With an eye toward a 2014 ballot measure, the Palo Alto City Council this week approved a contract with a public-opinion firm to determine which infrastructure projects and funding mechanisms local residents would be willing to support in the voting booth.
In its final meeting of 2012, the City Council approved with no debate or discussion a $90,000 contract with the firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates for public-opinion research services relating to the infrastructure measure. The firm will spend the next two years identifying the level of support for each project, considering which funding mechanisms are most likely to win support and advising the city on optimal election timing and effective messaging.
The hiring of FM3 (as the firm is commonly known) is a major step in the city's effort to bring an infrastructure measure to its voters and a fitting conclusion to what Mayor Yiaway Yeh described as "A Year of Infrastructure Renewal and Investment." The council agreed to pursue the measure after a specially appointed Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Task Force released a report last year identifying a wish list of crucial infrastructure projects costing about $200 million, including a new police headquarters and two updated fire stations.
The 17-member task force also identified a $95 million backlog in deferred maintenance.
The council chose FM3 from a field of six candidates, with bids ranging from $85,000 to $155,000, according to a report from the office of City Manager James Keene. The firm had also worked with the city on opinion research before the city's successful $76 million library bond measure in 2008.
As part of the contract, FM3 will conduct a feasibility survey next spring involving about 600 local voters. If results were to indicate that an infrastructure measure would be feasible, the firm would focus groups during the summer and then conduct other, more refined surveys in fall 2013 and early in 2014. The council has until August 2014 to decide whether to proceed with the finance measure.
In the meantime, staff will continue to narrow its cost estimates for the many items on the list, including the public-safety building (which currently carries a price tag of $47 million); Byxbee Park improvements ($3.6 million); various bike and pedestrian improvements ($25 million); a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 ($10 million); upgrades to fire stations at Rinconada and Mitchell parks ($14.2 million); a refurbishing of the Animal Services Center ($6.9 million); and construction of playing fields at the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course ($6 million).
Palo Alto officials are also looking to hire a consultant to assist the city in community engagement and outreach. The city is soliciting bids for a firm that would work with FM3 to "develop and manage strategies focused on the finance measure's feasibility"; develop, refine and target key messages and themes; and develop a communication plan. Staff will likely bring the selected firm's contract to the council for approval in January.