By Diana Diamond
All those things our city does – and doesn’t -- doUploaded: Apr 16, 2019
I call this my potpourri blog because lots of good and bad things are happening in Palo Alto and I want your reactions to some of these issues. For example:
• Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada is asking the city council to award SEIU union members raises -- 580 employees a 3.5% raise on Dec. 1 and a 3% raise on Dec. 1, 2020, while requiring them to add an additional 1% of their salaries toward the "employer paid" portion of pension contributions. But wait, the Utilities Department will get even higher increases, soaring up to a max of 23.5% over three years. That’s a whopping increase. – a total of $13.6 million in pay and benefits over three y ears. Shikada said it’s because the Utilities Department has 23 vacancies that are hard to fill and higher salaries will attract more potential employees. He blamed the escalating housing prices, which may be a factor, but not the only one.. Yet according to the Social Security Administration, the cost of living in 2019 went up 2.8 percent, the largest cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in SEVEN years. City employees have routinely been getting raises, far higher than cost-of-living hikes. The city’s generosity is a bit perplexing. Is there any data to show that higher salaries will automatically attract more employees? Are the former employees who left the city asked why they are departing? Do we need 23 new replacements? Why didn’t the council get more involved in the decision? The SEIU did, and has already approved of the raises. Why is this salary increase on the April 22 council consent agenda (automatic approval section of the meeting) when it should be discussed? City managers want to treat their employees as best as possible, but it’s the council’s job is to control costs.
• How can I criticize a city tree? One of the things I love about Palo Alto are the tree-lined streets – although city trees are planted closer together on the north side of town than south of Oregon, so the north has more leafy coverage. I happen to have a liquidambar in front of my house, as do many streets in the area. The tree is a nuisance. It’s a conical rather than an umbrella shape, which means unlike a sycamore and other city trees, the tree limbs do not stretch over the streets and liquidambras provide much less shade. The biggest nuisance is the tree keeps on dropping pollen and pods on the ground all the time: “Inconspicuous chartreuse-colored spring flowers are followed by 1-1 ½” round spiky seed pods that persist through fall,” the nursery said. These hard pods drop on sidewalks and make walking hazardous – easy to twist one’s ankle. The official name is “liquidambar styraciflua – Palo Alto,” and from what I’ve heard, the city official who chose this tree thought it would be cute to have a tree named “Palo Alto.” Fun for him, but the rest of us have to sweep our sidewalks all the time to prevent people from falling. The liquidambars have beautiful fall colors, but for me that doesn’t outweigh the pod problem.. BTW, magnolia trees, another city favorite, are not much better. Their surface-spreading roots make it almost impossible to plant a decent front landscape.
• About five years ago the city council decided it would be a good idea to put electric sensor signs at the entrance to public garages to tell drivers how many spaces are currently available in the garage. San Jose has had these signs in place for years, and they are wonderful. But so far, not a trace of them here. Instead, the city is hiring a firm to provide a valet parking in some city garages. But weren’t the signs easier and cheaper? Why don’t we have them yet?
• And speaking of delays, it has been 10 years since the traffic flow problems erupted on Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real. The two traffic signals yards apart on Embarcadero are still not coordinated, and trying to make a left-hand turn from southbound El Camino onto Embarcadero sometimes takes three traffic signal cycles. Back in 2010 there was an effort to find a “solution” to this intersection problem. I am still waiting.
• One of the literary treasures in Palo Alto is the Friends of the Library monthly sales (second Saturdays and Sundays) of donated books from residents. There are thousands of books there, displayed in a logical order and selling at very reasonable prices (e.g., paperbacks at 50 cents, some hardcover books at $1.50). It’s a jewel of a place located in the far right backside of the Cubberley campus at 400 Middlefield Road.