Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 5, 2010

Finances, infrastructure highlight 'State of the City'

Palo Alto must become leaner, greener and better prepared for emergencies, Mayor Pat Burt says

by Gennady Sheyner

A huge budget gap may force Palo Alto to cut staff and services but it should not keep the city from rebuilding its infrastructure and preparing for emergencies, Mayor Pat Burt said in the annual "State of the City" address Monday night.

Burt's speech touched on all five of the priorities adopted by the City Council earlier this year: city finances, land use, emergency preparedness, environmental sustainability and youth well-being. But Burt also made it clear that the first priority a huge, long-term shortfall between city revenues and expenses will dominate Palo Alto's agenda in 2010.

With the city facing a $6.4 million budget gap in 2010 and swelling deficits in the years ahead, Burt said Palo Alto will be forced to make difficult decisions about staff levels and program cuts in the coming year.

He also said Palo Alto is in for a year of tough negotiations with its employee unions.

Last year, the council unilaterally imposed new conditions on Palo Alto's largest union, Service Employees International Union, Local 521, after negotiations collapsed. The city is scheduled to renew its negotiations with SEIU this year, as well as reach new deals with police and firefighter unions.

"Many other cities are currently facing up to the realities that Palo Alto took on a year ago," Burt said. "Namely, that government had agreed to a benefit and pension structure that was unsustainable."

But even with the budget woes, the city cannot afford to ignore its swelling infrastructure backlog, Burt said. Staff had estimated that the city's backlog which includes outdated facilities and deferred street maintenance totals about $510 million.

Burt said he will appoint a task force this year to "develop a comprehensive plan for the repair of our infrastructure, from our roads and sidewalks to our major buildings."

He also said the city might have to resurrect the business-license tax a revenue source that Palo Alto voters emphatically struck down last November.

Burt suggested that the city's worsening budget picture and the prospect of service cuts may prompt more residents to support the tax, provided the proposal is more fair and better written than last year's version.

"As we struggle this year with the likely loss of some valued services, we also need to decide as a community whether we support a more fair and better designed business-license tax," Burt said.

City officials are also considering installing red-light cameras, an idea spearheaded by Roger Smith, former CEO of Silicon Valley Bank. Burt said the new cameras could bring in "significant revenues," while also improving safety and allowing the city to reduce staff.

Burt listed a series of critical land-use decisions Palo Alto will concentrate on in 2010. These include an update to the city's Comprehensive Plan, its official land-use bible; the state's $46 billion high-speed-rail project, which would stretch through the middle of Palo Alto; and Stanford University's massive expansion of its medical facilities.

Burt called the Stanford proposal "the largest single development in the history of Palo Alto" but said he hopes to complete the city's review of the project before the end of 2010.

"The recent events in Haiti and Chile remind us of the life-saving importance of world-class medical care," Burt said. "I am determined that we will move this project forward expeditiously this year through review by our relevant boards and commissions and finally the City Council."

Burt also alluded to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile when discussing the need for Palo Alto to prepare for major disasters. He lauded the city's newly formed Citizen Corp Council a group of local organizations and agencies that is preparing for a coordinated response to emergencies and a neighborhood "block preparedness" program.

But he also said the city needs to do more to prepare itself for future disasters.

"The day after the emergency there will be no doubt what our highest priority is," Burt said. "On that day we'll ask ourselves what we should have done to prepare better."

Burt pointed to some good news on Palo Alto's economic horizon. Despite the sagging economy, three hotels are currently going through the city's planning process, from which the city will reap 12 percent of their profit.

And, he said, clean-technology firms such as Tesla and Better Place have set up shop in Palo Alto, underscoring Palo Alto's reputation for world-class technology and green leadership. He said Monday was Tesla's move-in day to its new facilities in the Stanford Research Park.

Burt said the city's relationship with Stanford creates "even greater opportunities" to promote green technology and sustainability.

"We have both recognized that our future well-being and economic strength are tied to a sustainable, clean-tech economy," Burt said.

BUG FOR VIDEO:

You can read the full text, or watch video highlights, of Mayor Pat Burt's speech at www.paloaltoonline.com.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 5:58 am

Thank you for realizing palo altos and our states infrastructure in general needs to be brought back to first world status. But stop using it as a pretext for more taxes. We give you plenty of money. Cut the waste. You know where to find it. It's predominantly in the bloated public education system. There are plenty of non-vital programs there that could save the city tens of millions of dollars a year withouth affecting the kids one iota. The only ones affected will be unions, who only care about themselves, so why should we care about them?


Posted by Ron, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 2, 2010 at 7:12 am

Time to cut all those expensive fringe classes in our public schools. Put all the money in core academics like math and science and proper English. We don't need those liberal music and art and foreign language programs. When I was a kid, we had 35 students in every classroom and I turned out fine. Why can't today's kids toughen up? You don't lots of teachers if the kids will just learn to focus on their lessons.


Posted by Jim, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 9:56 am

So Mr. Burt wants to increase taxes by resurrecting the business license tax, and now, installing red light cameras? Really? That's the best he can come up with? How about his plans to develop a team focused on identifying industries and companies that we should be courting to establish businesses in Palo Alto? We need increased revenue strategies too.


