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Yes on Measure B to improve our quality of life and public safety

Uploaded: Sep 30, 2014
The upcoming election will be full of both local and statewide election choices. Most attention in Palo Alto has been focused on the upcoming city council elections. But there is another choice on our local ballot (Measure B) that will directly support the quality of life and public safety in our city now and in the years to come.

Measure B will raise the transient occupancy (hotel) tax from 12% to 14% and provide approximately $31 million (roughly 25%) of the $126 million needed for the next round of infrastructure investments. The other 75% will come in roughly equal parts from 1) monies provided by Stanford as part of the agreement to expand the medical facilities, 2) hotel tax from the five new hotels currently planned and 3) monies in the city's infrastructure reserve, parking fees, city surpluses and other sources.

The latest details on the anticipated projects and funding are from the June 2, 2014 council packet web link.

The anticipated projects include a new public safety building and upgrades to two 60+ year old existing fire stations, more than $20 million bike lane additions and improvements, parks, and two new garages. The ballot statement in favor of Measure B signed by Ray Bacchetti, Penny Ellson, Sid Espinoza, Larry Klein, and Greg Schmid writes

"Measure B will:
? Ensure that Palo Alto's fire stations and public safety operations are seismically safe and continue operating after a major earthquake
? Provide safe sidewalks, paths and bridges for bikes and pedestrians, including safe routes to school
? Maintain city streets and roads, making dangerous intersections safer for all users
? Reduce neighborhood parking impacts by creating new off-street parking options
? Maintain city parks and recreation facilities"

The ballot arguments for and against Measure B can be found at

web link

web link
I encourage city council candidates to weigh in on how they will vote on Measure B. To my knowledge there is no opposition among current council members or candidates but if I am wrong, please correct the record here.

I will be voting yes on Measure B after spending nearly two years working on the citizen's infrastructure committee and with the knowledge that the city has adopted nearly all of our recommendations and done so unanimously.

These investments mainly serve the residents. They maintain and improve our quality of life by taking care to upgrade and expand our public facilities much as we take care of our homes and possessions. And remember that today fire station personnel spend most of their time providing emergency medical response services, which can be improved with the fire station upgrades. To borrow a phrase current in the council campaign, these investments should be part of every "residentialist's'" campaign.

The ballot argument against Measure B signed by Jon Kiya, Chair of the PA Chamber, Russ Cohen, Director of the Downtown Business and professional Association, Barbara Gross, Manager of the Garden Court hotel and Tony Carrasco, a longtime Palo Alto architect also agrees that these investments are important. They write

"The business community believes that other, better ways can be found to fund the city's infrastructure needs. We stand ready to work with the Council and staff to explore the means by which those needs can be addressed. Increasing the TOT is not the answer."

They raise three arguments?1) the tax increase would cause corporate travel planners to move visitors to hotels in neighboring cities; 2) the ballot measure does not guarantee how the money will be spent and 3) the tax unfairly singles out one group to pay the tax.

I really do not understand the argument that local hotels would lose lots of business and that would, in turn, cause a loss in restaurant and other business in Palo Alto. People choose Palo Alto hotels for two reasons?1) they run good operations (like Barbara Gross at Garden Court) and provide excellent value and 2) the visitors are here for Palo Alto destinations like Stanford, local companies, family and the like.

The additional tax on a room rate of $150 is $3 and twice that ($6) for a room rate of $300 a night. If I am right that the destinations are local, why would a visitor or her corporate travel agent book into a hotel in an adjacent city like Mountain View, which would require more travel time and cost. Why would someone give up a convenient even walkable location to save $6 a night? And deal with traffic in El Camino and additional car rental or taxi costs?

And if the hotel tax is such a big deal (our tax is already at the high end), why are five new hotels about to start in Palo Alto?

The ballot measure does not guarantee that the money will be spent in a particular way on infrastructure but the council, again with unanimous votes most of the time, have been pretty clear. If there are candidates who do not support these investments, perhaps the choices could change so it is important for candidates to state their positions. The reason that the ballot measure does not list a specific set of investments is 1) the exact list could change by the time all the money is available and 2) that phrasing of the ballot measure would increase the required majority to 2/3 from 50%.

