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PA City Council's Use of Commissions and Advisory Boards

Original post made by Paul Losch on Mar 20, 2013

I read about the PA City Council's Policy and Services Committee discussion about banning smoking in some or all Palo Alto Parks in their recent meeting.

Fine topic, well worth examination and discussion.

I am bothered, and concerned.

I only read the report of the Committee's discussion on Palo Alto On-Line, so I base my point of view from that source.

My impression from the article is that this topic more or less "spun out of control." One Council Member after another offered up what they would like to have as policy in some or all of Palo Alto's city parks, with little information provided to them, merely their own points of view.

What bothers me is that there did not appear to be any suggestion by members of the Policy and Services Committee that perhaps this deserves further examination at the appropriate Commission level, in this case Parks and Recreation (of which I was a member for nine years, 3 terms, stepping down this past month. And this is not about my ego.)

What concerns me is that there are too many instances, across a number of issues, cutting across many Commissions, when our Council Members do not seek deeper understanding of an issue by requesting a point of view from the appropriate Commissions or Advisory Boards that it has appointed. Instead, there has been behavior at the Council Committee level (e.g., Finance and Policy and Services) to address matters and then take them up the food chain to full Council without the benefit of the thinking of the many volunteers who serve on these Commissions and Advisory Boards.

There is plenty of room for improvement in the proverbial "Palo Alto Process."

By the same token, there is no need or benefit for Council Committees to act compulsively about any topic when they have people whom they have appointed as public officials to drill down into various issues, and advise the Council accordingly.

If Council Members do not see the value in getting the advice on myriad issues that various Commissioners and Policy Advisory Board Members spend countless hours on before they get to the Council level, get rid of them! Don't waste people's time.


Comments (2)

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 21, 2013 at 11:21 am

Paul Losch seems to place a lot of importance on the opinion of the residents/individuals who make up these groups. But these groups are, for the most part, made up of amateurs. There are no competency tests that must be passed, in order to qualify for these boards—although in some cases, the individuals who are chosen do possess appropriate qualifications—such as is the case for the Architectural Review Board (ARB).

It's not hard to disagree with Losch, however, that in this matter the behavior of individual Council members was not very "process-oriented"—revealing that several of the sitting Council see local governance to be more of their personal toy, rather than a well-orchestrated, process-driven, institution.

In this case, there does not seem to be any real problem that needs to be solved. There might be some instances where some standing ordinances are being violated, but little evidence of that seems to have been presented by Council, at least at this point. The claim that the City is saving people from "second-hand smoke" is incredibly doubious—even though "second-hand smoke" can be annoying.

There was some anecdotal evidence about problems with smokers in some parks presented in the thread reporting on the Policy Committee's intentions. But none of these claims were backed up with any real evidence, such as evidence of dozens of complaints made to the police, and/or the Council, about the inability of people to use the parks because of "second-hand smoke".

Given today's technology, why not have Staff install some cigarette smoke detectors that can provide some hard evidence about the concentration of cigarette smoke that park visitors are exposed to, and perhaps a few surveillance cameras that could be used to provided better enforcement of current ordinances?

And why not provide a convenient web-page for park visitors to upload pictures of people smoking, to help the Police understand when and where to dispatch officers to provide some "teeth" for any current, or future, ordinances.

I'm not certain that the thousands of hours that Palo Alto Boards and Commissions have spent talking are as helpful as Paul Losch seems to. However, it would be a good thing if Council followed the rules that it has set up in the past.

It seems to me that before there are clear problems to be solved, that there are other matters more pressing for the Council to be addressing—like the long-term pension problem, for one.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Both Paul and Wayne are making some excellent points here.

I would agree that this proposal is a waste of time, energy and just a case of our council spouting hot air and trying to appear socially conscious.

We have many rules in our parks at present which are not adhered to, not policed, and are a waste of time unless they are enforced. For this reason, making more rules is just a feel good gesture which will not make a difference.

I don't think we have a real problem with smoking tobacco in our parks although there are times many of us have seen someone smoking there and been bothered by the smoke. We may, or may not, have more of a problem with smoking pot in our parks and this problem may be at times when the parks are "closed" rather than during the day.

Since there is nothing to stop a park being used by anyone during the evening or overnight hours, there is no enforcement of the no alcohol policy or the dogleash policy or even the rules at present for no smoking near playground and picnic areas, why does it make any sense to ban smoking at all? It will just appear on a small notice at a park entrance that nobody pays attention to and will never be enforced.

I would much rather the council do something positive to improve infrastructure and balance the budget without increasing taxes rather than imposing a ban on something that isn't a big problem and won't be enforced.


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