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Palo Alto needs $455 million infrastructure fix

Original post made on Mar 19, 2008

Palo Alto faces a $455 million need for infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years, the city's Finance Committee learned Tuesday -- the first release of a study updating the oft-mentioned 1996 Adamson report.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 19, 2008, 2:08 AM

Comments (53)

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2008 at 6:58 am

Not to worry--going on a "low carbon" diet and dealing with climate change will solve these problems


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2008 at 7:47 am

This is not a time to hurl cheap shots.

This community needs to unite with an understanding and acknowledgement that it faces a serious, costly, infrastructure challenge that will be us for about the same amount of time (or longer) since the Proposition 13 initiative in 1978 affected the way local public entities finance local public projects and services.

I cite Prop 13 not to lament its passage or its good or bad consequences. I have my opinions, but they are not relevant to this discussion. I instead point it out to illustrate that this matter has been not so silently creeping up on us over 30 years, with cumulative affects akin to a poor diet and other health practices an adult faces in middle age after years of nelgect.

We can "celebrate" that money that people did not have taxed away from them due to Prop 13, but similarly we must acknowledge and accept that many things that might have been done around infrastructure were not done in order for taxpayers to pay lower taxes. On top of this, Palo Alto and its physical plant faces things that we all face as individual home owners, car owners and computer owners--things have a useful life, they wear out with use, and require significant repair or replacement after a reasonable number of years--say 30, the same age as Prop 13. (And most of the stuff in Palo Alto is much older than that.)

I actually think that many in this community still have their heads in the sand about how significant an infrastructure problem Palo Alto has--will not admit that there is problem to begin with. This new report reinforces at a higher level of magnitude that we do. Can we just focus right now on gaining a consensus and informed understanding that this is our problem for the foreseeable future--that is the first step.

Instead of blaming Prop 13, disparaging ideas around going greener, or other things that serve as distractions on how to move forward. I call upon those of us who care and can do something about Palo Alto's future to acknowledge and accept that this is our community's priority for the next 30 years. How specific things underlying this matter get prioritized, how it is paid for, what we keep, what we cut, what we curtail, what we re-structure, inter alia, all must follow the basic agreement to my simple premise.

For too long, our community, both its leadership and its membership, have postponed this conversation, avoided confronting this matter squarely and decisively. I don't think we can postpone it any longer.


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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2008 at 7:57 am

You make a few of good points, Paul:

1) "I actually think that many in this community still have their heads in the sand about how significant an infrastructure problem Palo Alto has--will not admit that there is problem to begin with."

2) "I call upon those of us who care and can do something about Palo Alto's future to acknowledge and accept that this is our community's priority for the next 30 years. "

3) "For too long, our community, both its leadership and its membership, have postponed this conversation, avoided confronting this matter squarely and decisively."


My comment was not a cheap shot, but reflects my feelings on how the city deals with issues such as this one. I think you summed up quite well by actually stating what the problem(s) are.
The question is will our city heed the call or will it full speed ahead on the "climate change" express?


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 19, 2008 at 8:28 am

Paul your comments are thoughtful. But while you talk about the "community" needing to change its view - where was the LEADERSHIP the last 30 years? Why did they waste time and money during the fat times, so now we have to pony up?

It is hard to get comfortable with the old guard (including some who lead the city today) leading us out of this, since they clearly led us into it. They may have done something to raise the alarm - but clearly not enough.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2008 at 9:16 am

Amazing, the residents have known about this for a long time. Why has it taken so long for the City to realise it? Oh, yes, many of them (not the council) don't live here and go home to their own communities in neighboring cities after work.


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Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2008 at 10:43 am

By starting off his discussion of Palo Alto's infrastructure problems with a recitation of the standard "blame Proposition 13 for everything wrong with local and state government" agitprop, Paul Losch sets up a straw man portrayal of our infrastructure problems that inhibit finding a solution to them.

Losch says, "We can "celebrate" that money that people did not have taxed away from them due to Prop 13, but similarly we must acknowledge and accept that many things that might have been done around infrastructure were not done in order for taxpayers to pay lower taxes."

In Palo Alto this is manifestly untrue. Palo Alto has, for the 30+ years since the passage of Proposition 13 had approximately TWICE the revenue per capita as any neighboring city. And yet, while all local governments struggle to find a balance between capital expenditure and provision of services, none of the neighboring cities has infrastructure problems on the scale of Palo Alto's. (Mountain View, for examples, sets aside money yearly for street maintenance and replacement...and just built a brand new library - without extra taxes.)

Palo Alto's infrastructure problems are NOT related to a revenue shortage. Palo Alto's problem is irresponsibility on the part of successive council's over the period in question. We not only spend twice as much as neighboring cities, we have twice the number of employees per resident-- along with their pension, health and other costs. We build fancy unusable bike tunnels at the behest of noisy interest groups. Our management structure is bloated, incoherent and wasteful. (The city auditor found numerous people in "management" positions making management compensation...with no subordinates to manage.) There's no incentive to economize because the council has been willing to set limits on expensive waste like this. Etc., etc., etc.... Anyone reading these forums regularly knows the list of wasteful spending is long. And while this knowledge has been percolating for at least a decade in civic discussion, the Council goes merrily along working on Global Climate Change and other distractions to our very egregious, but very LOCAL problems.

The rest of Losch's post contains some useful analysis: we have ignored the problems too long while the city went on this expensive 30 year joy ride.

But Losch's invocation of Prop 13, and the inference that we need new taxes to fix our infrastructure is every bit the cheap shot he complains about in the first line of his post.

We won't fix our infrastructure or our budgeting mess until we inject some discipline into leadership and management in the city - no matter how many new taxes we vote upon ourselves.




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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2008 at 11:20 am

Chris, thanks for stating the essential problem so clearly.

We continue to have council members like former mayor Kishimoto, who traveled to London to look at "green" cities and who spent countless hours and dollars visiting California cities (with Joe Kott) to study roundabouts.

Has Kishimoto and the rest of our council taken a tour of neighboring libraries to understand why other cities spend less on new libraries and/or are able to serve their constituents with just one library? Did our council look at other web sites and find out how other cities (e.g., Mountain View and Redwood City) were able to develop outstanding web sites at a fraction of the cost Palo Alto spent? Has our council ever sat down with Mountain View's council members and asked how they've been able to build new fire stations, police department, library and invigorate their downtown area over the past 10 years?

Why does our utilities department pay rent to the city for its facilities, but the Jr. Museum and Zoo, the Children's Theater, and the Art Center NOT pay rent? Is it just because these "beloved" institutions are untouchable?

Do any of you ever get answers to questions you send to city council members asking why the city staff is so much larger than Mountain View's? The glib answer I've received is that we have more services, but I can't get a substantive answer that specifically lists them.

