Voters unlikely to fund bond for police HQ

Public survey for Palo Alto infrastructure improvements finds hotel tax as strong option

A bond to fund a new public-safety building in Palo Alto would probably fail if it were put on the November 2014 ballot, according to a survey conducted by a city contractor.

As next year's election approaches and Palo Alto looks for ways to fund its myriad infrastructure problems, a new public-safety building stands out as one of the city's most sorely needed improvements.

It's not just the fact that the current police headquarters, attached to City Hall, is seismically unsound and unable to house the level of service the department aims to provide. Adding urgency to the push for a funding solution is an offer by San Francisco Developer Jay Paul Co. to build a new $49.3 million public-safety building at 3045 Park Blvd. as part of the approval of a new, adjacent office complex.

The Jay Paul proposal -- for a 311,000-square-foot commercial development at 395 Page Mill Road -- has been widely criticized by residents for its potential parking and traffic problems. The zoning it requires -- planned community, which extracts "public benefits" in exchange for permission to exceed zoning rules -- has been widely denounced since the November defeat of Measure D, a planned-community proposal to build senior housing and 12 single-family homes on Maybell Avenue.

The city's public-opinion polling firm, Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (FM3), surveyed 600 residents by phone and asked about their likelihood to vote for five funding initiatives to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The residents considered a 2 to 3 percent increase in the city's tax on hotels (known as transient-occupancy tax); a one-eighth or one-quarter percent increase in sales tax; a $66 million general-obligation bond for transportation projects; a $71 million general-obligation bond for public-safety improvements; and the establishment of a community facilities district (CFD) to fund parking improvements.

The hotel tax emerged as the clear frontrunner, with 65 to 79 percent of likely voters approving of it, depending on the context in which the question was asked.

But the public-safety general-obligation bond would fall short of the two-thirds majority it would need to pass, with 55 to 65 percent of residents approving, the surveying firm found. Support for the idea reaches two-thirds when the amount of the bond is reduced to $51 million, but support for it is still iffy, with just one in five voters "definitely" in favor of it.

A sales tax increase, which requires only a simple majority to pass, seemed viable, as did a general-obligation bond for transportation.

The community-facilities district to fund parking improvements was the lowest performer in the survey, with only 42 percent of residents willing to pay for the $24 per household indicated in the survey.

While three of the options were viable, FM3 recommended not trying to place more than one of the items on the ballot, unless one of them was the transient-occupancy tax. That tax, which collects money from visitors and not residents, enjoyed enough support that FM3 was confident it would pass on its own. Other measures could be dragged down if placed on the ballot together, however.

The report was brought to the City Council Monday night, but its complexity, coupled with a long list of other issues on the agenda, prompted the council to refer it to the council's finance committee for a recommendation.


Like this comment
Posted by Use our surplus
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:34 am

Since the city's revenue is so good, instead of wasting the surplus money, perhaps it could try financing a public safety building without using a bond? All we have to do is not waste city surpluses on pay raises. A few good years of surpluses saved up would go a long way toward paying for the costs. Seems obvious to me.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:51 am

Use our surplus,

A bond is not a tax. It is a method for paying for a capital improvement up front. Otherwise you would have to put money in a savings account for 30 years before you could build anything.

A tax is different than a bond.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

> A tax is different than a bond.

Well, yes, that's true. But when a bond is retired via the revenues of a tax, it's hard to see them as any different from each other.

Like this comment
Posted by I support a bond
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:44 am

So "Use our surplus", did you pay cash for your house? No. If you are like most of the rest of us, you took out a MORTGAGE because you couldn't afford to pay the full cost of this size capital investment up front. A bond measure is the standard way most cities (and governments at every level around the world) fund major capital investment. City revenues are not adequate to pay for this kind of expenditure and do the other important work that the city budget must fund, just like your income is not adequate to buy a house without a loan and meet your other expenses. Read the city budget.

Hotel taxes should be very carefully considered. I took the ridiculous survey. They offered no information about how Palo Alto hotels currently compare in tax levels and cost to surrounding communities. Without that information, I'd be an idiot to support the tax.

If you don't want City Hall to cut a deal with Jay Paul, then we HAVE to identify some realistic, large funding source for this major project.

Our current public safety building is NOT SEISMICALLY SOUND. In earthquake-prone California that is a significant problem that must be solved. Further, the police station is inadequate to serve a community this size. I recommend people tour it. I have. What I saw worried me.

