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Grow, or die

Original post made by Anna on Feb 27, 2007

I just read Becky Trout's reportage about the "Death by 1,000 Cuts" that our city is facing.
Web Link

A follow up to this article could be entitled "Grow, or die"

Here's one big idea for helping to solve these problems. Grow our city!

Increase retail establishments.

Work to keep sales-tax-producing activities here, including those that typically migrate from R&D facilities once R&D is completed.

Streamline the permitting process.

Build more small-footprint housing. Expand our population.

Aggressively work with neighboring municipalities to cooperate on service provision.

Aggressively work with Stanford on new business development opportunities; let's be more of a *lead* partner with Stanford, even as we cooperate on their new infrastructure proposals.

Comments (44)

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 27, 2007 at 2:42 pm


"Houston, we have a problem. Palo Alto does not have a revenue strategy."

I wrote an Op-Ed piece for the PA Daily News 18 months ago before the last City Council election. I suggested at the time that Palo Alto lacked a revenue strategy, despite efforts, earnest or not. I still believe Palo Alto lacks a revenue strategy.

We should be putting much more effort into figuring out what the appropriate revenue sources and mix of revenues make the most sense for this community over the next 10-30 years. I enjoy engaging in discussions such as what should Edgewood Plaza look like, but where's the revenue context for such conversations?

What can we realistically expect to see in revenues from the sources that funded this city for the last 30 years? What gap is there between what those sources will generate and what we need to sustain, upgrade and enhance the character of the City? What new, other revenue sources are possibilities to close those gaps? Which of those is the community willing to support? What are we willing to generate differently than we have in the past in order to keep Palo Alto's character?

I feel like I stay pretty aware of what's going on in this lovely place, and I really have not heard much conversation around those types of questions. I have my own opinions and some fairly limited analysis of what I see the picture looking like, but most revenue discussions are piecemeal around a paricular line item, such as sales tax from auto dealerships or development fees.

I recall City Council telling the City Manager last year that what he has teed up for generating additional revenue was not sufficient, and would he please go back and figure out what more can be done. The community has to figure this out, what will our strategy be? City leadership needs to guide the community through this weighty question, not merely task the City Manager to come back with more ideas.

I am not considering a run for City Council, I have a small business I acquired 2 years ago, and I have to keep my focus on making it a success, so that my family and I can meet our personal objectives. But if I were, I just might consider running a campaign focused exclusively on the revenue line of the City's finances, and what we must do to assure it is optimized actuarily. Let others run on issues around how our expenditures are allocated, go deep on affordable housing or public safety questions, for example. Those are important, don't get me wrong.

But wouldn't it be nice to have some Council members who put their heart, souls, and time into the community's revenue lines? I know all the current Council members, some better than others. I can think of only one who comes even close to being thought of as the "go to" Council member for revenue questions, and that is a stretch. Wouldn't it be nice to know that some on Council are making this their priority during their time of service? What might we achieve with such people serving our community?

Palo Alto has been very fortunate over the last 30 or more years that we have been able to develop some outstanding community resources and services with the revenue sources that were available during that time. If we want the character of Palo Alto to continue to be along the lines of what it currently is, if we don't want to lose the quality and abundance of services and resources that we currently enjoy, if we want our infrastructure to be attractive and safe for residents and businesses alike, we have to face the fact that the revenue model that got us where we are will not be the model that takes us where we want to go. For that matter, I would suggest it won't even let us stay in place.

Posted by kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 28, 2007 at 7:52 am

Pul Losch is absolutely correct. We need to increase the revenue stream. But is adding more hotel occupancy tax an answer? Will that drive away potential visitors to motels/hotels where the tab isn't as steep? and which do not back up to the Caltrans tracks? Stanford is planning an 'upscale boutique hotel' at Sand HIll and 280. Old motels are being rebuilt along El Camino in Sunnyvale and Mt. View. Smart cities don't kill the 'golden goose". The new owners of the Stanford Shopping Center have said upfront that their mission is 'upscale shops' and restaurants and not 'everyday' stores - and it is 'not into housing' either. This is rather ludicrous in view of Palo Alto's mission of providing 'affordable housing'. We need affordable shopping.!! And with a projection that there will be a big increase in retirees over the next 10 -15 years, people who consider themselves upscale now, may get a huge sticker shock when the last paycheck ends, Social Security begins, the company health plan disappears, there is no pension plan except one's own IRA's, the roof, water heater, 15-20 year old appliances, and that luxury auto/s die a natural death, the mortgage on the mega million dollar residence just keeps chugging alone, the last child is not out of college, and there are daughters who will want a 'traditional Peninsula wedding'! Then there are all those bond issues waiting in the wings. Getting old is expensive. Retiree 'parts' wear out too. Palo Altans of all economic stripes shop at Trader Joe's (great that it is coming to T & C - sometime), Best Buy, Office Max, Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, Home Depot (EPA), Marshall's, Mervyn's (great name-brand men's clothes), in Mt. View and RWC, and the larger Safeways in Mt. View and Menlo Park. Palo Alto needs a big JC Penny's and Kohl' someplace, and I do not think either would hurt Stanford's "image". The affordable people need affordable stores, and Mt. View and EPA know that and are smiling all the way to the bank. Kohl's in Campbell is a beautiful store and wants to locate in the mid-Peninsula. Penny's in Cupertino is very nice, We need affordable restaurants like Appleby's and Bakers Square and Carrow's - and Fresh Choice again. We can eat only so much pizza. It will be very interesting to read the forthcoming announcement from Ellis Partners on what kinds of stores are going into T &C to replace the ones that were kicked out or who were forced out by horrendous escalating fees and rents. Expanding Stanford Hospital is a must. Adding to Stanford Shopping Center is also crucial, but the Shopping Center needs to reach out to the larger local population.- and the money will flow in.

