When the Palo Alto City Council gathers next month to discuss its priorities for the coming year, figuring out how to shorten its steadily lengthening meetings will be on the agenda.

Council members voted 9-0 Tuesday night to carve out an hour to discuss the issue at their Feb. 2 retreat.

"I think this really complements some of the efforts we're making in management of the meetings and in the time we're spending on agenda items," said Council Member Gail Price, referring to newly introduced time estimates on council agendas. "I look forward to the discussion."

Price, along with Mayor Greg Scharff and Council Member Larry Klein, broached the topic in a colleagues' memo last week. The trio wants the city council to accept "voluntary changes" to reduce the length of meetings, which now average about five hours.

If no improvement is seen within the first half of 2013, the city council could discuss "mandatory provisions" to limit questions and debate time at its mid-year retreat, the memo said.

"We acknowledge that there may be many reasons for longer meetings: more extensive reports and more discussions from the public, for example. But the one variable we have direct control over is the time we spend as Council Members asking questions and discussing issues," Scharff, Klein and Price wrote.

"We risk undermining public confidence in our processes if we can't get this problem under control."

In 2012, the city council spent 66 more hours in meetings than it did in 2008, a 34 percent increase, according to the memo.

The city council also started 37 of its meetings before 6 p.m. last year, only having done so 23 times in the previous four years combined, but still saw nearly the same number of meetings end after 11 p.m. or midnight.

Email Jason Green at jgreen@dailynewsgroup.com; follow him at twitter.com/jgreendailynews.