You should know the rest of the Jisser family story

Jisser familyShould retiring rental property owners be forced to give up more than a decade of their property’s income simply for the right to close their business and withdraw their property from the rental market? That is what the City of Palo Alto (“City”) is demanding in this case, which dramatically illustrates an increasingly common property rights abuse by government: predatory attacks on property owners by cities grasping for money to solve a housing crisis that government officials are in fact responsible for creating.

The Jisser family has owned and operated the Buena Vista Mobilehome Park in Palo Alto, Calif., for the past three decades. During that time, they have provided the lowest-cost housing available to residents in the city. When they decided to close the park, Palo Alto shockingly demanded that they pay their tenants more than $8 million dollars or be forced to forever run the business they want to close.

In effect, the Jissers are being forced to remain landlords unless they provide their tenants with enough money to acquire new housing at inflated values reflecting the acute lack of affordable housing in Palo Alto. It is the City, however, and not the Jisser family that has created the housing shortage that makes it all but impossible for young families, retirees, and people of modest means to live here. Shamefully, the City is scapegoating the Jissers for its own failure.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that individual property owners should not be forced to pay for public benefits that, in fairness, should be borne by the public as a whole. Forcing the Jisser family to bear the cost of providing affordable housing in Palo Alto is not only wrong, it’s unconstitutional.

Property rights are among the most important rights protected by our Constitution. The right to decide for oneself how best to responsibly and productively use one’s own property is a basic civil right that is increasingly under attack in America. That is why the Jissers have joined with Pacific Legal Foundation to file a federal constitutional lawsuit against the City.

By vindicating their own rights, the Jissers hope also to establish a precedent that protects the property rights of entrepreneurs everywhere.

The Jisser Family’s American Dream

Toufic (“Tim”) and Eva Jisser moved to the United States from Israel in search of a good life for their family in 1973. Tim worked for a police department in Israel but went into the restaurant and grocery business on arrival in America, moving between California and Alabama to pursue opportunity. The family ultimately made their home in Silicon Valley, where they leased a small grocery store in Menlo Park in 1977.

The grocery business required long hours and difficult work, but it flourished and they expanded. The Jissers soon opened a second store in a leased building on El Camino Real in Palo Alto: the All American Market. Tim, Eva, and their children ran the store, adjacent to the Buena Vista Mobilehome Park.

In 1986, the owner of their store’s building decided to sell his property, which included both the grocery-store and the mobilehome park next door. The Jissers decided to take a leap as entrepreneurs: They poured in their life savings, borrowed yet more, and arranged partners to purchase the entire property. And for the past 30 years the Jisser family has owned and operated the Buena Vista Mobilehome Park, providing the lowest-cost housing available in the city during that period.

The All American Market was closed in 1998 due to health issues that made it untenable for Tim to continue the long hours required. Tim and Eva’s son, Joe, refurbished the old grocery store building for new tenants and soon took over management of the mobilehome park, which he continues to run today.

The Jissers’ experience has been the quintessential American Dream: a hard- working immigrant family makes good in two businesses; they took on big risks, passed their ambitions on to their children, and the family has prospered. That dream turned into a nightmare, however, when the Jissers decided that closing the park and doing something different with the land best served their family’s future.

A Nightmare Begins: Palo Alto Holds the Jissers’ Mobilehome Park Hostage

In 2001, soon after taking over operations of the park, Joe faced a substantial property tax increase and asked tenants for a small rent increase to cover the cost. The Palo Alto City Council held hearings about the proposed increase at the behest of tenants and quickly enacted a rent control ordinance that included provisions for how and when a mobilehome park could be closed in the City. Notably, Buena Visa was and remains the only mobilehome park in Palo Alto.

The Jissers never did go forward with their proposed rent increase in 2001. In fact, they have raised rents infrequently and never as high as that allowed per year under the city’s rent control ordinance until the present dispute began to fester. But during the 2001 hearings, Joe noted that the park was showing signs of its nearly six decades of operation. Despite making substantial investments to replace sewer, electric, and other infrastructure, he explained, the park’s economic life was not likely longer than 10 years. In 2012, the Jisser family finally filed a Development Review Application with the City, indicating their desire to close the park.

Tim and Eva Jisser have retired and, as predicted, the park is deteriorating and will soon again require yet additional substantial investment. At the same time, the neighborhood has gone through tremendous change and there is demand for higher density development. The family’s hope has been to keep the land for the next generation by partnering with a developer for a new, larger housing development.

In their quest to close their business and make room for a new use, the Jissers have endured years of administrative bureaucracy ending with the present lawsuit. Between 2012 and 2014, they filed five separate “Relocation Impact Reports” required by the city, in which they were instructed to explain what they would give to tenants in exchange for the right to close the mobilehome park and take back possession of their own land. With each filing, the City sent them back to the drawing board with a demand to give yet more.

