News

Palo Alto prepares to adopt new priorities

City solicits public feedback on issues that warrant significant attention in 2018

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."

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Comments

26 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2017 at 11:23 am

Seems like the city council's ONLY priority is BICYCLES.

If they sat on their hands and did nothing, the city would be better off.


11 people like this
Posted by Airplane noise
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Airplane noise is a registered user.

"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."

For some perspective, Airplane Noise has been voted as a City priority - under Healthy Cities, since 2016. It first surfaced as a high priority to many residents in 2014. One can look at the "Home" page of various City Surveys at this link: Web Link. Look at the closed topics which were run since 2014.

In July 2014, City asked about threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses. Airplane Noise was identified as a threat to quality of life.

While jurisdiction is federal, airplane noise is also a regional issue, as demonstrated by the formation of the Select Committee, and other regional committees which are being tasked to review possible changes.

More importantly, Council has a role to play in defending Palo Alto's interests with the FAA, as other cities around the country have been doing. Including the City of Phoenix which has recently won a lawsuit to reverse the changes brought about by Nextgen procedures. They won their case because the changes were done with no public input, and without environmental review.

It is a fact that other cities and communities have been shifting noise to Palo Alto since the mid-1990's resulting in serious problems for Palo Alto; therefore, being "hands off" is not the best policy.

The City needs to be more vigilant and to more vigorously address airplane noise.


34 people like this
Posted by FRS
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 11, 2017 at 1:21 pm

The pro-anything-grows council does not have the trust of the residents of Palo Alto, and does not truly seek input from residents. Whatever they focus on, the result will be lower quality of life and an increase in traffic and in debt. Probably also expensive bicycle infrastructure to fix what was never broken.


20 people like this
Posted by Ryan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Top priority...PENISONS, PENSIONS, PENSIONS!


34 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2017 at 8:23 pm

I would like to add that the priority for CC should be residents, not wannabee residents, or those that work here, or those that want to work here, or even those who work for CC.


5 people like this
Posted by Opposite of FRS
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 12, 2017 at 11:40 am

FRS - to the contrary. I'm a longtime PA resident, appreciate the balanced approach this council has taken to approving change and don't think this does anything other than look toward a direction where my quality of life improves. More housing including the gentle insertion of ADU's, better and varied transportation options, some new commercial replacing outdated or inefficient buildings and finally an updated Comp Plan. I'm pretty happy with the direction we are headed and appreciate of the thoughtful work they are doing. The Council DOES speak for me and based on the outcome of the last election, also most of Palo Alto. The numbers don't lie...


16 people like this
Posted by Opposite of Opposite of FRS
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 12, 2017 at 12:03 pm

my quality of life improves
-- if you are a developer or have other vested interest.

the gentle insertion of ADU's
-- could not say it better. Insertion where?

better and varied transportation options
-- which are, again? Wishful thinking that people living in ADUs won't drive much and will park ... well, somewhere?

The numbers don't lie...
--- They do when candidates lie.

Good luck ...


11 people like this
Posted by @Airplane noise
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 12, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Really? I wish I had that anywhere near the top of my priorities as far as PA problems.


5 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 12, 2017 at 12:48 pm

I don’t see any mention of a new Police building? I did a tour one time and was told water leaks intro he building everytime it rains and it’s not earthquake safe?? What is the CC doing? Stop going on retreats and worrying about airplane noise, and fix you infrastructure. Police leadership should also speak up for their people.


5 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 12, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Fred Krefetz, thank you. Airplane noise is a nightly problem for all of us, and it becomes a problem in the day since it's so disruptive of sleep.


14 people like this
Posted by Highest priority
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 12, 2017 at 8:05 pm

In my opinion, the highest priority for the city is to find a way to get city council members who care more about the city than their political future or developer donors.

This obsession with ideological political groups and pleasing the bigger-is-better (“vibrant!”) developers prevents actual government of the city.

How can we weed out those who are puppets or simply trying to find something impressive to put in their resumes (spent x dollars of grant money on a project; never mind the fact that the project did more harm than good).

There are many competent people in Palo Alto without an axe to grind.

How do we change the playing field so that our government becomes less corrupted by these other influences?

That’s a goal worthy of the brain power in Palo Alto.


10 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Get rid of all the traffic calming barriers and ugly/slippery green paint, signs and other obstructions to the normal flow of traffic, both cars and bikes. What we have now is nuts.


5 people like this
Posted by Airplane noise
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2017 at 9:30 pm

Airplane noise is a registered user.

@Airplane Noise
Charleston Gardens

"Really? I wish I had that anywhere near the top of my priorities as far as PA problems."

If you are not affected by airplane noise, it does not have to be your highest priority but it happens to be the highest priority for many residents.

Among the reasons that this issue is not mere nuisance is that night time flights impact sleep patterns even if you don't hear them.

Per World Health Organization Night Noise Guidelines, here’s how noise levels affect sleep:

Web Link

Decibel Level Over 55 db:
Sounds Like: Normal conversations, background music, washing machine and louder.
Impact on Sleep: Considered a dangerous level for public health, increasing annoyance levels and sleep disturbances. Some evidence of increased cardiovascular disease risk.

Decibel Level: 40 to 55 db:
Sounds Like: A quiet room to moderate rainfall, a refrigerator or an air conditioner at 100 feet. A quiet suburb.
Impact on Sleep: Health effects have been observed and noise at this level may affect most people.

