News


Palo Alto ponders November tax measure to target traffic

City forms committee to conduct polls, consider funding options

Seeking to kick the city's traffic-reduction efforts into a higher gear, the Palo Alto City Council on Monday night established a new committee that could set the stage for a local tax measure in November.

The goal of the new ad hoc committee will be to direct the city's polling efforts in the coming months and help the full council determine whether to place a tax measure targeting transportation improvements on the November ballot.

The council has until early July to determine whether to proceed with the local ballot measure and to decide what type of tax to proceed with. Though several members, most notably Councilman Greg Schmid, said they support a business tax, most agreed that it's too early to make a determination at this time, in lieu of polling data.

The new committee will try to change that. By creating the new four-member committee and authorizing Mayor Pat Burt to appoint its members, the council signaled its desire to accelerate the city's effort to reduce the single-occupancy-vehicle rate, particularly in the downtown area.

Earlier this year, the council added transportation to its list of top annual priorities and on Monday it heard an update from the city's Transportation Management Association (TMA), a new nonprofit tasked with reducing the number of solo drivers in downtown by 30 percent.

The group plans to announce its existence to the broader downtown community in the months ahead by unveiling three pilot programs: Caltrain pass subsidies for low-income workers; a carpooling service facilitated by the company Scoop; and a marketing effort aimed at adding ridership to the city's shuttle program. The group also plans to follow up on last year's survey of downtown commuters by sponsoring another survey later this year.

If the council proceeds with a November tax measure, the TMA would be a chief beneficiary. Though the council lauded the group's efforts to date, several members were underwhelmed by the group's plans and ambitions and urged its members to think bigger – both in terms of new programs and in terms of the type of assistance it should expect from the city. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff was among them. After hearing that the TMA's six board members (all of them downtown employers) contributed only $35,050 toward the nonprofit, Scharff wondered why the amount was so paltry (the largest three employers on the board, Google, Palantir and the City, contributed $10,000 each; medium-sized businesses Garden Court Hotel and IDEO contributed $2,500 each; the sole small business on the board, Philz Coffee, contributed $50).

"Really? $50? Do I need to say more?" Scharff said, calling the group "really underfunded."

"My concern really is that I'm not sure there's a strong commitment to get this done, because the finances don't make sense to me in this presentation. In my experience, the money is what drives things to happen," he said.

When it comes to the TMA, Scharff said the city shouldn't "paper over the problem" but "go big on this" and try to solve it. Burt and Councilwoman Karen Holman both agreed, with each criticizing the TMA for basing its plans on constraints that may not exist. Holman complained about a "very slow uptick or ramp up on the program."

"The TMA is a great opportunity. It's also not just an exercise. It's serious business with possibly positive outcomes that can lead us into a future that's better than where we are now," Holman said.

Yet council members also said they were pleased to see the group finally up and running after a year of deliberations by a steering committee of stakeholders.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who in 2014 was one of the authors of a memo urging a creation of the TMA, said she was "delighted" by the group's existence, which she said signals that "something is on the way." She acknowledged, however, that the group will probably be very dependent on public contributions for the next two or three years.

"This is very much something that's been promoted by us and we think it will make a big difference for the residents of our town," Kniss said.

Members generally agreed that more city funds would be necessary to truly make the group a success. Yet they also recognized that there is a big risk in moving ahead with a tax measure this year. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is moving ahead with its own countywide transportation-tax measure in November – a 1/2 cent sales tax increase that is projected to bring in about $6 billion for an extension of BART to San Jose; Caltrain improvements; seed funding for "grade separation" (under- and overpasses at Caltrain crossings); various highway and expressway projects; and local transportation programs.

Given the significance of the countywide measure, Scharff stressed the importance of polling the populace, and ensuring that the local measure would not undermine the countywide one.

"Polling is the first thing we do," he said. "We don't want to jeopardize the VTA tax."

Carl Guardino, CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, noted that the VTA measure (which the group is assisting with) could bring in about $40 million to Palo Alto over the life of the measure.

This "flexible pot of funds" would allow Palo Alto (as well as the other 14 cities and towns in Santa Clara County) to move forward with the types of transportation-demand-management measures that the council has been discussing, he said.

"If we're not successful in November, we'll be figuring out how to divide zero 15 ways," Guardino said.

In agreeing to evaluate a local tax measure, several council members stressed caution, including Councilman Tom DuBois, who said a local tax is "not a decision we should run into."

