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City of Palo Alto Utility is a Monopolistic Scam

Original post made by Toady, Old Palo Alto, on Sep 6, 2011

WTF is up with this. We're doing construction on our house and we won't be occupying it during the work. While we are going to keep our power and water, we definitely don't need our garbage service.

I just called, and the CPAU won't let us stop garbage service "just because we have the other services?" This is absolutely ridiculous.

First we pay more for gas and electricity than everyone else using PG&E, and now we have to pay for services we aren't going to be using?

This is the problem with government-run services. Service sucks and it's expensive. They don't have to care about us as customers - we're just taxpayers herded like sheep to the slaughter.

I thought we in PA are smart - but we're apparently dumb as nails when it comes to accepting this kind of crap from our city.

Comments (17)

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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm

So the top tier of PA residental electric is 0.17399
The top PG&E residental tier is 0.3418

So how do you figure we pay more in electric? Sure looks like we pay half.


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Posted by Kerry
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:38 pm


CPAU has been a monopolistic, isolated, secure fiefdom for years. It exists, as it is, because it provides a separate branch of hidden taxation for the city council. For example, it leases land from the city, that we already own, and is charged full market value...this lease money goes into the city general fund, but we citizens still pay for it in our monthy utility bills. Alternatively, CPAU gets Stanford land for next to nothing, then taxes us, as part of our fees, for full market value. In the meantime, CPAU, flush with our funds, come up with various crazy ideas to save the planet through various "green" initiative, which are directed by our city council. It is all a version of a revolving door, controlled by our city council. Very clever, but we users, such as Toady, have to pay the price.


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Posted by Quiet
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Please keep you agitated tone as low as possible, lest they raise your water rates.


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Posted by boo
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm

T he gredy should donate to our schools plus volunteering free labor.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I checked gas rates and again PA utilities charges less than PG&E. Not half like elec, more like 3/4 of PG&E, so again how are we getting ripped off? Is it just because Toady has to pay trash pick up? Toady, have your contractor fill your bin with some of his debris each week and rent the smallest can.


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Posted by boo
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Yeah,they receive double incomes while provide awful service, although they seemed nice and saying thing thing touchy to you.


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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm

The PA utility is indeed a hidden tax, which contributes to the general fund and supports both the services we like and the frivolities that drive us crazy. Arguably the rates should be set at cost plus a small margin, and the citizens would then have visibility into our tax rates and be able to control them more effectively.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm

The trash rate is $15.90 a month for the small can.
If you cant afford that, you should not be doing a remodel that forces you into temporary housing. Your contractor will waste more than $15.90 in materials each month.


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Posted by boo
a resident of Monroe Park
on Sep 6, 2011 at 6:28 pm

waste is a waste,no matter how you explain it away.why can not you pay taody if you liked it so much.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I guess this is another one of those thinly veiled Tea Party threads where everything that government does is wrong and "for profit" privatization is the only answer. Hint: if the thread uses the phrase "Ponzi Scheme" or "Monopolistic Scam" you're being baited by the Tea Party.

Yikes, does anyone honestly believe that PG&E would be an improvement?


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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 6, 2011 at 8:29 pm

"So how do you figure we pay more in electric? Sure looks like we pay half."

It's not about top-tier - it's about total cost, which includes gas. And water. And sewer.

"The trash rate is $15.90 a month for the small can."

And? What is your point? I'm not going to use the service, so why am I paying CPAU to collect fees that go to a private company with a fat contract with Palo Alto?

"Yikes, does anyone honestly believe that PG&E would be an improvement?

Having been a customer of PG&E before coming to Palo Alto, yes, especially because you can unbundle services. Even in San Francisco, which is more government-happy than Palo Alto, I could at least stop Sunset Scavenger from collecting garbage while keeping PG&E.

And what's up with the "utility tax?" Isn't CPAU a government entity? Why are they collecting additional taxes on top?

And don't get me started about them thinking about snooping in our waste again. You know that there's a lot of overhead if they were even considering that.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2011 at 10:21 pm

The City of Palo Alto transfers between $35 - $40 million to the general fund each and every year:

- Utility Users tax
- "Return on Investment" transfers
- Rental payments
- "Overhead" support provided

This works out to an average $1300 - $1500 per household per year.


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2011 at 10:32 am

"First we pay more for gas and electricity than everyone else using PG&E"

"it's about total cost, which includes gas. And water. And sewer."

Make up your mind.

Toady, I am both a PG&E customer and a PA utilities customer.
PA Utilities for gas and electric is cheaper. Dont believe me do a web search on the rate structures and do the math. At any tier PA comes out better.

What most cities dont want is a resident occupying without trash pick up. Dealing with your corner case is not worth their time which would mean higher rates for all of us It would cost them more than your $19.60 to insure you are not occupying that house and attracting vermin with your neglected trash.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

What would make sense to us, does not make sense to the Utilities.

If, for any reason, we were able to reduce pickup, (vacations, once every two weeks, etc.) it would reduce the utilities income without reducing their work. In other words, the pickup truck would still be outside your home just not picking up trash and having to work the same amount of time. Therefore the utilities costs would be just the same.

This is not right, but it is understandable. I have one family member who has a choice between 3 trash company pickups in their neighborhood. For some reason the competition keeps the prices down even though it means that there are more trucks and personnel employed doing the route!


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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm

"Dealing with your corner case is not worth their time which would mean higher rates for all of us It would cost them more than your $19.60 to insure you are not occupying that house and attracting vermin with your neglected trash."

So you are basically saying that I need to subsidize your garbage rate? Are you saying that you need this kind of wealth transfer from other residents who don't need this?


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Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2011 at 11:48 am

No I am saying I dont want to subsidize your unbundling needs.

Now it may come as a shock to you, but some people cheat, say they are not occupying when in deed they are. When this happens the utility they will try to get away with not having is trash. So if you allow people to have all the utilities they are going to need to occupy except trash, then they tend to burden others with their trash to save $20 a month.

Also by making the accounting as simple as possible, the cost is lowered for all, if they need to police the non-trash users to make sure they are not cheating, the cost goes up (Thats where subsisizing you comes in.)

I'll give you another example, if you joined the YMCA for access to the weight machines, they are not going to give you a discount because you assert you will not be using the treadmill or the pool. The dont want to unbundle the services which would require they police their members.

If you dont have gas or electric on your property, you probably arent living there, but trash, people are willign to cheat on trash, so you are required to have trash pickup, so the city can minimize the cheating, clutter build up, and the vermin control.

At this point I am moving on, you should too. Thanks for your $20 a month. Hope your remodel turns out nice. Get your contractor to use your trash can.


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Posted by Here by choice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm

My experience with PG&E and Palo Alto Utilities is one of the reasons we moved back to Palo Alto.

If you think we're all so dumb as nails, I'm sure you could sell your property within a week and move somewhere else where your ideology will keep you comfortable with paying twice as much to PG&E and dealing with their shenanigans.

I love Palo Alto utilities, and I want everyone reading this who appreciates what we have as much as I do to recognize that rightwing ideologues would love to trash it for the sake of ideological points, and we have to protect it from such attacks.

I prefer a consumer-oriented public utility to an investor-owned monopoly, thank you. And for decades, I've paid less, and gotten far better service from Palo Alto than PG&E.

Why is it these rightwing ideologues don't get the irony that the only way they can "prove" their ideology is to attack everything that doesn't fit, rather than make the things they think should work, work better (i.e., compete)? I mean, where in the entire advanced world is there a successful society where those ideals are up and running? I'd say if they don't like government, they can go enjoy what Afghanistan and Somalia have to offer.


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