News

Report: Higher tax, new bond needed to fund city repairs

Task force lays out plan for fixing up Palo Alto's crumbling infrastructure

Palo Alto should raise its sales tax, terminate its Cubberley Community Center lease and devote almost a quarter of its annual budget to repairing and replacing the city's dilapidated infrastructure, a specially appointed commission recommends in a highly anticipated report released Thursday (Dec. 22).

The Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, which the City Council appointed in May 2010 to address Palo Alto's mounting infrastructure problems, offers in its report a broad range of recommendations, some aimed at raising funds for the needed repairs and others seeking to improve the city's oversight of its crumbling streets, parks and facilities.

Its boldest and potentially most controversial recommendations include: ending the lease of Cubberley on Middlefield Road, raising the sales tax three-eighths of a cent and dedicating 23 percent of General Fund revenue to infrastructure every year. Only a supermajority of six council members could reduce infrastructure funding below 23 percent in any given year, the commission recommends. (Infrastructure expenditures have accounted for about 19 percent of the general fund in recent years.)

The 170-page report, titled "Palo Alto's Infrastructure: Catching Up, Keeping Up, and Moving Ahead," is a major milestone for the council, which made "infrastructure" one of its official priorities for 2011. Though the subject rarely rouses the passions of the citizenry, city officials have taken a keen interest in the topic in recent years, with a particular focus on replacing the city's small and outdated police headquarters.

Previous estimates had pegged costs of the city's infrastructure-repair backlog at roughly $500 million.

Ray Bacchetti, who co-chaired the commission along with former Mayor Leland Levy, said one of the commission's main goals was to replace the old estimate with more realistic figures.

"We tried to develop a highly credible set of numbers," Bacchetti told the Weekly. "One of the last things we want is for people to collapse this (infrastructure spending) into one number."

The ambitious report makes it clear that finding the needed funds would not be easy, financially or politically. But it also splits the nebulous topic of "infrastructure" into more concrete and digestible sections and provides numerous options for building new facilities and making the necessary fixes. It proposes different funding mechanisms for replacing the police headquarters and two outdated fire stations than for replacing the Municipal Services Center and Animal Services Center on East Bayshore Road. Deferred and ongoing maintenance of city streets, parks and facilities might be paid for through yet other means.

Perhaps its potentially most controversial recommendation is raising the city's sales tax rate another 0.375 percent, or three-eighths of a cent. Palo Alto's current rate of 8.25 percent is the minimum level required in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, according to the report. Most cities also have an 8.25 percent rate, though the City of San Mateo and Campbell each have a tax rate of 8.5 percent.

The revenues from the tax would help Palo Alto close a backlog of $41.5 million in what the commission called "catch-up" or "deferred maintenance." This category includes repairs that should have been done in the past but were delayed. The commission had spread out the catch-up cost over 10 years, which means the city would need to spend about $4.2 million to pay for the deferred repairs.

The report maintains that city's infrastructure has been "underfunded" for years. The city's streets, for example, now rank below those of most neighboring communities according to the "pavement condition index."

"As Palo Alto's infrastructure has aged, maintenance needs have become more pronounced," the report states. "At the same time, the City's revenue raising flexibility has diminished. In recent years, despite accounting for almost 19 percent of the City's budget, Palo Alto's infrastructure maintenance has continued to deteriorate."

In addition to this backlog, the city needs to spend $32.2 million annually to maintain existing infrastructure -- about $2.2 million more than it currently spends. The tax rate increase and end of the Cubberley lease might pay for both the deferred repairs and for ongoing maintenance, the commission stated.

New taxes could prove to be a tough sell to the community. Palo Alto's attempt to introduce a business-license tax last year got shot down by the voters on Election Day. Half Moon Bay tried to raise its sales-tax rate by 1 percent last year but failed when only 47 percent of the voters supported the change.

A tax increase requires a majority vote if the revenue is used for "general purposes" and a two-thirds vote if it's used for specific purposes. According to the report, 50 cities in California have adopted sales-tax increases ranging from one-eighth of a percent to 1 percent over the past three years.

The commission had also considered a parcel tax (which would require a two-thirds vote) and a business-license tax before recommending the sales-tax increase. The proposed sales-tax increase, according to the report, would bring the city $7.9 million in annual revenues, according to the report.

The recommendation to drop the Cubberley lease is also expected to stir strong emotions in the community. The city currently spends about $6.1 million to lease Cubberley space from the Palo Alto Unified School District -- space that includes a Foothill College campus, playing fields and a scattering of offices used by nonprofit groups, day-care centers and artist studios. Palo Alto owns 8 acres of Cubberley and leases the rest from the school district.

The community center is worn down and would need about $18 million in repairs.

"With our city struggling to meet the financial requirements of the General Fund, let alone catching-up and keeping-up with the maintenance of the City's infrastructure demands, now is the appropriate time for the school district to re-establish its management and financial responsibilities of and for the Cubberley site," the report states.

While new revenues and savings from Cubberley could help the city deal with everyday repairs, the commission recommends different funding mechanisms to pay for some of the big-ticket items on the city's infrastructure wish list. On top of this list is a new public-safety building a project that Palo Alto officials have been struggling with for much of the last decade. The current police building on Forest Avenue shares space with City Hall and does not meet existing building codes and seismic regulations. Five years ago, a specially appointed task force reviewed the city's public-safety needs and recommended "in the strongest possible terms that the City proceed expeditiously to build a new Public Safety Building."

To pay the estimated price tag of $65 million, the commission recommends that the city either ask the voters to pass a bond or issue "certificates of participation." The bond, proposed for 2012, would require a two-thirds vote to pass. The certificates of participation would not require a vote but would come with an interest rate that is 15 to 20 percent higher than in the bond option.

The commission also recommends replacing the small and outdated fire stations near Mitchell and Rinconada parks -- a $14.2 million endeavor -- on the same bond measure. The two stations, according to the report, are "vulnerable to earthquakes" and "have insufficient space to safely house the larger engines needed to accommodate developments in firefighting, rescue operations, and emergency medical response."

Another daunting project on the city's to-do list is replacing the sprawling and heavily worn Municipal Service Center and Animal Services Center. The commission estimates that this effort would cost about $100 million and recommends using a utility revenue bond to pay for the changes. Because of the scope of the project, the commission recommends that the city further analyze the costs and benefits of both renovating the facility and repurposing of land for other uses, some of which could generate revenue.

Bacchetti said the commission, in its report, was seeking to lay out for Palo Alto residents the choices that the city has to make to preserve its quality of life. The council will have a chance to debate these choices on Jan. 17, when it holds a public hearing on the new report.