I don't even get answers to questions I've sent Council about "civic engagement" – their top priority, yet none of them can describe what it means, what they will do and how we'll know if they're successful.

We've had a leadership vacuum for many years, with councils that have no idea how to set priorities or manage a budget. Residents don't seem to care, e.g., not a single person showed up at the meeting where the finance committee approved the latest utility rate hike.

It's hard to figure out why there's a huge uprising over things like the Children's Theater investigation, yet complacency about the utilities increase or the COPS proposal for the police building or the absurdity of "civic engagement" being Council's number one priority in the face of all the problems facing the city.


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Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2008 at 11:32 am

Right on! Chris and Pat. The City's priorities are totally screwed up.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Attending meetings is no way to judge how the community feels about an issue. Most of us have lives and are busy, sometimes busy making the community a better place by helping with youth sports, ptas and so on. So don't judge a no show as no interest.

Instead, those of us who care write letters and emails, some to City council members and some to newspapers (or here on this forum). We elected our officials to go to the meetings, we expect them to listen to what we say to them in our correspondence, not on our backsides at their meetings.


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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Let's be quite honest, in recent years our city council has not addressed the pressing issues facing our city. And also to be honest I do not think they really care what we think or want. Council members have their agendas and nothing will stop them from pursuing them
In the past, council members have been traveling the country, on our time, telling people how we do things here in Palo Alto. I think Mossar was especially notorious for that (remember also, she feels that the Homer Avenue tunnel is the best achievment of her time on the council).

we are almost in the middle of a 3 year stretch of having a "climate change is only issue to deal with seriously" mayor in Palo Alto. Yoriko's reign will be remembered as a series of photo-ops dealing with "climate change", while infrastructure was not addressed.
Klein has made it clear that this year will be marked by demanding that everyone in PA take part in a "low carbon" diet and whatever "civic engagement" is (I think it is a way to prolonghaving to make difficult decisions by the council--our city is known for having committees, commissions, analysts and consultants beat things to death). next years mayor will be Drekmeier, who is also on the "climate change" bandwagon when not bashing Stanford.

Let's see how our council addresses this report.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Resident: You're right that most of us don't have time to go to meetings, even when we know the issues are important.

What bothers me is the fact that the city council doesn't seem to pay attention to anything other than meeting attendance. For example, Council decided to keep all library branches open based on people showing up at a council meeting. That decision should have been made on a financial analysis.

Although I send frequent emails to the council and post on this forum, I wonder if council read any of the comments.

From Web Link
"The city's widely criticized Web site could benefit from the civic-engagement initiative, according to Burt, Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto and other council members.

"By incorporating more technological tools, the Web site could be interactive, offering residents a chance to comment on current issues or to post their volunteer skills, Burt said."

Where were these guys when the website was being designed? And if they're so keen on "technological tools," why aren't they using the ones they alread have, i.e., email and this forum?






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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Bottom line: we have an infrastructure problem; let's take a look at what needs to be done to fix that problem

1) Deploy a serious business development initiative in our city, properly staffed, with the primary portion of compensation made based on achieving specific, defined, milestones. We must stop thinking of Palo Alto as a "preferred destination" and passively sitting by as neighboring communities attract the *best* new businesses.

2) We need to take a serious look at selling PAU. I have brought this up before. PAU is a business, and we should be looking at that business as any other asset. Does PAU deliver benefit sufficient to outweigh the benefit our city might derive from a sale of PAU, with the proceeds from such a sale outweighing any negative consequences (like higher near-long-term utility rates). It's not good business practice to let private assets go unvalued - neither in the private, or municipal sectors.

3) We should be looking, long-term, at combining our police and fire departments, as Sunnyvale does.

4) We should be seeking - aggressively seeking - *major* inter-municipal efficiencies. Neighboring communities are also finding it more and more difficult to pay the bills. If there was ever a time for such initiatives to take place, on a major scale, that time is now.

5) Palo Alto should require every institutional group to do a well-audited SROI (social return on investment) benefits analyses. This should be done for the police, the museums, the library...everything. What benefit would this provide? First, we would be able to apply discrete benefit metrics to services that are currently not measured at all, other than measuring operational outputs (how much it cost to do so-and-so, or how many of this-and-that we had to buy, or deploy, etc. etc.

Putting cost AND benefit measurement metrics on a spreadsheet would accomplish two things:

A) It would provide citizens and policy makers with a balanced view of cost and benefit, within some reasonable margin of error.

B) It would compel institutional managers to address the benefit line items on a regular basis, to insure that those benefits are maintained, or improved. If the letter ceases to be the case, a good argument for the withdrawal of funding support can be made.

Until we do this, we are flying blind, and the victims of community dissension resulting from strongly held differences of opinion about how tax dollars shuold be spent, based on little more than sheer opinion. We need a more, and better, factual basis for decision making.

6) Following on the last item (SROI analysis), our city management needs to avail itself of good decision management tools. There exist VERY sophisticated toolsets that are used by corporate managers all over the world, to help them make fine point distinctions among competing priorities. These toolsets (software based) are making the difference in the private sector; they need to be applied to the public sector.

Both #'s 5 and 6 can be mandated by policy.

7) Scuttle the city's website, and start over. The website is permanently broken; it's a continuing embarrassment; it hinders current intra-departmental communication; it hinders citizen-city management communication; and, more importantly is so structurally flawed that it will prevent Palo Alto from creating distributed information and other efficiencies that will derive as the Internet evolves. We are being penny-wise and pound foolish not to chuck this lemon of a website, and start afresh.

8) The city needs to look at creating far more effective communication links with PAUSD, with the goal and commitment to finding ways to create many, many more efficiencies between the two entities than currently exist.

9) We need to find ways to attract more young professionals, and that means housing. More citizens living here means more infrastructure load, but it also means more taxes, more businesses, and more involvement. We need to revitalize our city's aging demographic.

Many other good ideas exist...these are just starters.




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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Mike

You have hit the nail on the head with #8 above.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2008 at 2:48 pm

This community elected leaders over the last 30 years who set policy around how the city should be run and how the revenues it generated should be spent. Much of it is spent on services not found in other communities. Palo Altans in general have a very high regard for the array of services they enjoy, which compared to most other cities with which Palo Alto is compared are greater in number and higher in quality. The analogy I have used before is that we are more like a Whole Foods than a Costco. More like Hyatt than Motel 6.

Palo Alto also was built out and much of its physical plant completed many years ago, well before the likes of Mtn. View and other nearby cities converted their orchards and fields to residential, commercial and industrial spaces. (And consequently, have in recent years had more development impact fees to spend on new municapal facilities.) Comparing Mtn. View today with Palo Alto has a great deal of merit, but there are aspects of such a comparison that are like expecting Arnold Palmer, at his current age, to play golf as well as Tiger Woods. Age makes a difference in where things are in one's game if you will. So it is with cities.

