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Tax hike or not, council aims to build new police HQ

Original post made on Jan 30, 2014

It's not easy to ask voters for a tax increase when city coffers are flush with cash, but that is the awkwardly enviable position that members of the Palo Alto City Council find themselves in as they eye a November ballot measure.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, January 30, 2014, 9:15 AM

Comments (39)

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Posted by pa rez
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:49 am

Wow. Our elected City Council really just doesn't care what the citizens want. Something to strongly remember in November.


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Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:28 am

It was never clear to me why citizens oppose constructing a much-needed public safety building. Is it because most people have little cause to go there? Do they not understand what "non-compliant", "seismically unsafe" or "too small for its function" really mean?
The council should go ahead and fund this while we can. We should not be waiting for some other developer to bribe us with this building while asking for zoning favors.


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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:31 am

Do you trust these guys to build anything after the Mitchell Park fiasco? How do they know it is going to cost $57M when they don't even know the location or design? Maybe a solution to the gridlock should be higher on the list?


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:32 am

I think most people are very wary of the funding issue rather than the need for a new Police building.

We were conned into voting for money for a library and look what we got!

Once bitten, twice shy.


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Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

I agree that the Mitchell Park Library project is a disaster. But has anyone been to the Children's Library since the addition and renovation? Gorgeous! Downtown Libe came in on time and looks great. Art Center renovations were terrific.
The main thing is, the current police department is so out of compliance with current rules it puts evidence in jeopardy, doesn't have the right kind of interview rooms, and other problems. We can't hold it hostage for the mistake on the library.


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Posted by Mark Michael
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

Most people in Palo Alto appreciate the need for public safety, emergency response and resiliency. Certainly the alternative is unacceptable to all of us.

Along with supporting education, attention to the community's infrastructure is legitimately on the short list of the city's top priorities. Recent outreach with residents and polling of eligible voters confirms there is majority -- but less than super-majority -- support for Palo Alto to replace our out-dated, unsafe and inadequate downtown police station. Studies including the December 2011 report by the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission point to the importance and need for Palo Alto to replace the obsolete facility with one that will meet requirements for police, fire and emergency response for decades into the future. It is long past time to address this challenge. A tyranny of the minority should not put the well-being of our residents in jeopardy.

Another priority for the Council involves reviewing the process for Planned Community zoning. One requirement for approval of a PC zone ordinance is that a proposed development must create a "public benefit" not otherwise attainable by the existing zoning. We have witnessed negotiations between the City and a developer in which funding for a new public safety building was offered as the public benefit, notwithstanding significant concerns about potential detriment to the public in the form of adverse impacts on traffic congestion and compatibility with the character and vision for an important neighborhood.

The City and its residents should take steps and shoulder the responsibility, including financing in the form of public debt or even tax increases, to provide for essential infrastructure, particularly in the realm of public safety.

Mark Michael, former member of IBRC, and current member of the Planning & Transportation Commission. Resident of Community Center neighborhood.


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Posted by Jana
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:40 am

The city manager, city staff and current city council are incapable of successfully overseeing a new police headquarters. Total incompetence at city hall. What the citizens of Palo Alto need to do is focus on forcing the city manager out, and making sure that the current city council is not re-elected in the fall. Nothing good can come to Palo Alto with our current leaders.


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Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:44 am

Marie is a registered user.

Now that we have the money, why doesn't the council get on with it and build the a new police station before construction costs jump yet again? If they had come out with a smaller cheaper plan, asking only for funds for a police headquarters, they might have been able to build it years ago. I've participated in several polls and, although I've always supported a new police headquarters, and have been willing to pass a bond to do so, the options presented were always so awful, I said no.

Also, how about building several two story parking garages near CA Avenue, with luxury condominiums on top to pay for them (and 15% BMR rentals)? That would match the existing architecture (no more than 35 feet), and increase housing without increasing workers! With the availability of jobs, trains and shuttles nearby, you might actually get people who don't use their cars as much and reduce the number of cars in the area (just being optimistic).


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:54 am

Again, it is not that we don't think we need one, we are very worried about how the City can do this efficiently.

To begin with, money is continually being wasted on non urgent matters and then they want us to increase our taxes to pay for something that is urgent. Bad planning to begin with.

