News

Salary hikes approved for Palo Alto council members

City Council agrees to give members first raise in more than 15 years, effective 2017

In the latest sign of the city's growing economic fortunes, the Palo Alto City Council agreed on Tuesday night to raise the salaries of council members for the first time in more than 15 years.

By a 6-3 vote, with Greg Scharff, Tom DuBois and Eric Filseth dissenting, the council agreed to raise the monthly stipend of its members from $600 to $1,000. The vote in favor of the salary raise came after several council members stressed the need to increase the pool of candidates seeking council seats. Increasing the stipends, the thinking goes, would help candidates who may not be affluent and who may need to pay for child care so that they can devote themselves to their council duties.

"I'm worried that now the public believes that in order to serve on the council you need to be retired, wealthy, self-employed or single," said Councilwoman Liz Kniss, the council's most fervent champion of the increase ("Or stupid," Councilman Marc Berman added as an aside).

Kniss, who raised the issue in a 2013 memo she co-authored with former council members Nancy Shepherd and Gail Price, framed council salaries as a gender issue. Kniss said that before the last council election, she had tried to find a woman who was willing to run for office and each said that she cannot spend the amount of time it would take to serve. Getting a babysitter in Palo Alto costs $20 to $25 an hour, she said, and many mothers said joining the council would be too costly a proposition.

Kniss also said she is troubled by the fact that a gender that makes up half the world's population has only two representatives on the current council (she and Mayor Karen Holman). The council had four female members last year, though that number dropped to two after Nancy Shepherd lost her bid for a second term and Gail Price opted not to run again. Lydia Kou, the only other female candidate in last year's 12-candidate race, was barely edged out for the fifth open seat by Cory Wolbach.

"The number of women shrinking in public office on the Peninsula is of such alarm that there are two or three organizations that are now addressing it," Kniss said. "I know it's very difficult for one to give oneself a raise. It's the kind of thing we stay away from like a hot flame, and yet I'd urge you to think about this carefully tonight before you vote."

Some of her colleagues strongly disputed the idea that the 66 percent raise has anything to do with gender equality. They agreed, however, that it would make it easier for some of the less affluent members of the community to seek council seats.

Councilman Pat Burt, who voted to support the raise, called the move "a modest step to democratize further City Council participation."

"It's not a big step but it moves in that direction," Burt said.

He also predicted that the move will have "virtually no impact on gender, particularly on the council."

"It's not about promoting gender participation or greater gender equality, which I think is something we should do," Burt said. "I just don't think this has diddly to do with it."

The best thing to do for those who want to see a greater female presence on the council is to "support female candidates when they run."

Berman, like Burt, said he didn't have particularly strong feelings about the salary hikes but went along with the majority. While Councilman Greg Scharff warned that this would send the wrong message to the labor unions who are also seeking salary increases, Berman said that raising council salary "to minimum wage" makes sense. He characterized the move as a small step in the right direction.

"If any labor group says they want to get a minimum wage like the City Council, I'll say, 'Done. Sign on the dotted line,'" Berman said.

The council vote came three months after Mountain View adopted a similar increase for its council members. But while Mountain View left the decision to the voters, Palo Alto achieved the change through a council ordinance. Council members are allowed by law to increase their salaries by 5 percent for every year since their last salary increase. Because the council's last salary bump came in May 2001, members could have approved an increase of up to 75 percent. The salary increase will take effect in January 2017.

Even with the change, Palo Alto remains in the middle of the regional pack when it comes to council salaries. At the higher end of the scale are cities like Sunnyvale, where a council member earns $2,194 a month, and Daly City, where the monthly stipend is $1,414. At the lower end are Saratoga ($250 a month), Los Gatos ($150 a month) and Monte Sereno (no salaries at all).

Scharff maintained that the council's salary is symbolic and that raising it so significantly just because the economy is improving will make it hard for the council to have the "moral high ground" when employees likewise request raises.

"Now that we're in the up years, we get a lot of pressure to raise wages for employees," Scharff said. "Everyone comes in and wants 5 to 10 percent raises."

He also rejected Kniss' assertion that the move has anything to do with gender or that it will result in more women running for council, prompting Kniss to respond, "That's because you're a guy, Greg."

"(I) think is somewhat demeaning to men," Scharff countered.

Filseth sided with Scharff about the "cosmetics" and "symbolism" of the council increase, though he agreed with Kniss that the current council compensation limits the pool size for candidates and that this is a "significant problem."

"However, I think going from $600 to $1,000 a month is not likely to make a significant difference in that pool size," Filseth said. "I think a discussion of a much larger change that would increase the pool size is a legitimate discussion, but that's not what's on the table tonight."