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Feb 28, 2007 at 2:49 pm

What has always astounded me - from a pure business and fiscal sense - is how high-sale-tax-generating business has been kept out of Palo Alto. Here again we find ourselves paying the piper for listening to a relative vocal few who want to "protect" Palo Alto from the "ravages" of big box retail.

If I were a City Council member with time available, I would make it my business to begin courting every sort of big box retailer, sit them down at the negotiating table, and see what we could work out. Who knows what good ideas and possibilities might come out of such an effort. I'm sure things like thhis may have been attempted before, vut we need to begin to redouble our efforts in the direction of driving business into Palo Alto.

As long as we keep listening to the relatively small no growth contingents who want to put the cabash on housing (i.e. new citizens) and big retail, in service of some elusive sense of "Palo Alto's quality of life" (which has gotten better as our city has grown), we will continue to find ourselves _captive_ to this small group of citizens, and the resultant effects that their voice has on Palo Alto's future.

Why have we become captive to this group? Because as available dollars for service maintenance and infrastructure continue to shrink, we find ourselves having to go to the polls for money - and guess what vocal group will (and does) keep those efforts from passing? (you guessed it, the vocal no growth crowd).

The irony here is that we're now beginning to pay the piper for listening to this small vocal group of people because we don't have sufficient retail tax base to pay for services. Why don't we have that money? We don't have that revenue because past policy makers have accomodated this group in policy making. No more! Note the service cuts proposed last Monday by the City Manager, as one example ofo the conundrum we're facing.

Paul and Kate have it exactly right.

Why should we endure pathetic squabbling over saving some outmoded (many would say "downright ugly") design at Edgewood that Eichler himself would probably want to demolish; we keep Alma Plaza hostage to those citizens (not business consultants, mind you) who can't make up their mind about how many square feet a business needs to survive at Alma (never mind that it isn't their business, and they don't even know how to run that business); we waste time, money and human resources letting this small group force housing and other developments to the polls, instead of acting in a timely fashion, and seizing opportunity; we endure their hopeless and time-wasting lawsuits, causing delay after delay after delay; we don't have a real opportunity to derive comprehensive revenue models (Paul's concern) because our city has been conditioned to run issues-based policy, instead of aggressive comprehensive deployment of opportunity that will serve our city well into the future.

And what do we get for this kind of acccomodation? We get the _same_ group of people complaining about how poorly our city is run; how incompetent our city manager is; how the quality of life in Palo Alto is caving in (even as new citizens clamour to gain admittance; how the sky will fall if we add a measley 15,000 new citizens over the next 20 years and so on.

Folks, it's time to get busy. The current City Council is starting to get on track; they're focused and want to get things done. Their only weakness is an artifact that's still alive in our great city; that weakness is the tradition of wanting to please everyone, with the irony that those who are most vocal at City Council meetings represent "everyone". They dont.

"Everyone" are the many seniors unable to get to City Council meetings, or semi-shut in for lack of available senior transport sevices; they're hard working two-income families with children who don't have the time to peruse City Council minutes for fine details, or perform detailed housing permit analysis in service of feeding some myth about how we're becoming the Peninsula's version of overpopulated Bangladesh; they're our overstressed and largely youth (after school is out), who have literally almost no natural commercial gathering places in our city; they're plain clitizens who just want our city to WORK, and hopefully not have to pay too much more to keep it working.

It's all the above and other groups who are now paying the price for the luxury Palo Alto has in good times - the luxury of thinking it was able to please everyone, while being fooled into believing that "everyone" was represented by those hobbyhorse citizens who play Palo Alto politics like it's their own personal version of Sim City.

