Palo Alto's behind-the-scenes movers and shakers | January 4, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 4, 2013

Palo Alto's behind-the-scenes movers and shakers

Key city staff members champion major initiatives

by Gennady Sheyner

They may not be elected officials or department heads, but five members of the City of Palo Alto staff are almost certain to play critical roles in some of the city's most pressing problems and boldest initiatives in 2013. Here's a look at some important people you may never even have heard of.

Pamela Antil

Pamela Antil didn't have time for a learning curve when she joined the city in March 2010 as City Manager James Keene's second in command. As the new assistant city manager, she dove right into some of the city's thorniest and game-changing issues, including labor negotiations with public-safety unions, the overhaul of the city's busy and famously frustrating Development Center, the unpopular (and since nixed) proposal to close Palo Alto's animal shelter and the restructuring of the city's Fire Department, which has been gradually merging its administrative functions with the Police Department. Though the budget picture has brightened, Palo Alto is still facing its share of financial problems, most notably the rapidly rising cost of employee benefits. And the animal shelter, while still open, faces an uncertain future with major staffing cuts ahead. Whatever surprises 2013 brings, Antil is sure to remain busy over the next 12 months.

Phil Bobel

Phil Bobel probably knows better than anyone (with the possible exception of Kermit the Frog) that being green can be a royal pain. Over the past two years, the assistant director of the Public Works Department has been walking a fine line between two outspoken green camps — those who want to build a new waste-to-energy plant at Byxbee Park and those who want to conserve the park space. The complex debate, which will determine the future of local composting, will accelerate in 2013 and, if things go as planned, culminate in a decision in early 2014. While coordinating all the ongoing studies and facilitating the public debate, Bobel has established himself as a credible and genial voice of reason on the highly emotional topic. At the same time, he is serving as the point man in the city's battle against plastic bags (which could soon result in a citywide bag ban for all food establishments) and is heavily involved in Palo Alto's library-construction project, which will loom large in 2013 as the city opens its new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center and begins renovating the Main Library.

Rob de Geus

When a cluster of teenage suicides in 2009 and 2010 plunged the Palo Alto community into a period of shock, mourning and soul-searching, city and school officials vowed to do more to support local youths. No one has done more than Rob de Geus to further this effort. As the manager in the Community Services Department, de Geus had been juggling a massive workload even before the city helped launch Project Safety Net, a broad coalition of community groups focusing on teen mental health. He is also the city's recreation manager and the overseer of the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, which is about to undergo a dramatic reconfiguration. With myriad projects under his purview, de Geus has been a multipurpose utility knife in a department that has seen an exodus of division managers. In the next year, as the city begins to reassess its vision for local parks and recreation opportunities and proceeds with the golf-course redesign, his presence will be more critical than ever.

Jaime Rodriguez

Since he started working in Palo Alto in 2010, Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez has become the leading driver of some of the city's most ambitious and controversial programs — from the lane-reduction projects on Arastradero Road to the more dramatic reconfiguration of California Avenue, which is scheduled to break ground in the fall. During that time, the fast-talking and energetic Rodriguez has attracted the highest praise from local planning commissioners for his encyclopedic mastery of seemingly every local intersection and regional grant program. He has also taken his share of heat from California Avenue merchants upset about the proposed lane reduction on their commercial strip. He was also instrumental in helping Palo Alto and Stanford University land $10 million in grants from Santa Clara County in November, money that will be used to design a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 and new trails around Stanford University and along Matadero Creek.

Shiva Swaminathan

For Palo Alto's Utilities Department, delivering gas or electricity to local residents is just one part of the game. The small but ambitious department is always looking for ways to get greener and more efficient, whether it comes to buying solar energy or encouraging customers to be more efficient about plugging in. Senior Resource Planner Shiva Swaminathan has been at the forefront of the latter effort, having spent years thinking about ways to bring "smart-grid" technology to Palo Alto without having to install expensive smart meters. Unlike PG&E, Palo Alto is proceeding in baby steps. Its latest proposal to save customers money by lowering their energy bills is CustomerConnect, a pilot program that tracks energy use and provides customers with next-day feedback about the impact of their behaviors on electric bills. If it succeeds, the program would both lower customer bills and make the city's electric utility smarter and more efficient.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 4, 2013 at 7:28 am

Palo Alto is lucky to have these outstanding employees. I have worked with Phil, Jamie and Shiva, and they are dedicated to doing their best for our community.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 4, 2013 at 12:37 pm

The link in this article does not work.

If I was responsible for how Palo Alto is managed I would not want my name out there either! ;-)

Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2013 at 10:15 am

Behind the scenes public officials? That kind of explains why there is so little transparency at City Hall these days. The Weekly doesn't seem to see that as a problem--like so many of the residents do!