Weekly, please do a tour of the facility and do a major expose on its problems--with photos. We are long overdue with a solution to this problem. this has been fully studied and reported by a Blue Ribbon committee (years ago now, which may be why so few people understand the problem) You can help by educating the community about what this means for their safety--both day-to-day and during a major earthquake. This is an urgent and important community safety NEED that most people do not understand. I hope our best local paper will inform the public about this pressing problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:57 am

Someone on a previous thread recommended much smaller, distributed stations around town. Maybe we could start funding those instead of a giant project all at once, or until we could fund it? If there is a disaster, the police are there around town, and it lessens the chance of responders being taken out.

Also, what about starting or increasing real estate transfer taxes?

I wonder if this firm is the same one that found people preferring Measure D two to one. Do you think they asked how people's feelings toward approving something might change if the Council stopped trying so hard to work for developers?

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm

> City revenues are not adequate to pay for this kind of
> expenditure and do the other important work that the
> city budget must fund

This is story that City governments have promoted over the years. When the City budget (here in PA) was in the $50M to $75M, there really wasn’t a lot of money in the budget to fund grandiose projects—like massive police stations, funding for an airport, or all of the projects that seem to pop up almost weekly.

But with expenditure levels in the $150+M, there is money to tuck away for paying for capital expenditures. For instance, if the City were to reduce its spending by a mere 5%, then this generates $7.5M in “new” revenue. Over five years, this comes to $37.5M and over ten years—a sum of $75M could be made available from the revenues of the General Fund. And if the City were to reduce its spending by 10% a year—then these numbers are doubled.

Palo Alto has squandered untold dollars over the years. The pass-thru from the Utility over the past hundred years is quite large. Yet, we have virtually nothing to show for it other than a over-paid, and under-performing work force.

This City Manager has hired an incredible number of “executives” that produce what? Can anyone point to any real accomplishments for the 1) Emergency Services Manage, 2) Public Relations Officer, 3) the soon-to-be-hired “Sustainability” Officer, 4) the Business Development Manager?

The dollars that could go into Reserve Funds to pay for infrastructure are paying the salaries and benefits of these employees. It’s really hard to find anything “critical” in any of these folks job descriptions.

Rather than increase taxes and fees, it would be better to downsize by 5%, with a goal of 10% or even 15% of the unneeded staff—putting that money in infrastructure instead. Oh, and the City could sell some of its assets instead of sitting on them.

Like this comment
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 11, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Referring it to the Finance Committee is a Cop Out.

Now 4 council members analyze it and it gets Rubber Stamped by the Entire Council.

Why don't we just have 4 elected Council Members with a popularly elected Mayor with a staggered term?

Or don't we want Accountbility?

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Why can't we rebuild a new public safety building at the same site as the current one? Or as was suggested, at the sites of the fire stations that are being rebuilt. And are do we really need all the space in City Hall, could administrative portions of public safety be housed there instead?

Like this comment
Posted by Old Man
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Let us begin with the $5.8M loan refund, and I assume it will take at least 3 years to complete the new facility using COMPETENT contractor and the surplus is more than adaquate for the ballance,

If more funding is required, please, reduce Mr Keens's budget and reduce his staff significantly.

Like this comment
Posted by Cheez
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

If the city has so much surplus money from tax revenues already, why not use that to build a new police headquarters. We are overtaxed already just to live here.

The city needs to dismount its high horse and get things done on its own. They have enough resources, so like Nike says, Just Do It.

Like this comment
Posted by Chutzpah
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2013 at 4:21 pm

There's a simple 7 letter word that explains why people won't vote for a public safety building now. The word is "LIBRARY" - the City screwed up massively with the construction on that project. Folks naturally expect the same thing is likely to happen again. They are probably right. The Library at Mitchell Park is still not complete.
And how about it's design ! - so incredibly god-awful ugly, among the ugliest of any structure on the peninsula. It will live 'in infamy,' as an embarrassment to Palo Alto and a monument to the tastelessness of the project planners.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Nobody in town trusts the City Council with money. @Wayne Martin's reasons are right, not to mention the Maybell fiasco and special election. What a mess.

Isn't there still a proposed pay raise for 100-200 city management staff coming back up? Especially now that Menlo Park just did one?

Of course @Chris may have the answer: I still have a credit card, how can I be broke?

Like this comment
Posted by bignose
a resident of University South
on Dec 11, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Given that the current building shared with city hall is unsound and requires the police to move out, doesn't that mean that it's unsound for the rest of the residents? Will moving the police out allow space for a seismic retrofit or do we need to level it? The reporting is lacking.