We need to grow this city - with more, better, innovative housing and substantially more retail. We need more R&D, and ways to keep the end result (taxable technology production) inside our borders. This IS possible, in spite of the naysayers that have been pointed to above. We're on our way to generating the political will to make our city's future a great one.

Posted by Skeptical, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 28, 2007 at 9:55 pm

Instead we have council meetings dedicated to getting travel budgets increased by $5,000. Who is setting the priorities? How about a bonus to the city manager if he can grow revenue line by 20% over the next 3 years. This seems to work in the private sector.

Posted by Palo Alto Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2007 at 10:34 pm

JLoski says "they're plain citizens who just want our city to WORK, and hopefully not have to pay too much more to keep it working."
I see you no longer support the two big bond issues, as you did on the Development thread yesterday.
And by the way, the difference in the population from 60,000 to 80,000 is not 15,000 new citizens.

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 1, 2007 at 12:05 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Where did I say that I don't support the upcoming bond and tax issues? Paying for infrastructure _now_ will save MORE money in the future.

Correction: the no growth crowd worries about how the sky will fall if we add a measley 25,000 new citizens over the next 20 years and so on.

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 8:20 am

Well said, Jeremy. You really nailed it by identifying the two groups that are to blame for our city being in the situation that we are in now--the vocal no growth crowd and the try to please everyone city council.
Any plans to run for City Council? You would have my vote.

Posted by k, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 11:49 am

What are the prospects now for getting bigger tax-generating businesses in this city (big box or similar) now that P.A. sat back while our neighbors Mountain View and EPA installed these (Best Buy in particular)?

I admire Mountain View for utilizing a location so well by putting in that REI, Best Buy, coffee house, etc. - these do not impact single-family house developments. I haven't noticed an increase in traffic. What are the prospects along ECR or along 101 in Palo Alto (not specific Baylands land) for similar businesses, auto dealers. Let's hope TJ's does materialize at T & Country at least.

Does the city have anyone who actively seeks businesses to locate here? I am not excessively interested in Stanford, if I want that level, I'll go down to Valley Fair where there is more selection.

Posted by sw, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2007 at 5:19 pm

I agree totally with Kate. I feel bad about spending most of my family's clothing and houseware budget in Mountain View (Target, Costco, Mervyns), but its stores just fit our needs and price range better. I would love a Kohls or JCPenney's at Stanford, but doubt it could ever happen. They just aren't high-end enough for Palo Alto.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 2, 2007 at 2:47 pm

J.L. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] In your posting above, you refer to opponents as "reletively small no growth contingents" or "small group of citizens" or "small group of people" or "small group" or "naysayers." Why do you believe that your opponents are a minority? What poll do you have? What do you truly know, as opposed to what you claim to believe? Do you believe your characterizations are intellectually appropriate? Have your many opponents really said the "sky will fall," or is that rather just your way of portraying your opponents as being silly? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 2, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Hi, Bill,

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

How do I know that the extreme no growth contingent is in the minority? I've been watching City Council meetings for a long time, and see the same small group of extreme no growth agitators time and time again. I (and many others I know) have come to the reluctant conclusion that this group is not prepared to alter its vision of Palo Alto.

That view is beginning to be shared by most of our policy makers, who in a highly constrained fiscal environment, no longer have the luxury of pleasing those who simply shout the loudest, and rian downn doom and gloom scenarios about growth. Why? Palo Alto NEEDS to grow to survive.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 2, 2007 at 3:57 pm

Ok, JL. Now I get it. You count the number of "no-Growthers" at Council Meetings, ignore all those asking for planning before growth, whom perhaps you also call "No-Growthers," and then in some fashion extrapolate to the entire population of PA. I now understand your reasoning, I think. How do YOU feel about PLANNING first, versus GROWING first? And by planning, I mean cumulative and comprehensive planning. Do you believe such planning serves a useful purpose, or is it, rather, unnecessary ? Could you please share this part of your philosophy with us? And before you ask, I am not a "No-Growther" but rather a "Plan-properly-first growther." And I don't think it is prudent to proceed when warning lights are flashing and our only hope is that we will be able to be so immaginative that a suitable and acceptable (to the majority) solution will inevitably be found.