Sad, really sad!

Posted by Wow, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2013 at 11:15 am

Jamie Rodriguez is the tool of the "cars are evil" clique. Cars are the lifeblood of palo alto. the belief that getting rid of car lanes gets rid of traffic is ridulous. Ellen Fletcher is gone-- time to abandon her misguided notions regarding commuting.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm

> James Keene

What’s really interesting is that the City Manager is not identified as a “mover and shaker”. Why not? Isn’t he the person that should be making the decisions that are so wondrous that we see why he’s being compensated at over $300K a year?

> Steve Emslie

Given Mr. Emslie’s key role in the Arrillaga project on University Avenue—shouldn’t Mr. Emslie be at the top of the list—because he has no doubt been “moving an skakin’” with the best of them?

> If it succeeds, the program would both lower customer bills
> and make the city's electric utility smarter and more efficient.

This program is a joke. It is an example of how far behind the technology wheel the Palo Alto City Utility really is. The idea (if you can call it that) is that if people don't use as much electricity--then their bills will be lower. Utter genius, that is!

Posted by Paco, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jan 6, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Keene isn't mentioned because he is merely a puppet for Klein and certain other council members. His salary/compensation is closer to
$500,000 a year simply for nodding his head affirmatively everytime a council member speaks. Great job if you can get it! Accomplishing 10 years of record deficit budgets definitely puts the city manager and other management personel mentioned in this article in a special class all by themselves. Condoning their lack of leadership and management skills hardly deserves praise. Perhaps The Weekly is trying to redefine the term "mover and shakers". What a pity!

Posted by City Employee, a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Pamela Antil has no clue about how the police or fire departments function.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Paco--- many long time readers know what the Weekly's agenda is--- it is all about revenue flow and gaining favor with certain higher ups in the city. Most stories regarding our city needed to be viewed for what they are (the term " self-serving" comes to mind

Posted by Jo Ann, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 7, 2013 at 11:25 am

Maybe Mr. Rodriguez can spent 2 days at Town & Country Shopping Center facing the Embarcadero to see what's going on outside his office. Let him look at the traffic both ways and then turn around and look at the gridlock in the parking lot.

Let him stand outside at 11PM watching the dumb traffic lights go red for the non-existent students.

Maybe he can help me plan a route to get home from T&C to Embarcadero and Middlefield that doesn't take me 10 extra miles ti get home to avoid the backups.

Posted by Pissed off on Arastradero, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 7, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Mr Rodriques has done more harm to this city in 2 years than I thought possible. He has created gridlock on anything he has touched.

I think he should be fired.

Posted by Misha, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Very glad to see recognition for Rob de Geus, the heart and soul behind PSN and whose energy and dedication kept it going. A good man, a hard worker, and a great leader. We are lucky to have him in our community.

Posted by Misha, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:25 pm

On the other hand, Jaime Rodriguez needs to spend time with the average citizen on the roads for which he is responsible and particularly those he has messed up with his crazy visions that seem to make no one happy. In two years, what a mess he has made on some key roads. Let's hoping he gets bored here and moves on...

Posted by Marcie, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I agree that Jaime Rodriguez should have been fired years ago. Palo Alto cannot seem to hire a decent transportation specialist.

Posted by Rod, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2013 at 10:08 pm

There is an axiom among City employees that goes something like this:

"The new manager will always be worse than the old manager"

Can anyone find an exception to that?

Posted by Area Man, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm

The article reads more like a bubbly press release than a legitimate news piece.

Posted by Sofia, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2013 at 12:50 am

Wondering? sez: "This program is a joke. It is an example of how far behind the technology wheel the Palo Alto City Utility really is. The idea (if you can call it that) is that if people don't use as much electricity--then their bills will be lower. Utter genius, that is!"

Nah -- as soon as they figure out that their revenues are down, they'll raise our rates!

Posted by Crescent Park Mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2013 at 1:58 am

You can't miss the fact that it is almost impossible to get anything done in this town! Palo Altons have strong opinions that push and pull the issues in every direction.

These are great folks working tirelessly on our behalf to figure out how to get things done. You couldn't pay me enough money to do what they do. We are lucky to have them!!

Posted by PA Recreation, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm

It's too bad Rob de Geus has focused all his energy into Project Safety Net and has neglected the rest of the Recreation Department. I applaud his efforts for PSN, but the rest of the Recreation programs have been run into the ground under his leadership. The Teen Center at Cubberley no longer exists because of failed leadership, both de Geus and the Teen Coordinator, who by the way was promoted to Supervisor for their lack of leadership. Now Mr. de Geus has been promoted to Asst Director of Community Services.....can anyone tell me why the Community Services Department needs 2 Assistant Directors?

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