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School-bond opponent lays out case

Original post made on May 8, 2008

He's been getting up at 3 a.m. and going to bed at 10 p.m. for weeks, and Palo Alto resident Wayne Martin isn't likely to stop soon. According to Martin, it takes nonstop dedication to fight a measure whose victory many consider a foregone conclusion — the $378 million school-bond measure on the June 3 ballot.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 7, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (83)

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Posted by renovated Eichler owner
a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2008 at 9:23 am

How ironic that Martin would say "Half of Palo Alto are grody little Eichlers that are over 50 years old, many of which ought to be knocked down, they're in such poor shape." He seems to notice that residences need upgrading, but not schools that were built around the same time. His distain for the "half" of Palo Alto that lives in Eichlers, many of whom are families with children in school, is abundantly clear. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Why does he choose to live among us lowlifes? Mr. Martin, move to Eichler-free Atherton, please, and let us fix our aging schools and Eichlers in peace.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2008 at 12:18 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] His comment about Eichlers is that the bond measure as written is not sustainable given even Palo Alto's high property value growth assumptions. You may live in a 'grody little Eichler' (like I do) worth 1.5M, but it won't be worth $16M in 20 years, and I believe that is correct. I doubt alot of PAUSD real estate would be worth $16M in 20 years.

Are you seriously suggesting that most Eichlers are not grody? I think their ridiculous shanty's (unless they've been extensively remodeled or rebuilt), and I live in one.

I feel that the bond measure is faulty because the wording around the way the money will be spent is WAY too open ended. And I disagree with the way the items are listed without prioritzation - except the Paly Theater which seems to get its own special shout out. Huh? Given overcrowding, projecte enrollment growth, an ABAG that wants to pack Palo Tight with high rise housing, and state of our aging facilities at all grade levels, is Paly Theater really this much of a priority? You may say yes, but I wholly disagree.

Instead of getting all worked up about being told the Emporer has no clothes on, maybe you should think about the underlying message. PAUSD needs to rewrite this bond request before I'd vote for it.


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Posted by I'll vote no
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2008 at 2:11 pm

We had B4E we voted for. We were then told that B4E was going to fix up our run down schools.

The B4E program is just now completed and we are now told that our schools are still so run down that they need to be torn down and rebuilt or completely remodeled???? What happened to B4E?? Something just does not add up.

I'll vote no.


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Posted by shoot yourself in the foot by voting no
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 8, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Want your property values to continue to rise? Consider this-

Schools - just like our houses - need ongoing maintenance and repairs.

Our enrollment is growing, we are out or almost out of room at many of our schools. Gunn is closed to new students for next year, as is Terman. Addison had 35 too many kinders this year, Duveneck had 10 too many. All the new developments, contrary to the demographers predictions, are bringing in LOTS of new students and will continue to do so.

Property values - the cities who are maintaining their property values during this housing downturn are the ones with school districts that have an excellent reputation. Values are still rising in Palo Alto and there is still very few houses on the market.


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Posted by renovated Eichler owner
a resident of Midtown
on May 8, 2008 at 3:08 pm

To "Parent": Most of the Eichler owners I know have remodeled and fixed up their homes to make them comfortable. If yours is a "ridiculous shanty," as you claim, you have the opportunity to renovate too. Mr. Martin's statement that "half" of Palo Alto consists of "grody little Eichlers" that should be torn down is insulting and inaccurate. Yes, I do find that a snobbish attitude. For someone who claims to value accuracy in numbers, it is also an exaggeration.

To "I'll vote no": Please re-read the article. Nobody is proposing tearing down and rebuilding the schools. Martin's comments were about tearing down Eichlers. The school bond measure will bring needed upgrades to the schools.


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Posted by Another Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Mr. Martin is a spokesman for the big developers and business people who would like to not pay any taxes.

Years ago he was campaining to make Charleston /Arasterdro into a widened expressway with underground tunnels for school childred and adults to use to cross these roads.

He apparently will do anything for the big business people to make money or a living.
He probably rents or lives with someone,maybe his parents.?? As he dosen't care for homeowners or non-business people.

The only way for homeowners to keep the value of living units up is to continue to have the best schools in the Valley. People come here and pay the prices they do pay is because of the schools. That's why enrollement is up and will keep going up.
City services, in South Palo Alto anyway, are going down as crowding is increasing.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2008 at 11:50 pm

From the piece on Wayne Martin piece: Web Link

Wayne Martin:

""I'm not trying to be a wack-job here, but [my argument] is all hard-and-fast economics, which is not being practiced by the other side," he said.

The sheer volume of Martin's anti-bond measure objections, many of them on the Web site, could fill a book."

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Their modus operandi starts with "feeling like something isn't right with local government", then they = build on that by picking and choosing whatever economic bell or whistle sounds good in a hit piece, and build an economic argument around that using reams of disconnected data that is collected out of context, to prove one invalid point after another.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Their real thrust, to "spoil" efforts at community cohesiveness, by disrupting efforts in the community to come together and improve its lot. It's a common theme, and one that has consistently played out over years, on *every single effort* our city has made to fund something. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

One thing that Martin and his crew are really good at is putting things into language in a way that creates doubt - too often just enough doubt to bring about the failure of desperately needed funding for future funding, or remedial repair. They know just when to drop their self-selected-data, distortion-of-truth pamphlets on voters doorsteps, just before the election. It's their stock in trade, and they revel in the result.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]



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Posted by Am I missing something?
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2008 at 7:34 am

"A home worth $1.7 million today would jump in value to $16 million in 40 years at 5.75 percent annual growth, according to his calculations. The 5.75 rate is an average of differing growth projections the district has used, he said. (The Weekly's calculations for the rate indicate the price would be about $15.4 million.)

No one would pay that price, he said."

Sure, but the current property tax revenue is based on current assessment. How many homes in Palo Alto are assessed at much lower than the market value? I certainly know that my parents $1.5+ million home is only assessed at about $400K since they bought it in 1970. I would imagine that a large portion of the increased property tax revenue will be from home sales (and reassessment), rather than appreciation.


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Posted by David Lieberman
a resident of Professorville
on May 9, 2008 at 10:17 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Mr. Martin may be right, or he may be wrong about the school bond. But those who disagree with him would present a much stronger case if they stuck to refuting his arguments on the merits.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

At least Martin is willing to put his name behind his statements, rather than hide behind the cloak of online anonymity.

If this is the best that Measure A proponents have to offer, it deserves to fail.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2008 at 12:59 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Edwina McReady
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2008 at 1:19 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I believe we're talking about the same MIke who is in favor of loading up Palo Alto with high rise dense housing with no concern whatsoever for protecting the history, character or quality of life for Palo Alto. He LOVES the eyesore development on the corner of Charleston and El Camino and the San Antonio/Charleston development that is built right up to the sidewalk and can't wait to fill our town up with more of the same. Why? Because of course if you build to the edges, and you put up as many stories as you can, more profit for developers! Of course he's in favor of open ended school facilities funding - that means that the DEVELOPERS don't have to foot any of the cost of packing our city to the hilt with kids that need elementary schools. He wants to make sure Palo Alto gets is school facilities in order for all the all the tightly packed residences (and residents) that's he's pushing down our throats. This is a beautiful thing for the building industry angling for our city.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] A poorly written bond proposal that is too open ended and misses the mark on the true priorities for the district. (Paly Theater a high priority?) Lets have the school board go back to their desks and write up a bond proposal that is specific, and that clearly and specifically states the highest priority facility problems it will address.

