstead is exactly right: "The solution in Palo Alto is simple...(1) the council members should be elected by and be representative of specific neighborhood districts, (2) the mayor should be elected directly by the Palo Alto residents rather than being chosen by the council, and (3) the city manager form of municipal government in Palo Alto should be abolished in its entirety."

^ This is a key starting point towards resolving as there are some PACC members who still support development.

**Just be grateful that most of these developments are in South Palo Alto and not in the more refined northern portion of the city...it is primarily up the the residents in that locale to express their discontent with further development."

***We rarely venture into the San Antonio Road mixed-use shopping district or South PA/Barron Park area along ECR & could care less about what goes on in that section of town.

^ There are two Palo Altos....one that has viable options available for further redevelopment (South PA) and one where there is no longer any more space for such ventures (North PA).

Having residential or district-based council members would be a step in the right direction as they would ideally be a direct PACC voice for concerned residents of a specific district comprised of similar neighborhoods.

Electing the mayor by a citizen/resident vote would eliminate the inner council workings of 'good old boy' & 'who's next' network while ensuring mayoral accountability for key municipal decisions.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Mike Ferrin, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 31, 2022 at 9:24 am

Mike Ferrin is a registered user.

"This PACC and mayor deserve some praise for FINALLY questioning the Casti nonsense and the ridiculous way staff "studied" the proposal with the City Manages' (past and presnet) apparent approval."

It is one thing to raise a question and entirely another to actually put one's foot down in an effort to end the nonsense.

Imagine having parents who simply raised a 'question' about their kids coming home at 3am every evening rather than putting an end to it.

The PACC does not have the courage to say NO to the City Manager or the Police Chief despite their questionable budgetary actions and transparency issues.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 2, 2022 at 8:52 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Nextdoor is lit up with comments from Charleston residents who are unable to back out of their driveways due to bike lane, can't get access to driveway due to the center median, gardeners can't park outside the house while they work, etc. etc.

It is so obvious that Palo Alto residents do not take any notice of what is being planned until it happens outside their home! The City will not listen to residents who are now complaining about these issues as it is a done deal.

Palo Alto residents must wake up. The City is not on the residents side, but on the woke agenda that suggests everyone should ride a bike and stop driving cars. They are not interested in how their actions affect the lives of people who are just trying to live their lives.

How can we get Palo Alto residents to wake up to what is happening in our own town? Our town is being turned into ugly buildings and ugly painted streets and nobody is paying attention until it is too late.

We are doomed!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 2, 2022 at 8:55 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Ribbit Capital above the CVS announced a fund of $1.2 billion. I wonder how many cities they run.
Web Link


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