Posted by Bob Gardiner, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2007 at 6:27 pm


Nice write-up. But, I think the revenue generation issue is much ado about nothing. As someone pointed out on D. Diamond's thread, all we need to do is relax our zoning and let market competition take over. It's a no-brainer (and you know what Don Nelson says about no-brainers).
So, based on that direction, I've got a multi-faceted plan which should take care of the problem:
1) The city will purchase and then re-zone Charleston Center. We will develop a 200,000 sq.ft grocery store. Then, expand Charleston to six lanes, from 101 to 280. That should provide the scale and traffic needed to undercut all grocery stores in Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Mt. View, including Costco.
2) Re-zone Edgewood. Develop a 10-story retail complex, the Palo Alto Factory Outlets. With that kind of brand, no one will go to Gilroy.
3) Redevelop the community center into a regional performance center. The 'All New Circle Star Theatre'. For this, we will expand Embarcadero to 6 lanes from 101 to 280. Kiss Shoreline good-bye.
4) Charge artists for displaying their projects at our park and recreation facilities. Its time we turn cost centers into profit centers (maybe we should revisit cable co-op).
5) And finally, instead of naming our streets and city buildings for just anybody, put them up for bid. Its time we get paid for naming rights. How about Comcast plaza? Can we re-name Page Mill to HP Way?

But, you may not want to run for city council with these as your platform.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 3, 2007 at 9:26 am

Hi Bob,

It is good that you are thinking about how Palo Alto can benefit from a different revenue strategy than what we have had in our last 30 or so years. Glad you seem to support my contention that it is time for us to come up with a different revenue model that can help Palo Alto maintain and enahance our community's character.

As for your particular revenue strategy, I am afraid it not is one that I would be able to take under advisement! Right now, I would just like to see the community agree that a comprehensive review and re-engineering of our revenue strategy is needed. We are not even there on that yet. But, assuming we get there, I suspect that the approach you have teed up is, shall we say, a bit off the mark?

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 3, 2007 at 10:57 am

Bill, I'm an ardent fan of measured, planned growth - as long as it's permited to continue without undue interference.

Palo Alto has ben planned to a faretheewell; in fact, no growthers *use* the planning process (we're now about to reconfigure our comprehensive plan) to stop our city from growing.

I would like you to do some homework, based on my second last response in the "how much more housing can Palo Alto stand" thread. How about doing a computation on the benefit metrics of new residents, instead of just computing the cost of those residents. I wonder if metrics like that will make it into our planning considerations. I intend that they will.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 3, 2007 at 11:41 am

JL And perhaps here's a task for you. Let's say that by 2015 or thereabouts, the PAUSD school kids grow by 4,000, just to pick a number. Where would we school them? Do you have an acceptable solution now? A real solution that we know ahead of time the School Board will endorse? If not, then being at capacity currently, and having to compromise schoolyards with Modulars to get transient breathing room, we are just charging ahead with hope but without vision. Maybe you think 4,000 is the wrong number. It is less than the 40 % increase MP projects for Hillview by 2014. What do you think is the correct estimate? And do you think any particular year in the 2010 to 2020 decade will necessarily be the top? Sometimes PA relies on their particular demographer, who happens to estimate elementary projection only 5 years, to 2011. It is steadily rising to that point, then PA has no further vision for elementary student population. But past data suggests very strongly that that population will keep rising, making school solutions more anguishing. And more expensive. What if PA has to buy 6 acres on East Meadow, just to pick a spot. What would that land, that school, and then on-going annual teacher costs amount to? Noway do I think added fees and taxes from new development would cover those expenses. So many citizens already see school contortions (Modulars on small school yards, e.g.), excess parental overflow traffic from a lack of neighborhood capacity, and great PAUSD concern about adequate finances. We citizens think PLANNING FOR GROWTH, to see what our reasonable capacity is, is far superior to UNPLANNED GROWTH. And I sure don't agree that PA has been planned to a faretheewell. Nor do I agree that PA is great about following the plans it does have. Nor that PA is strong about saying to ABAG that their targets are so unrealistic, the computations so poorly constructed, that until realistic numbers for PA are provided, we cannot seriously entertain them.

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 3, 2007 at 12:19 pm

Bill, I asked the question before. How about building UP? We could double our classroom space using the same real estate footprint.

You're creating a world of black and white - that sees anything not planned (and debated) to a faretheewell should be verboten. I don't see it that way.

I'm still waiting for you or someone else to compute the "benefit" profile metrics of new citizens. Until that's done, to balance the skewed accounting metrics of the no growth contingent, all arguments against current projections toward growth are moot, and based entirely on only one side of the balance sheet. To proceed otherwise is faulty fiscal management, never mind inefficient municipal diligence.

So again, start with my suggestion to build UP. How about a prior suggestion to utilize - as partial solutions in the interim - some of the things I mentioned earlier.

I'm walking the walk by suggesting things that work elsewhere, but all I hear is "we can't", or "the sky will fall if Palo Alto grows to projected numbers". That, instead of a willingness to roll up sleeves and consider possibility. That's not the attitude that will bring our city into the future.

