May 172017

Two new email newsletters are being circulated  to inform the public of a variety of issues for residents of Palo Alto. Where appropriate, some of the articles will highlighted here.

Palo Alto Matters is founded on the belief that communities thrive when neighbors are at the table in public decision making. We live here, we play here. We walk, bike, shop, drive and work here. We build our families and retire here. What happens in the City of Palo Alto happens to us.

Our city is at a crossroads as we confront the challenges of rapid regional growth. Understanding local matters, making your voice heard and holding City officials accountable for what matters to you can put you in the driver’s seat to advance balanced solutions. We’re here to help you do that.

The editor, Jennifer Chang Hetterly,  is a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Comprehensive Plan Update, has chaired both the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission and the Facilities subcommittee of the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, and served extensively in PTA and Site Council leadership for the PAUSD.

To Subscribe to Palo Alto Matters Click Here 


SF Peninsula news is fast-moving and busy residents are challenged to stay informed.  This newsletter, published by the San Francisco Peninsula Neighborhood Association, places current news on housing, jobs and transportation into useful context.

This Week on the San Francisco Peninsula is edited by two Palo Alto residents, Neilson Buchanan and John Guislin, who have no ties to developers.  The sole objective is to provide information in support of residential quality of life. (Note: This newsletter occasionally highlights  articles on news sites that have limited access for non-subscribers.)

To Subscribe to SF Peninsula News Click Here
Mar 242017

Most of us aspire to the concept of ‘one man, one vote’. Our country was born in the Boston Tea Party with a cry against “taxation without representation” but is the converse true? Are those who pay higher taxes entitled to a larger voice in the governance of our city?

All homeowners should have received a ballot for an increase in the Storm Water Management Fee. This fee would cover operation of and improvements to the city’s storm water management system. Although most of Palo Alto is in Flood Zone ‘X’ which means little danger of flooding, we do live near a number of creeks which could flood and cause problems. It was noted that several years ago, one of the agencies in San Jose voted not to pay $7.5M to improve Coyote Creek because they didn’t think any flood damage would result in more that that amount! Fast forward to last month, the damage is estimated at $500M, not to mention how people’s lives were destroyed. Some may never recover. For more information about the program,  visit http://paloaltostormwater.org.

Some of you may have noticed that the ballot includes your name and address, parcel number (APN) and your signature and that the accompanying letter states that

“Ballots will not be removed from their envelopes until the tabulation begins. As required by state law, during and after tabulation, ballots will be treated as public records.”

Why are these ballots were not treated as normal ‘secret’ ballots, where your name and signature are on the outer envelope and this is separated from the ballot before tabulation? The explanation received from the City Clerk’s office was:

“Section 4(e) of Article XIIID of the California Constitution (aka Prop. 218) requires that assessment ballots be “weighted according to the proportional financial obligation of the affected property.”  This means that owners of properties with higher assessments have greater influence than owners of properties with lower assessments.  Specific information about the property associated with each ballot is required to determine its weight, and under state law this information becomes public record after the ballots are tabulated.  In Greene v. Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation Dist. (2010) 49 Cal.4th 277, the California Supreme Court held that assessment ballot information, including the name and address associated with each vote, is appropriately treated as public record after ballot tabulation.”

The fee is calculated on the basis of ERUs (Equivalent Residential Units) which are defined as the Impervious Area (Sq. Ft.) / 2500. Residential properties are assigned ERUs based on lot size which assumes a ratio of impervious area (driveways, sidewalks, etc) to open soil areas. Large commercial properties, many of which are located away from the most vulnerable areas of Palo Alto, would have much higher ratios (parking lots, etc) and hence higher fees. Does this mean that commercial property owners have a much larger voice in determining the fate of the flood control projects?

But if you read the cover letter which accompanies the ballot:

“…The Storm Water Management Fee will only be approved if the number of Ballots cast (and not withdrawn) in favor of the fee exceed the number of Ballots cast (and not withdrawn) in opposition to the fee. Each ballot counts as a single vote…”

And the ballot itself states:

“You will receive a separate ballot for each parcel you own that is subject to the fees, and one vote may be cast for each such parcel.”