Councilman Marc Berman agreed and said the council should have a "robust discussion" about funding mechanisms for the TMA and to give downtown stakeholders ample opportunity for input.

"We all know that in Palo Alto, if you try to short-circuit the process, it comes back to bite you," Berman said.

But Burt countered that businesses, like residents, are frustrated by traffic problems and, like the City Council, are looking for solutions.

The most prominent example thus far is in Stanford Research Park, a 750-acre sprawl of corporate campuses where the 12 large employers (including HP, VMWare, SAP and Lockheed Martin) recently formed their own transportation-management association. In the coming months, the group will be rolling out its own transit, bike and carpool programs catered to the needs of the Research Park's workforce. (Read Stanford Research Park companies join forces to fight traffic)

Given the increased focus on traffic from the business community, Burt said the city should find out as quickly whether a local measure and the VTA tax can succeed on the same ballot.

"If after polling it is determined not to be viable for the fall because it would compete too heavily with the VTA tax, we'd go in a different mode and figure out what our process would be going forward," Burt said. "If it did look promising, we'd need to pretty rapidly engage even more stakeholder involvement."

Comments

9 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2016 at 9:05 am

If the TMA's board members are all downtown employers, does that mean that this tax will be paid entirely by downtown employers? Or are they going to recommend a tax on city residents?


26 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2016 at 10:16 am

"Given the significance of the countywide measure, Scharff stressed the importance of polling the populace, and ensuring that the local measure would not undermine the countywide one."

"Polling is the first thing we do," he said. "We don't want to jeopardize the VTA tax."

No to both taxes for me. Tired of paying with BART to San Jose getting all of the funding and providing zero local benefit. Additional local tax measure going to pie-in-the-sky TMA . No thanks.


30 people like this
Posted by Citizen PA
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2016 at 10:17 am

Can we have a list of the city councilmembers who regularly walk or bike to work and councilmeetings? Just to see who, literally, walks the walk? Shouldn't they have to give up their special parking spots in the downtown garage? I appreciate their service, and realize it's basically unpaid. But hypocrisy has a tendency to make for bad laws, just as personal experience has a way of making creative solutions.


33 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 15, 2016 at 10:19 am

Good question to ask. Attempting to tax residents to pay for non-resident commuting subsidies would die at the ballot box.


7 people like this
Posted by pondering
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 15, 2016 at 10:46 am

what do you expect with the rush to build new housing. Agree with crescent park dad.


10 people like this
Posted by Barry Soetoro
a resident of Woodside
on Mar 15, 2016 at 10:54 am

I live in Woodside. I like to come to downtown Palo Alto every four or five weeks or so to shop and patronize the restaurants.

Serious question: with the various "anti-traffic" measures in the air, am I still welcomed -- or even allowed -- to bring my business to Palo Alto anymore?



23 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 15, 2016 at 11:11 am

The best, and most efficient, way I can think of to improve traffic is to stop building high density housing and tall office buildings. One of the many reasons we chose to live in Palo Alto is the sense of neighborhood it provides, as well as a college town atmosphere. South Palo Alto has suffered the most; it's time to reconsider/stop all high-density building.


6 people like this
Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 15, 2016 at 11:18 am

PV Resident is a registered user.

More than the tax prospect, what I noted in this story was the goal of reducing the single occupancy vehicle rate, especially in downtown. Sounds good, and may be desirable for commuters if they really have options; but that may be the last nail in the coffin for a vibrant, economically sustainable downtown Palo Alto...unless you really plan to turn it into San Francisco, Chicago or New York. Would we really have to carpool to see a banker, buy some pastry, check out Apple's new stuff or grab a quick lunch? Yuck!


13 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 15, 2016 at 11:27 am

NO MORE TAXES- Instead send Facebook and Google and other new large population local businesses letters and tell them they would be much happier in Arizona or Texas or anywhere else besides the Bay area. Having those and other high tech businesses with large numbers of employees degrades our quality of living. The high housing prices are of no use since people leaving those houses just move into higher cost houses.

Maybe we would also stop endlessly talking about the damned traffic and the idiotic bicycles and buses. The number of people that use a bicycle to get to work is negligible and not realistic.
Remember what happened in South Bay in 2000 when the dot coms went bust and the Y2K fiasco showed up as a no impact non issue. It is going to happen again but we will have even more people living in South Bay so it will have a huge effect on housing and they will go into the tank again, like they did in 2001-2003.