The fairness argument is interesting. It presumes as I read the argument that the tax falls on the hotels while I think the tax will fall mainly on the visitors. But there is no doubt that the hotel tax does not fall as much on Palo Alto residents as other choices such as an infrastructure bond or small sales tax increase. I suspect that many residents, having paid even larger hotel taxes while traveling in other places, won't mind having visitors pay a bit more for our infrastructure that they do use.

I would have voted to fund these projects if there had been a bond and I will vote to fund these projects under Measure B because we have been waiting too long to make these investments for ourselves and our city's future.

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Randy Popp, a resident of Monroe Park,
on Sep 30, 2014 at 11:53 am

Speaking as a resident of Palo Alto, I appreciate the information provided by Steve in regard to Measure B. I believe the modest increase will not make any difference in what city people choose to book hotels and the revenue it will generate for infrastructure is critical. I am in favor of Measure B and hope it will pass with little opposition.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 30, 2014 at 12:57 pm

I am opposed to any increased taxation that does not specifically target a problem that can not be solved some other way. Measure B is another tax that will go into the general fund, and will be spent on who-knows-what, but it is very difficult to believe that this money will be used to actually increase public safety?as alleged by this blog?s author.

The council only recently authorized a 10% increase in salaries for the next couple of years for virtually everyone on staff. Over the next 30 years, this $10M equates to over $300M in increased salary and benefits costs. That $300+M has to come from the general fund, which is where the TOT increase will go.

Moreover, it?s hard to believe that the Council will not be increasing salaries/benefits again, within the next 3-5 years, meaning that it will be looking to increase other revenue streams in the not-too-distant future.

And let?s not forget that it was only a couple of years ago that the Council wanted to force a tax on all businesses here in Palo Alto, again with no target for the revenue raised by this tax, or any cap on the tax.

Although not a fan of new taxes, why not raise the local sales tax by 3%-5%, so that this tax burden falls on all retail outlets, and all residents, rather than on people who don?t live here? What makes taxing non-residents (particularly out-of-towners) so exciting to some people, but taxing the local voters not so exciting?

[sentence deleted]

Measure B is a bad choice for Palo Alto. Please vote NO!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Sep 30, 2014 at 1:50 pm

"What makes taxing non-residents (particularly out-of-towners) so exciting to some people, but taxing the local voters not so exciting?"

Local voters vote, non-residents don't.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Voter, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 30, 2014 at 3:58 pm

This is a salary, pension, and perk tax to benefit our government workforce. We have a chief PR officer on the city books who costs taxpayers over a quarter million dollars per year, and yet the city pleads poor for essential infrastructure.

A no vote is necessary to send the message that the city needs to stop wasting our money before we cough up any more. This tax tries to circumvent this accountability by giving us the choice to spend other peoples (visitors) money, but the city's track record for spending tax dollars is awful and can't be ignored.

I'll support something like this when city workers are shifted to 401K or defined contribution retirement plans, and unnecessary, overpaid positions (portion deleted) are deleted.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robbie, a resident of Ventura,
on Sep 30, 2014 at 9:44 pm

This tax makes no sense. Why should hotel customers pay for bike lanes? It looks to me like the city is just being opportunist and going after successful businesses that don't have the organization to fight back. If the city wants more bike lanes, get road users to pay for them or get transportation grants like we usually do. Why tax hotels for this? Of course it would be nice to have millions of dollars to spend on public safety and bike projects, but we need to be fair about how we collect that money.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Why Indeed, a resident of another community,
on Sep 30, 2014 at 11:52 pm

A lot of residents do not like to pay current taxes, even as they enjoy the services. Tax increases are difficult to get through if the people voting have to agree. What choice does the City have but to tax people who don't vote?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by YES on Measure B, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 2, 2014 at 9:19 am

I watched the thoughtful work of the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission for years. I am really glad to see the plan complete and approved and moving toward full funding. The majority of the funding will come from the existing city revenue sources, but this last piece is sorely needed to address the infrastructure backlog.

