A bond to fund a new public-safety building in Palo Alto would probably fail if it were put on the November 2014 ballot, according to a survey conducted by a city contractor.
As next year's election approaches and Palo Alto looks for ways to fund its myriad infrastructure problems, a new public-safety building stands out as one of the city's most sorely needed improvements.
It's not just the fact that the current police headquarters, attached to City Hall, is seismically unsound and unable to house the level of service the department aims to provide. Adding urgency to the push for a funding solution is an offer by San Francisco Developer Jay Paul Co. to build a new $49.3 million public-safety building at 3045 Park Blvd. as part of the approval of a new, adjacent office complex.
The Jay Paul proposal -- for a 311,000-square-foot commercial development at 395 Page Mill Road -- has been widely criticized by residents for its potential parking and traffic problems. The zoning it requires -- planned community, which extracts "public benefits" in exchange for permission to exceed zoning rules -- has been widely denounced since the November defeat of Measure D, a planned-community proposal to build senior housing and 12 single-family homes on Maybell Avenue.
The city's public-opinion polling firm, Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (FM3), surveyed 600 residents by phone and asked about their likelihood to vote for five funding initiatives to pay for infrastructure improvements.
The residents considered a 2 to 3 percent increase in the city's tax on hotels (known as transient-occupancy tax); a one-eighth or one-quarter percent increase in sales tax; a $66 million general-obligation bond for transportation projects; a $71 million general-obligation bond for public-safety improvements; and the establishment of a community facilities district (CFD) to fund parking improvements.
The hotel tax emerged as the clear frontrunner, with 65 to 79 percent of likely voters approving of it, depending on the context in which the question was asked.
But the public-safety general-obligation bond would fall short of the two-thirds majority it would need to pass, with 55 to 65 percent of residents approving, the surveying firm found. Support for the idea reaches two-thirds when the amount of the bond is reduced to $51 million, but support for it is still iffy, with just one in five voters "definitely" in favor of it.
A sales tax increase, which requires only a simple majority to pass, seemed viable, as did a general-obligation bond for transportation.
The community-facilities district to fund parking improvements was the lowest performer in the survey, with only 42 percent of residents willing to pay for the $24 per household indicated in the survey.
While three of the options were viable, FM3 recommended not trying to place more than one of the items on the ballot, unless one of them was the transient-occupancy tax. That tax, which collects money from visitors and not residents, enjoyed enough support that FM3 was confident it would pass on its own. Other measures could be dragged down if placed on the ballot together, however.
The report was brought to the City Council Monday night, but its complexity, coupled with a long list of other issues on the agenda, prompted the council to refer it to the council's finance committee for a recommendation.