I wish I had been a fly on the wall at that meeting. In fact, I wish that figuratively all residents who want to were flies on that wall. It is our money that pays the enormous salaries these two (and other employees) are getting, which increases each year.
If I were to assess Shikada’s performance, there are changes I would suggest, which are the result of my watching many council meetings and reading local newspapers daily.
My first concern are those high salaries this city pays its employees – costing us nearly $200 million a year, including benefits, for more than approximately 900 full-time and 300 part-time employees.
The council recently awarded a 4% increase in all base salaries in July 2023, and another 4% in 2024. Also, each employee will get $100 per month in “flexible compensation.” And third, the city will bring all managers salaries to “market level,” as determined by a survey of other cities.These new increases will cost $8.6 million over two years.
That is a large amount of money for a city of approximately 68,000 people. Shikada received $573,000 in 2021 – I don’t have his 2022-2023 level, but it keeps on going up; Plus in two different years he ranked sixth and then fourth in this state for highest city manager salaries – and California has several cities much larger than Palo Alto. Shikada also has 12 assistants who report to him to help with his duties. And few, if any, other cities' employees have every other Friday off (26 days off a year), plus 13 paid holidays with a new floating holiday just added this year. BTW, the city just gave a 20% salary increase to battalion officers.
Second, I would ask Shikada why it takes so long to get things done in this city. Residents and builders have long questioned why permitting and approval in this community takes months, oftentimes a year or two to get approved – with hefty associated fees. No clear answer yet – approval continues to take a long time.
A related question is why do certain already council-approved projects never seem to materialize? My favorite example is those digital signs at the entrances to our public garages that tell drivers how many empty spaces currently are available and on what level.
When then-council member Liz Kniss was stepping down from her seat in 2020, she asked Shikada when the digital lights would be completed, since the council had approved of them a couple of years earlier. “We’re working on it,” was his reply. Well, it’s three years later and the “work” is not yet completed. I’m not a traffic engineer, but if I wanted a digital car-counting system for a city garage, I would call up a company who could handle the job and it would be done! I know San Jose 15 years ago had every city garage equipped with digital lights indicating empty spaces.
Same delay issue is true for the traffic congestion problem along Embarcadero Road near El Camino – the school crossing traffic light is not coordinated with the traffic signal at the Town & Country entrance a block away, so motorists are often stopped twice waiting for lights to change. A the ECR-Embarcadero intersection, the left-hand turn lane on ECR usually has a lengthy queue that oftentimes requires drivers to wait through two or three cycles to finally turn onto Embarcadero. The problem: the traffic on Embarcadero is backed up because of the two uncoordinated signals.
The backup started soon after Trader Joe’s opened in T&C in 2008. I wrote several columns about this problem starting 13 years ago Finally my then-editor said, “Stop, not another column on this tie-up – you gave the city the message. They will get it done.”
Wrong. It’s 2023 and It’s still an annoying, continuing problem.
Next, I would suggest that the city manager, who sets the council agenda, with the assistance of the mayor at times, not put the agenda items the public is really interested in toward the end of the council agenda. The timing is such that frequently discussion on a major topic does not begin until 10 p.m. or so, at a point where council members are getting tired and many residents have already gone home. Maybe the manager wants it that way. A discussion on police encryption, a hot community issue, appeared late on the agenda. I asked one council member the day after why he voted “no” when I thought he supported getting rid of encryption. He said he was so tired at that point he couldn’t concentrate.
The council debate on fiber-to-the-home, a huge $144 million project, was approved in the late hours, after several residents had left the council chambers. That’s a big city expenditure that needed more public input and support than occurred that night. The fiber allows a faster internet connection to residents who opt to be connected to it, with a monthly charge. It is also a service already available by Comcast and AT&T, who have much more advanced knowledge on fiber than those individuals the city manager will have to hire.
Since 1983, we had a city auditor inhouse, one of four council-appointed officers. But a couple of years ago it was decided to hire an outside firm from Chicago, Baker Tilly US, for this auditing service. Now it is time to rethink it.
Why? Two reasons. Previous auditors could wander around the offices within City Hall, and have conversations with employees. Often, a former auditor old me, that’s the way an auditor foinds out about things going a bit amok.
But now Shikada, along with the council, gives the Chicago firm a list of items he wants audited. That sounds okay but it isn’t. If a manager does not want to reveal a problem, and air it in public, that problem could easily (deliberately?) be left off the list. And so, the manager can hide things more easily. I am not saying that is happening, but keeping an issue secret sure would be easy to do.
And finally, what about all the money this city is spending, even though it has an annual budget of nearly $1 BILLION. Maybe that accounts for some of the high spending, like the $144M for fiber, or even $400,000 for a play space with statues of dinosaurs.
On Monday’s consent agenda was renewal of a contract space to LAZ Parking for $2.3 million for a two-year contract for their workers to go around and ticket drivers who park in residential permit areas without the proper sticker. Yes, the city will collect money from those ticketed –but spending such a large sum for such a minor matter seems wasteful, to say the least.
Oh well, it’s only our money they are spending. Why should we care?