"The aim is to not have a recurrence of Palo Alto falling behind in infrastructure," Bacchetti told the Weekly. "It's not going away and the longer you wait, the more expensive it's likely to be."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by The-Devil-Is-In-The-Details
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2011 at 6:46 pm

It will take a while to digest the 170 page paper.
It’s a shame that this group did not stick to just the details of infrastructure refurbishment, rather than dabbling in the funding areas.

> dedicating 23 percent of General Fund revenue to
> infrastructure every year.

Well, maybe. But for how many years? And then what?

A couple of obvious points that need comment (based on the article):
> The recommendation to drop the Cubberley lease is also expected to
> stir strong emotions in the community. The city currently
> spends about $6.1 million to lease Cubberley space from the
> Palo Alto Unified School District –

The $6.1M that goes to the bloat teachers’ salaries at the PAUSD comes from the Utility Tax, which is generating over $11M a year, at the moment. The UUT has been growing from a modest $2-3M during its first years, starting in 1988, to the $11+M today. Ten years will see $110M (plus other growth in the revenue from this tax, as the cost of utilities goes up.) If the $6+M disappears from the PAUSD’s greedy hands, they will be back in a “New York Minute” looking for another Parcel Tax to make up the $6M. Most seniors have wisely opted out of this tax, so it will fall heavily on younger families. People living in Multi-unit buildings, like Channing House, and Lytton Gardens, typically pay only for one parcel’s worth of tax—regardless of the number of people living in the facility.

The UUT was originally “sold” as a way to pay for the Cubberley Center. So, dropping the lease will doubtless leave a bad taste in people’s mouths about government credibility. However, the tax was passed “in perpetuity”, so it is most likely not linked to any fixed use.

> Public Safety Building.

Palo Alto doesn’t need to spend 100M (more-or-less) on a public safety building. What it needs to do is to regionalize the police function with surrounding cities, and then look at exactly what is needed for a smaller number of police on the payroll.

> Animal Services Center

Terminate Animal Services. Not a big expenditure in the grand scheme of things, but this could be outsourced to a private sector company that could have its facility in some other, lower-cost location.

> Fire Stations

It’s time to look at regionalizing the Fire Department also. There are any number of ideas about fire suppression, such as the wide-spread use of sprinklers that could easily reduce the need for all of the fire stations Palo Alto is currently paying for.

It’s a shame that the same ole names keep popping up on these Blue Ribbon Commissions. We keep getting the same ole answers.


Like this comment
Posted by Waste of time
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Another good reason not to shop in palo alto anymore, besides poor selections now a higher tax? And this report took 18 months? It will be a few years before anything is done since road is controversial and the usual suspects will oppose this or that. Look for more years of crumbling infrastructure.


Like this comment
Posted by Nancy
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm

"Previous estimates had pegged costs of the city's infrastructure-repair backlog at roughly $500 million."

Before another dime is spent on infrastructue taxes, we need an honest answer: Why was infrastructure ignored over the years? What social/environmental/pensions programs will be eliminated to pay for its recovery?


Like this comment
Posted by Waste of time
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Instead of taking care of infrastructure, or leaders were working on their "green" agenda. After all, the city had to bolster its reputation as a clean tech leader. Anyway why bother increasing the sales tax when you discourage commuting into the city. Time to dump jamie rodriguez.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 22, 2011 at 7:54 pm

The government's answer to any "problem" is MORE TAX!

Building old MORE TAX!

More bigger fire stations MORE TAX!

More bigger police stations MORE TAX!

And who says the MORE TAX won't go to the bloated salaries of assistant manager managers.

Oh that's right the paper pushers need better offices -- MORE TAX!

Enough all ready


Like this comment
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 22, 2011 at 9:01 pm

And furthermore, how about not allocating new spending on non-essential, luxury upgrades like park upgrades, new playground construction, golf course improvements, and bike bridges.


Like this comment
Posted by guest
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Good government maintains infrastructure as a top priority. By contrast, decadent government lets infrastructure decay, and instead uses the treasury to indulge insider's pay and pet projects.

PA used to have a good government. Lately, not so much.


Like this comment
Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 22, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Meanwhile, the building department is trying to figure out how to spend a $1MM+ surplus that it extorted from citizens.


Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2011 at 10:03 pm

For many years the city council has frittered away money on pet projects and special interest agendas:

- Electric charging stations
- An assistant to the city manager
- studies for a $100 million compost factory
- manager for zero waste
- color of palo alto art project

They also shifted millions of budget items to the utility bills, like paying for street lights, leasing of land to the utility department for millions of dollars.

The city council voted to enrich the vast majority of city staff's pensions plans in 2006, costing another $6 million/year.

Now this report is suggesting to swipe the Utility Users Tax, which was passed because the residents wanted to fund Cubberley as a community center.

Have they no shame!


Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 23, 2011 at 2:57 am

The two fire stations at Mitchell Park and Rinconda should be closed and the land sold. With this money they could built one station closer to Oregon Expressway. Public Safety reports (done for the city) have shown that we have too many fire stations and they are also, too close together.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2011 at 6:44 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The first obligation of government is maintenance of what we have. We need to restructure our budget NOW to put maintenance in as a line item and all this green crap as someday. Government is like the kid sent to the store with a list of items and money and instructions that any money left over he can spend for candy. He hits the candy counter first, then complains he did not have enough money to buy all the list items.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 23, 2011 at 8:36 am

Leland Levy, one of the chairs of this Committee, was also one of the pushers and shovers to redesign Lytton Plaza into what it is now - a cold, impersonal, stark, brightly lit piece of unattractive concrete. I'd like to know the names of all the pushers and shovers on this committee. If they think a bond issue is going to pass, they are all 'out of touch'. Some of those posting comments above should have been on this committee. Instead, it's a committee of Palo Alto's 'inner circle'. Time to "occupy' City Hall.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 23, 2011 at 9:11 am

Isn't this what we pay our property tax and sales tax for?

Why should we pay more for what the city has been failing to do. They have been spending our money on feel good issues that we never had any say about and now they want more money from us to pay for what they have failed to do.

When's the next election?


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:10 am

Because Palo Alto is so green, it likes to recycle committee members. All the usual suspects are involved in all the projects and commissions, so there’s no surprise that the insanity is repeated ad infinitum. They all drink the Kool-Aid at City Hall.

We need some cynics (referred to as disgruntled naysayers by many council members) on these committees to challenge the hype, the numbers and most of all, the PRIORITIES.

As “common sense” and others have pointed out, the city council throws away our tax dollars on non-essentials and then wants us to cough up even more for public safety and infrastructure -- which should be the city’s #1 priority.

Walter’s analogy is perfect. Our teeth will rot from candy and we’ll die from malnutrition.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike Cobb, former Mayor
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:49 am

Mr Bacchetti's comment about preserving Palo Alto's quality of life uttered in the context of ending the Cubberley lease suggests a complete lack of understanding about what quality of
life means. Ending the Cubberley lease would end its role as a fully utilized and active community center, and subtract the community services that are provided there ... child care, dance programs, music programs, art, meeting rooms, a gymnasium, a theater, playing fields that support youth sports, and much more. This would be a major step in the direction of 'dumbing down' Palo Alto. Instead of a narrow focus on money, they should have have started with a vision of what we want Palo Alto to be and how we want it to serve the community. The committee has clearly failed in their charge. Closing a vital community center for which there is no replacement is no solution ... it creates a major new problem and would move Palo Alto in the direction of being a sterile community. Where is the vision? Where is goal of keep Palo Alto a special place? What a sad outcome
for this effort. Our goal should be to make Palo Alto a better place with a better quality of life ... this report does not do that.


Like this comment
Posted by Stu Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:50 am

If you believe in what you are writing please use your real name. Anything less compromises your integrity and calls your goodwill into question.


Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:56 am

Instead of RAISING TAXES, why can't government decision makers simply make more efficient use of the money that they already take from us?

After all, California is heavily overtaxed (along with all of the other "revenue" that they collect from us) as it is.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2011 at 11:16 am

Stu, I completely disagree with you when you say, "Anything less [than using your real name] compromises your integrity and calls your goodwill into question."

This is an oft-used commplaint by those who don't like pseudonyms or anonymity. Many people have valid reasons for not using their real or full names, but that doesn't take away from their integrity. One's integrity is a core value that doesn't change with name tags.

As for "good will," Webster defines it as "a kindly feeling of approval and support : benevolent interest or concern."

It is difficult to maintain "a kindly feeling of approval and support" for a city we can't trust with our tax dollars.


Like this comment
Posted by SameOldComplaints
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 23, 2011 at 11:22 am

Typical and far too common responses these days:
... (more) taxes are bad
... government is incompetent
... administrators are overpaid
... parks, art, youth sports, should not be supported
... etc.

However, there are lingering questions, such as: when infrastructure projects were delayed previously, was money available and if so, on what was it spent?

I believe it is true that most of 'the public' does not think long term. They do not value putting aside money to be spent on infrastructure in the future. (witness the incredible effort to get a Library Bond passed). When money is available, the cry is either "Cut taxes" or "spend it on (my pet project, e.g. candy)". When the infrastructure becomes so run down that the average public notices it, *then* they cry to the City Council, "Why didn't you take care of this?" and "Why did you spend money on (park), (study), (arts), etc?" The 'public' is fickle. The 'public' is not a good steward of our future. Only strong dedicated individuals are good stweards, and politics makes it difficult for anyone on the City Council to be such stewards.


Like this comment
Posted by Nancy
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2011 at 11:55 am

"Our goal should be to make Palo Alto a better place with a better quality of life "

Converting Cubberley back into a high school campus would increase our quality of life. We need another high school, in order to remedy the overcrowding in our current high schools. Cubberley would still have a gym and playing fields and meeting rooms for the public, after school hours.

The City saved Cubberely from development, a long time ago, thanks to Mike Cobb, but this is a new day. Time to move on, Mike....


Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm

to Pat - when you say "a city we can't trust with our tax dollars" I'm wondering what you mean.

We have a fairly transparent government - that is we know where our budget goes at least at a macro level and we know where our incomes comes from. The city as far as I can see does just what the majority of the citizens want - which is less on maintenance and more on big visible things like Libraries and Composting facilities.

This report, the ideas it contains including raising sales tax and not leasing Cubberley are just suggestions at this point. They may carry some more weight since they come from a city's own "Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission" but each item must be proposed, debated and voted upon. And if the past is any indication several of these measures will wind up in court being argued again.

At any point in this process you and everyone else can have your input before the city council. And in the end they will do what they perceive most of us want done.


Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm

@Frank,

you say "We have a fairly transparent government" - have you ever seen a list of the services provided by the city government, and what they cost? have you ever seen our services' delivery benchmarked against other citys in our area? why is it that other city have budgets on a per-capita basis that is much lower than Palo Alto? Over the last decade, the city budget has grown by about 40%, but the number of residents by 10% - where has all the growth in budget dollars gone?

Many on the city council always say that Palo Alto offers more services than other cities, but will never enumerate those services. The budget is opaque.


Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2011 at 1:18 pm

“…you and everyone else can have your input before the city council.”

Oh sure, we can all have our 3 minutes at a city council meeting. How many people have the time to sit through hours of council meetings for that 3 minutes at midnight or later?

In any case, most communication with the city is one way. Individuals talk to or send emails to the council, to staff, to commissioners. How often do they respond?

One commission member said that people mainly attend city meetings when they are afraid or angry, and, "Wouldn't it be great when they actually show up because they want to participate?"

Are fearful or angry people not seen as participating? If one is critical or has a contrary opinion, one is written off as a uncivil, disgruntled a naysayer or all of the above.

In a 2008 email to an acquaintance of mine, Larry Klein wrote, “You seem to be unremittingly negative on the issues before us. Why? And if all you can say is that, in your view, the City spends too much, our utility rates are too high, etc, etc, is there room for a productive dialog between us?”

So much for the city welcoming our input.

> “ … we know where our budget goes at least at a macro level.”

Knowing where it goes is not the problem. Knowing WHY it goes where it does is the bigger question. The city council essentially rubber stamps the budget presented by the city staff. Very little time is spent on digging into the details.

> “…in the end they will do what they perceive most of us want done.”

Really?

How many of the ludicrous ideas for spending come from a majority of residents? Bike tunnel under Homer? Color of Palo Alto? $7M bike bridge? History museum? Five libraries? Lytton egg? Electric charging stations? Shifting money from the utilities department to the general fund? ENDLESS consultants?

Each year, the current mayor sets his/her favorite priorities, most of which have nothing to do with essential problems in the city, none of which are ever measured and most of which cannot possibly be accomplished in one year.

While we can agree to disagree on any given project, I would hope we could all agree that the #1 priority of any city should be public safety and #2 (closely related to #1) infrastructure.

If the city council and city staff agreed to those priorities, given the $500M infrastructure backlog (or whatever the current figure is), every time any project came up for discussion, the council should ask itself, “Can we afford this or should the money go into infrastructure?”. That’s how priorities work!

Clearly, that’s not how it works at City Hall.


Like this comment
Posted by JT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm

The report admits what we all know -- that the City has failed to maintain its assets over the years. Why should we raise taxes to give the City more money to blow? They're not going to change their behavior and suddenly start maintaining things that they've ignored over all these years. Instead of raising taxes, the City should live within its means and reduce salaries to market levels (in the private sector) in order to pay for adventures like this.


Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 23, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Ray Bacchetti headed up the Blue Ribbon Task Force for a new Police Building some five or six years ago, is it any wonder that an $80 Million Public Safety Building tops the list!!

All these items, Public Safety Building, Municipal Yard, Animal Shelter are all Administration wants. Other than resurfacing some roads what is in this list for the average taxpayer of Palo Alto? How about finishing under grounding our utilities? This item didn't even make the list!! I will vote "NO" on any bond measure or tax increases.


Like this comment
Posted by bill g
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I'm disappointed in most of the comments above. I'll bet none of the writers have read the report or have any idea of why the various recommendations were made.

Each member of the commission spent a minimum of 5 to 6 hours a week for over a year working on this report. How many of those who have commented spend that much time a year studying the budget and continuously making suggestions to the Council on ways to improve our City? Bob Moss and Herb Borack are the only ones who come to mind.

There's no question money has been spent on the Flavor of the Week, e.g. the Homer Tunnel, a proposed bike bridge, electric charging stations, the Egg which needs another infusion of money, etc. etc. All of these were or are being and will require more maintenance dollars while existing infrastructure is ignored. Shame on past Councils.

Yes. The Council members have been swayed by the loudest voices of usually a few. None have spoken up for existing buildings or roads - which means spending money on dull stuff instead of a new park or bike lane at which we can all ooh and aah.

As Pogo said, "we have met the enemy, and he is us". So let's "us" make constructive suggestions and continuously contact Council members to implement them.

The top priorities should be Infrastructure and Public Safety. The rest is good to have but lower in priority for the well being of the citizens.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Every public agency should have and fully fund reserves which are equal to the depreciation (the allocation of the cost of assets to periods in which the assets are used) of its physical assets so that the funds are available when the time comes to replace those facilities.


Does Palo Alto have any such reserves?

Does Palo Alto depreciate its physical assets?


Like this comment
Posted by JT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 7:54 pm

It's not a good sign that Mike Sartor was promoted to head Public Works yesterday. He was the guy who signed off on the tree-cutting contract for California Avenue. He should have been swept out of the City along with his former boss, Glenn Roberts, who did things like not tell City Council about the landfill deficit. Sartor's skills as a manager came into clear focus a month ago when Council discovered the library construction project was all screwed up, and that they needed to cover unexpected cost overruns. So it's hard to understand why he is getting promoted.

Sartor, as head of Public Works, will be the guy who spends the money that comes from the tax increases in the committee's report. I wish Keene would have hired somebody with a better record than Sartor. The City's competence in doing major projects and maintaining assets will become issues if these taxes are put on the ballot.


Like this comment
Posted by taxes,endless
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 8:34 pm

I am so disappointed with this country.Those endless taxes would just push people into poverty.I wonder if this is a country that offers freedom and prosperity,or it really is democratic.I just can not believe in just 10 years, every Chinese has health care with low cost for them,a peasant can have his own land to plant food and free of any taxes,and the land will be free for his use forever,what is wrong with usa?


Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Taxes, endless. Apparently you have not been reading the news lately. The Chinese government and its local officials tried to take over some farmers' land without recompense. Somehow the farmers got up enough nerve (or so no other option) and rebelled. The last I read was some negotiations were in progress with the hopefully real possibility the farmers could keep their land.

So much for the "..the land will be free for his use forever...".


Like this comment
Posted by taxes,endless
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Yes,it was true,but the fault lies with the local officials,and it is located in less developed area.Now that the central government knows it, the local officials will be more fearful,cuz they sold the land to developers to build buildings without those peasants permission,even though the peasants got those land for free.


Like this comment
Posted by taxes,endless
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Yes,it was true,but the fault lies with the local officials,and it is located in less developed area.Now that the central government knows it, the local officials will be more fearful,cuz they sold the land to developers to build buildings without those peasants permission,even though the peasants got those land to use for free.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2011 at 9:55 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

China's situation is interesting, but our concern is here!
The City of Palo Alto should, when budgeting, list ALL infrastructure maintenance before ANY Green, blue sky projects. ALL maintenance should be covered before the first dollar is spent for feel good crap. However much people may plea for some special interest project, the response must be "We can not afford it!" until we are current with maintenance. This means, of course, that today's crop of visionaries must be replaced by a crew of custodians. NO NEW TAXES1


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Palo Alto was a very attractive well run city when we moved here 10 years ago. But like paradise it is being paved over.

Got stuck in traffic because of the clear cutting of San Antonio yesterday. Another great decision.

City government only exists fot its own sake. Citizens are taxpayers to be taken for all they are worth. We have no lobbyists to represent us. WE get 3 minutes. Good bye democracy.


Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Who much is TOO MUCH when it comes to taxes?

Elected bureaucrats will NEVER run out of ideas to spend everyone else's money in a more effective way. They will continue to find "good ideas" on how they should take more of our money and spend it on projects that they see fit.

After all, California residents are being taxed (and fee'ed, tolled, etc...) to death while the state's budget falls perpetually into the red. The solution CANNOT be to simply take more money. They have already done that, thrown that money at noble "ideas" and the state never seems to get out of the red.

And, of course, there is a question about how much power and authority temporary elected government officials should have to exert control over the people that they are supposed to represent.

How much is too much?

</rant>

Enjoy the holidays!


Like this comment
Posted by Frankin
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm

2 or 3 fire stations need to be rebuilt. This is the perfect time to question: do we really need this many fire stations.
Or better yet- relocate them next to Safeway, Starbucks and Peets. Aleast then the city could save on fuel for those big trucks.


Like this comment
Posted by helene
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm

And we have to spend one MILLION dollars to change California Ave. to a two lane road. Talk about spending money foolishly. Let's use that money to fix our sidewalks. The one in front of my house is a hazard. Someday someone will fall and then sue the City. Let's fix what needs to be fixed not spend money on a foolish project for California Ave.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 24, 2011 at 9:03 pm

"Let's use that money to fix our sidewalks. The one in front of my house is a hazard. Someday someone will fall and then sue the City."

They will sue you because it is your responsibility.to maintain 'your' sidewalk.

California Streets and Highways Code sections 5610 through 5618 allow cities throughout California to require property owners to maintain the sidewalks in front of their property.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 25, 2011 at 5:44 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

There STILL ain't no Santa Claus!!


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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2011 at 9:15 am

Some years back, we called the city about a drainage problem outside our house. An obese manager type showed up and actually yelled at me because he said his department didn't have budget to address the problem. When I complained to the city manager the manager's boss showed up. None of these guys appear to have ever held a shovel. But I'm sure they have the city's usual generous retiree benefits.

Usually I find that whenever we have a problem, 3-4 manager types visit the spot, then a couple of spanish-speaking guys show up and do the work.

That's why we pay more in taxes.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Since ALL of our workers are superior, they all deserve supervisory pay.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm

They should have figured out they can't afford to maintain what they have before ripping us off for the luxury-eyesore-massively wasteful-oversized-vanity "library" rebuild at Mitchell Park. They grossly waste our money like that, then say they need more tax money to maintain the basics? B! S!

They can figure out how to stew in their own juices for all that I care - no new taxes.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm

And HOW MUCH did we pay to RUIN Charleston Road between El Camino and Foothill????
They are SO sadly mistaken if they think they're getting more taxes.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If the citizens demanded that Palo Alto lived within its means. i.e. fully funding its pension obligations and actually accumulating reserves equal to the depreciation on its capital plant, the City would be forced to become dramatically smaller and more efficient.

I note that none of the authors of this study has answered my two simple questions:
"Every public agency should have and fully fund reserves which are equal to the depreciation (the allocation of the cost of assets to periods in which the assets are used) of its physical assets so that the funds are available when the time comes to replace those facilities.

Does Palo Alto have any such reserves?

Does Palo Alto depreciate its physical assets?"


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Posted by small gov
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 26, 2011 at 9:26 am

-do not raise tax. Palo alto stores need to compete with other cities in Santa Clara County for more shopper. More tax means low properties values.

-cut loose Cuberly. Return it back and say bye. save that money. Kumon Math will still be there but renting direct form the School District. more than 6 millions in rent is ridiculous!

- Please do not hire any more personnel for the building department. reduce the necessary inspections. General contractors and Architects can be sued by the homeowners for any mistakes or liabilities.

-Lower the pension benefits for public employees!


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2011 at 10:45 am

“If the citizens demanded that Palo Alto lived within its means…”

Peter, how do citizens “demand” anything from the city? Do we talk for 3 minutes at the end of a council meeting? Do we send emails to council members?

The only voice we have is our vote, and unfortunately (1) not everything is up for a vote e.g., CA Ave., Arastradero, golf course, airport, bicycle bridges, public “art” …, (2) many people are totally unaware of the issues – in spite of the 3 local newspapers and (3) many people don’t bother to vote.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2011 at 11:43 am

Pat, I agree with you but take it one point further.

Candidates for city council never publicly say how they will fix any of these issues. How are voters to be able to vote for a council when they always circumvent these issues when campaigning?

Perhaps people don't vote because they have no idea of who is going to do what?
We need a lot less fancy talk and need to demand specifics from council candidates.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 26, 2011 at 12:43 pm

The issue of a tax increase wouldn't even be in the discussion if the city had its financial priorities in place. Especially during these very difficult and uncertain financial times. The city has spent and continues to spend far too much on non-essential, luxury projects and consultation fees. Why are they funding even a nickel for projects like the bike bridge, playground construction, park improvements, public art, and the list goes on. All this after hearing our city leaders moan about the budget deficit for years now. Unreal. It's time that they back up the rhetoric with actions. Priorities first. Work on the essential infrastructure needs and public safety. Without that everything else is diminished.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Peter, how do citizens “demand” anything from the city?"

How about a ballot initiative which requires the City to have a fully balanced budget?

Just putting that into discussion would send shock waves through the Council and staff.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm

“The issue of a tax increase wouldn't even be in the discussion if the city had its financial priorities in place.”

AMEN!

From an April 20101 editorial: Cities must define core services, says, “It takes true leadership to define core services, fund them and then do them well. It demands that city leaders set specific goals and marshal all resources toward meeting them. It also requires telling citizens a painful truth - some services will be cut.” Web Link

Unfortunately, city leaders have never done this as far back as I can remember. The budgeting process is completely broken. It should be driven from the top down, i.e., Council (representing the residents) should define the priorities, then direct staff to do a budget based on those priorities. Only after the essentials are funded is anything else considered.

The way it works now is that staff presents a budget, finance committee peruses it, council spends a few hours on it and typically says, “Go and cut $X thousand,” then rubber stamps it.

What’s even more bizarre is the annual city council priorities “retreat.” Each year, council members go offsite to determine the city’s annual priorities. Why would priorities change each year? Larry Klein once said, "My take is that a priority is something you wouldn't ordinarily focus on and which needs immediate attention.” I have yet to make sense out of that one. Why would a priority be something “you wouldn’t ordinarily focus on”?

In 2006 the retreat produced 3 priorities:
• Infrastructure
• Infrastructure (yes, they named that twice)
• Emergency preparedness

In 2007:
• Emergency preparedness
• Gain support for planning & constructing new public safety building and libraries
• Implement recommendations of task force on climate protection
•Develop a sustainable budget

In 2008:
• Civic engagement
• Construct new library/community center and public safety building
• Protect the environment
• Enhance the city’s economic health

In 2009:
• Civic engagement – for the common good
• Protect the environment
• Enhance the city’s economic health

In 2010:
• Economic or financial health
• Environmental sustainability
• Emergency preparedness
• Land use and transportation planning
• Collaboration for youth well-being

In 2011: same as 2010

Notice how the same topics appear/disappear over the years. Ask yourself how you would prepare a budget EACH YEAR to reflect these changing priorities.

Also notice there’s no year-end report card. Do any of these priorities ever get done?

My priorities for city government fall into 3 buckets:
1. Essential for the welfare of all residents
- public safety
- infrastructure (roads, buildings, sidewalks, etc.)
- utilities/phone/sewers/etc. (not necessarily provided by the city)
- administrative/IT services for above

2. Not essential, but makes the city a good place to live and benefits the majority of residents
- planning/zoning
- parks/open space
- library

3. Not at all essential and serves only small groups of residents. (These "cherished" services should be funded by those who cherish them. Ask yourself why the city pays for a children's theatre but not for children's sports.)
- Children's Theater
- Junior Museum & Zoo
- Art Center
- Golf Course
- Airport

You many disagree with the details, but I think most would come up with a similar list. These are the priorities that should drive the budget. If the city managed -- and budgeted -- to priorities, we would not have the infrastructure backlog we have today, we would already have a public safety building, we would not have 5 libraries, and we would not be planning a $9M bike bridge.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm

“How about a ballot initiative which requires the City to have a fully balanced budget? Just putting that into discussion would send shock waves through the Council and staff.”

Peter, are you seriously starting that initiative discussion?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 26, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Peter, are you seriously starting that initiative discussion?"

No, it will leave that to a Palo Alto voter.

Unless the City's budget reflects real limits and actual costs including depreciation then there will be no end to reports which discuss what needs to be fixed and how those fixes need to have new revenue to be accomplished.


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Posted by Mark Michael
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 27, 2011 at 10:18 am

As a member of the IBRC, I find the online commentary fascinating regarding our report "Palo Alto's Infrastructure: Catching Up, Keeping Up and Moving Ahead." Stepping back to the formation of this commission, we had a year-long process that began with gathering data on the situation and identifying the issues with Palo Alto's infrastructure. Interestingly, throughout this process the group steered an overtly objective and pragmatic course: at no time did anyone self-identify as a member of a particular political party (e.g., red, blue or tea). Ideology and hidden agendas were notably absent. We studied all of the past reports about our infrastructure, recent and current City budgets, visited sites, surveyed the managers of all City facilities, spoke to neighboring cities, created a master spreadsheet of infrastructure assets and expenses, identified best practices. The IBRC complied with the Brown Act rules regarding public notification; although very few members of the public attended any of our public meetings and no member of the public ever asked to address the group. After initial orientation of the IBRC we elected co-chairs and organized into three committee: surface, buildings and finance. These groups made intensive studies of relevant data and reported to the full commission in public meetings, followed by a study session with the City Council. In the next phase, the IBRC reorganized into five working groups: infrastructure management, finance, public safety, municipal services center, and future infrastructure. The analysis and recommendations of these groups is reflected in the final report and a preliminary report was made to the Finance Committee of the City Council. The Final Report of the IBRC has now been submitted to the Council. On a personal level, I was born in Palo Alto, grew up and went to school here, and after a decade or so finishing my education and working elsewhere, settled back in Palo Alto to raise our family. Notwithstanding over 50 years living in the City, it wasn't until serving on the infrastructure commission that many of the underlying details and true extent of the foundation of our community were revealed. We talked quite a bit about what we as residents appreciate or want and need in terms of community infrastructure. We even debated whether the IBRC could or should articulate or reinforce a community vision. At one point there was an inquiry regarding the relationship of infrastructure to the delivery of services. Fine points of municipal accounting (and "yes" there are Government Accounting Standards) were researched and discussed. Distinguished economists and experienced executives tackled thorny financing issues. We had a fulsome discussion of costs and benefits and whether it was feasible for the commission to prescribe a methodology for prioritization of dissimilar infrastructure resources and needs. If you have a favorite piece of infrastructure and wonder where this discussion ended up, it turns out that inter-rater reliability may pose a challenge. Palo Alto's infrastructure will continue to evolve and, hopefully, improve just as the needs, desires and opinions of our residents will inevitably change. Getting a solid handle on the situation is a good start and there will be some clear choices in the immediate future. As we looked back deep into the creation of Palo Alto's existing infrastructure, it is exciting to consider what we can create in the future.

Mark Michael, member of the IBRC, community center resident


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Posted by Waste energy
a resident of Triple El
on Dec 27, 2011 at 10:32 am

The important thing is that the electric vehicle charging stations that we should spend plenty of money on be aesthtically pleasing


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2011 at 10:44 am

I had to look up inter-rater reliability. This should be particularly interesting in Palo Alto.

Web Link
In statistics, inter-rater reliability, inter-rater agreement, or concordance is the degree of agreement among raters. It gives a score of how much homogeneity, or consensus, there is in the ratings given by judges


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Posted by Nancy
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2011 at 10:59 am

"followed by a study session with the City Council."

Mark,

In your study session was the word "priority" ever defined?


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Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2011 at 11:22 am

No new taxes to bail out the city leaders for poor management of public dollars. What did they think would happen when they spent millions on non-essential, niche projects. I can't believe that while decrying a budget deficit and financial hardship, they somehow find money to upgrade parks, build new playgrounds, erect bike bridges, redesign the golf course, support the Children's Theater, and the list goes on. Enough already. The priority is infrastructure and public safety, period.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 27, 2011 at 11:37 am

And now another questionable project in the planning stage----the re-doing of Rinconada Park!!! I've lived near it for years. Nothing wrong with it. This should be at the bottom of the 2nd or 3rd list, if then, along with another bridge over 101. Add that on to Arastradero Road ( a mess) and California Avenue (the more the city does, the worse it gets). Fix the streets - Waverley, Lytton, High, ---and all streets that need fixin' north of the Oregon Expressway. Fix the burned out light bulbs along city streets.


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Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 27, 2011 at 11:38 am

New SALES taxes? What a laugh! Traffic in and around Town & Country is such a disaster I routinely drive to the Menlo Park Trader Joe's. And how about all those empty stores on University Avenue? And now they want to gridlock California Ave!

Someone on the City Council said we need an auto mall! Obviously that person never drove El Camino in Menlo Park to see all the empty dealerships. He was the same person who couldn't understand why Cal Ave merchants would oppose the plan to single-lane Cal Ave.

Get out of the office and go look around.


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Posted by Palo-Alto-A-City-Behind-The-Times
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:10 pm

> Does Palo Alto depreciate its physical assets?"

This may not be quite the right question to ask. Why it is true that all assets depreciate over time, the term “depreciate” is probably better understood via-vis private sector tax thinking, rather than in the public sector, since public sector assets are not taxed.

A better question might be: “how are public assets managed, so that the P/W Department can actually demonstrate that it is time to refurbish, or replace, a given asset? One way would be to create an asset management system which is computer-based, providing tracking identification numbers, original date of construction, current project manager, original cost of construction, estimated end-of-life, current serviceability of the item, details about the item/structure that are needed to understand serviceability status, pictures of the item/structure, blue prints, or links to off-line storage of blue prints, and so on. With such a system, then the P/W Director could draw up a yearly status report for all of the City’s assets.

Such a system would preferably be on a single database manager, but could link into other databases via the City’s Intra/InterNet.

This issue of “depreciation” then would be answered in terms of the number of items/structures that are within N-years of needing some sort of capital investment, and how much that capital costs would be at that time, given current inflation estimates.

The idea that residents should have to spend 18 months, screwing around in meetings to come up with what the computer could generate in an hour or ttwo, makes no sense at all. This is why Palo Alto desperately needed someone from the “outside” who had some idea what information technology could do for a city with the assets that Palo Alto does.


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Posted by Dictated Priorities
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Thank you, pat, for your "priorities". We'll get back to you as soon as you are crowned non-resident Czarina of Palo Alto.


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Posted by Givem-Hell-Pat!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2011 at 1:02 pm

> non-resident Czarina of Palo Alto.

Non-resident property owners have as much right to this discussion as residents. In fact, renters who are not responsible for any direct property tax liabilities, or who stand to see their property values decline if bad government decisions are effected .. have every right to their opinions, their visions of the future, and their Prop.218 Property-based votes.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I eagerly await your list of priorities, Dictated. BTW, it’s Empress, not Czarina.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Why it is true that all assets depreciate over time, the term “depreciate” is probably better understood via-vis private sector tax thinking, rather than in the public sector"

Wrong - The Menlo Park Fire District depreciates its capital assets and then annually funds reserves to replace those assets. This is responsible management and has nothing to do with public vs private sector. Why doesn't the City of Palo Alto do the same?


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Posted by local gurl
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Bye bye Palo Alto . . . you insist on taxing taxing taxing . . . can't afford to shop here anymore.


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Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Infrastructure and efficient and effective public safety are the first priorities.

That is simple formula for financial responsibility.

Has that been reflected in the actions taken by our previous leaders? Of course not.

Each budget year the request for a list of City services and their costs has gone unheeded. Of course, that kind of list would force an honesty on the budget and offer a tool for community input.

That's a problem for leaders who mouth the word "Transparency", but follow the interest of the narrow interests that have backed their election.

This is really elementary financial management principles that our leaders choose to ignore. Instead of infrastructure first, year after year our budget process adds up pet projects and then whatever is left over may get applied to infrustructure reserves. Basically our leaders have declared, "Who cares if our roof has a hole in it, the storm is not coming until next year and it will be someone else's problem."

By the way, this need has been voiced by countless citizen observers for years. See this 2007 buget discussion as an example, but there is never a prize given for being able to say "I told you so."

Web Link

It is not too late to reform our City's practices and declare Infrastructure first!

We have been ignoring the most basic of financial management practices. Our great City is no larger or complex than a small corporation. Let's take the glamour out of political office and get some real workers in there to do the work.

Offered with respect.

Tim Gray (former Council Candidate)


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Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Single purpose special districts are able to create funds dedicated for the replacement of depreciable assets.

General purpose governments will always be faced with changing priorities over time that cause similar reserve funds to be transferred to some other government function.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2011 at 2:24 pm

“General purpose governments will always be faced with changing priorities over time that cause similar reserve funds to be transferred to some other government function.”

Why? Seems like the basic priorities should be unchanging and should be first to be funded.

Tim, how do we “take the glamour out of political office and get some real workers in there” until you get into office? I sure wish you had won in the last election.


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Posted by charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm

There isn't any trend of how the city news coming out these days.. It's a myth of how these folks manage the city funds/budget... Residences/Businesses get all the taxes, bonds, and more taxes.
Could you tell us about the pay raises and the bonuses for the city employees next?


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Tim Gray, are you planning to stand for election again? I hope so.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 27, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"General purpose governments will always be faced with changing priorities over time that cause similar reserve funds to be transferred to some other government function."

Taking money from a dedicated reserve intended for the replacement of a depreciated asset is simply bad management and deceptive leadership.

Cities in California can certainly establish and, with good leadership, maintain reserve funds for a particular purposes. The only impediments to establishing such reserves are a lack of courage and /or discipline.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The city spends its money the way they do because they can. We need to take away the can. A municipal service district cannot follow the Blue Sky. The voters of Palo Alto cannot handle the freedom of cityhood.


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Posted by Only Need Five
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm

If only five of know-it-alls on this thread got elected to the City Council to form a majority on that body, all problems in Palo Alto would soon disappear!


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Posted by Ralph Britton
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 28, 2011 at 10:23 am

I am a member of the IBRC and am replying to questions posed by Peter Carpenter.

Palo Alto does maintain an infrastructure reserve account and this at one time had $38 Million in it. However there has been little discipline in the past and the reserve has been depleted without have been significantly applied to infrastructure needs. Our commission felt that, while a small reserve is necessary to handle variations in required spending, the maintenance and CIP budgets should be set to adequately fund the needs on a continuing current basis. Having a large reserve without specific defined projects is simply an invitation to the kind of raiding that has been responsible for some the current state of things. At the moment we have too much of a backlog to work off to worry much about future reserves.

I am not prepared to say what Palo Alto has done in the past to account for (depreciate assets) the physical deterioration of assets over time. What I can say is that there now exists a detailed inventory of assets with lifetime maintenance and replacement engineering cost estimates. The nature of this is detailed in the report and the entire inventory itself in referenced by its URL, as it is too large to be cost effective to publish. Our commission has recommended the implementation of a database management system to effectively report the condition of and provide for regular updating of the status of these assets. This tool will also show projectied funding relative to needs. Staff has already begun work to implement such a system and it will prove to be a very important management and budgeting tool.

Too many of the respondents have spent space castigating the city for past errors which the commission has already taken into account and recommended corrective action. Comments would have more meaning if the authors would take the time to read the report with some measure of the care that went into producing it.

Many who have railed against taxes would nevertheless expect their pavement to be first class and have prompt response to emergencies. Regardless of whether or not funds have been well spent in the past, the fact remains that to maintain and modernize our infrastructure will take money, most of which can only come from taxpayers. Simply declaring an objection to further taxation will not magically cause government to become more efficient and thus accomplish all the things desired with existing resources. If you are unwilling to pay for these things, be prepared to accept that some services will simply not be available, particularly in response to a major earthquake or other disaster.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 28, 2011 at 10:48 am

Thank you for your comments, Ralph.

I repeat what others have said regarding giving more money (through taxes) to the city. It has been spent unwisely in the past and we have no assurances that will change.

Steven Levy wrote, “Our mission was to develop funding options that did not involve taking money from other city priorities. Council and residents may choose to reallocate current funding but this commission’s scope and mission was to fully fund the needs we identified without reviewing or commenting on other city priorities and services.”

This put a strangle hold on the commission and set us up for more taxes and/or more bonds.

“Simply declaring an objection to further taxation will not magically cause government to become more efficient and thus accomplish all the things desired with existing resources.”
The problem is with “all the things desired.” If we give the city more money, it will continue to desire more and more and spend more and more.

The answer is to cut some of the non-essentials so there is enough money to fund the priorities, e.g., infrastructure.

As for the database, one can only wonder why this wasn't implemented years ago. No doubt the cost will be astronomical, given what we've seen in the past with the SAP system.


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Posted by Glass Half Full
a resident of another community
on Dec 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Response of pat and the rest of "the glass half empty" brigade on this board:

Palo Alto has had no inventory of infrastructure assets, my that's terrible!

If Palo Alto now has an inventory of infrastructure assets, my that was too expensive to create!

The "logic" of negativity!


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Posted by Which glass?
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Dec 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm

The point is, we see prima facie evidence that the city has been mismanaged for decades.

We have paid a ton for the people mismanaging, so that is not the problem.

