Palo Alto should overhaul its system for managing infrastructure and appoint a new citizens commission to oversee the complex and critical process, a specially appointed panel is recommending in a new report.
The Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, which was appointed last year to tally the city's infrastructure backlog, released a report last week that recommends a broad range of initiatives, including appointing a public commission as a way to make sure the city keeps up with its capital needs. Though much of the report focuses on ways to pay for the city's maintenance costs -- including a higher sales tax, a bond measure and termination of the city's Cubberley Community Center lease with the Palo Alto Unified School District -- the commission also proposes that the city overhaul its existing system for managing infrastructure.
The report is also the first major step toward bringing a bond measure to the city voters next year. In a statement, City Manager James Keene called the report "the beginning of a process that will likely lead to funding measures placed on the November 2012 ballot."
But while funding is a major focus of the report, the commission also recommends a new structure for managing its capital needs. Its proposals include a comprehensive "Infrastructure Management System" to keep track of all ongoing projects and a public commission that would report to the City Council twice a year on infrastructure.
"Palo Alto has traditionally employed citizen commissions to assure ongoing public attention to areas of particular importance," the report states. "Because our infrastructure provides the physical underpinnings for the delivery of all City services, it merits the oversight of a public commission."
The blue-ribbon commission, chaired by Ray Bacchetti and Le Levy, found that the city currently has no comprehensive system for managing infrastructure. The responsibility for maintenance, the report notes, has traditionally been divided among various departments, including Public Works, Community Services and Administrative Services. The report points out that defining a system for infrastructure management "was not part of the Commission's original charge, but we quickly saw it was the foundation on which all else would be built."
"Incomplete and fragmentary data and dispersal of authority have affected the City's ability to assess and prioritize overall needs, to develop strategies for longer-term maintenance and replacement, and to prepare for the future," the report states. "It is imperative that the City Council and City staff be well informed about the overall state of the City's infrastructure and consequences of budgeting actions and delays."
The new database and the new public commission are two proposals in a long list of measures that the report recommends to ensure that the city's streets, parks, sidewalks and facilities are kept in decent shape. The group has also recommended devoting 23 percent of the General Fund every year to capital needs (up from the current level of 19 percent) and have the City Auditor's Office regularly audit the city's infrastructure maintenance.
The report estimates that there are about 1,300 infrastructure projects currently in the works, from street maintenance to upkeep of city facilities. The report also urged the city to pursue a bond to pay for a new police headquarters and to replace two outdated fire stations.
The City Council is scheduled to consider the commission's recommendations on Jan. 17. On Thursday (Dec. 22), after the report was released, City Manager James Keene praised the group's efforts. The commission has held more than 300 meetings since the council appointed it in October 2010.
"City Infrastructure is not typically an enthralling subject, but the streets, parks, buildings and bridges that shape and support our city are indispensable to our quality of life," Keene said in a statement. "The Commission has performed an extensive review of the conditions of our built environment in the city and laid a foundation for the City Council's decisions on how to fund, repair and reinvest in Palo Alto."