These relocation reports, revisions, and subsequent hearings required the hiring of expensive consultants, appraisers, and attorneys at the costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars to date. Ultimately, on May 26, 2015, the City issued a final decision allowing the park to be closed but only on the payment of approximately $8 million dollars to Buena Vista’s tenants.1

In effect, Palo Alto has put a modern twist on the highway robber’s creed: instead of “your money or your life,” the city council has told the Jissers they must pay what amounts to nearly all of their earnings from the past decade of work and ownership of the property, or be forced to forever run the business they simply want to close.

Individual Property Owners Should Not Be Forced to Bear The Cost of Public Benefits That Are the Responsibility of the Public as a Whole

The City of Palo Alto’s demands are not only wrong, they are unconstitutional. The payment represents full moving costs for all tenants, but also massive rent subsidies and the outright purchase of all of the mobilehomes on the property for inflated values reflecting the acute housing shortage in Palo Alto.

The city is essentially forcing the Jissers to become permanent landlords by making it financially oppressive to withdraw their land from the rental market. Moreover, the money taken from the Jissers is misleadingly termed “relocation” assistance: in fact, the money they are required to pay doesn’t have to be used by tenants for relocation at all.

At worst, the City’s demand is out-and-out extortion; at best, it is a thinly veiled attempt to hold the Jissers alone responsible for mitigating the city’s notorious lack of affordable housing — a problem that, in fairness, should be solved by all of Palo Alto’s taxpayers and residents.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “was designed to bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.”2

In some circumstances, governments may impose special costs — called “exactions” — on individual property owners; fees that are meant to offset public expenditures directly caused by a property owner’s use of his property. For instance, as a condition of receiving approval to build homes or a shopping center, a city may demand that a developer provide land or money to the city to offset public costs associated with the new development — such as roads, or schools, or the development of a city park. It is unconstitutional, however, for a city to leverage its permit power by conditioning approval of a new use on a property owner’s payment of money to provide general public benefits or mitigate social problems not caused by the use of the property.

Pacific Legal Foundation won the landmark “unconstitutional conditions” case establishing this principle, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission,3 at the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987; PLF reaffirmed the principle in a follow-on U.S. Supreme Court case in 2013, Koontz v. St. Johns Water Management District.4 The principle has been applied in scores of federal and state cases across the nation in the years between the two High Court victories.

Most recently, the United States District Court for the District of Northern California (the same court in which the Jisser family’s case has been filed) struck down a San Francisco ordinance late last year that imposed oppressive fees on small landlords seeking to withdraw their homes from the rental market in that city.5

In this case, the city is in effect demanding that the Jisser family give their tenants enough money to afford alternative housing in overpriced Palo Alto as a condition of withdrawing their land from the rental market. But it is not the Jissers that have caused the high cost of housing in Palo Alto; in fact, they have been instrumental in supplying low-cost housing for 30 years. Rather, it is the city itself that has created a housing shortage that makes it all but impossible for people of modest means — including the current residents of Buena Vista — to live in the City.

Palo Alto is Ground Zero for California’s Housing Crisis

One can hardly understand the current conflict without considering the role of restrictive land use regulations in causing Palo Alto’s astronomical housing costs. According to Zillow, Palo Alto’s median home price is a blistering $2.46 million dollars.6 That price will typically buy an older, single family home less than 1800 square feet. A home of nearly the same profile in Dallas, Texas will run $128k7; the national median is about $180k.8 By comparison, the median home value in California as a whole is $448k.9 The most basic cause of Silicon Valley and California’s lack of affordable housing relative to other locations is their land use policies.

The booming technology sector no doubt contributes to the problem,10 but a serious discussion of Palo Alto’s lack of affordable housing must begin with the recognition that a government-imposed housing shortage is the major, persistent cause. Simply put: Palo Alto’s City Council has refused for decades to permit enough housing to be built to meet the skyrocketing demand; it is now shamefully scapegoating the Jissers for its own failure.

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has observed that the perverse effects of restrictive land use regulation is an issue on which “libertarianism and egalitarianism are on the same side,” concluding that “the surest way to a more equitable housing market is to reduce the barriers to building.”11 It should not be a partisan issue: Left-leaning economist Paul Krugman similarly points out that California’s high housing prices “owe a lot to policies that sharply limit construction.”12 Wharton economist Joseph Gyourko’s major study on the subject suggests that prohibitive local land use regulations amount to an effective tax on housing prices “in many coastal markets, sometimes reaching over 50 percent” of the price of the homes; he singles out California’s coastal regions.13

Whatever one’s opinion, the empirical literature documents the fact that California coastal cities, and particularly in the Silicon Valley area, have a new- housing-permit rate that has continuously failed to meet the demand for housing by existing and immigrating residents during the past 40 years. It is the refusal of municipal governments to permit homes to be built that has driven the lack of affordable housing in the region.14 Recent research even pins the lion’s share of America’s intensely debated growing income inequality on the striking barriers to affordable housing produced by “land-use regulations in rich states.”15

An authoritative report put out in March 2015 by California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (a non-partisan governmental agency tasked with studying California legislative policies), California’s High Housing Costs, Causes and Consequences, flatly concludes: “First and foremost, far less housing has been built in California’s coastal areas than people demand.”16 The basic cause of the lack of affordable housing? Local government’s abuse of “land use authority to slow or stop housing from being built or requir[ing] it to be built at lower densities.”17 The report highlights the San Jose metro area, which includes Palo Alto, as a particular example of the problem.

