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Nose Under the Community Tent

By Paul Losch

About this blog: I was a "corporate brat" growing up and lived in different parts of the country, ending in Houston, Texas for high school. After attending college at UC Davis, and getting an MBA at Harvard, I embarked on a marketing career, mai...  (More)

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Next City Council Has a Labor Problem....

Uploaded: Oct 22, 2009
So who are the best choices to deal with it?

I could use this posting to provide my own thoughts, but I will refrain this time.

Please provide your point of view.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Sam, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 7:19 pm

As I have said, on a different thread, we will solve the "labor problem" by raising utility taxes. It is the Palo Alto way.

The alternative is to cut services, and that will not happen.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of ,
on Oct 22, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Well for starters look at the topic description.

Management decides way in advance to use the recession for effect. Refuses to negotiate at all, and refuses mediation. Despite feigns to the contrary the SEIU City Workers seem to be the only ones targeted to "contribute" (will Measure A really pass and was it ever designed to do so?, Police and Fire expected to sacrifice the same?, etc.). And then, shock of shocks, a "labor problem". I suppose I could also go out and kick my dog around, starve and abuse it, then claim I have a "canine problem".

I would characterize it as that the city workers have a management problem.

Posted by artie, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 8:41 am

What a blahg this Losch thing is...

Posted by David Lieberman, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 9:46 am

There are five candidates who have come out against Prop A and clearly state that the city has a spending problem NOT a revenue problem. They will get my vote:

Karen Holman
Leon Leong
Greg Scharff
Chris Gaither
John Hackmann

The others are just captives of the city unions, the same sort who got us into this problem in the first place.

Now as far as the "services" that make Palo Alto "special" that everyone wants to "preserve" what are they talking about?

We have the worst streets and sidewalks in the area. We have exploding sewers, we have parks that are a disaster. In fact we have the WORST services in the area despite the fact that we spend a third more per capita.

Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 11:29 am

Hey the sign on University Ave, just as you come over from 101 and enter Palo Alto...I suggest a change..

Welcome to Palo Alto
Where Sewers Explode.

Should bring in the Chucky Cheese crowd, one might then want to open on University Ave.,kids would order pizza and stare out the window waiting and hoping to see a sewer explode in front of them....provided Measure A doesn't pass and scare Chucky Cheese away.

Sometimes things are just to funny.

Posted by Jake, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Regarding the comment "In fact we have the WORST services in the area despite the fact we spend a third more per capita"

How are you coming to that conclusion? supporting data or is it a personal opinion? have you used ALL of the City services?

The Fire Dept has been rated by the people of Palo Alto as much needed and also providing excellent service in surveys and polls. Time and time again.

The City of Palo Alto's Fire Dept also is more cost effective than many other Fire Depts, anywhere. The Fire Dept of Palo Alto recovers many of it's operating budget back! through fee's and ambulance transport billing.
No other Fire Dept in Santa Clara County has it's own transport paramedic units. The PAFD has firefighters who are trained paramedics on it's ambulance.
The Palo Alto Fire Dept also provides emergency services to Stanford University/Los Altos Hills through a contract. Stanford pays a portion of the fire dept budget. That taken along with the fee's collected for ambulance transport and fee's for things such as Haz Mat inspections means the PAFD is actually cheaper than most other cities.
In other Cities in the area, a private ambulance responds and transports. The fire dept will respond first, render aid and provide treatment. Then a PRIVATE ambulance company will come to transport the patient. This private ambulance company will then bill the patients medical insurance provider (at a higher rate than the PAFD does)and turn a profit.
The PAFD responds faster and provides transport for cheaper than the private companies do. Then they are able to offset the PAFDs operating budget through cost recovery.
Again, the PAFD recovers back a huge portion of it's operating budget in several ways. This allows them to provide a much needed service at a lower cost.
The PAFD in the mid 1970's was one of the first Fire Depts in the entire Country to provide paramedic level treatment and transport.
Most other Cities only wish they could or had provided such high level of service.
The simple fact is, the City Council and Administration don't like to mention the TRUE cost of the Fire Dept to the people or the press.
Any money the Fire Dept is able to generate or recover is put back into the GENERAL BUDGET for the entire City. The Fire Dept recovers a huge portion of it's budget but the money it recovers is used for other things.
And as we see now, in these difficult times the City Council and Administration will say and do anything to sway public opinion.

