City may raise fees for car chargers, solar panels

Palo Alto proposes to change municipal fee schedule to recoup the cost of reviewing applications

For Palo Alto residents, installing a solar panel or an electric-car charger is about to get a little more expensive.

City officials are proposing to raise permit fees for solar panels and car chargers starting in July as part of their annual revision of the municipal fee schedule. These rate hikes, along with others, are projected to bring about $100,000 in new revenues to the General Fund.

Under the proposed fee changes, which the City Council Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss tonight (Wednesday), residential permits for electric-vehicle charging stations would cost $315. For commercial applicants, the permit cost would range from $975 to $1,450, depending on the station type, for the first charging station. The permit for each additional charging station would cost between $100 and $150.

The permit fees for solar panels are set to go up from $200 in the current fiscal year to $320 for residential customers. For commercial customers, the fees would range from $595 to $3,775, depending on the system being installed.

If the City Council approves these changes, they would take effect on July 1.

According to a report from the Administrative Services Department, the fee changes were proposed to recoup some of the costs of reviewing the applications. The new fees are expected to generate about $22,750.

"These fees are based on estimated levels of staff time for the plan check review and installation inspection process," Management Specialist Gail Wilcox wrote in the report.

Other proposals in the proposed schedule include new fees for non-profit organizations looking to rent a meeting room in the renovated Downtown Library; raised fees at city-run swimming pools; new permit fees for wireless-facility applications; and raised fees for group admissions to the Junior Museum and Zoo.

Palo Alto is also considering making more drastic changes next year. The city plans to hire a consultant to perform a comprehensive analysis of the city's entire fee schedule. The study will begin this fall and is scheduled to be completed before the council adopts the municipal fee schedule next year.

The committee will meet at 6 p.m. in the Council Conference Room at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

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Like this comment
Posted by Confused
a resident of Green Acres
on May 25, 2011 at 10:46 am

Since installing solar panels or charging stations is already expensive, the city is looking to add more to it by increasing the permit cost. This cannot be a statement to move Palo Alto to be a "green" city.

To make it more confusing, the permit rate increase will only generate $22,500 of revenue, while rate increase for all the other items will generate $100K. How much are we paying a consultant to study that? Knowing how much consultants generally charge, not hiring one should almost cover the potential revenue increase.

I expect the City of Palo Alto, with such highly educated population, to be able to operate more efficiently without reducing service and/or increasing rates. Increases are necessary sometimes but they should actually make an impact for the wonders of the city.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2011 at 10:49 am

There is a segment of the PA population that seems to pride itself on its attempte (and the attempts by the city) to go green. I suppose I could count myself as part of that segment, and I applaud the efforts I have seen in the city to encourage eco-friendly behavior.

My first reaction to this story was negative, objecting to the concept of revenue-generation on the backs of those who want to be eco-friendly. But on further examination of it, if the fee increases for the permits are actually only there to cover the costs of reviewing the permits, I have to grudgingly agree that it is not a bad idea. Those who wish to be green still need to pay their own way and not expect government subsudies at a time when budgets are being crunched. I suspect it must have taken some courage to propose this measure, I agree it may be a good idea. In the long run, the increase in fees will still be dwarfed by the other costs of putting in these systems.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2011 at 11:04 am

This echoes the trash v recycling scenario. The fact that we have increased our green footprint by being good recyclers we are now paying more to have our smaller amounts of trash removed.

Being green may save the planet, but costs individuals a hefty price. Where is the incentive any more?

Like this comment
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 25, 2011 at 11:16 am

What is the point of requiring a permit for a solar panel or a car charger?

What value does the city add? Safety? Security?

This is just another scam by the city to involve itself in people's lives without providing a single benefit.

Instead of wasting money creating rules, staffing, and of course consultants, let's just get rid of all these.

If my green neighbors want to procure and of these, more to them.

Like this comment
Posted by Donya
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Pretty soon the police will be charging a fee to drive down my block looking for residential burglaries, because that's the cost of driving and officer time. I agree with the principal of paying modest fees for permits, etc., but the city's just using this as a kind of tax to dredge more revenue up. Does it really cost the city $315 to review the installation of a simple home auto charging station? Let's see -- they probably look at a simple drawn-up plan (takes no more than 5 minutes) and at the most send an inspector out to check out the final physical installation (a half-hour trip at the most). You can see where I'm heading with this.

Like this comment
Posted by permit me
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I wouldn't mind paying higher fees if it would improve the Palo Alto Permit Process. Most solar installers don't like doing business in Palo Alto because of the length of time and contortions needed to get through this process. In other cities they can get your panels up and working within a month of signing a contract. In Palo Alto, even a company that has worked with the city before will take at least three months. Companies that are unprepared will find it takes much longer.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan Collins
a resident of Southgate
on May 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Another consultant? Seriously? I'll bet there are plenty of Palo Altans willing and capable of doing this and all the other "studies" consultants are endlessly doing for this City. Why not add a section to the City's website listing proposed studies, the cost, and allowing citizens to do it free. Wouldn't that be true participant democracy? I would volunteer.

I find it ironic that Palo Alto wins Green awards for subsidizing solar and then raises fees on the same thing. It seems like another example of the City Council voting to do what feels good, and leaving it to City employees to figure out how to pay for it. Wasn't the Council just proposing to build free chargers downtown?

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm

With this current thread, and this earlier one -
<Web Link;

not to mention other things such as California Av modification, how can anyone believe the City Government feels any budget pinch at all?

Like this comment
Posted by Bob M.
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Instead of thinking of this and the other fee increases as "bring[ing] about $100,000 in new revenues to the General Fund," turn it around: the City will provide the same product as before, but now that product will cost $100,000 more.

Are the fee increases justified? Maybe, maybe not. Since the City's desire for higher and higher revenues isn't tempered by any competition, it owes all of us a very detailed explanation of these price increases -- and not just at 6:00 PM on the Wednesday before a major holiday weekend, when many residents are already out of town.

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2011 at 2:58 pm

> “Pretty soon the police will be charging a fee to drive down my block looking for residential burglaries, because that's the cost of driving and officer time.”

Not until they hire a consultant to figure out how much to charge.

Seriously, is there ANYTHING the city can do without a consultant?

What are all the staffers doing, other than signing consulting contracts? It’s outrageous, but no one on the city council seems outraged.

All this nickel-and-diming just causes more paper work. Aren’t we paying taxes to pay the salaries of staffers who review plans? If not, let’s just contract these things out as piece work.

These fee increases are drops in the bucket compared to city spending on consultants. According to the Daily Post (5-24), $1.54 million in consulting contracts are to be awarded:

- $450,000 to develop a program to encourage students to walk and bike to school. This is insane on the face of it. We have traffic planners, a PTA, teachers and students, and a lot of residents with common sense who could figure this out.

- $350,000 to reconfigure California Avenue, including “community identity elements.” Does Cal Ave need an “identity”? Will each of the umpteen neighborhoods in the city also get an “identity element”?

- $100,000 to recommend which electrical and mechanical systems need to be upgraded and replaced. Do the people working with these systems not know how to evaluate them?

- $150,000 for a construction manager to help employees with the Stanford Ave/El Camino intersection. Why do the employees need help?

- $240,000 for plans and permits to clean up the old water treatment plant on San Antonio. (Note: this is not for actually doing the work, just planning it.) Again, what are the employees doing?

- $100,000 to look at the Municipal Services Center and Animal Center and see if some services should be moved to some other (unknown) location.

- $150,000 to develop a master plan for Rinconada Park.

This frivolous spending could only happen in the government, where taxpayer dollars are considered free money.

I wonder if Council would approve these consultant contracts if they were writing the checks from their own personal bank accounts.

Like this comment
Posted by Bernard & Jane Leitner
a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm

That does not seem fair. Why not charge just for the electricity?

Like this comment
Posted by Karen
a resident of Barron Park
on May 25, 2011 at 11:06 pm

This is ridiculous. Let's throw up real economic barriers to energy independence, so we can put a band-aid on our fiscal problems and continue overpaying our firefighters and our bureaucrats. Force efficiency where there is inefficiency (Pat made a great list above), just like the private sector is forced to do, rather than pushing a foolish policy that puts us on the side of more global warming and more body bags coming home from the middle east.

The bureaucrat who proposed this is clearly out of touch and should lose their job or be voted out of office.

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2011 at 3:52 am

This is a specialized area that requires considerable expertise. The economy-of-scale achieved through municipal review makes sense. I suspect it would cost more to do this any other way, perhaps much more. The problem here might be that Mr. Sheyner does not understand that and so naturally didn't convey that understanding. Suppose, for example, if independent stations needed to achieve review independently, paying independently, and then car owners needed the expertise to understand the reports.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 26, 2011 at 10:09 am

@Donya asks how much it costs to send out an inspector to take a look at a home charging station, etc. and one would think in this small city the REAL cost IS small...but the "padded cost" (top salary/benefits) -- the "rack rate" IS great.

That is the problem with government, the heart of the problem; rather than budget in a businesslike fashion, pay businesslike salaries/benefits, quote businesslike fees, etc. instead we live with a bureaucracy that overpads/overquotes costs/fees/rates ALL the time, rather than a reasonable cost and timeline.

Local municipalities wail they will have to lay off 10 police officers or school districts threaten to lay off 30 teachers; rather than look at the entire budget, salary/benefits structure they just use as baseline the current way overpadded budget. Don't even get into the ridiculous use of overpaid consultants.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The technical aspects of a solar system or charging station should take ten minutes to review. Remember, plan check carries NO GUARANTEE!
Inspection, a half hour tops. The check and inspection are an additional guarantee against error, but again, no guarantees.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on May 26, 2011 at 4:09 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

It seems we are nothing but a 'Revenue Source'.
Solar panel installations vary and need review. If assembled from UL components, the Electrical task is pretty straight forward. Disconnects, grounding and wiring path and materials.
Structural support for retrofit needs to be reviewed. New construction needs no review as the current CPA required roof supports will support East coast snow loads.

A Car charger is a simple wiring run. 240Volt (the same as a Dryer) only changes the number of poles on the breaker. Otherwise, the same rules apply for any other Outlet in that location (cable protection, weather resistance).

It is not rocket science.
Stop basing fees on the COST of the materials and base them only on the (lack of) complexity of the inspections needed.

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Consultants are used in the City to justify pre-determined actions, and to take the fall if something goes wrong. Cost efficiency is not a factor, as there is no profit motive in government, only the motive of self-justification and a continuing expansion of control over peoples lives.

In Palo Alto, City management doesn't rise by climbing the corporate ladder, they build their own ladders with consultant studies and climb those.

In Palo Alto, there could never be a study of consultant usage and efficiency, because that would require a consultant!

Like this comment
Posted by Markus
a resident of College Terrace
on May 27, 2011 at 1:20 am

Absolutely maddening. I was a holdout on the value-of-govenment issue but my God, what a cheap, self-serving little gem from our city "leaders." Quit overpaying yourselves and your public union cronies before you get on the wrong side of some issues that are far bigger than any of you (global warming, energy independence). Another voter joins the "no new revenue ever" voting club.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2011 at 8:58 am

These types of work and installs need review and inspections. Too many people will do the work themselves and our use a contractor who doesnt follow code. Just recently about 10 fire fighters were shocked in South Palo Alto at a house fire because the owner or previous owner had un approved and not up to code electrical work done.Power was brought from another home into the building. Even though the power was thought to have been turned off it really was not. Could have cost lives or serious injury.
Last year at another house fire a un approved solar system was discovered. They system did not have proper safe guards in place to prevent reverese charging of the grid and or area. Again could have cost human life.
It's the same for people who install emergency generators without putting proper safeguard equipment in place.
240V can kill! fast. It needs to be done properly.

Like this comment
Posted by Veteran
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Energy independence is too important to be compromised by local government's voracious appetite for revenue. I spent 16 months over there and I don't plan on watching my kids go back.

Like this comment
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2011 at 12:01 am

look at it as sort of a "gas tax"

Like this comment
Posted by Ryan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 28, 2011 at 10:46 am

It's not a gas tax, and should not be looked on as such. It's worse. A gas tax puts an economic disincentive on a behavior that carries harm (global warming and dependence on foreign energy).

Electric vehicles help mitigate the former and directly offset the latter. Palo Alto should raise revenue on the backs of people doing the right thing.

Like this comment
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 29, 2011 at 10:01 am

^So people should be punished for buying gas? and forced to buy electric cars? That's a mighty soviet of you. Apparently you seem to think electricity which also creates global warming should be free for all.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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