Secondly, I have serious doubts as to whether we have anyone in charge who can do this job efficiently. I feel sure that there will be so many delays, alterations, studies, etc. that cause this to be the next embarrassment.

San Antonio Centre has been demolished and rebuilt in less time than Palo Alto takes to do anything. Similarly Stanford Stadium and the Levi Stadium.
What will it take to get this done without excuses?

If they really are serious about getting it done, let them find some serious ways of funding it by making some budget cuts somewhere at the top and no more frivolous spending before they start coming to us with their begging bowl. Let them come up with some basic design without it having to be a "signature" building, or the best on the Peninsula. Let them do what we as homeowners do before we decide on major spending issues.


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:55 am

WHERE is this money coming from? Spell it out in fine detail - or is Mr. Arrillaga's name going over the door? Will our utilitiy bills go up? Will our miserable streets get fixed? Will we hire a zillion overseers to oversee? Abd I would really like to know how many of all the city employees REALLY LIVE here? I agree that Mr. Keene has to go. He and his administration have lost all credibility with the residents...as has this Council - and the last one. But they don't read this paper.


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Posted by David Bower
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:57 am

The 2011 Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission (of which I was a member) identified the replacement of the existing Police Building as one of our city's highest priorities. The existing Police Services building was designed and constructed in 1966-1968 prior to the development of seismic engineering standards. As an essential services building it must survive and function after a major earthquake. Without police and fire command services after an earthquake our city will be at significant risk.

The Mitchell Park Library project and the Public Safety Building are completely different endeavors. The library was doomed before it began because the city was forced to take a low bidder that clearly was gaming the bidding process. I doubt that will happen again and certainly not with the Public Safety Building.

The council infrastructure sub-committee has spend months reviewing every conceivable funding option. We should be thankful they are finally moving closer to replacing a 19th century building with one that will meet our city's needs in the 21st century.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:59 am

David Bower, you made a lot of sense until you claimed that the present building was 19th century. Try as you might, it ain't that old.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2014 at 12:01 pm

> We can't hold it hostage for the mistake on the library.

No, but we can demand accountability. Sadly, the City finds itself with tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure backlog. The deficiencies of the current police facility has been known for many years. But, councils and administrations chose to ignore the problem over decades.

In typical fashion, the current council proposes a massive facility for nearly $50 million dollars, and offers no flexibility in sizing the new facility to fit their budget. Instead, our council insists that the price remain the same, with financing remaining the only parameter they are willing to change. Now, our council indicates that they may resort to "leveraged hotel-tax revenues" which is essentially "factoring" (see: Web Link)) future hotel tax revenue to pay for the new police station. Yet again, we're presented with a "crisis" that has only one "solution."

Most voters see the need for the new facility as well the replacement and upgrades to fire stations. The problem isn't the success or failure of individual construction projects which may have many variables outside the city's control. The problem is that the city is basically incompetent in managing its own finances. Dropping tens of millions of dollars of cash into the hands of the current council and administration is a mistake that will take decades to pay off.

Voters will need to decide if the "crisis" is really the poor condition of the public safety infrastructure or the poor judgement and management of the city's finances by council and administration.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2014 at 12:03 pm

"it puts evidence in jeopardy..."

Why are they using some of the most expensive real estate on earth for storing evidence? That space could be used much more productively. Store evidence at the MSC.

If the cop shop is seismically unsafe, how about the building it's part of--City Hall?


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Posted by Jim Schmidt
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I served on the infrastructure commission. After a tour of our public unsafety building I became convinced that we have a disaster waiting to happen. All you no more tax folks: when the floor of the council chamber collapses onto the dispatch center then we will have a preventable catastrophe . Comparisons of the PSB w the Mitchell Park project are inapt and uninformed about it or the PSB.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 12:20 pm

What's interesting about the constant push for a new public safety building is that it has little, or nothing, to do with public safety. The former police Chief, Lynn Johnson, admitted in public that if such a building were funded that, once built, there would be no reduction in crime, or response time for first response, for Palo Altans.

The claim that the current building where the police department is housed is "seismically unstable" is doubtless true--but so what? Are virtually all Palo Alto government buildings also in the same situation?

