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By Diana Diamond

Questions on my mind about Palo Alto

Uploaded: Oct 4, 2018

I oftentimes come across things in Palo Alto that make me wonder, “Why does the city …” “Does data on how much services are used back up what the city is spending our money on?” “Is this city spending its money wisely? ” For example:

• Is Palo Alto’s free shuttle system working? It’s a concept the city council loved, and a wonderful idea, but is it really working – and working as well as possible? How many people use it? Do school-age children ride it much? How much does it cost this city? How much do we pay for each ride taken? Are the bus routes the best or do they need to be changed? I have seen no data on our shuttle system, but I often see relatively empty buses.

• Why has “transit-oriented housing” (building apartments and condos near train and bus lines) become such a mantra in city governments when apparently no study has been done locally to see if people who live in these units actually use public transit to get to work? I know transit-oriented sounds like a very logical idea, yet if people living there don’t use trains and buses, maybe we should rethink what we’re doing and perhaps build housing near big companies, e.g., Facebook, Google and Apple. Is it better to build so people live near where they work rather than near buses and trains?

• Why did the Palo Alto City Council very recently give public safety workers (our police and firefighters) an 11.5 %increase over three years? This year there will be a 5.5% raise, next year another 3%, and the year after that an additional 3%. And by the way, these increases are compounded, meaning if a salary goes up 5.5% one year, the next year the 3% is applied to the higher salary. Private industry is not increasing salaries anywhere near 11.5%. I’ve been told the city does this because it wants to retain these workers and doesn’t want them to go to cities that pay a bit more. But the cities then get competitive with each other – if one raises salaries, the other ones also do – like an escalating poker game: City A says it will give 3%, city B then raises its increases to 4%, City C says 4.5%, and finally City D goes up to 5.5% So City D is the winner -- until the next round – while residents lose because the city spends more money on employees and not on bike paths, improving roadways and other things residents want.

• Why do we have three or four of our city officials travel at city expense to welcome a new city someplace on this globe as a council-declared “sister city” -- and then they take occasional trips to visit our sisters? A council boondoggle, perhaps?

• With our new and our renovated libraries, are more people taking out books and using library services now? What are those numbers? Do they justify all this money we spent on libraries? I certainly hope so because I love libraries, but let’s let the numbers justify our love.

• Is Stanford University the only employer that the city is demanding it build housing for its employees? Does Mountain View ask the same of Google or Menlo Park demand employee housing from Facebook? Facebook is building some employee housing, but only a small amount for the thousands of new workers it plans to hire.

I really don’t want to be a skeptic, but Palo Alto certainly does spend a lot of money for its 67,000 residents. Palo Alto has a $220 million general fund this year (up from $140 million several years ago) and it seems use up most of it. Is the city doing a good job on the way it spends our money?

Tell me your thoughts.