Our Palo Alto discussion featuring Sid Espinosa et al at Downtown Library Wednesday April 23, 2014

David Evan Harris of the Institute of the Future and its Governance Futures Lab

David Evan Harris of the Institute of the Future and its Governance Futures Lab

I am carrying the business card of David Evan Harris, one of the panelists (along with Sid Espinosa, Steven Levy and Ann Dunkin): Research Director, Institute for the Future, 124 University Avenue, Palo Alto.

Harris said, and my own eyes confirmed, that IFF is hanging an art show at 201 Hamilton, the former faucet shop, which I told him, is also known as 209 Hamilton, the former clubhouse for Sons of the Golden West and, in the 1960s and 1970s, artist studios and stage space for Nathan Oliveira and others. Harris said he is a Mountain View High grad (before his advanced degrees in sociology and languages, Berkeley b.a. and jets to Brazil) and was part of the Bay Area Action Schools Group in the late 1990s. I told him that when I left the advertising world and moved back to Palo Alto, a pivot experience for me was working on Bay Area Action Earth Day in 1993 where I met future-Mayor Peter Drekmeier among others. I said further that someone should write a history of Bay Area Action and assess how radical or not it really was.

I thought it was more entertainment than public hearing. A dog and pony show.

I’d rather have the public sector stay out of that field, or leave it to Arts and Culture Division, like when Richard Shindell played Johnson Park (which I helped set up, or middled, or co-presented — or may have been paid a fee to help organize).


I thought it would be interesting to make a transcript of the event and then re-stage the event as a performance piece wherein four people read the words of Espinosa, Levy, Dunkin and Harris while a musician or two improvises. Film that, put it on Youtube and see which video gets more hits.

I think they were trying to tell us that we will have more office space built AND more super-dense housing, whatever the developers want, continuing the route rout the builders have enjoyed since at least 2009 (when I started following and or civic-engaging).

I prefered a similar event a few months back wherein John Barton got a bunch of young French students to tell us in sexy accents that we should get used to a giant office tower being built at 27 University. I thought it was brilliant that Barton merged his professional, personal and civic lives by staging an academic exercise as fake-public hearing or performance art and getting leadership (staff, commissioners, Chief of Police Dennis Burns, council) to make cameo appearances or members of the studio audience.

I had some fun last night (but not as much if I had dragged my four-cylinder Chevy to San Francisco to check out Hurray for the Riff Raff at the Independent).

I refrained from any of the nosh provided and definitely did not drink the kool-aid.

Someone mentioned The New York Times has an upcoming Sunday Magazine story, viewable now online about When the Economy Bubble in Palo Alto Pops, Will It Make a Sound? Thanks for mentioning that.

I think I name-checked George Packer The Unwinding to a couple people. I should carry around and gift copies, now in paperback.


Not sure what this does for my economic theories, but it turns out Shindell is the son of a one-percent-of-the-one-percenter and his father, Richard H. Shindell donated $3 million to Rutgers to endow a chair in Neuroscience.

Not sure exactly what it says about Palo Alto politics, but I like “Confessions” also known as “Hey Doc, how about a refill?” I wanted to call this, despite the esoteric tangential reference, “Hey, Democ, how about a refill?”

that’s kind of a lame video, so this one I am adding to the mix, because it looks and sounds like the Richard I know, and the song, although passive-aggressive, is catchy, and of the era when he would play Palo Alto (Johnson Park, Cubberley, and I think a house concert); Shindell is like the James Merrill of the singer-songwriters; he was kind of outed by a Times story from 1998, before he was famous, before his father really hit the jackpot: the investment banker and future T.Rowe Price honcho was also a Rutgers choir member, and they sang with Richard, and or Joan Baez at an early show. The Times has always been amazingly kind to Richard (not that he isn’t great); Robyn Israel also profiled him or previewed the show at Johnson, summer, 2000.

From the 1998 Times story:

The oldest of four children, Mr. Shindell was born in New Jersey and raised in Port Washington on Long Island. His father, who worked in the investment banking field, is very much a singer himself: in college he took part in the American premiere of Orff’s ”Carmina Burana” with the Rutgers University chorus, and was later a choir member at an Episcopal church on Long Island. Even now Richard Shindell Sr. sings with the Baltimore Symphony Chorus.

Back to the event per se, and not the long, musical digression which is the hallmark of Plastic Alto, the blog by the former concert promoter and two-time Council candidate (and former Nelson Rockefeller Center Fellow in Policy while at Dartmouth College), named for Ornette Coleman’s acrylic alto sax, Harris mentioned something about Governance Futures Lab, and I booted up my laptop to this link, but also thought of something that Packer touts, Evgeny Morozov, To Solve Everything Click Here, which I admit I merely skimmed.