A poster above suggested that Martin is a puppet of the building industry. Absolutely ridiculous, the building industry is the BIGGEST winner from a bond that increases school capacity in PAUSD.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Fed up
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 9, 2008 at 2:46 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Wayne Martin has more supporters than even *he* knows. More to the point, his position against the measure is shared by many. Probably not enough to make a difference, but there are enough of us out here who remember how poorly managed B4E was, and enough of us who are still upset by the way the board ignored district priorities while the staff pushed their pet MI project through, and they continue to disregard written PAUSD policies.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Another Observer: Anyone who knows Wayne Martin knows that he is the last person in the world who would be a "spokesman for the big developers and business people." If you want to discredit someone, at least seek out the truth before making accusations.

Mike says, 'They know just when to drop their self-selected-data, distortion-of-truth pamphlets on voters doorsteps, just before the election. It's their stock in trade, and they revel in the result." Seems like this is standard operating procedure for ALL campaigns and candidates.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2008 at 3:49 pm

YES, The Paly theatre is a very high priority. Have you ever seen the place - this place is beyond decrept, beyond tiny, beyond outmoded in terms of everything you can think of.


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Posted by Another No Voter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Paly Theater outmoded, too small?? SO WHAT? What difference does it make to the main issue which is overcrowding. Maybe Paly performing arts departments should consider outdoor performances while they raise private funding for a theater remodel. (Or how about they borrow the Gunn Theater when needed, or they do their performances in the gym - or a good number of other possibilities one could imagine. No, Paly theaters is NOT a priority, and that's why I'm voting no on the bond. To much emphasis on the wrong stuff, and not enough accountability for getting the priorities straight ahead of time.

I am not prepared to give the same board who brought us MI this kind of authority free of accountability. (When they don't have a specific list that in essence frees them from accountability. They have complete freedom to say 'this fits the bond wording'. They need to come back with a bond request that specifies exactly what they're spending it on and show us that they understand the main priorities now.

(By the way - yes my kid will be going to Paly - small theater and all.)


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Posted by hmm
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2008 at 5:38 pm

If Gunn is getting a pool, why can't Paly get a theatre?

Seems to me that there is a core of people out there who expect our students to suffer just because of MI?

If anyone out there can get corporate sponsorship for a pool, or a theatre, or anything, why can't we do it?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2008 at 5:48 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2008 at 7:02 pm

Regardless of the Weekly's poor record in representing data charletans, like Wayne Martin and "pat", this bond will PASS.


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Posted by Duveneck Parent
a resident of Duveneck School
on May 9, 2008 at 8:18 pm

If Duveneck had 10 too many kinders this year then WHY are EPA students attending Duveneck?


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Posted by Mom for Measure A
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2008 at 7:30 am

Calling all Moms who support Measure A..please join us this morning by 8:30 in front of Walgreen's on Middlefield for a Mother's Day weekend 1/2 mile walk in support of Measure A.

I trust this Board and this Superintendent. They don't have their heads in the clouds anymore, with no line of logic connecting their ideas.

They are about to wrap up a Strategic Plan which is comprehensive and pretty good.

Super Skelly is a man of honor, best we can see, who doesn't play games and wants only to make sure we have enough safe spaces for the ever growing school population.

Our population has maxed out our spaces, and we are going to start going up in class sizes, which isn't a bad thing in my mind since it is only to 24 per class, but when THAT is maxed out, within a few years, what then? We are also going to have to start driving our kids past our local school to go to other schools with some space still on them for portables... there go neighborhood schools!

So, please support this Measure A, and let us build back our schools.

Don't let the theater and pool stuff distract you. The pool has come about from PARENTS and donations. The Theater is far from a "done deal".


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Posted by Come Back for More?
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2008 at 12:49 pm

So my concern is this - $400M for refurbishment and some small capacity increase is ok (actually it is crazy high, but that's another matter). But how do we know that we won't be asked - no really told - to spend another $400M for new schools in 3 years time? Districts tend to be quite bad at projecting enrollment. And with the combination of turning neighborhoods (see the Palo Verde article in the Weekly this week) and higher density development, it would be very unsurprising to see a need for more capacity than planned.

And then where are we? Can Measure A funds be repurposed for a new facility? The answer is no of course, since it is not listed in the bond.

So, absent higher certainty, I would say we should a have a much smaller bond ($100-200M) and then revisit when we have a better need for capacity. Otherwise the risk of ANOTHER $400M bond seems too high.

So sorry, thinking ahead, I would vote NO now and look for a smaller bond, to be re-visited again 3 years time.


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Posted by Libertarian Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2008 at 4:57 pm

I greatly admire Wayne Martin for all the work he's put into analyzing the situation and fighting this bond. Check out the website and get informed!

That this bond claims to conform to Prop 39 requirements is a sham. To get the Prop 39 benefit (only needing 55% "yes" votes rather than "66%) requires a detailed itemized list of what the bond will be used for plus an oversight committee. The itemized list is laughable in how non-specific it is. And who will the oversight committee consist of - will it all be A supporters - the fox watching the hen house?

Furthermore, the items are really questionable - like the theater and the pool. And many of the items are operating type expenses - landscaping, maintenance, computers - and should be part of the PAUSD operating budget. Instead the district has figured out they can move a bunch of expenses out of the operating budget and make a bogus claim to cover it with bond funds leaving more for salaries/benefits. (Think Vallejo.)

It's pathetic that B4E was just passed in 2005, and they're already hitting people up again in 2008 - B4E was supposed to fix up the schools - so what happened? And Measure A doesn't even address the real future capital concerns of the district - the possible need to add permanent capacity (beyond portables) for the growing enrollment. You just know they'll be hitting up Palo Altans for another bond in another few years.

I'm also sick of Pro-A folks saying this is not an increase in taxes - continuing the parcel assessment for another 20 years is an increase taxes - if your bank arbitrarily increased your 30 year mortgage to a 50 year mortgage - I think we'd all consider that an increase!


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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2008 at 5:09 pm

Good post, Libertarian Mom.

If there was ever a time for us taxpayers, who are not enamored by PAUSD Board incompetence, like MI and the decline of neighborhood schools, this is it.

I will vote no.


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Posted by pa resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Libertarian Mom - you might have a shot at credibility if you get your facts straight -- B4E was passed in 1995.


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Posted by Libertarian Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2008 at 7:35 pm

PA Resident - Sorry for the typo - the point remains - what did they do with the B4E money that was supposed to fix up the schools? 13 years later and now the schools are in supposedly woeful shape again? Also, how wise is it to pass a 20-40 year bond every 13 years? So, do you have anything substantive to say?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 10, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Libertarian Mom, even a low use residential *home* requires infrastructure fixes every 10-12 years, and if the family grows, expansion needs to take place. What most people try to do is put money away for that rainy day. I hope that's a good enough metaphor for you.

About Wayne Martin: here's his take on libraries: " "The internet has changed the world, and libraries are far less valuable today than in the past."" [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

And, why is a San Jose resident (Alan Rice) co-sponsoring Martin's activities? What's that all about? Why doesn't the Weekly look into this guy's history, and his associations with non-locals who seem to stop at nothing to sabotage needed municipal improvements.

Palo Alto 's press is too unquestioning of Martin, and his motives. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The *only* reason that Martin is even "in the game" is because of the high hurdle to pass revenue bonds. If it wasn't for that he be less than a footnote.

