News

Palo Alto to tackle infrastructure problem tonight

City Council's retreat to focus on needed repairs, 2013 budget

Palo Alto officials will consider ways to pay for infrastructure repairs and get their first look at the proposed city budget for 2013 at a special retreat Monday afternoon.

The meeting, which will begin at 5 p.m. at City Hall, will be the City Council's third retreat focused on infrastructure, a topic that emerged as a major priority with the release last year of a long-awaited report detailing the city's infrastructure needs. The 17-member Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Task Force estimated that the city has an infrastructure backlog of $41.5 million, a list that includes building repairs and fixes to local parks, streets and sidewalks.

On March 26, the council considered possible bond measures that would help fund some of these repairs, including a possible increase to the city's sales tax, transient-occupancy tax or utility-users tax. The council has until July to decide whether to place a tax measure on the November ballot. It will discuss its options at today's retreat.

The council will also see for the first time City Manager James Keene's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1. Keene's budget presentation will kick off a series of budget hearings by the council's Finance Committee and the full council, which is set to adopt the budget on June 18.

The council is not scheduled to take any action on the proposed budget tonight.

Comments

Posted by Michael, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 30, 2012 at 9:32 am

This comment, by poster Ernesto USMC, from the last infrastructure thread sums up the situation perfectly. I encourage everyone to click on the link below and have a look at how much of our tax $$ Palo Alto wastes by flagrantly overpaying for labor. This is too informed an electorate to let our city become a richer version of Bell, CA, but the public unions and the councilmembers they've bought have us well on the way.



"The city has plenty of money. They unwisely chose to spend it on overpaying their own workforce. This may be politically convenient (many of the council members take a lot of money and support from the unions), but it is essentially stealing from the taxpayers, who receive less service than they pay for.

In deciding to give all of our money to the unions, as well as a lot of our children's money to the unions through unsustainable pension promises, the city chose to neglect infrastructure. What little remained was frittered away on pet projects such as bike bridges and the Homer ave tunnel.

Now the city has the nerve to try to extract more tax revenue from the public, while continuing to pay firefighters close to 200K? Streetsweepers costing nearly 100k? See the compensation figures in the link below. The amount of waste is staggering.

Web Link

The city should bid out all services (except realistically police), and allow the current workers to compete for the jobs. Cities that require their unions to bid against the private sector often find that the union's suddenly realize they can deliver the same services for often 40-50% below what they'd previously insisted they were worth."


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:01 am

The hilarity continues.

There hasn't been a city council in the last eon that understands budgets or is willing to spend the time necessary to study them. Hillary Freeman, back in 2004 suggested zero-based budgeting and that was the end of her tenure.

Benest's managers will put together their usual requests for more money and ultimately the council will rubber stamp whatever is put in front of them.

We all know this exercise will not result in any major cuts, but will instead "prove" that more taxes and/or bonds are required to keep the infrastructure from crumbling even further – while we go on paying for bike bridges and Magic Bridges and Children's Theatres and art projects and Zoos and new parking signs and urban foresters and other non-essentials.

And utility fees will increase to pump more money into the general fund.


Posted by Judith, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:34 am

You might have noticed that Frank Benest hasn't been city manager for a while.

You complainers: Are you the same guys who write in about the bad conditions of our streets? Who would you like to fix them, if not city workers?


Posted by resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:46 am

About a year ago, I spoke with a city public works employee who said, off the record, that this city definitely spends more than other cities that have decided to go private with their infrastructure repairs and maintenance. Unfortunately, this employee said that now they felt ostracized within their department...to the point that they felt their job was endangered and is now keeping their "head down." If this is the pressure that workers are experiencing from the top when offering suggestions re budgeting and expenditures, then the City has a lot of investigating to do. I hope that the City Council and all who are responsible for efficiently using PA funds are up to the task.


Posted by Jo Ann, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:51 am

NO MORE UTILITY TAXES!!! Our ridiculous rates are high enough.

I'm still waiting for the second visit from the Utility Dept. about the huge puddles in front of our house.

I'm still waiting for a response to how to get vacation discounts for no refuse pickup and an answer to how to get discounts when we don't have enough refuse to warrant weekly pickups.

And taxing transients for living in cars???? HELLO. They're living in cars because they're broke!