Several council members said they were ambivalent about the issue before casting their votes. Councilman Cory Wolbach said his support for the salary increase had always been contingent on last November's passage of Measure D, which reduced the council's size from nine to seven members, effective 2019. With the measure passing, Wolbach backed the salary hike.

"I see with the reduction of the council size, it does mean more work for all council members," Wolbach said. "I think it increases the demand and I think it's appropriate to have an increase in salary to coincide with that."

DuBois also said he wasn't sure which way he would go but was ultimately swayed by the arguments of Scharff and Filseth.

"I think the symbolism is bad," DuBois said. "The reason we all do this is community service."

Holman took the opposite stance and voted in favor of the salary increase. You never know, she said, what it takes to sway someone to run.

"It's a public service, it's a community service, but it shouldn't be a hardship," Holman said.

Related content:

Palo Alto to ponder higher salaries for City Council

Comments

7 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 21, 2015 at 8:28 am

Much more could be added to this story. I don't have a problem with the salary increase, but any discussion about salaries should include a discussion about benefits.
I assume each council member also gets full medical coverage - how much does that cost the city? And if they already have medical coverage is that a savings or does that go to deferred compensation for the council member? As a result of the salary increase have the council members agreed to pay a portion of the cost of medical coverage?
How does the salary increase impact pension benefits and what exactly are those benefits?
Are there any other benefits?
After looking at the entire compensation package how does PA stack up against surrounding communities.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2015 at 8:35 am

Nothing against the "salary" or stipend.

But what perks do they get? I believe designated parking spaces (that are not being used most of the time) in City Hall is a perk. Perhaps these should be reviewed also.


2 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 21, 2015 at 10:42 am

Don't mind an increase...but isn't 66% a bit much! Come on...how many other organizations give 66%? When was the last time you saw a raise like that in any company? Perhaps this should have been brought to the attention of the public to make the decision as to how much of a raise they should get. I wouldn't mind even up to 20% - but 66%?


Like this comment
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2015 at 10:48 am

@anon: 66% when annualized over 15 years since any raise at all doesn't seem excessive.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 21, 2015 at 11:02 am

@ Midtowner -- Who has been on the Council for 15 years?


4 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2015 at 11:05 am

Really? The first thing this new council does is raise it's own salaries? Even if it's justified, it doesn't look good.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 21, 2015 at 11:07 am

The increase is so small that it’s hard to understand why it was proposed. Taxes will eat up a significant portion of the $400.

Comments about benefits being discussed when pay increases of anyone associated with the City of Palo Alto have much merit. While the Council salaries are little more than a thanks-for-coming gift, the costs of pensions for employees is not so costly that total-compensation and total-life-time-earnings dollars should be on the table so that the public can see just how expensive the cost of government has become. Several of those on this Council ran on a plank of “transparency” in their campaigns. Not requiring the City Manager to provide full employment costs at times like these makes one wonder just how much to believe those Council Members making such promises.

> Holman took the opposite stance and voted in favor
> of the salary increase. You never know, she said, what
> it takes to sway someone to run.

Very unlikely.


1 person likes this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 21, 2015 at 11:12 am

I am on the fence because of both of these paragraphs below:

"Even with the change, Palo Alto remains in the middle of the regional pack when it comes to council salaries. At the higher end of the scale are cities like Sunnyvale, where a council member earns $2,194 a month, and Daly City, where the monthly stipend is $1,414. At the lower end are Saratoga ($250 a month), Los Gatos ($150 a month) and Monte Sereno (no salaries at all)."

"Scharff maintained that the council's salary is symbolic and that raising it so significantly just because the economy is improving will make it hard for the council to have the "moral high ground" when employees likewise request raises."


7 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2015 at 11:18 am

I don't begrudge the salary increase for council members. They spend a lot of hours doing thankless work. What bothers me is that the city has to find ways to spend money when the "economic fortunes" of the city grows. How about using this money to pay for things we've been promised for years (think underground utilities. How about not hiring a consultant every time a decision needs to be made about something we already have people in place to solve. City spending is typical of the liberal mindset. Get the money anyway you can and spend it as soon as you get it or hire more employees so you can grow the city government.


2 people like this
Posted by Bye bye Berman
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 21, 2015 at 12:11 pm

The city's real money is spent on the City Manager's salary and perks. Lots of expensive perks. And weekly hiring of consultants to do what we expect staff to do.

But it was amusing to read Mr Berman's comment:
"the public believes that in order to serve on the council you need to be retired, wealthy, self-employed or single," said Councilwoman Liz Kniss, the council's most fervent champion of the increase ("Or stupid," Councilman Marc Berman added as an aside).
So long Mr.Berman, it was nice knowing you.


5 people like this
Posted by Stay-at-home Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 21, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Oh, please. No nurturing mom with kids young enough to need babysitters is going to run for City Council. Public office is a huge time commitment which doesn't have hours like a daily punch-and-leave job. Emails day/night, questions at the grocery store. I wouldn't even vote for someone who has young children - children are great but they are a distraction and to serve the community, I'd want someone who is focused on us.

$400 increase per member is nothing - they deserve to be paid, and should be paid more, for all the taxes we pay. Maybe if they are paid even more, we'd get better City Council members who actually care about our community (although this batch might be an improvement). Look at the millions wasted on the Mitchell Park Library and the design is impractical because of the childrens section not being blocked off so noise travels throughout. Good job, Einstein.


1 person likes this
Posted by To Stay-atHOme Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Ummm. Council Member Scharff has children at home. Council Member Burt served while he had children at home. Did you vote for either of these men? Both of these men get huge support on the home front from their terrific wives.

As a mom with children at home, I think it is important to have people on Council who understand the challenges of raising a child in Palo Alto today. We need more parents on Council, not fewer, and we need more women, too.


2 people like this
Posted by Entertaining
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Finally! Some good entertainment from our politicians... long time overdue:

"I'm worried that now the public believes that in order to serve on the council you need to be retired, wealthy, self-employed or single," said Councilwoman Liz Kniss, the council's most fervent champion of the increase ("Or stupid," Councilman Marc Berman added as an aside).

10 points for Berman.

"...He also rejected Kniss' assertion that the move has anything to do with gender or that it will result in more women running for council, prompting Kniss to respond, "That's because you're a guy, Greg."

"(I) think is somewhat demeaning to men," Scharff countered.

10 points for Scharff


LOL!


Like this comment
Posted by Another SAHM
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 21, 2015 at 2:44 pm

@ To Stay-atHOme Mom: The best person for the job should be elected, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation. Women are the primary caretakers of children - that's why there is still gender inequality in the work force and why mothers usually get custody. Your posting is contradictory. First, you write they have wives who raised their children in a "challenging" city, then you state you'd rather have a women parent on the CC. Then who raises the children? Oh, it's okay for some other mom to sacrifice the care of their children?

What makes you think men are ignorant to raising children? If a couple communicates, the men know.


2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 21, 2015 at 3:31 pm

MAYBE I'M IN THE MINORITY HERE - BUT I DO MIND THIS INCREASE !

When I get or give a review for a raise the question is always has
the job been done well, and what was done to deserve an increase?

I just don't see a serious answer from this by the City Council.
If I saw some competence or improvement I'd be more willing to
let it slide, but ....

ENOUGH ALREADY !

Palo Alto has lots of nice trees, but I've never seen any money trees in our fair city!


Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 21, 2015 at 3:34 pm

> Maybe if they are paid even more, we'd get better City Council members who actually care about our community

I'm not really trying to be funny here, but this makes me giggle.

Has anyone who has ever had to give an employee a salary review ever responded positively to the argument that if they get paid more they will do a better job of doing their job, which they are supposed to be doing anyway? ;-)


4 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2015 at 4:07 pm

Council member Berman comes to council meetings ill prepared. He tries to cover up his lack of preparedness, by parroting the comments already made by other council members. He acts immature and obviously isn't terribly bright. We will be better off when he departs the city council. He brings nothing to the table.


1 person likes this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 21, 2015 at 10:02 pm

I doubt that the salary for council members is sufficient for anyone who is not homeless and out of work to run. It also sends a bad message to other city employees. It's not just the salaries, but the benefits and perks. I hope such benefits and perks end once that person leaves office and that there is no retirement attached.

If the city as so much money, lets spend it where it is really needed: 1. Repair roads and sidewalks in ALL parts of Palo Alto; 2. Trim trees away from street signs and traffic signs; 3. Repair the boardwalks at Palo Alto Baylands. There are others that I'm certain other residents can think of.


Like this comment
Posted by Sea Seelam REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2015 at 5:40 am

Well deserved increase!

City Council works very hard; this is the least we can do.

Respectfully


1 person likes this
Posted by Sea SEELAM REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2015 at 5:45 am

It is 2015.

Let us be respectful. If you do not like some one's work, please convey that privately.

It is a free world, but being disrespectful is not good taste; it is un-American - as I learned as an immigrant from India.

Respectfully


Like this comment
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2015 at 9:07 am

Mr. Reddy -- with all due respect, freedom of speech, including open criticism of government and public officials is indeed a most American right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

We may disagree with the opinions other people express. We may wish they were more factful and tactful. But the comments expressed here are well within the legal boundaries and therefore should be respected and protected.


Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 22, 2015 at 10:23 pm

I agree with the comment about character assignation ...

> He acts immature and obviously isn't terribly bright

This is not criticism it is over the line nasty cruel character assassination without value and it should be deleted.


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

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