Regardless of how one feels about the validity and value of the fee and the requested increase, in the light of such discrepancies in the stated ballot procedures, how can we feel assured that the information we are receiving from the City is accurate, that the ballots will be tabulated correctly and that the results will represent the will of the residents?

Aug 162015

The Palo Alto City Council will consider the possible reform of the Citizen’s Advisory Commission to the Comprehensive Plan as an agenda item at their August 17, 2015 meeting.

Join  Palo Alto residents who support reform of the CAC.  Sign our petition.

The following letter was sent to the City Council in support of CAC reform:


Dear City Council,

I thank you for considering my and many others’ concerns about the Comp Plan Citizens Advisory Committee and acknowledge that some changes have been made, such as assigning co-chairs and allowing the public to speak before the meeting.

However, I still have some serious concerns after reviewing the proceedings of the August 11 CAC meeting.

The staff report lists “an ambitious schedule of CAC meetings and City Council meetings which will only be possible if the Comprehensive Plan Update is truly just an update, and not a complete revision or rewrite of the current Comprehensive Plan.”  It also state that “Members of the CAC will be asked to review materials provided in advance of meetings, and will be primarily engaged in reviewing and commenting on (rather than writing) draft plan language.”

The August 11 meeting was devoted to the Community Services and Facilities Element, the statistics of which are:

  • 1998-2010 Community Services and Facilities Element had 32 policies and 27 programs
  • 88% of the existing policies and programs are being carried over to the amended element;
  • 10% of the existing policies and programs are deemed complete;
  • 63% of the old policies and programs were edited;
  • 25% of the old policies and programs were carried over with no change and
  • 21 new policies and 52 new programs were added

How can this possibly be considered just an update?  And how can 20 people in one meeting cover 21 new policies and 52 new programs?  The answer is they can’t and they didn’t.    There was no step-by-step discussion of the new policies and programs.  Who will ultimately vet these?  And what will happen when we get to the really critical transportation and land use issues?

Asking people to give general comments on proposed goals and policies doesn’t make the best use of the committee’s time.  If new and revised policies and programs are proposed to be included in the revised Comp Plan, the committee needs to specifically review them for appropriateness.

Some committee people don’t even actually know what the Comp Plan is or its purpose.  How can they make informed decisions?  And does every elected/appointed official need to be introduced at each meeting?

I again ask that full minutes be provided within a week of the meeting so the public can understand and comment on the points discussed and any decisions made.

I still support adding a few more people from South Palo Alto to better represent city-wide concerns, but it’s also obvious that the real problem is the disorganized and rushed schedule of meetings.  We’ve dawdled for many years over updating the Comp Plan and now we’re in the position of rushing through many extremely critical issues that impact this city’s future.

Would it not make more sense to divide the group into subcommittees to discuss specific elements and then have a larger discussion on how those elements interrelate?  That worked well with the Cubberley CAC.

I ask that you have a discussion about what you really want the CAC to accomplish and find the best way of doing so.  “We solicited public input” just isn’t sufficient for such a serious issue.

I’ve read the Comp Plan; most of its vision is fine.  We seem to think every new idea must be enshrined in it, when it should be a master plan, not a blueprint.

Please understand that I care deeply about the city I have lived in for 40 years, half of which I have been an active community participant – MRA (20 years), PAN (17 years), 2 Housing Element committees, the Cubberley CAC, the website design committee, several council campaigns and numerous emergency preparedness activities.  I am not anti-housing, -growth, -development.  To borrow from a PAN forum, “It’s a Question of Balance.”  And our city is way out of balance between development and quality of life.

So why am I not on the committee?  Because I foresaw the very issues I’ve mentioned and because my strength is detailed analysis of issues, something not likely to happen in these meetings.


Sheri Furman

Aug 142015

Downtown Palo Alto parking problem persists while city officials, developers and employers wear blinders

by – Daily News columnist

It must be very difficult to live in a neighborhood near downtown Palo Alto where your street is completely filled with parked cars on weekdays during business hours. Many of those vehicles belong to downtown business workers and some to Stanford employees who don’t want to pay for a university parking permit.

Rather than force businesses to provide parking, city officials for years closed their eyes to the problem. Let employees park where they will, was their logic.

Thus the car clutter soon became the residents’ problem, not the city’s. And downtown employees found themselves in a game of musical chairs, hunting daily for a parking space.

[Read full story…]