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At Development Center, Palo Alto quietly untangles its bureaucracy

Original post made on Aug 26, 2012

The Development Center at 285 Hamilton Ave. has undergone a quiet but dramatic transformation in the two years since City Manager James Keene unveiled the "Blueprint for a New Development Center" -- an initiative aimed at bringing some sanity, clarity and efficiency to the city's notorious "Palo Alto Process."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, August 26, 2012, 7:41 AM

Comments (18)

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2012 at 8:33 am

My experience with the staff was that they were very pleasant and appeared helpful. Unfortunately, the red tape made it hard for them to do their job. Some of the rules were so hard to interpret that each person I spoke with on subsequent visits interpreted the rules differently. e.g. which of the five fences surrounding our end of cul de sac home constituted the backfence.

Unless some of the rules are simplified with a little common sense, the process is not going to be made any easier.


Posted by Palo-Alto's-Solution-To-All-Problems-Is-Hire-More-Management, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2012 at 8:47 am

It's really difficult understanding what the problems with the "Development Center" have been, are currently might be, from reading the Weekly's articles on the matter. In the private sector, if an organization were as "screwed up" as this one has been claimed to be, a full analysis would have been prepared for the company management, typically by an outside source. Problems, and possible solutions, would be expected of such an analysis. The direct management of this department would be expected to prepare work plans, and some sort of metrics, to demonstrate that the corrective actions recommended by the Corporate management were being embraced, and that results were being achieved in a reasonable period of time (related to the nature of the problem, and the extent of the remediation expected).

There seems to be nothing like this going on at the City of Palo Alto. Without real problem descriptions, and metrics put in place to determine the effects of whatever remediation/corrections that are being attempted—other than perhaps a decrease in the "P&M Factor" (Pssing and Moaning) by the clients—there is little that the residents/property owners/developers can see as the system actually becoming "better".

One such metric is: "total-time-in-the-system". Other metrics involve the number of face-2-face visits required by people needing permits, access to all needed documentation (forms, permits, reports, etc.) on-line, client reviews of the handling of their permits, number of complaints filled (and resolutions) tracked, timeline tracking of major milestones throughout individual projects to see possible bottlenecks in the process, and so on. There doesn't seem to much of this going on from the Weekly's reporting. And there doesn't seem to be much going on increasing the transparency of this department on the City's side, either.

One can only wonder what the Office of the Auditor's role is in recognizing these sorts of problems in the City's delivery of services, and what the Auditor's role should be in resolving these problems before they become "the stuff of legend"?


Posted by lazlo, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

With the current development center staff ratio of managers to working staff at one manager for every two staff employees, the additon of five new managers will place that ratio at two managers for every one staff employee. New management will include a Senior Management employee who will be paid $200,000+. What a great plan! Don't bother to ask why your permit fees will skyrocket! With a Building Official who is never available, a Assistant Building Official who is a private contractor, and multiple Building Inspector jobs being outsourced to private contractors, staffing of the Building Dept. FTE's have no incentive to make the system work. You asked for city services to be outsourced and now you will see the Keene plan of outsourcing FTE positions and installing high priced city management staff to supervise high priced private contractors. Talk about unsustainable! God Bless America!


Posted by KP, a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 27, 2012 at 10:51 am

I am still waiting for some plans submitted months ago to get through for one project and plans for another were submitted 2 weeks ago.
I DO NOT SEE ANY CHANGES, YET!


Posted by Concerned Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2012 at 10:55 am

I see very little change at the Development Center, aside from some "window dressings". If you're not a big-job guy with a major development or building, you're still treated like a nobody. In particular, the Building Inspectors (particularly Bud Starmer) seem to think that we, the residents, answer to THEM. They continue to block progress, and talk out both sides of their mouths. They make up rules as they go along. They continue to terrorize the tax-paying members of this community. From my view, it's business as usual. I'm very disenheartened with the whole thing, and from my view in the community, if you're not a big player, you're a pain in the you-know-what. Customer Service? What's that?


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 27, 2012 at 11:04 am

The moving of the Development Center across from city hall was supposed to make the process easier and give them more space. Now, they're saying that it's just as much of a pain, so they rent MORE space and hire MORE people.

Gee, I wonder why labor and pension costs are so high...


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2012 at 11:12 am

My experience with the whole Planning and Building process in Palo Alto was simply horrible.

The guy I dealt with (Henry R.) wasted a bunch of time in idle conversation with me while several people were in line behind me. He forgot to write the permit number on certain documents, which delayed the project by 3 days and inconvenienced the contractor (lost $). He did not return phone calls either. Some of these people are simply incompetent and careless but since it's costing other people (not themselves), they really don't care very much.

The solution appears to be to hire, get a bunch of supervisors to "fix" this. So now, we'll be paying for more overhead and (eventual) pension spiking.

Great!


Posted by commonsense, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 27, 2012 at 11:17 am

What happened to Yvonne? She was really helping before she moved on or was fired.


Posted by Ronna Devincenzi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2012 at 11:20 am

Have people that are experiencing problems right now taken the time to send an email to Jim Keene and Curtis Williams, stating concerns giving specifics, & even making suggestions about how to correct it? If there is time, an in-person appointment with both would be great, so they can have a handle on what the needs are.

Keene and Williams are trying very hard to address an issue that has plagued PA for years. What the Weekly reported so far is a huge leap in the right direction, from my perspective. This is wonderful news.