I say this not to defend or excuse where things currently are with Palo Alto, to put what are some basic facts on the table.

I have been on the record that I think Prop 13 was a poor policy proposition at the time it was passed, but it did pass, and a number of bone headed decisions have been made up and down the State in light of it. (Many of them likely would have been made without Prop 13, so I hesitate to attribute them entirely to its passage.) I actually worry more about its impact on the schools and education system in California than I do the situation in Palo Alto muncipal matters, but that is a different thread. But, I am trying not to bitch about things that have happened that I don't like, but instead engage in discourse about what we need to do going forward. Revenue structure is on the table, IMHO.

Chris and I have respectfully had exchanges around this before, and I don't want to repeat what has been said in prior threads between the two of us. What I will offer up that is additive is that the revenue structure that California and its local governments has had for the last 30 years, grounded is Propostion 13, is becoming as obsolete as some of the infrastructure that is crumbling in front of us. It is time to take a serious look at that revenue structure--but it is the third rail that no elected official from either party dare touch if they want to stay in office.

As for the waste in local government question, I tire of hearing that polemic. There is some validity to the argument, but only to a point. No organization of any size is "without sin" in either the public or private sector, and as someone who is involved with this city more deeply than many, I think that operationally, the "wasteful spending" argument does not hold. Even if the so-called waste were eliminated entirely, the structural problem that is at the heart of the challenge here still would be with us.

Structurally, Palo Alto leadership over the years has chosen to provide the services not found in other cities, have provided more in the way of parks, playing fields, libraries, and many other amenities at a much higher level than do our neighbors, and such things do cost more money. Many of these things are considered to be part of the fabric of the community, and are our third rails, not to be touched without peril.

Palo Alto also is entrapped like every other city up and down the state with an employee compensation structure that is actuarily unsustainable, and very diificult to change in short order. Vallejo's recent experiences is a canary in the coal mine. We need to fairly and competitively compensate the employees who serve the city, but the models of compensation largely driven by the unions that represent the employees are as obsolete as Prop 13 and our infrastructure.

So here are the third rails we all face in Palo Alto:

--Obsolete infrastructure due to age, and deferred maintenance
--Highly valued services provided that are not found in most comparable cities
--Employee compensation models in need of re-structuring
--Revenue rules of engagement that were written for an era that has since passed

So, anyone who bothers to read this can take what I say as a shot across the bow of the pro-Prop 13 types, one across those representing labor interests in town, one toward those who cherish many things found in Palo Alto that nearby towns don't provide, and one for those currently holding leadership positions who have to figure out how to fix our infrastructure. I don't think I left anyone out. Looks like we all got into this mess together in different ways, what does that imply for how we get ourselves out of it?


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Posted by Greg
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 19, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Forget about all those mandate from Mike. Won't happen.

We should coordinate with our neighboring cities and counties to built a major new nuclear power plant on the coast. If they don't agree, then we should build our own in the Baylands. If we did that, we would have the best infrastructure you could imagine, great new schools, many more services, fully funded, etc....AND a reduced carbon footprint.

OK, if the above doesn't happen, as it should, we can at least make a major buy of nuclear energy, as part of our utility package. All those windmills are killing birds of prey. Shame.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Paul: You always provide thoughtful comments and I often agree with you.

You say, "Much of it (city revenue) is spent on services not found in other communities. Palo Altans in general have a very high regard for the array of services they enjoy, which compared to most other cities with which Palo Alto is compared are greater in number and higher in quality. The analogy I have used before is that we are more like a Whole Foods than a Costco. More like Hyatt than Motel 6.

I can't agree on this one. Perhaps you would like to do what the city council and city staff will not, which is provide a side-by-side comparison of our Hyatt services and the Motel 6 services in other cities. I'm doubtful that Palo Alto would come up a winner.

As far as Palo Alto having built out its "physical plant" long ago: We put a soccer field at El Camino & Page Mill, we let Rickey's go when we could have had a first-rate conference center, we have a golf course and an airport on prime real estate that could be used for tax-revenue generating businesses. Mountain View built its library, city hall, theater, police and fire stations in the downtown area, not out in the orchards.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2008 at 4:06 pm

As pat and Paul so clearly indicate; there will be a raft of opinions on which services, whose opinion, this-or-that historical option, etc. etc. should matter in this.

My question back to both of you. Where are the balanced cost/benefit metrics for city services?

Where is the side of the balance sheet that shows "profit" or "benefit" in a way that can be measured? Where is any data on the points either one of you bring forth, except foro cost data, and audited evidence that much of our infrastructure is failing.

Until we accomplish the task of *metrically* valuing city services - until we use currently available toolsets to value service arrays with established analytical tools, our policy makers will be operating in the dark as to the true trade-offs/costs-and-benefits of revenue expenditures - both in an absolute sense Per service), and in a comparative sense re: the relative funding (or not) of specific municipal services.

Incidentally, lest anyone think these infrastructure constraints, projected revenue shortfalls are a temporary phenomena, California municipalities will become increasingly unmanageable during the next decade. Count on it.

We'd better be thinking hard - and doing something about that thinking - if we're going to manage this city, and our region, to sustainability.

THis means we have to be thinking *inside* and *outside* the box.

We have to be working toward innovation that maximizes, leverages, and optimizes everything Palo Alto has to offer, or can be brought to offer; that's the inside the box stuff.

We also have to be thinking and executing new ways to do things like growing local revenue; taking the lead in solving the jobs/housing imbalance (as regional leaders); looking for ways to bring our already excellent school system to a place where it is absolutely integrated with next-level educational institutions, and fully integrated with our city (to contain the unfortunate funding bifurcations that are an artifact of Prop 13, and so on.

We can do this, but it will have to be stimulated and led from the top, in a aggressive, no-nonsense way. Anything else is waiting for the tide to roll in while we watch our blanket to float away.


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2008 at 4:15 pm

pat,

The playing field at El Camino and Page Mill is Stanford land, and it was an empty lot for years. It has now been put to good use, largely paid for by Stanford. There was no real possibibility, given the PA process, that it would have been used for a tax-generating purpose.

The golf course and airport are not prime real estate, unless they can be packaged as a draw for outside visitors. The small business park in that area is suffering for lack of tenants. The possible move of Anderson Honda to the dog pound site is probably rational. The pound will go to the site at the end of San Antonio.

You are correct about the Rickey's site. PA process killed it off.


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Posted by Sell The PAU
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2008 at 4:20 pm

> We need to take a serious look at selling PAU.

This was first suggested in a Guest Opinion in the Daily News 3-4 years ago. The Utility is a huge asset which can not be managed properly because of all of the arcane laws that constrain municipal utilities--of which virtually no one really understands.

