With 2017 coming to an end, the Palo Alto City Council is preparing to adopt a new list of official priorities for the year ahead.
But even if the council opts to revise the current list -- transportation, infrastructure, housing, budget and finance and healthy city/healthy community -- the revisions are unlikely to dramatically alter staff's work plan. Despite the council's plan to limit each priority to a three-year shelf life, recent council meetings suggest that housing, transportation and infrastructure will remain a major focus in 2018.
The council's guidelines define a priority as "a topic that will receive particular, unusual and significant attention during the year."
The council's process for making priorities calls for an extended period of feedback, from both council members and the community at large, before the city's officials priorities are set at the council's annual retreat, usually in January or February. The council's Policy and Services Committee plans to discuss the priority-setting process on Tuesday.
The city has been soliciting public comments through its Open City Hall website since Nov. 8 and, according to a new report from the office of City Manager James Keene, has received about 180 responses.
A huge number of them urged the council to focus on airplane noise, a problem that has worsened in recent years. Even though it's the Federal Aviation Administration, rather than the council, that has jurisdiction over sky traffic, the topic has solicited far more comments on Open City Hall than any other. Fred Krefetz, who lives in Downtown North, was one of dozens who urged the council to make it a top priority.
"The current relentless jet noise is absolutely intolerable and I don't understand how this was allowed to happen to our wonderful community." Krefetz wrote on Open City Hall. "It is destroying the pride and joy I once had living in Palo Alto."
To date, the city has been working on the topic largely by lobbying the FAA and by staying involved in a Select Committee that was set up by U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier and Sam Farr to address this topic (the committee submitted its report, with recommendations for reducing airplane noise in October 2016 and remains under review).
But even if the topic of airplane noise gets elevated on the council's agenda for the year, Keene noted in a report that significant focus will still be required on the existing priorities.
"Regarding Transportation, alternatives for grade separation remains an open and critical question, regarding Infrastructure we have a very ambitious capital plan that is not fully funded and prioritization will be needed, regarding Budget and Finance we need to stay the course to first understand and then address the unfunded liability, and finally on Housing, as a community we need to come together on a path forward for near term and long-term actions to address the housing crisis," Keene wrote.
The public feedback on Open City Hall also suggests that the problems of housing and traffic, which have dominated council meetings in 2017, remain high on residents' priority list. While some urged the council to focus on issues such as flood protection near San Francisquito Creek or the creation of a Fiber to the Home network, many more cited traffic jams -- and the office developments that they say causes them -- as a high priority that needs to be addressed.
"Despite the so-called cap on commercial development, the city continues to add office space without taking any measures to reduce traffic," wrote Jamie Beckett, a resident of Evergreen Park. "Within a quarter-mile of where I live on Park Blvd., at least 130k of new office space is planned, already complete, or under construction. Yet nothing is being done to alleviate traffic that is a consequence of all the added space."