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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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Term Limits, City Council Size, and Related Matters

Uploaded: Jun 5, 2013
I don't know all the current City Council members, and for those with whom I am acquainted, I have generally found them to be decent folks working at an awful job. I toyed with running some years ago for City Council, and decided it was not what I wanted to do in my not so spare time. It is a very demanding job to be on Palo Alto City Council, and that is true no matter what you think of the people serving or the points of view they take.

That said?

There is a great deal of noise flying around right now about whether the size of the City Council should be reduced from 9 to 7, whether terms limits should be eliminated, issues above and beyond Palo Alto that our fair city's officials can influence if they around for a period of time, and climb up the proverbial ladder on commissions and the like that take a broader view beyond Palo Alto. County, regional, state, and possibly federal stuff.

With all due respect to our current Palo Alto elected officials, your eye is not on the ball. Stop talking to yourselves.

From a personal standpoint, I had the honor of serving 3 terms, 9 years, as a Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Had I applied for another term, it is possible I would have or not have been re-appointed. My reason for moving on is that I felt 9 years as a citizen volunteer with such civic responsibilities was enough, and that other members of the community should have an opportunity to serve as I had. Great time, no regrets.

I currently am helping the City of San Jose on a project, using some of my experience as a Parks and Rcreaton Commissioner, and I can appreciate that there are regional and larger issues that no one city can handle by itself. But our Palo City Council is a poster child for an Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) in its advocacy for term extensions and council size.

This could turn into a very lengthy opinion on my part, so I will cut to the chase.

1. 2 terms are enough, find other ways to leverage your City Council experience when you leave office, there are plenty of ways to do that, should you choose to do so

2. There can be districts established in order to assure full representation across town. For example, we could have two elected from the north, two from the south, and two west of El Camino, and some at large members of Council as well. I live in the North, and I largely agree that the representation on City Council is skewed north of Oregon Expressway.

3. We do have many matters in Palo Alto that may adjoin larger regional issues (e.g. ABAG and housing, SF Creek, HSR), and we need to focus as much as possible on what we can do within town, while managing the issues that cross boundaries as much as it is within Palo Alto's scope. As many others point out, we have our plate full right here in town. Minimize the distractions. Council structure and smoking in parks are examples of distractions.

4. This is not a training ground for people seeking future career opportunities. There is nothing wrong with an elected official having aspirations for other office. The best way, IMHO, is to be effective at the current job, not be perceived as shilling for the next one.

Just how effective is our Council, spending time on the matters they have addressed in recent weeks? Not very.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Not for incumbents, a resident of ,
on Jun 5, 2013 at 11:18 am

Any change in structure should NOT apply to the current council or it will clearly be a power grab by the development-supporters. -which Nancy Shepherd, Liz Kniss, and Gail Price have shown themselves to be, time and time again. Shepherd even liked 27 University!

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of ,
on Jun 6, 2013 at 8:53 am

This idea seems to have popped up out of nowhere. There doesn't seem to be the slightest evidence of a problem with the current system. As to the matter of representation, or clout, on regional boards/commissions--perhaps the proponents of this change could provide us with a list of these organizations that have told Palo Alto representatives that until that have been on a City Council for 10 years--they can't speak, or have any votes, on these regional groups.

There really needs to be clear problems demonstrated before we make charter changes just to please lifetime politicians.

The biggest threat from regional boards at the moment is the ABAG mandate for thousands of new housing units in Palo Alto. It's not clear that any of our Council Members have taken a strong stand in any meetings that they may have attended in the past. Perhaps these ladies might point out how being on the Palo Alto City Council longer than eight years would lead to Palo Alto's being able to mitigate, or quash, these sorts of ABAG mandates in the future. So far, we've seen nothing from these three about any real problems that being on the Council longer than eight years would solve.

Hopefully, this idea will not make it to the ballot.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of ,
on Jun 6, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Well said, Wayne. I look forward to Liz, nancy and Gail explaining their rationale. Of course, our comments will probably be ignored-- we just sit quietly and let those that know best( the city council) run things. When we need to know anything they will instruct their local newspaper to tell us what we should do and how we should vote.

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