I'm voting YES on B.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 2, 2014 at 1:30 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

There is another city council candidate debate tonight (Thursday) at 7pm at City Hall.

I hope one of the questions is "do you support Measure B".

If readers know any of the candidates, encourage them to let voters know where they stand on Measure B either here or in some other way.

Infrastructure planning and funding is an important city issue and I hope candidates will let us know their views.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 3, 2014 at 9:25 am

I am tempted to vote for B, because I agree that we need various changes, as described by Steve Levy. However, my concern is that these funds will end up in the general fund, then used for frivolous projects like fancy bridges and supporting PAHC to buy out the BV property. Therefore, I will vote against it, unless there are firm commitments from the city council incumbents and candidates that the bond money will only be used for infrastructure and public safety, specifically excluding other 'wants' vs. actual 'needs'.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 3, 2014 at 11:45 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Sally.

Your concern is why I continue to hope candidates and continuing council members will weigh in on Measure B. Please ask any candidates on your own.

I am convinced of the importance of these projects to sitting members and I hope most candidates.

The council has accumulated significant funds from recent annual budgets and devoted them to the infrastructure reserve. Council has also (following our infrastructure commission's recommendation) added $2 million per year for faster annual street maintenance.

I know some members of the community have concerns about council fiscal actions but or infrastructure I am confident that members and candidates will follow through as these projects serve residents and improve our quality of life and public safety.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Marie is a registered user.

The most important infrastructure need, a new public safety building, is not even mentioned in Steve's article. I have seen no news on any progress in getting this built. The city council is awash in money and still not setting priorities. We have millions for bike bridges and revamping of council chambers - and nothing for public safety? Palo Alto's revenues have increased dramatically in the last years. I want to see them using their new funds for long awaited infrastructure needs before giving them more funds to misspend. What happened to moving utility lines underground?

I will be voting no, until I see the council putting first things first. I would vote for a bond for a portion of the money needed for a public safety building. The council made a particularly bad decision when they gave up on an option to purchase land for the public safety building several years ago. They will never see those prices again.

When the council shows that they can set priorities for needs over nice-to-have projects, I will vote for additional funds.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Oops - I went back and reread Steve's article. It does indeed mention the need for a public safety building although my understanding is that the new tax, nor the reserves mentioned are specifically directed towards a new safety building.

[portion deleted]

I eagerly await a concrete plan for a new public safety building.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Marie, thanks for acknowledging that the blog did mention the public safety building as shown below.

"The anticipated projects include a new public safety building and upgrades to two 60+ year old existing fire stations, more than $20 million bike lane additions and improvements, parks, and two new garages."

The public safety building is the council's highest priority (you are wrong that they have not set infrastructure priorities) and it will have first call on the funds when a site is found. That makes the Measure B funding especially important for the other infrastructure needs including parks, bike improvements, the fire stations and parking garages.

I included the link to the projects that will be funded so readers can judge for themselves.

As i stated the council has dedicated nearly $20 million of increased revenues in recent years to additional infrastructure spending. Still, the list of important projects is more than can be funded by annual contributions. We need a revenue stream that can support long term borrowing so that these projects can be done as quickly as possible.

These charges of misspending (or not spending on what the poster thinks is important) are easy to make anonymously. I would be more interested in hearing if council candidates make these claims and what evidence they have besides personal opinion.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Courageously Anonymous , a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 3, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Has anyone read the staff report?

The ballot measure makes it seem like two fire stations in Palo Alto will be upgraded. But, according to page 4 of the staff report (see: Web Link) only Station 3 in North Palo Alto will be funded by Measure B. Funding for Station 4 in South Palo Alto will not:

"The final $7.5 million for Fire Station 4 will be funded by future revenue sources including, but not limited to, increases in revenue from a revised UUT, future development impact fees, and Police Building rent revenue once the PSB (public safety building) is constructed."

