Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 2, 2010

Palo Alto council adopts 'leaner' budget for 2011

Council votes to eliminate 58 positions but scraps plan to split sidewalk-repair costs

by Gennady Sheyner

The City of Palo Alto is eliminating dozens of staff positions but preserving most of its existing programs and services under a $139 million budget the City Council unanimously passed Monday night.

The adopted budget for fiscal year 2011, which began July 1, eliminates 58 positions throughout the city's workforce and increases fees for everything from Children's Theatre tickets to pet spay and neutering.

But the council voted to scrap some of the most controversial cuts that City Manager James Keene had proposed: eliminating funding for school-crossing guards, the Police Department's fraud-investigation unit and the five-officer traffic-enforcement team.

Council members also dropped another highly unpopular proposal to shift half the cost of the city's sidewalk-repair program to residents. The move would have saved the city about $299,000. But the council agreed the proposal is too convoluted and that the administrative burdens would be too high.

The council also rejected a revenue-generating idea: entrance fees for Foothills Park, Pearson-Arastradero Preserve and the Baylands.

The council split over a recommendation from its Finance Committee to cut council members' own salaries by 10 percent. The move would have been largely symbolic, saving the city about $7,000. Each council member draws a $7,200 annual salary.

"I think it's important to make a statement, however symbolic it is, to our city employees and to our citizens that the council also is going to come up and take a small cut," Councilman Larry Klein said.

But Councilman Greg Schmid opposed the salary cut and said the city needs to provide incentives if it wants to attract the best candidates.

After a lengthy debate, the council voted 4-5 to reject the proposal, with Klein, Mayor Pat Burt and Councilmen Yiaway Yeh and Sid Espinosa supporting the cut.

The council unanimously supported major planning studies, however: a $90,000 study of the Caltrain Corridor in Palo Alto; and a $30,000 study of El Camino Real design guidelines in south Palo Alto.

The budget eliminates maintenance and administrative positions citywide. Maintenance of several local parks would be contracted out, as would the city's printing and mailing services.

The Police Department would lose one member of its traffic team and the crime analyst responsible for collecting demographic data at traffic stops. The Library Department would also lose a few positions, forcing library hours to be shortened. The Fire Department would lose a hazardous-materials specialist.

"We will be a leaner organization," Keene said.

A longer version of this article is posted at www.PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

Posted by John, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2010 at 8:59 am

$3.47 an hour? Are council members working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year?


Posted by Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2010 at 9:05 am

So the traffic crossing guards are still in the budget?

How about the shuttle for students?


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 30, 2010 at 9:41 am

You will notice that the council never addressed the $1+ million dollars given to PACT. Obviously they were afraid to go up against the powerful "friends" organization and other self-entitled people in the city who think everyone should pay for their perks.
Next time your child asks why the baseball or soccer fields are in such bad shape, tell them the city only spends money for children that in the PACT.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2010 at 10:09 am

Mom

The crosstown shuttle hasn't been mentioned so it is probably unchanged. By the way, the city appears to provide free school transport for some of our school children and none at all for the rest. It is time that those who use the shuttle pay a reasonable charge for the service and the shuttle was extended to provide a reasonable service for most areas. This is another freebie that has gone unchallenged.


Posted by BP No, not that BP, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2010 at 10:40 am

The Crosstown Shuttle serves more than a few schoolchildren. It has stops at Stevenson House, Lytton Gardens and Channing House. It also serves the Downtown Shopping area as well as Midtown and Charleston Shopping Centers. It stops at the Main Library and did stop at Mitchell Park Library (and stops two blocks from the Temporary Library). It stops at Caltrain station and near the transit center, and a shuttle for the PA Med.Fdn. Many businesses benefit from those of us who use the shuttle. Not everyone has an auto or should be driving. My understanding is that the Crosstown is going to be eliminated.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2010 at 10:52 am

Yesterday's Daily News reported, "Service reductions to the city's cross- town shuttle will remain, though the council members instructed city staff to look into ways to strengthen the system. "

I agree with Mom that people should pay for the shuttle with free passes for those who can't afford it.

