Fellowship in 'all things Palo Alto' aims to create pipeline of leaders | June 14, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 14, 2013

Fellowship in 'all things Palo Alto' aims to create pipeline of leaders

Recently revived Leadership Palo Alto graduates its second cohort of 19

by Chris Kenrick

A hopeful crop of aspiring civic leaders celebrated a Palo Alto graduation last week.

Nineteen local residents — including a priest, a policeman, a Realtor, a librarian, a student, a doctor and a property manager — marked the end of a 10-month immersion in all things Palo Alto, from education to health care to business to government to art.

With an oft-cited shortage of volunteers stepping up for city boards, commissions and other community-service roles, the reinvigorated fellowship program known as Leadership Palo Alto aims to help fill the void.

Indeed, one of this year's grads, Abbie Knopper, was appointed mid-year to Palo Alto's Parks and Recreation Commission in March.

At the graduation last week, each fellow offered a two-minute presentation about his or her personal journey and "leadership path." Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto resident who has served on the City Council and school board as well as in the California Assembly and Senate, listened from the back of the room after delivering his own talk to the graduates about how to learn from one's failures.

Knopper, a former New York City television producer who moved to Palo Alto seven years ago, joined Leadership Palo Alto last fall after a stint as PTA president for Duveneck Elementary School.

When she heard in December about openings on several city boards and commissions, she applied and was chosen by the City Council for service on the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Leadership Palo Alto, Knopper said, gave her a "tremendous" set of connections as well as "experiences that you'd normally, just as a common citizen, never have exposure to," such as a day at Stanford University and an insider's view of the public-transit system.

The just-graduated cohort has gathered for a full day each month since October, meeting with leaders in local government, Stanford, the environmental movement, public and private education, local retailers and entrepreneurs, health workers, artist, nonprofit leaders and officials working on Palo Alto's housing and transportation issues.

Program co-directors Paula Sandas and Lisa Van Dusen revived the long-dormant Leadership Palo Alto program last year under the sponsorship of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to its new incarnation, the program operated from 1988 to 2003, producing 429 alumni, including Van Dusen.

"We want our students to understand how their city operates," said Sandas, who was CEO of the Chamber of Commerce from 2009 to 2011.

Van Dusen, who has worked in a variety of community organizations including 19 years in sales and marketing roles at the Palo Alto Weekly, said the two hope to cultivate a "robust pipeline that supplies our elected and community-wide leaders."

Fellows in the first two cohorts include longtime local residents as well as recent immigrants to the United States, reflecting the global reach of many of Palo Alto's new arrivals.

Nitesh Dullabh had just moved from South Africa to Palo Alto with his wife and two sons to take a finance job in the fall of 2011 when he read in the newspaper about the revival of Leadership Palo Alto and decided to apply.

"It was extremely rewarding because it not only taught me about development within Palo Alto in different sectors — from the medical to the business to the social in terms of the arts and music — it enhanced my knowledge of what it is I can do to contribute," Dullabh said.

"I met a wide variety of people from a great spectrum."

Dullabh, who served in Beijing with the South African foreign service before switching careers and moving to the U.S., now sits on the board of the Palo Alto Community Fund, an endowment that raises and disburses money to local nonprofits.

In his graduation presentation, Palo Alto Police Lt. Zach Perron — a Palo Alto native and Stanford alum — said he'd learned that "leadership is not a position, it's an activity, and something I need to continually work at and learn from others."

Perron said his participation in the program had led to public-private partnerships and friendships, including plans to work with classmate Becky Sanders of the Midpeninsula Community Media Center on a video about an unsolved homicide case, and work with classmate and property manager Jon Goldman scouting for business partners who potentially could provide venues for police command centers in emergencies.

Other graduates last week included Realtor Nicole Aron, banker Adam Baughman, student Jules Brouillet, arts administrator Elise DeMarzo, physician Archana Dubey, librarian Ruthann Garcia, the Rev. Frannie Hall Kieschnick, Simitian aide Hema Sareen Mohan, "healing-touch" practitioner Julie Morrison, Chamber of Commerce events and membership manager Elizabeth Peeke, hotel manager Jeffery Phillips, reporter Matt Podell, fundraiser Aarika Riddle, entrepreneur and environmentalist Peter Skinner and Stanford staff member Siejen Yin-Stevenson.

Applications for Leadership Palo Alto's class of 2013-14 are due July 8. The cost of the program is $2,500, with some financial support possibly available. More information is posted at www.paloaltochamber.com.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 17, 2013 at 9:10 am

So why can't this sort of information be made available via the Internet, so that everyone can learn how the City "works" without having to spend $2,500?

Municipal finance matters, and the legal framework of our City, should be available to all--at no cost.

Like this comment
Posted by No surprises here
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2013 at 9:54 am

Q: Why would any civic minded citizen pay $2,500 to participate in a program to learn about leadership in Palo Alto?

A: There is a cost/benefit relationship.

Somehow, becoming a leader allows the individual to recoup the $2,500. Leadership Palo Alto is designed to financially benefit the leaders, not the public. Architects, bankers, lawyers, realtors, hoteliers and politicians are all serving their own best interest.

What ever happened to public service?

Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 17, 2013 at 10:36 am

Right - Leadership Palo Alto is a real threat to our community - trying to fill the void in civic, unpaid positions in the city government - how dare they!

Like this comment
Posted by $2,500 is exclusive.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 10:48 am

Actually, I was interested in the class, but I couldn't afford it. I do a lot of volunteer work in Palo Alto and I know a fair amount about how our governement works. Nonetheless, I'd probably benefit from the experience. $2,500 is too much.

Like this comment
Posted by No void in volunteers
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:23 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by Alon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2013 at 2:19 pm

S, how was the 47,500 spent? Salaries I guess? Honorarium? Non profits?

Us, and why not have the seasons on media center, or are they secret, or confidential?

Seems like a good group with a good purpose.

But maybe someone will read this and get the idea for a parallel one that is open to all, maybe with donations....

Like this comment
Posted by Business as usual
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:12 pm

>Program co-directors Paula Sandas and Lisa Van Dusen revived the long-dormant >Leadership Palo Alto program last year under the sponsorship of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber of Commerce is developing business advocates, not resident advocates. When Sandas was on the Planning Commission she consistently voted in favor of major developers and her reward was then she went to work for the Chamber of Commerce.
These are people interested in making money more than improving the community,
Wayne Martin, above, makes a good point.

Like this comment
Posted by Siejen, Fellow of Leadership Palo Alto 2013
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 21, 2013 at 10:12 am

I am a recent graduate of the Leadership Palo Alto, Class of 2013. The program leaders, Lisa Van Dusen and Paula Sandas, did a phenomenal job and helped each of us to develop a more holistic understanding of the issues and complexities that confront our local leaders.

The class was comprised of a diverse group of community-minded individuals all of whom either live or work in the City of Palo Alto. Each program day was filled with interesting topics and enlightening discussions led by local community members.

The program provides long-term value by increasing citizenship and community awareness. Indeed, Palo Alto is lucky to have such programs -- it would be ideal if all communities could invest in such forward looking endeavors.

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