In the Public Interest
Stay Home, Be Safe & Be Well
From Ed Shikada, Palo Alto City Manager
An Update about the current public health emergency
In my report to the City Council on Monday, April 13, I shared an update on what the City is doing to ensure essential services continue during this public health emergency and other news and updates that I am sharing here. This blog provides a summary of the staff presentation and more on the Council actions to keep you informed.
As a City, we continue our public safety response during this public health emergency and I encourage all community members to stay connected and be well during this time of increased stress and anxiety. We truly are stronger together and while in uncertain times, everyone’s sacrifices help ensure the safety of our community.
Activation of our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to maintain and manage the City’s COVID-19 public safety response and emergency management effort continues. As does our Citizen Corps Council, a group dedicated to connecting in response to our emergency to share information, problem solve, and partner as a cohesive team. This group is convened by the Mayor and discusses various issues including hospital needs on a weekly basis.
Compliance with the Public Health Order is mandatory. All residents and workers are urged to understand and comply with the Order, including staying at or close to home. Those wishing to report a public health order violation are welcome to call the Police Department’s 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329–2413. This includes any type of public health order violation, including “nonessential” construction, inadequate social distancing at businesses, and other complaints. Our Police Department’s primary goal is always to educate first and ask for voluntary compliance. While violations of the public health order are misdemeanors, making arrests continues to remain a measure of last resort for the Palo Alto Police Department. It will only be considered after all education and voluntary compliance efforts have failed.
The March 31 County of Santa Clara Public Health Order clarifies what are essential business and activities and includes prohibiting almost all construction activities. As a result, all construction in Palo Alto is suspended at this time, unless the project meets specific elements set forth in the Public Health Department Order. At present, there are four qualifying projects on El Camino Real and Page Mill Road that meet the County’s exemptions and are allowed to continue construction work. In addition, all City infrastructure projects are suspended, except for the California Avenue Parking Garage project which will be suspended after work to secure the construction site is completed in a safe manner. The site will be secure by the end of this week.
We are continuing to maintain essential services through this emergency. City staff fill a range of roles from essential on-site and remote work to special duties to meet state-of-emergency and ongoing city needs. For specialized staff focused on essential services, some staff are rotating week on/week off assignments to minimize potential exposure per the Santa Clara County Public Health Order. City staff is also preparing to accelerate community recovery efforts and developing plans to ensure that we can quickly pivot once the Shelter in Place order is lifted. Staff are also catching up on administrative work, such as training, performance goals planning, and City policy clean-up. We are implementing redeployment plans, including ways employees can support our non-profit and community-based organization partners with meeting their needs.
There are several examples of how City staff are already redeployed and more work in this area is underway. The Council and Palo Alto community can be proud of our employees for their tremendous work in adapting as a workforce during this emergency period. These few examples demonstrate how the community’s tax dollars are at work and demonstrate the flexibility of our staff team to quickly change their work in response to the needs of our community.
· Revenue Collections staff continue to process payments and refunds where needed. Accounting staff are completing the interim Comprehensive Accounting Financial Report (CAFR) Audit and researching and setting up FEMA-required recordkeeping and expenses tracking.
· Parks staff are supplementing the Rangers to reinforce social distancing at our open spaces.
· Our recreation staff are creating virtual programming, preparing programs for recovery and planning summer activities under various scenarios.
· Fire Inspectors with suspended construction projects are pivoting to prepare for the wildland fire season and visiting (with proper social distancing) hillside property owners to reinforce vegetation management.
· Information Technology staff are supporting systems and remote workers, as well as supporting on-site staff using PPE and social distancing protocols.
· Library staff are supporting the Community Support Call Center and preparing to handle incoming community emails, as well as communications support and preparing for recovery.
· Planning and Development Services staff continue handling applications and are in the process of launching online plan submittals, as well as Emergency Operations Center duties and planning to accelerate the City’s recovery.
City employees have responded to this emergency with flexibility, creativity, and professionalism. We all have much to be proud of and thankful for in the performance of our team.
Last week, the City Council approved direction to authorize the use of paid administrative leave to cover COVID-19 related loss of hours by City employees. This milestone is not taken lightly and demonstrates the Council’s confidence in our City team to continue essential services while accepting responsibility for the effective use of public funds. It also ensures that as we develop plans to rebuild and recover, we have the staff available to support that effort. The use of administrative leave is actively managed and minimized. However, this is a useful tool, when options to redeploy and refocus staff are not available, or where Coronavirus limits an employee’s ability to work. It bridges the gap between an employee’s ability to perform duties and their normal paid status.
Looking ahead, we continue to prepare for a challenging budget reality as I discussed in my update last week. On April 20, the City Council will receive my proposed budget transmittal and base budget. Following this, through May and June, we will hold a series of budget discussions with the City Council and seek Council consideration of a new a fiscal budget on June 23. The City’s fiscal year begins on July 1.
One area of that can positively impact the City’s budget is supporting local business in recovering from this emergency. Work is underway to develop a small business financial support program to lift up our business community during this challenging time. We are exploring establishing a matched loan model, like Mountain View’s and exploring fundraising opportunities to leverage funding. We are also seeking business feedback through a business roundtable and through a newly formed City Council Ad Hoc Committee with Councilmembers Cormack and Kniss. Concurrently, we are focused on recovery and resiliency planning. As more details on these and other efforts are available, I will keep you updated.
Continue to stay safe Palo Alto and know we are in this together; be well and be kind during this time of emergency.
Ed Shikada, Palo Alto City Manager
Helpful Online Resources and Other Ways to Stay Connected
The City’s Customer Support Call Center connect the community with information at (650) 272–3181.
Find the City’s dedicated webpage on the current public health emergency at www.cityofpaloalto.org/Coronavirus
Interested in becoming a caregiver- for wages or volunteering- to support our essential employees working to keep the community safe? Please check out our recent blog about the City’s partnership with Care.com, by going here.
To support local restaurants, grocery stores and pharmacies open during this emergency situation, go to www.cityofpaloalto.org/supportlocal
To get help or give help to those in need, go to www.cityofpaloalto.org/supportservices
If you are a business owner or an employee of a business, go to www.cityofpaloalto.org/businessassistance
A new webpage is focused on ways to be well and be safe, go here for more: www.cityofpaloalto.org/bewell