News

City manager: Palo Alto government faces 'emerging crisis' in staffing

James Keene's proposed budget for 2017 reflects larger payroll, infrastructure costs

Facing a growing payroll and a City Council hungry for new garages, bike boulevards and public-safety facilities, City Manager James Keene on Monday unveiled a budget that would raise spending by nearly 7 percent in the coming fiscal year.

The budget paints a picture that is at once bright and bleak. On the one hand, it reflects a local economy that continues to thrive, with revenues rising in nearly every major category.

The budget predicts that hotel-tax revenues will increase by nearly 23 percent (or $4.3 million) in fiscal year 2017, which begins on July 1. Revenues from property tax and documentary transfer tax are expected to rise by 7.9 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. Overall, the city's General Fund, which funds most services (excluding utilities), predicts $193.1 million in revenues -- up from $165.4 million in the current fiscal year.

But the budget also mirrors a city with a long list of infrastructure needs, rising pension costs and a huge traffic headache. The budget includes $198.1 million in expenditures, $12.3 more than in the current fiscal year. This includes a proposal to transfer $22.8 million into the city's Infrastructure Reserve as part of a five-year strategy for constructing a new public-safety building, rebuilding two fire stations, creating new bike boulevards throughout the city and building a new bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek.

The biggest component is salaries and benefits, which make up 59 percent of the budget. Spending in this category is slated to go up by 4.3 percent, or $6.9 million, reflecting the city's recent salary adjustments for the workforce, based on the market median. Even with the recent raises, Keene emphasized on Monday that the city is going through a retention crisis and the city's workforce is struggling to keep up with the growing workload. In just the past few weeks, Keene's office lost two key staff members, including the city's economic-development manager.

Even the budget team is reflective of this trend. Two of the team's four staff members will be departing in the next month, while the council's Finance Committee is reviewing the budget, Keene said. And city Chief Financial Officer Lalo Perez observed that only one member of the team who presented the budget document last year is still with the city.

Given the situation, Keene's budget presentation was less a celebration of the booming economy and more an exercise in managing expectations.

"We have an emerging crisis in staffing," he said. "The problems and challenges of our community, naturally, are playing itself out in our ability to recruit and retain people ... the housing costs, the traffic and commute and the demands of our environment.

"The people who work on all these things have to work harder on more complex issues with more public scrutiny than most of their peers."

In the new budget, Keene proposes to add 10 new positions, bringing the city's total employees to 1,052. Among them are four in Public Works (three related to the ongoing upgrade of the Regional Water Quality Control Plant), two-and-a-half in the Department of Planning and Community Environment; a senior librarian; a planning technician in the Development Center; and a senior human-resources administrator who would manage worker-compensation activities.

In recommending the new positions, Keene said he considers the proposal a "very conservative recommendation, given the number of requests I received during the budget process."

"This is a big budget with big demands and we're going to have holes during the course of the year in our ability to respond to them," Keene told the council.

In his transmittal letter, Keene wrote that the overall objective of the proposed budget "is to deliver a high level of service to the community, tackle the most immediate and difficult issues facing our city, move forward on the council's priorities, while maintaining the city's solid financial standing."

"A key component of achieving these aims is to attract and retain talented employees," the budget states. "Since the Great Recession in 2008 and its accompanying personnel reductions, we have asked employees to work harder and become more efficient. This has occurred, but with a thriving labor market, we are now experiencing recruitment and retention challenges which are further exacerbated by high-housing costs, lengthy commutes to work and competitive wage and benefit packages offered in other jurisdictions by other employers."

The proposed budget also includes a $100,000 contribution to downtown's new Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit tasked with reducing traffic, and $1 million for Project Safety Net, a community effort to promote youth well-being and mental health.

The budget is also notable for what's not in it. It does not include funds for revamping the city's animal shelter; acquiring the downtown post office; developing a master plan for Cubberley Community Center; or making a dent in the city's unfunded pension and health care liabilities, which are currently estimated at $447.5 million.

It also does not include any adjustments based on the city's ongoing dispute with Stanford University over fire services, a protracted tussle that could have major ramifications on the fire department budget.

Keene acknowledged Monday that given the high number of unresolved questions, the new budget gives him "no pleasure."

"It's not satisfying to me professionally to not be able to resolve and tie up in a nice package this budget," he said. "It's got a lot of choices and some contradictions in it. I think it's representative of where we are now."

The budget will be reviewed over the next month by the council's Finance Committee before going to the full City Council for adoption on June 13. On Monday, members offered only brief comments about the newly released document.