Palo Alto has a tragic and outrageous housing crisis. But it is the City’s policies — sadly shared by too many of California’s coastal cities — that are the primary cause of its high cost of housing. The truth is that Palo Alto’s City Council has all the power it needs to permit more homes to be built and provide affordable housing if it wants to do so; what it may not lawfully do is hold the Jisser family’s property hostage on the condition that they mitigate a lack of affordable housing that they in no way created.

The Legal Challenge: Defending the Right to Private Property

 This is a federal civil rights action filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose Division). The Jisser family has raised two federal constitutional claims and a California state-law challenge.

First, the millions of dollars in payments to tenants demanded by Palo Alto is an “unconstitutional condition” on the Jisser’s right to close their mobilehome park. The City has determined that either the Jissers pay the money demanded or be forced to continue operating a business they want to close, including the unwanted, permanent occupation of their land by tenants. That demand has nothing to do with any public costs caused by the Jisser’s closure of the park; rather, the City is attempting to make the Jissers pay to mitigate the City’s acute lack of affordable housing — costs that, in fairness, should be borne by the whole public of Palo Alto. The condition violates the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Second, the money taken from the Jissers will go not to the City, but directly to tenants who may use the funds for any purpose at all, anywhere they choose. This is not a “public use,” but a command by the City for a direct transfer of money from the Jissers to other private individuals for their own personal use. This violates the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which permits the taking of private property with just compensation for genuinely public uses but forbids the forced transfer of property from one private party to another, politically favored private party.

Finally, the City’s Mobilehome Park Conversion Ordinance requires mobilehome park owners who wish to withdraw their property from the rental market to provide “reasonable relocation assistance as a condition of closing and converting a park.”18 As applied to the Jissers, the money demanded from them to exercise their right to close their park far exceeds any notion of “reasonable relocation assistance,” thereby violating the terms of the City’s own ordinance.

Further, the City’s application of its ordinance violates California state law, which unequivocally declares that conditions imposed on property owners who wish to close a mobilehome park “shall not exceed the reasonable costs of relocation” of a park’s tenants.19

The Jissers are not seeking compensation or monetary damages; they seek only a declaration that the conditions imposed on their right to withdraw their property from the rental market are unlawful, and an injunction prohibiting the City from enforcing those conditions.

The Parties to the Lawsuit

The Plaintiffs are Tim and Eva Jisser, and their family trust that holds title to the Buena Vista Mobilehome Park. Their son, Joe Jisser, who has managed day-to- day operations of the park for the past decade, is a spokesman for the family. The Defendant is the City of Palo Alto.

The Litigation Team

Pacific Legal Foundation Attorney Larry Salzman20 is lead counsel, working with PLF Principal Attorney J. David Breemer.21 Mr. Breemer successfully defended the Levin family in their lawsuit last year against the City of San Francisco,22 in which San Francisco was enjoined from imposing unconstitutional fees on landlords who wished to withdraw property from the rental market. PLF’s attorneys are assisted by local counsel Margaret Nanda, of Los Gatos, Calif., who also represented the Jisser family in the administrative process preceding this lawsuit.

Since 1973, PLF has been the most frequent and successful public-interest champion in the nation’s courts for individuals and small businesses whose property rights are violated by government. It represents the Jissers without charge.

citations:

1 The final sum may grow, as the City’s conditions include a requirement to reappraise the value of each mobilehome and calculate rent subsidies based on the date of the actual close of the park. The $8 million figure is based on appraisals and rent calculations done in 2014 and considered by the City Council.

2 Armstrong v. United States, 364 U.S. 40, 49 (1960).
3 Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (1987).
4 Koontz v. St. Johns Water Management District, 133 S. Ct. 2586 (2013).

5 Opinion & Order, Levin, et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, No. 3:14-cv- 03352-CRB (N.D. Cal. Filed Nov. 21, 2014), available at http://www.pacificlegal.org/document.doc?id=1692

6 http://www.zillow.com/palo-alto-ca/home-values/

7 http://www.zillow.com/dallas-tx/home-values/

8 http://www.zillow.com/home-values/
9 http://www.zillow.com/ca/home-values/
10 Laura Kusisto, Apple Pay – One Reason for High Home Prices [in San Fransciso and Silicon Valley], WSJ, October 25, 2015, available at http://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-payone-reason-for-high-home-prices- 1445801810).

11 Edward L. Glaeser, How to Make San Francisco’s Housing More Affordable, BloombergView, December 13, 2013, available at http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2013-12-13/how-to-make-san- francisco-s-housing-more-affordable.

