A proposal to relocate some of the services at the sprawling Municipal Services Center on East Bayshore Road will be the subject of a $250,000 study staff recommends undertaking next year. City officials are backing off, however, from a prior proposal to move the nearby Animal Services Center.
The study was part of a list of appropriations that the City Council was set to carry over from fiscal year 2014 to 2015. The study was pulled off the list, however, after Councilwoman Karen Holman signaled her opposition and her colleagues agreed that the item warrants more discussion. The other budget requests were approved on the "consent calendar" without discussion.
The study of Municipal Services Center didn't come up during the Sept. 16 meeting, when the council's Finance Committee voted 3-0, with Holman absent, to approve the list of appropriations. On Monday, before the council was set to approve its consent calendar items, Holman said she will be voting against the appropriations request because of the inclusion of the study.
According to the budget request the study will consider "options for relocating City functions, personnel, and equipment currently operating out of the Municipal Services Center (MSC) and Animal Services Center (ASC), and then repurposing the sites to produce longterm economic benefits for the city."
The idea is far from new. Two years ago, when the city was on the verge of closing its animal shelter, officials were considering bringing in an auto dealership to set up shop at the shelter's site next to Highway 101. At the same time, the Municipal Services Center has been identified as a seismically vulnerable complex in 2010 by a council-appointed infrastructure committee. The committee recommended considering land swaps with auto dealerships so as to transfer the center's functions from the east side of the highway to the west.
The sprawling complex currently includes various Utilities and Public Works department functions, along with some administrative offices and the bulk of the city's vehicle fleet.
In the last two years, as the city's economy has recovered, the idea of closing the shelter has largely faded from public discussions. In fact, staff is currently considering substantially improving the local animal shelter in partnership with the Palo Alto Humane Society.
Given the changing landscape, Holman said she opposed going along with the study of relocating the city's operations.
"The consideration of moving those facilities and locating those that will bring revenues to city, such as auto dealerships, has been at the front of discussion for a few years," Holman said Monday, noting that it has recently receded into the background. "When those projects came forward before, it seemed like it really was not a financial advantage to the city."
Councilman Greg Schmid agreed also, saying he plans to vote against the list of appropriations because the study should not be approved on consent with the other budget items.
"It is appropriate to have a public discussion of this substantial item," Schmid said.
After Holman and Schmid expressed their concerns, Councilman Greg Scharff proposed removing the study from the appropriations list and approving the remaining items, which include library books, Fire Department camera equipment and more than $250,000 for outreach in connection with the update of the city's Comprehensive Plan. The council agreed to approve the list, except for the Municipal Services Center study. That item will now be discussed at a future meeting.
Public Works Director Mike Sartor told the Weekly Tuesday that even though the proposal to relocate the animal shelter remains in the scope of the study that the council was set to approve Monday, it is no longer something that the city is considering.
The wording in the staff's description of the budget has remained unchanged since the citizen committee first recommended performing the study, Sartor said, even though the circumstances around the animal shelter have changed substantially.
Based on the council's conversation Monday, staff will return to the council to consider the new scope, which is not expected to include the relocation of animal services, Sartor said.