12 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 15, 2016 at 11:29 am

Absolutely no to more taxes that would mostly benefit and subsidize non residents. The only solution is to de-densify Palo Alto and stop building more office.


8 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 15, 2016 at 11:47 am

Reducing traffic and parking: How about putting a map with the free shuttle routes in a utility bill? I'm motivated but I don't know where/when the shuttles run. It's got to be easier for the general population to begin using public transportation.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2016 at 11:48 am

I am appalled that a plurality of PA residents passively accept taxes upon taxes as if we can trust the city government to use it efficiently and not spend it on their own lavish lifestyles while they drive their 12-cylinder BMWs ALONE to work every day.

Why don't THEY carpool in a little City Council bus to their all-important daily meetings where they discuss how to combat the unholy scourge of "single-occupant vehicles".

I am more in support of business leaders having lavish lifestyles and not being unfairly taxed. At least they earned it.


7 people like this
Posted by Eva
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 15, 2016 at 11:56 am

Hmmm...not sure that these ideas are really going to take a dent out of downtown traffic. So the tax would be used to fund:

> Caltrain pass subsidies for low-income workers.
I agree that CalTrain is expensive. We paid $55 roundtrip for our family of 4 to go to the ballpark; however, what is the estimate of the # of low-income riders would this use this service and leave their cars for Caltrain, or are they already taking the bus?

>a carpooling service facilitated by the company Scoop
Does this really cost the city money to suggest people use this service? Maybe just an inexpensive public service campaign?

> and a marketing effort aimed at adding ridership to the city's shuttle program.
So this is to be used by PA residents I guess (since it's a PA shuttle). Good idea but how many riders will those little shuttles take off the road? Even if the shuttle came anywhere near my house off of El Camino (which it doesn't), I don't think I'd choose to add an extra hour to my commute roundtrip to go shopping downtown.

Meanwhile the big issues that are clogging our streets (overdevelopment in congested areas) are not mentioned in this tax proposal.


26 people like this
Posted by Joey
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 15, 2016 at 11:59 am

Everyone (except the Planing Committee and Council) know that new multi-level buildings without sufficient required parking is the problem. So quit spending on studies and just say NO.


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2016 at 12:07 pm

"what is the estimate of the # of low-income riders would this use this service and leave their cars for Caltrain, or are they already taking the bus?"

This is why the TMA will fail. Look at how far-fetched their proposals are yet they're ready to raise taxes and pour millions into it? This is called destroying economic value. The TMA will hurt our economy. They should be abolished immediately.

We need to start electing realists into office and not moral preeners.

What in the world has happened to common sense. I think the root of this is the climate change fanatics who want to reduce the carbon footprint. This is the real motivation behind all this and it borders on paganism. They are willing to sacrifice economic thrift so we can be more "bonded with nature".


10 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 15, 2016 at 12:50 pm

Two concerns: paying to be on a Board and paving the way for yet another tax. Will it have an expiration date? Will there be guarantees that the revenue will indeed go to the intended use? As for paying an ante to be on the new Board, I like that Philz paid just $50 and think it is crummy for Scharff to criticize that or the fact that the nonprofit has raised only 35k. Presumably the Board members will be donating their time to address the issue. What's the money going to be spent on - consultants? A slick report to tell us that we have a traffic problem? It cannot possibly be to pay for a solution b/c that will cost heaps more. I may have missed something but I think more details are needed here.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2016 at 2:26 pm

I am totally not in favor of a tax at this stage because I doubt very much that the money raised would do anything useful to help.

I would prefer instead to start paying for parking over 30 minutes outside retail with meters that would be easy to pay for (with exemptions for residents) near all business, that would mean downtown, Cal Ave, Midtown, street parking on Fabian, etc.

I would also like to see the shuttles extended but why are they free? Keep them free for seniors and the disabled, but everyone else could pay a small fare.

Raising revenue from parking and transportation makes sense to me. VTA do a very poor job of serving north SCC and BART to San Jose is going to do nothing to help transportation and traffic in Palo Alto. Another tax on residents on top of VTA tax is not going to be popular. Charging a realistic fee for parking and transportation makes more sense. I prefer the idea of paying for services at the time of receipt for everyone rather than monthly or annual parking permits as being the main focus. I happily pay $1 for an hour or two parking in downtown Redwood City and would do the same for Palo Alto.


