Council is manipulative in combining library, police station bonds
Original post made
by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Mar 8, 2007
Separate them out, please! Palo Alto residents should be able to vote on two individual ballot measures: one for improved libraries and the other for a new police station.
Right now the Palo Alto City Council wants to combine the two proposals into one $95 million bond measure ($45 million for libraries and $50 million for a new police station). Council members are hoping residents will want one of these enough to agree to the two projects.
In fact, in watching Monday's city council meeting, council members debated how they could best get people to vote for both. No council member mentioned separating the two proposals. No one asked which is the more ethical approach. Their agenda seemed to be what's the best method to manipulate the voters to get approval for both measures. Council members obviously fear that one of the proposals might lose (the police station), so they kept on asking the consultants how they can best bundle the two proposals together and get voter approval.
Council members want to choose the ballot measure(s) we vote on. That's manipulative or simply politics.
The council authorized a poll of residents to see whether each proposal could garner the 66-2/3 percent majority needed to approve the bond measures. Unfortunately, the survey results discussed last Monday found that the support for each and both was well below the two-thirds majority. The library garnered an initial 63 percent approval rating for the $45 million proposal, while the $50 million police station got 57 percent approval, which consultants said was too low for ultimate voter approval. And when the two were combined, only 29 percent gave a "definite yes" although a substantial number said probably but far less than the needed two-thirds majority. No surprise there.
We're talking about big tax dollars here that residents here will have to pay. The $95 million would result in a $42 tax per $100,000 assessed valuation. So if you have a $600,000 assessed valuation, passage of this bond measure would mean you would pay $252 in additional taxes/year for the next 30 years. And if you have a $1.2 million assessed valuation, that's another $504 a year. That's a lot of $$$s.
Some of us want renovated and expanded libraries. Others of us want a new police station. You may want both or neither. I think we should be able to vote for which one or two building proposals we want.
My memo to our city council: Please don't try to frame the bond measures to get what you want. These are our tax dollars. Let us decide what we want. Separate out the measures.
Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2007 at 1:46 am
Neighbor, There are ways that we can help those on fixed incomes, or those otherwise fiscally challenged. It's our responsibility as compassionate citizens to see that we - in cooperation with policy makers and private funders - solve that problem. We should get busy and find ways to ameliorate the burden of those who _legitimately_ can't afford more (vs. those who can afford to pay, but for their own reasons choose to vote against this measure)
"We're talking about big tax dollars here that residents here will have to pay. The $95 million would result in a $42 tax per $100,000 assessed valuation. So if you have a $600,000 assessed valuation, passage of this bond measure would mean you would pay $252 in additional taxes/year for the next 30 years. And if you have a $1.2 million assessed valuation, that's another $504 a year. That's a lot of $$$s."
Diana, what's the cost to our community (real, and potential) of Palo Alto NOT making these investments? How much will that cost every resident?
How about 23 studies in just as many communities - as pointed out recently in a Weekly op-ed - showing that cities receive from $1.30-$4.00+ in benefits for every dollar invested in libraries, with most cities receiving benefits toward the higher part of the stated range? Why aren't you also mentioning _investment benefits_ in your critique?
I have yet to see a balanced, fiscal cost/benefit argument coming from _anyone_ who has announced their opposition to either project, or opposition to a combined bond.
Instead, naysayer opinions seem to only focus on cost, and burdens - not one word about investment. What private or public entrepreneur would measure potential risk that way? Not anyone that I know, and I know a lot of them.
Please provide a fiscal rationale that includes opportunity costs (of not making the investments), or at the very least a sensitivity analysis. This is what any private or social entrepreneur would do, at the very least.
Please show us why the Public Safety Blue Ribbon Commission's conclusions don't make sense, from a long-term sustainability and near-long-term fiscal risk perspective. Same goes for the library.
Please explain from a _balanced_ cost/benefit perspective why these infrastructure builds are not good investments - investments that would help take to a sustainable fiscal and social future in Palo Alto?
How much will it cost each one of our households if Palo Alto is sued for $10's of millions because it doesn't have the proper facility to handle evidence, and many other _legally_ required public safety functions?
We know that the vast majority of our citizens want to improve the library. We also know that most citizens take public safety for granted. The Blue Ribbon Commission was set up to deal with this lack of knowledge, and make sure that our Public Safety needs were accurately gauged. They did a fantastic job, looking at everything, and identifying _base_ needs, going forward.
Why should we pit these necessary infrastructure projects _against_ each other? That's the subtext and implication of what you're suggesting. We know what would hapen if these projects went to the polls in successive years; they would most likely fail, because we both know that there is a relatively small group of individuals in Palo Alto who will do their best to defeat _both_ bonds, or use negative innuendo to reduce the size of already size-compromised projects, and last minute electoral distortions to increase the odds of defeat at the pollls. In other words another "tyranny of the minority" experience.
If we went separately, which one would be vote on first? How would our city ramp up for two bond measures, back-to-back. the naysayers would really love this; they'd have a "negative innuendo feast".
If we went for separate bonds, one project would be delayed for at least a year. that means that when we did get to the second project, that project would cost at least 15% more, due to construction inflation. For the police building, that's roughly $7.5M; it's almost that much for the library. It woudl be twice that if the delay was two years. How many citizens are aware of that?
The current City Council is not being manipulative; rather, it's being very smart about providing a real choice for our citizens. In fact, _separating_ these projects would be caving to those who want to manipulate political process here.
In fact, if many of the people who - in the recent poll - were _against_ either one of these projects were given balanced information on the alternative costs (opportunity costs) of NOT making these investments, and what NOT making those investments would very well cost them, they might think verydifferently than they do now.
If this same group was made aware of the deep benefits of these infrastructure builds- including a POSITIVE fiscal and social return on their taxpayer investment for libraries and public safety infrastructure - they would very well have second thoughts about how they cast their vote.
If we authentically engage those (in the minority) who are against these projects, and present them with cost AND benefit information, I think many would change their minds.
If we don't pass this combined bond, our community will end up paying more than these bonds cost in the near-long-term, by quite a bit. Or, if we give in to a few vocal naysayers (who consistently provide skewed fiscal critiques on these projects), and reduce already leaned-out projects to satisfy their unbalanced critiques, we will find ourselves requiring additional bond measures in the near-long-term to make up the difference - - **with the additional cost of 15% per annum for construction inflation_ to supplement the aforementioned compromised projects - projects that should have been built right the first time. Is that what we want?
Further, I think it's important that our citizens are given straight talk about what we're facing. If we don't fund these projects we are setting ourselves up for large legal settlements (or worse), and the eventual loss of our heralded branch library system. Do we want that to happen? I don't think so; nor do the _vast_ majority of people who voted in recent polls.
On a final note, the average assessed valuation here is more like $300K; thus, you're overstating the costs to most taxpayers here. That's a minor issue, relative to the challenges we're going to face if we fail to make these very prudent, necessary, measured, and juducious investments in our future, whose benefits FAR outweight their costs.
Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2007 at 11:06 pm
Wolf, I already addressed your concern. Perhaps a careful reading of past postings will help satisfy your curiosity. There are multiple reasons to bundle these infrastructure builds. It's all written for your reading pleasure, above.
Pat, the data is in the studies, and their conclusions. Disagree with those conclusions if you like. You will be in the vast minority of those who disagree. If you want the raw data, so that you can draw different conclusions, perhaps you can hire a team of economists and demographers like St. Louis did, and conduct your own original study. If you do, I would love to see the study design; have you ever conducted a $250K study of public service infrastructure? I think I know the answer to that question.
As far as "helping my cause", I couldn't possibly have a better helper than you, seriously.
Rather than asking "where's the evidence", perhaps you might start with a review of the first study. Google "St. Louis, library study"; after you've spent some time with the conclusions of that study, please provide evidence about why those conclusions are wrong, with something more than a basic opinion. I want to see *your* data, brought to conclusions that soundly refute the designers and results of the St. Louis study, and 22 others that have followed in its wake - all showing positive benefits in a better-than-one-to-one ratio for tax dollars spent on library services. To be exact $1.30-$4.00+ in benefit for every tax dollar spent on public libraries. That's a pretty good deal, if you ask me.
When you're done with that, please provide Palo Altans with conclusive evidence that definitively establishes that the long-term cost of _not_ building the police building and library would be less than the benefits of building them. While you're at it, please refute the additional points I've made above, in my first post.
Here's what I thnk you're going to do: You'll ask: "Where's the data?". From there, you will deny the validity of the study conclusions, because you haven't been able to gather the raw data from the studies (not because it isn't available, but because you don't want to work to get it. After that, you will claim that the studies don't prove anything, because you haven't been willing to go get the data. Circular arguments, anyone?
Why I think you're a great - even though unwilling - supporter of this bond effort, is because you will only have *said* yuor refutations, and not *shown* anything to back them up. Where's *your* data, Pat?
Unlike those who have put in the sweat, and made it their business to prove the benefit of these infrastructure builds, a small coterie of naysayers will continue to try to bring this bond down; they will bring forward all sorts of distortion; they will challenge studies, polls, various commission conclusions; they will bring forward last-minute maiilings meant to stimulate emotional reactions; they will use a structural flaw in revenue election law to continue their attempt to impose a "tyranny of the minority" on Palo Alto politics.
