Cynical and unaware, Palo Alto voters aren't likely to approve either a $50 million bond to construct a new public-safety building or a $45 million bond to improve and expand libraries, consultants told the City Council Monday.
And they certainly aren't likely to approve both at the same time, consultant Jessica Reynolds, a senior vice president at Oakland-based Lew Edwards Group, bluntly informed council members.
A year to 18 months of public education efforts are needed, she said.
"There is definitely a lot of information out there but it is not somehow penetrating with the average citizen," Reynolds said.
Reynolds and Richard Bernard, senior vice president of Santa Monica-based Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates, based their recommendations on a 21-voter focus group held Aug. 30 and a 600-resident survey in February.
The recommendations threw a wrench in the council's campaign to expand and upgrade libraries and build a new police headquarters and emergency command center by placing bond measures on the June or November 2008 ballots.
To complicate matters, Palo Alto Unified School District is also planning to ask the community for money in 2008, the consultants noted. Bernard said he wasn't sure if Palo Altans understood the differences between the district and the city.
The council did not vote on the latest public-opinion data. Instead, it unanimously -- with Councilman Bern Beecham and Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto absent -- approved pursuing the design of a single new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center.
The vote killed a phased approach to the 51,000-square-foot facility and ensured the library's material processing ("technical services") operation will be included in the new Mitchell Park library, freeing up space in the Downtown Library.
The council also voted to have its Policy & Services Committee reexamine the existing ordinance governing the naming of city facilities.
The city staff wants to make sure the naming is appropriate, with the upcoming Art Center expansion, additions to the Main Library, a new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, renovation to Downtown Library and the public safety building, Library Director Diane Jennings said.
According to the design approved Monday, the two-story library would border Middlefield Road, with the Community Center encircling a courtyard protecting protecting a large valley oak. The existing tennis courts would remain where they are nearby.
"It's really exciting seeing it come together and become more real," Councilman Peter Drekmeier said. "I'm hoping we'll pick up some more votes as people see how great this is."
The phased approach drew nearly universal disapproval. It would be more costly, less likely to be constructed and less efficient or attractive, the council and members of the public present agreed Monday night.
In the February poll of 600 residents, the library bond received 63 percent approval, while only 57 percent of respondents said they would be likely to vote for the $50 public safety and emergency command headquarters planned for a site on Park Boulevard just south of Oregon Expressway.
Two-thirds approval is needed to approve the bond measures.
Bernard cautioned the 21-person sample wasn't representative of the entire community. It did provide insights, however, he said.
Palo Altans are educated and satisfied overall with the community, but they demand proof, details and are distrustful of city government, Bernard said.
They knew almost nothing about the Blue Ribbon Task Force --
a citizens committee formed in 2006 that studied the need for a new police headquarters -- or the city's Library Advisory Commission, whose studies guided the development of the proposed library improvements.
The residents also had strong doubts either project really required an entire $50 million, Bernard said.
The participants expressed strong support of improvements across all the branch libraries, he said.
The focus group largely supported improved emergency response facilities, but didn't see any urgency, he said.
The distrust of government was stronger in Palo Alto than in other communities the two consultants had worked, they said.
As they were informed about the needs of the libraries and the Police Department, they became more willing to support the measures, providing evidence that education will be worthwhile, he said.
Residents want to hear personal stories about the needs, backed up by photos, Reynolds said.
It is too soon to recommend which of the two bonds should go first, she said.
Councilman John Barton said it makes sense to tell the public about the needs at one time, then pledge not to come back asking for money right away.
"There is something about being honest with the public about what the investments are," Councilwoman Dena Mossar said.
(Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.)