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Budget: Ten ways the city may change in 2014

Original post made on Jun 1, 2013

Since the world economy tanked in late 2008, budget season has been the dreariest of times in Palo Alto, but something changed. Business picked up, vacancies disappeared and property taxes returned to the pre-crash heights of 2008. In City Manager James Keene's proposed budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1, the Great Recession is a faded memory.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, June 1, 2013, 9:02 AM

Comments (15)

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 1, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Re the airport Takeoffs and Landings, what is being done to limit the late-night early-morning flights. I can set my watch by the 1:55 AM flight that roars over the house.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 10:03 pm

To Silly:

That plane is going to SFO., and probably a late flight out of LAX. All LAX to SFO flights come over Palo Alto from the Big Sur beacon to the beacon between the Dumbarton-San Mateo Bridge. There's a very noisy flight about 5:00 A.M. or so. Coming from Hawaii.


Posted by John, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2013 at 10:40 am

>And the costs of pension and health care benefits continue to rise at a rate far faster than revenues, a trend that the budget says is simply "unsustainable."

This is the elephant in the room, and yet nobody wants to address it directly, upfront.

Do our budgeteers care to provide an actuarial table that projects those unfunded mandates?


Posted by Admirer, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 2, 2013 at 11:35 am

Great piece, Gennady. The Weekly's coverage of Palo Alto city government is really getting strong. Context, interviews, analysis, awareness of history -- terrific. Local journalism at its best. You're demonstrating that it can be done, if you have the will and the ability to do it.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 2, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I sure hope Mr. Keene is keeping a rainy day fund and not forgetting all the cuts to service he has done since his arrival. Nice that he is giving managers raises though. "Sarcasm"


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Whereas some of these things make sense to spend money on, I am wary about the whole thing. I would like some of this to offset the need for any bond measure for infrastructure. I would like to see that some of this is put into a rainy day fund for the future.

I do not want any "fabulous ideas of how to spend a windfall" type mentality. This is basic income not a source for great jubilation. We have not won the lottery. This should just help to keep the books in the black.


Posted by John, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2013 at 2:52 pm

>"fabulous ideas of how to spend a windfall"

There is no windfall, this is just catch up. But our unfunded mandates (pensions/healthcare) are not being funded. It will take way more than a rainy day fund to do the responsible thing. It will take major cuts in our current spending, as well as increased revenues, to become responsible.


Posted by James Keene is Awesome!, a resident of Ventura
on Jun 3, 2013 at 10:57 am

I think James Keene has done a fabulous job cutting costs and it's exciting to see Palo Alto's budget in good shape for a change. I recognize that most people who comment on pages like this are intensely negative people, so to help counter that, I just wanted to express how satisfied I am with our city manager. He's done a lot to fix our budgetary problems and we're now seeing some significant infrastructure improvements as a result.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2013 at 11:47 am

Number 11: end of the Keystone, for another generic 3-story office building on a street we were promised would get no additional traffic. So much for diversity.


Posted by Charles , a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Taking the subjects in order:

General Fund/Budget. There should be plans for reserves now. What comes up may come down. And the unfunded pension liabilities - "The Elephant in the Room" - MUST be solved. While Mr. Keene has begun the task, there can be no more kicking the can down the road.

We must have clean, safe water supplies at almost any price. If an earthquake broke the water lines from Hetch Hetchy, we'd be in a terrible mess. I wince when I see my water bill, but it's a major necessity; so I'll pay for it mostly gladly.

Airport: Is that $16.4M total over 20 years? That's only $820,000 profit per year. Not a large safety factor all predicated on estimates, not proven revenue.

Downtown Land Use: It looks like potential problems are being addressed. Let's make sure we don't get high rises and increased traffic density on our suburban roads.

Police Patrol: Good news on reinstalling the traffic team and perhaps getting a school resource officer back.


Fiber To The Premises: No one so far has found out how many private residences will opt for the fiber - especially at several thousand dollars per hookup. Many citizens don't need high download speed for e-mail, don't watch much streaming video if any, and will opt out of the service at the price.

Managers: It's not clear what all the new managers will do to save money or create revenue. Keep your eye on the growth of bureaucracy.

Libraries: The older generation was brought up to read information on paper. It will be interesting to see how the coming generations use libraries. People at any age use Kindle or the equivalent to "read" books.

Future: The City Manager has a tough job. Predicting the future is a difficult task. Good luck Mr. Keene. At least you seem to be taking charge.


Posted by Midtown senior, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I agree, Keene is doing a tough job well. Maybe we should send him over to the school district to deliver some coaching.


Posted by Concerned, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm

This is great! Then the City can continue to clean all the streets in PA and not raise the cost of my utilities!!


Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 3, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Keene came from Berkeley....enough said.


Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 4, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Back to the subject of an infrastructure bond - I think it will have a very hard time passing unless the City stops focusing on non-essential expenditures. $1.4 million for just the design work of a bike bridge to the Bayland's when our City streets are so full of potholes, construction traffic and downtown overflow parking that it is difficult to use the existing bike boulevards (try riding from Downtown to Midtown on Bryant – so many cars parked that you can't see, not to mention holes in the road. Ride from Old Palo Alto to Hays on Coleridge, the bike lanes and sometimes the whole street is blocked by construction traffic during the school commute). Other nice, but non-essential items include managing and upgrading the airport, loaning money to Eden Housing, upgrading the golf course, supporting the Children's Theater, 5 library branches, two of which are closed at the same time and at least two College Terrace and Downtown really being unnecessary.


Posted by John, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm

>There should be plans for reserves now. What comes up may come down. And the unfunded pension liabilities - "The Elephant in the Room" - MUST be solved

Indeed. However, the reserves must be run by an independent trust bank. Why? Because such banks are used to handling accounts, where the trust fund babies are always whining and wanting what is theirs, ahead of time. But they just say "no". The PA city council is incapable of defending such reserves, because they are incapable of saying "no", especially to the special interests groups that they support.

We need a serious actuarial table that shows what we owe, in the future, for unfunded pension mandates. Let the PA citizens take a look at it, then determine what percentage of our general budget needs to be applied to the independent trust.


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