Palo Alto officials host first 'town hall' with neighborhoods | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto officials host first 'town hall' with neighborhoods

Council members and staff addressed floods, parking, aircraft noise and other residential concerns

Palo Alto officials held the first in a series of town hall-style meetings last week at Duveneck Elementary School to listen to residents' concerns and provide a better understanding regarding how the city aims to solve issues plaguing their neighborhoods.

The Nov. 12 meeting was the City Council's effort toward more transparency and to improve dialogue with residents. City leaders aim to hold the meetings in groups of neighborhoods to better gauge concerns and to inform residents who might not get to council meetings. Nearly 100 people from Crescent Park, Duveneck/St. Francis and Triple El/Leland Manor neighborhoods attended the meeting at Duveneck Elementary.

"Our goal is to strengthen the relationship between the community and the council," Mayor Karen Holman said. "Your feedback is really important to us."

Some residents applauded the city's efforts while others said the meeting did not shed any new light on issues or how the city would resolve them. Many older residents said officials should have used a microphone when they spoke because they could not hear them.

"Overall, city leaders talked too much and listened too little," said John Guislin in an email after the meeting. But others said the meeting was a good first step.

Councilmen Pat Burt and Eric Filseth, City Manager James Keene, Planning and Transportation Director Hillary Gitelman, and Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello also addressed residents' concerns, including how much the city can legally fine Sand Hill Property Company for not having a grocery store at Edgewood Shopping Center (Up to $1,000 a day in accordance with city ordinances, officials said); shifting parking problems resulting from the city's permit-parking program (The council will look at wider boundaries on Dec. 7 and other possibilities, officials said); and aircraft noise (Federal Aviation Administration regulations limit the city to only control the number of tie downs to indirectly control the number of flights, but not who can fly in or out, officials said).

Several residents expressed frustration with the pace of flood control along San Francisquito Creek. About 20 people — nearly one-quarter of those in attendance — stood and said they were victims of the 1998 flood that inundated many parts of the city. After 17 years, there is still no fix, they said.

Burt said that in 2007 he began working as the city's liaison to the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to fast-track flood protection. When he joined the city council, flood protection was expected to take more than 20 years, he said.

"The moment I was on the council I asked to be on that thankless job because I felt strongly that we needed to get it done sooner," he said.

The JPA cobbled together more than $60 million in funding that was outside of federal money. But the process was hampered by required approvals from six state and federal regulatory agencies and a stubborn refusal by the Regional Water Quality Control Board to sign off on the permit.

"We were ready to start two years ago," Burt said.

That hurdle has recently been resolved, although there are other agencies from which they must get approval. Work began in July on rebuilding the San Francisquito Creek bridge, the first step in relieving the backup of flood water. But for this year, an anticipated El Nino season, the city has been limited to clearing the creek of impediments such as trash and vegetation and shoring up weak spots where the creek over-topped in December 2013.

"We don't have much more at our disposal. I've worked every month for seven years based on my frustration. But frustration isn't a solution," Burt admitted.

Some residents at the forefront of their neighborhood's issues were not satisfied with the meeting.

"I was very disappointed in the way city leadership managed the meeting and in their apparent inability to really hear residents' concerns and join in investigating new solutions," John Guislin wrote in an email. "I am appreciative that they took the time to meet, but they just recited the history of the city's attempt at finding solution and moaned about how difficult these issues are.

"I did not hear much real dialogue, i.e. exploring of how we might look at different approaches for problem solving," he continued. "When I got to ask my one question about the traffic and accidents on Middlefield and why the city was spending almost $1 million to repave the same configuration, Jim Keene's answer was a short and dismissive, 'Well, we have to maintain the city's roads.' That is not what I think of as a dialog."

Guislin said if the meeting's goal was to address residents' concerns and give "additional direction to the city leadership, it was an utter failure."

"I can only guess that the city was hoping that allowing residents to vent might relieve some of the pressure in the system. I'm betting that is not a winning strategy. Residents are informed and smart enough to understand when they are being placated," he said.

But others applauded the city's efforts, including Jeff Levinsky, who has spearheaded efforts related to Edgewood Plaza's grocer.

"You would never get this many people to come to a council meeting," Levinsky said.

Crescent Park resident Karen Harwell said she "appreciated immensely" city officials' and staff's efforts to address concerns and allowing further clarification and engaging openly with peoples' questions.

"I think we are realizing we have challenging times ahead and coming to terms with the reality that it is not possible to return to some 'normal' of yesterday," Harwell said. "The more we can create conditions whereby we have common understanding and realizing we are all in this together and cooperate as much as possible, (the better we will be at) valuing that we all have gifts to contribute toward creating something greater than ourselves."

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2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2015 at 10:50 am

Crescent Park Mom is a registered user.

Where was it posted that there was a meeting at Duveneck? I need to get on the distro.