I'm waiting for a substantive response to suggestions already made, instead of just hearing "we can't", with no substantial arguments made to counter the logic of my suggestions.

Start with building *UP* at PAUSD - why wouldn't that work as a partial solution (maybe an entire solution) for increased school population at PAUSD? After that, please address why embedded coop education, and other variations on a theme wouldn't work as supplements, making the educational experience in Palo Alto even richer than it is today.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 3, 2007 at 1:43 pm

JL, 2 points: 1. BUILDING UP has been discussed by the BOE. Mandy Lowell inquired about 2-story Modulars. No interest I could discern. Not a new idea. Problem of more density for playgrounds remains; tiny playgrounds soon with the Modulars, and then further kids from 2 story-schoolrooms. It's like declaring schoolgrounds disposable. Not in keeping with some views about what a PA elementary school should be. 2. But, regardless of some merit, until BOE has certified it as being acceptible, it is not a solution. it isn't on the table as a future solution. Nor is the clever idea of having New Developments set aside space and rooms for kindergarten. Until the BOE, after review, declares this to be acceptable from the oversight aspect, then it too is not on the table as a solution. Only an idea. Ditto having bigger class size. Ditto re-configuring classrooms to decrease their sq-footage. Ditto turning part of Cubberly into a remote "neighborhood" school, handling only 4th and 5th grades. Ditto changing hours and months of attendance. Ditto requiring parents to monitor home-schooling on computers. Ditto having enlarged school multi-purpose rooms with computers lined up for kids so that they can be monitored there, instead of at home, but freeing up school space by having teams alternate between M-purpose room and classroom. The BOE has an image of what schools should be. So do parents and future residents. Is it logical to keep adding kids to PA when we have no information as to whether we really have a plan for them? Would that we had back the elementary school sites PAUSD sold off for housing in the 1980"s. Then the physical solution for many more kids would be easy at the elementary level. In conclusion, "we can't" doesn't describe the attitude of the PLANNED-GROWTHERS. Rather it is getting palatable solutions acceptable to PAUSD and the BOE. That's a planning process.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2007 at 2:24 pm

Interesting that the BOE has so many firmly planted stakes in the ground, e.g., about not building up. Seems like we need flexibility and open minds to solve our problems, not "images of what schools should be."

Building two-story schools seems like an excellent idea.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 3, 2007 at 5:58 pm

Just a thought: many ideas to handle enrollment require crowding more kids into schools, and increasing
school capacity beyond BOE limits. These concepts to date have not been part of the PA

Whereas, opening new schools on land not already used for a school, or reclaiming
Garland, e.g., would be.

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 3, 2007 at 10:59 pm

The BOE is going to have to get a clue about these things, and 'ditto' (I like this exclamation) a lot of other stuff that they've taken off the table. By the way, I'm not talking about two story modulars, I'm talking two story buildings, as a future solution.

We'd better begin to understand that the BOE and city are going to HAVE to begin to work together in much more significant ways that they have in the past.

One of the absolute requirements for a new superintendent is that s/he should have prior experience getting creative in constrained environments, and working with cross-functional teams inside and outside the school district bailiwick.

At this juncture in our development, anything less would be a tragedy.

Last, it looks as if you're using the BOE's failure to innovate as a convenient excuse to say "we can't grow". If the BOE is putting the cabash on innovative ideas, then its time to get busy and lobby them for better solutions. Failure to do so is simply buying into *their* "we can't" attitude. (btw, there are at least two very innovative thinkers on the BOE, and possibly a third, so I don't buy what you're saying).

There is simply no way this city should stop brining citizens in - and 1000 of those per year for the next two decades is not to many.

Posted by aw, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2007 at 7:15 am

Too bad the Avenidas generation is leaving behind a far shabbier infrastructure than they inherited. The only way to undo the 1980s decisions to sell or barter school sites is to figure out what we need and go do it. Not only will we need additional school classrooms over time, every single school building is worn out and should be replaced over the next twenty or thirty years. Probably $500M in 2007 dollars.

It's unlikely that distance learning and home schooling will replace gathering kids together to learn. It's likely we'll soon be housing one or more Charter Schools in the District. So decisions about what kind of schools we want (neighborhood or centralized) and what kind of buildings we need (portable or permanent, 1 or 2 story) are very timely. We all have to join together to do our civic duty in a civil fashion; it's not going away and it's not the sole responsibility of developers and new residents.

