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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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Out of Touch, In Touch

Uploaded: May 23, 2010
Palo Alto City Government at long last is confronting fiscal realities.

It is not unique to this town, it has been an elephant in many rooms city and state wide for at least several years.
In Palo Alto, here's who is out of touch:

--The leadership of the fire fighter's union

--the NIMBY's who oppose just about anything that changes their current way of life

--the commercial property owners who charge unrealistic rents to retailers, and then let their spaces sit vacant instead of lowering their rates

Here's who is in touch:

--Those in town that want things they value, such as Children's Theater, to become self-sustaining.

--Those concerned about how our kids get to and from school

--High Speed Rail Opponents

I am providing my list. There are many more which others can provide.

Who is in touch? Who is out of touch?

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Ray, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 10:58 am

"Children?s Theater, to become self-sustaining"

Paul, Really? I have not heard that the city is cutting is subsidy of the PACT. If so, then it is, finally, a move in the right direction. If there is a cut, how much is it?

Posted by agree, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 11:27 am

I agree with most of Paul's points, especially about landlords and NIMBYs being big problems.

Also, parent groups that are working to improve safety around schools are very important to our community.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

I haven't heard anyone on the council says they want PACT to become self-sustaining, though that is really the only path that makes sense. A lot of citizens say that, but they don't organize to wear colored t-shirts to council meetings or have pals on the Council who will protect their pet activities.

Hopefully out of our budget crisis some common sense leadership will emerge that will put us on a more sensible footing.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 11:37 am

Here's my "in touch" list:

All recreational areas to become as self-sustaining as possible. This could include:
Eliminate the subsidy to the Children's Theater
Eliminate any subsidy to the Junior Museum and Zoo
Charge a lot more for the use of Rinconada Pool for non-residents
Charge for renting large areas at any of the Public Parks

Rethink the use of our public spaces:
Do we need 5 libraries or do we merely want them. Is this a fiscally responsible use of money for ALL the residents or just a nice thing for a small, very vocal group?
Could we be using the land under City Hall, the Police Building, Downtown Library, the Main Library and the Art Center in a more useful manner. Could we consolidate some of those spaces?

Do we need to change some of our zoning and the "Palo Alto Process" to encourage business and $$ generating retail establishments?

City Hall Employees - just like the business world has used this economic downturn to eliminate non-essential positions, we should really streamline our City Hall.

Stop contributing to anything we don't need to contribute to, recent examples:
Senior Games (they would have come without our $$$)
Lytton Plaza
Public art - why are we paying for it? Have a contest, vote for the best piece, the artist gets recognition.

Stop trying to be "green" for the sound bytes. Being environmentally conscientous is a great goal, but not at the expense of common sense. Being green should also be a sound business decision, not just a bumper sticker.

Posted by Check It, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm

"Who is out of touch?"

Hands down, it is the unions that represent public sector employees. As a lifelong supporter of unions, I'm sad to say it, but it is true. And of course, we'd have to mention the idiots running governments who promised workers more than the economy can deliver.

In the past, public employees have taken lower salaries in exchange for better benefits, but as the NYT pointed out on Thursday, this has not been true for years. The median pay for state or local employees in 2008, for instance, was 13 percent higher than in the private sector, and on top of that the public sector employees take gold-plated retirement plans and cadillac health care plans.

As private sector companies reduced pensions substantially over the last two decades, states and cities have added sweeteners like inflation adjustments and lower retirement ages.

These extraordinarily out-of-proportion hand-outs are bankrupting cities and states, and they'll have to stop. It would be good if Palo Alto could recognize that our city has been one of the most short-sighted and profligate, if we could get out ahead of the curve in cutting long-term public employee costs. We can't undo past promises, but the stick we have is firing.

The city should figure out what it can sustainably pay employees (salaries, pensions, health care included). Let's say that is 50% of what we are presently committed to. Then come up with a plan to cut 50% of workers, and see if the unions could be enticed to chop 50% of compensation. If not, then start firing. Once those people are fired (let's start at the top), open a dialogue and see if the union would now be willing to cut compensation.

Despite my deep sympathies for unions, I can't help but feel that public sector employees are swilling at the public trough and driving governments bankrupt.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Just one point to palo alto mom: You do realize that the Lytton Plaza remodel was 100% funded through donations, right? How did the city waste any money on the plaza?

Posted by anon, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Crescent Park Dad: "You do realize that the Lytton Plaza remodel was 100% funded through donations, right"

Are you sure? I thought the project was covered half donations/half city funds.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 5:23 pm

From the PA Weekly archives:

"The group has raised $348,800 for the project and has shepherded it through the city's application process. Palo Alto is contributing $348,800 from its own coffers for plaza renovations and adding another $50,000 for sidewalk repairs."

So it sounds like about $400K went into the renovation.

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of ,
on May 23, 2010 at 9:03 pm

High Speed Rail opponents? Try OUT-OF-TOUCH

--"NIMBY?s who oppose just about anything" including things that won't even change "their current way of life".

Posted by Paul, a resident of ,
on May 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Out Of Touch: Elitists who make lists of who is In Touch and who is Out Of Touch.

Posted by City overpaid, a resident of ,
on May 24, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Crescent Park Dad thinks the Lytton Plaza remodel was 100% funded through donations, right?
The city agreed to pay half. And the price went up when the city agreed. It went up from the previous estimate by about $200,000.
Can you believe that thing cost $800,000?

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on May 24, 2010 at 10:39 pm


You have included Nimbys as being out of touch, but you include the opponents of HSR as being amongst those you call in touch.

I would advocate that it is Nimbys primarily who are opposing HSR.

Otherwise, you have listed well.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of ,
on May 25, 2010 at 12:13 am

Paul Losch is a registered user.

There are many NIMBY's who oppose High Speed Rail, and understandably so.

I refer to many others, and I count myself among them, that think this whole HSR thing is a boondogle.

There is no inconsistency in what I posted. There is some overlap, for sure, but don't confuse the categories.

Posted by Paul, a resident of ,
on May 25, 2010 at 10:11 am

"I would advocate that it is Nimbys primarily who are opposing HSR."

NIMBY is a name that people who are grateful something isn't being put in their own back yard call other people who don't want the thing put in their back yard either.

The NIMBY-caller's most desperate fear is that, if those NIMBYs over there win, the thing might get put in the NIMBY-caller's back yard.

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