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Guest Opinion: Is the City Council working for residents or city staff?

Original post made on Jun 19, 2020

I implore the City Council to work on saving us money, without curtailing services; hire a consultant to design a new organizational model; and please, begin extricating the city from our enormous CalPers debt.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 19, 2020, 6:49 AM

Comments (16)

6 people like this
Posted by Counterpoints
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 19, 2020 at 9:37 am

While I agree the initial proposed city budget was not well aligned with residents interests and favored staff interests, I disagree with merging Fire or Police leadership with the county. Let's not forget that Santa Clara's Sheriff Department has had its shared of problems including planting evidence ( Web Link ) , 3 sheriff deputies found guilty of beating a prisoner to death ( Web Link ) , and corruption ( Web Link ) etc... The Santa Clara County Sheriff's leadership is focused on county, not the city of Palo Alto interests and will significantly reduce PAPD officer oversight at a time when we need more (not less) officer oversight.

Secondly, Palo Alto is fortunate to have our own ambulance service which reduces response time by half from 13 minutes to about 6 (approx). This is specifically designed to save the lives of heart attack victims and folks who have serious medical emergencies. I for one am grateful for this faster response time to medical emergencies. Again, local oversight is key to providing high quality local service. In era of increased wildfires in the foothills and the next big earthquake becoming overdue, let's not cut our fire department and suffer much more damage from an "unanticipated" fire.

27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 19, 2020 at 9:58 am

"Council members need to ask themselves, "Do we really need five PR people on staff?" The answer is "No." "Do we really need five recruiters in our HR department, plus support staff?" Of course not. And we won't for the foreseeable future."

Finally someone asking the right question. How many poorly paid part-time librarians were cut to preserve the costly PR staff, the huge staff in the city manager's office, etc etc etc. whose salaries all contribute to the massive unfunded pension liabilities.

And why is the CC even entertaining the thought of having PA ban the registration of gas-powered vehicles in Palo Alto when PA clearly doesn't have -- and hopefully won't have -- its very own DMV? How much does the "Office of Sustainability" cost us? They preach conservation and then raise our utility rates when because we conserved too much! They preach at US to get out of OUR cars while WE fund the commuting expenses of the commuters who've turned PA into an office park and keep the consultant$$$ busy.

This gravy train has got to stop.

9 people like this
Posted by Stepheny
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2020 at 10:38 am

Menlo Mayor Mickie makes many good points about Palo Alto's management under its present City Council and staff. As a Palo Alto resident, she voices what many people over many years have recommended -- consolidating police, fire and emergency services. We need to cut costs, especially in these times!

How many people does Palo Alto have on its City payroll for our a population of slightly over 72,000???

17 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 19, 2020 at 10:42 am

Great article and about time. However, timing would have been better to consider these things before starting construction on a new $60,000,000 police department (not to mention the other $10-$20,000,000 in cost overruns.) Better late than never!

2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2020 at 10:45 am

I'll agree 23.6% with this opinion. I agree that clearly, -clearly-, the public safety unions are not advancing the public good. So, perhaps, we do need to outsource them. BUT, people should understand that whenever things get consolidated, and money is saved, service -always-, -always-, -always- gets worse. I've seen tons of consolidation in my career, and, it can save money. But, service always gets worse. So, sure, let's save some money, and, send a message to the public safety unions. BUT, don't complain when it takes 15 minutes for the police car or fire truck or ambulance to show up.

Alternatively, we could start parallel negotiations with the County, and, with the unions, -and-, with the non-union public-safety -managers-, and see if we can't get our costs back in line, and, get some -real- oversight in place, with either strategy. Including management costs. CPA has incredibly high management salaries.

27 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2020 at 10:53 am

Both the city staff and the pro-growth majority on council work for real-estate developers and wealthy commercial property owners.

You are not going anywhere in any profession related to planning, transportation, land-use, or politics, unless you have a powerful sugar daddy in the real-estate industry.