If the Utility were sold for, say, $1-$1.5B (just for the sake of argument), then it is possible to see $40M-$60M a year in interest revenue if the money were properly invested (and protected from Joe Simitian and his "colleagues" in Sacramento).

A sale might mean slightly higher rates for electricity, and probably gas prices that are not any higher (for the immediate future, anyway). The alternative is "ad velorem" and parcel taxes to pay for all of the things that somebody at the City "claims" they have to have--like ownership of the Palo Alto Airport (with the infrastructure upgrades that are called for in the Airport Master Plan).

The City is long overdue having a good financial audit and long-term financial analysis. The current senior staff (all paid over $150K a year) have not been very effective in producing the required analysis to guide the City into the future.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Pat,

Fine for you to be skeptical, here are a couple tangible items in response to your stated skepticism of how Palo Alto measures up:

I recently saw a report from the Menlo Park Parks and Recreation Commission that compared how many parks and playing fields it has compared with nearby cities. Palo Alto was included. This town has significantly more parks and playing fields than do our neighbors. And the spending for upkeep per field and park also is much more. Our fields are not in the kind of shape that I personally would like them to be, but by comparison, they are better. I hope that illustrates my point.

Surveys of Palo Altans consistently rate the services in this town at a much higher scale compared with similar surveys conducted in other cities. Tellingly, while the ratings in the most recent survey were lower compared with previous ones, they still are in the high 90's, percentile wise. It is fine to question the results and methodology, but please help me understand what reliable, objective, comprehensive source of information we should be using instead. And let's get the results from that source and see what it says.

Perhaps I was not clear to you on what I mean about Mtn. View orchards paying for the facilities to which you allude. All that commercial space along Shoreline, the more recently built retail off of San Antonio and Charleston, the condos and homes that have been constructed in the last dozen or so years generate development impact fees for the municipality. Such fees are used for some of the buildings you mention. They are indeed located where they should be, in downtown MV, but the building that was undertaken elsewhere in that city is what financed those structures. This type of activity has not occurred for many years in Palo Alto, as it was built out well before Mountain View was. We had much of our municipal building boom decades earlier, when comparable development fees and other sources were robustly generated on land that had been fields and orchards previously. I hope that makes my contention more clear.

I am not a Pollyanna about this stuff. Things around here are not just fine, on a number of fronts, and I have taken upon myself to get involved and try to help positively influence the direction things are heading. The Palo Alto "process" has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on numerous occassions, and to my way of thinking also is obsolete. (The Rickey's debacle is the most telling example, knowing my history in town, I am sure you know I am a big fan of our soccer complex at Page Mill.)

So whether we agree on certain particulars or not is to me less important than what do we need to do at this point? Understanding how we got here is important to informing a going forward strategy, but as I stated in my opening observations on this thread, have even got consensus yet that we face a problem?


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Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2008 at 6:24 pm

"Chris and I have respectfully had exchanges around this before, and I don't want to repeat what has been said in prior threads between the two of us. What I will offer up that is additive is that the revenue structure that California and its local governments has had for the last 30 years, grounded is Proposition 13, is becoming as obsolete as some of the infrastructure that is crumbling in front of us. It is time to take a serious look at that revenue structure--"

Paul is right: he and I have had interesting exchanges on this and similar topics, and they're always stimulating - even when we fail to come to agreement.

I don't disagree - or even quibble - about the dislocative effects of Prop 13, though I don't understand "obsolete". And if "revenue structure" is taken literally, then I can think of a lot of ways to raise revenue that would be preferable to the current way we do it. However, to me it is quite clear from the context that Paul means, not "revenue structure" but "revenue increase". (And I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong.)

As I wrote in my other post, for Palo Alto, it simply is not true that we have a revenue shortage. Increasing revenues - through repeal of Prop 13, or other "restructure" - or by passing large bonds without reforming the rest of the budget - does not get to the root of Palo Alto's problems, which even Paul says is "unsustainable".

Proposition 13, for all its warts, is a straw argument in this context. We have plenty of revenue (and alternatives like selling the Utility System). What we don't have is political coherence.


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Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Combining police and fire would not save any money. After 5 years in Sunnyvale, an employee can chose which dept (fire or police) he would like to belong to.

Even with larger fires, all cities give aid to each other.


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Posted by Question
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 19, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Would someone explain to me why a building being 49 years old in this city means it ought to be torn down and rebuilt?

We hear this over and over again. School buildings are too old, libraries are too old? Why? Being 50 years old is NOT old for a building. In many places building go a couple hundred years or more...

This seems so wasteful an attitude.

How about maintaining, repairing, and upgrading as needed instead of constantly talking about tearing down and rebuildin?


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Posted by Jarred
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2008 at 9:03 pm

Paul Losch,

Three questions for you:

1. What do you think of the fact that recent mayors of Palo Alto have made global warming their highest priority?

2. To what extent does Palo Alto city management bear responsibility for the unsustainable compensation and retirement benefits currently offered to city workers?

3. How do you assess the performance of Palo Alto city government in implementing flood control measures over the last decade?

Jarred


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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Mar 19, 2008 at 9:31 pm

Answer to Question - one of the big reasons that buildings need to be replaced relates to new seismic codes. Structural engineers learn new lessons with every earthquake. The codes today are based on new knowledge that wasn't considered 50 years ago. You do not want a firehouse to collapse on the trucks inside during an earthquake. Do you want the library to collapse around the entire collection? I've heard the buildings at the city utility buildings on E. Bayshore will last just long enough for the workers to evacuate, and those buildings were already retrofitted.

Another reason for upgrades relates to ADA accessibility. Wheelchair users weren't considered very well 50 years ago. San Francisco is about to spend $1.2 million for a new ramp in their City Hall. It is probably worth it considering the City could be sued for not providing accessible access. That is the crazy world we live in.




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Posted by Dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 19, 2008 at 10:18 pm

Mr. Losch as usual has presented several good examples of how our city has and is being operated. I have only one point upon which to question him. The following are direct quotes from his letter above.

"...how the revenues it generated should be spent. Much of it is spent on services not found in other communities.

"...the array of services they enjoy, which compared to most other cities with which Palo Alto is compared are greater in number and higher in quality.

"Palo Alto leadership over the years has chosen to provide the services not found in other cities, have provided more in the way of parks, playing fields, libraries, and many other amenities at a much higher level than do our neighbors,

"-Highly valued services provided that are not found in most comparable cities."

However, he does not identify the "valued services" Palo Alto provides that others do not, nor shows how "other amenities at a much higher level" are measured, nor lists the "highly valued services...not found in comparable cities". It is easy to make sweeping generalities, but a few direct comparisons are be in order.


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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Mar 19, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Dave,

There aren't too many other cities that don't charge residents for sidewalk repairs. That is funded partially from the utility user's tax. That is one example. Foothills Park (residents only) is another example.