The probability that an earthquake will collapse City Hall is virtually zero. It's hard to find any evidence that any police stations in California have been collapsed in earth quakes. So, waving "seismic instability" in our faces doesn't really get much in the way of a response from most people.

And then we have the problem of the unaccountable Palo Alto P/W Department. The current Director, Mike Sartor, is on record as saying "he would not do one thing different" in regards to the Mitchell Park Library project. Claims that Mitchell Park was doomed because it was awarded to the lowest bidder begs the question--"how come every public sector project awarded to the lowest bidder hasn't failed?" That's a question that is not likely to be answered by the "let's build a big police station" crowd. Nor will we ever get an answer to the question: "Is anyone at City Hall responsible for Mitchell Park?"

There are significant changes being projected for policing in the coming decades. "Smart roads" and "smart vehicles" are likely to reduce the number of accidents--reducing the number of police necessary to deal with traffic issues. Rapid DNA testing, a national FBI-run facial recognition system, and increased use of predictive analytics that could well encourage small police departments to merge some, if not all, of their operations is a very clear possibility. The rising cost of hiring police officers, which will likely exceed $200,000 per officer in the next decade also needs to be considered.

While the various players involved with the promotion of the police station have no doubt looked various data provided by the police--have they looked at the future? There is little in their published documentation that suggests that they have.

And while we're at it -- let's make certain that the cost of any bonds sold in added into the cost of the building under consideration. Not providing the public with the total likely cost is intellectually dishonest.





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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 30, 2014 at 3:46 pm

The issue is not whether the public thinks that a new Public Safety building is a priority - the issue is that many residents do not think the City Council is a good steward of our public dollars. Nor are they capable of managing a large construction project.

For all the wise cracks about John Arrillaga - the Stanford Stadium was built between one football season and another. The Peery Family - the generous donors of new buildings at Paly - are going to build the gyms and then lease them back to the school district (I think I'm describing that correctly) because there have been so many issues, delays and lawsuits with the other buildings currently under construction at Paly and they didn't trust that building would happen quickly and efficiently.

If the City Council really expects to pass a bond, they need to show the can manage money putting needs before wants. They also need to show us how they can be expected to manage such a large project without lawsuits and delays.

Aside from all that, I don't understand why they didn't knock down the Downtown Library and build a new police station there.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 30, 2014 at 4:53 pm

The downtown parking garages aren't filled -- except maybe by vandals -- so we need another Cal Ave. parking garage AND they want to assess the merchants fees WHILE destroying their businesses during the lane reduction the merchants oppose. Ok. Got it. Gridlock from the lane reduction extra.

And speaking of gridlock:

7 years -- SEVEN years to STUDY how to fix a traffic light near Town & Country that's been causing gridlock for 7 years and we're supposed to have faith in them while they continue to "study" the problem?? Stay tuned. The STUDY should be finished in 2015.

The city "wants" our citizen input but Mr. Rodriquez, our fine traffic director, REFUSES to speak with reporters like Diana Diamond ever since she started questioning the Town & Country boondoggle a fee years ago. FEH.


And I shuddered when I read this:

"We are going to be instituting a lot of pretty transformative changes to how people park and get around in Palo Alto, and I don't know how those will turn out," Berman said. "I'm sure they won't turn out exactly how we anticipate they'll turn out. I think it makes sense to have some money available to make changes and additions to the projects as we get a sense for how it plays out in the next several years."


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Posted by Ray Bacchetti
a resident of University South
on Jan 30, 2014 at 5:14 pm

The arguments for replacing the current police/public safety building have been exhaustively documented. Spin out any one of several scenarios--seismic, flood, terrorist attack, civil unrest, pipeline explosions, etc.--and imagine post-disaster life without a fully functioning response capacity. The current building is not only unsound but also too small, badly laid out, and non-compliant in a variety of ways. Those who believe the proposed building is too big are uninformed regarding how scrupulously every aspect of the plans has been scrutinized and how much has been cut from the sensible earlier designs. It would be a poor use of public funds to build a facility that should serve for decades to a standard that makes it inadequate from day one.

