Around town | May 3, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 3, 2013

Around town

HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN ... Remember those bygone days of 2010 and 2011, when Palo Alto officials talked about things like budget deficits, staff cuts and reductions to the traffic enforcement? These days, it's a whole new world in Palo Alto. According to City Manager James Keene's proposed budget, which was released this week, things are looking rosy on the financial front with the general fund balanced and no significant service reductions in the works. Tax revenues this year are expected to reach $79.3 million, compared to $65.8 million in the recession-plagued 2009, and home prices are "surging due to demand and limited supply." Even the problems can be seen as blessing. "While downtown parking is a serious issue to address, it does indicate an economic renaissance," Keene wrote in the budget's transmittal letter. He also noted that business vacancy rates are at an "extremely low level." For Class A office space in downtown Palo Alto, "there is a remarkable zero percent vacancy," he wrote. The city's return to prosperity should spell particularly good news for the Police Department, which had been hit particularly hard by staffing reductions in the aftermath of the 2008 "Great Recession." This year, Keene proposes unfreezing the seven positions in the department that were frozen last year to balance the budget. The move, Keene wrote, "will boost our investigations and traffic efforts." The proposed budget also adds funding for street and sidewalks repairs, allocates more funds for planning studies relating to downtown, the Comprehensive Plan; and a new Office of Sustainability, which will coordinate City Hall's various green efforts. The letter also identifies a series of challenges, including the rapidly rising costs of pensions and benefits — trends that Keene calls "unsustainable." But the tone of the budget, which the council will start to wrestle with next week, is mostly sanguine. "While we will never rest on our laurels and linger long on our achievements, for there is much work to be done, let's remember that this is a great place to live and work," Keene wrote.

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