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By Diana Diamond

2021: Council changes challenging

Uploaded: Jan 6, 2021

Palo Altans have a new city council, and things will soon change in this town -- for the better, I hope. The council will assume more control of the city; the role of the city manager and staff will be diminished. Slower growth will be the rule of the day -- well, at least on Mondays -- and less attention will be paid to what developers want.

Tom DuBois was easily elected mayor on Monday, having spent a customary year as vice mayor. Serving as vice mayor and then mayor has been a tradition in this city for years, except in 1999. Mickie Schneider was vice mayor but Councilmember Gary Fazzino wanted to be mayor, and successfully was voted into that slot. Liz Kniss wanted to be mayor in 2000, the millennium year, so she became vice mayor. Mickie was taken aback, but she finally found out the way politics can work in this town.

So the big question on the first Monday in 2021 was who was going to be vice mayor. Three were nominated: Lydia Kou, Alison Cormack, and, to the surprise of many, newly elected Pat Burt. He won on the second round of voting.

Actually, that's really not so surprising, because he had served on the council for eight years, twice as mayor. After his second term ended in 2016, he continued to stay abreast of what was going on and took strong stands on some issues he cared about -- like how well the city was running.

Which parallels one of my concerns. As I've suggested before, the city manager and staff have assumed too much control of our fair city. City Manager Ed Shikada has made some decisions on his own, like the time he declared a citywide curfew and then, a couple of hours before the curfew was imposed, he notified the council. The city manager's written reports to the council have also changed, they used to be a pro-con analysis of the issue before the council; now they are a proposed decision for council endorsement.

"On Jan. 5, the Palo Alto Police Department switched all police radio communications to an encrypted channel to comply with a state requirement. Embarcadero Media file photo.

In a sudden move that will severely limit the ability of journalists and citizen watchdogs to cover breaking news, the Palo Alto Police Department encrypted all of its police radio communications Tuesday afternoon.

The policy change, which was adopted with no forewarning and without any direction from the City Council, is intended to bring the city into compliance with a requirement that the California Department of Justice enacted last October, according to the city."


Burt, in my estimation, is the only one who can really get ahold of the council assuming more control and change the ways that the council-manager reporting has changed. And, as I’ve said before, the manager reports to the council, and not the reverse.

All was harmony and praise on Monday night, with council members constantly complimenting each other. Mayor Adrian Fine, who decided not to run for a second term, received much praise for wanting to be more with his family. (Some seemed confused whether he had one or two children. He has one.) Fine was not happy with this town's resistance to provide a lot more low-cost affordable housing, which was his primary concern ("Build more housing!) and the reason, he said, that he ran for office.

And then there was Liz Kniss. She has been in public office for 35 years, which is amazing. She was elected to the school board in 1985, and then ran for the council, served twice as mayor, was elected on the County Board of Supervisors, and then served two more terms on the Palo Alto city council. On her last day in office her front yard was bedecked with red balloons -- nearly 200 of them, and amidst the balloons were about eight white 24x36" poster boards, describing her "accomplishments" as a council member and supervisor.
We now have a 5-2 slow-growth, more growth council, and they will be facing some complex problems this coming year.

The coronavirus has disturbed the strong economy of the city, and getting it to revive will not be an easy task. Many stores have closed, never to open again. I took a walk through Stanford Shopping Center ad was surprised to see so many darkened storefronts. Some of these stores belong to chains that have closed their doors across the country, so it will take awhile for new stores to decide to locate in the shopping center -- a once-thriving store hub.

Downtown Palo Alto has similar problems as do the restaurants on California Avenue -- restaurants and stores are closing. People are getting used to working from home, so the need for office space in town may diminish. Until this virus abates and/or we all get vaccines, city streets and shopping areas will be emptier. People have learned to shop online (one of my neighbors gets two deliveries a day!).

Welcome to 2021, welcome to the new council, welcome to changing times -- and, hopefully, A Happy New Year!