We all know the local governments at times try to hide things, despite their loud proclamations of how transparent they always are. But the opaqueness continues.
A marvelous case in Palo Alto is the last agenda item for the Monday, Dec. 10 council meeting.
Title: PUBLIC HEARING: Adoption of an Ordinance Amending Section 18.18.120 (Grandfathered Uses and Facilities) of Chapter 18.18 (Downtown Commercial District) of Title 18 (Zoning) of the Palo Alto Municipal Code (PAMC) to Adjust Regulations Relating to Noncomplying Facilities. California Environmental Equality Act ( CEQA), This Ordinance is Within the Scope of the Comprehensive Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) Certified and Adopted on November 13, 2017 by Council Resolution No. 9720; Alternatively, the Ordinance is Exempt From Environmental Review Under CEQA Guidelines Section 15061(b)(3) (Continued From December 3, 2018)
From: City Manager
Lead Department: Planning and Community Environment
Would you ever believe that this gobbledygook really means the subject of the agenda is giving A.J. Capital the right to turn the President Hotel into a boutique hotel? The old building has provided low-cost rentals for some Palo Alto residents for years, and the “renovation” has been met by many people objecting who say the affordable housing the site provided is more important than a new hotel.
As the Palo Alto Weekly editorial pointed out so well this week, this incomprehensible agenda item is a way for staff to cover up giving A.J. Capital the zoning changes it wants to convert the hotel, and also hide from the public what is actually going on. Did City Manage Jim Keene and Mayor Liz Kniss approve of this agenda item, as written, as most managers and mayors usually do? Is this deliberate obfuscation? I can only conclude it must be.
Isn’t this slightly akin to the public finding out recently that Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental spent 114 days during the last four years on corporate paid room-and-board-and air junkets to Europe and Asia to speak about what he has done? I divided 114 by 4 years and came to an average of 28 days a year spent on these trips to faraway places. Reichental said he was not paid for them (by the corporations, but also by the city)? Are other city staffers allowed to take 28 days a year away from their desks for invitational speeches? Just wondering. Maybe I’m jealous. I’ve worked for several different companies, none of which said to me, go spend five weeks traveling around to talk to people, and by the way, don’t forget to take your three weeks vacation. Reichental did announce shortly after the news of his travel broke that he has accepted a job with Oracle, and said he told Keene about his job search a couple of months ago.
I’m glad Keene decided days before he is retiring not to take a salary raise for this year, retroactive to July 1. So decent of him? Or was he just avoiding a bevy of resident complaints if he accepted the increase. I mean he has gotten a fairly decent salary, I think – $313,477 in salary and $152,302 in benefits this past fiscal year, bringing him to a total of $465,780. His raise that he rejected would have brought his salary up to $327,692, plus benefits . Don’t forget, Keene will get a lifetime pension and benefits (including health care for him and his spouse) of about 85 to 90 percent of his salary, with cost-of-living increases. I could live on that.
Not many of us get pensions any more, except government employees. Most of private industry now relies on 401-Ks and other plans. Yet city employees on the Peninsula keep on getting salary increases each year, not based on merit or jobs well done, but simply on coming to work. The cost-of-living has remained relatively stable in this country the past few years, yet public employee salaries keep on going up and up. And it’s become a game – if one city raises salaries, other cities are told they will not be competitive in hiring employees (or the ones they have will leave) if they don’t keep up with the increases. And we all seem to quietly accept this salary-increasing con game cities play.