The Delay, Delay, Delay Attitude in Palo Alto | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |

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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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The Delay, Delay, Delay Attitude in Palo Alto

Uploaded: Jul 17, 2022

If any of you have taken a national survey, you know the first question is something along the line of, “Do you think the country is on the right track?” Answer yes or no. I am posing the same question locally, “Do you think Palo Alto is going in the right direction (on the right track)?”

My concern about this town is that nearly every project, every proposal seems to take so long to be completed. Here’s just a part of my list:

Castilleja school expansion – Six years before council approval a few weeks ago.
Bridge across Highway 101 – 10+ years of discussion – and an additional 12 years -- after the council agreed to the construction.
The Pope-Chaucer Bridge across San Francisquito Creek – The 1998 flood led to the creation of Joint Powers Authority that finally decided to build a bridge a couple of years ago -- scheduled to start in 2024! – but only after a new Newell Avenue bridge is completed. The plans call for a 130-foot bridge for $9 million (2019 cost estimate). I am guessing we will have a little bridge finished by 2030—32 years after the flooding. How in the world did California ever get the 1.7 mile-long Golden Gate Bridge completed in only four years?
Improvement of traffic flow on Embarcadero and left-hand turn lane on El Camino to Embarcadero. Never started.
• Encryption -- allowing the public and press to listen to the radio transmissions between police officers and the dispatchers -- which was in effect for 70 years, until January 2021, when Police Chief Robert Jonsen decided on his own, without council approval, that these broadcasts of police activity in this city would no longer occur. Since that time, the council has had one informal discussion on it, and now has been waiting to have the encryption discussion formally agendized, but so far, no sign of such an agenda item has appeared yet on the agenda months later.
• Sensor system and overhead LED lights at both Bryant Street and High Street city garages to let motorists know the number of empty parking spaces in the garage and the number per floor – council authorized appending on this in 2016. Not started yet.
Delays for city permits -- Ongoing.
Grade separations -- From 2015 through 2018, the City Council had a Rail Committee consisting of four council members. They analyzed several issues, among the m the separation of auto crossings from railroad tracks. In January 2019, the City Council decided to change from the Rail Committee to the Committee of the Whole, so issues were addressed by all council members. In April 2021, the City Council revived the Rail Committee, this time with three council members. Their last meeting was on June 15, 2022. Several consultants for the raill grade-separation crossings have been hired over the years.

For years, Palo Altans have talked about the “Palo Alto Process” – some with pride, others just joking about it. The process refers to the fact that Palo Alto is, well, notorious in a way, for taking a long time to think and decide about issues. One former council member explained to me with a very solemn face some years ago that residents know this community is smart, and if we disagree about something, well, we must take time to get to the right answer. So, council members deliberate until they find the perfect solution. That notion came to a rest a couple years ago but still decisions come after weeks or months.

Nevertheless, while a few of these issues are the result of council delays, most of them are caused by staff and managerial delays. There doesn’t seem to me any urgency to get projects completed. Why? I can only guess, but in most private businesses, deadlines are deadlines and managers and employees adhere to them. An “I’m working on it” staff responses do not suffice. Nor does taking six months to a year to complete a report.

For example, the continual traffic flow tie-up problems near and at the Embarcadero Road-El Camino intersection: Those first surfaced in 2008, when Trader Joe’s opened. Jaime Rodriguez was chief transportation official at that time, and he told me to solve it would require dealing with the city, the state traffic officials (who are in charge of El Camino issues) and Stanford University, I guess because Embarcadero feeds into Galvez Street on the Stanford campus, but that doesn’t seem much of an issue. Rodriguez did not solve it, nor did he get the two traffic lights on Embarcadero coordinated (one at the entrance to Town & Country, and the other yards away, which is a pedestrian-activated signal for Paly students). He resigned in 2015 but lo and behold, the then-city manager hired him as a consultant to the tune of thousands and thousands of dollars, a job in which the Embarcadero traffic congestion remained unresolved. I guess the city has forgotten that this traffic tie-up issue still exists.

Please, council members, don’t accept City Hall excuses like the delays are because of the pandemic, or budget cuts, etc. These projects have been lingering for several years. And some of them, like sensor signals at garages, require only an outside contractor to get the job done.