Posted by @ Jo Ann, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:55 am

The Transient Occupancy Tax is a tax on people paying to stay in hotels, not cars.

Part of the problem is that there was an increase in retirement benefits, pushed by former City Manager Frank Benest, which was a windfall for those who were nearing retirement (like Frank himself). We now find we can't afford that increase, but are stuck with it for current employees, and often future ones.


Posted by dumb and dumber, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:59 am

The current city council members are a limp armed cast of characters. They have no business sense.


Posted by Jo Ann, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 30, 2012 at 11:01 am

Thanks for the clarification re the transient tax. Good to hear that our fine city officials aren't totally out of their minds.


Posted by Just-Vote-No, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2012 at 11:11 am

> Who would you like to fix them, if not city workers?

This poster is either a union troll, or has been totally unaware of how work gets done in most cities these days. Large capital projects are routinely not done by "city workers", but are contracted out to the private sector--for any number of reasons. While fixing potholes is something that "City workers" generally do, repaving streets is something that can, and should be, contracted out to the private sector.

The issue before us is whether the City is going to continue to squander hundreds of millions of dollars on union labor, while the infrastructure costs get tacked on our property tax bills--and the Council can pretend not to know where the money comes from?

And let's not get started on the question of whether libraries, art centers and police stations are "infrastructure"--as they clearly are not the same as sewer pipes, gas mains, and streets.

Saying NO to these people is the only way to deal with this problem.


Posted by Another Resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2012 at 11:52 am

Pat didn't write about Frank Benest, himself. She wrote "Benest Managers". Everyone knows Benest is no longer our city manager. But the people he put into management and policies he trumpeted are still with us. So Pat makes a salient point.

Judith - while Pope John Paul II is no longer a current pope, the bishops he put into power during his 30+ years in Rome, are still managing today. Policies JPII set resulted in fallout to many, and the problems he and his bishops created remain with us. Benest/JPII-same scenario.

"Resident" from Duveneck/St. Francis's comment about the employee that keeps his/her head down, and does not speak up now, reminds me of the anonymous employee hotline that council wanted to put into place not long ago. I don't know if that happened or not.

But what a sad state of affairs. Priorities are skewed here, and worse yet, there is a lack of common sense. The first comment by Michael, warning us to not allow Palo Alto to become like Bell, CA, is wisdom to be heeded.


Posted by infrastructure, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Just a coincidence that the $41 million backlog on infrastructure is reported on the same day as the $72 million 3 mile double car pool lane project along Hwy 101 in Palo Alto is announced? Wouldn't we be much better off by spending that $72 million on local infrastructure projects? Why does so much sales tax money get ear marked for expensive and marginally useful highway projects?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm

There had better not be even a whisper of the phrase "new taxes or bonds".


Posted by Voter , a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm

No new taxes, fees or bonds until the city can control its worker costs and deal with the massive bloat in its payroll, benefits, and overhead.

The public sector is bloated and inefficient. Just look at the salaries link on the first post . The city can't afford infrastructure but can afford 100k secretaries and street sweepers. Outsourcing everything to the private sector would deliver better services and save millions.

Now that the public appears to have caught on, the city is raising revenue for the general fund to cover these Bell-like abuses the only way it can with no accountability: spiking utility rates 10-30% anually.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Apr 30, 2012 at 1:08 pm

The staff report for the infrastructure item on tonight's City Council agenda includes a report from the League of California Cities that provides recommendations about how to win ballot measures to increase city taxes and fees: Web Link


Posted by No New Taxes, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm

NO NEW TAXES until the City of Palo Alto learns to control costs.
I work in downtown PA and have watched the street in front of my office torn up, patched, torn up, repaved, torn up.....over and over again. Infrastructure/road work should be coordinated. What a waste of taxpayer money.


Posted by Sick of bumpy roads, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Can they use some cash to repave the bumpy roads...like Bryant, the so-called Bike BLVD which is the bumpiest road in the city. I bike on it everyday pulling my kids in the trailer and they get rattled around.


Posted by Karen White, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Voter writes, "The public sector is bloated and inefficient. Just look at the salaries link on the first post . The city can't afford infrastructure but can afford 100k secretaries and street sweepers. Outsourcing everything to the private sector would deliver better services and save millions."