The problem is apparently the structure of city leadership.

The optimistic view is that we can somehow change that and make it better.

Yes, an inventory of infrastructure assets is a good thing showing that the city government is not 100% brain dead. And, the huge amount of effort in compiling an inventory of infrastructure is notable, as a good thing or a bad thing.

While details may not have been known by all, it was well known that we have such a backlog. Things like worldwide trips related to worldwide global warming are unconscionable under these circumstances.
These folk act like the money is theirs to squander.

One aspect of the problem is that the city government spends more money than it has no matter what the priorities are, and it predictably spends the money on low priority items to help it justify more money. (Low priority for the people who pay for it).

This glass is not half full or half empty; it's poisoned.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 28, 2011 at 7:23 pm

The raising of sales tax rate would bring only a small amount. The answer is not to raise sales tax and penalize shoppers and businesses in Palo Alto, but rather to bring more sales tax generating business to Palo Alto. The commission should have looked at ways to improve the ability and attractiveness of doing business in palo alto. Why does everyone in palo alto have to go to mountain view to shop?


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2011 at 8:19 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

So, Pat, the only real function of the committee was to justify new taxes. Why not, for a start, put a $100,000/year cap on salaries? You can live well on $100,000. This would bring about the departure of all the visionaries leaving only worker bees.


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Posted by Empty Offices
a resident of another community
on Dec 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

The result of Walter_E_Wallis' suggestion of a $100,000 City salary cap would be the hollowing out of the City Manager's office suite. The 7th Floor of City Hall would become a ghost town. As empty as a Las Vegas subdivision after the subprime mortgage meltdown. After the exodus of the high priced visionaries, the City could then lease out the 7th fllor to a revenue-generating, tax-paying business.


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Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 29, 2011 at 11:11 am

Since this article was published, an Infrastructure Oversight Committee has been proposed.

Great thought, as this could be a tool to make financial discipline visible and enforce an Infrastructure First management culture so that we can stop the nonsense of borrowing from our future. Palo Alto City Government has an addiction and a solid "intervention" is needed!

Whatever Oversight Committee is established must be populated by a broad sector of the community -- yes, that means historical pattern of appointing a bunch of insiders that simply attempt to justify a predetermined desired conclusion.

This really is about finding a way to enforce a stewardship of a public trust, and knowing that the only audience that we must answer to is the residents of the year 2020 and beyond. Our loyalty has to be our future, and residents cannot accept anything less.

With 20/20 hindsight, it is clear that the leadership of the past 20 years has Failed. I remain optimistic that we can usher in an era of wiser and principled financial management that really serves our present and future.

Timothy Gray email: Timothygray@sbcglobal.net


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Posted by Cresecent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2011 at 12:21 pm

If we could agree to dispense with the sarcasm and the lobbing of grenades and focus on the solution - this forum should be most helpful in developing several good ideas towards finding a way out of this mess.

What I would want to avoid is a California state budget situation which is hampered by propositions that demand specific spending/saving numbers and disallow any flexibility from year to year.

At the same time, I would like to see the various departments establish a "repair and replacement" fund based upon an appropriate percentage that will handle each year's needs plus a little extra for unforeseen expenditures due to unplanned failures and the like.

We also have two related issues that need addressing moving forward - and perhaps this needs some sort of legislative act for a cast iron framework. Those issues are:
- overall spending beyond revenues
- taking money from other departments' reserve/repair funds and not paying it back

Spending beyond revenues: Yes, we can demand a balanced budget referendum. And we should strive for this - but to expect it to happen in 2012, cold turkey, is unrealistic. I would suggest developing a transition plan with a target of no more than 5-years.

This would allow plenty of time to develop alternative funding models (taxes, donations or self-reliance/pay-as-you-go) for all of the non-essential, but valued by some/many, programs - e.g., children's theater, etc. - where we can all agree that the program has a social or community benefit, but the investment per capita is out of alignment with actual city-citizen participation.

Further, the plan would allow the various essential city services/departments to move towards a budget model that requires that they plan for and act upon repair/replacement on an annual basis.

Certainly the tide will go back and forth regarding what people's opinions and/or needs towards funding of non-essential services and programs. That can be managed on an annual basis - but the key here is to develop a city budget with an overall percentage cap on such services. One year the zoo may get $10, then the next year $20 and then the next $5. And, presumably there would be some give and take with other services. But the overall spend on non-essential services should be held in check.

Lastly, the city needs to return to funding a surplus/rainy day fund. We've been running negative for too long.

As a side note, I would also suggest that it is time that we demand that the US & State Governments take away the sales tax exemption for Internet businesses. That will assist in developing increased tax revenues for all concerned…and it does help to level the playing field for our local businesses. And it may make sense to tax "services" as well.

As for the practice of taking funds from other departments' reserves (i.e., public works repair/replacement), this needs to stop unless we can develop a hard & fast repayment requirement. We will have years when budgets and/or plans are derailed - yet the bills have to be paid...so I see no problem with "borrowing". However, our fair city has borrowed too many times/years and never repaid the funds. This must change.

I'm not sure what the repayment terms should be, but certainly a payback rule can be implemented - 1 year, 2 years - something like that.

Our Federal Government has been borrowing from the Social Security fund for years - never paid it back. And we all know what kind of mess that is in! Are we in the relatively same level of mess with public works budgets? I don't know - but let's affect change now and not let it get worse.

I think if we can work towards implementing these two essential paradigm shifts, we can then work out the details.

We can spend more time pointing fingers and criticizing all of the dolts who have created our problems. Or we can stop with our complaints and turn our energies towards changing the way this city does its business. It won't be easy and it certainly will not be business as usual. But the time is now, not later...


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 29, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Timothy Gray - I hope you will stand again for City council this year.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Dec 29, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"We will have years when budgets and/or plans are derailed - yet the bills have to be paid...so I see no problem with "borrowing"


Properly established reserves should never be a source for paying bills for 'other' things. If the project to be paid for by those reserves are delayed then the funds should be kept in the reserve until needed - and hopefully earning interest. To allow those funds to be used to pay 'other' bills simply encourages unbudgeted and unfunded expenditures.


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Posted by Nancy
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Ralph, I will ask you the same question I asked Mark Michael:

In your study session (with city council) was the word "priority" ever defined?

Note: I do not think Mark provided an answer.


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Posted by Cresecent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 29, 2011 at 1:05 pm

To be more exact - I'm speaking of extra-ordinary circumstances. For example, a gas line blowing up or some other unplanned disaster.


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Posted by JC
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 30, 2011 at 6:54 am

we're screwed.......out of control city union employee compensation and art commissions spending on sheet metal scraps. Bye-bye streets, parks and home values.............


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

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