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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2008 at 11:17 pm

For what it is worth, I came in first at the Bridge Club tonight.

I really take exception to anyone accusing me of sweeping genralities. What I say in this forum tends to go on too long even for my taste quite often, but I have enough involvement in my volunteer capacity on one of our City's Commissions and my other work in this community to make general statements in a forum such as this which are grounded in a understanding the goes well below the surface.

One of the the challenges of opining on this and similar forums is that when making a point, it can be construed as black and white, at one corner or another. There is a difference between simple and simplistic (and being a simpleton.) That said, I will cite a few things that are services we find in this community that are signficantly more abundant that what other nearby communties offer:

1. Parkland and open space
2. Playing fields
3. Libraries
4. Multiple community centers with multiple activities for pre-school age children, youth and seniors
5. Summer camp programs at a lower cost than those offered by private entities
6. Children's theater, childrens museum
7. Art Center
--those are examples, there are others, but I think the point is made

Other communities offer many of these, but in the aggregate, you will find that Palo Alto has a much more comprehensive offering of such services. People such as Chris can fairly suggest that services such as these are not where the available revenues should be spent, that is a matter of opinion and I stand by what I said previously that those we have elected to policy making postions in the past have chosen to allocate the dollars in such a manner. Whether that will be the case going forward remains to be seen.

There are a number of projects or ideas for projects that have been teed up in recent years that I have expressed mis-givings about. To respond to one of the posters above, the storm drain situation is one where I have some concerns, as the costs of that effort have climbed signficantly in the short time since we approved the parcel tax.

The revenues generated for most cities, including Palo Alto include property taxes to a relatively small degree. In this town, most of it goes to the school district. Where I think Chris may have misunderstood my comment about structural flaws in our current revenue model on the city side is that our elected officials have very little flexibility in how revenues can be generated and for what purpose. My owm point of view is that they are so circumscribed in how they can go about things that they at times make choices not because it is the best course of action, but rather that they have a set of rules they must play by which force such choices, even if they have undesirable consequences. I would like to see our elected officials and us as voters have more flexibility in how we choose to tax ourselves and at what levels. That is different than a conversation around whether the revenues Palo Alto has available to it are too much, not enough or just right. Or how those monies are allocated between services, infrastructure and safety expenditures which consititute most of what any local municipality spends those dollars.



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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 9:00 am

Hi Paul,
Congratulations on your win at the bridge club!

I never think your comments are simplistic. Rather they are thoughtful and often provocative (in a positive way).

We will have to disagree on our "highly valued" services. I don't think the city should be funding an art center, a zoo and a children's theater. Perhaps they made sense years ago when there was plenty of money and our infrastructure was new, but we can't afford them now. Those entities should be privately-funded.

I also think that Shoreline Park in Mt. View is vastly superior to Bixbee. And, from my experience, Mt. View's single library is way better than our shabby library system.

I'd be interested in seeing that comparison between Menlo Park and Palo Alto parks. I couldn't find it on the MP website, but I've emailed one of the parks commissioners. However, the comparison I really want is Mt. View vs. PA. Their staff is about half the size of ours and Mt. View is a city on the move – upward!

Regarding development in Mountain View, I think the library, theater, city hall and fire stations were built well before the REI store and other new businesses along Charleston.

You say that "Surveys of Palo Altans consistently rate the services in this town at a much higher scale compared with similar surveys conducted in other cities." I just don't know how much faith to put in a survey that was completed by only 427 people.

This is like the library survey in which respondents were supposedly overwhelmingly in favor of keeping all the branch libraries open, yet the survey didn't ask how much people would be willing to pay for the branches. A marketing survey done at one of the companies I worked for years ago asked target customers if they would buy a new computer system. Overwhelmingly, they replied that they would. Problem was, there was no price associated with the system and when it hit the market, it failed badly.

So yes, I'm skeptical about many things. But I absolutely agree with you that, "Understanding how we got here is important to informing a going forward strategy" and that we don't have "consensus yet that we face a problem."

So, what do we do? How can those of us who don't go to city council meetings and who do recognize the seriousness of our problems, make an impact?

Over the years I've written guest opinions in the Daily and Weekly, sent numerous emails to council members (with maybe a 5% return rate) and more recently posted comments on Town Square. About five years ago I joined up with four other residents who felt the budget was mismanaged and priorities were skewed. We worked for many months on a flier, a position paper and a website. We sat down with the then-mayor and several other civic "leaders."

Finally, we asked friends and acquaintances to join our cause. These were people we knew. We didn't get a single response!

I find that people are only interested if their very special ox is being gored. Look at the outburst over the Children's Theater investigation compared to the attention paid to utility rates being raised for the third time in as many years.

It's also frustrating to voice opinions and feel like you're not being heard. How long do you beat your head against a brick wall before you give up? Remember the movie, "Network," where Peter Finch gets people to yell out their windows, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more?" Will Palo Altans ever reach that point?

I've often said that the only way to get Council's attention is to march on city hall with torches and pitchforks. I meant it metaphorically, but I'm beginning to think it has to be taken literally.

Historically the council only pays attention to large groups of people who show up at council meetings, preferably with crying children, banners, buttons and/or shirts of a specific color. That group magically becomes "the majority."

So, Paul, do you have any ideas on how ordinary residents can make an impact on city hall?


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2008 at 10:48 am

Pat,

I understand the feelings you express. There are many people in town who have little or no dealings with City Hall, and don't have a clear idea how to convey the concerns they have. I only have been involved since the mid-1990's before that I didn't even know who was on City Council, let alone how to deal with folks there.

I can't say that I have an easy answer to your question, and it would be presumptuous of me to dispense "advice." I also think we find ourselves where we are only after many years of things moving along in a way that now puts us in our current situation, and I don't think we can realistically expect that there is a quick way to solve the problems we now face.

That is why I teed up at the start of this that we need to first get a community consensus that we do indeed have a serious problem. There are some whom I perceive really don't believe that, or choose to think that fixing the problem involves others', but not their particular interests. If we can start there, develop an clear, factual understanding of how we got to where we are, that is huge. Developing a road map to get us where we need to be is much more difficult, but IMHO it will be impossible if we don't first agree collectively we all are in the same boat, and we all will float or sink together. Unless and until we get to that point, I am not sure that what you, I or anyone else says will have the sort of impact that you aspire to.

I do perceive that there are Council members who recognize what we are facing, they are not in denial about the situation. If I have that right, that is an important part of getting to a solution.


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Posted by Abundance vs. excellence
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Regarding Paul's list of "services we find in this community that are signficantly more abundant that what other nearby communties offer:"
True, we have an abundance of libraries. However, we should distinguish between 'abundance' and 'excellence'. The abundance of libraries is precisely what drags down their excellence.

Page for page, we probably have a more abundant website, too. We have an abundantly green council, with more paid green-employees than neighboring cities.

Part of our problem could be an abundance of priorities. Time to trim the list down to essentials. Drop a few libraries. Eliminate a few green employees. While we're at it, reduce the number of council members, too. Let's strive for excellence, not mere abundance.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Voting against US foreign policy is fun - maintaining sewers is not. We elected social activists when we needed plumbers.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Paul,
I would like to believe that there is at least one council member who recognizes the big problems facing the city, but I'll wait for proof. I recall one of them saying that perhaps Council should revisit the idea of keeping all library branches open in order to get the bond passed, but haven't heard anything more about that.

Abundance has it exactly right: we have an abundance of priorities.

When I worked with the little gang of five years ago, we focused on priorities. I think we have to look at the city as our home and the city budget as our bank account. On a limited budget, a prudent homeowner wouldn't take a round-the-world cruise if the roof was leaking and the insurance wasn't paid. The reason our infrastructure is in a state of decay is because there hasn't been a prudent homeowner making wise spending decisions for the last many years.

Any successful business sets priorities based on what's essential for the business to thrive. Palo Alto's priorities seem to follow the latest trends, i.e., civic engagement and greening. Both are noble endeavors, but hardly what the city needs.

A successful business also makes decisions on financial analysis and market needs, not on emotion.

So, Paul, do we just go on posting to Town Square in the hope that one rational council member might read our comments and join the conversation – in the spirit of civic engagement? Or is there some other way to gain consensus and visibility for the big problems the city faces?


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Posted by Bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Mar 20, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Walter, the sewers and other utilities in Palo Alto are maintained well and are in very good shape. This article is about the future liability for General Fund infrastructure: buildings, bridges, parks, streets, and sidewalks.





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Posted by Question
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 20, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Bikes2work,

The sewers maintained well in Palo Alto? Maybe it's because you live in Los Altos and don't have to deal with PA sewers all the time that you think so.

We bought our house in PA 15 years ago and we've had non stop problems with the sewer line in our street. It is full of tree roots and backs up regularly (yes, the city part of the sewer, not our connection). It's been reported to the city, including by a city inspector who thought it needed to be fixed. Guess what? Nothing, nada. It's still as is.

I would say that sewers are among the biggest infrastructures emergency in this city.


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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Mar 20, 2008 at 9:33 pm

Actually I live in Mountain View, but the Monroe Park portion of Palo Alto goes to Santa Rita too. The wastewater utility has an annual fund to fix problems like that. Keep reminding them about it. Ask them when it will be fixed. Tree roots are a constant problem for sewers. Be glad you don't live in my homeowner's association. They cut down 2 beautiful sycamores outside my house because the roots were starting to damage the private streets and sidewalks. Now we have 2 tiny chinese pistache trees that grow very slowly. I'll bet you have nice trees in your neighborhood.

I had heard that Los Altos has terrible sewers.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 20, 2008 at 9:58 pm

"A successful business also makes decisions on financial analysis and market needs"

A successful business does make decisions based on the things you mention, but it also knows what the returns on its investments are. If you insist on running the city like a business, then you have to know what the result of the business investment is. Otherwise, you're just whistling Dixie, and back in the land of "I think, you think".

Either we measure social benefits and other things that can be line-itemed on a balance sheet, or we keep spinning in circles.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2008 at 10:33 pm

One of the difficult questions that has to be asked around this is what sort of city Palo Altans want to have going forward, and what it is prepared to pay for such a vision.

Whatever one's opinions are about the city's current "character," which features a great deal more services and offerings compared to other cities, it really is important to get some clarity around how that compares with what we want it to be 10 or 20 years hence.

At one extreme, Palo Alto could significantly adjust its spending priorities to make sure that the big, costly infrastructure challenges can be met and paid for, and in so doing curtail a great deal of the offerings that for some are at the heart of what makes Palo Alto more than just another suburb. It likely would have a look and feel more akin to other such communities, and be less distinctive on most measures.

At the other extreme, the course the city has been on could continue, and we run the risk of not doing enough for our physical plant, and things in effect wearing out. I highly doubt that most people advocate for Palo Alto either of these options, so it becomes a question of where on the continuum the balance is struck.

Where I do have a point of view that others take issue with me is what we are prepared to pay for and how much we are prepared to pay. If you go back to my Whole Foods/Costco or Hyatt/Motel 6 crude analogies, I think it is fair to say that one can get a decent night's sleep at either hotel, and buy produce at either grocery, but you expect higher quality at one establishment than you do at the other, and are willing to pay more for that. One can argue whether or not the offerings in Palo Alto meet the Whole Foods/Hyatt model currently, but hold that thought for a moment. The real question that I think precedes that is what are Palo Altans prepared to pay for and at what level. Clearly, real estate prices are higher not because the houses per se are nicer than neighboring cities, but instead because people think they get more in the way of other things living here compared to living in the same property elsewhere.

We need to be asking ourselves what this implies for the bundle of expenditures this city should be making, and what that bundle is worth, that will constitute Palo Alto's character from this point on. It may be that we already are paying a premium, and it is a matter of how the funds are allocated. It may be that we are paying more than we want to, and funds not only need to be less, but need to be allocated in light of a different expenditure level. It may be that the community may be prepared to pay additional sums of money at the present time in order to have Palo Alto's character be a distinctive one, and to try to achieve and maintain that character at this point is not feasible with the amount of finances that can be provided.

But until we know and agree to what we want the character of Palo Alto to be, or what type of character we are prepared to pay for, I think we will have a more difficult knowing just what direction we should be heading in. I have no doubt we will be moving: forward, backward, sideways, which is it?


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 11:22 pm

I think it is interesting, and somewhat surprising, that Paul feels what makes Palo Alto special is its level of city services.

I didn't move here because the garbage men come and get the trash if I forget to take it to the curb; or the multiple branch libraries (ha!); or the "resident only" open space; or the city-funded childrens theater; or that animal control shows up on 30 minutes notice; or that the city unclogs my sewer hook-up on a Sunday morning.

I can honestly say I didn't really know or care about any of those things. I came for the school district, the housing stock, the proximity to a world-class university, and the mix and quality of like-minded people who live here. And my biggest disappointment has been the priorities of city government.

I've lived in several other "name-brand" suburbs and I can honestly say that they didn't distinguish themselves by services. In fact, many of them are pretty tight with a dollar, since the residents can by and large pay for the services they need (one example: in Wellesley, there's no town trash pick-up - you contract for it privately, or just drive out to the dump). They would splurge on something - usually schools, sometimes libraries - but working to save money was usually more important that figuring out new ways to spend.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to change old habits. I hope our looming financial "crisis" will break the habit of "big idea" city government, and usher in an era of saving money and just getting things done. While there will be squawking as the sacred cows go down, I doubt very much that it will change the fundamental nature of our town. In fact, I believe that it will make us stronger and, possibly, a better place to live.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2008 at 12:41 am

I know exactly what I want from the city: basic services like public safety and road repairs and street lights (paid for out of the general fund, not the utilities department), good schools and one fine library.

I would be ecstatic if "Palo Alto could significantly adjust its spending priorities to make sure that the big, costly infrastructure challenges can be met and paid for." That's what I want my tax dollars to pay for. Not $1 million subsidy to a children's theater. Not $35,000 for "the color of Palo Alto." Not $250,000 for a website that fails on every level. Not $225,000 for consultants to study refuse companies. Not $65,000 to The Lew Edwards Group, who the city hired to create publicity materials to convince us to vote for the library bond. Not $5 million for a bike tunnel into a one-way street. Not $21 million to Enron. Not $30,000 for a fiber optic business plan. Not $2.5 million to fix the Art Center. Not $240,000 for a "Destination Palo Alto" pilot program because some misguided souls at city hall think "someone coming to San Francisco for a meeting might want to extend their stay with a trip to Palo Alto."

I don't see how five shabby libraries or a community center with a leaky roof or a zoo with a few pathetic animals in small cages makes us "distinctive."

Where does Palo Alto's superior attitude come from? The only thing that makes us distinctive is Stanford.

If we cut the non-essentials from the budget, we could also save a lot in staff costs. Between 2002 and 2007, Palo Alto's employee-benefit costs went up 96%. In 2007 they went up another 6% to $89.6 million. More on this at: Web Link

This is why we need to focus on essential priorities, not the aren't-we-superior, feel-good nice-to-haves. Maybe then we wouldn't need bond issues for a decent library and police building.

After we figure out how to pay for the essentials, if there's money left over we can expand services. (Refer to my prudent homeowner analogy.) Anything else is simply irresponsible government.


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Posted by Palo Alto For Palo Altans
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2008 at 7:44 am


> the sewers and other utilities in Palo Alto
> are maintained well and are in very good shape.

And how does someone in another community (NOT PALO ALTO) come by this information? The Utilities Department and the Public Works Department are the only two sources of information that Palo Alto residents should be listening to on this point.

Staff reports and system/sub-system condition/assessment reports are the appropriate vehicle to provide information about these critical parts of our infrastructure.

People making claims and not citing sources should be ignored--particularly when they are not Palo Alto residents and taxpayers.


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Posted by Just Say No To Bad Ideas
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2008 at 8:45 am

> The city needs to look at creating far more effective
> communication links with PAUSD,

This is not a particularly good idea. While this poster has promoted this notion before--he has never demonstrated any understanding of the school district or the city to demonstrate the "efficiencies" he claims might exist.

One must do an analysis of the two organizations, coming to an understanding of the assets of both, and the operational needs of both. Are there any overlaps? What about the future? Can one/both organization "change their ways" to accommodate new approaches to goals/missions/work flow that will work for both organizations?

The mission of the city government is to manage the assets of the municipal corporation and to provide public safety operations for the general public (even though the Kishimotos and the Kotts never got this message).

The mission of the school district is to teach children and manage its assets. Perhaps there is some overlap in the area of "asset management", but that would seem to be about the end of it. Neither the city, or the school district, is actually involved in any construction projects--as these are always outsourced to bonded, commercial construction outfits. Low level maintenance is about all that either the city or the schools are capable of.

Other possible areas of overlap might be IT--but the missions of both of these operations can not be seen as aligned. The school district reports to the county and the State. The city, sometimes reports to the State, and sometimes reports only to itself. There is no clear overlap in the nature of the administrative software for each operation. And certainly there is not evidence that the city of palo alto's IT department knows anything about educational software. There might be some reason for the PAUSD to outsource its server needs--but the city of palo alto is the last place anyone would like for technology expertise.

The city does provide some of its Utilities expertise to the school district. How much of this expertise has been adopted is an open question--since the district does not report its utilities costs in a clear way in its yearly budget. These costs are wrapped up in a large, single number, which makes tracking utility costs difficult for a casual read of the school budget.

The school runs a motor pool--maybe there might be some way for the city and the school to join forces here. However, it is doubtful that the city has any insight into how to fix school buses that the school district is unaware of.

What would make more sense would be for local school districts to merge some of their administrative functions, such as IT, supply management and maybe grounds management. These functions are more-or-less common across school districts. There might be some advantage to this sort of consolidation--as long as modern/effective computer technology is employed instead of union employees.
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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2008 at 9:05 am

Only 20% of the budget is spent on any of the "special" services we enjoy in Palo Alto. (Source: General Fund Expenditures by Type, p26 2006-07 Adopted Operating Budget; categories Community Services 15%, Library 5%)

If we want a coherent discussion about budgets we have to discuss the remaining 80%.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 21, 2008 at 10:02 am

I agree with Terry that there are a number of different things that go into the character of Palo Alto: infrastructure, services, proximity to Stanford, our schools, all contribute. I will add to that list our numerous volunteer and non-profit organizations, our business environment, and our use of land for open space and similar environmental efforts. That's my list, I have offered it up before, others may have their own ideas of what is or is not in the "bundle."

To be clear, I do not view Palo Alto's services as the only thing that have gone into the character of Palo Alto, nor did I mean to imply that. I do think they are an important ingredient, and do have some unique aspects which are not typically found in other communities.

How does that mix of traits get emphasized and fostered going forward? What do alternative approaches imply for Palo Alto's future character and its economic well being? What is the current state--really--of those things in the bundle?

I appreciate some of the discourse this thread has going. While I have my own opinions, and am comfortable offering them up and having people weigh in on what they think, agreeing or disagreeing with my points of view, what I perceive happening is people are putting some quality thinking into some important questions that we have not yet fully asked, let alone fully answered. If at long last we are getting to that point, I am tickled pink, as I am of the opinion that it should have happened well before now, and cannot wait any longer.


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Posted by Just The Facts, Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2008 at 10:04 am

> This community needs to unite with an understanding and
> acknowledgement that it faces a serious, costly, infrastructure
> challenge that will be us for about the same amount of time
> (or longer) since the Proposition 13 initiative in 1978
> affected the way local public entities finance local public
> projects and services.

This is utter gobbledygook. Prop.13 did not affect any community's ability to propose and pass property taxes to pay for infrastructure needs. Any claim to the otherwise is made by someone who is uneducated on the basics of local government finances.

Local governments quickly adapted by creating new revenue sources--which was not prohibited by Prop.13. State and local budgets have more than tripled since 1978--with Prop.13 only affecting property tax revenues.

Prop.13 did stop local governments from raising property taxes to pay for every pet project that came down the pike, however.