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 4, 2007 at 11:16 am

AW, Hear! Hear! Your's is the most prescient post on this thread

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 4, 2007 at 4:19 pm

AW, as JL said, Hear!, Hear! Maybe it will be $ 500 Mil. And just as obviously, it will be more the bigger the student population. We do have to get together and decide now to PLAN. And perhaps recognize that the solution is elusive, expensive, and maybe impossible. Just maybe. Like fighting Bobby Fischer a queen down. And maybe settle on having the kids pay the price in the form of crowding that wasn't there before. And transportation moms, if they find twice the number of cars at some schools and no change in parking/unloading space. We have to explore all these and many more things. Don't think it's right to say the BOE doesn't innovate. They innovatively approved shrinking playgrounds with permanent Modulars. Forever, I imagine. Crowded kids seem to be the ones to pay the price. Innovation OF THE WRONG TYPE is not so great, though maybe expedient to cure a unpleasant situation. Can we plan our way out of the onrush before it arrives? And will citizens go for a $500 Mil Bond? What do you folks who read this blog think?

Posted by Bob Gardiner, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2007 at 5:26 pm

Two story school buildings are not innovative, and definitively not a good approach to improving education in Palo Alto.

Posted by Bob Gardiner, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2007 at 5:39 pm


Actually, I do not even know your revenue plan, let alone agree or disagree with it. Before coming up with a revenue plan, you may want to step back and give your opinion of the city's mission. A while back, I was on San Bruno's web site, where they posted their mission/purpose. Ironically, I did not see anything on Palo Alto's web site.
Based on what I have read on this and related threads over the last few weeks, there are significantly different opinions of city hall's purpose.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 4, 2007 at 7:44 pm


I do not have a specific revenue plan, but your comment about reviewing the mission is spot on. I have referred to it as "the character" of Palo Alto. I do believe that is where we need to start.

For what it is worth, here are six key elements to the character of Palo Alto as I see it that contribute to making this a special place:

our schools, our relationship with Stanford, our active volunteer citizenry, our business environment, our infrastructure, and our city services.

We could start by agreeing that these are the key things that constitute the character of Palo Alto, or develop some alternatives that can instead be the "short list."

Other than the school district, which is the purview of PAUSD, we can then ask ourselves what the desired state of each of these should be, and how close or far we are from being there.

We can then ask ourselves how well our current revenue sources are lined up to meet the desired state. Even if some or all of them did a good job of getting us to a certain state in the last 30 years, they may not be capable of getting us or keeping us in the state we wish to be in for the next 30. (My contention is that they are not.)

We then can identify what sorts of revenue models are possible to achieve the desired state, with the understanding that the models are designed based on what we want the city to be, not just because that is a source of money. If some of the revenue generation requires approval of the voters, we would at least understand that we are voting based on what we envision the character of the city to be at some level of granularity. If we don't vote in support of some actions or measures, it may mean that the desired state is a great vision, but not one the community is prepared to support. The vision will have to be modified then in light of what can be supported, and people will have to recognize and accept that it means that what Palo Alto has been will be very different than what it will be going forward, if that is all that we can support to generate the revenues that keep this place running.

I don't want this to be too abstract, I am displaying a thought process and approach that many of us have experienced in our professional lives. There are times when well meaning folks want to jump right in on specifics on this or that, and this situation we are in is so serious, I think "stepping back" and getting a larger view is really what is needed at this point.

We live in a community of generally thoughtful people, and presented in a way along the lines of what I summarize here, I think we can get a decent understanding of what we do want the character of Palo Alto to be going forward, and what we are prepared to support in order to achieve that.

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 4, 2007 at 10:01 pm

Bill, perhaps you should visit some two storey school buildings. The innovation isn't realized in the physical nature of the building's height; it's realized as a space solution. I would like to hear your reasons why a two storey solution wouldn't work. I await your response.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 4, 2007 at 10:24 pm

Paul, I like what you're saying. I want to add one more thing to your list: 'leadership".

This is a word that has been so bandied about as to be meaningless. So, let me be specific in my meaning for the word, as it realtes to Palo Alto's future.

Palo Alto is lacking leadership. This is not to say that we don't have community leaders - in the policy-making, "statesmanship", or citizen-leader categories. In fact, we have lots of those types. This is a talented community.

Palo Alto suffers from something that a well-known community leader and friend once described to me as "the congenital disease of perfect consensus". He claimed (still claims, I think) that a consensus-driven policy body that turns over by 50+% every two years is simply not the policy-making structure that is optimal for these times, no matter how well-meaning and focused the policy-making body. the more I thinkk about this, the more I think he's correct.