Decibel Level 30 to 40 db:
Sounds Like: Whispers to a quiet room or office or bird calls. A quiet residential area.
Impact on Sleep: Potential for awakening, body movements, arousals and sleep disturbance. Children, elderly and ill most vulnerable to side effects.

Decibel Level: Under 30 db:
Sounds Like: Normal breathing to a soft whisper, watch ticking, or a quiet library. A quiet rural area.
Impact on Sleep: Little to no effect on sleep for most people.


Like this comment
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 13, 2017 at 1:44 pm

The first priority is to elect a decent mayor that represents majority of our values of Palo Alto.

I am excited to propose Liz Kness as a fine candidate to be our next mayor in 2018.

I have not lived here xxx number of years as you may have, my observation is she is elegant, articulate, knows the community as issues, solutions well.

For vice mayor the council may try a new council member that has not been, to provide a training ground for future.

Respectfully

Sea Redfy


Like this comment
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 13, 2017 at 1:52 pm

The first priority is to elect a decent mayor that represents majority of our values of Palo Alto.

I am excited to propose Liz Kniss as a fine candidate to be our next mayor in 2018.

I have not lived here xx number of years as you may have, my observation is she is elegant, articulate, knows the community as issues, solutions well.

For vice mayor the council may try a new council member that has not been, to provide a training ground for future.

Respectfully


4 people like this
Posted by Safety First
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 13, 2017 at 10:53 pm

Two words: TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT.


16 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 14, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Sea Reddy wrote:

"The first priority is to elect a decent mayor that represents majority of our values of Palo Alto.

I am excited to propose Liz Kniss as a fine candidate to be our next mayor in 2018."

I do not know how Mr. Reddy defines "decent", but Vice-Mayor Liz Kniss's 2016 campaign is still under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for failing to disclose substantial contributions from developers until after the election. See Web Link

Me? I wouldn't call that "decent".

More so, I do not agree that Ms. Kniss "represents a [sic] majority of our values in Palo Alto", though she certainly represents the majority values of developers who want to build in Palo Alto, regardless of where they reside.

Certainly, Ms. Kniss has been involved in local politics for many years and has wide name recognition. Still, I am pressed to recall even one major achievement for which she can claim credible ownership.

Anyway, it doesn't matter what Mr. Reddy "proposes". The Mayor is elected by fellow City Council members, independently of what any citizen might "propose".

Finally, anyone who has lived in Palo Alto for even a short period of time knows that the annual "priorities" are meaningless. Regardless of what Council Members decided on their taxpayer-funded "retreat", City Hall will "accomplish" the same things: more office buildings, more traffic, etc., and will defer serious long-term problems, such as pension debt, railroad crossings, etc., for another year.


3 people like this
Posted by Airplane noise
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Airplane noise is a registered user.

Abitarian,

"anyone who has lived in Palo Alto for even a short period of time knows that the annual "priorities" are meaningless. Regardless of what Council Members decided on their taxpayer-funded "retreat", City Hall will "accomplish" the same things: more office buildings, more traffic, etc., and will defer serious long-term problems, such as pension debt, railroad crossings, etc., for another year."

It took several years before I paid attention to City government.

After observing the "flow," what I've noticed is that underneath the prizes, awards, and accomplishments that you hear about the City, there's a lot of catering to trends, brushing some issues for another day - kicking the can so to speak, and those who work the political process get these "wins" but largely at the expense of residents.

The culture is about the City (or the person running for office) looking good as opposed to actual prioritizing quality of life.

I recall traffic problems raised during the doomed 27 University project. When we brought up traffic the answer was, as first poster noted BICYCLES. And so the focus has been on that since then.

Priorities were discussed by the Policy & Services Committee last week, and Liz Kniss commented that after a couple of prizes the City has received, regarding healthy cities, that this category may no longer be necessary.

At the very least, there should be a review or annual report after a year is finished, to list what additional resources, what extra attention was actual given to address the prior year priorities citizens have identified.

What prize was Ms. Kniss was referring to for example, would be good to know, maybe this paper could report on it.

I don't doubt that good things are done daily to work to improve the lives of the citizens of Palo Alto and beyond, but this process could be improved with some actual accounting.



5 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 18, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Airplane noise wrote:

"Priorities were discussed by the Policy & Services Committee last week, and Liz Kniss commented that after a couple of prizes the City has received, regarding healthy cities, that this category may no longer be necessary."

Of course, it is ridiculous for the city to rely on awards as a measure of success. But, the situation is even worse than than it might appear upon first glance.

The "Healthy cities" priority makes a good example. We don't know the specifics of the awards in question, but let's speculate that Palo Alto's submission cited the new city ordinance which bans smoking in multi-unit dwellings. Certainly, reducing second-hand smoke seems like a meaningful way to promote good health across the city.

At the time this new law was passed, however, city manager Jim Keene notified the council that Palo Alto police and code enforcement would not respond to reported violations. In reality, the smoking ban is more of a "suggestion" than a true law; accordingly, we can't expect it have any tangible impact.

Still, we can imagine a situation where the city wins awards for enacting laws which are not enforced, and then, based on those awards, declares sufficient attention has been given to a priority. City leaders then congratulate themselves, when in reality, the whole thing is fictional; nothing has changed. Absurd!

Unfortunately, our city's zeal to win awards is not matched by its willingness to enforce laws.

So, if priorities are to have any value, concrete measures of success need to be defined in advance and evaluated at appropriate points in time.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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