Mediation is a voluntary dispute resolution process designed to bring people in conflict together in a safe and confidential environment for a face-to-face meeting to work out solutions to their differences.
PAMP mediation sessions are facilitated by two specially trained, impartial co-mediators. The co-mediators encourage the parties to discuss their concerns and consider options for resolving their conflicts. Often this improves relationships and keeps the conflict out of the court system, which is time consuming and costly. Resolutions are based on the voluntary choice of the parties -- the mediators do not impose the terms of the resolution or force the parties to agree.
What types of conflicts are resolved through mediation?
Neighbor-to-neighbor issues: noise, pets, property lines, fences, trees, common driveways, nuisances
Tenant/landlord issues: security deposit returns, rent increases, lease issues, terminations of tenancy
Individual disputes: disagreements among housemates, roommates
Organizational disputes: disagreements with Homeowners Associations, members of community organizations
Consumer issues: monetary disputes between consumer and business or service organization
Workplace issues: co-workers, supervisor/employee
The following types of conflicts are NOT handled by PAMP:
Family court issues – e.g. divorce, child custody
Why use mediation?
It’s YOUR decision
Rather than putting a dispute in the hands of a judge who has limited knowledge of the people and the situation, mediation allows community members with disagreements to explore all of the possibilities after fully hearing each other's views, and to tailor their own solution according to their needs, if they choose to do so.
For those who agree to participate in mediation, the Palo Alto Mediation Program has helped them to reach a satisfactory resolution approximately 80% of the time. Parties comply with agreements reached in mediation in more than 90% of cases!
Mediation is confidential
The mediation process is confidential. People who participate in mediation can feel comfortable discussing their dispute openly because nothing anyone says, does, or writes down at the meeting itself can be used later as evidence in any court proceeding. The process does not result in court or police records.
Mediation is less stressful
For many people, going to court is combative and time consuming. Mediation, by contrast, is informal, emphasizing conversation and understanding. Any solution is the result of both parties arriving at a mutual agreement.
It's fast and it's free!
Compared to the months or even years that it often takes for a dispute to be settled in court, mediation can usually be set up within a couple of weeks. It is arranged for a time and date convenient to the parties, not an arbitrary court schedule. And the service is absolutely FREE to those who live, own property, or work in Palo Alto or Stanford!
Court is still an option
If participants can't resolve their conflicts in mediation, or if one of the people involved refuses to take part in the mediation session, the dispute can still be brought before a court. Therefore, mediation is a risk-free process -- participants have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by considering mediation first.
The mediation process
Mediation is a voluntary informal process, conducted in a safe, neutral and confidential setting either in person at a City meeting room or via videoconference. The goal of mediation is to let people speak for themselves and work together to find a solution to their conflict. Three hours are scheduled to allow sufficient time for discussion.
The co-mediators will:
Ensure that both parties have an opportunity to be heard and understood;
Keep the parties from interrupting each other;
Facilitate the discussion by asking questions and summarizing the points made by both parties; and
Encourage the parties to consider solutions and look for points of agreement.
The mediators will not take sides, assess blame, or suggest solutions. The mediators will not force anyone to make a decision. Since mediation is voluntary, either participant can end the mediation process at any time.
If a settlement is reached, the mediators will assist the parties in documenting the agreement. The parties have the option to decide whether the agreement will be confidential or admissible in court. If a written agreement is produced, every participant will receive a copy. The PAMP case manager will follow up with the parties to see if the agreement was adhered to.
For more details see Participating in Mediation.
The mediators are volunteers who have been professionally trained to help parties resolve their issues. Each has successfully completed a 40-hour training that includes advanced listening, mediation, communication, negotiation, facilitation, and conciliation skills. In addition, mediators participate in continuing education programs on an ongoing basis.
Unlike attorneys, arbitrators, or judges, the mediators are trained to remain neutral -- they do not take sides, do not make recommendations, do not give advice of any kind (legal or financial), or offer their own opinions.
The mediators' role is to ask questions and guide people through the steps in the mediation process by creating a structured forum and a safe environment where both parties can openly discuss their concerns or issues and come to a mutually agreeable resolution, if they choose to do so.
Mediators take an oath of confidentiality and are required, along with the parties, to sign a Confidentiality Acknowledgment before the start of each mediation.
Telephone conciliation may be used if either of the parties is interested in settling a dispute but is uncomfortable working with the other party face to face. The parties are not communicating directly with one another in this process. Instead, a mediator works individually with each of the parties over the phone to assist them in reaching agreement to resolve their dispute. The program principles of confidentiality and neutrality are applied just as if it were a mediation.
Examples of mediation cases
Here are some examples of mediation cases handled by PAMP:
A landlord and tenant disagree over cleaning and damage charges deducted from a security deposit.
A neighbor's dog barks late into the night, disturbing the neighborhood.
A neighbor won’t discuss rebuilding a fence on the property line and won’t trim a tree that is damaging the fence.
A consultant claims a business owes additional fees for work performed on a project.
A homeowner is unhappy with a contractor’s work and feels the work should be redone at the contractor’s expense.
How does a typical case proceed?
Case is opened and assigned. The requesting party contacts the PAMP case manager to discuss their dispute and inquire about mediation. The case manager provides information and counseling as needed, and determines whether the case is a good candidate for mediation. The case manager then emails the panel of mediators asking for a volunteer to develop the case. Mediators who are available respond by email within 24 hours, and the case manager then assigns the case to one of the volunteer mediators to develop.
Case is developed. The assigned mediator contacts the parties by phone to understand the nature of the dispute and to discuss the benefits of mediation with both parties. The goal of case development is not simply to persuade the parties to mediate, but rather to lay the foundation for the parties to successfully participate in mediation. This process can require multiple conversations with both parties before a mediation date can be scheduled (at the convenience of both parties). The case manager provides administrative and counseling support throughout the process.
Co-mediator is assigned and case is mediated. Once a date and time for the mediation is determined, the case manager emails the panel of mediators asking for a co-mediator. (PAMP uses a co-mediation model for all of its mediation sessions.) Mediators who are available respond by email within 24 hours, and the case manager then assigns a co-mediator. The case is then mediated at the pre-determined date and time.
Agreements are recorded and case is closed. If the parties come to an agreement during the mediation session, the mediator who developed the case will forward the signed agreement to the case manager who will record it and close out the case.
When and where do mediations take place?
Mediations are scheduled at the mutual convenience of the parties. Mediations can be scheduled for mornings, afternoons, evenings, and occasionally weekends. Mediations are held at neutral community meeting rooms (Cubberley Community Center, Lucie Stern Community Center, Palo Alto Libraries, etc.) or via Zoom video conference. They typically run three hours in length. The PAMP case manager is responsible for arranging the logistics (such as meeting location or Zoom link) once a mediation time has been agreed upon.
How to open a case
The first step is to call PAMP at 650-856-4062. The PAMP case manager will ask you questions and explain your dispute resolution options. If the case manager determines that the conflict is suitable for mediation, a case will be opened. A communication will be sent to both parties and a volunteer mediator will be assigned to the case. The mediator then calls both parties, discusses the mediation request, and determines if the second party is willing to participate in mediation.
If both parties agree to mediate, a mediation date is scheduled and two mediators are assigned to host the mediation session. Mediations are scheduled at the convenience of the parties and may be held mornings, afternoons, evenings, and even on weekends if necessary, at neutral locations such as libraries, the art center, or via videoconference. Mediations are typically scheduled for three hours to allow the parties sufficient time to work through the dispute.