By Diana Diamond
TO: Palo Alto officials: SUBJECT: Hurry up and get things done!Uploaded: Dec 30, 2019
A friend of mine once explained to me how this city’s famous (and now infamous) “Palo Alto Process” came about. “We have a lot of bright people living in this town,” he said, “and if we are so bright, then the thinking is we need to come up with a right decisions on the problems confronting us. So we have to talk about them, search for possible solutions, deliberate about what we could agree on, and then three years later, we decide. That’s why it takes so long and it’s a process that is now part of the thinking in this town.”
Great answer but I question whether there can be one right solution. Sometimes there are controversies in town about what should be done, such as whether to build taller buildings or keep our current height limits, and both ideas are viable since we can’t predict the ultimate outcome. So we try to compromise, and that doesn’t always work.
The past couple of years the problems seemingly have gotten harder to decide because a) there is no “right” solution, b) there are unexpected delays in trying to accomplish anything, or c) it’s just plain bureaucratic inertia. The result: the council makes some decisions but then there’s no action.
I’m tired of waiting for something to finally get finished in this town. Our “to do” list is getting longer and longer. My examples are several, prompted by this week’s Palo Alto Weekly decade round up of events that helped me recall some of what went on:
• A bike-pedestrian bridge across 101 has been in discussion for 10-plus years – after a design contest was held and then the best bid was awarded and then rejected and the cost of the second-best went up and up. Current status: Not even shovel-ready. In the meantime, East Palo Alto built one in about four years.
• The rebuilding of the new firehouse on Embarcadero Road was going well a year ago, and then there was some sort of glitch and a work stoppage. I am still waiting for the renovated fire station.
• Grade separations across Caltrain tracks – I remember 15 or 20 years ago going to 8 a.m. regional meetings of city council representatives where discussions on the need for grade separations were frequent. Most cities have some form of grade separation worked out. Mountain View and Sunnyvale haven’t built any yet, but they know what they want. But not Palo Alto – we have yet another citizens’ committee studying what to do (after numerous public meetings) and a council decision isn’t expected until November 2020 – 11 months from now. Can’t the council and city staff decide something sooner? Guess they prefer appointing another committee “to study it” – a favorite council phrase.
• The Embarcadero Road--El Camino intersection continues to be a constant car clog-up since 2009.For 10 years I’ve complained about this many times (as have others) and have been told by the city “we’re working on it” and “it’s complicated. I wonder how many thousands if not millions of us have been held up at this intersection. And according to the new traffic engineer, this is not on the current priority list.
• Agenda-Lite – No, that’s not a new diet soda but instead a reference to the reduced number of items discussed by the council at their three-times-a-month Monday meetings. There used to be 15 or so action items; now it seems less than a handful are agendized. Can’t the council handle more things the way they used to? Or the city staff?
• In 2010 there was an early morning plane crash in East Palo Alto, which caused an electric blackout in this city for hours. Shortly after, city officials talked about the importance of having an additional power source in case there’s another incident. Nine years later, no action.
• Along those lines, what if we have another earthquake or gas explosion and lose our electric power, Internet and ourbcell phone services don’t work. What do residents do? How do we know where to go? We’ve had disaster emergency discussions and plans and training for years, but having a spot for residents to meet “depends on the problem.” OK, but once there’s a disaster, how do we find out about shelters?
• Another old refrain of mine – digital signboards at entrances to city garages to indicate how many spaces are open. I continually hear that the Bryant Street garage has big parking shortage problems, and drivers go up to the top where only permit parking is allowed, then down again, and up again. And this city says were have to control our CO2 emissions. Ha!
• The city did start on building a new city garage on California Avenue and will be finally building a new Public Safety Building. The latter has been discussed for at least two decades.
And finally, one thing Palo Alto has done well is adding more than 400 city employees since the 2010 era. Not that additional employees have made any difference in how much faster things are getting done.