I greeted Sid Espinosa warmly and he reciprocated, although gently indicated he was about to step to the fore such that I would not embarrass both of us if I started my typical burst of ideas and he had to cut me off. I took this shot because my stupid cell phone camera is so bad I didn’t think it would get him from across the room to the dias. (And that’s Aaron Aknin of the Planning Department and Steven Levy near Sid, waiting to take their places):

Aaron Aknin, Steven Levy, Sid Espinosa, Downtown Library, spring, 2014

Aaron Aknin, Steven Levy, Sid Espinosa, Downtown Library, spring, 2014

This is a quibble, but I shot this photo of one of the three cameras, provided by Public Media Center. The panel was miked, and there was a wireless talk mic for the audience questions, from 7:30 to 8, after 90 minutes of the panelists per se. But there was no sound reinforcement for the room itself, no p.a., as in, we were at a live taping for someone creating content and not participants per se, if you look at it by the production technique. (I raised this point about a Planning Commission meeting in the same room, a couple years ago, for Patch: the commissioners faced the camera and the citizens sat in the wings; Gail Price later made the same point from the dias). I actually had no idea who produced the event; Greg Schmid (one of three Council members there, who asked a question, or countered something data-heavy Levy said, with more data) said council did, i.e. the public sector or “the people”. Like the public honoring of Martin Luther King that was actually a private fund-raiser and schmooze-fest by an uber-power-broker, sometimes you gotta read the fine print to discern public-private-corporate or new media. The event was slicker than most things coming from 250. New tree logo, et cetera.

shot within shot of steven and sid

shot within shot of steven and sid


Ann Dunkin, Steven Levy, Sid Espinosa at Our Palo Alto discussion, April, 2014

Ann Dunkin, Steven Levy, Sid Espinosa at Our Palo Alto discussion, April, 2014


edit to add:


1) Annie Lowery, New York Times Magazine. “If I bubble bursts in Palo Alto, does it make a sound”?

2) Gen Sheyner, in the Weekly, has a thorough coverage of the conversation and a lively comments section (including by Hilary Gitelman, director of planning, and Cheryl Lilienstein from the successful Maybell referendum). He has a direct quote from Nancy Shepherd, which struck me at the time.

“This is a very interesting time in our city and we are working to strike that right balance between a place to grow companies and a place to grow families”.

Who in Palo Alto actually holds equally raising a family and “growing companies”? Unless you are a VC or own downtown property (as I believe Nancy does, or her husband does), no one. And when did it start, this myth of Palo Alto per se being an incubator?

3) If Katharine Schwab publishes something on this I will link to it. I gave her a lecture on history of the press here and my pet theory that there is a gap or opportunity in that most of the press, like leadership per se, has a bias towards the development industry. (A young woman pulled out a reporter’s notebook, and I started to lecture her on the history of the press here. The search-injuns led me to her identity, and some of her clippings.)

edit to add: Elaine Meyer in her activistic newsletter of May 2, notes that there are 4,000 housing units in line or built since the 1997 Comprehensive Plan, which calls for only 2,400 such. http://paloaltohousing.blogspot.com

Edit to add, May 9, 2014: I went to a further installment of the Our Palo Alto process, yesterday at Avenidas, where I met, among others, city staff members Shannon Burkey and Consuelo Hernandez with whom I exchanged views on the project and its overall context, meaning and purpose. Earlier that afternoon, I attended the actual subcommittee of City Council that deliberated the ways to approach the Housing Element of our revised Comprehensive Plan, per state and regional policy mandates.

Thirty days later:

I clicked on a packet of documents sent to me by City Hall and this comes tumbling out:

On February 3, 2014, the City Council approved the conceptual framework for Our Palo Alto. Our Palo Alto is a community conversation about the future of the City. This two-year, citywide engagement effort is intended to create opportunities .for dialogue around important ideas and programs while tackling issues the community cares about. Fueled by input and participation from citizens, Our Palo Alto is organized into three parallel, yet interconnected tracks: Ideas, Action and Design. This action increases funding for Public Communications contractors and consultants, and for marketing and advertising on social media sites. More specifically, the increase includes support for Our Palo Alto communication, advertising, and messaging. Our Paio Alto additional support includes funding for videos about Palo Alto; and an increase to the City’s photo database for social media and website communications. Our Palo Alto initiatives specifically linked to planning, traffic, and parking are budgeted in the Planning and Community Environment Department in the amount o f $175,000. The total one-time funding for this effort is $325,000. (Ongoing:.$0) 

Let me reiterate the above 1,800 words as succinctly as possible:

We the people, of Palo Alto, do not need to spend THREE HUNDRED TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS for bureaucrats and spin-doctors to filter what should be a transparent, simple and straight-forward effort at self-governance. We do not need layers of bureaucrats explaining each other to each other. City Manager Jim Keane should be ashamed of himself. How many more people should I sent this message to?

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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1 Response to Our Palo Alto discussion featuring Sid Espinosa et al at Downtown Library Wednesday April 23, 2014

  1. markweiss86 says:

    This is my first self-commenting in quite a while, but I wanted to archive how the event was described on the City’s website (which is a dot org not a dot gov — why is that?):
    Who Are We
    6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
    Our Palo Alto
    A Community Conversation about the City’s Future

    Who Are We?
    April 23, 2014, 6-8 p.m.
    Palo Alto Downtown Library, 270 Forest Ave.
    Admission is free

    Who are Palo Altans? How is our population changing? What will the city’s demographics looks look over the next 10 to 20 years? The answers to these questions will undoubtedly impact future demand for housing and schools, and may ultimately change the way we think about ourselves.

    Join us for a lively, interactive and informative panel discussion, moderated by former Mayor Sid Espinosa, on the demographic and economic trends affecting our community, and what the changes in our population mean for the City’s future.

    Panel speakers include:
    Steve Levy, Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy
    David Harris, The Institute for the Future
    Ann Dunkin, Palo Alto Unified School District
    Attendees will also have the opportunity to view Made Into America, an online archive of stories from people in the Bay Area about their families’ immigration to the U.S.

    Fueled by input and participation from citizens, Our Palo Alto is a community conversation about our city’s future. Over the next few years, the conversation will create opportunities for dialogue around Ideas, Actions, and Design. Together we will discuss important ideas and programs, tackle the issues the community cares about, and design a long term plan for the future.

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