There is nothing profound about what he's doing; he's in the *extreme* minority, and his data construction collection and analysis techniques have YET to be thoroughly vetted by the press - a press that gives voice to Martin's conclusions.

If one looks at Martin's current website, its a mishmash of "white papers" (with little relevancy to the things that the bond is asking for; pictures of the best-preserved parts of PAUSD's infrastructure, to make it look as if PAUSD isn't in disrepair; a main website graphic that puts all infrastructure challenges in focus, and makes the current one look like waste.

Sure, this is all permitted within the American political system, but let's have some journalistic diligence applied to stuff like this.

Come on, Weekly and Daily - do your homework! And, once you've found out the egregious weaknesses of Mr. Martin's data, along with his rationales, and the virtual irrelevance of his points to real problems that need the studied solutions our community *wants*, maybe then you can STOP giving vooice to someone who is no better informed in an *accurate* way than anyone else who just thinks government is too big.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Libertarian Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2008 at 1:01 am

Mike,

Rather than attacking Wayne Martin, a concerned watchdog of government excess, why don't you convince us why Measure A makes sense? I've seen very little substance from the Pro A side that makes a business case for this measure.

Why is there so much fluff - pool, theater, etc? Are these really the greatest priorities for the district? How much does this bond address growing enrollment? This bond doesn't get us a 13th elementary or a 3rd high school. Why are operating expenses (computers, IT, maintenance, landscaping) included in a bond that won't be paid off for 34 years? Even the true capital items - pool, theater, gym, etc. will be pretty tired by 2042. Why should voters today be taxing folks into the 2040's for infrastructure that won't last nearly that long?

I could maybe buy your 10-12 year infrastucture maintenance comment if the bond were put in place today and lasted 10-12 years and was only for capital items...but instead this bond kicks in during the 2020's (after B4E is finally paid off!) and lasts another 20 years and includes many items that really should be part of the PAUSD operating budget. I worked in finance at a corporation for many years, and there were always cost center managers who tried to make their operating budget target by shifting operating costs to the capital budget - but we didn't let them because we actually followed proper accounting procedures (such as matching the expensing of an item to its useful life) and wanted to run the business soundly. It would be nice if government operated in this fashion.


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Posted by irony check
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2008 at 7:42 am

Mike, I think that is richly and humorously ironic, your attack on "out of towners".

A reading of your posts and the similarities to letters constantly printed in the media from a letter writer named Mike from a non-Palo Alto city reveals a good laugh.


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Posted by reality check
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2008 at 7:47 am

Libertarian Mom: No, this bond kicks in ASAP. If not passed, we try again..or no monies to open the 13th elementary school (Garland). Just called the lease on that school, which means we get it back and need money to bring it up to standard in 2 1/2 years.

If not passed, we have no money for improvements, unless we start taking from the "operating" side of the budget, which is staff.

Please read the Strategic Plan as it is going before the Board this Tuesday ( www dot pausd dot org click on Board and go to the materials to read the latest Plan proposal) I would hate to delay further that plan.

As it is, I wonder who is going to be able to do the massive amounts of leg work necessary to make progress on this plan, given how top-light we are.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 11, 2008 at 8:04 am

RC - I think you make the right point - they need to try again. Vote this one down, they'll come back with the $100-200M bond that we probably should have. It won't be the be all-end all, but it will be enough to do all that is really needed and sort out the situation better in 4-5 years. That's an approach I'd support.

Let's face it - $400M is an ASTOUNDING amount of money for a single bond, and it is a 30+ year obligation. The Super has been in there less than a year, so not nearly enough track record to build trust. This bond is a lot to ask, too much in my view, especially given uncertainty about future enrollment increases.


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Posted by reality check
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2008 at 8:25 am

ok, I get your point. If I didn't know and trust this Board and this Super so much, frankly I would be thinking like you.

But, unfortunately, unless you watch every Board meeting on TV or go to the meetings, go to all the public events, go to the PTA Council meetings and/or other very highly involved groups, it would be difficult to know that the tenor of the gang at Churchill has changed.

If you know anyone who HAS been very involved, ask him/her what they think.


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Posted by reality check
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2008 at 8:26 am

FYI, I would be actively working against Measure A if the old Board and Super were still in place, so I understand where you are coming from.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 11, 2008 at 8:45 am

You make a fair point RC and don't get me wrong - I like Skelly a lot and believe he is a big upgrade to what we have had and is taking a firm hand to remaking people and processes in the way he wants. BUT - he's been here for less than a year. The bond is $400M, and once voted, it's done.

If he is truly on the right track, getting a second bond on top of a smaller one now won't be a problem at all - we will be happy to give him the money. So just from a control and prudence point of view, we are better off keeping our powder dry while we see what the next 2-3 years bring. Do you agree?


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Posted by Libertarian Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2008 at 10:29 am

Reality Check,

When I said the bond doesn't kick in into the 2020's - I meant it isn't paid back until then - but you're right - they want to spend the money today. Buy now, don't pay for 20 years - but accumulate interest. Not what I call fiscal responsibility.

You sound like an insider and suggest that part of the plan for the bond money is for a 13th elementary school. But if that's the plan why isn't that spelled out in the itemized list in the bond? The requirements of a prop 39 (55% approval) bond is that all projects need to be spelled out in the bond (itemized with costs) - this suggests that the district is not being honest about what their plans are for the bond money.

And it's funny that you admit if this bond doesn't get passed it will hit the operating budget - so you admit operating items are trying to be moved to the capital budget...that's inappropriate accounting and not how bond monies are supposed to be utilized. And by the way, I don't have a problem if salaries & benefits in the operating budget are looked into - what do you think happens in the private sector when budgets are tight!


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Posted by Its the housing
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 11, 2008 at 10:39 am

As long as the city council keeps approving big housing developments, school population will increase. It isn't a mystery why development interests are in favor of this bond and the library bond.
Ask Klein, Espinosa, Morton, Drekmeier and Barton why they keep approving more and more housing.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 11, 2008 at 11:25 am

Lib Mom - first, happy Mother's Day to you and the many other moms out there.

On the bond - it does implicitly cover the 13th elementary, since Garland is listed on the Bond resolution as an elementary school site. Plus there is a catch-all item that could include new elementary and even other schools:

"If and as opportunities become available, and to the extent the Board of Education determines that bond funds are available for the purpose, acquisition of land and other interests in real property for future school buildings and other District facilities, and construction of such facilities, and rehabilitation/renovation of District-owned buildings and sites not otherwise listed."

BTW, I'm not sure I agree with your point about operating expenses being included in the bond. While there may be quibbles, I would say the vast majority of what's listed is in the realm of capital expenditure and the rest is defensibly capex.

So I don't think the bond is a shell game; I just think it is too darn big.


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Posted by sarlat
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2008 at 11:42 am

Palo Alto has too many residents. The schools are old and the excessive number of students cause them to deteriorate at an ever increasing pace. The same applies to our infrastructure. As long as the city approves additional housing developments, this problem will remain chronic. We need to reach a fundamental conclusion:Palo Alto has reached and exceeded its sustainable growth limit and it's time to put an end to it. We need a zero growth approach, or this city will crumble and collapse, just like that Minnesota bridge.