In my estimation, we need a council that will impose their deadlines on the staff. I want city employees to realizes the council is in charge of this city, because the city manager (and staff) report to the council and mayor. Lately it seems the other way around – more like a staff-led city. We’ve got good people on the council, and I know they can do it. We don’t need a continuance of a delay, delay, attitude.
Local Journalism.
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Posted by Russell Woods, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jul 17, 2022 at 3:46 pm

Russell Woods is a registered user.

According to historians, it took 1,229 years to build Rome.

Palo Alto has plenty of time to check-off the boxes.

Posted by Victor+Bishop, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jul 17, 2022 at 5:08 pm

Victor+Bishop is a registered user.

Well according to a recent article in the mercury news, mayor Patrick Burt blames the Castilleja delay solely on the school itself!!!!!!
Regarding the bike bridge over 101, that was delayed because it became an ego trip for a certain “I vote no" council member. We needed to have an “iconic" bridge over 101, so people will know they are in Palo Alto. Let's have a design contest she said. Okay, then let's throw out the results of the contest!!!!

I think it is karma that mayor Patrick Burt is complaining about Palo Alto being ignored regarding airplane noise in Palo Alto. He claims that he is frustrated.
Maybe the people that put up with the delay mentality of the council are frustrated also

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 17, 2022 at 5:48 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

It is very interesting to understand that many contractors will not deal with Palo Alto, not interested in bidding, for any work in town particularly to private individuals. There is a reputation for the Palo Alto Process being slow, costly and cumbersome. These contractors are willing to work for neighboring cities, but not us. No surprises here.

And yes, parking and traffic are getting worse all the time, but nothing is done to help us residents find parking in downtown for 3 hours or more or even find it for just 1 hour.

Public transport is practically non-existent and more expensive than driving (even with the high price of gas).

And all our CC seems to want us to do is bike or walk!

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of another community,
on Jul 18, 2022 at 1:35 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

In most places the perfect is the enemy of the good but in Palo Alto the endless search for the perfect agreement ends up with a long delayed mediocre result.

Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Jul 18, 2022 at 8:15 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

When the idea is a bad one, long delay may instead be helpful. I'm thinking of the plan to shut off natural gas service to residences but not to business or commercial buildings.

Posted by Anneke, a resident of Professorville,
on Jul 18, 2022 at 9:36 am

Anneke is a registered user.

Advice to the City: Stop talking, start doing!

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 18, 2022 at 10:41 am

Online Name is a registered user.

You forgot my favorite: 8+ years for PA's former transportation czar Jaime Rodriquez to fix the traffic light at Paly and Towm & Country crosswalk so it didn't operate when the kids weren't in school. You'll note it's mere feet away from the other traffic light at the Paly and T&C driveways which were never synchronized with the crosswalk light.

For extra credit: To whom did PA award the multi-million dollar contract to fix city-wide traffic light timing after it finally got rid of Mr. Rodriquez for being too busy running his own consulting business while employed by the city?

Right you are: to Mr. J Rodriquez. Our tax dollars at work.

This goes way beyond the PA "process" resulting in delays as poor Los Altos learned when they hired him as a consultant and were later sued because he insisted on putting a 24-hour blinking traffic light in front of a private residence resulting in the poor homeowners having to sue the city.

Posted by mjh, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 18, 2022 at 2:13 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Too often delays in approving development applications are because developers submit applications that exceed what is allowed, often egregiously so. Knowing that if they hold out long enough and push hard enough the Planning Department will eventually cave and the compromise will result in a more profitable development.

Developers then turn around and blame the Palo Alto process for taking too long!

Posted by Laruie, a resident of Green Acres,
on Jul 18, 2022 at 2:26 pm

Laruie is a registered user.

We are also behind when it comes to making sure that all new buildings are accessible throughout the building for individuals with disabilities.

Posted by ALB, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 18, 2022 at 4:57 pm

ALB is a registered user.

Yes MJH is spot on. Developers in PA ask often for variances. If applications are submitted within code then delays would not occur. There is a myth that it is the city's fault when actually the applicant often games the process. Castilleja is the perfect example.

Posted by Garry Wyndham, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 19, 2022 at 10:27 am

Garry Wyndham is a registered user.

