Editorial: The risks of secrecy

Palo Alto Weekly – by PA Weekly editorial board / December 8, 2017

School board splits on whether and how to accept large anonymous donations

When developing a new public policy, a sure warning sign should be when the policy has to thread a needle to avoid violating existing laws and, in doing so, becomes convoluted and irrational.

The Palo Alto school board struggled Tuesday night trying to balance competing interests of transparency and donor privacy, and a bare majority (Ken Dauber, Jennifer DiBrienza, Terry Godfrey) approved a new policy that, in our opinion, skates on the edge of the law and brings an unacceptable level of secrecy.

School board approves new rule for anonymous donations

Palo Alto Weekly – by Elena Kadvany / December 6, 2017

Members disagree on how to balance gifts and public accountability

The need to strike a balance between welcoming anonymous donations and providing transparency as a public agency divided the Palo Alto school board on Tuesday night, with its members ultimately approving in a 3-2 vote a new requirement for internally disclosing donors’ identities.

People or organizations who give the district more than $50,000 and wish to remain publicly anonymous will now have to disclose their identity to the superintendent, who would then inform each board member verbally, one by one. The board can waive this requirement in public session.

accountability cartoon

What’s all the fuss about code enforcement?

Palo Alto Matters – October 10, 2017

Public trust and damaged community life.

Ask a typical Palo Altan what code enforcement is all about and odds are the first thing they’ll mention is gas-powered leaf blowers. But it also encompasses zoning and building compliance, Use and Occupancy permits, parking, signage, construction noise and more – complex, wonky, and sometimes seemingly nitpicky, issues that have both immediate and cumulative impacts on land use and quality of life. While most residents may not know a specific code violation when they see one, they experience the impacts of noncompliance and it feels unfair.

Immediate neighbors suffer from unabated violations. Worse, Palo Altans city-wide endure a double loss: they suffer lasting changes in the character of their neighborhoods and they feel abandoned, or even duped, by their city government. Supposedly protected retail converts to other uses; burdens on public parking increase unnecessarily; traffic safety in neighborhoods deteriorates; and businesses freely flout rules designed to protect residential quality of life. Rumblings rise about city bias favoring non-resident interests.

Tanaka fined for campaign violations

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / September 11, 2017

Palo Alto councilman settles with FPPC after agency finds three violations

Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka has agreed to pay $733 in fines after the California Fair Political Practices Commission found inaccuracies in the financial forms his campaign filed during last year’s council race.

The agency, which enforces the state’s Political Reform Act, found that Tanaka’s campaign had committed three violations in reporting contributions made during last fall’s campaign season. In two cases, it had failed to disclose contributions of more than $1,000 within 24 hours, as the law requires.

Councilman Greg Tanaka hit with campaign fine

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Allison Levitsky / September 12, 2017

In a City Council race that hinged on development in Palo Alto, now-Councilman Greg Tanaka failed to identify several donors as real estate developers, California Fair Political Practices Commission said yesterday (Sept. 12).

Tanaka said he has agreed to settle with the FPPC for incorrectly reporting campaign donations and leaving blank or misreporting the occupations of Chop Keenan, Jim Baer, Roxy Rapp, Mark Gates Jr., Joseph Martignetti Jr. and Perry Palmer.

Editorial: The shriveling office cap

Palo Alto Weekly – by the Palo Alto Weekly editorial board / September 8, 2017

Council’s split over office cap will surely return as an election issue next year

The irony and hypocrisy of this is that the same majority that voted Tuesday to make more commercial development easier has been advocating repeatedly for more housing. If there is one documentable result of the current office-cap restrictions, it is that it has led to more housing projects where office development would have otherwise been likely.

It is not hard to imagine voters becoming cynical about candidates who say their focus is on increasing the supply of housing while voting to make new commercial development, the major driver in demand for housing, easier.

Contractor errs, sells too many parking permits

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / September 8, 2017

More downtown employees than intended bought permits in five residential areas closest to central downtown

An error in implementing downtown Palo Alto’s evolving Residential Preferential Parking program, which aims to eventually stop commuters from parking in residential neighborhoods, caused the exact opposite to happen this summer: Too many permits were sold to employees wanting to park their cars in five out the area’s 10 parking zones.

Audit finds errors in hundreds of water bills

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / August 23, 2017

City of Palo Alto Utilities did not accurately record sizes of water meters in bills, prompting more than 500 errors

Hundreds of water customers in Palo Alto received erroneous bills after the city failed to accurately record the size of their water meters, according a new audit from the office of City Auditor Harriet Richardson.

Code enforcement: one of City Hall’s most controversial, and misunderstood, jobs

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / July 14, 2017

Staff: Less than 5 percent of cases investigated each year leads to fines

For a team that consists of just three people, Palo Alto’s code enforcers have been facing an unprecedented level of public scrutiny of late. In January, the council received the latest National Citizens Survey that showed a troubling trend: only 52 percent of the respondents rated Palo Alto code enforcement as “good” or “excellent” in 2016, down from 59 percent in 2015 and 62 percent in 2014.