Neighborhood-liaison program to begin this fall | News | Palo Alto Online |


Neighborhood-liaison program to begin this fall

Initiative aims to increase engagement with Palo Alto neighborhoods

The City of Palo Alto's planned Engagement with Neighborhoods initiative took a step forward on Tuesday night after the Policy and Services Committee voted unanimously to recommend two community meetings with neighborhoods this fall.

The program, which is designed to increase city engagement with neighborhoods, will kick off with a meeting in September and a second in November in two neighborhoods or clusters of neighborhoods. City staff and two or three council members will attend the meetings where two or three topics of neighborhood interest and concern will be addressed.

The program is based on an April 20 colleague's memo by Mayor Karen Holman and Councilmen Pat Burt, Greg Schmid and Cory Wolbach, which suggested seven actions to bring staff, elected officials and neighborhood groups together face to face.

The recommendations included recognizing neighborhood associations and placing the associations on the city's Community Partners website; exploring guidelines and costs for periodic free use of available public facilities for public meetings; providing small, one-time startup grants for neighborhood associations for training of their administration and governance; providing notification about proposed city projects affecting a particular neighborhood through "town hall" meetings; working with designated "communications officers" who would act as liaisons with city staff; and creating an ombudsman program with neighborhoods to follow up on issues and aid in conflict resolution.

The Policy and Services Committee took up four staff recommendations. In addition to holding the first two meetings, the committee recommended that staff return in January 2016 with a program evaluation regarding attendance, the results of discussions and use of staff time.

The committee voted in favor of recommending a $10,000 grant program for the remainder of the fiscal year to provide startup grants for neighborhood associations to use to attend the United Neighborhoods of Santa Clara County Annual Conference and toward initiating neighborhood associations. The funding would come from the City Council's contingency account, which contains $250,000 and is rarely used.

Committee members also voted to direct staff to return in January with an update to the Community Services Department's Co-Sponsorship Agreement, which would allow neighborhood associations to use city facilities for meetings at no charge and to look at options for waiving insurance fees for the meetings at the facilities.

Staff would also return to the committee with a plan for a study session with neighborhood leaders to develop the neighborhood-engagement initiative, including an association definition, models for support, communication and conflict resolution, the ombudsman concept, inclusion on the city's website and social media for neighborhoods.

These recommendations were accepted unanimously and will now go to the City Council.

Much of the discussion centered around the town hall-style meetings, which committee members liked. But they had concerns about putting the city's 37 identified neighborhoods into nine groupings for the meetings, as recommended by staff. The effort, they said, might be burdensome on staff, since they would have to attend so many meetings.

Some committee members recommended breaking the groupings into quadrants based on police precincts, but Councilman Marc Berman said the quadrant concept is "not micro enough" to allow the city and neighborhoods to address individual concerns.

Chairman Burt agreed, saying that grouping in quadrants would move away from sense of shared interest among the neighborhoods, and topics that will be addressed at the meetings would be too broad to be meaningful.

In his past experiences and as a former mayor, Burt said the city manager "didn't have to do a whole lot of customization from neighborhood to neighborhood" when preparing for other town hall meetings.

A certain portion of content would be focused on a certain neighborhood if a specific plan related to that neighborhood was going to be discussed by the council or committees, but in general there would be broader topics that the city could address.

Burt said he does not anticipate much preparation by staff, especially if facility and refreshment preparations are done by the neighborhood associations.

The committee did choose to remove the words "on a quarterly basis" from their recommendation for the number of annual meetings.

In relation to the number of times each quarter that the meetings would be held, "I don't think doing it every month or every two months would be too much of a staff burden," Burt said.

The committee chose instead to let the two meetings in September and November serve as pilots for information-gathering and analysis of how to proceed successfully.

Councilman Cory Wolbach expressed a desire to make sure the events are city-led. Some organizations are stronger than others, Wolbach said, and he wants to make sure that neighborhood residents feel that they are equally and strongly represented.

Tom Dubois said he had attended Midtown Residents Association quarterly meetings and found their focus on two to three topics to be a good amount that allowed for in-depth and informative discussions. He also recommended including apartment tenants and senior-housing residents in the town hall groups.

Burt also noted that in grouping the neighborhoods for meetings, staff should consider not just location, but which neighborhoods have common ground around particular issues. There is a danger that some smaller neighborhoods might feel left out if discussions are dominated by topics of interest to larger organizations, committee members said.

The committee also recommended funding the city's "Know Your Neighbors" grant program with an additional $25,000 for this year.

That program allocates $25,000 annually in $1,000 increments for community-building activities. About 90 percent of the money has gone toward block parties, staff noted.

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3 people like this
Posted by Barron Park Dissident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2015 at 11:17 am

In Barron Park, less than half of the neighborhood belong to the Barron Park Association. One reason: $
So it seems now if city council is to listen to the BPA as the representative of the neighborhood (without any internal vote on their espoused views), we will have the privilege of effective having a poll tax.

Suggestion: REQUIRE all neighborhood associations that want to be recognized by the city to be funded voluntarily.

7 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Aug 26, 2015 at 11:37 am

Engagement with whom? Citizens, or self-anointed neighborhood "leaders" like the little cabal in University South?

6 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm

@Dissident, maybe you can start your own neighborhood association?

Joining the Barron Park Association is completely voluntary, although there is a membership fee. There are very nearly 400 paying members the last time I checked. That's a pretty amazing number compared to other neighborhood associations. Dues go towards their fantastic quarterly newsletters (postage now being a large expense) and neighborhood activities (movie night this
Friday in Bol Park and of course the May Fete).

Membership in the Barron Park Association is only $20. There's a $10 membership for seniors., and a $5 hardship membership.

Is $5 is too much for you?

Like this comment
Posted by Pearl2sea
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 26, 2015 at 12:29 pm

excellent idea!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Sheri Furman
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Note that the neighborhood associations are already listed on the Community Partners portion of the City's website under Palo Alto Neighborhoods (click Who We Are on the PAN site for neighborhood info). I'm not sure why we need to duplicate that list or who will maintain it.

1 person likes this
Posted by P.S.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2015 at 3:32 pm

PA Neighborhood Chairs: Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 26, 2015 at 3:44 pm

There is no community feel in downtown north anymore. there are too many residents that have opposing views, especially when it comes to growth versus non-growth. There are so many rentals these days that it's hard to form relationships when people rent for a year or so and then move. There is bickering in the park about dogs off leash everyday and everyone feels entitled to do what ever they want. I just can't imagine this neighborhood liaison idea being beneficial. Too much diversity doesn't always bring people together, but keeps them apart.

2 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Aug 26, 2015 at 4:40 pm

@Resident -- we are in the same situation in University South. Our former inclusive neighborhood association vanished about a dozen years ago. Since then, a few residents has posed itself as the University South Neighborhood Association, but it has no contact with the residents it purports to represent. This USNA has never, to anyone's knowledge, hosted a general meeting to meet with its purported constituency and listen to neighborhood concerns. In short, it has no legitimacy.

PAN and/or the City Council need to establish and enforce standards of legitimacy for groups that represent themselves as neighborhood associations, to ensure they actually represent the views of their neighborhood and not just of a cell of self-anointed high priests.

Like this comment
Posted by Agree
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2015 at 4:56 pm

This is a great idea, but I agree with @Michael. Our "neighborhood association" has also been taken over by a politically-minded lord/god/king and his tight little band of cronies. Most people ignore him while he purports to speak on behalf of everyone because it usually doesn't matter.

If these random, self-proclaimed "neighborhood associations" are to represent everyone, there needs to be a revamp of how they are all formed, how elections are held, and a whole host of standardization to ensure equal representation of ALL.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Many of the so-called Neighborhood Associations are nothing but smoke and mirrors. There is no requirement that the speakers of these groups be elected by a majority of the neighborhoods in which they live.

The Neighborhood Associations, and particularly PAN, should not be a part of these discussions--much less being "stake holders".

4 people like this
Posted by May Belle
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 26, 2015 at 6:29 pm

I'd just like to point out that the neighbors at Greenacres, who brought Measure D successfully and changed Palo Alto politics, do not have a formal neighborhood association with meetings. Yet it is precisely for that reason that socially interconnected, organized neighbors were able to accomplish something - they didn't have to bow to any conventions and were able to be nimble and dynamic.

They also have a glaring lack of City facilities in this area. Any time there is a meeting concerning them, it gets held in a not-so-adjacent place like Cubberly, or sometimes at school spaces (which are usually committed for school things). The City Council had no trouble spending millions on bells and whistles at City Hall, but anytime we bring up the lack of public facilities (in a neighborhood with a high concentration of families with children), there's never any money. (Even for what could have been essentially a free orchard, at a perfect place for the public space.)

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