4 people like this
Posted by Consolidation vs. Focus
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 19, 2020 at 10:59 am

It's extremely hard to find and hire police officers and now you want them to be fully trained as a firefighter? You want all firefighters to be fully trained as policemen and go through at least a year of POST training plus police academy? You'd have to pay more per person and add a couple of years of training. Isn't the problem we're trying to solve is the PAPD often either withholds or "loses" the body cam footage of excessive force so their officers aren't held accountable. Cross training police and fire will not solve the excessive force and racially biased policing issues but in fact defocuses away from the core issue. It's also not clear to me it saves money.

12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 19, 2020 at 11:09 am

Read Diana Diamond today who says much the same thing Web Link

especially her examples of the city's the city's continued failure to install the parking garages "space availability" signs and awarding multimillio-dollar contracts to former city employees regardless of their abilities:

"Take the intersection at Embarcadero Road and El Camino, which is routinely tied up with traffic and long delays because of an inept traffic light system. I've been ranting about that for 10 years. At that time, then Traffic Manager Jaime Rodriguez was working on it but there was no progress. He left to form his own company, which was awarded a city contract to work on it, but 12 years later still nothing has happened."

Comments from every candidate and city "management" these costly, non-productive failures would be special.

9 people like this
Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 19, 2020 at 1:20 pm

Someone needs to write something similar for the PAUSD School Board. Is the PAUSD School Board working for the community and students or self interests and decisions made from the superintendent and teachers union?

1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2020 at 1:31 pm

Posted by cmarg, a resident of Palo Alto High School

>> Someone needs to write something similar for the PAUSD School Board. Is the PAUSD School Board working for the community and students or self interests and decisions made from the superintendent and teachers union?

Neither. It is pandering to vocal factions who want more and better rote learning and AP exams and whatnot, and, school administrators. Neither students nor classroom teachers are a priority.

21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2020 at 1:41 pm

I agree with so much of this and have said it here.

We have already lost the shuttle which is even more important as it was due to the shuttle that we lost VTA service.

Anything that makes quality of life and recreational issues for residents should be a priority as should infrastructure. Too many low priority things are given too high a priority such as banning gas cars and gas appliances, the cost of altering the residency requirement for Foothills Park (due to needing more money for rangers, maintenance, etc.) should be so low on the list that during these difficult financial times they are too expensive to consider.

1 person likes this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 20, 2020 at 9:08 am

Thank you, Mickie, for your insightful and knowledgeable recommendations. I agree with you 100%.

2 people like this
Posted by Lawrason
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 20, 2020 at 9:58 am

As a former owner in PA and 20 year observer of MP and PA councils, I have to agree with Mayor Winkler. The 2 counterpoints in the chain are well meant, but outsourcing does NOT mean things get worse - read Winkler's examples and see the exact opposite.
San Carlos worked through its concerns with SM Sheriff and essentially got the same PD staff, patrols, response - just different admin. Win-win. As for difficulty in recruiting, the Sheriff and County Fire have no more trouble than a see-saw politics city.
PA needs to make these moves and quit pretending their pension debt will be paid off by a John Arrillaga, 'cause even he can't fix this one.

2 people like this
Posted by Totally Agree
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2020 at 1:30 pm

I totally agree with this article. We need to get rid of as many city employees that are covered by ridiculous Cal Pers pensions that allow them to retire at very young ages with millions of dollars worth of benefits. Further it is way past time to get rid of a fire department model where they sleep, eat and relax all while being paid. They live far away since they only work a couple of days a week and would never be available to help in an emergency.

I think a hybrid model where we have public officers who can be police/fire/community service people is the way to go. They can work shifts, be available as needed and hopefully won't develop the same combative mentality that can be seen in some of the police but will be focused on service. Let's get it done sooner rather than later and look for more opportunities to outsource to get out from under the pension rackets thumb.

4 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 20, 2020 at 4:41 pm

Banning the registration of Gas vehicles in the most cockamamie idea that Paol Alto has come up with in the 43 years I have lived here. This is the kind of stuff that recall petitions are made of. I'd like the Council to step and state whose idea this was

7 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 20, 2020 at 9:53 pm

Counterpoints (1st poster), is spot on, and in particular with regard to the quality of our EMS both in personnel and response time as compared to the county’s. Tomorrow (Sunday) mid-day, I will post an investigate article on PA Online with regard to the draconian cuts to PAFD coming before the city on Monday, for final approvals, and why it should concern you.

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