Palo Alto finds willing partners in Shanghai | December 21, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 21, 2012

Palo Alto finds willing partners in Shanghai

City to pursue student exchanges, strategic conferences with the Yangpu District

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's newest partner lies 9,000 miles away, boasts 1.3 million residents and is best known for garment production.

But it's the similarities between Palo Alto and Yangpu that the City Council focused on Monday night, Dec. 17, when it voted to strengthen its ties to the increasingly entrepreneurial district in Shanghai: namely, Palo Alto's rapidly growing Asian population and Yangpu's transition from manufacturing to high-tech innovation.

Two weeks after a delegation including Mayor Yiaway Yeh and City Manager James Keene made a pilgrimage to Yangpu, the council voted 8-0 (Gail Price was absent) to pursue a series of joint efforts with Palo Alto's new Chinese partner. These include student exchange programs with internships; collaborations between high-tech companies in the respective cities; and "Smart City" conferences in which city leaders exchange the latest and greatest strategies for efficiency and sustainability.

The quickly evolving partnership between Palo Alto and Yangpu was coordinated by the Bay Area Council, a nonprofit group that focuses on economic development. The group also steered the Palo Alto delegation through a three-day blitz of ceremonies and symposiums in Yangpu earlier this month. A slideshow of the trip, which the council saw Monday evening, showed Yeh, Keene, Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd, Councilman-elect Marc Berman and Economic Development Manager Thomas Fehrenbach attending symposiums, visiting universities, riding a high-speed train and participating in a signing ceremony for the "Intention Agreement" between the two cities.

The initial agreement, which the Palo Alto council approved in September, isn't the city's first foray across the Pacific. In 2009, the city entered into a "sister city" agreement with Tsuchiura, Japan (Palo Alto's other sisters are Palo, Leyte, Philippines; Oaxaca, Mexico; Enschede, The Netherlands; Linkoping, Sweden; and Albi, France). But while the Tsuchiura relationship is based on cultural exchanges and student trips abroad, Palo Alto has higher ambitions when it comes to Yangpu, which is not a sister so much as an economic partner.

The recent trip to China was a way for Palo Alto's leaders to test the waters and contemplate opportunities. Keene said it featured "nonstop bus tours" and "innumerable technology parks." Fehrenbach said it allowed the Palo Alto delegation to consider the direction in which to take the formal partnership.

The council supported all three staff proposals for next steps. City officials will engage members of the Palo Alto Unified School District in conversations about a possible exchange program, with the understanding that the program would not be paid for by the city. Yeh pointed to the popularity of Mandarin classes at Palo Alto schools; the fact that Chinese residents now make up 15 percent of Palo Alto's population; and local youths' hunger for internships as good reasons to pursue the program.

Keene, meanwhile, had more strategic reasons for advocating the partnership. Any Pacific Rim city concerned about being economically competitive should understand China, he said.

To that end, the council supported having Palo Alto participate in the "Smart Cities" conference, which is set to take place in Shanghai in summer 2013 before possibly coming to Palo Alto in 2014. According to a staff report, the conference would likely focus on partnerships in "innovation-driven economic development, green initiatives and community engagement."

Lastly, the council directed staff to engage management at companies in Stanford Research Park to consider collaborations with the Bay Area-Yangpu Digitization Park.

Del Christensen, the Bay Area Council's chief of global business development, stressed the similarities between the two cities, including a wealth of universities and large companies. Christensen's group has had a presence in Yangpu for the past three years. It would be willing to help set up a Yangpu office in Palo Alto, he said.

"They're very excited about the relationship with Palo Alto," Christensen said. "They really want to see something come of it — put some real teeth into this partnership and build a relationship with you."

The council's conversation about Yangpu also prompted a broader discussion about Palo Alto's international relations. Councilman Larry Klein noted the disparity between Palo Alto's proposed new partnerships (in addition to Yangpu, the council is scheduled to consider next month a formal relationship with Heidelberg, Germany) and its existing ones, which vary in nature and include less affluent cities such as Oaxaca and Palo, Leyte. Klein and his colleagues agreed to hold a full discussion in the first half of next year about the city's international partners and to create criteria for entering into new agreements.