These words at the bottom of Attachment C should strike fear in the hearts of any Palo Alto taxpayer (written by the staff in all caps, no less): NOT INCLUDED: POST OFFICE, GOLF COURSE, AIRPORT

Even without Measure B, the city will still have over $88 million to spend on infrastructure projects using new revenue from 5 new hotels in Palo Alto, Stanford money, reserves and other funds. Given how poorly the City has managed many infrastructure projects recently, I'll be voting a big NO on Measure B.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 3, 2014 at 6:44 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Yes, the second fire station was not in the staff report but I checked before posting and was told that council added the second fire station to the list.

The ballot measure is correct.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:20 pm

I endorsed Measure B because Greg Schmid asked me to,and I trust Mr. Schmid, (Dr? Schmid), and I will read the actual measure or Steve Levy's actual article later, and wing it.

At the candidate's forum the other night, racing the buzzer I started to tell the story that Rabbi Sydney Axelrad at my Bar Mitzvah -- this is 1977, 37 years ago, I was 13, I am now 50, if you do the math -- said that he dubbed me "Moshe" which is the Hebrew word for Moses, the prophet, because he thought I showed some leadership potential. I had just sung, or chanted, three pretty darn close to accurate, words if not the key or the notes, lines of a 1967 Nina Simone chestnut, I said: I wish I knew how it would feel to be free/I wish I could do all the things I can do/ Say it loud, say it clear, for the whole round world to hear --

interrupting myself, like a shaggy dog scratching itself, I am reminded that I typed a few lines of Corey Harris Plantation Town and Steve quickly and without much thought to it, deleted that --

I said "I don't know why I identify with the underclass rather than the other Ivy Leaguers on this dias" and I glanced over at A.C. Johnston the Yalie lawyer and Sid Espinosa, actually a Wesleyan but went to the Kennedy School as well. Then I looked up at Steve Levy in the back of the room - -I was actually a little worried about him -- it looks like he is losing weight -- and I started to talk about the glasnost between he and I on the account of the apocryphal story that might have happened of the 13 year-old version of me singing kiddish to the 30 year-old or so version of him, as he was engaged to his wife. I was Bar Mitzvah'd at Beth Am during the time he was about to be married there - we had the same Rabbi, so there is only so much antipathy any two of Sidney's flock can have towards each other.

But the buzzer went off.

Like I said: I wish I could do all the things I can do.

Yes indeed.
Yes on B.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by parent, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Oct 4, 2014 at 2:24 pm



I have heard that the money raised by this Measure will help to fund the million of dollars needed for the Charleston/Arastradero beautification project. Anyone else know about this?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by fwiw, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Oct 5, 2014 at 5:03 am

I take exception to a fair bit of the rationale regarding how travelers and most especially company travel agencies (tasked primarily with the goal of saving money) arrive at their booking decisions.

Of course nobody is going stay in Mountain View for $6 less. That's why Mountain View hotels are generally available for $50-75 less/night. And now instead of an additional 2% differential from Mtn View taxes, that additional premium will be 4% (from Mtn View's 10% TOT).

I could expound on this, but suffice to say that if Palo Alto hoteliers could already charge an additional 2% on their room rates without having business go elsewhere, they would already have raised their rates. Econ 101 - supply and demand.

The good news is that local restaurants will not be affected and nobody is really going elsewhere. Local hotels will dynamically adjust by lowering their prices sufficiently to guarantee adequate occupancy.

But let's be clear; except for the uninformed consumer element, the tax will really be paid the local hotels.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Eric Rosenblum, a resident of Downtown North,
on Oct 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I appreciate Steve's article... it is clear in laying out both the needs (infrastructure funding) and the sources of funds (of which the proposed Hotel tax will provide 25%).

Speaking as a resident, several of the infrastructure improvements are sorely needed, and the hotel tax funding a portion of these improvements seems to be a logical source of funds. There are commenters above who suggest (a) the city is not good at handling infrastructure spending, so don't give them any more $$s; and (b) hotel tax will lower the availability of hotel space in Palo Alto.

I think that both of these arguments are hard to justify:
(a) if we don't trust the city to make spending decisions, we should be looking to electing a new slate of leaders (and appointing a new slate of staff). However, clearly the city needs a budget for infrastructure, and the money has to come from somewhere.
(b) I agree that there should be more hotel capacity in Palo Alto. However, the low marginal increase in rate is really unlikely to have a major impact on the attractiveness of our local hotels.