4 people like this
Posted by Jason
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 15, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Annette,

Will it have an expiration date?

Are you that naïve...or are you being sarcastic? Taxes measure NEVER expire...they just get replaced by new taxes (with an increase added on). The argument is always: Well, we already have this tax rate, so it should be no more burden...just a little increase for our future needs.


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 15, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Does anybody have any idea what this group proposes to do with the money it raises? I'm sure they will spend it, but on what? Polling? Polling never cleared a traffic jam. Raising more money? You can't clear traffic jams by throwing money at them.


Like this comment
Posted by NiceTallLady
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2016 at 5:20 pm

non residents pay PA taxes, it's called sales taxes


8 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 15, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Sure. And PA residents pay sales taxes in PA and in other cities/counties as well. Moot point.


10 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2016 at 8:12 pm

What they do not seem to understand is the only REAL solution to traffic problems is to keep businesses from bunching up, so their employees and potential customers are the only ones creating traffic. The businesses being bunched up especially into high rises are the source of the traffic problems. Secondarily housing that is called "high density", is another source of traffic problems.

The politicians are in it for the money they can squeeze out of the general public to line their pockets, and the pockets of their friends. Political positions are for public service, not to create multi-millionaires.


12 people like this
Posted by Educator
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 15, 2016 at 8:22 pm

"Political positions are for public service, not to create multi-millionaires."

Um, you ain't been in these parts very long, have ya?


16 people like this
Posted by Voter
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 15, 2016 at 8:26 pm

"Moral preeners" is the best 2 word description of Berman and Wolbach that I've ever seen. Well put! Wolbach ran as a moderate and is the worst offender! No surprise there.


2 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2016 at 8:43 pm

I know what they do with the political positions. It is typical, the attorneys make the laws (they are preplanned to be able to argue either side, perpetuating the species) apply the laws, and personally profit from the court actions.

Only been here since the early 1950's, before all the East coasters came West to rip us off. San Jose was only 100,000 people at the time I arrived.


4 people like this
Posted by need more $$
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2016 at 5:53 am

Scharff is distressed by the underfunding of the TMA. Philz contributed $50 he says. But at the new office building at 524 Hamilton, 7300 sf office space along with a 4000 sf residential penthouse,the City required just 8 parking spaces,and at the just completed 611 Cowper around the corner with 28000 sf office space and a 6500 sf residential penthouse, using TDR's, grandfathered conditions,a bonus, parking requirements were cut by about 50 spaces, and both buildings are outside the Downtown parking assessment district. But Philz and other Downtown
small businesses should put more $$ in there to help solve the traffic and parking overflow mess.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2016 at 8:00 am

Ford Smart Mobility is coming to town and we should ask them to get some technological solutions to finding and paying for parking in town. We have none, perhaps they can use their smart devices to help us find parking and pay for parking in a 21st century manner.


8 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2016 at 7:32 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I'll support new taxes, after the city council has reformed its overly generous pension and retiree medical. It is time to go back to a maximum of 60% of their salary, based on an average of their last five years (to prevent final year pension spiking). The maximum pension should require working 30 years and attaining the age of 65 for regular employees and 60 for public safety employees. Retiree medical should include significant cost sharing. If they don't have the opportunity to contribute to a 401K, they should, in addition (not instead of) a pension to supplement their pension.

Private employees would would be thrilled at such generous terms. Most of them get nothing but 401k's. There is no reason to pay retirees more in retirement than they earned while employed. And there is certainly no reason to pay pensions that far exceed all but their last year of work.


10 people like this
Posted by Municipalist
a resident of University South
on Mar 16, 2016 at 7:49 pm

"But Philz and other Downtown small businesses should put more $$ in there to help solve the traffic and parking overflow mess."

Welcome to Scharf World, where the small unconnected guys carry the big well-connected guys. Or is that a province of PAF World?


4 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2016 at 9:02 pm

First we pay taxes for better freeways to get more people here and now we pay more taxes to get fewer people here. Hell no we won't go.


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

He said – she said – who is lying? Justice Brett Kavanaugh or PA resident Christine Ford
By Diana Diamond | 54 comments | 1,708 views

Global Warming Diet
By Laura Stec | 6 comments | 1,263 views

Couples: "Taming Your Gremlin" by Richard Carson
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,119 views

Preparing for kindergarten
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 618 views

 

Pre-registration ends today!

​On Friday, September 21, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run, or—for the first time—half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More