Many of these naysayers are people I have spoken with in depth. They're mostly good people, but very misguided. More than one has told me that they don't even like Palo Alto, or Palo Altans. Given the latter, is their resistance to improving our city, thus denying Palo Alto and Palo Altans a sustainable future any surprise?
btw, Pat, all postings are emotional, _and_ rational - including yours. Counterintuitive, isn't it? There's an easy way to prove this, but that's another thread.
This thread was begun by Diana Diamond, a person I respect. She occasionally gets it wrong, and sometimes gets it really wrong. This is one of those times.
Diana, I would love to hear how yuo rationalize thhis blog entry as any less a manipulation than you claim the City Council is attempting. It's not news that you're opposed to the current Blue Ribbon Commission, LAC, and PArks and Rec findings. As your argument about these infrastructure builds becomes less relevant, the only thing left is to accuse the City Council of attempting to manipulate Palo Altans. The great irnoy is that you're using an unfounded, emotionally laden accusation to manipulate citizen opinion in a way that brings the latter closer to yuor views on this matter. Not this time. :)
Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2007 at 10:56 pm
First, David, please reand chapter 7 in the audit; the document that you have misrepresented in prior posts. There you'll see the quantitative information that I pulled from; there you'll see that Palo Alto is in the roughly 50th percentile of satisfaction whn it comes to road maintenance.
Next, AW's willingness to commit to these infrastructure projects is laudable. It's a good thing that aw is asking that the builds be considered part of an effort to rebuild worn infrastructure here (that's the intention, btw). As far as aw's comments about compromise, s/he should realize that the projects are *already* compromised from first visioning. They are both scaled back projects, currently at a minimum to satisfy the operational mandates that will meanate from them.
As for aw's other prerequisites, selling off underused assets is probably something the Council is always pondering in one way or another; city management is trustworthy; to suggest otherwise is disingenuous and to cast unproven aspersions; the Palo Alto Process is beginning to be challenged, which is threatening to some who have profited from it; the Mayor and Council are doing their best to deliver straight talk - some may disagree with that straight talk, but that's the way it goes; and, finally, putting everything on the table will start the Palo Alto Process up again, in spades. We don't want to go there.
Carol, the current size of the Mitchell proposal was arrived at following two years of public input, polling (twice), LAC deliberations, dozens of hours of sub-committee meetings, more public and staff input, consultant input, etc. etc. That's about enough. This process has now cost our city *two years* of time, adding an other $15-20M to the construction costs of the proposed projects. That's right folks, delay costs money. Are those who use a lack of factual data to crimp the vote on this kind of project held accountable for the added cost to build these projects in future years? Of course not. Thus the motivation to needlessly demand "transparency" "open public process", etc. etc. ad infinitum. Essentially what we've been seeing for the past 10 or so years is a minority abuse of public process that was enabled by overconfident policy makers. No more.
Carol, How is the current library option "3B" in the LSMAR not big enough for you? Please be specific as to it's impact on collection (and distribution of same) to the entire system, it's ability to scale at less cost than a smaller building; its flexibility; its enabling of effciiencies between P&R and the library (thus maximizing tax dollars on programs, and saving money on construction). These are just first questions. I await a detailed response.
In the meantime, City Council should realize that the LARGE majority of citizens in Palo Alto want these infrastructure builds, and that kow-towing to a determined core fraction of the "no on everything" minority, and compromising these already-compromised infrastructure builds will not sit well with those who want these services to be updated to sustainability.
I hope the Council notes that most of the objections to the infrastructure builds on this thread are objections based not on fact, but opinion. The proof in this is that NOT ONE of the persons objecting to these builds in this thread (including the thread's author) has shown that s/he understands the comprehensive mandates and positive community and fiscal multipliers that public safety and library bring to community.
Instead, they mostly cajole, threaten, create diversionary arguments, accuse public officials of incompetence, poor-mouth the future, and so on. It's a SAD state of affairs that this kind of objection, shouted in front of Council, and unfortunately posted without merit in the Weekly's blog shuold be considered for anything than the short-sighted policy meddling that it is.
Our City Council *will* create compromises necessary to get these infrastructure builds passed, but they will hopefully NOT be based on most of the unwisdom pointed to above.
The tiny core minority; the relatively *few* individuals who yell the loudest should be listened to, but not heeded. We need to educate the enthusiatic *majority* of residents who support these projects. We're already compromised. It's time to meet the future head on, and build our city.
The City Council will absolutely need to lead on this issue. So far, it has done a great job; Palo Alto's forward-looking citizens look forward to more of the same.