"Councilman Greg Schmid opposed the salary cut [for council members] and said the city needs to provide incentives if it wants to attract the best candidates."

Do people run for council for the money?!?!? No wonder we've got problems.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 30, 2010 at 10:54 pm

I thought, from what I read elsewhere, that in the end it's only 10 actual jobs being eliminated. Doesn't sound that dramatic.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2010 at 12:13 am

No, I did not say that the shuttle should have a fee. I believe quite the contrary. While the shuttle cannot help all students, the fact that it is free makes it greener because less students would use it if there were a fee. And imagine collecting those fees? The shuttle is packed-tight.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2010 at 7:44 am

I am advocating a fee for the shuttle. The shuttle is not just for students, but students who are able to use it get a free ride to school. If there is a fee, they will pay the fee because they need to get to school and unless their alternative is walking or riding a bicycle which is just as green. Parents will not drive kids to school to save money on the shuttle.

Some areas of Palo Alto can use free shuttles while others have to pay a VTA fee and others just can't get to school by bus. Sounds like a free bus ride to school for some while others have to pay to me.

If the shuttles are packed at school peak times then it shows that there is a need for them and to do away with the shuttles would make the morning commute to school even more horrendous. Expand the shuttles and charge a fee, it is fair, it is wise and it is green.


Posted by Shuttle for School, a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2010 at 11:16 am

Really? Charging kids to go to school? Sounds like a wonderful idea...If there is one thing that should be free, it is helping parents and kids get to school as easily as possible.


Posted by Well done!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2010 at 11:17 am

Council included funding for Adult Crossing Guards. This is a good call. The guards don't cost much, but they do a lot to improve safety on school routes, encouraging parents to let their kids walk and bike...thereby reducing traffic congestion for EVERYONE. Remember, 11,565 PAUSD students have to get to school each school day. About half of them are currently using alternative transportation modes. Just imagine what the morning peak hour traffic would be like if their parents opted to drive their kids because the guards were pulled. This is money well spent.

The new budget also funds four of the current five PAPD Traffic Team members. Council thoughtfully reviewed data that showed that daytime police officer coverage in PA already is lower than other cities on the Peninsula. Another good call.

These are thoughtful decisions that will create a safer community for all of us...not just kids, but everyone.

The Shuttle cuts concern me. Many elderly and disabled residents who can't drive count on the Shuttle for transportation. Shuttle ridership during school commute times is high and it drops off throughout the day when kids aren't riding. (This is also true of some VTA lines in Palo Alto). I worry about what this means for our city's aging population.

Folks, if you really want to support public transit, USE it! Too many Palo Altans say they support public transit, but they don't use it. When you ask them if they've considered using it, it becomes clear that many have never even looked at a bus schedule or route map.

Use it or lose it. The day when you can't drive any more WILL come. It comes for everyone. Let's build a community that people of all ages and abilities can navigate safely, conveniently, and independently.


Posted by Jag, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 1, 2010 at 11:36 am

Too often during the day I see the shuttle buses empty or nearly empty. I think that ridership has to be carefully documented. It is not green or cost effective to run shuttle buses all day long if they are nearly empty for a good part of the day.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm

>"Really? Charging kids to go to school?"

Why not? Why shouldn't people pay for services, especially those who can afford it? Lots of kids take public transit to get to school, and that's not free.


Posted by BP No, not that BP, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2010 at 9:02 am

Thanks, "Well done", my point exactly. Older citizens are well served by the shuttle and is good for business as well. Sorry the shuttle cannot be filled all day long, but we need the shuttle at different times on different days and I try to avoid it at the time students will be riding, although I find them quite entertaining, I think they need the space for their ride. I wish more folks would use the shuttle and stay out of their autos for trips within the city and to get to the many destinations I mentioned.


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