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Posted by Carson
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 11, 2008 at 12:05 pm

I have some reservations about this bond measure and haven't decided yet how I would vote. However, the fundamental philosophy of Martin and his likes, here and everywhere else, has created a national crumbling infrastructure that is rapidly becoming so shabby, it's worse than the infrastructure in some third world countries, a health care system only millioners will be able to afford, horrible public schools, poverty and misery all around.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 11, 2008 at 12:17 pm

To me it seems hard to argue that PA has not had enough tax revenue to sustain its infrastructure. We are one of the richest towns around, but we have failed over the last couple decades to re-invest in infrastructure while sustaining a big city payroll and a very full set of city services and amenities.

It reminds me with Bush I said in in his inaugural address that "we have more will than wallet" - he was rightly lampooned that the richest nation in world history didn't have the money to do what others could. In fact, we have more wallet than will! Others have they libraries, public safety buildings, roads, schools, etc., that they need. For sure we should can to. But it likely requires a hard look at city operating expenses and a focus on efficient service delivery, not pie in the sky initiatives.

So, don't blame Martin, blame the officials that the majority elect who too often pander with services and feel-good programs than lead with required investment.


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Posted by Libertarian Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2008 at 1:13 pm

When I think about it more, my biggest problem with this bond is the inter-generational "theft". This bond is being used to purchase infrastructure today that will mostly be fully depreciated by the time the taxpayers of the future (2020s-2040s) get stuck paying for it plus interest. We say this bond is "for the kids" - but think about your child trying to buy a local property at market value 20 years from now with parcel assessments tacked on that are paying for expenditures made back in 2008. I don't understand why it's legal for today's voters to vote to tax the future generation in this manner. That's why I make the point about bonds being tied to the useful life (depreciation schedules) of the projects. If you're going to use bonds to buy computers - those should be depreciated in 4-5 years - and should be paid off in that timeframe. If you're using the bond to construct a pool - and it's got a useful life of say 25 years - then the bond should match the depreciation schedule of the asset. The district realized it wouldn't be popular to add to the current tax rate so instead they made the bond for the future (2020s-2040s) - this is just so wrong. Why not have the bond go to 2142 instead of 2042? Where's the limit?


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 11, 2008 at 2:32 pm

While I have some doubts about the bond--mostly along the lines of Reality Check's, I don't find Martin's stuff persuasive--the schools aren't in great condition and they are overcrowded. I was over at Palo Verde the other week and I can see why those parents complain--that's very little playing space for that number of kids.

That said, what I'd really like to know is why school construction and repair projects are so expensive. I mean, Stratford uses Garland as an elementary school now--why is a couple of million needed to bring it up to public-school standards? I mean, I doubt Stratford has roaches and cracked windows.

Could somebody explain this to me?

Thanks.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 11, 2008 at 2:51 pm

OP - Garland at $2M - I wish! From the Facilities Master Plan (Web Link), total expense at Garland is actually $19.4M. To be fair, that is out of at $772M total expense (about 2x the bond). But $8M is for "modernization" then another $6M for "growth."

If you go to the specific project list (starting on page 272), you see the facility's condition is rated as "Good" but it still needs $2.8M for "B4E Standards", which includes seismic upgrades, removal of asbestos pipe wrapping, replacing all doors and frames, lighting, and ceiling tiles. On top of that is $1.5M for replacing all sewer, water, storm, and gas mains and re-routing roof utilities. $600K for new windows, $400K for "classroom upgrades," $1.7M for landscape & hardscape. There's more but those are the big ticket items.

So what's really needed? And what will be spent? Pretty hard to tell - the bond itself offers no clue. Stratford parents apparently think it is at least ok. But when I see this it really makes me wonder "Why $400M"??


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Posted by reality check
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2008 at 3:36 pm

Libertarian Mom: the future generation isn't "stuck" paying for it..they will or will not CHOOSE to pay for it by either buying or not buying a house in the area.

If it isn't worth it, they won't buy the houses. If it is, they will.

Part of what folks do when deciding to buy into an area is to decide if the tax part is worth it.

So, much as I agree with your general principle of not passing debts onto the future ( don't get me started on the upcoming Social Security complete breakdown, and our national debt), this is not one of those scenarios.

As for anyone thinking I am an "insider"..sorry, I am not. Didn't mean to sound like a know-it-all. Just trying to pay close attention to the Board and the Super and what is up, and using my brains the best I can to figure out how things are going.


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Posted by Libertarian Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2008 at 4:35 pm

I have a sneaking suspicious that PA isn't the only town trying to make today's expenses the problem of future taxpayers. So if our children want to buy property anywhere in this country, they'll probably be stuck paying taxes to pay off debt from long ago.

Sorry, I thought you were an insider...it was the way you worded your comments about Garland and staffing that sounded like you worked for the district...


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Posted by RC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2008 at 4:57 pm

I agree with you there..we are a very selfish nation at this point, spending money that our children will have to pay off..

I met a patient once, on Medicare, who refused to let us bill Medicare because she could afford our services without it, and she really made an impact on me. She said "no, I don't want to make you pay the bill for my health care".

Yet another unsung and influential hero in my life.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Me Too,

Thanks for the numbers, but those are what I don't get. Why does replacing the windows cost $600,000? Why $1.7 million for landscaping and blacktop?

It's not that big a site. What kind of grass are we talking about anyway?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 12, 2008 at 2:41 pm

editor, It is a FACT that Wayne Martin, a public critic of libraries - and one who claims that libraries are irrelevant in the age of the Internet - is an *admitted* heavy user of libraries.

Why did you edit that fact out? In fact, Mr. Martin brags about his prolific use of things like LInks+, branch libraries, and so on.

Perhaps more diligence on the Weekly's part re: the inherent contradictions between what Mr. Martin's *publicly* professed activities and what he says in his anti-bond "analyses" is more appropriate to your editing pen than editing out FACTS from my, and other's, notes above.

Mr. Martin uses very specific, media-generated techniques to get the word about his opposition out. I would think that a high-level journalistic organization should be able to ferret out fact from fantasy - here, and in the missive of those to whom you give non-editorial column inches.

Also, to "irony check", above. It's indeed ironic that someone living in a highly intelligent community can't seem to get his mind around the possibility that there is more than one person named "Mike" in this forum. It's a very popular name.




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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 12, 2008 at 4:11 pm

OP, I wish I knew the answer. I can't make heads or tails of construction costs in general, not just school costs. $400M for a small city school bond that doesn't include any new facilities or add much capacity - it is staggering by any measure.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Me Too,

Sometimes I understand construction costs--like it seems to cost about $300K to $400K to build a house around here. So I just don't get why the school costs are so much higher. I mean the plumbing and sewage lines may need to be upgraded, but they're already there and planned for. The school buildings are already there and in "good" shape--they're not falling down.

Garland's one-story. It looks like every other elementary in Palo Alto--and that includes the same-size windows. Since the windows seem to be intact why is $600,000 of window replacement needed? If they're not up to code, why is it okay to have private-school kids in those classrooms?

This is just a small part of the package, I know--but the costs seem literally off by a factor of 10--or more in the case of the turf and blacktop.

Any contractors out there who can explain this to me?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 12, 2008 at 8:50 pm

First, year-over-year, construction costs, even remedial construction costs, suffer anywhere from 10-18% inflation. Specific jobs - depending on materials - can far exceed even that inflation range. For instance, any commercial construction jobs requiring steel, asphalt, or concrete have seen 30-50% year-over-year materials costs.

Second, commercial jobs require more project management, including equipment rental specialist laborers, logistical staging, etc. etc.

Third, materials and systems in public institution like schools require far more robust fail-safe tolerances than residential construction. For instance, there's no way that a common residential commode would last a week at most schools.