I support the argument, and thank Steve for making it!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 6, 2014 at 10:58 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

One of the posters above argued that Measure B does not fund the second fire station and that the ballot argument is wrong.

Since we both cited the same table from staff reports and I posted a link to the ballot argument, let's see if we can sort this out.

First, Measure B is part of a multi-part funding package and by itself does not fund anything. As I explained in the blog

"Measure B will raise the transient occupancy (hotel) tax from 12% to 14% and provide approximately $31 million (roughly 25%) of the $126 million needed for the next round of infrastructure investments. The other 75% will come in roughly equal parts from 1) monies provided by Stanford as part of the agreement to expand the medical facilities, 2) hotel tax from the five new hotels currently planned and 3) monies in the city's infrastructure reserve, parking fees, city surpluses and other sources."

The ballot argument and proponents correctly point out that Measure B is part of the funding plan that includes the public safety building, two fires stations and the other items I listed above and can be seen in the links provided.

The poster then points out that the original funding package included roughly $125 million for a project package of roughly $132 million and argues that the fire station is therefore unfunded by Measure B. But he or she then provides a quote (below) from the staff report showing where the funding could come from. I will add, in addition, that the city has a good track record of providing money from the General Fund to infrastructure projects including $12 million in the current package.

"The final $7.5 million for Fire Station 4 will be funded by future revenue sources including, but not limited to, increases in revenue from a revised UUT, future development impact fees, and Police Building rent revenue once the PSB (public safety building) is constructed."

Many posters (though not the candidates themselves) are portraying the upcoming election in slate terms.

So it is encouraging to know that support for Measure B reaches across divides about growth. One ballot signatory is Greg Schmid, who came to most of our infrastructure committee meetings. Marc Berman, who served on the IBRC and on the council infrastructure committee was one of those fighting hardest to include the second fire station and move the package forward.

All incumbents running for re-election (Holman, Schraff and Shepard) support Measure B. And at the last candidate forum Tom DuBois stated his support for Measure B.

It is good to see Palo Altans who may disagree on other issues rally in support of these investments that will improve our safety and quality of life.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Sally, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm

"Measure B will raise the transient occupancy (hotel) tax from 12% to 14% and provide approximately $31 million (roughly 25%) of the $126 million needed for the next round of infrastructure investments."

Steve, doesn't this just free up the general fund to buy the BV property for about $30M?

My great fear is that our city council cannot resist spending ever more money on their favorite projects. Our infrastructure was neglected for years, while so many boutique projects were approved.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Ralph Britton, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Oct 6, 2014 at 4:30 pm

I served with Steve Levy on the IRBC. The IRBC met with the City Council on several occasions. There were unanimous expressions of serious concern for the possibly dangerous inadequacy of the subject Fire Stations and the Police Headquarters at these meetings. I have no doubt if sufficient funds are identified, that these vitally needed facilities will receive them. Accordingly, I support measure B because the tax does not put us out-of-line with neighboring cities and the revenue will go toward overdue projects.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 6, 2014 at 9:34 pm

I think our infrastructure needs a lot work, and is sorely needed; however I didn't get the impression that the infrastructure commission felt the same way in their actions; for example,

* when the city decided to go over budget on remodeling the city hall lobby from $1 million to $4.5 million, none of the infrastructure commission members objected to why this money wasn't going to the projects that were "sorely needed".

* When the California Ave beautification project went from $1.5 million to $7 million, no one from the infrastructure commission objected as to why this money wasn't being spent on the "sorely needed projects"

* When the city manager decided to hire a Chief PR person, and a Chief Sustainability Person ($5 million over 10 years), no one from the infrastructure commission objected as to whty this money wasnt' being spent on "sorely needed projects"

Unfortunately, the ballot does not have any safeguards that prevents the money from being used for other purposes. That's what I object to.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Oct 14, 2014 at 3:04 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Check out the Yes on B website.

[Web Link web site]

Everyone should now have received the ballot arguments in the mail. Check out the site for more information.

If you support these investments, please add your name to the endorsement list.



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