Town Square

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Leaders hope new website sparks civic debate

Original post made on Oct 23, 2008

A new website — which Palo Alto leaders hope will boost their effort to promote "civic engagement" — allows people to opine on local issues without leaving their homes, facing their city leaders or even releasing their names to the public.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, October 23, 2008, 3:53 PM

Comments (18)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2008 at 4:42 pm

We already have it - it's called Town Square

Seriously, I am not sure about the logging in - a bit like the restricted use threads here. But, the idea of only one post per topic may work as it would make people think things through before they sit down to start posting and be a lot more careful before they hit submit if they knew that they couldn't come back and explain more fully what they meant. It would also stop some of the two way banter that happens here.

Posted by dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 23, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Resident reflects my sentiments. Mr. Espinosa's concern that the postings may not be a true statistical sample are valid and must not be ignored when evaluating postings. However, it's worth a try if it adds to exchanges of opinions from the private/citizen sector.

Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2008 at 5:33 pm

The Daily recently changed their electronic format and now require a login and email to read the paper.

I was hoping this change would eliminate many of the "hooligans" on their forum.

Well, the hooligans are still there, ranting on old topics from before the change, but there are almost no postings on news content after the format change.

I suspect this new venture will suffer the same fate.

Despite the sometimes illogical censorship, Town Square will remain the best, and most open online format for Palo Alto issues.

Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2008 at 8:26 pm

The City is going to spend over $6.000 on this thing. It could have saved the money and used the Weekly's Town Square. Surely the Councilmembers read it. If not, they are missing the 'pulse of the city'. The Council could have had its own Weeekly-provided 'site'. And then residents could sound off via a familiar vehicle. Who's going to remember to log on to this new site? If it's on the city website, they might not even be able to find it!!

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Town Square is garbage and should be thrown out.

Lets have a public meeting. Can I go first? And it is FREE......

Fireside chat.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2008 at 12:16 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Where and when?

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2008 at 5:12 am

Mr Wallis. Hello. Hope you are well.

I would like and have been asking to talk at a City Council meeting.

Where and When, I would like to know. I will be their with bells on. Sporting a few scares also.
With me little box of facts and evidence to support what I say. I do not think facts and the truth are allowed in the Council chambers?

When can we get this show started.

Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2008 at 7:44 am

This is another "feel good" approach so that citizens of PA will think that their city council actually listens to them and cares about what they want.
Lets face it--that is not the case--city councils have their own agendas here in PA and they only pay lip service to the desires of the populace (unless you come and yell and scream en masse--then you are more than likely to get what you want--regardless if it is cgood for the city as a whole).

From the article:
"And even some members of the City Council who support signing on to the site have misgivings about the prospect of pranksters and hooligans shooting rhetorical darts at their opponents from behind a cloak of semi-anonymity. A few ill-mannered posters, they argued, could deter their more civil neighbors from contributing to the site."

So if someone shoots a "rhetorical dart" at a member of the city council then they are "pranksters and hooligans"??? What about critcism of the actions of certain council members during the recent PACT scandal? Is that fair game?
Let's be honest--the council has been trying to stifle criticism of it's misguided actions by claiming it is not "civil".

These people are politicians and should be used to criticism and anyway remember what Barney Frank said after the republicans used the excuse of Pelosi's speech to vote down the bailout--they decided to punish the country because their feelings were hurt? Same goes for our council--they will not do what is really best for the city ( and it has been a really long long time since that has happened with the recent climate change focus) because their feelings were hurt???

What we need is council that is willing to take action and stop talking about "civic engagement" and focusing on climate change and building worthless Homer avenue tunnels.

Posted by fireman
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2008 at 8:04 am

Not so fast. Well said.

Posted by legalize criticism
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 24, 2008 at 9:06 am

What do you suppose their censorship policy will be? I can appreciate that the Weekly has a right to define their Town Square policy as they see fit - it's their sandbox. Would a city-run forum that's created with taxpayer dollars and intended to serve the public be able to have a censorship policy, too? Or are they legally required to be more lenient with opinions that disagree with theirs or are poorly (i.e. inflammatory) written? With regard to the point 'Not so fast' makes, are they allowed to stifle criticism?

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2008 at 11:04 am

I was hopeful when I began to read, at the thought that we might be able to draw attention to situations that seem to be neglected in Palo Alto, however it became clear within a few sentences that again we are provided an opportunity to comment on something the council is already focused on (redundant with TownSquare), but will not provide a venue for getting things noticed...

