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By Diana Diamond

2021: The time to think outside the box

Uploaded: Dec 28, 2020

Begone 2020. You were not a good year. Welcome 2021. You will have a busy year, because we have a lot of challenges for you!

2021 is a very special time, because the coronavirus has crippled the continents. We have countries in chaos, all because of one little uncontrollable virus. COVID-19 has affected the world like no nuclear bomb could do and all facets of our societies are hiding behind closed doors, unsure of what to do.

But this is also a special year, because it's an opportunity for changes -- here, nationally and globally. This is the time for us to give ourselves the opportunity to reflect on what we have been doing, what is not right, and start thinking if there are new ways we want to do things. We need to think outside the box.

Nationally, we have a lot to consider. Politically, for example, many questions are circulating around: do we want to continue with an electoral college; do we want to change or amend what the Constitution says about our presidents (very little); do we want to revamp the power and authority of the president; do we want Congress to add more members; in what ways can we help our climate; how to we do more to help the homeless, the unemployed, and those, who through no fault of their own, do not have enough to eat each day? Heavy questions that need to be tackled.

But let's also look at the local scene, and the boxes that challenge our thinking.

I remember a conversation I once had with former Palo Alto City Manager June Fleming back in the late nineties. I had started my own business and had found a small space downtown on Waverley Street. Digital Equipment Co. had turned one of their buildings into incubators, and about 15 of us start-ups were struggling to thrive there. The building was a savior; the rent was low, we all comingled ideas, or ran to each other's office for technical help. Joe Simtian was mayor at the time, and I asked him if he could give an award to DEC for creating this start-up. He quickly agreed. I then called Fleming to keep her in the loop.

"You can’t do this!" she replied. "Why not?" I asked. "Because it has never been done before," Fleming responded. "But that's why we're giving this award," I said. "You need permission, she said. "The mayor has already agreed, and we will have a press photographer there," I replied. Conversation ended.

That's not thinking outside the box.

Our city council does a lot of important work -- making this town function and trying to keep residents happy. Tough job. But last Saturday I was casually listening to an NPR show about a city council meeting in a Chicago suburb. That council had decided to turn over two entire meetings to listen to the residents -- what their complaints were, what they wanted changed, and what they liked about their community. Notes were diligently kept on all comments, and then the council spent another two meetings discussing the ideas and deciding what should and could be done. The residents were then notified on the status of their suggestions.

What a wonderful idea! Why couldn't we do that here? It would help us think outside our boxes.

So much of the Palo Alto City Council's time is spent on zoning matters and parking permits -- not that these are unimportant items, but I wish that one or two meetings could be devoted more to people's needs.

Obviously, the council's deep interest in providing more affordable housing in this city is a wonderful way to try to help residents. And the same for improving traffic flow and trying to help businesses during the COVID period.

But there may be other ideas residents have, since they may know things the staff does not realize.

And other than two minutes at a city council meeting (and letters to the council), there aren't many ways for residents to get together and tell the council about their ideas for the city.

All this may bring about some new thinking to our community. We residents live here seven days (and night) a week, and know what's needed and what we like.

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, and a hopeful Happy New Year!