Palo Alto citizens will vote today not on national, state or local officials, but on two community issues that have inspired similar amounts of political debate. Measures D and E will take center stage on the Palo Alto ballot, after a recent decision by the local legislature to move city council elections to even numbered years to save money.
Measure D would repeal the use of a third-party arbitrator to settle disputes between public safety workers and management. Measure E would un-dedicate 10 of Byxbee Park’s 127 acres, with the hopes of building a compost facility on the land to process sewage and food waste.
The debate surrounding Measure D is centered on the city’s ability to control matters such as pensions and benefits for workers. While an arbitrator has historically been used to ensure appropriate treatment of the city’s public safety workers, particularly firemen, proponents of Measure D argue that this value will still be upheld without reaching out to a third party.
“My opinion is that we absolutely need Measure D-that city council needs to be able to control the costs,” said Councilman Greg Scharff. “Measure D is absolutely vital to the community… It would create a more harmonious relationship between the fire department and the city.”
Scharff said he believes that binding arbitration in the city charter causes more harm than good, and that Palo Alto would benefit greatly if Measure D passes. He estimated the total funding tally of Measure D supporters at $20,000, compared to an estimated $70,000 to $80,000 funded by opponents of the measure.
The “No on D” committee writes on its website that the city council should “reform binding arbitration rather than repeal it.”
The issue of binding arbitration has the potential to influence Stanford’s funds as well, some of which are allocated to payroll and equipment costs for firefighters.
The debate over Measure E has been equally lively.
“Measure E provides a great opportunity,” said former Palo Alto mayor Peter Drekmeier. “It doesn’t commit the city to building a facility. It doesn’t determine what technology would be used. But it allows us to take the next step, which is a thorough study of the different possibilities.”
Drekmeier explained that wet anaerobic digestion has the potential to save billions of dollars, generate renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gases. The Palo Alto Green Energy and Compost Initiative has spent the past few days distributing a flyer to voters, clarifying benefits of Measure E. Proponents of Measure E have raised just under $30,000, according to Drekmeier.
“It’s premature to take parkland when you don’t know what’s going to go on it,” said former city councilwoman Emily Renzel. “You don’t go and un-dedicate parkland for future studies…We don’t know the impacts of it. We don’t know the costs of it. We don’t know the feasibility of it.”
Every voter household in Palo Alto has received a flyer warning of the potential difficulties of Measure E, according to Renzel. She reported that the Committee for No on Measure E raised just over $17,000, none of which was donated by developers.
With these two issues on the ballot, even without city council elections, Palo Alto might still see a large voter turnout. Out of the 71 percent of voting citizens who arrange for absentee ballots, 8,000 were reported to have turned in their ballots before the weekend, according to Drekmeier and Renzel.
“There are only two items on the ballot, Measure D and Measure E, and if people feel interested enough in one or both of those issues, they’ll vote. Otherwise, it will be a lower voter turnout,” Drekmeier said. “But the absentee, the vote-by-mail turnout, has really been quite high, so that suggests that there is interest.”