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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Good points Paul and I didn't mean to pick on "your" vision. I, like Pat I think, have a vision that places much less emphasis on "unique services" and much more on "doing the basics well." This is a model I've seen work well elsewhere - and frankly, the only model I see as financially sustainable in the long run.

The first steps are a steady diet of financial reality - like the original post above - plus a steady voting down of financing measures, like the upcoming bonds and hopefully the COPS as well. If we don't throttle back the funds, the government won't revisit structural spending problems.

Let's take our medicine and get ourselves on to a healthier track as a city.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 21, 2008 at 12:54 pm

"The first steps are a steady diet of financial reality - like the original post above - plus a steady voting down of financing measures, like the upcoming bonds and hopefully the COPS as well. If we don't throttle back the funds, the government won't revisit structural spending problems."

We have a surplus in the general fund; we are going to build a brand new public safety building (from (COPs); we are going to soon approve a bond to repair library infrastructure; we are going to get busy with *innovative* business development activities (and here, I don't mean "Destination, Palo Alto"); we're going to start valuing city assets and city services with *metrics*, and then use those *metrics* - along with intangible benefit measurement and community preference - to make informed balance sheet decisions about services; we're going to get smarter about using technology to save money at City Hall; we're going to work closer, in an *aggressive* way led by principals from the City and PAUSD (because their relative fates are inextricably related in more ways than anyone on this thread who is against this idea appears to be aware of); we're going to work with other cities to create inter-municipal efficiencies that scale; and so on.

Or, we're going to go down the minikin path of fear and retreat.

I think THAT's the choice that this city faces. Opinions that consider our infrastructure backlog and say "gee, we have to pull back", instead of saying "what's the opportunity in this challenge, to regain regional hegemony, and lead" is exactly the kind of opinion that got us here in the first place.

Palo Alto has had many chances to do it right in the past. Palo Alto failed at that because it was listening to the voices of "no". We don't need that kind of thinking, anymore.

We have to look forward to solutions that *expand* services; we have to look forward to creating efficiencies that *expand* tax ROI. We have to *invest* in our city. We have to create whole new categories of community interaction with city operations; we have to better tap the intellectual and social capital of this place. And, we will.

There will some pain involved, and some dissension - but in all of that our policy makers have to look at *opportunity*, instead of retreat. They have to view opportunity not as an "opportunity to diminish services and live within our means" (that's poor man's thinking). They have to look at opportunity as a a new side of perceiving the problems we face, and using that opportunity to take measured risks that won't break the bank, to innovate - a little at a time - and to bring this city back from the precipice by using the spirit that made Palo Alto what it first was.

That spirit was entrepreneurial; it was brought to us by smart, persistent people who didn't retreat, who didn't say "no", and who knew if they could learn to adapt their inherent inventiveness to the problems they chose to focus on, they would win, and they did.

That's what Palo Alto policy makers need to do. That's what Palo Altans need to do. Before that can happen, the small voices of "no" have to be put in perspective relative to the long term cost of saying "no" to opportunity.



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Posted by dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 21, 2008 at 1:20 pm

Thank you, Paul, for listing what services Palo Alto provides, but you only answered one of my three points. You only listed what the services are.

Can you clarify how they are of higher quality and what services are provided here that are not provided in other communities?

Pat's blog of March 20, 9:00 AM, down to surveys reflects my opinions exactly. Also I agree with her blog of 11 hours ago.

Terry of 12 hours ago made a valid point. People move here for reasons such as schools, jobs, etc. and not for services; these are expected to be present in any good community.

One can find General Fund operating expenditures in the City Auditor's Service Efforts & Accomplishments Report 2006-07, page 17. I couldn't find a comparable summary of revenue sources.








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Posted by dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 21, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Thank you, Paul, for listing what services Palo Alto provides, but you only answered one of my three points. You only listed what the services are.

Can you clarify how they are of higher quality and what services are provided here that are not provided in other communities?

Pat's blog of March 20, 9:00 AM, down to surveys reflects my opinions exactly. Also I agree with her blog of 11 hours ago.

Terry of 12 hours ago made a valid point. People move here for reasons such as schools, jobs, etc. and not for services; these are expected to be present in any good community.

One can find General Fund operating expenditures in the City Auditor's Service Efforts & Accomplishments Report 2006-07, page 17. I couldn't find a comparable summary of revenue sources.


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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Dave,

You are welcome.

In response to your follow on inquiries, I don't think I can provide objective data other than the surveys that I have seen about how the quality of services are rated by people in Palo Alto who were surveyed and how those results compare with other cities. You, I and probably everyone else has their own points of view on how good or bad certain services are in Palo Alto, that is not likely to get us very far. No one of us avails ourselves of all the services provided in Palo Alto, and much of any one person's opinions is grounded in what sort of first hand experiences--good or bad--they have had. A survey is a tool that is commonly used to capture information in such circumstances, if there is another methodology that can better capture and reflect the quality of services and how people feel about them, I would be inrerested in learning what it is and more about it.

I think part of services is the condition of the facilities in which they are provided, and a number of them are very shabby indeed. Whether this is captured effectively is the surveys conducted can be called into question, I would conjecture.

Another aspect of what I think you are asking has to do with the availability of these things. I used (perhaps ill advisedly) the word abundant in an earlier post. Many of the things I cite are not unique to Palo Alto, but are "supplied" at a higher level than is found in other nearby commmunities. Reference the quarterly "Palo Alto Enjoy" catalog to get a flavor for my observation.

I do know for a fact that the number of parks and similar facilities are far greater in number in Palo Alto than other Peninsula cities. There are others, such as community cneters and programs therein, in greater supply in Palo Alto. There is an amazing amount of things that go on in those buidlings and outside spaces.

I hope that helps illustrate factually what I have suggested earlier about what consistitutes the character/fabric we are dealing with here.


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Posted by Sell-Unused-Assets
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2008 at 3:28 pm

> I do know for a fact that the number of parks and
> similar facilities are far greater in number in
> Palo Alto than other Peninsula cities.

palo alto is park rich--maybe $20B worth. Many of these parks are idle much of the time. It is high time to consider selling some of these assets and using that money to fund infrastructure spending.


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Posted by Digital-Is-The-Future
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2008 at 3:31 pm

Libraries are a thing of the past.

The rapid shift in information technologies has removed the need for libraries of the old mold. Use of public money to digitize and educate the public in the new technologies are far more sustainable in the coming years than another round of bricks and mortar that will be allowed to fall into disrepair by city employees.


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Posted by Mimi
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 21, 2008 at 4:21 pm

The CITY OF PALO ALTO should install RED LIGHT cameras and collect the revenue from all of the illegal and bad driving that one sees around town.

The CITY should work with the legislature to get the fine for running a red light raised to $500.00--so that the CITY can begin to collect some real money from all of the bad drivers who make life difficult for the residents.


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