There are many more reasons for increased commercial costs, and there's also a very strong rationale for having some choice and flexibility about where to spend money.

Anyone who has been watching the state budget knows that things could get very dire if cuts to education continue to deepen; we don't want educational program and services money going to construction costs, do we?







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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Well that's a general answer--but I'd like some specifics. I can see schools costing more--but that's a *lot* more. $400 million and no new schools?

$1.5 million for blacktop and turf at a site where blacktop and turf already exist?

Look, I'm stronly inclined to vote for school bonds, but it seems to me with that kind of money, you could tear down and rebuild every school.


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Posted by Buddy
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2008 at 2:37 pm

I'm not sure where Mike of College Terrace gets his figures, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't know anything about commercial construction. I'm a small-time commercial developer. While it's true that we've had cost increases in the past couple of years - mostly due to international pressure on material costs - they've rarely been in the range of 10-18% figure cited. Right now, a lot of materials costs and labor costs (at least for the class of material and labor I use) are falling. I'd guess my equivalent costs are about the same or maybe a little less than a year ago for the same type of construction.

I haven't done any work for governments, but absent bureaucratic meddling, my project management costs are about the same for commercial, and for residential construction (which I've also done.)

While it's true that commercial plumbing fixtures need to be more durable than residential, the cost of them generally is significantly less than residential because there isn't as much emphasis on design - though you can spec high cost fixtures in any project residential or commercial.

Schools probably are subject to more stringent earthquake and fire certification than what I do, but it's unclear to me why this would account for the differences in costs cited in this thread.

Government contracts often are thought of as gravy trains for those lucky enough to get them - even with competitive bidding. Maybe that's why the costs seems so exorbatant.




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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 13, 2008 at 3:28 pm

Buddy, Before you chide others, it might be best to get your facts straight

"For the past four years, the prices of inputs used in construction—materials that go into projects plus items consumed by contractors, primarily diesel fuel—have risen faster than the consumer price index (CPI), published by BLS (www.bls.gov/cpi). From December 2003 to January 2008 the producer price index for inputs to construction industries rose a cumulative 30.2 percent, compared to 14.5 percent for the CPI..."

"As long as demand is rising sharply in large, developing countries such as China, India and other East Asian and Middle Eastern nations, there will be upward pressure on prices. Supplies of copper and oil are likely to remain tenuous, leading to frequent price spikes. Even products made from abundant raw materials, such as steel, are likely to experience price jolts when the exchange rate of the dollar makes U.S. scrap iron cheap for foreigners and foreign steel expensive for U.S. customers.

Second, construction will always be dependent on physical delivery of heavy, bulky, relatively low-value materials for which transportation and fuel costs are a major part of the delivered price. This contrasts sharply with the CPI, which is dominated by services and high-value, often light or locally produced goods for which transportation and fuel costs are relatively insignificant. Therefore, growing transportation bottlenecks and rising fuel prices will have a greater impact on construction than on most other industries or on consumers"

Web Link

Here's a Seattle School District that's speeding up post-bond construction to beat the cost of inflation.
"The district predicts construction costs will rise 30 percent over the next three years."
Web Link

It appears to me that this is a prudent bond, and will provide *flexibility* for PAUSD, instead of having to run through the gauntlet of community naysayers every time something needs to get fixed.

I can just see it now, if the bond didn't pass (but it will pass, and pass handily); we'd be hearing complaints about how PAUSD is "mismanaged" because it had to cut programs and staff to fix some unexpected infrastructure problem.

Bottom line: if you're an administratror in Palo Alto, "Catch 22" is the name of the game, unless you look past the naysayers and micromanagers.

Sure, there's always a place for strong expenditure diligence, but some people never know when to say "enough", because it's more fun (for them) to complain.


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Posted by Wally
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2008 at 6:48 pm

" From December 2003 to January 2008 the producer price index for inputs to construction industries rose a cumulative 30.2 percent..."

Looks to me like Buddy was more right than wrong by Mike's own figures. 30% over 4 years is 7.5% per year (even without compounding...compounded, it's more like 6.75% per year)...not the 10-18% or more outrageously the 30-50% in Mike's alarmist post. Moreover, it doesn't seem unreasonable that costs are rising even more slowly (or even falling) as the economy slows.

Maybe we should have a bond, and maybe not....but basing the decision to vote for the bonds on predictions of cost inflation over the 30-40 year life of the bond doesn't seem like wise decision-making to me. Seems just as likely that we'll see prices for construction rise slower than overall inflation (or even fall) over the next few years as that we'll see skyrocketing cost increases.

If Mike or others think they can predict the future with certainty, they should get involved in the future's market and donate a small percentage of their profits to fix the schools.


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Posted by Sally L.
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2008 at 7:00 pm

The government puts out detailed cost figures for various industries (in addition to the CPI inflation numbers) every month.

From March 2007 through March 2008, "Materials and components for construction" costs rose 3.1%, lower than overall inflation, and lower than just about any other industry.

Doesn't seem like we're in a crisis to me. Maybe that Seattle study was an attempt to scare voters into passing their bond....That shouldn't happen here.


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Posted by Sally L.
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Here's the link to the producer price index industry breakdowns cited above. Web Link


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 13, 2008 at 9:06 pm

"If Mike or others think they can predict the future with certainty, they should get involved in the future's market and donate a small percentage of their profits to fix the schools."

I'm not a gambler. And, a 30% increase in cumulative construction costs over 3-4 years would certainly make me sit up and pay attention of I was running a school district. What's that project to over 10 years. I think some of othe anti-bond folks need to get a grip on reality, and stop reading old Milton Freidman books.

While all these bond naysayers yammer on about "management", they don't even notice the severe cuts that education has taken, the 10's of thousands of RIFs that teachers have experienced in the last few months, and so on.

Seriously, those who would vote no on bonds are the REAL gamblers; ;they're gambling with our kid's future, and the future of our nation. I'm going to be looking back at the naysayers the day after the JUne election, and say "watch our dust!".

Palo Alto is movin' on...


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Posted by Mike is Amazing
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 13, 2008 at 9:27 pm

That Mike is amazing! Even when he is wrong he's right ;-) And an enormous bond ($400MM?!) - heck, we can't afford NOT to do it.

Come on Mike - there must be 23 studies out there!


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2008 at 11:50 am

Buddy,

Thank you for your input. I just don't get the size of this bond. Seriously, I'd like someone to give me solid info. on why the projections of the projects are as high as they are.

Mike, I hate to say it, but you're kind of bluffing here. I don't think you know anymore about this kind of public financing than I do. You're kind of winging it because supporting schools is a good thing. For example, you mention high-cost equipment rentals. Well, I was driving around San Antonio and Charleston, looking at WebCor's magnificent crane and I thought that nothing that's been proposed requires *that* kind of serious equipment. None of the schools are slated to turn into huge construction sites.

Help me out here, guys, but aren't the construciton projects on the scale of a new theater, possible two-story elementary classrooms buildings?

I mean between this bond and the last one we passed we're talking close to a half billion in school site costs without actually building new schools (though I take it there's wiggle room for conversion of sites used for other purposes.)

So how does this work? Why does Garland need $600,000 worth of windows? I assume they'd be properly green and quake-proof--but it's a couple of one-story buildings. While there are a lot of windows, none of them are huge. Would they need to be special ordered? That seems wrong because there are hundreds of elementary schools in California that have a similar design. Do they need new frames? It seems unlikely as they seem to have the same frames that the other elementaries have--metal and not *that* old. So it's not like wood frames with termite damage.

And while fuel costs have skyrocketed, I don't see that as the critical factor that would make the school costs so much higher than in the private sector--fuel costs should affect both.

And Mike, you should want to know the answer to this. We all should.


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Posted by Jones
a resident of another community
on May 14, 2008 at 1:37 pm

My uncle used to be in the interior cabinet business. He used to love to bid school projects, because he could jack up the bid. His qualified competition did the same thing. The key word is "qualified". There were so many regulations and conditions, that only a few contractors were equipped to read through all the stuff. My uncle became an expert at it, in fact, he became a consultant to the school districts in his area, after his retirement, in order to make the regs even tougher (knowing, of course, that his son, who was in the business, would prosper).

I once asked him, what is the way to reduce constructions costs for schools. After almost choking at the absurdity of that question, he took a good swig of Jack Daniels, and told me that the districts could simply hire a guy like him, and let him handle the job. It would get done better, safer for about 1/3 the cost. However, he also told me that he would be kicked out of the 'club', becasue he joined the enemy. After another swig, he smiled and said, "Ain't gonna happen...I like being in the club!".


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 14, 2008 at 2:02 pm

OP, It's not bluffing to point out a 30% increase on construction costs over 3-4 years. It's also not bluffing to note that unless we have backup funds in these uncertain times, we may find ourselves having to substitute program,staff, and service fund for infrastructure repair.

The bottom line is that our facilities are barely adequate at best, and many are in bad need of repair. I like the idea of having some slush money in the system; it's permits strategic flexibility.

THis is an excellent move by PAUSD; now we cana move on certain projects without having to deal with community angst over every single thing. Let's step out of the way and the PAUSD innovate.

IN any case, you'll get your bond contribution back - in spades - as the better our schools get, the more money your home is worth.

About construction materials. Sure, there has been a lightening of demand, but process have stayed high, and continue to climb. China and other developing countries are putting enormous stress into constraint construction materials supplies, AND the cost of construction labor is climbing - especially the kind fo specialist labor that needed on


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2008 at 2:45 pm

The sad fact is, that if we told PAUSD they could have just $200M, they would surely make do and get a lot of good done. They would choose projects wisely and let the less important ones go. They would be able to retire the bond much sooner, dramatically lowering interest costs.

The more I've learned, the less I have liked this bond. While I like Skelly and what he is doing, this is just too much $ for a single bond that doesn't include any new schools. While there are definitely good projects to be done, the across the board replacement and upgrading just seems wasteful and unnecessary.

I will be voting no and urging the district to come back with a bond of a more appropriate size.


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Posted by Sally L
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2008 at 2:54 pm

"China and other developing countries are putting enormous stress into constraint construction materials supplies, AND the cost of construction labor is climbing - especially the kind fo specialist labor that needed on.."

Just because you say something over-and-over does not make it so. As documented in my previous post, construction materials costs are rising modestly - less than the overall inflation rate during the past year.

Similarly construction labor costs are rising at about the overall average of wages - about 4.1% during 2007 - the latest available data.

I know this is a freewheeling discussion, but it would be nice if some posters had at least a tiny bit of intellectual integrity. It's hard to have a rational discussion when people feel free to make up facts as they go along to fit their arguments.

As Wally above said, maybe we should pass this bond, and maybe not...but the construction cost pressures Mikke of College Terrace cites for doing so are pure fantasy.


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Posted by Sally L
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2008 at 2:55 pm

Here is the link to construction labor costs: Web Link


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Mike,

Actually your prediction of cost increases *is* bluffing. Construction costs won't be rising like that, in part, because there's a huge glut of housing in this country. Increased competition, lower prices.

You don't need to go to China--you just have to look at what's going on right here in the U.S. Given that the proposals seem to be retrofits on existing buildings for the most part, I don't see huge material costs. We're not building steel skyscrapers.

I *know* the pro-arguments for bonds. What I asked about is the specifics--why are the projected costs of various proposals so high? I've asked specifically about a couple of things--an explanation would be great.

Terry, the size of this bond does have me wondering. I was told by a civil engineer type that a lot of Palo Alto's infrastructure isn't in great shape, so I understand that bonds are something we're going to need for maintenance and upgrades. But this bond is huge and the specifics, or lack thereof, concern me. $1.5 million to fix the grounds at Garland seems like a boondoggle at first glance, so I'd love to know if it is or if there are issues that make this a different story.



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Posted by amy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on May 14, 2008 at 9:17 pm

I'd be willing to an extra $100 bucks a year in property taxes for the upkeep of our schools. Heck, the schools are the reason why Palo Alto is so nice and why it attracts nice families...and the reason why I have nice neighbors. Palo Alto is much better than Mountain View where I guess they do not pay as much in taxes for their schools. How much would our taxes go up?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 14, 2008 at 10:53 pm

Sally, "As documented in my previous post, construction materials costs are rising modestly - less than the overall inflation rate during the past year."

That's NOT true of all construction materials (even though you keep repeating it, so as to make it so) - read the report instead of opining without basis. e.g. gypsum board is down, but many other things are increasing at a pace that outpaces inflation. Again, 30% increases over 3-4 years (cumulatively) is not something to brush aside lightly, as you keep trying to do. It's also true that construction inflation costs have been MASSIVE in the previous few years, and that "returns to normalcy" that you claim for materials pricing are relevant to THOSE increases. Why would any SANE planning group for a public institution want to make the bets you're asking them to make?

Yours is distortion about true cost, just like Wayne Martin's "white papers" that have, literally, NOTHING to do with this bond. It's just data bloat, made to impress the impressionable - made by those who *don't even work in the schools*.

I've *yet* to see one of Mr. Martin's "analyses" that doesn't have holes large enough to walk through. It's practically a joke that a city with so many intelligent people could be snookered by a data bloat tactic like Martin's. It's as old as the hills.

I once spoke with martin about the FTTH project, and he want on and on about how he had *written* 800 pages opposing the project. Please! How many times do voters have to be played for fools by fiscal curmudgeons before they wake up?

Go check through Martin's numbers; look at his *clearly* biased photos - taken from advantageous angles on bright, sunny days (I wouldn't be surprised if he's Photoshopped the whole lot of those photos); listen to him opine about "technology in the schools (and libraries, and everywhere else)" in ways that have been *refuted* by sound educational and other private and public sector researchers. Who the heck is watching this guy, and doing the diligence necessary to blow his false arguments away?. The press sure isn't.

Also, construction consultants, who REGULARLY warn both public and private construction planners of 12-18%, in toto, per year, KNOW what they're talking about. They make a POINT of panning for those numbers, because the construction environment is so volatile. What happens if costs shoot up again - as they're predicted to? Then, if this bond didn't pass (it will), these SAME gadflys will be blaming management for "not planning sufficiently ahead"

Go talk to construction planners, and learn a few things - instead of someone who just put up a few condos with cheap Home Depot labor. There's a world of difference between that and school construction and maintenance.

As for OP's idea that I'm bluffing, how about OP betting some hard cash on construction costs climbing for specialty construction at rates that exceed residential construction costs? Put up of shut up.

Perhaps OP should stick to opining on the MI debates, where s/he shine, ad infinitum (nausuem?). Monday-morning quarterbacking how schools should run around here seems a favorite pastime of those who have too much time on their hands, and little professional time working in the schools.

What about regional differences in construction? What about petroleum-based construction materials? What about TRANSPORTING those materials - with diesel going through the $$ roof? What are you people smoking, anyway?

I've just finished dealing with a major commercial development in another state, that two of my associates are principals in. What you claimed here by these amateur construction types simply does not resonate with that project's reality. It's EXPENSIVE to maintain school systems, and other public structures.

Note also that the whiners here are people who don't have to *work* in the schools, or other publiuc institutions that they apparently feel qualified to make deep strategic and tactical judgments about. What hubris!

Like when someone made the absurd comment that a quality commercial commode cost less than a standard residential commode. More silliness, and disinformation.

Also, if anyone around here thinks that the schools are in good shape, they are sadly parochial in their view. Here's some advice: get out and walk around other districts, and other states. Given the demographic profile of this district, and its reputation for excellence, our infrastructure is in *pathetic* shape. Why should students here have less than districts with a fraction of our collective municipal GNP?

Go ask the teachers and administrators what *they* think, instead of spouting amateurish opinions from your armchairs that wreak of the same data bloat as Wayne Martin's misleading tomes and disconnected, steaming piles of data.




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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2008 at 12:08 am

Mike, one of the things I noticed during the MI debates is that when someone can't back up their stance with facts and solid arguments, they turned to personal attacks. Which is what you've done here.

I'm asking about a couple of specific costs and why the estimated costs are so out of line with construction costs in the private sector.

If you're an authority on this, you should be able to answer my question about $18 million alotted district wide to *windows*. Windows aren't made from expensive materials and presumably the windows on the school buildings are standardized--so why $18 million? Why $600,000 for Garland's windows. Why millions of dollars to bring a school that currently functions as a school to bring it up to standard?

Making grandiose claims about construction costs at a time when the construction industry is facing a tough time doesn't hold water.

Take a look at any of the local papers and look at the estimated costs of construction projects of various sizes. The largest project that comes to mind is the Campus for Jewish Life on San Antonio and Charleston, which is clocking in around $150 million. It includes a daycare center, hundreds of apartments and, yeah, even a theater.

Lot of windows too.

So, instead of attacking people who have questions, why don't you look for some real answers? As I've said, I'm strongly inclined to vote for school bonds. I don't find Martin convincing.

But I don't find the project estimates convincing either.


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Posted by Sally L.
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2008 at 6:42 am

My cites are to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. I doubt seriously if you will find one economist who would dismiss the accuracy of these statistics in favor of speculation from an industry trade group - or the wild (30-50%!!) imaginings of a Palo Alto Online poster.

You can believe the data or you can engage in "angels on the head of a pin" meaningless debates with someone who is either completely uninformed, or a reckless liar - or both.

Mike of College Terrace is apparently an incorrigible fantasist....


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2008 at 9:12 am

Sally, my numbers come from an industry trade group reporting to *it's own* constituents. Why would a trade group lie about stuff like that to its members?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics?? LOL!! You mean the group that is *constantly* caught fudging numbers on unemployment, disability claims, etc. etc.?? GIve me a break!

Another Libertarian pulling selective data to prove a point; that's what your claims amount to. Go read that industry report again, and get some religion.

And, again - even though you keep insisting it isn't true, there HAS been a 30% cumulative increase in construction costs over the last 3.5 years.

OP, who, when s/he disagrees in this thread claims that some people are "bluffing" :), and THEN whines about hard-hitting, accurate retorts pointed back in her direction.

OP says: "Windows aren't made from expensive materials and presumably the windows on the school buildings are standardized--so why $18 million? Why $600,000 for Garland's windows. Why millions of dollars to bring a school that currently functions as a school to bring it up to standard?"

OP, why don't you go ask someone in the PAUSD, instead of ranting your self-important questions here, and ranting in a way that makes it seem as if PAUSD is hiding something? That's the kind of paranoia that permeates questions about civil diligence around here. It's a frankly juvenile modus operandi that runs counter to the "intelligent" claims made by so many amateur "analysts" around here, including Wayne Martin.

Are you aware that installing windows in al old structure often requires new framing around the windows? Are you aware that PAUSD is looking for ways to install windows that provide more insulation, and more daylight control? There are many windows at Garland that are odd sized windows - it's an OLD school. Are you aware of labor cost increases in specialty construction trades like window installation? Are you aware that there are large transport costs for glass installs? Are you aware that there are replacement costs assumed for windows (they break!).

That's just for beginners; there's lots more if YOU take the time to dig out the right information, and stop whining about every little thing that educational PROFESSIONALS, the people who make this district what it is, tell you they need. GIve it a rest, and let the PROFESSIONALS do their job. You can just sit back and enjoy the results, instead of getting in the way.

Seriously, the WASTE of time that our city and school district professionals must engage to satisfy the nitpicking paranoia of compulsive questioners in this place probably WASTES more money than any small victory any of these compulsive interrogatories can legitimately claim.


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Posted by Too bad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2008 at 9:16 am

Mike, the idea that a trade group, giving its members ammunition to support price increases, is more reliable than the BLS - it really seems that there is almost nothing you won't say to prop up your pre-conceived notions. And your slurs on others - they make me shudder. Your posts are really not worth reading, I'm afraid. A shame, since you clearly have a lot of energy; but without integrity, it's a waste.


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Posted by Davi
a resident of Professorville
on May 15, 2008 at 9:28 am

Mike of College Terrace can't even cite his own sources, or read his own posts accurately.

The industry trade group report he refers to is USING BLS STATISTICS: the very statistics (compiled by the US government, not a "group"), that Mike calls (without citation) "the group that is *constantly* caught fudging numbers on unemployment, disability claims, etc. etc.?? .." He should go back and read his own post, which includes the BLS reference...

Moreover, the BLS data that the Construction Trade group and Mike cite actually refute, rather than support his claim that construction materials are rising at an unusually high rate. 30.2% over 4 years (which is the correct time frame - not the 3.5 Mike makes up out of whole cloth) amount to a 6.77% annualized inflation rate for construction materials over the past four years. And the figure for the most recent year is 3.1% (from the same BLS figures that Mike cites and then trashes).

This supports what any rational person would expect: as the economy slows, price rises for construction materials are also slowing.

It's hard to avoid OP's conclusion that Mike is bluffing (or Sally L's, that he's fantasizing).


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2008 at 10:04 am

Davi, Which one are you? How convenient that a "new" name appears in these threads.

Yes, the BLS can shill numbers. And no, there is no reason for any trade group to deceive its own members, as "Sally" stated. Obviously, she hadn't read the report.

For YOUR information, here ANOTHER section from that report:
"This comparison is relevant because many public agencies use the CPI to project future costs. Such an index worked well in the past, when there was little difference between the change in construction costs and consumer prices. But the ever-widening gap in these two series has meant that public owners have increasingly had to defer, redesign or cancel projects for which they did not budget enough money in 2003 or 2004.

"Contractors, for their part, have been frustrated by public officials' lack of awareness that their costs have diverged so much from the cost of office supplies or wages, for instance.

"Some contractors have turned away from bidding on public projects for which they knew the cost expectations were unrealistically low.

"Since December 2003 the cumulative increase in the prices of inputs used in construction (30.2%) has been more than double the increase in the consumer price index (14.5%)."

As any responsible "analyst" will tell you, there is a *clear* trend line toward higher costs associated with construction materials, and specific trades that deal in specialty construction.

And, gee, so I was wrong (at least I admit it) about the 3.5 year over year increase of 30%, cumulative. Does that change the essence of my argument? NO!

The POINT is that construction materials are VOLATILE commodities (and so is specialty construction labor) that has an UPWARD pricing trend line, with NO end in sight. Got that?

All that aside, all the naysayers in this thread have FAILED to answer the question at the core of all this. As construction pricing is volatile, and as we're most likely anticipating future increases in construction inflation (because China, India, etc. etc. are not going to slow down development for Palo Alto ;), why would you sacrifice future security and "padding" for having to deal with a crisis that strips away $$$ from staff, services, and programming to fix a roof?

In all this, including Wayne Martin's "analysis", what we see is a *conscious* effort to keep public institutions held to higher standards of performance than private institutions, with the added constraint of public institutions having to please every Tom, Dick, Wayne, Terry, and Sally about every single expenditure.

What we have here is private citizens playing at being auditors, with some few of them using the public space, and their right (and it is a right) to cause mayhem among their fellow citizens and the institutions that support their fellow citizens.

There's no doubt that there's waste in both the public and private sectors; that should be rooted out. However, anyone who can see in the daylight, and who has taken the time to compare PAUSD's infrastructure with other places, cannot deny the inferior status of PAUSD's infrastructure compared to most other school systems - even in dempgraphics that are less dollar rich than ours. The condition of PAUSD's infrastructure is WAY out of whack compared to it's peers.

Anyone who denies this is either pushing libertarian agendas (let them eat cake!), ignorant about other places, living on virtual Mars, or has a hidden agenda designed to accumulate some odd sense of power (as a spoiler); or, sees themselves as some kind of unappreciated lay-municipal government genius just waiting to be discovered by getting exposure in the newspapers. I thought this place was above all that; I guess not.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2008 at 10:21 am

Too bad, " Your posts are really not worth reading'.

Ditto. As for the BLS; there are "lies, damned lies and statistics". You can cry in your soup all day about the BLS, but the fact remains that construction price increases are VOLATILE, and only a fool would administrate construction projects based on only ONE year in several that has seen a downward turn in prices. Seriously, how naive do you think people in Palo Alto are? It costs more and more money to build things; the dollar is fading; we pay for raw materials in dollars. Do the math. And DO listen to construction planning consultants, who don't make money by fooling their clients. THEY project constant 12-18 % increases. Argue with them.

And, perhaps it's high time that those in Palo Alto who over years have made themselves the self-appointed high priests of how this place should run - including their ceaseless and shrill attacks on hard working public employees - have a similar tenor and shade of retort sent back in their direction. Might one of those persons be you?

Further, it's high time that certain "spoilers" in this city get called on their destructive influence (that's as valid an opinion as theirs, when *they* apply it to those they constantly call to task) and be seen for the harm that they've done.

the public discourse runs both ways, and the negative tone set in all the implied innuendo sent in the way of our public officials and hard working staff doesn't deserve a "turn the other cheek" response.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2008 at 10:31 am

Web Link

Here's more proof that construction inflation is volatile, including a shortage of construction labor. And, REMEMBER that these numbers, as in the BLS, are AVERAGES. the Bay ARea is one of the highest unit cost construction regions in the entire country, so our REAL costs are FAR above these averages. We're at the top of the range in cost.

12-18% is what regional construction planners claim; that's to be trusted FAR more than the amateur "analysts" that are given column inches by the local newspapers.


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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2008 at 10:46 am

Well let's hope that the construction materials we use are better quality than those used in China...


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on May 15, 2008 at 11:36 am

anonymous, Yours is an ominous post. As it turns out, a lot of construction material is provided by China.

Want to shake in your boots (pun intended)? In order to meet budget constraints, the contract requirement that structural steel for the new Bay Bridge span was overridden to permit steel imports - from China.

As you know, structural steel is supposed to meet rigorous inspection standards. Can we expect that from Chinese suppliers?

Further, the new Trans-Bay Terminal building in San Francisco (and many high rises, nationally) will depend on Chinese-manufactured steel.

Frankly, given the reputation of Chinese heavy manufacturing for inferior and counterfeit products (from crucial connecting pins and bolts, to entire finished structures, automobiles and planes), I'm not encouraged by these developments. Hopefully, our officials will have someone *on sight*, with proper equipment, to see to it that structural steel is made to the tolerances that we expect from our domestic suppliers.


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Posted by Davi
a resident of Professorville
on May 15, 2008 at 11:41 am

Mike of College Terrace really has lost touch with reality, and with any sense of intellectual integrity.

Consider the link above, which Mike claims is "proof that construction inflation is volitile". In fact the link is to a Oct 2006 press release from the Glass Industry lobbying group. AND IT CONTAINS ABSOLUTELY NO DATA ABOUT INFLATION. The only numbers are references to the volume of construction starts (and predictions of these starts) by year. Apparently, Mike didn't read the link he posted.

We have a new but still unsupported figure of 12-18% construction inflation (not the 10-18%, or the 30-50% figures claimed earlier) for predictions by "regional construction planners". I guess when you don't have to support your numbers, any you pull out of a hat at any given time will do.

Finally, there is the complete absence of logic: It's surely true that costs in the Bay Area are higher than in most other parts of the country. But this has absolutely nothing to do with inflation rates - the apparent reason Mike says it's imperative we vote for the Bonds now before costs rise some more.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Davi, check your facts. USGNN is an INDUSTRIAL TRADE GROUP. They don't report lies to their membership, because they receive DUES to help present ACCURATE information to that membership, so that it can benefit from that.

And, they're talking about GROWTH OF construction DEMAND, which IMPACTS inflation. When will the maysayers stop reading into the facts, just to serve their own ends?

Last, relative regional differences in demand DO impact regional inflation rates. Econ 102


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Posted by Davi
a resident of Professorville
on May 15, 2008 at 5:08 pm

"Davi, check your facts. USGNN is an INDUSTRIAL TRADE GROUP. They don't report lies to their membership, because they receive DUES to help present ACCURATE information to that membership, so that it can benefit from that.




And, they're talking about GROWTH OF construction DEMAND, which IMPACTS inflation. When will the maysayers stop reading into the facts, just to serve their own ends?




Last, relative regional differences in demand DO impact regional inflation rates. Econ 102"

What a total idiot.


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Posted by Davi's Caretaker
a resident of Professorville
on May 15, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Mike, don't mind Davi, he's off his meds today.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 16, 2008 at 11:53 pm

Hmmm,

Mike, I'm not impressed. You're being very general and very vague about something specific.

You told me to ask the district. In other words, you don't have an answer.

Old frames need to be replaced? Why? Nonstandard window sizes? I doubt it. Garland, like other PAUSD schools, is post-WWII. They were standardized factory-made windows in the first place. And there are a lot of schools of the same vintage in the state--baby-boom elementaries.

Maybe the windows are supposed to be green--but where are the specifics? And how green do they need to be? Our elementaries aren't, as far as I know, air-conditioned. New frames? That generally applies to old wooden frames--the schools have steel ones.

You see, I don't discount the possibility of their being an answer--but when you bluster, drag in irrelevant facts (there's no big call for steel here, so steel from China isn't that pertinent--there isn't much in the way of skyscrapers here.) and make ad hoc vitriolic claims about people--well then, you damage your own cause.

At this point, I just sort of skim your posts, see if there's anything that actually comes close to answering my question and note your attacking people.

Dude, my grade-schooler argues more coherently than you do.


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