Having worked on the 2006 Blue Ribbon Task Force (on a public safety building) and the 2010-11 Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, and been a seven-year volunteer in the Police Department, I've studied the Department's facility needs, toured other Peninsula public safety buildings (and returned from such visits chagrined at how poorly we compare), and watched many fellow citizens become appalled when they toured and otherwise got to know the working conditions surrounding those in whom we place our trust for public safety.

The action reported in this article reflects the Council's paramount responsibility to keep us safe--day by day and in and after a catastrophe. I applaud the committee's having taken it and believe it is imperative that the entire Council follow through.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 30, 2014 at 5:31 pm

The article does not say where they're going to put the building so let me suggest the other side of 101 where it won't impact traffic. Also, a $57 million building???? Let them use or cash surplus and NOT raise utility rates to supplement declining sales tax revenues.

If they're so concerned about building new ugly new parking garages, maybe they should STOP approving new dense building with parking SHORTAGES.

At this point, many of us are so discouraged by the city's high-handed disregard for community opinion AND continued actions like the one cited above that we would vote NO to anything and everything the city suggested regardless of its merit.


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Posted by Jake
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Almost every city employee and policeman in Palo Alto lives far, far away from Palo Alto. In the event of a catastrophe, how will these first responders make their way to Palo Alto to help??? Roads, bridges, etc. will be unusable. The answer is they won't!


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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2014 at 7:21 pm

>If they really are serious about getting it done, let them find some serious ways of funding it by making some budget cuts somewhere at the top and no more frivolous spending before they start coming to us with their begging bowl. Let them come up with some basic design without it having to be a "signature" building, or the best on the Peninsula. Let them do what we as homeowners do before we decide on major spending issues.

I agree. I think it is a good thing, but where is the leadership? So many boutique things, like a sustainability officer and anaerobic digestion fiascos. Not to mention all the welfare housing projects and the absurd support of PAHC.

When our city council decides to get real, I will vote for this new public safety building. But not until then.


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Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Too bad we can't repurpose the vacant, unused library into a police station. By the time it gets finished, our society will have more kindles, nooks and books on smart phones and computers. Far fewer books will be needed on the shelves and we will do the progressive thing of storing them in a warehouse where they can be ordered up.

Why did we need to spend so many dollars on the libraries? Seems very little bang and way too many bucks for way too few books.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Mark Michael, Dave Bower, Jim Schmidt, Ray Bacchetti

I commend you for your service on the Infrastructure Commission. I agree that a replacement for the Police Building is necessary. However, my perception is that the Infrastructure Commission members don't believe that this is of utmost priority, and here's why:

The city & city council has known since 2004 that this has been an issue. In the past decade, the general fund budget for the city has totaled at least $1.2 billion ($1,200,000,000). Yet out of $1,200,000,000 of general fund revenue, the city & city council could not prioritize save 4.7% of it's spending so that there would be the money to build this.

Did each of you raise your voice that instead of spending $3 million dollars on the California Ave beautification project, that it should be saved for the police building?

Did each of you raise your voice when $250,000 was allocated to explore the 27 University project, that the money should be put away for the police building?

Did each of you raise your voice when the city hired a Chief PR officer, a Chief Sustainability Officer at a cost of over $300,000 per year (which over the next 5 years will be another $1,500,000) that this money should be put away for the police building?

Did each of you raise your voice about the money being spent on investigating the bike bridge over Highway 101, that all that consulting & study money should instead be put away for the police building?

Did each of you raise your voice about the $600,000 being spent on the Maybell special election, when instead the council could have reversed themselves given the overwhelming public view against the project, and instead put this money towards the police building?

The list can go on and on and on. When you fail to speak up about the priority of the police building when the City Council is spending money on these other fine, but less urgent projects, I question your support on the priority of getting a new police building built.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Whew, once again I am impressed by the comments on this thread. It isn't an issue of city residents "not wanting" a new, suitable police HQ, it's the question of...WHY does it have to be so costly, so low on the list after frivolous expenditures of taxpayer money (well documented in the thread), and concerns about the actual building process and budget do seem warranted. Sorry if we honestly have to express a bit of a desire for a successful project...


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:47 pm

I am also getting tired of hearing the excuse, oh they had to accept the lowest bid as the reason for the Mitchell Park Library fiasco. It's really over the top, when we can SEE multiple successful public and private major building projects completed on schedule (w/o apparent major issues) in the Silicon Valley region. As a taxpayer I pay a lot of money and basics like the streets and police HQ should be priorities (and reasonable) whereas the sustainability and PR "officers" should be dismissed IMO, if priorities were straight around here in this city.