Those folks selling solar power roofing at Costco are easy to talk to. But tell them you live in Palo Alto, they'll smile sheepishly and end the conversation. Mountain View, yes. Sunnyvale, yes. But Palo Alto is just impossible. Our city planners work hard to make solar power unviable here.

Posted by tmp, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 19, 2022 at 11:18 am

tmp is a registered user.

Great! The more we delay all of the excessive building the better. Perhaps at some point before we are totally overrun with large buildings, that block the sun and destroy the city by bring too many people here and adding to the unsustainable pollution and use of natural resources of the area, the citizens will rebel to stop this growth.

I applaud any effort (intended or not) to stop this excessive building and perhaps one day the developers that have currently bought off our Sacramento government will be ousted and sane people who understand that there are limits to growth will prevail and institute growth limits.

Posted by Ryan Joost, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 19, 2022 at 11:36 am

Ryan Joost is a registered user.

As some others have mentioned, the Barron Park area along ECR is an eyesore and should be redeveloped in its entirety.

Nothing there worth saving.

Posted by Barbara G, a resident of Mayfield,
on Jul 19, 2022 at 12:57 pm

Barbara G is a registered user.

Perhaps if all these fabulous ideas actually benefited the majority of Palo Alto residents instead of enriching developers at our expense, we'd all be more inclined to support some of these projects.

Palo Alto is shoveling money into the pockets of the wealthy while seniors on fixed incomes can't pay our bills.

I'd bring all this nonsense to an absolute standstill if I could.

Posted by TorreyaMan, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jul 19, 2022 at 2:30 pm

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

You ignored another cause of the delays. Too many NO sayers in this community, whose only interest is to delay, obfuscate, or eliminate any improvements.

Posted by Cherjo, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 19, 2022 at 5:31 pm

Cherjo is a registered user.

Thank you Diana, keep up your great reporting. You are a gift to our community. I agree with ‘Bystander, ‘BarbaraG', and'‘Gary Windham'. Owning 2 homes in this town, I pay a high tax bill. Never complained because I enjoyed what was available to me here compared to surrounding cities. But this has drastically changed and not for the better. These past 2 years, I too have had 4 Contractors refuse to help repair my aging home. They are only interested in a cleared lot to build a New home. I am insulted for every service I request my ZipCode is asked before my Name. Smells of Fixed pricing. I have lived here since 1967. But the changes are becoming too insulting to bear longer. Our city taxes purchased and maintained Foothill Park & every adjouning town was offered to buy the Land for collective use, Every town refused to then only shamed us for keeping them out. You desire retirees to leave their homes to families with children who support PAUSD. Where to go if everything being built locally is “Stack&Pack" with many levels? I recall my daughters every first day of school as I was expected to submit a $3000+ “Donation" to attend, above the ParcelTax. WTG, PAUSD created a Private/Public School Hybrid. A few years back, parents demanded ‘Robotics Classes" for their bright children. PAUSD concidered eliminating the High School Algebra Graduation requirement that benefits all students who want to attend College. The few expecting the exceptional would disadvantage the student body majority. In order to register for a graduation required College Algegra Course at Foothill College, a test is taken to determine if the student would need to take a remedial Algebra Course before being allowed to attend required Algebra I Course. Shameful placing this disadvantage on our children. Many “NonCommercial' issues are in need of attention now too. I always said I would never leave this great town, but what has been done to it has drained the joy from me. I am leaving. Wishing you ????

Posted by Samuel Jackson, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jul 19, 2022 at 8:57 pm

Samuel Jackson is a registered user.

There are many subjects on which commenters will disagree, but I hope everyone can agree that expeditious decision-making is in community interest. Time alone does not make processes more 'considered' or 'complete.' Better to make a decision -- whether good or ill -- and move forward.

If the decision proves to have been the wrong one, propose new questions and make new decisions -- also quickly ! -- to find remedy.

Even if you believe that the status quo is superior to change, let that state be defended and decided quickly. Delay for the sake of delay is not to the benefit of the community. Whether that is driven by staff-driven deliberative processes, council-driven prerogatives, or a collective deluge of red tape... almost doesn't matter. Removing the symptoms can help address whatever the underlying ailment might be.

Posted by Evergreen Park Observer, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jul 19, 2022 at 11:34 pm

Evergreen Park Observer is a registered user.

