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 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…]

Aug 042015
 

The following letter was sent to the City Council and Administration from a combined group of Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) and Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ) leaders. We have been informed that the City Council will discuss CAC issues at the August 17th meeting.
If you agree with the opinions expressed here, please sign our petition to add your voice to this discussion.


 

Dear City Council, Jim Keene, Hillary Gitelman,

We the undersigned have several concerns about the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the Comprehensive Plan, and are recommending remedies in order to provide trustworthy, fair, and broad community representation.

  1. Dan Garber has both the appearance of and an actual material conflict of interest that makes him an inappropriate choice to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee, particularly as its Chair, given that he recently worked for the city on design and planning issues for 27 University (the subject of a major Grand Jury report assailing the city’s action), and stands to benefit professionally from decisions made by the CAC.
    • Having those who work for the city then participate in citizen panels intended to be independent is the much-maligned “revolving door,” which is illegal in many places.
  2. Steve Levy is a paid advisor to ABAG and other government agencies and thus should not be on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee. He also frequently blogs on planning issues, which is a direct conflict of interest and also is likely to violate the Brown Act.
  3. The CAC should have co-chairs who alternate leading the meetings rather than a chair and vice-chair.
  4. The outcome of each meeting needs more transparency. The CAC Ground Rules state that “a brief summary of CAC meetings will be posted to the project website (www.paloaltocompplan.org) for any interested party to examine.”
    • Rather than a “brief summary,” full minutes should be provided within a week of the meeting so the public can understand and comment on the points discussed.
    • Minutes should also articulate dissenting as well as majority viewpoints and vote totals so that City Council will understand the challenges that the CAC addressed.
    • Ideally, meetings should be televised or at least taped and rebroadcast.
  5. Public comments should be allowed at the beginning of and also before any vote at each meeting. To limit public comments to the end, AFTER decisions have been made or votes have been cast, ignores those attending who ask to have their viewpoints considered.  And public comments should still be allowed at the end, so that any outstanding concerns that have not surfaced can be considered in following meetings.
  6. Staff has stated they will allow anonymous online posts, but will not allow them to be seen by the CAC or the public. This is wrong: for staff to accept anonymous posts and not reveal the content publicly gives anonymous posters undue power to influence and distract staff.  It diminishes the intention of the public forum, which is to support open conversation.  No anonymous posts should be allowed.  Also:
    • Is there a way to distinguish between Palo Alto residents and non-residents?
    • Can duplicate comments be identified?
    • Can the number of unique commentators be identified?
  7. Open City Hall should not be the only way people can make comments. Email and letters should also be allowed.
  8. The schedule seems overly rushed. Are all members of the CAC conversant on each section of the Comp Plan to be revised?  Can 20+ people really cover all the land use issues in just 2 3-hour sessions?
  9. The committee should be provided with high-level tools to analyze the impact of proposed policy changes on schools, traffic, parking, and the environment, such as Sim Palo Alto, so as to avoid wasting time discussing infeasible proposals.
  10. There needs to be a better balance of people from north and south Palo Alto, as well as more representation from community groups other than Palo Alto Forward. City Council should have final approval of appointments.  We can provide the names of several qualified persons.

Note that the undersigned residents are in substantial agreement with the concerns expressed, although minor disagreements do exist.

Sheri Furman, Midtown
Cheryl Lilienstein, Barron Park
Annette Glanckopf, Midtown
Norm Beamer, Crescent Park
Jeff Levinsky, Duvenek/St. Francis
Peter Taskovich, Meadow Park
Neilson Buchanan, Downtown North
Tim Gray, Charleston Meadows
Elaine Meyer, University South
Mark Nadim, Palo Alto Hills
Douglas Moran, Barron Park
Becky Sanders, Ventura
David Schrom, Evergreen Park
Robin Bayer, Evergreen Park
Joseph Hirsch, Green Acres