The Fire Dept protecting Palo Alto and Stanford University is smaller now than it was 40 years ago. They now respond to tens of thousands more emergency calls per year with a smaller dept.

The City Council and Fire Dept administration also dont like to advertise the fact that the entire Downtown Area of Palo Alto has no protection many many nights for hours! The 3 firefighters at the Alma Street station are not on the fire engine and are somewhere else or in another City on an ambulance!
The oldest and most populated area of Palo Alto has a vacant fire station many nights for hours! most Cities have the most populated, oldest and greatest number of emergency calls area protected by MORE units and people, not LESS or NONE!!
Hundreds of emergency calls a year in North Palo Alto require Menlo Park (if available) or another unit to handle the emergency because the Alma Street fire crews are in another City or somewhere else in Palo Alto on an ambulance. The Station is vacant with a un-staffed fire engine sitting there!
But just watch, The City Council, City Manager and Fire Administration will all be pointing fingers somewhere else when this dangerous practice ever comes to light or god forbid something terrible should happen or a life is lost. I can hear it now, "i was never aware of that practice taking place"
Well it does, and everyone at that level knows it is occuring almost every single night.

Sleep well Palo Alto, the City Manager and City Council are on duty.

Posted by David Lieberman, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Jake's defence of city services mentions ONLY the fire department. If I had to guess I would say he is a fire fighter.

You want proof of the low quality of city services? Take a bike ride through Mountain View, Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Your crotch will tell you when you are in Palo Alto.

Take a bike ride from Shoreline Park in Mountain View through the Palo Alto baylands. Your nose will tell you when you are in Palo Alto.

Find the article published in the Weekly a month ago about problems with the city sewers and the backups into people's homes which are almost ten times more frequent in Palo Alto than in neighboring cities. Talk to some of the residents who have spent weeks cleaning up after these all too frequent occurrences.

Maybe they should call the fire department.

Posted by Jake, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 2:47 pm

If David has a problem,(WORST services in the area) be specific which services or departments. Also it might give validity to your statements if you had facts or figures to use as contributing reasons as to why you have reached your conclusion.
Your post pretty much infers every service and department in the City of Palo Alto.
Simply not true for many departments. Yes the roads are in bad condition, they pretty much are in all of California.
The City of Palo Alto also provides sanitary sewer treatment for other Cities. Some of whom you mentioned, we also have a former harbor and several creeks and flood control canals that all flow through Palo Alto into the baylands. Not all four smells are bad, some are very natural and were occuring long before the Spanish arrived, read some books that note first hand accounts by the Spanish. All kinds of organic matter flow into the baylands to be absorbed into the ecosystem. Yes much of it is man made and harmfull but not all.
Sewer treatment and composting gives off bad smells. Both of these operations take place in the area that is mentioned. Have seen very few tidal marsh areas that don't have an odor.
When pressed for specifics about Palo Alto having the WORST and costing a "third" more per capita. You have two examples, the roads and the smell in the baylands.
The roads, in my opinion are in rough condition through most of the State as well. It does not seem to be an isolated problem specific to Palo Alto.
And if you would like to compare Palo Altos baylands smell to other SF Bay cities. Try riding North through Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, Foster City, San Mateo, Burlingame,etc along the SF Bay. Smells pretty much or in some cases worse than Palo Alto.
Or go South into Alviso, Milpitas, etc. Not great smelling either.

The other side of the Bay is pretty much the same depending on the winds.
If have speciific valid incidents or examples of the "WORSE" city services than please bring them forward. I think casting the "WORSE"
comment net over the entire City is just plain not fair and not true.