Like the fact that the north end of Alma St. was repaved many years ago and I watched with anticipation for a follow-through that would see the span from Oregon Expressway to San Antonio resurfaced. Instead I watched in horror as the newly paved upper stretch was then dug and chopped and patched to resemble a newer version of the south end's "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" from Disneyland.

Clearly the department responsible for our infrastructure had all the foresight of this digital age.

Another area that is short and pitiful is the overpass from Oregon Expressway to northbound 101. Interesting that the East Palo Alto stretch has been recently paved, but "our" side is full of car-damaging potholes.

I'd ask where all those tax dollars go, but what's the point. I worked for the City for a year when it was regarded as a visionary leader of ecology and even in those days witnessed the many sticks in the wheels that wasted time and money. I've seen nothing in the years that have past to lead me to believe there's been improvement. Quite the opposite.

I wonder if all that patching and paving is outsourced. Perhaps a wise investment would be a few pieces of paving equipment and a city crew that would keep our roads in decent repair (not tire-damaging metal plates, but actual resurfacing).

Always clinging to my last thread of hope for a conscious government.


Posted by Smokey
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2008 at 11:34 am

Given the "bang-up job the City did on it's last Web development effort I don't think there is any hope for this new PR ploy. Why can't we just simply fix the web site we already have?

Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm

I think the more ways residents can express their views the better! And I'd also suggest that the new interactive site include a place for residents to report things like street lamps out, etc. At the meeting on Wednesday where Police Department representatives shared information on recent robberies and vandalism, two residents separately reported that they'd phoned City Hall to report street lamps that were out and needed replacing. One of the two reported that she had phoned the City (either Public Works or Utilities) a total of 13 times over a two-year period to report that the same street lamp was out -- and that it was only after a break-in of some kind that the lamp was replaced!
Not dwelling on this but looking forward: let's create a place on the website where residents can easily document these kinds of things that might impact public safety, simply to facilitate the tracking of reports and implementation of repairs. How 'bout a single link -- under "Quick Finds"? -- where "fixit-it" reports can be made so residents don't need to research which department handles what?

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 25, 2008 at 11:30 am

I certainly hope city council members peruse Town Square on a regular basis because it does reflect spontaneous opinions on current topics/issues, many focused right on about this city.

Posted by Agree with Smokey
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 25, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Reporting street lamps out and crimes, etc. belongs on the city's web, not on a discussion site that is intended for opinion pieces.
Lots of luck with the city's disaster of a site. I still can't believe how bad it is, and how little has been fixed. I hardly use it anymore. Thank you Frank Benest.
Also, voluntary poll responses are unreliable and misleading and should not be part of the site. The question that gets posed is often over-simplified and the answers are dominated by people with a vested interest in the results.

Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 28, 2008 at 11:08 am

I have never thought of Town Square as being the "pulse of the community". I just finished precinct walking for Measure N. Judging from Town Square, you'd think the whole town opposes it. On the contrary, the vast majority of people I spoke with were glad to see me out there. They encouraged me and thanked me, and expressed how fervently they hope it will pass.

Most Palo Altons are positive, creative problem-solvers with a willingness to sort through the complexity of issues. I don't see that as a predominant profile in this forum.

This seems to be evolving into a place to come to complain. It doesn't seem to me that much productive problem-solving gets done here.

Just my two cents.

Posted by informed
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 28, 2008 at 12:04 pm

Disappointed, you are correct. Most people on the Town Square are generally informed about the library bond and so oppose it. Those you meet on the street see a picture of a nice new building in a flyer and think "that's great".

In the end both groups get to vote.

Which group is the "pulse" of the community is up for debate.

Posted by Parent without handles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Disappointed and Informed

I think that many people have been put off Town Square recently. I know that some of the people I talk to have told me that they do not check in now as much as they used to because it has got so political and so hateful. I personally have no idea how many people are for or against the library bond because I don't actually hear people talking about it at school or elsewhere. There are definitely a lot of posts here, but I suspect that they are the same few people on both sides making the same rants over and over again. I also think that most people recognise the libraries are in poor condition and need to be fixed, it is just the fix that they can't agree on.

It is the same with the presidential election, people post here thinking they can get away with pushing rumors of all descriptions. Even those posts about prop 8 which start quite sane, have a few going off the mark that spoil the civil debate that most of us would like.

So I for one am looking forward to after the election when Town Square can return to civil discussion and the electoral threads of all subjects run out of steam and die.

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