12 Paul Krugman, Wrong Way Nation, N.Y. Times, August 24, 2014, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/25/opinion/paul-krugman-wrong-way- nation.html.
13 Joseph Gyourko, National Bureau of Economic Research: NBER Reporter, The Supply Side of Housing Markets, 2009 No. 2, available at http://www.nber.org/reporter/2009number2/gyourko.html.

14 See, e.g., Mathew E. Kahn, Do Liberal Cities Limit New Housing Development? Evidence from California, 69 J. Urb. Econ. 223 (2010); Derek Thompson, Why Middle- Class Americans Can’t Afford to Live in Liberal Cities, The Atlantic, Oct. 29, 2014, available at http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/why-are- liberal-cities-so-unaffordable/382045/.

15 Binyamin Applebaum, Housing Prices and Income Inequality, N.Y. Times, October 17, 2012, available at http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/17/housing- prices-and-income-inequality/.
16 CA Legislative Analyst’s Office, California’s High Housing Costs, Causes and Consequences at 10, published March 17, 2015, available at http://lao.ca.gov/reports/2015/finance/housing-costs/housing-costs.pdf

17 Id. at 15.
18 Palo Alto Municipal Code, Section 9.76.130.

19 CA Government Code, Section 65863.7.
20 http://www.pacificlegal.org/bio-salzman
21 http://www.pacificlegal.org/staff/J-David-Breemer 22 https://www.pacificlegal.org/cases/levin-4-1528

Palo Alto – Buena Vista Mobile Home Park – Slum Dog Bonanza

Comrades Pat Burt (Palo Alto Mayor) and Joe Simitian (Santa Clara County Supervisor) are buying votes again with with your money (County and Federal tax dollars) as they fight to keep a dangerous slum in Palo Alto.

The slum, is the Jisser family’s Buena Vista mobile home park which the Jissers would like to sell after owning and running it for decades. The property was destined to become a safe, new, beautiful housing development.

Political hound dogs smell votes

The Jisser family even agreed to a crazy generous buy-out of every resident in the mobile home park. But once the lawyers and the ‘mobile homers’ smelled easy money they couldn’t resist shaking down the Jisser family for even more and so they sued the Jissers again.

The smell of money even attracted the attention of local politicians, sniffing all kinds of opportunity, votes, publicity, money, favors.

Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt, County Supervisor Joe Simitian and (Housing Authority of the County of Santa Clara) executive Katherine Harass want to solve other people’s problems by sticking their noses in other people’s business, taking the Jisser Family’s land and establishing a permanent slum in Palo Alto. Of course, they will call it ‘affordable housing.’ They will say they are ‘fighting for the children.’

Rightfull ownership 

They may even wrap themselves in flags and strut around with their thumbs in the air. But Simitian does not own this property and neither does Katherine Harass, Pat Burt or the mobile homers.

The property belongs to the Jisser family. The Jissers bought and paid for it and have born the responsibility of running it for years. One of the premiere benefits and privileges of living in the United States is that we can own land, manage, and develop it for our own benefit and thus often for the benefit of our families and others. Land is the foundation of private wealth in America. It’s the American dream.

But Pat Burt, Joe Simitian and Katherine Harass are conjuring up a nightmare as they know better what to do with someone else’s property. Simitian, Burt and Harass also know that there are a couple hundred potential votes in the mobile home park and lots of good publicity for them in this fight.

All property homeowner are in jeopardy 

But what if Simitian wanted your house for a ‘good cause?’ Santa Clara County could take your property thru ‘Eminent Domain,’ if it could prove that ‘the taking’ served the whole community in some way. And you would have to hire a lawyer to fight the County’s claim.

In the Jisser family case, the greater good is really just for the people in the Buena Vista mobile home slum, not the people of Palo Alto or Santa Clara County. Eminent Domain is a threat, it’s the crushing power of the State to ram thru a raw deal and take away someone’s property.

The City and County have land, parks, old schools and buildings. If the City or County really wanted to build affordable housing it could. But it’s easier to meet the City’s goals and inflate the reputation of Pat Burt,

Joe Simitian and Katherine Harass by ripping off the Jisser family and taking the Jisser’s land with legal mumbo jumbo. Meanwhile, the City and County look the other way as developers build bigger and uglier all over Palo Alto and Silicon Valley.

Slum dog millionaires

If you want a ‘visual feast’ for the eyes, drive thru Buena Vista Mobile home park at 3980 El Camino Real Palo Alto. I guarantee you will lock your car doors and roll up the windows.

You might run over an empty 40 oz. Or hit an illegal. Loosen up, it’s a slum. You’ll be wondering what this ‘beef’ is really all about.

My guess is that creating this ‘new’ slum will take pressure off of the City’s favorite developers to build affordable housing and thus enable the ‘good times to roll’ as the ‘big and rich’ continue to build whatever they want everywhere else in town.

The Buena Vista Park should be demolished and the owners allowed to sell their land to whoever wants to buy it. That’s the American way. The mobile home residents will do what people have done for thousands of years, they will use their own minds to figure out a better place to live.