Posted by Ron, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 2, 2010 at 10:02 am

Mayor Burt works to bring Tesla into Palo Alto: Web Link
Now he's going to hear it from the NIMBYs who don't want any more jobs and traffic in this city.


Posted by Jim, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 10:23 am

I don't see a lot of people buying tesla cars...we need bigger box retail and dealerships of affordable cars for regular folks. Say no to red light cameras!


Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

NIMBYs, are not an enemy of conservatives. It's their cries that often prohibits the overdevelopment of our culturally homogenous areas. They've often prohibited section 8 housing for instance, which was created specifically to bring certain demographics into our communities that conservatives don't want to be in their communities. Conservatives can ally with NIMBYs to accomplish many conservative goals


Posted by rersident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:03 am

To Gunslinger and Ron -
The city's budget and the schools' budget are two different things. They are not in any way related except by geography, and even then there are places where the school district overlaps other cities.
Ron, you may say you turned out fine, but you sound pretty hostile to me.


Posted by Ron, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:04 am

What kind of enemies are you talking about? NIMBYs and conservatives are the same people. By definition, they are both opposed to any kind of change.


Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:57 am

Ron, I completely agree with your perceptions on the bloated school system. You phrased it extremely eloquently. I'm not sure I understood your question about NIMBYs versus conservatives. I was trying to say that they were allies to conservatives, assuming you were a conservative. If you're not I may have jumped to conclusions. But I still loved what you had to say about the school system and asking people to toughen up


Posted by Bob, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm

> They are not in any way related except by geography,

Not true .. there is a ~$5M transfer from the the City to the PAUSD for leasing the Cubberley Center .. and another $2-$4M for more hidden subsidies of the PAUSD, such as the CPA involved in grounds maintenance, Children's Daycare using both PAUSD property and is funded by the City, the Traffic Guards cost about $350,000, some subsidies of PAUSD utility infrastructure has been provided by the PAU. There are (or have been) police assigned to some of the schools, and a library "liaison" cost the better part of $100K for a few years.

Unfortunately, no one is really keeping track .. so the dollar amount is a little hard to know .. we just have to estimate.


Posted by Carl, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Taxes, taxes and more taxes. Lets look at our overhead costs. Police ooficers, who generally make 100k a year plus full benifits can retire in 20 years with 90% of their slaary and then go to work for the county sheriff for an additional pay-check. Is this the retirement we need to support?

Hire a 25 year old and at the age of 45 they can retire and increase their salary to 170k a year. Palo Alto has over 15 officers who retired and are now sheriff.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Maybe we should turn the management of the city government over to the Post Office, at least they know when they don't have enough money to provide the services, and are willing to shut down the low-use facilities--

Post Office May Close Branches:

Web Link

Palo Alto doesn't need a Children's Theater, Zoo or five library branches. Time to cut the fat and return to city basic services.


Posted by Gunslinger, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Rersident, I'd like to address what you said to Ron. You call him hostile. Why? Because he wants us to be a little tough?


Posted by Wha?, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm

These methods are exactly what is wrong in Washington and elsewhere - hard stances, never giving an inch, labeling etc. Both sides need to realize this can only be a community when you agree to disagree without labels and name calling. When we all agree this is OUR community that we need to make better we can move forward.


Posted by amazed, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Have I missed out on an important factor regarding info on the budget deficit?
Like has the (2009 announcement about the) $4.8million dollars that was reported missing fron the city's budget department, per Lalo Perez. Has the money been found? If not, is the department presently under investigation? If has not been found, or if it has been found why the silence?
Or is this just a case of "if we keep quiet about the $4.8million dollar issue, then it will go away."
Citizens want to know.


Posted by No red light cameras, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2010 at 9:30 am

It looks like rather than make tough decisions regarding our financial crisis, Mayor Burt will be relying on another go around with the business tax and red light cameras to fund our city's bloated payroll.
In fact in today's Daily Post he is quoted as being in wonderment over how much revenue you can raise from one camera--he also claims that no one has raised any objections over using the cameras. Mayor Burt should read these forums and the letters to the editor (in fact there is a good one in today's Daily Post about using red light cameras as a revenue source--which makes it a for profit business). Of course given our council's history of ignoring any criticism or comments that they do not agree with--I would not be surprised if he ever claims that he heard from someone that opposes this.
At least the council is looking at having another downtown farmer's market--that is an important issue that needs to be addressed ASAP.


Posted by Jenny, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2010 at 11:57 am

I'll vote no to a business tax but red light cameras are a great idea. Since I'm a little old lady and drive like one I'll never get caught with a red light camera but if you're stupid enough to run red lights you deserve to be fined $380.


Posted by ticketing dogs off leash, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 3, 2010 at 2:26 pm

would surely remedy our budget shortfall.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 4, 2010 at 10:36 am

So we have a budget 'shortfall' and the City Mgr. today announces another expensive new hire (oh sure, it was a 'vacant position' left by Emily Harrison) - an assistant city mgr. probably in the $150K plus range plus benefits. Elmslie is promoted - or demoted - whatever....to some job for 'economic development and the beat goes on. WHEN is the city council going to step in and say NO??? The council now has to 'put up or shut up'. Also the 'green czar' is starting to 'irritate'. Threatening the people of Palo Alto with sanctions over what goes in the garbage can is not going to win friends and influence people or telling us how to use our water allotment. This is a smart, educated city. We can 'figure it out'.


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