I don't remember whether Palo Alto's contracts require "prevailing wages," i.e. union-scale wages whether or not the work is provided by the union, but this is one way a high labor-cost floor is set in many jurisdictions. Of course, the benefits could differ for non-union workers...

If we have one, getting rid of any prevailling wage requirement would be a good first step.


Posted by No More Complaints!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Palo Alto city government has proven itself for many years to be an efficient, cost-conscious organization that listens to the residents. There have been no scandals at all in Palo Alto government. There are no politics being played at City Hall. Every dollar is spent like it was owned by the city employee who is spending it. Each department head is the cream of the crop. Why all the complaints? Just be happy to vote for more taxes and more fees!


Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm


...lets not forget the 2million dog park
by San Francisquito creek - which we don't need
not to mention the pet poop which will poison the fish in the creek -
if and when they comeback once the Searsville dam is gone.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 30, 2012 at 2:17 pm

A previous poster wrote: "I spoke with a city public works employee who said, off the record, that this city definitely spends more than other cities that have decided to go private with their infrastructure repairs and maintenance". Since this poster did not provide any details, then we can't give this comment too much weight. But even if there were some details, the City of Palo Alto does not seem to manager, and/or report, capital projects, or even operational projects, along the lines of "total cost accounting". The general approach seems to be to report all of the money received/spent in a given year, but not to provide any kind of financial reporting that would allow a meaningful comparison to an equivalent service provided in the private sector.

Since most people are now aware that pensions (which are really deferred salary) have become a major component of the cost of delivery of municipal services—these post-retirement costs also need to be included into the cost of services for a given department/project. This is not always easy to do, and since it has not been done in the past—is often seen in more of a controversial light than a clarifying light. Remember, most people who work for the City of Palo Alto will make more in their retirement years than they made in their working years (assuming they worked at least 25 years, and live at least 30 years after retirement). Private sector employees are expected to plan, and contribute heavily to their own retirement. Many public sector employees have come to believe that the taxpayers are responsible for their post-retirement prosperity.

It would help all of us if the City Council were to hire a financial consultant, who could provide them both training, and intelligent counsel, about the financial reporting of the City. Using this information, the Council should direct the City Manager to make all haste in increasing the transparency of the City's finances, via both web-based, and print-based, documentation.


Posted by Lee, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Don't forget that after staff retires, they often "double-dip", by getting full time jobs in other communities, taking jobs away from others that may be equally (or more) qualified. Or they come back to their old PA jobs, after an 8 week hiatus, as consultants, instead of having trained a replacement.

Bottom line: they have it pretty good, although the work environment for staff members with a conscience, may be bad, i.e: the "Anonymous Hotline" for staff to report internal issues, and the post above that mentions what sounds like it comes from a good employee's experience.


Posted by bill g, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Just-Vote-No. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Infrastructure. "The basic underlying framework or features of a system or organization. The fundamental facilities serving a county, city or area...."

This would seem to include "wealth as in property owned or employed by a business, etc." - I think the etc. describes government as well. A government owns not only its sewers, gas mains, and streets, but also all of its buildings used for power distribution, maintenance yards, animal shelter, police and fire facilities, and equipment of any kind that serves the needs of the citizens.


Posted by SuperD, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm

It is unfortunate that our current Council is having to deal with many years of mismanagement by their predecessors. It will be interesting to see what recommendations are suggested. It's time to get tough on spending. Taxing our way out of the problem is not the solution.


Posted by another resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2012 at 8:15 pm

A neighbor who has cause to frequently drive by the Embarcadero public works building (no, this person isn't a golfer), has noted numerous times that once 3:30 rolls around, no one on site seems inclined to do additional work. Much standing around and chatting. Multiply 1/2 hour by all these employees and here is a source of many wasted hours for which pay is being given. Where is the supervisor? Is no one minding the store? A private company wouldn't stand for this.


Posted by CCR, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm

For PA, the city enterprise is going strong.. Money come into the city by pirvate donation, Stanford ext__tion, sky high real estate taxes. Wow it's not only scary..


Posted by Budget waste, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 1, 2012 at 10:08 am

The one part of the budget which I disagree with is spending $300,000 on the airport. I hope at the same time he increases parking and tie down fees to cover this $300,000.

Many of those with private planes and use the airport don't even live in Palo Alto; I'd rather see that kind of money spent on and in Palo Alto.


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