I would expect such statements without facts or invalid facts from a certain local writer with the initials DD. She has made more than one false accusation that is simply not true. Even when told or shown the facts she won't retract.
The sad part about damaging comments is they start to take a life of thier own or are taken as written. As for DDs comments, too many ill informed people read her paper and take everything she writes as fact.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of ,
on Oct 23, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.

I try to stay out of dicussions after I have teed them up, but that is not my ironclad practice, and I feel compelled to weigh in a bit more and try to re-direct the discussion here.

The question I asked is "who," and more to the point "what kind" of Council Members will Palo Alto need to deal with the issues it faces with its workforce. Perhaps too cryptic to call it a "labor problem," but credit me for a headline that can lead to "drill down," which is what I believe is considered to be the most helpful writing style for these sorts of blogs.

Here is what I perceive about SEIU leadership, not the employees they represent: they don't want to make any downward adjustments to the compensation packages for the members they represent, and to my way of thinking, are out of touch with the realities of both the public and private sectors' financial circumstances right now. Instead of wanting to work with City leadership to an adjusted agreement, SEIU leadership is prepared to call for a strike, and more importantly, have some of the people it represents permanently lose their jobs in this town, rather than adjust the current model that could preserve our city employee base and the services they provide.

If I have the correct perspective, what are the qualities we need in our next City Council to deal with this SEIU leadership position?

At one extreme, it could be that our community is sympathetic and agrees with SEIU leadership, and disagrees with the position of current City management around the current labor discussions. If that is the case, there may be certain candidates for office who reflect such a position.

At the other extreme, there could be a sentiment that what is needed on the dais on Hamilton Avenue are people who want a very different approach to the employee base, the employee compensation and the impact on City services.

The sad part for me about this is that my experience as a community member and as a member of one of our City's Commissions who intereacts with many City employees, is that workers will be impacted one way or the other, no way around that. And services will be impacted as well, not for the better.

If you have read this far, I will tell you what I think: we cannot capitulate to SEIU leadership on this matter. And we need to choose City Council members in a couple weeks who have the spine to hold that position.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of ,
on Oct 24, 2009 at 8:59 am

I think the service provided by both our police and fire departments has been outstanding, as has been their community support (think of all those fire house tours for preschool kids, the bike training in elementary school, etc.)

Some of our "services" should be self-supporting non-profits, the Children's Theater and Junior Museum for example. The City provides the buildings, they pay for everything else.

Libraries - I also still don't understand why we are funding 5 libraries. I understand many people like having so many branches, but many people like steak too - I don't think this economy can support either. Both College Terrace and DT could be repurposed for a better use (maybe even using the land for DT for the Police Department, closing Forest at that block) should we really being buying so many duplicate books? Should we be paying for redundant staff anywhere in the City?

Art - with the talented and generous citizens of PA, why on earth are we paying anyone for art? If you walk around PAMF, do you ever read the signs next to the paintings? Donated in honor of, donate by the artist, etc. Then there is the topic of the art selected by our city (the color of palo alto???)

We should look at this economic downturn as an opportunity to par back spending, rethink priorities and use the immense creativity of our citizens. Just like the tech industry, where downturns produce some great start-ups. This downturn could produce some great ideas.

Posted by pat, a resident of ,
on Oct 24, 2009 at 10:35 am

Amen, palo alto mom. You have perfectly identified the problem.
Recent city councils have had no sense of priorities and have been unable to say no to too many factions within the city, resulting in lots of waste. If they managed the city budget the way they manage their home budget, you can bet things would be different.

For one thing, we would have fewer employees if we cut out some of the non-essential services.

Paul, I agree that we need council members with spine, not just to negotiate with unions, but to prioritize services and say NO to the many wasteful ideas (Color of PA, King Plaza, etc.) that come before Council.

Posted by Jake, a resident of ,
on Oct 27, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Thank you Palo Alto Mom and Pat,

Flavor of the moment programs and services cost money and take employees to staff.

Just recently, $270,000 for art work in a park during these hard times. One moment the City Manager and Council are saying they have little funds and the next moment they approve a $270,000 item for art.

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