In other words, they will stand on their own two feet and in the long run, they will be stronger and better off without the government crutch to lean on, making them dependent and weak.

Buena Vista Mobile Home Closure Archives 

$250,000 To buy new shopping cart homes and other services for the homeless

Shopping cart home.jpgOn Monday, Palo Alto city Council will decide whether to spend $250,000 to house 20 of the cities estimated 157 homeless. But how will caseworkers pick [and chose] which 20 get new homes?

It won’t be based on good [up standing] behavior. In fact it’s just the opposite.

A report by [homeless “de facto” expert and] City Manager Jim Keene to council says those who will get priority in the selection process are those who had had the most run-ins with the law and are at risk of being repeat offenders.

In addition to the $250,000 from the city Santa Clara County will provide $100,000 from a state grant under the [pension] prison [reform] realignment bill, which sends state prisoners to county jails to relieve [themselves plus] overcrowding.

And state money is earmarked for helping those who have been arrested, have a high chance of being arrested again, who “significantly impact county, state, or local resources,” and who are “homeless or at risk of being or becoming homeless.”

‘Chronically homeless’

According to a report, the “chronically [acute] homeless” individuals can use the assistance to get themselves into a [new cart] home and, with the help of a [mental basket without wheels] caseworker, will apply for government programs, get help for substance abuse and receive medical care.

“These will be prioritized for individuals who face significant barriers to achieving economic self sufficiency,” the report states.

The program was recommended by a city task force [be with you] comprised of [toothless] homeless advocates [without a bite who will gum you to death], which formed in August shortly after the [technically advanced city] council voted to ban car camping and camping at Cubberley Community Center [along with taking away their ability to shower themselves.]

The task force considered other options such as creating a “homeless outreach [‘and put the touch on someone’ team,” which has already been successfully implemented in the San Mateo County cities of San Mateo, [our] East Palo Alto [brothers from the hood] and Redwood City, and bears some resemblance to the proposed Palo Alto program.

Helping biggest troublemakers

Mila Zelkah, strategic relations fellow for InVision Shelter Network, which manages the apartments at Palo Alto’s Opportunity Center, told the post in August that the outreach team program focuses on helping the people who cause of the most problems and are the source of repeat calls to police.

During its first year, the program helped 40% of the people on the police [hit] list of troublemakers to either get a job, find housing, enroll in a substance abuse program or a mental health program.

In it’s second year and the years after that, the program successfully helped about 25% of it’s homeless clients Zelkha said, adding that San Mateo County recently set aside more money to bring the program to Pacifica and South San Francisco.

When council members on the Policy and Services Committee voted to recommend dedicating $250,000 to help the homeless, they asked the homelessness task force to decide how the money could be best spent.

But the [helpless] task force was only given about a month to organize and come up with the plan that’s going to the full [circle marry-go-round] council on Monday.

Zilkha said that the force [be with you] had planned ask for more [spatial] time at a Sept. 26 meeting with City Manager James Keene, but wasn’t able to after he [dodged and] canceled the meeting.

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Palo Alto’s Tunnel of Love and Hate

Caitlin Ann Taylor-Stanford University, Ca
Caitlin Ann Taylor-Stanford University, Ca – Santa Clara County Jail Booking Photo furnished by Google

But you better be careful you just might be arrested. That was the experience of one MADD scientist from all places Stanford University as described in a detailed police report provide by PAPD Lt. Zachary Perron:

Caitlin Ann Taylor (DOB 05-18-1990, female, 5’7” tall, 140 lbs, blonde hair, hazel eyes) was arrested on 09-17-2013 at 7:42 p.m. in the 2400 block of Bryant Street.

She was booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail on 09-17-2013 at 8:55 p.m. for 148(a)(1) PC (resist arrest) and 243(b) PC (battery on peace officer), both of which are misdemeanors. She was released from custody on 09-18-2013 at 3:48 a.m., and her bail is set at $6000. Her occupation is “scientist.”

It just goes to show and prove that those arrested come from all walks and cyclists of life.

Why the arrest detail? Good question. California civil code allows all media reporting agency’s to do so despite what some may feel as an evasion of privacy. Bottom line, once your arrested, it becomes public record. Here’s the civil code procedure: See: California Government Code & 6254 (f) (1).

Government Code Section 6250-6270

(1) The full name and occupation of every individual arrested by the agency, the individual’s physical description including date of birth, color of eyes and hair, sex, height and weight, the time and date of arrest, the time and date of booking, the location of the arrest, the factual circumstances surrounding the arrest, the amount of bail set, the time and manner of release or the location where the individual is currently being held, and all charges the individual is being held upon, including any outstanding warrants from other jurisdictions and parole or probation holds.

So what’s the problem with Pedestrians vs Cyclists?

According to eyewitnesses, the Palo Alto police have been stationing themselves outside the tunnel of love and hate entrance to catch illegal contraband? No, no Mexican cartel this time.

Walk BikeThe PAPD have been assigned to catch cyclists riding their bikes through the tunnel of love and hate illegally. Although there are no signs posted warning otherwise so whats the Baskin-Robbins problem or scoop?