"The point I'm getting at is, do we want to be a peer only, which is what we're talking about with Yangpu and Heidelberg? Or is there a place for us to be a donor as well?" Klein asked.

The council agreed that the city's newest partnership could present ample opportunities for collaboration, though the shape of these opportunities remains to be determined. At this point, Keene said, the partnership is a test drive.

"If nothing else, I think we will learn a lot of what it takes to build and sustain a relationship of this sort," Keene said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Fix-Our-Streets-First!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2012 at 10:48 am

It’s difficult to understand what the City of Palo Alto government thinks it is doing here. The local government can’t seem to manage its own finances, keep the streets properly paved, and has shown now evidence of understanding “technology”. (Just last week it was revealed that its primary database/systems vendor claimed that the City underpaid it over one million dollars for improper use of its SAP product.) Additionally, the recent revelations regarding the secrecy, and possibly improper use of City employees to push the huge project of property developer John Arrillaga under the so-called “radar” proves that the City Manager is not one who believes in openness, or fair play. Perhaps that’s why there is so much interest in the Communist leaders wanting to partner with men like Keene—given the underlying nature of corruption that has always been the bedrock of Chinese culture.

The Weekly’s article did not seem to offer us any insight into how much this trip cost, who actually paid the bills, and what the Palo Alto “delegation” signed, in terms of legal/binding documents.

Given how geographically small Palo Alto is, it’s difficult to see any possibility of the City’s enticing a Chinese property developer to open a “technology park” in Palo Alto. Given the long-term financial issues facing the City, it’s difficult to understand how spending any money on “Sister Cities” makes much sense. That said, given that the Internet allows people to interact with people all over the world--using tools like Skype—creating, and maintaining, “relationships” in faraway places can now be easily done without spending a lot of money. However, the City of Palo Alto does not yet seem to have understood that possibility, as it has not yet offered Skype service to its own residents.

It makes sense for business groups to want to explore business opportunities in the growing Chinese economy. Unfortunately, China seems to be more of a “closed door” (at least at the moment) than a “two way street” for American/European business interests (just ask Google). So, it makes little sense for local governments to be sucked into some sort of “Sister City” relationships that allow Chinese business (meaning the Communist Chinese Government/Army) to gain access to local markets, while American businesses are effectively shut out of Chinese markets.

This matter is probably more of a publicity stunt for the “local delegation” that wangled a (hopefully) free trip to China. Given how spectacularly unsuccessful the “Destination Palo Alto” campaign turned out to be under government control—it’s difficult to believe that much will come out of this “opportunity” with the same stewards at the helm.

Like this comment
Posted by oldthousandatwork
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 18, 2012 at 11:02 am

It's more like a real estate sales tour than anything else. Unlike San Francisco, we just don't have enough tourist attraction places around here. In any cases, we have to fix our potholes first

Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2012 at 11:36 am

Wholeheartedly agree with Fix Our Streets First

Like this comment
Posted by really what is the city doing here
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 18, 2012 at 11:41 am

Leave it to business...manage the city govt. only..

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Unbelievable waste of money. Typical of the manic schemes our Council preoccupies itself with.

Like this comment
Posted by liebestraum
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Dec 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Waste of money and shameful, given what we know about China and how they are trying to eat our lunch.

Like this comment
Posted by Silke
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Wasn't it in the newspaper that council was considering paying a company $90K for a study/survey of for another tax increase, so they can put infrastructure work costs on the ballot?

Like this comment
Posted by homeless
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

hey... how about doing next a Palo Alto downtown Chinatown ?Like they have in SF... and Japan town?

Like this comment
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

Horrible waste of money, pols no doubt feeling they are doing wonderful work on behalf of PA, which I seriously question.
Great excuse for flying around the world on the taxpayers dime.
I suggest this program is stopped until somebody justifies the expense.

