Crime makes council’s list of priorities

Daily Post Correspondent

Palo Alto City Council will focus on crime this year as part of a new “community health and safety” priority for 2022, council members decided during a retreat on Saturday.

“Social justice,” which was one of four council priorities last year, was dropped as a stand-alone priority for 2022. The council kept three other 2021 priorities: economic recovery; housing for social and economic balance; and climate change – protection and adaptation. The “economic recovery” priority has been modified this year to say “economic recovery and transition.”

Community health and safety can encompass a range of issues. In a note added to the priority, council members listed crime, mental health, air quality, noise, and sense of belonging as targeted issues.

Similarly, council included a note with the economic recovery and transition priority, identifying a “cohesive vision for our commercial cores” as an area of focus.

The council voted 7-0 to approved the 2022 priorities. City Manager Ed Shikada said he’ll return to council with a work plan based on the priorities.

Councilman Greer Stone proposed the community health and safety priority. He pointed to the recent “passionate plea for help” from residents of Altaire Walk, who say they’ve been terrorized by thieves. The thieves have been taking mail, packages, and bicycles from the gated townhouse complex, and residents are worried the thieves will become violent.

“Throughout 2021, and unfortunately looks like continuing into 2022, property and violent crime has been on an alarming rise,” Stone said. “We’re seeing really this just tragic impact that the increase in crime is having on residents and the disruption in their ability to feel safe in their own homes.”

Councilman Greg Tanaka said the increase in violent crime is a new trend for the city.

“Who would think that you’d have armed robberies in Palo Alto, right, and shootings?” he said. “What the heck?”

Stanford Shopping Center is being hit with flash robberies, Tanaka said, and the city has been responding to regular parking garage fires.

Last month, a man who was part of a group shining lights into cars in south Palo Alto fired a handgun at a resident who was chasing them, according to police. In August, a Palo Alto High School student walking downtown at 10 a.m. was stabbed by a woman in an unprovoked attack, police said.

Tanaka said crime prevention should be the city’s No. 1 priority. He proposed changing the “community health and safety” priority to “community health and crime prevention,” but the other council members rejected his idea.

The council’s adoption of the priorities came after members of the public weighed in with their own ideas.

Many speakers asked the council to focus on reducing aircraft noise. Jennifer Landesmann with Sky Posse Palo Alto said the reduction in air traffic during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a relief.

“A quieter Palo Alto is amazing,” she said. “I don’t want to see noise go to pre-Covid levels.”

Others asked the council to prioritize mental health, including the impacts of the pandemic. For some, addressing leaf-blower noise was a top issue.

Kathy Miller with the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto asked the council to prioritize campaign finance reform for city elections. According to the League’s website, the reforms include a $500 limit on campaign contributions; a $30,000 voluntary spending limit; and disclosure of donors who contribute $2,500 or more toward political ads in city elections.

The reforms would help ensure a more diverse set of candidates could afford to run for city council, Miller said.