Editor's note: Happy April Fools' Day!
With the recent, successful launch of a city-run, on-demand ride-hailing service, Palo Alto Link, city officials are now planning to expand Palo Alto's portfolio of on-demand offerings to its residents.
Starting later this month will be a service for people who wish to report violations of city ordinances but do not want to be identified in any way as the complainers.
Through an app or via phone, residents will be able to contact what the city is calling an "offense intermediary" who will respond day or night in person to get the details of the complaint, including review of videos of the violation. The intermediary will then communicate the complaint to the proper authorities without disclosing the source of the information.
Called Palo Alto Phink, the program's slogan is: "We'll take the heat, so you don't have to."
"We believe that there's pent up demand for this service," said Codi N. Fourssier, the city's chief compliance officer. "There are violations going on all across Palo Alto on an hourly basis."
"At the same time," she said, "we recognize that people want to be nice neighbors. Nobody wants to be 'that guy' — the crank who doesn't like loud parties, gas-powered leaf blowers, people putting their dog's poop into neighbors' trash bins, or political signs being left in lawns way past the election. This is for them."
Fourssier plans to employ a crew of 12 "phinks" and said that the fines that the city will reap from the violators who are caught will enable the program to pay for itself.
"We view this program as a win-win," Fourssier said. "The city will get revenues; the residents will get law and order."
Palo Alto Phink is not without controversy, however. Pete Smaker, head of Palo Altans for Civil Discourse and the Cooperative Resolution of All Conflicts (PACDCRAC), said that a service like Palo Alto Phink sets a bad precedent.
"It removes responsibility for speaking up and working through problems amicably with one's neighbors," Smaker, a professional mediator, said. "What's next? A kid calling up a phink when a classmate cheats on a test? Someone using Palo Alto Phink when a neighbor's tree drops leaves into their yard? And what's to stop someone from abusing the system and calling the hotline for every little thing they see? PACDCRAC is totally against this program."
But Fourssier said that Palo Alto Phink will have guardrails, a one-complaint-a-day limit and a $2.50 charge per report. The complaint limitation will help ensure that the crew of phinks can spread out their work across the city rather than serve a few hyper-complainants.
The program is not without precedent, a city staff report noted. It was modeled after a successful service run by a Florida city, called Tallahassee Tattletales, which resulted in a 47% decline in violations for "offensive yard growth."
Additional Palo Alto on-demand services are in the planning stages, Fourssier said. To aid persons who experience trauma as a result of having to complain about a conflict with their neighbor, the city plans to hire a squad of counselors who will make follow-up house calls to users of Palo Alto Phink. The proposed name of the adjunct service is Palo Alto Shrink.