Palo Alto's year of resurgence

City's rising problems met with rising resilience

The donkey is dead. Long live the donkey.

That's the message the Palo Alto City Council unanimously delivered at the tail end of its final meeting of 2016, a year that was marked by contradictions, paradoxes, ups, downs, pain, joy and more twists and turns than the Byxbee Park's new pathway network.

The council's final formal action of the year -- approval of up to $15,000 to support Barron Park's talismanic donkeys -- is as good a symbol as any of both the nation's political scene and the meandering, hard-fought path toward progress that marked 2016 in Palo Alto.

The city's housing and traffic problems have gotten so urgent that by the end of the year, the once-bitterly divided council started speaking in unison about the need to build garages, protect residential neighborhoods from intrusion by businesses and employees, and encourage more residential development.

It took the election of Donald J. Trump to the nation's highest office for the heavily Democratic city to formally reaffirm its commitment to diversity and inclusiveness and to launch a conversation about becoming a sanctuary city.

It took a debilitating water shortage in East Palo Alto for Palo Alto to reaffirm its friendship with its neighbor across the creek and to offer help.

It took a proposal to shutter Buena Vista Mobile Home Park for the city, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the Housing Trust of Santa Clara County to rally around Buena Vista residents and pledge resources toward preserving the park and keeping its 400 residents in Palo Alto.

It took a hideous sexual assault at Stanford University, followed by a controversially lenient punishment for the perpetrator, for the community to rise up and facilitate a national conversation that led to a new law guaranteeing tougher sentences in the future.

And it took the death of beloved donkey Miner Forty Niner in late September for the council to pledge greater financial support for Perry and his new companion, Jenny.

The year was marked by moments of heartbreak and disappointment that both deflated and re-energized Palo Alto residents and city officials. It featured a bitter council election in which candidates accused one another of soliciting "dark money" and a school board contest in which newcomers soared above establishment figures.

Yet behind all the fits and starts, the tense debates and election rancor, the Trump-inspired anxiety and the frustration over housing affordability, 2016 was by and large a year of prosperity in Palo Alto. Property values continued to boom, and tax revenues are still rising. New bike boulevards are taking shape. The city has firm plans and funding in place to finally construct a new police building, a bike bridge to the Baylands and two garages in its main commercial districts as well as refurbish two fire stations.

In that sense, it's quite fitting that the swan song for departing council members Mayor Patrick Burt and Greg Schmid wasn't a requiem for Miner -- or, for that matter, for democracy in America -- but a happy rendition of "Sweetly Sings the Donkey," led by an accordion player and a group of residents from Barron Park and beyond.

The song, like so much else in 2016, served as a useful reminder that despair and hope often aren't too far apart.

Check out our biggest takeaways from this strange year here.

• See which 12 stories Palo Alto Online users engaged with the most


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1 person likes this
Posted by anne
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 31, 2016 at 12:10 pm

I think most people in this town have no idea how much they owe to Greg Schmid and the intelligent contributions he has made. They broke the mold. Please it's time for a profile.

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