Our business has been on California Avenue for 15 years. For us, the "process" and discussions surrounding the plans for California Avenue have been frustrating. We feel as though we talk, the city hears, but no one really listens. We are dismayed by the negativity and frankly, unacceptable lack of civility that we have personally witnessed and read on both sides of the issue. It is confusing that, as a community, we can't disagree without being disagreeable.
We have always and will continue to support the upgrades to safety and aesthetics that this business district has long needed, and we believe that almost all of the upgrades can be accomplished without a lane reduction.
There are many opponents to the reduction. Fifty-five merchants and businesses went on the record supporting the plan — except for the lane reduction. Others opposed the reduction but for many reasons felt they could not go on the record.
There has been no clear explanation on how the lane reduction will support development in the area as it relates to this district being designated a pedestrian- and transit-oriented development. This designation will increase business and residential density, while at the same time, constricting access?
It would be safer to divert the majority of bicycle traffic off California Avenue and onto a quieter street. We make this statement as bicycle riders. This is a business district with autos, delivery trucks and buses. The city agrees. That explains why Bryant Street, not Middlefield, is the major cross-town bike artery in Palo Alto. Yet, they push California Avenue as a major bike thoroughfare.
Many in the City are angry because a group of citizens have taken legal action as a final recourse (we are not a part of any legal action, but certainly understand the right to do so). The irony is that after unanimously supporting high-speed rail, our city decided to take legal action and protect its rights when the ongoing debates about the credibility of the HSR "plan" came to light.
We feel as though a trial reduction is realistic and necessary. It should not be the $60,000 or so it might cost — take a look at the contract the city offered the designer of the project; put a 3 in front of the $60,000 — that should give us all pause. We sincerely appeal to the city and residents to support a trial. The reality is that if the lane reduction is a success, great, let's fine-tune the plan and move forward. If the trial fails, then we can trim the sails and change course before we spend too much on a plan that didn't deliver on what it promised.
Lara & Michael Ekwall
La Bodeguita del Medio
Applause for council
I applaud you, the current council, for attempting to fix the fiscal mess left by prior decades of gross mismanagement. Our past decision makers never took their rose-colored glasses off when making revenue forecasts and cost projections. With sleight of hand, they used their ever-growing pot of utility charges (paid for by the ratepayers of the city) to fill the holes in the city's operating budget. Past leadership failed to structure pay and pension benefits that were economically realistic. Now retirees, employees and citizens are all at risk.
What to do now? First, I hope you already have a committee looking at how Cupertino achieves a debt-per-resident figure ($629) that is one-sixth of ours ($4,021). As a matter of fact, I hope you are looking at every other city around us; they are all in better financial condition. How are they holding down their debt per resident?
Second, outsource whatever services you can. If we can get an adequate level of service for less money, outsource it. Other cities in both Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have outsourced fire and police with success. Boasting that we have our own higher cost "Palo Alto this" or "Palo Alto that" only drives us further down the road toward insolvency.
Third, start to prepare for a possible bankruptcy now before you are in fiscal extremis. I hope it never comes to this, but if doors to solutions begin to close, you are better off declaring bankruptcy early, while you still have room to maneuver and time to draw up plans. Bankruptcy is not a death knell; in fact, it can be a rebirth. There are many businesses that will attest to this. You will be able to start with a clean slate, negotiate reasonable contracts with all city employees, and put the city back on the road to fiscal sanity.
Value of Keene
I hope the citizens of Palo Alto appreciate the true value of our city manager, Jim Keene. We need to acknowledge his efforts to return our city to fiscal responsibility. The burden of debt from past overly generous pensions to many city managers, staff and employees cannot be ignored.
The Weekly is doing us a great service by publishing Gennady Sheyner's piece in the July 13 issue: "Palo Alto's Ticking Time Bomb." Let's hope it is a wake-up call for all of us.
It is just fantastic that Palo Alto is the hub of all the new science and technology, but if we were to end up like Stockton, San Bernardino and other cities on the verge of bankruptcy we would look rather incompetent, to say nothing about tarnishing our image.
Our City Council is also to be applauded for its support of the manager's goals. It is not easy to ask our police and fire departments to reign in the compensation for their valuable services. But the hard decisions must be addressed if we are to remain a great city.