The City Council is a part-time, hardly paid groups of people. They are no match for a large, well-paid, full-time staff led by a City Manager that has almost unlimited power. The only power the Council has over the City Manager is the City Manager's annual performance review which is not public. The Council is terrified the City Manager would leave if he weren't given everything he wants. So, there you have it.

Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Jul 20, 2022 at 9:09 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Samuel Jackson

Re: " I hope everyone can agree that expeditious decision-making is in community interest."

It all depends on the current state of the community. If things are bad, like the middle of a war, decisions need to be super-fast. If things are generally good, there's a substantial chance that changes will make a situation worse, and changes should be slow and deliberate. I'd argue that Palo Alto is in the latter condition, and so expeditious decision-making here is not in the community interest.

Posted by Jackie Brown, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 21, 2022 at 9:41 am

Jackie Brown is a registered user.

I have been told that many public offices (courts, city hall, social services etc.) have a backlog of unprocessed paperwork due to the COVID shutdowns.

What I am trying to understand is if the employees were still getting paid and working from their homes during this timeframe, what were they constructively doing to alleviate this backlog?

Posted by Alan Whitaker, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 22, 2022 at 10:08 am

Alan Whitaker is a registered user.

"...many public offices (courts, city hall, social services etc.) have a backlog of unprocessed paperwork due to the COVID shutdowns."

"What I am trying to understand is if the employees were still getting paid and working from their homes during this timeframe, what were they constructively doing to alleviate this backlog?"

^ Deleting their answering machine messages after it got full.

Posted by PH, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Jul 23, 2022 at 11:35 am

PH is a registered user.

"•The Pope-Chaucer Bridge across San Francisquito Creek �" The 1998 flood led to the creation of Joint Powers Authority that finally decided to build a bridge a couple of years ago -- scheduled to start in 2024!"

Not quite the way I remember history. The JPA was formed near then, but not principally because of the flood. It was given a complex mission.

The bridge has always been legally problematic. During the flood there were a number of a lawsuits some of which cited the bridge as a cause. From its city attorney the MPCC was told that removing/raising the bridge would cause flooding elsewhere, so even back in 1998 it was a sued if you do and sued if you don't decision to re-build the bridge.

Maybe today, 25 years, and several severe droughts later the public might be tickled to have flooding. At least it would mean a wet winter.

Posted by Menlo Voter., a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 24, 2022 at 8:40 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

For those that wonder why contractors don't want to do work in Palo Alto or charge a premium to do so I can tell you, it's because compared to every other town in the area, including Woodside, it is a major pain in the a**. The building department hands out a book over an inch thick when you pull a permit. In that book is information and direction on how Palo Alto interprets the California Building Code. Now if this book was just a clarification of the code it would be one thing, but as all things Palo Alto, it's not. Their "interpretation" of the code is actually a reinterpretation of the code and it is stricter and often times unnecessary. Here is a perfect example; when setting up a temporary power pole it is necessary to drive a grounding rod in and connect it to the temporary panel. That's all good and the same as every other jurisdiction. In every other jurisdiction the grounding wire is typical put into flexible metal conduit which can be easily rolled out and attached. Not in Palo Alto. In Palo Alto you must put that ground wire into rigid metal conduit. This adds both time and expense to the process. Yes, it's a small thing, but there is a 1+ inch thick book FULL of unnecessary garbage like this that make building ANYTHING in Palo Alto difficult and more costly than it needs to be.

So, next time you wonder why someone wants to know where you live when you're inquiring about work, it isn't price gouging, it's self preservation. It simply costs more to do work in Palo Alto. And it is a problem, at least as far as construction is concerned, that is easily remedied. Get rid of "The Palo Alto Book" and enforce the Building Code the same way every other jurisdiction does.

I have been building for over 30 years all over the Bay Area and I can say without reservation Palo Alto is the biggest pain in the a** to build anything in. You can thank your city leaders for that.

Posted by Grew Up Here, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 24, 2022 at 7:03 pm

Grew Up Here is a registered user.

How about Paly High? Something has been under construction there for the last 12 years. Now, they are going to renovate the Tower Building, and next, the snack center, then the Haymarket Theater. Why not work on two at once?

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