My friend thinks that we need to elect a mayor, with just enough separation of power to drive policy. He says we need to do this because a large City Council, by the very nature of the demands for consensus to get things done in constrained times, quickly evolves to a body that ends up "endorsing" new members who fit the "consesnsus" profile. This tends to keep vision tamped down, because any one Council person's idea is just grist for the nine-person mill. Of course, an elected mayor would still need to be consensus sriven, but with sufficient separation of power would be able to drive policy from a bully pulpit, and help the city move faster. The beauty of this structure is that of the mayor doesn't work out, our community can "tweak" its direction, instead of simply re-electing rotating chairs on the City Council, where consensus-driven policy (not idea and innnovative leadership) is more the norm.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 5, 2007 at 7:15 am

JL, The comment denying usefulness of two story elementary schools was by Bob Gardiner. He said it was not innovative. Tough to disagree with that. He also said it was not a good approarch to improving education in PA. Tough to disagree with that either. For one thing, if the concept of two story elementary schools is doubling class capacity at those locations, then twice the number of students would be crowded into the same school yard, twice the teacher parking would be required, twice the parental dropoff space would be needed. Etc. For reasons that are perhaps solid, PA has never wanted huge elementary schools. It does sure look to many people as if doubling enrollment at existing sites diminishes the quality of education for the kids so affected. But please take it up with Bob. It was his assertion, I think, that you are questioning.

Posted by anon, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 5, 2007 at 8:33 am

You may say "PA has never wanted huge elementary schools", but that's a blast in the past, when we had 22 elementary schools, everyone could walk to their (truly) neighborhood schools, and June Cleaver lived on every block.

Sorry, today, the current board has approved more portables, decided not to open another school, and lots of people drive to their neighborhood schools.

Seems that today's Palo Alto is moving towards larger schools (I won't say huge) than the days of old.

Posted by PV Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 5, 2007 at 9:08 am

I have nothing against large elementary schools. In fact I could say that I quite like the idea of large elementary schools in certain criteria were involved in their conception. The amount of choice and options, place for various types of play, large MP rooms, indoor eating areas, etc. etc. could all be accommodated. However, this is not what we can do in Palo Alto. Our school sites are the main problem. We have sites which were originally designed to be small neighborhood schools. We cannot get away from this. We have no space for doubling the size of our school populations. The fact that we could build up is something that has been mentioned at AAAG meetings, but the truth is that although it would be possible to perhaps put in a couple of two storey classrooms, that would be it because all the support space that many classrooms need would not be there. What we really need to be able to do is start from scratch with a new school somewhere in the most impacted areas, but that is laughable, not going to happen. Let's do the best we can with what we have got and let's make sure it is the best.

Posted by aw, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2007 at 10:31 am

All around us new school buildings are going up. Bowman, International School of the Peninsula, Castilleja's gym, even East Side Prep in EPA. Let's keep PA public schools relevant with great facilities, great programs and great teachers. But staying on topic, as a community we will grow. Our job is to build infrastructure to support the growth and stop pretending we can prevent further growth by letting our services decay. Did anyone choose Palo Alto because they thought they were getting the low-cost spread? We're all here to enjoy a premium residential experience.

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 5, 2007 at 1:55 pm

AW, looks like you're right on, again! We should have lunch :)

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 5, 2007 at 3:47 pm

AW, when you say PA should get ready to pony up $500 mil to replace worn-out
school bldgs, are you keeping in mind that PA in the late 1990's passed a Bond for over $200
mil for that purpose. Do you really believe, after that major recent renovation, voters are
ready to do it again? I was thinking about your post of yesterday at 7:15 a.m.

Posted by kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2007 at 4:01 pm

To aw":

You said "Too bad the Avenidas generation is leaving behind a far shabbier infrastructure than they inherited"

Whoa, they didn't inherit it!! THEY built most of it after 1950-1955.....with bond money their and taxes.
And the libraries and the City Hall.

Posted by aw, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2007 at 7:51 pm

To the best of my knowledge the $200M bond (which I voted for) was spent to catch up on deferred maintenance. Did we get any new school campuses out of it?

I completely agree Palo Alto built great projects from the '30s to the '60s. Then for some reason it ended. Lucie Stern, City Hall / Police Station, Childrens' and Main Library, Cultural Center (old City Hall), airport, golf course, parks are the kind of innovative Civic initiatives we used to take on. We acquired open space into the '70s, but abandoned other critical projects. We stopped maintaining our infrastructure many years ago. We're now 40 years into the utility undergrounding project. We can't even do something tangible like deal with San Francisquito Creek flooding.

Let's be bold again!

Posted by Jeremy Loski, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 5, 2007 at 10:41 pm

aw for City Council. This is a person who's making sense, and knows history! About PAUSD's B4E program; you are spot on.

In fact, our ed infrastructure IS shabby, especially when compared to many others in our region. fwiw, there IS $500M bond effort that will probably be raised within the next few years.

Will Palo Altans support it? You bet they will. Palo Altans, the ones that I talk to, want this to remain a first rate place. They're willing to pony up.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2007 at 11:03 pm

(1) Re two story schools: Bill writes they would double class capacity twice the number of students would be crowded into the same school yard, twice the teacher parking would be required, twice the parental dropoff space would be needed.