Like this comment
Posted by Bobke
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I am wondering what "We did walk away with some areas where we feel we can take some concrete steps in moving forward," actually means, it would be nice to have some specifics. I have heard about a lot of Chinese companies investing in Real Estate here. This has helped drive up the costs and drive out the natives.

Like this comment
Posted by Joni Reid
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 18, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Palo Alto has a sister city organization called Neighbors Abroad.Neighbors Abroad has 6 sister cities including a sister city in Enschede The Netherlands. The other 5 cities are: Oaxaca, Mexico; Palo, in the Philippines; Linkoping, Sweden; Albi, France; Tisuchira, Japan. Neighbors Abroad and Enschede have been sister cities since 1980. In 2007 the cities of Palo Alto and Enschede signed an Economic Alliance. Since 2007 officials from Palo Alto have made visits to Enschede and scientists, professors hi-tech and entrepreneurship from Enschede have visited Palo Alto. We already have a viable relationship with a highly technological city in the Netherlands for 32 years. We have had student exchanges with Enschede and other sister cities, but the city of Palo Alto has never assisted Neighbors Abroad by discussing exchange options with the PAUSD regarding Neighbors Abroad student exchanges. Neighbors Abroad operates under the auspices of the city of Palo Alto. Neighbors Abroad is celebrating our 50th anniversary with a series of events starting in February, 2013. Look at our website. The city has functional, operating, and loyal sister cities for 50 years. Ask yourselves Palo Altans, do we really need another one?-even if it is deemed a "partner" city?

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbors Abroad fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Does Neighbors Abroad receive any funding from City of Palo Alto?

Like this comment
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 19, 2012 at 8:58 am

Palo Alto, you voted them in. Now shut up and eat your soup!

Like this comment
Posted by T. Skoog
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 19, 2012 at 10:03 am

The origin of the China visit was set up by the Bay Area Council which includes Oakland - who has a major port and airpott, as well as a market area for Chinese culture. San Francisco has a major port and airport, as well as a Chinese market area. San Jose has a Asian Community as well, and a major airport. Those cities have a tax and cash flow with Asian business centers which are on-going and based on massive infrastucter. Palo Alto is a small city - no major airport, no major port, no centralized Asian Community to conduct business. In the mingling with the big boy cities Palo Alto does not have the infrastructure to generate the same type activity. We need to look at the city charter and financial budgeting for the upcoming year to determine the hows and whys that city budget is allocated to this activity - that menans something else is going to suffer in support of this activity. Our schools. parks, etc? Other recent city ativity attacks corporations which provide the tax base for the city. In this PA utopia everything would be "non-profit" - AKA tax exempt which does not contribute to the city coffers, county, or state. The budgeting system for the city needs to be based on the realistic incoming revenue and expected expenditures which are specific to the infrastructure of PA. And we are not transferring technology to the Chinese as a mandate of the city - this all needs to be reviewed within the legal context of technological patent activity.

Like this comment
Posted by Awesome
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 19, 2012 at 11:28 am

@Taxpayer, 90K is nothing for a return of 150M funding. Futhermore the money comes from the sucker fund. It's like buying a lotto with other people's money. Awesome!

Like this comment
Posted by T. Skoog
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 20, 2012 at 9:09 am

In the SF Chronicle 12/20/12 it reports that China is funding development to Hunter's Point and Treasure Island - both US Navy base closure sites. The Bay Area Council is made up of organizzations which previously reported interest in development of those sites. At Moffatt Field the Navy is currrently cleaning up the site and has carved out Hanger 1 and the air field as questionable to outcome, despite Google offering to support that location for use. Proximity to PA and same players (US Navy, Bay Area Council organizations) suggests that intentions be surfaced now as to outcomes. Moffatt Field is central to the technological center of the bay area.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Southgate

on Jun 5, 2017 at 5:19 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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