By Diana Diamond
Questions for PA City Manager Ed ShikadaUploaded: Mar 22, 2022
I am contemplating walking through Palo Alto City Hall, clear see-through flag in hand, proclaiming, “Transparency: Now!”
Why? Because I am tired of all the seeming lack of awareness from city staff – and council members –that we residents want to know what’s going on in this community – including fires, accidents, burglaries, police mishaps, etc. Some issues remain silent for weeks or months.
Case in point: Since he took office in 2019, Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada has sent weekly reports only to council members, not the public, informing them about problems in town. Portions of the briefings were labeled “information for council members only – not to be distributed to the public at this time,” as reported by the Daily Post.
And what kind of information shouldn’t the public know about?
Well, for example, Shikada reported only to the council leaks at Cubberley Community Center from a fire hose and a hot water system, resulting flooding and gym closures for several weeks. And only the council was told about a new timeline with Pets in Need for taking over the operation of the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, and that billionaire John Arrillaga’s very generous $35 million offer to build a new gym in town was “off the table,” due to Arrillaga’s death.
So why in the world is any of that information distributed only to the council? And why haven’t any council members objected, since none of the newspapers in town apparently were informed. What’s so “secret” about a water leak? Or a new schedule for Pets in Need to run an animal shelter?
And if those minor issues are things Shikada thinks the public can’t know about, what about the bigger problems in town, like the problems that are occurring in the police department? Many incidents, like a police dog attacking a man sleeping in a back yard in Mountain View were not announced for weeks afterward. The sleeping suspect had not been the man the police were seeking.
These are the issues that eventually became public, oftentimes weeks after disclosed to the council members.
Sure, it’s easy for city hall employees to shut their information doors to the public, because then they don‘t have reporters nosing around or city gadflies asking awkward questions. Cover-ups and silence are so much simpler.
But there are other incidents prompting my concern about information to the public.
Shikada was scheduled to give a speech to my Rotary Club, with the understanding that it was, in part, to be a Q&A. But once introduced, with a quip that he may drag this out to avoid questions from Post Editor Dave Price, the moderator, Shikada began talking about the new 101 bike bridge, the progress on the Public Safety Building near Cal Ave, the opening of the remodeled Junior Museum, the budget deficit last year., etc. After showing about 30 slides, Shikada finished his speech at 1:26 p.m., four minutes before the hard close of the meeting, so only three members of the audience asked brief questions -- and not Dave Price.
I guess what I had hoped to hear was a Q&A where Shikada could address the concerns of residents in town. Those concerns exist, and if the public’s questions were answered by the city manager, I think greater understanding by the public and the city manager could occur.
These are some of the issues I hoped Shikada to address, because this is what I think the public wants to know:
• You are not the police chief, but you are his direct supervisor. PA residents in recent months have been worried about the lack of transparency in the department (e.g., encryption, restrictions on press contacts with the PD) as evidenced in last week’s meeting with residents to determine what they are looking for in a new chief. Transparency was the most important quality they cited. Yet under your supervision, lack of transparency has been a big issue the past year – and you seemingly did nothing about it. You evidently supported encryption, as well as the lack of direct press contact with the chief, and obviously took no action when several instances involving police misconduct problems were squelched within the department for months. Please comment.
• Downtown: it seems like many of the offices and tech companies used to occupy are still empty, and the lack of people during the day is hurting business. When do you think we'll be back at full office occupancy? What are you or your team doing to find new tenants and have retail stores locate here?
• Given the demise of retail stores downtown, and hearing that many merchants are thinking of moving out, is this a good time to put the business tax on the ballot?
• Some residents have complained that the city hires too many consultants – and spends too much money on them. With a large, competent and well-paid city staff, why does the city need so many consultants? If we are outsourcing to consultants, maybe we need fewer staff? Just a thought.
I pose these questions to point out that this is our town, we have a right to know what is going on – and not weeks after something happened or after the staff decides what action to take. Many of us our waving our clear see-through flags