According to unconfirmed reports, pedestrians have been complaining about cyclists zooming through the tunnel of love and hate at reckless speeds without consideration for their foot-tracking brethren’s safety almost knocking them over on a daily bases all the while they should be walking their bikes as posted.

What’s interesting is that their is no municpale code attached to this sign [a first for Palo Alto] indicating an infraction of the law. What’s up with that Palo Alto? They have an ordinance or law to cover almost everything we do in Palo Alto. You name it, they got it! [PAMC 2.0]

The lack of a PAMC may in fact be a viable defense for this MADD scientist ridding her bike through Palo Alto’s tunnel of love and hate not so friendly bike city, but assaulting a peace officer!

Finding the right solutions

That’s a big no, no. Even in my book, you deserve everything meted out to you by the judge.  Don’t even think about placing your hands on a peace officer under any circumstance.  If you allegedly did, your a real “bonafide” MADD scientist.

Alexander, an avid bike rider BTW from Stanford who declined to provide his last name said that the number of cyclists he’s observed walking their bikes through the tunnel of love and hate out of 100, was 10 percent. That’s MADDing high percentage.

Lin Liu, another Palo Alto Stanford worker, and Earth Science Researcher, said that in the two years of walking through the tunnel of love and hate, putting things in a researchers perceptive formula of 4 riders to 1 walker…

In conversation with the first person interviewed, we both agreed, arresting persons for riding their bikes is not the answer.  Their ‘needs to be a mutual coexistence’.

lane dividerSo we came up with what we beleive to be a lasting solution.  Highway dividers, those relative poles to run right down the center of the tunnel of love and hate.

Cyclists on one side, and pedestrians on the other side. That just might work with the caveat of adding one of Palo Alto’s famous in your face control your life municipal code warnings.

Related story: Now this is worthy of a police chase and the waste of taxpayer dollars

Nothing is free in life-Not even Wi-Fi-But, that could change

20130918-074458.jpgPalo Alto City Council members said yesterday that the city should spend between $250,000 and $450,000 to devise a plan that would eventually lead to Wi-Fi service throughout the city and bring high-speed Internet to residents.

Palo Alto already had a “fiber to the premises” system that it uses to sell high speed Internet to a few commercial buyers. But at the moment, the fiber optic service is still expensive and is available to only a limited number of customers.

But yesterday, council members Larry Klein, Liz Kniss and Nancy Shepard and Mayor Greg Scharff who are on the technology and connected city committee, said they wanted to change that by bringing high-speed Internet access to more parts of the city.

Concept involves bring service to parks, plazas

That would likely include expanding this is existing high speed fiber network and using it to produce wireless Internet networks that would furnish Palo Alto Parks, Plaza and other “dead zone “with wireless service.

According to Scharff, “the point is to give people wireless Internet that is faster than what they get on their phone.”

According to a report by city manager James Keene, the cost of hiring a consultant to come up with a plan for getting high-speed fiber optic Internet to Paulo alto home would be between $150,000 and $350,000.

The cost of having a consultant come up with a wireless network plan would be up to $100,000.

The money for those plans would come out of the cities fiber fund reserve, which has almost the $15.3 million that the city has already made from its existing fiber system.

Palo Alto has been talking about connecting homes with a fiber optic system since the late 90s. In 2009, a $45 million plan to build such a system fell apart when Canadian-based and Axia netmedia corp. pulled out of the partnership with the city when it’s funding partner withdrew its money during the recession.

Axia turn to the city and asked for between $3 million and $5 million per year in support but the city turned it down.

Some cities, like Chattanooga, Tenn, And Santa Monica have successfully created their own fiber optic systems. Other cities fared less well. Provo, Utah, ended up millions of dollars in debt after selling their mismanaged system to Google for $1.

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Palo Alto’s Butt ugly buildings

City Hall side-by-side comparisonPalo Altan Doug Smith was spot on yesterday when he said the city is being undermined by architects who have completely different taste then the general public.

Smith will go to Palo Alto City Council to appeal the approval of a proposed four-story “glass box” office building that would replace the old Radio Shack store next to City Hall at Hamilton Avenue and Bryant Street.

He’s also doing an online survey of residents’ architectural tastes, and not surprisingly, most residents lean toward more traditional styles.

Smith’s research raises this question in my mind: How do we get local architects to design buildings that are more appealing to the community?

Shaming them with Top10 lists of ugly buildings might be one way to go.

A more positive approach would be a seminar where Palo Alto residents would educate architects about what they do and don’t like.

This ugly architecture issue isn’t going away. I suspect the uglification of Palo Alto will be front and center in next years City Council campaign, where four incumbents will likely seek re-election.

They’ll have to explain what they were thinking when they approved repulsive buildings like 801 Alma St. or the new Mitchell Park Library.

Related story:

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All we are is just a “leaf blower” in the wind

Where gas and electricity meet or circumventing the law
Where gas and electricity meet or circumventing the law

Palo Alto City Councilman Pat Burt says that the city’s current ban on-gas powered leaf blowers in neighborhoods isn’t working.