What are the requirements for the police department?

Like this comment
Posted by Funding
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Nobody wants another library fiasco. So, we should probably not try to build anything. We simply lack the competence to design something buildable.

But, that's probably not going to stop us - the incompetent have the highest view of their own (in)ability.

So let's combine our two biggest problems: pc zoning and building. In fact, they can pay for the building by assessing a one time fee for pc zoning equal to 100% of the land value. That will slow down pc zoning, and slowly raise funds for police station.

That will give us a few years to train the idiots in building management, so we can slow the rate of stupidity in our city's waste of money on poorly-thought out construction.

(yes, I proudly voted against the library bond. It was an over bloated boondoggle from day one. How many others will admit it was a stupid waste?)

HSR, Library... We should just stop elections in this town, as voters we don't know what we are doing.

Like this comment
Posted by getoveritfolks
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 11, 2013 at 11:10 pm

I agree with "I support a bond". We need to build a new public safety building (or whatever you want to call it) NOW. And we ought to pay for it ourselves, instead of selling out the Master Plan by giving concessions to developers. (I was also called for the survey).

And, No, "Palo Alto Resident", we cannot build it at the same location. There is not enough space there, and where would it be while it was torn down and being built?

I doubt "Wayne Martin's" numbers, but even if they were true then we should definitely pass the bond and start construction ASAP. Pay the bond off with the money Wayne says we could save *as we save it*. But don't wait until we have it all first.

And to "Chutzpah", you sure have it! I find the new library design pleasing and exciting. Your use of 'in infamy' is really over the top.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:05 am

> I doubt "Wayne Martin's" numbers,

Why do you doubt my numbers?

Like this comment
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:55 am

The Palo Alto police need a new facility. That is an important goal for public safety. Public safety -- how much is it worth?

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I have been periodically following this topic of building a new police station since I moved here and I have to ask: why in this very wealthy, well funded city, have city officials been unable to make this happen by now?
Meantime, I have noted weird proposals (billboard), extra expenditures (costly multi-libraries scheme with cost and time overruns) and oddball, costly hiring of specialty "managers" and "officials" in fields such as PR and "sustainability."
Am I not correct that most if not all SF Bay Area cities have seismically safe, reasonably modern police stations? It doesn't seem rocket science, except PA city government seems SO excessive, consultant-and-process-laden, and SO ultra-costly that it is not possible to accomplish reasonable and meaningful projects such as this police HQ! And yes, I know land is expensive here, but that is NO excuse.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Don't we already have a mobile emergency operations center that can survive a nuclear attack or a 20 minute City Council sermon by Marc Berman?

Do supporters seriously believe a $57 million police station in Palo Alto will actually cost $57 million? Clearly price is a major issue. But, the idea keeps getting pitched again and again, as if it's the only possible solution for addressing the problems with the current facility. Couldn't the City partner with Mountain View and Los Altos to come to workable plan?

It's a ~45,000 square feet for $57 million. That's well over $1000/sq ft to store lost bicycles and shopping carts as well as an auditorium for those big public service announcements in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. You know we're going to three quarters into building the thing once everybody suddenly realizes we forgot to plan for the purchase of doors and windows.

Like this comment
Posted by Duh
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 12, 2013 at 7:29 pm

The cost quoted is just too high. The city has enough money to fund this without taxpayer involvement.

Like this comment
Posted by Funding
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:47 pm

A sure sign that this city does not know what it is doing. $57Mil sounds like the library all over again. Similar size, similar outrageous cost. Probably similar stupid design process.

Here is a suggestion: throw out this plan, and start over targeting a simple-to-build structure utilizing standard components, standard construction techniques, and target average $/sqft construction costs for commercial construction.

When the bill comes in at $15 you are in the right range.

A quick search on the web shows police stations for a city this size range from $12m -$18M.

Some extravagant plans up to 70000sqft hit $28m.

But that would be excessive.

I suggest a do- over on the plans: this time with a cost TARGET before design.

Like this comment
Posted by resident2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:11 pm


"Don't we already have a mobile emergency operations center that can survive a nuclear attack or a 20 minute City Council sermon by Marc Berman?"

Best quote all week.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Fu Lam Mum shutters temporarily in Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 6 comments | 3,206 views

How Does Silicon Valley’s Culture Affect Your Marriage?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 660 views


Best Of Palo Alto ballot is here

It's time to decide what local business is worthy of the title "Best Of Palo Alto" — and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 29th. Stay tuned for the results in the July 21st issue of the Palo Alto Weekly.