But hasn't that already happened by putting portables on existing school sites?

(2) Paul talks about the character of Palo Alto and a "thought process and approach that many of us have experienced in our professional lives." Mike points out the lack of leadership. I think they've identified the crux of the problem.

We have an amazing knack for electing council members who have no business experience, no sense of P&L, ROI, priorities, planning, budgeting and all those other pragmatic processes and measurements that are key to making a business successful.

Every couple of years Council goes through a "priority-setting process" and a budget "process." But they don't seem to be linked.
Anyone who's ever prepared a home budget or a business budget – and has to live with it! – knows that you FIRST figure out your priorities and THEN create a budget. You don't just hack and chip away at an existing budget.

Instead of a sound planning and budgeting process, we get random cuts that will hopefully add up to $3 million. But what about the rest of the budget that's NOT being reviewed? Do we really have all the staff and expenditures in the right places?

Hillary Freeman pushed for zero-based budgeting in order to have the entire budget reviewed – not just changes recommended by the city staff. See her op ed piece from 2004 at
Web Link

All Hillary got for her trouble was snide looks from her colleagues and losing her seat on the finance committee.

As for priorities, the Top 5 for 2003 - 2005 were:
- city finances
- infrastructure (the CityWorks program)
- affordable housing
- land-use planning (including the zoning ordinance)
- alternative transportation/traffic calming

Current priorities are
- Emergency preparedness
- Climate protection
- Gaining support for police building and Mitchell Park library and community center.
- A "sustainable budget"

(For more on this topic, see Diana Diamond's piece at Web Link )

If the city was your home or business, would those be your top priorities? How would you budget for them when they're so vague and not measurable?

And what happened to the 2003-2005 priorities? Were they all accomplished? Or does Council just wipe the slate clean and choose new ones every two years? Does it really matter when there's no accountability?

Paul and Mike: Have you considered running for city council?

Posted by aw, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2007 at 8:46 am

In the adopted $127.7M 2006/7 budget the top 5 expense categories are:

Police - 20%
Fire - 17%
Community Services - 15%
Administration - 12%
Public Works - 10%

Looks like reasonable first order spending priorities. It does raise the question what emergency preparedness we're not buying for the current $47.25M annual Police and Fire expense.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 6, 2007 at 10:34 am

Pat, you are right that Permanent Modulars increase parking and dropoff reqmts, probably
by 10-20% on average. They also decrerase playground size beyond the present, while
adding students to the smaller playgrounds. And by locating the modulars where planned,
they increase overflow, especially in North PA. But if their impact is 10-20 %, 2-story bldgs
replacing 1-story bldgs with the same footprint, would increase density problems 100 %.

JL and AW, the 1995-2000 Bond issue was originally pegged at $210-M. Noting that CA school districts were passing only 161 of 351 bond attempts, ours was scaled back to $143-M. The schools (incl. 12 EL's) were extensive refurbished (including seismic upgrades).
Completion dates were 2000 to 2004. $17-M was not spent then, but placed into a long-term maint. fund. The bonds run for 35 years, with peak tax levy in 2007.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2007 at 11:13 am

aw: Thanks for the top 5 budget expenditures. Of course public safety should come first, but 15% toward Community Services? Without knowing what's included, I wouldn't rate that #3. If it includes the Jr. Museum and Zoo and the Art Center, for example, I definitely think it's too high on the list. These are nice-to-haves, but certainly not essentials.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 6, 2007 at 12:29 pm


I serve on the Parks and Recreation Commission, which works with the Community Services department, so I have some understanding of their budget. More importantly, and to my earlier point, I believe that the many services that Palo Alto has are part of what have contributed to the character of Palo Alto in the last 30 or more years.

A great deal of the community services budget is for our playing fields, parks and open spaces, and support for number of programs which are offered at Cubberly, Lucy Stern, and elsehwere around town. I won't enumerate in more detail, but you get the idea, and certainly you can get the specifics if you wish to drill down.

So we come to the question I previously posed, how important are community services, among other things, to the character of Palo Alto, and what are we willing to support in that area going forward in order to maintain and I hope enhance the character of the community? IMHO they are very important, and are an essential part of what makes Palo Alto something than just another bedroom community.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2007 at 4:50 pm


I appreciate all the parks and services we have and they definitely enhance the character of the city. But it's a matter of priorities. For example, if we're $28 million in the hole on fixing streets, can we afford the Junior Museum? We can't have it all.

When making a budget – or cutting a budget – one first has to list priorities. Everything below the line where the money runs out has to be cut, no matter how enhancing.

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