“It’s almost like we don’t have a regulation,” Burt said. “I continue to hear from community members and see frequent use of gas-blowers.

The gardening services people seem to just ignore the law we have most of the time.”

It’s illegal to use gas-powered leaf blowers in any residential neighborhood in Palo Alto. Electric leaf blowers are allowed during business hours. Gas-powered blowers are still allowed in commercial areas.

But according to Bert, violations are so prevalent that he’s even come home to find his own gardener using a gas-powered blower, despite the ordinance and his own warnings.

“I told them about (the law),” Bert said, “but a few weeks later I came home and found found them doing it again.

Particularly those who work a home

The problem is, Bert said, a lot of Palo Altan’s work from home, so the added noise from the blowers can be particularly disruptive.

Plus, he said sometimes the blowers are used in unnecessary ways. “Sometimes, on a sunny day, summer day I see these guy’s going around blowing 5 or 10 leaves with one of these things, usually into a neighbor’s yard. Since when are 5 or 10 leaves on a lawn bad thing?”

And, Bert said, the ban on gas-powered leaf blowers doesn’t just benefit neighbors.

“For someone who’s going to be working with a gas-powered blower all day, breathing two-stroke (engine) fumes this isn’t very good.” Burt said he thought the city should consider giving permits to gardener who want to use any kind of blowers.

Mac Clayton, of Parkington Avenue, said he had spoken to City Manager James Keene about the issue because he doesn’t think the current system of reporting the violations to the  police department was the best way.

“I don’t think it’s great to use police resources that way,” he said.

Clayton, said Keene suggested that he report of violations using the city’s mobile application for city related problems, which is called PaloAlto311 and can be download into smart phones.

Photo required

But Clayton said that the application required to take a photo of gardener kept using a gas-powered leaf blower, and he felt somewhat uncomfortable going up and photographing him in the act.

Liz Lee, a Crescent Park neighborhood resident,  also said gas-powered leaf blowers are a big problem where she lives.

“I see the law being broken all the time. And they are perpetual offenders. The same day, the same place, every week,” she said.  “if it were just one offender, that’s one thing. But when it’s multiple times per week and multiple times per day it’s really adds up.”

Health issues

Lee said that she particularly dislikes the blowers’ noise. But they also cause a health issue. “Gas fumes are really bothersome and the dust is an issue. All of us in our family have asthma to some degree.”

Burt said that the ban that passed 2005 was a compromise made after many people told the council that they wanted the Lief Blowers ban, but gardeners and landscapers promised to abide by rules that were less than a ban.

“The gardener community got together and made commitments,” Burt said, “and they have not stepped up to fulfill those commitments.”

Palo Alto’s current law permits the use of electric leaf blowers in residential areas Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Gas powered and electric blowers are allowed in commercial areas from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday and on Saturday between 10 a.m and 4 p.m.

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Santa Clara County Public Defender or Public Pretender?

Molly O'Neil.jpgI am sure most of you have seen today’s Daily Post [if not it will cost you] (Saturday Aug. 31-Sept 1, 2013).

The headline reads: “Defender rips car camp ban …says criminalization of the homeless is not the answer”

The defender in question is: Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O’Neal.

Although… I am sure most … if not all of us…would have preferred ….that our Public Defender…who earns $241,455 per year….have stepped to the plate sooner…to voice her opposition to this hate law (the vehicle habitation ordinance)…. passed by the Palo Alto City Council.. by a 7-2 vote… on August 5…. I still believe her… late to the game.. opposition to the ban ….should be acknowledged, applauded and encouraged.

Our support for Molly O’Neal is..in my mind…particularly important… since upward of 90% of those individuals cited under the VHO are likely to be represented by members of the public defenders office.

We should encourage the office… I spent almost my entire career with…to zealously.. and with an undivided loyalty to each member of the unhoused community…who calls on the public defenders office to represent them… to represent them to the fullest…raising each and every meritorious defense to the charges.

The reality is…the public defenders office labors under large/huge case loads …and… as the old saying goes…the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

In other words… each and every time a member of the unhoused community is cited for a violation of the VHO, the StopTheBan Coalition…needs to support that individual… and let the public defenders office know that we are tracking the case…. and supporting the public defenders office to provide/guarantee the best possible legal defense in each and every case.

When ever possible members of the StopTheBan Coalition should pack the courtroom in support of each and every unhoused person charged under the VHO…. and the latest ordinance…. that prohibits members of the public from being in Palo Alto Parks… or on the property of public facilities …between 10:30 p.m and sunrise.

For any of you who wish to let Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O’Neal know…. how you feel about her now very public stand against the VHO …and the criminalization of the homeless generally …here is her e-mail address: molly.o’neal@pdo.sccgov.org.

Palo Alto city leadership discusses plans to fund new police building by imposing new hotel taxes

No new taxesFour members of Palo Alto City Council met yesterday to discuss the idea of putting a new tax before voters next year to fund infrastructure projects, and finding a way to tax business owners to help pay for two parking garages was among the ideas circling the table.

