The candidates weigh in The Weekly surveyed the six candidates on a range of city issues, from land use to a ban on people living in their cars. All but Mark Weiss responded to the survey, and their answers are printed here.
Marc Berman 1. Since 2008, the Palo Alto City Council has achieved a series of concessions from the city’s labor unions on pension and health care benefits. What additional three steps would you support to further address the unfunded pension problem?
Benefits have increased dramatically as a percentage of total compensation, causing more money to be spent on retirees and less on current employees and city programs. Palo Alto must shift to a system that focuses more on take-home pay while reducing our future pension and benefit obligations. Three potential ways to do this would be to institute a cap on pensions and gradually increase the employee contribution to pensions and health care. 2. Palo Alto has recently increased its annual spending on infrastructure by more than $2 million, in keeping with a recommendation from the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission. What should the city’s top three infrastructure priorities be?
Continue to maintain the increased level of funding so as not to add to the existing infrastructure backlog. Implement an infrastructure-management system to maintain a comprehensive up-to-date inventory of Palo Alto’s infrastructure to support ongoing staff and City Council attention to infrastructure budgeting, planning and accountability. Build a new public-safety building at a new site and rebuild fire stations 3 and 4 at their present locations. 3. Do you support the proposed lane reduction on California Avenue, which is part of a larger streetscapeimprovement plan?
Yes. 4. What is your vision for the future of the Cubberley Community Center site? Do you support renewing the lease with the school district and sub-leasing to community groups?
The Cubberley lease, entered into 25 years ago when the school district was selling off sites to raise money, is a great example of the city and Palo Alto Unified School District working together for the benefit of the entire community. The situation today is quite different, and it’s logical to update the lease arrangement, in particular the covenant not to develop, to better reflect current realities. 5. Would you support allowing wireless companies to install equipment such as cell towers (in some cases higher than 100 feet) on city property to expand wireless service and enhance data capacity?
I support limited installation of cell towers on city property. Our wireless infrastructure is integral to Palo Alto’s economy. As the home to many companies developing wireless hardware and software, we must enable robust wireless service. As smartphones and tablets become the norm, the demands on wireless infrastructure are rapidly increasing. The process must include close coordination with residents and
GREG SCHMID Profession: Retired economist Top Issues: Finances, housing, land use Prior Civic Engagement: School board (1989-93), City Council incumbent, past chair of council’s Finance Committee, chair of Regional Housing Mandate Committee
Greg Schmid 1. Three steps to further address pension problem?
MARC BERMAN Profession: Attorney at Merino Yebri LLP Top Issues: Finances, infrastructure, economic development Civic Engagement: Campaign Committee for Measure A, a 2010 school board bond measure; member of the cityís Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Task Force (2010-11)
only after careful consideration of potential health concerns and in keeping with the character and design of Palo Alto. 6. Based on what you know now about the potential costs and benefits of the proposed waste-toenergy facility, would you support the construction in Byxbee Park of an anaerobic digester that would process compost and organic waste and convert it into energy? If yes, list up to three limiting conditions you would apply to the project.
I know now that I don’t know enough to answer this question. Palo Altans strongly supported a measure that encouraged further study of this issue, and city staff is in the process of performing studies about the efficacy of an anaerobic digester. I look forward to reviewing these studies when they are completed and coming to a well-researched position on this very complex issue. 7. What reforms, if any, do you support in the city’s “planned community” (PC) zoning process? What changes, if any, would you
have supported to the approved PC projects at Lytton Avenue and Alma Street and at Edgewood Plaza?
The city must do a better job of monitoring and enforcing the public benefits that are agreed upon during the PC process. This has not been done in the past, creating a situation where the public is rightfully skeptical that it will actually receive the benefits that are promised. Where feasible, the city should attempt to quantify the public benefit received and the additional benefit to the developer of the PC designation. 8. Would you support a new law prohibiting people from living in vehicles?
Rather than a blanket prohibition, we should attempt to solve this issue in a more creative and less punitive way. We must be sympathetic to the fact that innocent people get forced into situations where their only option is to live in their car — from losing a job to escaping domestic (continued on page 30)
First, be frank in listing the true actuarial costs of future liabilities on the city’s financial statements so that we don’t push compensation issues “down the road.” Second, negotiate higher levels of benefits cost-sharing. This is especially true for health benefits, whose costs are escalating much faster than city revenues. Third, rebalance the compensation-to-benefits ratio so that we can pay salaries that attract talented younger workers. 2. Top three infrastructure priorities?
Make sure that in each annual budget we keep up with critical ongoing needs for streets and sidewalks. Find extra money to fund projects neglected over the past 10 years when maintenance was allowed to fall behind. Raise outside funds (from borrowing or from other agencies) to replace public buildings that are out of date and to add new buildings and parks for our growing population. 3. Do you support the California Avenue lane reduction?
Yes, but only with the key elements that will keep California Avenue a prosperous vibrant center: expanded sidewalks for strolling, shopping and sitting, and improvements in the plaza area to make it easy to traverse and attractive to linger. The California Ave area as a whole will be adding people and needs to have an area-wide traffic plan. 4. Future of the Cubberley site?
Cubberley is the last major public school site in the urban area of Palo Alto, critical for a growing population. Yet Cubberley is currently
providing valuable community services. My vision is a new five-year lease that would allow monitoring of demographic changes. Meanwhile, the interested parties could agree on some sharing of overdue facility maintenance and needed capital improvements. The current city-school process must produce a range of realistic cooperative options that provides a win-win. 5. Cell towers on city property?
The city is limited in its discretion by the national Telecommunications Act. We must create incentives for telcos to provide quality services on shared sites that are the least disruptive to neighborhoods. Thus, I am in favor of exploring the technical and aesthetic consequences of somewhat higher towers on city-owned facilities that could provide excellent service while minimizing neighborhood impacts. 6. Composting plant at Byxbee Park? Limiting conditions?
Yes, but right now we are missing a key piece of data. Other regional agencies in California are building waste-to-energy plants that offer more comprehensive solutions — much closer to our zero-waste goals at lower prices per ton. Since our disposal contracts with GreenWaste and Smart Station expire shortly after the anaerobic digester could be built, we should explore available data on these longer-term complete disposal options as part of our current cost analysis. 7. Your opinion of the city’s PC zoning process?
Public benefits must be defined (continued on page 30)
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Section 1 of the September 28, 2012 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly