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Palo Alto looks to raise fees for artist studios, athletic fields

Original post made on May 9, 2012

Faced with skyrocketing pension and health care costs for city workers and retirees, Palo Alto officials are considering raising fees for athletes who play on local fields, gardeners who plant at city parks and artists who rent studios at the Cubberley Community Center to balance the budget this year.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 12:11 AM

Comments (59)

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Posted by Cubberley Rents Too Low
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2012 at 7:05 am

> Committee Chair Nancy Shepherd stressed the need to
> "build a sustainable future for all these groups.

Seems this is more government-speak for obligating the taxpayers to subsidize the various groups that have managed to be subsidized for decades at Cubberley, and other City sites.

> "We pride ourselves on being creative and valuing the arts
> and the use of the imagination," Price said. "And we need to
> live by that."

Really? And where is that written? Gail Price doesn't have the slightest idea what the essential functions of government might be.—and "Valuing Arts" (or artists) certainly is not one of them.

There is no reason that the people renting the Cubberley space should not be paying market rates for their space. These people do not contribute anything to the community, other than helping us to see how silly we are when it comes to the use of public money.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2012 at 8:06 am

I have no opinion as to whether gardeners, bowlers and athletes should be charged more realistic rents for their use of City facilities.

What I do find outrageous is that there is a suggestion that these groups should find their costs increased while at the same time there is no mention whatsoever in making those who use the Childrens Theatre pay anything for their use of City facilities.

A family who has two or three children pay a lot to get them into soccer, baseball or other sports or arts programs. A family who has Theatre instead of any other activity pays little or nothing for the privilege. Undoubtedly all these activities are good for children's wellbeing, but the fact that some pay and some do not is not only unfair but discriminatory.

Start charging PACT families and stop the outpouring of City funds into a freebie program before trying to raise funds from other activities.


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Posted by strange
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2012 at 10:16 am

Garden fees should be enough to cover costs and not be an source of revenue. Seems very odd to try and target this group of people for such a small amount of money to fund someone's pension.


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Posted by Sarah
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 9, 2012 at 10:17 am

PA City should consider cutting or restructure the pension plan somehow. In my opinion, the whole union and/or pension regimes need to restructure to suit business nowaday. So bureaucratic. Postal services is a good example.


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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2012 at 10:27 am

>> Garden fees should be enough to cover costs and not be an source of revenue. Seems very odd to try and target this group of people for such a small amount of money to fund someone's pension.


I totally agree with this.

These pensions have to be looked at again. Costs like this have been in the hands of the people who benefit from them to the point where they are ridiculous. There needs to be standardization and when or if things go bad there needs to be a progressive recomputing of them.

I am fine with the average workers getting a reasonable pension for the work they did but that is not what we see in large part.

This political crap makes me puke.


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Posted by Jared Bernstein
a resident of Professorville
on May 9, 2012 at 10:29 am

Editorial question: the article starts with "Faced with skyrocketing pension and health care costs for city workers and retirees, Palo Alto officials are considering raising fees ..."

Why not start with "Constrained by continuing Prop 13 restrictions on local decisions, ...etc."?


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Posted by TT
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2012 at 10:40 am

Huh, PA City is trying to target the small potatoes. I agree with Anon and Sarah in above comments. Pensions need to be reform to make sense for most people. Benefits more people instead of a certain %.


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Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 9, 2012 at 10:43 am

Of course they are. Keep building Mitchell Park though.


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Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 9, 2012 at 10:46 am

Why don't you close the dump? Oh yeah. Did that already. Of course, that brought in revenue too. Love a city run by people with more money than brains. No concept of how the rest of us live.


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Posted by Local gurl
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 9, 2012 at 11:01 am

Pension reform is the only answer.


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Posted by Amen
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 9, 2012 at 11:05 am

"Start charging PACT families and stop the outpouring of City funds into a freebie program before trying to raise funds from other activities."

Amen to that. Over $1M for PACT every year. Makes no sense, but they pack the council meetings with "connected" friends and color-coordinated tee shirt, and that is plenty to sway our council. How about just funding half of it through increased user fees, donations, and - dare we say it - budget reduction??


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on May 9, 2012 at 11:05 am

My suggestion would be to get used to reduced city services and increasingly higher taxes so the citizens can fund the exorbitant pension of the government union employees. Part of the solution is to switch all the government employees over to 401k style retirement programs, along with outsourcing and regionalizing the services. So hypocritical to hear Price and Shepherd acting like they care about the citizens. Those two are tools of the government union bosses, and we are paying for it. Disgusting!


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Posted by bick
a resident of University South
on May 9, 2012 at 11:10 am

Does the City of Palo Alto really need 1000 employees to function? I think not. Necessity is the mother of invention. See what happens with only half this many employees.


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Posted by Voter
a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2012 at 11:41 am

When will we get to vote on a San-Jose style Measure B to inject some sanity into our local government pay/pension scale?

Until we confront the issue, the leaders of Palo Alto are letting us down. Perhaps a signature initiative a-la Menlo Park's Measure L will be required to override the Union-bought city council.

San Diego is implementing a policy in which the city bureaucracy must compete against the private sector to perform govt. tasks. When faced with competition, the union bureaucrats either find they can deliver the same work for 50% less than their previous union demands (IE, the market telling them they are overpaid by double), or they move on.

1. Switch to 401K's and nothing more and decent but not gold plated medical, or 2. Leave the benefits in place and impose 40% across the board salary reduction on the PA public workforce to account for the huge value of the benefits as they stand. If our 100K streetsweepers wants to quit, someone will jump at the job at 60K. Same goes for 200K firefighters.


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Posted by Public Sector Inefficiency
a resident of College Terrace
on May 9, 2012 at 11:53 am

Not a dime more for the greedy city bureaucracy until it fixes the almost criminal theft that is the current pension racket. We need to clean house this next election.

Outsource the fire department or impose a 30-40 percent decrease in salary and benefits. A PA firefighter is not worth 5x what a soldier or marine is worth. The job is safer statistically than nearly every blue collar job out there.

Outsource planning and the rest of the bureaucracy. Keep only the top one or two performers from each department to manage the contracts. Those city workers that stay should be required to work till 67 like the private sector for full benefits. No more subsidizing early six figure retirements for a privileged class.

Use the substantial savings to do what we should have been doing with our tax dollars in the first place: supporting essential infrastructure.


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Posted by reform
a resident of Downtown North
on May 9, 2012 at 11:58 am

I also agree with the people with pension reform but also I think city employees could be kicking in some of their own money for beneifts. I work in the reality world and I pay over 500 a month for my family benefits. No reason that city employees can't either. I do think it is kind of funny that they think charging more for gardern and art studios is really going to make a difference. Maybe they do need to charge them more but it is just not enough. Get with it city council


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Posted by Cubberley Lease
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Cubberley rents too low says: "There is no reason that the people renting the Cubberley space should not be paying market rates for their space.'

Unfortunately there is. I have been told that the original lease signed between the City and the School District has a clause in it which says that any additional monies generated from an increase in rents to the tenants must go directly to the School District. Therefore, the City will not benefit from increasing rents, but the School District will.

This clause can only be amended if agreed upon between the City and the School District when and if the City decides to sign another five year lease extension for Cubberley in 2013.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm

- Pension and benefit reform, yes.

- Increased fees (no matter the percentage of the overall pie), yes.

- Updated Prop. 13 to exclude commercial properties, as well as residential rental properties (apartments, townhouses, homes), yes.

- Increase non-resident fees on everything!

The bottom line is that cuts and increases in revenues are in order. Nothing is sacred - everyone needs to roll up their & sleeves pitch in.


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Posted by Ronnie
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I think everyone agrees we need pension reform, but I'm curious if anyone who knows more about this could explain a bit more - is that really feasible? It seems like I've read its legally nearly impossible. Is this just a "bubble" we have to get through to when later reforms take place, or will the costs continue to rise basically forever?


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2012 at 1:41 pm

And could Frank Benest get his OWN house? Why are we subsidizing him until his youngest is out of high schooi??? Why is the current city manager hiring 'managers' with high sounding titles? And no doubt a staff too. The utility fee hikes will hit retirees very hard, especially widows. Widows get only half of their husbands Social Security and their own,. . And if spouse gets a company pension, if any- if is usually only half of that. Elderly residents are just plain SCARED. And as to paying $6.00 a month to clean the streets, do they pay if they can't even park on the street because downtown workers are parked? Yes, toss out this city council ......can't somebody with guts run for election?


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Posted by next door neighbor
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm

The deal with Stanford for their new hospital brings in, to quote the June 2011 PA Online article:
"Stanford has offered Palo Alto an expansive package of benefits and mitigations to offset these impacts and compensate the city for allowing it to exceed zoning regulations. The hospitals plan to but Caltrain Go Passes for all hospital workers and provide $7 million in health care programs, $12 million for climate-change programs; $3.4 million for pedestrian and bicycle connections; $23.2 million for housing programs and infrastructure; and an upfront payment of $2.4 million.

Stanford has also guaranteed the city as much as $8.1 million in construction-tax revenue to offset any fiscal impact the expanded hospitals would have on the city's budget."

To address an $800,000 gap in revenue/spending for the 2013 budget, the City of Palo Alto would like to meet some of that deficit by collecting $30,000 from gardeners. Palo Alto has revenue coming in from Stanford.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2012 at 2:03 pm

While raising fees on these small groups may help, it's not going to cover the cost of health care and pensions in the long run. Palo Alto needs to address them directly instead of twiddling at the edges of the budget.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 9, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It really IS feasible to do pension reform. All it takes are elected officials who refuses to be bought by the unions and who refuse to continue down the current path. pensions that have already been earned should remain but all new employees should go on a defined contribution plan and all existing employees should have the future additions to their pension payouts significantly reduced.

Here is what the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (which serves MP, EPA and Atherton) Board has done:

Resolution No. __________
RESOLUTION OF THE MENLO PARK FIRE
PROTECTION DISTRICT BOARD OF DIRECTORS APPROVING
AMENDMENTS AND IMPROVEMENTS TO CURRENT DISTRICT PRACTICES
AND POLICIES AFFECTING SAFETY EMPLOYEES
WHEREAS, the labor agreement (hereafter "Memorandum of Understanding" or
"MOU") between the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (hereafter "District") and the Menlo
Park Firefighters' Association, IAFF Local 2400 (hereafter "Union"), expired on June 30, 2008;
and
WHEREAS, since June 30, 2008, the Union and the District have been unable to reach
agreement on a successor MOU; and following numerous invitations by the District to negotiate
a new contract, all of which were declined by the Union, necessary changes required the District to declare impasse and impose terms and conditions of employment—including a $9,000 per year increase to the District's contribution toward the health and welfare benefit plan for each employee; and
WHEREAS, the Board strives to make sound and reasoned decisions regarding District
resources that properly account for current conditions and also ensure the District's ability to provide quality and efficient service to the community in the future; and
WHEREAS, the following changes are made pursuant to the District's Labor Relations
Policy and Plan (attached as Exhibit A), as well as the District's Compensation Philosophy
(attached as Exhibit B), — for example, all changes are consistent with principles of fairness,transparency, fiscal sustainability and accountability; and
WHEREAS, the Fire Chief has recommended that various District practices and
policies be amended and improved to ensure that the District is acting efficiently pursuant to best practices; and
WHEREAS, the changes are designed such that no employee will see a reduction in
their gross hourly rate; and
WHEREAS, on September 21, 2011, the District invited the Union to meet and confer,
and sent a list of initial proposals that encompassed the issues covered by this resolution, for purposes of negotiating a comprehensive successor MOU; and
WHEREAS, by letter dated September 29, 2011, the Union—through its legal
counsel—advised that the Union would "not resume negotiations with the District," and made any negotiations contingent on the District proposing a salary increase; and
WHEREAS, the Union has previously declined numerous invitations to return to the
bargaining table to negotiate with the District; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Directors of the Menlo
Park Fire Protection District that the following provisions are effective immediately upon
adoption of this resolution:
Affirmation of District Policy
1. The District reaffirms its Labor Relations Policy and Plan (attached as Exhibit A),
as well its Compensation Policy (attached as Exhibit B). This resolution is intended to
implement these District policies.
MMBA Compliance
2. The District reaffirms its commitment to observe the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act
("MMBA"), and to meet and confer with labor regarding all matters within the scope of
representation. Notwithstanding the Union's refusal to negotiate—to date—the District invites
the Union to meet and confer concerning any impacts stemming from this Resolution.
Furthermore, all items in this resolution that are mandatory subjects of bargaining shall be subject to future negotiation when the Union chooses to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a successor memorandum of understanding.
Rank Structure
3. The District hereby adopts the following classifications for non-management
safety personnel:
Firefighter-Academy
Firefighter-Trainee
Firefighter-Probationary
Firefighter-EMT
Firefighter-Paramedic
Engineer-EMT
Engineer-Paramedic
Captain-EMT
Captain-Paramedic
Senior Inspector
3
All other job classifications covering fire suppression personnel are hereby deleted. Incumbents in any classification which is deleted shall be re-classified in one of the foregoing classifications according to their credentials. For example, Firefighters who hold paramedic certification shall be classified as "Firefighter-Paramedic," Firefighters who possess a valid EMT certificate shall be classified as "Firefighter-EMT," and so on. This rank structure facilitates the District's elimination of separate pay premiums, consistent with its Labor Relations Policy and Plan.
Wages
4. The hourly rate schedules applicable to non-management classifications, and
monthly salaries for Battalion Chiefs and Division Chiefs, are set forth in Exhibit C to this
resolution. Any increases or decrease in the hourly rate and salary schedules shall be subject to approval by the Board of Directors.
5. The Fire Chief shall "y" rate any incumbent who would otherwise suffer a base
wage reduction by virtue of this resolution.
6. The Fire Chief shall have the authority to establish regular pay periods, and to
declare any appropriate work period under Section 7K of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Unless the Fire Chief institutes a different schedule, pay days shall be bi-monthly—on the 15th day and the last day of each month.
7. Supplemental Earnings: All "Supplemental Earnings" (formerly referred to as
"Acting Pays") are set forth in Exhibit D attached hereto.
8. The eligibility of new hire firefighters (Firefighter-Academy, Firefighter-Trainee
and Firefighter-Probationary) for wages and benefits is set forth in Exhibit E attached hereto.
Health and Welfare Benefits
9. The Fire Chief shall maintain a simple health and benefit program that is
transparent and easily understood by the public. A summary of the benefits program is attached hereto as Exhibit F.
10. Consolidation of Leave: In order to promote transparency and administrative
efficiency, the District shall phase out the multiple leave balances and implement a single Annual Leave program for those ranks specified in paragraph 3. As part of the District's effort to minimize long term fiscal liabilities, the annual leave cap for all 56 hour employees shall be 480 hours; for all 40 hour Senior Inspector employees, the cap shall be 320 hours. All annual leave hours currently held by any employee in excess of the applicable cap will be cashed out. Details regarding the program are included in Exhibit G attached hereto. All remaining Extended Sick Leave (ESL) hours will be converted to 25% of their current balance and added to the employee's annual leave bank (subject to the cap of 480), with any excess hours deposited to the employee's PEHP account.
11. Retiree Medical Program: For current retirees already receiving a retiree medical
benefit, the benefit shall remain unchanged. For employees hired on or after January 1, 2012, the District shall no longer make a separate contribution to retiree health. For current safety employees, the Fire Chief shall implement a buy-out plan as set forth in Exhibit H attached hereto. Current safety employees shall be required to select one of the options included in the buy-out plan, and if they fail to make an election, amounts will be paid in cash.
12. Educational Reimbursement Program: The Fire Chief has sole discretion to
approve or deny reimbursement requests and to determine whether a particular training or class is or is not beneficial to the District. The Fire Chief shall approve only such requests as the Chief deems beneficial to the District.
Retirement
13. New Hires: The Fire Chief shall consider options for developing a "second tier"
retirement program for employees hired on or after January 1, 2012; the options to be
considered shall include both lower level defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans (such as a 401k). The Fire Chief shall report his findings and recommendation to the Board.
14. Current Employees: Current employees shall pay 75% of any future increases to
the CalPERS employer contribution rate (over the current 25.821%), subject to any applicable CalPERS rules or restrictions.
Miscellaneous Operational Issues
15. Holiday Work Schedule: There is no modified holiday work schedule for 56 hour
employees. Employees shall adhere to daily and weekly work schedules as determined by the Fire Chief.
16. Senior Inspectors:
In order to improve the efficiency and increase the number of productive hours, the
work day for Senior Inspectors shall begin at 7:00 a.m. Each employee shall take a mandatory staggered minimum lunch, which is unpaid, of thirty minutes. Paid exercise time for Senior Inspectors is eliminated. Senior Inspectors are exempt from the Wellness Program.
17. In accordance with District needs and the corresponding organization of Station
responsibilities, the position of "adjutant" is hereby eliminated. The incumbent shall be
permitted to remain in this position until January 2, 2012.
18. The Fire Chief shall enforce a requirement that all emergency responders must be
able to return to the District within two hours. Current employees presently residing outside of this requirement may be grandfathered in unless and until they change residences. All safety employees hired on or after January 1, 2012, shall be subject to this requirement regardless of current residence.
19. The Fire Chief is authorized to implement any practice that, in the Fire Chief's
discretion, enhances the delivery of services, creates efficiencies, improves accountability, or enhances the health and safety of District personnel. These practices encompass, but are not limited to: station bid cycles and rotations; assignments; selection of annual leave; trades; prescheduled "back-fills;" and daily and weekly work schedules. The Fire Chief may implement any provision encompassed within the District's September 21, 2011, proposal to "maximize efficiencies in the work schedule." (This proposal is attached hereto as Exhibit I.)
20. The District confirms that it is not bound indefinitely by any provision in the
MOU that expired on June 30, 2008. With respect to future new proposals within the scope of representation that are not encompassed by this resolution, the Union shall be given the opportunity to meet and confer as required by State law. With respect to proposals for changes to matters within the scope of representation encompassed by this resolution, the Union shall be given the opportunity to meet and confer over impacts as required by State law. Except for disciplinary appeals, the grievance procedure in the expired MOU is suspended unless and until the parties reach formal agreement on a successor MOU that contains a grievance procedure.
Employees may continue to avail themselves of the grievance procedure set forth in Policy No.305, unless and until that policy is amended. (A copy of the current policy is attached hereto asExhibit J.)
21. The Fire Chief shall revise the District's personnel and operational policy
manuals. These policies shall be subject to meet and confer, when required by law, but shall not be subject to the District's impasse resolution procedure.
22. The Fire Chief is hereby empowered to take any actions necessary in the Fire
Chief's discretion to implement the terms of this resolution.
23. If any provision in this resolution is found to be invalid or otherwise
unenforceable, all remaining provisions shall remain in full force and effect. This resolution is subject to amendment by the Board of Directors pursuant to District policy and State law.


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Posted by Member
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 9, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Just an observation from a friend that some of the artists use their space at Cubberly primarily as storage since it is the cheapest storage one can get anywhere. If they are consistently using it for their art, then I would support them. But many of these rooms are empty of activity during the day, yet unavailable for any use sharing/rental during the day.


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Posted by lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 9, 2012 at 4:08 pm

...and yet it is ok to pay an inept city manager $350,000 a year with over $200,000 a year in benefits (including having taxpayers pay his property taxes, house payments, auto reimbursement,etc,etc) Also always funny to see out-of-towners hijack the postings on this thread with their nonsense how they think the city should be run. Peter, why not just stand on the street corner with the other verbose and rambling-know-it-alls and maybe someone there will listen to your many ballooning, skyrocketing, and unsustainable theories. As the local print media has become infatuated with these three labels when reporting any city news, you will at least have a better chance of having your theories recorded. Idiots Unite! Good luck.


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Posted by Vote
a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Lazlo, nobody defended the city manager's pay. You are firing blindly in desperation.

I would hire a city manager for minimum wage and pay him a bonus percentage of the first year savings he realizes on every bureaucrat he outsources. The city wouldn't be paying firefighters 200K for very much longer, and the city manager would be richly rewarded if he created value for his constituents.

And if you are so certain that the structural unsustainability of wildly overpaying our public workforce is nothing but rambling, you should have no problem backing removing the taxpayer liability from the equation. If CALPERS doesn't meet it's ridiculous return targets, the pensioners should just have to fight among themselves over how to distribute the funds that are actually there.

People such as yourself who argue nothing is wrong (usually union types at the trough or politicians on the payroll of the unions) have no skin in the game to make that argument. The taxpayers have caught on to the racket and aren't going to support more revenue to bail out a pension system that is unsustainable, bloated, and unfair.

The courts are always the last refuge of an unsustainable way of operating. Just as the US steel industry couldn't sue its way to prosperity in the 70s, the public unions will not be able to defend their plundering ways when the taxpayer's say "enough." The Menlo unions lost in court today in their attempt to overturn Menlo's Measure L pension reform. Palo Alto should follow suit ASAP.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on May 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Lazlo states:" Peter, why not just stand on the street corner with the other verbose and rambling-know-it-alls and maybe someone there will listen to your many ballooning, skyrocketing, and unsustainable theories."

If have given accomplished specifics of what has been done to stop the pension disaster - what specifically do you think is "ballooning, skyrocketing, and unsustainable" about those specifics? Or do you just shoot from the hip or do you think that someone else will do the hard work and hard thinking of change for you?


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Posted by Voters Beware!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm

I am glad to see some real data showing the ridiculous pay and benefits enjoyed by our many city managers. I just HOPE that everyone remember this when you VOTE! That's when it really counts!!


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Posted by Employee and Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 9, 2012 at 6:07 pm

The average SEIU employee makes about 70,000 a year gross, and has not had a raise in 3 years and in that 3 years has actually lost the equivalent of about $8.000.00 in direct wage and benefits per year.

We can't even keep the utility employees - most utility employees are now 10 - 20% below local average wage. Yes they can go somewhere else -and they are.
Why is there no talk about that?

Who are these 400 employees paid over 100,000.? uh, Managers?

The 10 year deficit would be removed with the removal of at least ten of the highly paid managers and new positions that have been brought in the past few years. What is our employee to manager ratio? Why do we need so many layers of managers? No one is even talking about that.

The city will strive to create a crisis situation to gouge the employees and to contract out. The private contract industry will exploit city services and property.

After the past six years or so of public flailing on employees I can't think of a more hostile management or ungrateful city council, or uninformed public. Thank you for the few who get it.

As long as the rational public doesn't speak up we will further turn into a city that ravages it's own - rather than creates a viable community.

Wake up - city press releases aren't journalism.

If you weren't told about a contract employees death, an employee that worked and functioned daily WITHIN the city facilities...- why would you get the whole truth about other things?


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 9, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Employee and Resident - great post! Anecdotally, I wondered the same thing about employee-manager ratio when I had friends who worked for the city. This is a while back & it was a joke then, as it is now, but back then, minus the panicked animosity.

Long-term, decently compensated employees who are competent & care about their job & the people they serve is important for a city's vitality & efficiency.

What cities in Calif are run well? Can PA copy them? Have the managers been receiving raises regularly? Is the city manager willing to take a pay cut?

While here in EPA we definitely have room for improvement, I've been astounded at the improvements that I've seen in the past 5 years.

I recall when you used to dial the main police phone # in EPA & the auto attendant's voice would say, perkily & professionally:

"For patrol, push 1
For records, push 2
For administration, push 3
For sex crimes, push 4
For homicides, push 5"

Or something similarly cringe-worthy & Tarantinoesque.
It also used to scare me when I'd speak to a city of EPA receptionist & I knew more about what department was responsible for what than they did. Many of the past EPA employees (not counting the criminals) just didn't care about their jobs or the residents.

PA, like many smaller cities, has needed a fiscal and professional makeover for quite sometime. I even called your garbage company the same name of a politician I loathe because they did such a lousy job that I observed a number of times.

You all have my sympathy & I hope that this fiscal crisis brings about an opportunity for some real change.


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Re: voting for a new council. Former PA council member Liz Kniss, now on the County Board of Supes, is planning to recycle herself and run again for the Palo Alto Council. WHat happened way-back-when on her watch? I know how I'm voting. And Joe Simitian is doing the same - re-running for his old position on the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors.


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Posted by Michael
a resident of Downtown North
on May 9, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Employee says: "After the past six years or so of public flailing on employees I can't think of a more hostile management or ungrateful city council, or uninformed public."

Are you really trying to play the victim card on behalf of the city employees whose outlandish benefits and out of market salaries are bleeding the public dry? 200K firefighters and 100k admins. Six figure pensions starting at age 50-55. The fact that this is the public worker's definition of a "flailing," is a perfect example of the sense of entitlement that the public sector feels over the private sector that pays their salaries.

And the public should be informed. Once again, the list of City Employee salaries. Should we really be using tax dollars to pay the guy who drives the streetsweeping truck almost 100K? Do you think he feels flailed? The taxpaying public are the only ones being flailed here.

Web Link


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Posted by Kopp
a resident of Downtown North
on May 9, 2012 at 9:52 pm

This is an excellent example of a highly dysfunctional, self serving city government. The problem is clear; the absurdly generous retirement packages Palo Alto, and just about every other city in CA, offers it's employees is severely underfunded. The solution; nickle and dime gardeners, artists, and people who use the public parks to recover pennies on the dollars needed to fund the ever expanding bloated pension fiasco!?

Why is the city so unwilling to deal with this? I submit that the answer to that is abundantly clear. The city manager and city staff, the people who run the city, have every self serving interest NOT to reform their pensions! duh. Why should they? After serving their time, they collect their pension, and let the residents pick up the tab via higher taxes and fewer services.

The Federal Govt dumped their similarly generous pension system just about thirty years ago, and the world kept turning, govt services continued, and life went on. Why state and local govt does not adopt a similar, time proven retirement system, is probably due to the self serving interest of those who run our local governments, who have everything to loose, and nothing to gain by any meaningful pension reform.

Adopting the Federal retirement system should be very easy, the manual is a publicly available document. Why, our city manager would not even have to hire a string of consultants to study it, it's been in use for decades.

A truly pathetic stand for our city government.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on May 9, 2012 at 10:16 pm

I know a former Cubberley "artist", who has already move on to Mt. View.

Although I cannot comment on what a fair rent is, I can confirm that the Palo Alto management of the center is bloated with incompetence. Way too many people pretending to be useful. Could do better in reducing staff than raising fees.

I do agree the real issue is pension reform.


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Posted by Employee and resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 9, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Clarification on Pension: City employees do not build or receive towards social security.
Workers receive too little money to retire early. "Workers" do not receive huge benefits...managers do.

I'm figuring my $8,000.00 pay and benefit cut now goes towards y(our) zoo, art studio, gardens, theatre, parks, and library.

The city also used to pride itself on it's human relations policies, and social responsibility.

The average SEIU employee makes about 70,000 a year gross, and has not had a raise in 3 years and in that 3 years has actually lost the equivalent of about $8.000.00 in direct wage and benefits per year.

We can't even keep the utility employees - most utility employees are now 10 - 20% below local average wage. Yes they can go somewhere else -and they are.

Why is there no talk about that?

Who are these 400 employees paid over 100,000.? uh, Managers?

The 10 year deficit would be removed with the removal of at least ten of the highly paid managers and new positions that have been brought in the past few years. What is our employee to manager ratio? Why do we need so many layers of managers? No one is even talking about that.

The city will strive to create a crisis situation to gouge the employees and to contract out. The private contract industry will exploit city services and property.

After the past six years or so of public flailing on employees I can't think of a more hostile management or ungrateful city council, or uninformed public. Thank you for the few who get it.

As long as the rational public doesn't speak up we will further turn into a city that ravages it's own - rather than creates a viable community.

Wake up - city press releases aren't journalism.

If you weren't told about a contract employees death, an employee that worked and functioned daily WITHIN the city facilities...- why would you get the whole truth about other things?


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Posted by Ex City Employee
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Michael:

You keep posting the link to the wages. I can't find the street sweeper you keep bringing up. The City's web site shows a street sweeper lead makes about $5,500/mo. That's $66k a year, far short of the "near $100k" number you keep quoting. The wage spreadsheet also conveniently leaves out the employee paid portion of pers and medical. But that wouldn't be aligned with the slanted reporting some readers here buy into.
Here's an interesting link: Web Link

One more thing I'd like to bring up. The Union keeps getting persecuted for backing City Council members. Welcome to politics 101. Any group or organization will support a candidate with similar views and beliefs. It's the way politics works, sorry if this shocks some of you. These council members weren't bought and paid for, maybe they know that to keep employees you have to treat them fairly.


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Posted by Thanks
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 9, 2012 at 11:12 pm

@Ex City Employee - thanks for leaving. If this is how we should keep employees by treating them fairly, I am fine with being perceived as unfair and having some leave. We'll get by somehow.

Having public employee unions is just a bad idea - for obvious reasons. It is a fairly recent phenomenon, and we are seeing the result. Eliminating them is a fundamental reform that's required - unfortunately it will only happen after the financial damage is done. The idea that organized employees can financially support politicians with "similar views" - i.e., that are happy to pay up for and protect union jobs - is in obvious conflict with the interests of the voters themselves.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 10, 2012 at 8:20 am


> The average SEIU employee makes about
> 70,000 a year gross, and has not had a raise in
> 3 years and in that 3 years has actually lost the
> equivalent of about $8.000.00 in direct wage and
> benefits per year.

This is the view from the bottom up. But the view from the bottom down is very different. What is missing is putting the cost-of-employment on the table, as well as the total-life-time earnings. Looking at only the salary table earnings is not at all realistic, or helpful.

The City needs to use all of the costs of employing some when determining salary:

Total Cost to Employ= Base Salary + Health Care Costs + Admin Costs + Support Costs + Deferred Salary (Pension) + Deferred Salary (Other Payouts) + Post-Retirement Healtcare Costs + Other.

In the past few years, continued increases in costs have forced the City to acknowledge ome of these costs to the public. However, the pension payouts have yet to be openly discussed by the City—even though we are not making General Fund "contributions" to CalPERS in the tens of millions of dollars, yearly.

So-just how lavish are these pensions? The following table demonstrates just how much money is "off the table" for public safety personnel, assuming that they worked for thirty years---
---
Assuming a yearly 2% COLA, CalPERS retirees receive the following payouts:

Total Pension Payouts

Pension
$100K--10-Years: $1.1M | 20-Years: $2.5M | 30-Years: $4.2M
$150K--10-Years: $1.7M | 20-Years: $3.7M | 30-Years: $6.2M
$200K--10-Years: $2.2M | 20-Years: $5.0M | 30-Years: $8.3M
$250K--10-Years: $2.8M | 20-Years: $6.2M | 30-Years: $10.3M
----

Other Palo Alto employees (not in Public Safety) will see pension payouts that might be only 8% less than the public safety retirees (for 30 years of employment).

So, when someone claims that they are only making $70K as a Palo Alto employee, they are ignoring all of the money that will be sent to them for the rest of their lives, which has historically not be subject to inclusion in the salary discussions. The total-cost-to-employee numbers provided by the City are probably not as accurate as they could be, and the total-life-time compensation numbers are never provided to the public by the City.


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Posted by Michael
a resident of Downtown North
on May 10, 2012 at 8:41 am

Ex city employee, let me help you with the math in the city compensation document. The scary thing is you The employees are ranked by total compensation and you have to scroll down 11 pages to find the 100k point where the street sweepers are. Here are the facts from the document to help you. This shows only the relevant costs ( those paid by the city) so youre assertion that the omission of employee medical contributions is irrelevant and misleading. The simple math:

Position: "st sweeper op"

67k total wages,
Taxpayer contribution to medical: 20k
Taxpayer contribution to pension: 13k (and more later when CALPERS misses again)
Taxpayer contribution to insurance: 1k

Total cost to taxpayers of having the city staff this position: 101k

In contrast, the private sector would probably staff this position at 40-50 k all in cost to taxpayers.

This waste is unsustainable and maddening. America does not exist for the benefit of the government class.




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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 10, 2012 at 9:18 am

I feel that I must ask this question again, and not because I disagree in principle to charging a nominal fee for the use of athletic fields and other city operated facilities. My question is why does the city continue to fund a niche activity like the Children's Theater? Sacrifices are beginning to occur across the boards, but yet the most logical moves go untouched. Unreal. Could it be that some of our elected officials have a personal connection to the Children's Theater?

Before I get bashed for being anti-Children's Theater, let me just say that nothing could be further from the truth. Our grandchildren participate in a children's community theater here in the bay area and we cherish that experience for them. And you know what? We pay for their participation just like everybody else does for their children's activities. We host fundraising events, seek private donations, and have even established a scholarship fund for the families who cannot afford the fees.

The City of Palo Alto does not provide funding for youth athletic programs, scout programs, and a myriad of other children's activities. They should not be funding the Children's Theater either. In a time of cost cutting and sacrifices, this move should be the biggest no-brainer of all time. It's time for our city leaders and elected officials to put everything on the table and show some courage.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 10, 2012 at 10:00 am

> The City of Palo Alto does not provide funding for
> youth athletic programs, scout programs, and a
> myriad of other children's activities.

Actually, this is not true. The City spends a lot of money on Parks and Recreation, which funds children's activities—both organized and unorganized. For instance, about 40% of the circulation of the library is in children's books. Upwards of 50% is in video check-outs, many of which are for children. The current yearly costs to operate the library is about $7M a year, with this cost jumping to about $11M when the new building is open. There are many children's programs in the library.

The school district and the City's boundaries mostly overlap—so many of the programs that a City might provide are sometimes available through the school district—such as after school care. The City pays for maintaining the playing fields on some/all of the schools, since these fields are open to the public. Children's soccer is one of the uses of the PAUSD fields that is partially funded through field maintenance.

The traffic guards that help children cross certain streets are paid for from Palo Alto Police Department funds.

At least one public swimming pool is operated by the City—which is open to children.

If one made a list of the publicly-funded programs for children, one would be surprised at the vast sums spent on Palo Alto children. Since the financial reporting of the City leaves a lot to be desired, these expenditures might not jump up at the casual observer, but nonetheless the money is being spent on children.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2012 at 10:37 am

I completely agree with Marrol as I said in my previous post.

However, Wayne, doesn't seem to get the point. Childrens Theatre is an after school activity like sport, or dance, or scouts. It is not like the library. If you can't see that getting free theatre is different from being able to check out childrens books in the library then I am very disappointed in you.

To carry your analogy further, could be that suppose all the books in the library were charged a rental fee and books on theatre were free. Would that be fair?


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2012 at 11:20 am

The city does not maintain PAUSD fields just for public access purposes. City pays PAUSD field rental fees via providing some maintenance services. But then the city still charges for participation in city programs that access the fields...such as "SkyHawks" - who in-turn charges families/kids for participation.

The pool is used by adults, teens and children on a year-round basis. City charges entry into the pool, both residents and non-residents. City charges other programs/clubs who come by the busload to use the pool during the summer. City charges for swim lessons. City charges rent to swim clubs for use of the pools for workouts and meets. City charges the masters swimming team a rental fee. City charges adults for lap swimming. Sorry, but comparing the pool to CT is not helping your argument at all.

The subsidy CT receives on a per user basis is way out of line compared to other city services. Especially when you consider how many non-residents avail themselves to CT.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 10, 2012 at 12:09 pm

> Does not get it ..

Interesting. I don't see that I have even mentioned the Children's Theater in either of the posting I have made, and yet I "don't understand the Children's Library". Another example of how easy it is for some people to put words in other people's mouths.

What I have been trying to say is that the City's financial models do not seem to include: cost/benefit analyses, simple transactional modeling, and total-cost accounting. The City seems to come up with "numbers" that may be couched in some kind of analysis, but generally these models/methods are not acknowledged, or made available to the public for review/vetting. If this sort of approach were attempted, we would see a better accounting of our money, and recognize that the City can not fund "myriads" of programs for every special interest that goes to a City Council meeting to "demand our fair share".

> disappointed in you ..

It's a shame that this poster seems to object to opening up the books, and is disappointed in those that simply try to point out that "there is no such thing as a free lunch". Services that are "free" (meaning no charge at the point of delivery) are by no means free. All that I am trying to do is to get this information on the table, so that we don't go through decade after decade of increasing spending and increasing taxes and fees—because a few people have been trained since birth: "it's all free in the library".

> City pays PAUSD field rental fees via providing some maintenance services

While that may be true, in the past the PAUSD convinced the City to pay for maintenance of the playing fields. If that arrangement has changed, I am unaware of it. This agreement was cut maybe fifteen years ago.

> City charges for

That's true, but does the City fully "cost out" these programs so that the clients of the programs actually pay for the total cost—to include a surcharge for the use of the site? If not—then the taxpayers ultimately are subsidizing the users.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm

> Especially when you consider how many non-residents avail
> themselves to CT.

Public Information Requests (PIRs) about this point reveal that about 15% of those enrolled in CT programs are non-residents. Hopefully my memory is accurate, and also that the City was telling us the truth about the non-resident participation.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Wayne & Marrol,

The difference between the city funding for playing fields & Children's Theater is that in the case of the Children's Theater, the city provides a paid staff to do the production, directing, etc. of the performances/plays, while for the sports activities, either volunteers coach the teams/or parents pay for the coaching. In both cases the city does supply the actual building or playing field. The $1 million for the Children's Theater is for the paid staff, and the accounting does not include the cost or value of the facilities.


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Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 10, 2012 at 5:31 pm

:Proposition 13.


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Posted by Nancy
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Palo Alto Little League is an amazing model of how to support youth sports activities in Palo alto. It paid for, and owns, its own main facility. It pays rent for city-owned parks that is uses. It provides its own labor to help with maintainence of city-owned diamonds. It does not request, nor demand, city funds to run its program.

I have watched this program for the last 10 years, while my own two boys progressed through the various levels. All I can say is that Norman Rockwell is still alive!




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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 11, 2012 at 6:22 am

> The difference between the city funding for playing fields &
> Children's Theater is that in the case of the Children's Theater,
> the city provides a paid staff to do the production

While this is true, there are nonetheless a considerable number of people paid by the City to maintain the playing fields, and to provide support to those using these fields. Some of these people are paid staff, and some are contractors who have been hired at lower rates than City employees cost.

Perhaps the roles are different, but these people need to be paid, and the costs mount up.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2012 at 8:01 am

Wayne - there are city staff who maintain the fields, just like there are city staff who maintain the Children's Theatre building.

The equivalent for the sports would be the City paying for the coaches, referees and uniforms, etc. like the City pays for the directors, producers, the stage construction crews, costumes, etc.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 11, 2012 at 8:22 am

> The equivalent for the sports would be the City

And your point is?

My original posting was in response to someone who, it seemed to me, felt that the City was not funding "children's activities" adequately. I have tried clarify the reality of public expenditures on "children" by pointing out only a few of those activities that benefit children. Some people have tried to diminish this point by claiming that adults are also benefited. I don't see why that matters, since public funds are being spent, and children are benefitted.

Given the budget of the PAUSD, and the CITY, added together—we are looking at about $300M that is spent in "local government" in Palo Alto. All of the PASUD budget is for "children", and on a per-person breakdown, about 40% of the City budget is for "children". Adding these numbers together, we are looking at more than $200M a year that is being expended for "children" in this town.

The Children's Theater is only one of the many programs which tend to benefit children primarily, rather than children as a part of the whole town. As I mentioned earlier, if someone took the time to list all of the programs/activities that are provided by the City and the PAUSD (not to mention non-governmental entities), they would end up with a mind-boggling list. And yet, it's still not enough for some people, who seem to want another "myriad" of programs, in addition.

While some people may not want to see things at a "macro" level, nonetheless, the "macro" level exists--showing us how rather large sums are being spent (especially on "children").



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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

This is not a case of whether we like Theatre, sports, art, animals, or not - or whether they are benefiting children or adults, or whether the cost of running a theatre is more than the cost of maintaining a playing field.




It is a case of good housekeeping and budget. I have nothing against children, or animals, or theatre, or bicycles,or sport, or whatever goes on the chopping block next. But, there is a cost to everything. If we want these things, fine, but we must remember that they have to be paid for.




I want to see basic infrastructure prioritized because we all have to use it. If we want animal services, theatre, bike paths, sports rields, then let's charge realistically for them by those that use them, and not expect their continuation means that we have poor infrastructure or a bond measure to fund what we should already be paying for.




We can't eat cake when there's no money for bread!


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2012 at 8:59 am

Wayne,

Looking at the general fund budget of the city of $152 million, I don't come up with anything close to 40% (which would be $60 million) of expenditures for children. Community Services is about $22 million (not all of which are for children activities), and about $7 million for libraries (not all of which are for children). The rest is consumed by public safety, public works, administration, planning & development (ie. construction permits, etc).

I would estimate aroung 10 - 12% of the city budget goes toward "children".


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 11, 2012 at 9:49 am

> I don't come up with anything close to 40%
> (which would be $60 million) of expenditures for children
I suppose it depends on how you define "children". The latest census shows the following:
Web Link
Persons under 18, percent, 2010: 23.4%

If we stop at 18 years as the cutoff for "childhood", then the 40% number is somewhat high. If we use 21 (the age of majority), then the number will come closer to 30%.

At the moment, we don't have an "official" age cutoff point, but using 18 for this discussion, we're still looking at close to $40M (City Budget) for "children", which gets us very close to, or just over, the $200M suggested in the previous posting.

BTW—$200M is about 60% of the combined local government expenditures—for "children".


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 11, 2012 at 9:57 am

> We can't eat cake when there's no money for bread!

I generally agree with the sentiments of this poster--with the exception that the City does not have an obligation to fund every special interest group that can muster fifty people to a City Council meeting to claim "it's for the children".

The poster's comments about booking are on-point. Particularly since the whole CT fiasco of some 3-4 years ago revolved, in large part, around an incredibly sloppy financial management of this publicly-funded activity. To the best of my knowledge, this area has never been "clean up", and this same sort of problem could easily happen again.



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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Why does everyone want working families to pay more and more? It takes two full time incomes to be in this city, and there's no sight of leisure time on the horizon anywhere, yet time and time again, we are the ones who have to pay. Then public services are all set up for those who don't work - like the libraries being open bankers hours. It's like "Race to Nowhere" for adults living in Palo Alto. Work you lazy engineer, work! (re athletic field use fees)


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Btw, we are sending our kids to day camp in other cities this year because the camps are a much better value. Not really sure who's skimming the pot, but other towns not too far away can provide similar camp content for 50% of the price that this town can.


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Posted by John
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Let me see if I get this straight.

Our taxes pay for administration, salaries, pension and benefits.

Then we have to pay for services?


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Posted by Barbara
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm

There is a "proper function of government" argument for supporting certain types of artists at Cubberly, namely the market failure that has led to our outrageous real estate prices. This is also the argument for subsidies for below market housing, like them or not.

What bothers me is that last weekend I visited Cubberly during the "Open Studios" and was appalled to see, with a few outstanding exceptions, that these are just hobbyists fooling around in expensive city subsidized studios. Ignore the art, that is too subjective, and just look at the artist's CVs. They tend to just exhibit at minor Grade B group shows. A few of the artists do seem to be on a professional track, and to them I apologize.

To make matters worse, many of these hobbyists are not even from Palo Alto, but from areas where free market studio rents would be much lower than here in Palo Alto. To further add insult to injury, this program seems to have evolved into an entitlement, with many of the hobbyists having held these studios for over 10, even 15, years.

How do the politicians at City Hall justify spending our tax dollars to help non Palo Alto hobbyists on a semi-permanent basis????


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