2 people like this
Posted by Vicky
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2015 at 11:15 am

I was not made aware of the meeting either.

Like this comment
Posted by Richard Fikes
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2015 at 1:07 pm

The Town Hall meeting was announced in multiple places, including on the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association member's email list.

5 people like this
Posted by Kevin Fisher
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2015 at 1:44 pm

This meeting was not widely publicized. I would have attended if I had known about the meeting. I read PaloAltoOnline daily, and say no mention of it. We can't assume that everyone subscribes to the Neighborhood Association Mailing List.

11 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Crescent Park Mom is a registered user.

To City Council/City Manager - I believe you already know that many of us choose not to be part of the homeowner's assn. I personally have mentioned this to your staff myself. I shouldn't be excluded because I choose not to be part of an organization that, in my opinion, only represents the opinions of the leader rather than the opinions of the entire neighborhood. Great example of doing the right things wrong....please cast a wider net next time. A notice to all the neighborhood addresses is more appropriate.

4 people like this
Posted by I noticed
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2015 at 4:21 pm

There was a good amount of discussion about parking spilling over from business areas into residential neighborhoods. A comment was made that the City seemed to be seriously under parked. None of the City's representatives were willing to own up to the fact that this is a self-inflicted problem caused by approving projects with inadequate parking. The culture in the Planning Department has to change to stop giving developers exemptions from creating adequate parking.

6 people like this
Posted by New in town
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2015 at 5:49 pm

The gentleman who wrote:

Jim Keene's answer was a short and dismissive, 'Well, we have to maintain the city's roads.' That is not what I think of as a dialog."

...hit the nail on the head. Keene is obstructionist to the needs of residents.

9 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 17, 2015 at 8:01 pm

I am convinced the city really doesn't want resident input on controversial issues. The city claims to advertise meetings with neighbors, but they mail out nondescript postcards that look like junk mail. They are easy to miss. The city also sends out postcards that often arrive after the meeting has been held.
Also, beware of the new Chief Transportation Officer, Joshuah Mello. His former job was with Alta Planning, the company that wanted to lay hideous, excessive green markings "sharrows" all over our residential streets. He also proposed excessive signage on our residential streets. He needs to be monitored.

2 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2015 at 10:24 pm

Uh, Palo Alto Resident, maybe the city can send you a special mailing printed on that fluorescent paper so they won't be so "nondescript" and prevent you from doing your civic duty.

3 people like this
Posted by irrelevant
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2015 at 6:52 am

This meeting was irrelevant in terms of addressing the issues facing our
residential areas except as a statement itself as to where we are in
Palo Alto. The meeting was detached,disconnected from the reality
of what is taking place here.

1 person likes this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:45 am

It's not the city council's job to mold society through legislation. Their frivolous positions must be cut but they won't because they get paid off our tax dollars without doing any real work.

If I was at the meeting I would ask the rulers of Palo Alto to do NOTHING. The less they do, the better.

Would you kindly, stop wasting money, don't tell us how to live, and get out of our way.

1 person likes this
Posted by Duveneck Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2015 at 11:38 am

Thank you for holding this town meeting. Like all neighborhoods Duveneck/St. Francis has its hot button issues such as the Edgewood Grocer, Flooding and Airport noise. Based on other comments I'd say a flyer and advertising would be warranted next time and you'll get an even bigger turnout. I'd like to give a special shout out to those who have been pushing flood protection forward. Specifically, Pat Burke, Len Materman, Joe Teresi and Michael Keene. Please keep pushing to get the Chaucer and Newell bridges fixed.

Also thanks to the planning department for actually imposing the fine for lack of a grocer. In order to develop Edgewood Plaza, Sand Hill Developers made a commitment to provide a Grocer but the lease contract they wrote with Fresh Market did not ensure Fresh Market would promptly sublease it to another grocer if they vacated it. Thus penalties against Sand Hill Properties are fully warranted and hopefully future developers will take their development obligations to the city more seriously. Sand Hill Properties also demolished a building they were supposed to preserve during the re-development of Edgewood Plaza.

1 person likes this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:10 pm

I had no notice of this. I don't reside in Crescent Park and so don't expect to join their neighborhood association. Ido reside in the "Duveneck area." The city should not communicate via neighborhood associations.

2 people like this
Posted by irrelevant
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2015 at 9:47 pm

@Resident of Palo Alto
Thanks for the info and insights. Nobody could summarize the State of
the City better than you just did in those two short paragraphs.

Like this comment
Posted by Off CPNA
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2015 at 6:57 am

The Crescent Park Neighborhood Association charges $20/year to join. Do other neighborhood association also charge a fee? Most everyone can probably pay it, but seems like such associations should be free to join, especially if the city uses such associations as a key means to reach the community. The associations are run mostly by volunteers and use e-mails or free groups anyway, so I don't see why they can't be free.

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