I remember several years ago, City Hall denied there even *was* a Palo Alto Process. A couple of larger developers were quoted & called it a "myth".

So I applaud what management is doing - and suggest to anyone with helpful information that they be part of the solution regarding whatever else needs to be done, making the process not only better, but ideal.

Remember the days when what Palo Alto created in ordinances and practices, all other neighboring commmunities copied? "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Do they still have the stupid signs on the wall saying "no cell phone use"?
Nothing made me madder during our building process than waiting thirty minutes or more to speak to the Development Office staffers and not being able to get anything else done during that time.


Posted by frustrated, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I asked around and heard Yvonne was fired. She was the only person in the entire Development Center that cared about "us". I think the bad guys have the upper hand. Too bad. So sad. People in that place are NOT welcoming at all. They make you feel like idiots, us poor little laypersons....oh yeah, the citizens. Right. Them.


Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2012 at 8:18 am

Ronna is right about the earnest efforts of Jim Keene and Curtis Williams to make right what was supposed to be fixed in the so-called re-organization of the Planning Department under the last City Manager. That re-organization had largely come undone by the time Keene took over the reins.


Posted by Palo-Alto's-Solution-To-All-Problems-Is-Hire-More-Management, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2012 at 9:22 am

> Jim Keene and Curtis Williams, stating concerns giving specifics,
> & even making suggestions about how to correct it?

There is little evidence that Keene and/or Williams will read any of these emails, and even less evidence that they will take any such information as meaningful input into the "change" process of the Planning Center.

You are free to waste your time trying to communicate with these two, but you're more likely to get conversation going with a blank wall than City of Palo Alto "management".


Posted by Ronna Devincenzi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2012 at 10:54 am

"There is little evidence that Keene and/or Williams will read any of these emails..."

Facts, please? When did you write? Who did you write to? What did you write about, and what was the result? What is your "evidence"?

If I send an email and it's not responded to, I like to give a person the benefit of the doubt to a person first, and try sending an email again later. Though it's my experience that city hall has been VERY responsive, at least in the past few years.

But if all else fails, you can always go to city council meetings, and speak during the Oral Communications part of the meeting, about matters not on the agenda, and be heard.

That way, you can be heard by the whole city: by staff, by council, and your comments will be recorded for everyone to hear, via the archives, for years.

But there is no excuse for sitting back and whining about not being "heard", unless you have sincerely tried to be heard, and you have gotten the brush off, which I think is NOT the case now.

Anyone that has *not tried* to be heard, has no business writing in blogs and spreading rumors that have no substance. Provide FACTS.
Being part of the solution and not part of the problem, is the duty of a citizen, for the benefit of everyone in the community. That is our responsibility.


Posted by lazlo, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm

...so naive. Golly, wish it were as simple as emailing or getting your two minute allotment of public input at a council meeting (at midnight) to change everything at city hall. Please provide evidence that your emails or comments were heard and changed city council's or senior management's philosophy or twisted views. The Keene and Klein team is throughly fixed in their philosophy that it's their way and your opinion is only a minor nuisance. Their plan is to outsource all city staff jobs and create even more high priced management positions to supervise high priced private contractors to fill positions held by FTE's. If you aren't convinced, just look at the employee positions held by private contractors at the development center and the skyrocketing number of new management positions created by Keene. Has the service become more efficient, more streamlined, more friendly? Will these new outsourced employees be held accountable or just shuffled along to the next department undergoing the Keene and Klein plan? Good luck in your emails and city council encounters, unfortunately, the Keene and Klein plan is on fast track.


Posted by Mathew Williams, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 29, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Forget trying to do Green projects such as Photovoltaic Solar in Palo Alto, if you are a small contractor Palo Alto will put you out of business. 3 pages of requirements on a checklist, 3 times rejected, and the only person who does plancheck goes on vacation multiple times during the 3 month process. Then just when you think you are going to get permit the planchecker comes up with new obscure items they want and makes them retroactive. Months and months for permit here, and made to feel like a criminal. Green ...Schemean, Palo Alto is a joke to Solar contractors that are committed to Green Building.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 30, 2012 at 12:25 am

Outsource the whole lousy department. Make the winning contractor's contract renewal contingent on a certain level of customer satisfaction.

We're overpaying, and worse yet, we're overpaying for mediocrity.

When did city government become a six-figure jobs program for bureaucrats who wouldn't last a week in the private sector?


Posted by matt williams fan, a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2012 at 11:23 am

Posted by Mathew Williams, a resident of the Palo Alto Hills neighborhood, 20 hours ago

"Forget trying to do Green projects such as Photovoltaic Solar in Palo Alto, if you are a small contractor Palo Alto will put you out of business. 3 pages of requirements on a checklist, 3 times rejected, and the only person who does plancheck goes on vacation multiple times during the 3 month process. Then just when you think you are going to get permit the planchecker comes up with new obscure items they want and makes them retroactive. Months and months for permit here, and made to feel like a criminal. Green ...Schemean, Palo Alto is a joke to Solar contractors that are committed to Green Building."

Palo Alto is a laughing joke amongst us contractors. We don't even bid their jobs anymore because of their lack of knowledge and effort to get 'the process right'. We do fine working other cities, counties, etc. without Palo Alto. Just fine. Palo Alto is too far behind the starting line on everything.


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