A parking garage downtown and another along California Avenue were two projects that topped Mayor Greg Scharff’s list of priorities.

At yesterdays infrastructure committee meeting, Scharff asked if there was a way to Commercial space downtown and on California Avenue at a set price per square foot so that city residents wouldn’t have to build the garages.

City attorney Molly Stump said that is something the city will need to explore first, before providing information on how it could be done. Councilman Larry Klein said he would be “intrigue” if city officials could find a way to carve that out.

Council commissioned a poll,  which costs $28,000, to help determine whether to put a bond issue before voters in November 2014, and, if so, what projects should be included in the measure.

Council was initially eager to find out whether voters would support a bond measure that would help fund part or all of a plan for a new station police station that would be double its current size.

But according to the pole, only 53% of voters would support this, when a two thirds’ vote is needed.

Scharff said people in the city told council that they want a new police station, but he is not sure if they’re willing to pay for it.

Other infrastructure items that topped the committee’s list of what is in need of work or repair included fire stations, bike paths and newly paved streets and sidewalks.

An increase of the city’s hotel tax, which is currently 12%, to 14% received support from 62% of the voters polled.

A hotel tax that goes in the general fund only requires a majority vote for approval. Scharff said he would be in favor of increasing city’s hotel tax to 15%. He said he doesn’t see much less support for 1% more.

City officials mentioned that Palo Alto has a high hotel tax rate compared with surrounding cities. But Scharff said Palo Alto is a destination spot, and it’s hotels can’t be compared with hotels in other cities such as Sunnyvale.

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Vehicle Habitation plan, flawed from the beginning?

Cracked eggAfter many years of kicking around this issue, the current city council may decide the fate of hundreds, while the few bad apples will never be affected, honest working class people will be affected, and not for the better. The problems being brought up by those demanding an ordinance will not disappear, because the problems were never caused by car dwellers, but by other categories of people.

The issue at hand is the Vehicle Habitation Ordinance.  This issue has not been resolved although it has come up many times in the past in  city counsel meetings.  Interest groups, faith based churches, and a working group composed of concerned clergy, city staff and CCT members had over 10 months to work on a plan, yet when it reached the policy and services committee it quickly fizzed out.

The two sides of this issue are:

1. Human rights Advocates who do not want more government interference in our lives and more power given to the police in this society where freedom reigns.

2. People of means who do not want their peace and well being infringed upon by those of lesser means.  The demeanor of this group seems to be: “Not in my neighborhood” they pay high taxes to live in Palo Alto and they don’t want to even see one homeless person or car dweller loitering around and feel that this permissive agenda by Palo Alto is just not acceptable.

The city wants to solve the problem by pushing the car dwellers onto the Service Providers. Shelter Network is not equipped to handle yet another 55 to 100 who have needs far different than street people who have lost all their self esteem, and therefore can be treated in any fashion the service provider deems necessary.  Car dwellers are accustomed  to making their own decisions, they are more independent than street people, some of them hold down a low wage job.

The service  provider has a set of standards that most car dwellers do not fit into, and they will not amend these set of standards to qualify for their services.

Service providers exist to get funding and getting results is not imperative to them so they do the least  possible because obtaining funding is their primary goal, not finding shelter for the homeless, regardless of their claims. Their results are largely undocumented because failure to achieve is not a good thing to bring about.

Failure of the city government to grasp a clean understanding of the issue is apparent, so the issue remains an issue because nobody has actually determined the root cause of car dwelling and suggested that the root cause be treated instead the symptoms are being experimented with, leading to quick fix solutions.

It has become evident to us that Palo Alto City Council will not spend one dime on “homeless tramps” while supporting Downtown Streets team who are running a economic slavery scheme paying their recruits less than minimum wage and saving the city millions, so the city is happy to get “free labor”.

The Caste System being created by the current attitudes of “Palo Alto affluent” will enable the affluent to keep up their lifestyle at the expense of the impoverished, while supporting a Feudal type concept.

The Barons kept the peasants in line while the Kings lived a life of plenty.  It is not imaginary because that is what we are headed for if this ordinance is passed in Palo alto.  It is time we take heed to the philosophy of Martin Luther King “Free at last, Free at last, Free at last” instead of “oppress me more, oppress me more, oppress me more”.

Does Palo Alto have an obligation to those of no financial means? No city has an obligation to any certain group of people, whether wealthy or not, instead the city may want to be a role model to other municipalities simply because it’s the right thing to do. When there are billionaire developers wanting special favors from local politicians, the pressures to abide by the wants of the affluent may carry more clout than some group of human rights advocates.

We, however hold onto a glimmer of hope that those decision  makers on the city council will see the opportunity to do something positive which will appease both sides and create a real solution. Stanford university social services professor should be consulted, and this resource may come up with a real solution.

Giving the police to power to decide the fate of a category of people is surely NOT THE ANSWER. Poverty shall not be a crime in the United States of America.