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Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Don't forget the $4.5M and counting for the 3 new soccer fields that was more important than the new public safety building.


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Posted by Spark
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:33 pm

How did the city either acquire or build the building the Police use now? Either scenario, why did the city buy or build such an allegedly poorly constructed and unsafe building? I do not believe this detail has been revealed in any of the stories about how unsafe the current building is.

I think that the blundering of how the city came to own (I assume) such a lousy building, and the more recent Mitchell Park Library fiscal/planning disaster no matter how it's viewed, will make a $57M or more bond a tough sell to tax payers tired of being regularly screwed over by an apparently oblivious city council and city government.


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Posted by question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Why should we be building one public safety building anyway? If there is an emergency, wouldn't we be better off with one north and one south, or even three smaller stations? Wouldn't that allow us to build something right now, by building smaller stations sequentially rather than at the same time?


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Posted by question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2014 at 11:35 pm

I mean, if we just put the golf course on hold, wouldn't we be able to build one of a smaller series of safety buildings tomorrow?


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Posted by PickerOfNits.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2014 at 12:10 am

>> It's not easy to ask voters for a tax increase when city coffers are flush with cash, but that is the awkwardly enviable position that members of the Palo Alto City Council find themselves in as they eye a November ballot measure.

Enviable? Do you mean inevitable?

What would be enviable about the position of having to go to the voters for a tax increase when we do not really need one? But if there is no other way ... that would mean inevitable.

I am finding the writing in the Palo Alto Online to be very strange lately. Not a very enviable position?


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 31, 2014 at 5:58 am

The enviable position is that the city coffers are flush with cash. I agree that it's inevitable the city will push for tax increases anyway. It won't even be awkward. Flush times are absolutely the best times to increase taxes. It's difficult to squeeze more money out of the economy during a recession.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2014 at 6:31 am

Probably unenviable, but not inevitable.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2014 at 7:43 am

Putting developers at the top of the pyramid and letting everybody else deal with the fall out, does not create a sense of community and an
atmosphere of trust. The quality of life has unraveled, the character and
ambiance of the city are being destroyed. Door to door solicitors need a
permit to operate. The City needs a permit too.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 31, 2014 at 11:55 am

Does anyone have the contact info for Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning?

Thanks in Advance.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2014 at 1:26 pm

@silly
PASZ contact: Web Link


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm

@common sense:
Re "raised voices," I know many who raised their voices against the frivolous expenses you mentioned and other wasteful expenditures.

The council and city manager make a big show of getting input. Remember "Open City Hall" a few years ago? It faded away and was recently resurrected in order to ask residents for ideas on "core values." A bit late for that, wouldn't you say?

Now the new high-priced "communications officer" has been asked to justify her existence by putting together a plan to gather residents' input on "OUR Palo Alto." What a colossal joke. It's THEIR Palo Alto. He who implements has power.

If City Hall really wanted our input, they'd listen to speakers at council meetings, pay attention to our emails, and read these blogs.

In any case, they don't really want to hear what we have to say. They just want to spend our money on their pet projects.

What they should be doing is firing people. Start with Jaime Rodriguez, master of traffic congestion, then the people in public works who have been "managing" the many consultants and contractors responsible for Mitchell Park Library. Or maybe just fire Keene, since his main management goal seems to be hiring more executives for his "cabinet."


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 31, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Ah, Paloaltoville. Thanks, Pat.

I absolutely agree with your comments above, especially having learned that the Transportation Director and the Utilities Manager refuse to talk to reporters. Mr. Keene claims he can't force them to.

Now that's really responsive! Feh.


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Posted by Julian
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2014 at 7:49 pm

It's not just the library. Every building project has been mismanaged. Even street repairs don't come close. The most serious are the school projects, since the prolonged construction disrupts the school day. Some of us have been around long enough to remember when these projects weren't massive foulups. Recently, as far as I can remember, the Art Center is the ONLY project that hasn't been late.

So stop trying to say it's just the library. It's EVERYTHING this council/administration do.


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