Mayor Pat Burt stressed the need to focus on the city's unfunded pension liability, which he called the city's "remaining really great challenge." He recommended allocating no less than $1 million for unfunded liability in the coming year. He also lauded the city's recent progress on infrastructure (the budget proposes $170.5 million in capital-improvement spending as part of a $639.5 million five-year plan).

"The city should be proud and the community should be proud that we're doing investment in our capital program and infrastructure that really were discussed for decades as under-invested ... and in recent years we have increased and increased that investment to this point," Burt said.

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Comments

89 people like this
Posted by Merry
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2016 at 6:30 am

How about a new city manager?


67 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 26, 2016 at 7:28 am

Just say no.

If we've got $447,000,000 in unfunded pension and health care liabilities, how does allocating $1,000,000 to reduce it help?

" Revenues from property tax and documentary transfer tax are expected to rise by 7.9 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. Overall, the city's General Fund (which funds most services, not including utilities) includes $193.1 million in revenues – up from $165.4 million in the current fiscal year."

What's a 9.9% documentary transfer tax? Does the city take almost 10% every time a property changes hands??

How much did our utilities rate increases contribute to the almost $30,000 increase in the General Fund?

How can you have a "crisis in staffing" when we already have 3 out of the 4 highest paid local officials in the state and when every employee performs so superlatively that they all deserve raises?


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 7:45 am

[Post removed.]


58 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

Where do I apply for the economic-development manager's position?

I pledge to increase the staffing for the Business Registry by 10. Then complain that we don't have enough information so that I need to hire an additional 20 data science people and at least 2 outside consultants to help understand the data.

I will NOT use any ready available tools such as Survey Monkey. I will develop everything in-house, never test it. I will ask intrusive, obtuse questions that don't actually provide any useful answers.

I am willing to take this job for $120K plus the guaranteed pension.

/marc


27 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 26, 2016 at 10:27 am

commonsense is a registered user.

that's a guaranteed pension at age 50!


39 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2016 at 10:31 am

So the staff gave themselves a nice raise and did nothing to reduce the under funded pensions. Under funded pensions are basically a future tax increase or reduction in future services.


11 people like this
Posted by Bike commuter
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 26, 2016 at 10:42 am

Bike commuter is a registered user.

To Online Name:

The article states the city expects revenues to increase 9.9% from the documentary transfer tax compared to last year.

According to Web Link, the total transfer tax rate is $2.20/$500 = 0.44% of the sale price.
Santa Clara County gets 0.11% and Palo Alto's share is 0.33%. So Palo Alto gets $3,300 per $1 million in home sales.


31 people like this
Posted by Where's the Transparency?
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2016 at 10:51 am

When will the Budget overview information presented to City Council 4/25 be made available to the public? Until then, this newspaper article is the only source of information available regarding the proposed budget.

Doesn't the Brown Act require items on the City Council agenda to be made available in advance of Council meetings?

The "staff report" for this item is a joke-- one page, with no information on the content of the draft budget. It looks like the bare minimum was done to comply with the City Charter. It is questionable if this even complies. Other cities, like Berkeley, present 380 page draft budgets by the deadline their City Charter requires. The "staff report" lets us know that the public hearing for the budget is scheduled for the latest day possible, June 13, the very same day the budget is scheduled to be adopted by the City Council, thereby minimizing public involvement in the process.

Web Link


31 people like this
Posted by Tom DuBois
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 11:10 am

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

Just to clarify on Mayor Burt's comments on unfunded pension liability. The City is already paying down the liability over a 30 year period. Mayor Burt was suggesting we allocate at least $1M of ADDITIONAL payment each year, like making an extra mortgage payment. This year, we are looking at paying an additional $3M. The idea is that if we can reserve funds in good years, we can erase the city's debt to reach sustainable financing. The cumulative impact of extra payments saves the city tons in interest charges.

The unfunded pension liability is complex. Many of us doubt the assumptions Calpers is making. Putting additional funds into a reserve appears to be the most prudent course to address this issue which threatens most cities and the State of California itself.


42 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2016 at 11:17 am

"You've got to be kidding!! " More employees??? The management of this city- Palo Alto - is a laughing stock in the community. I agree with "Merry". Keene must go. No more new 'positions". No more fancy titles and departments. No more perks, no more bloated administration. Wish we could vote on this!!


16 people like this
Posted by SEA_SEELAM REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 26, 2016 at 11:49 am

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

It is ok to have good talent.

It is ok to get raises.

It is expected that they are dedicated talented and work about 40 hours per week.

We can not have a 9/80 plan or others where key people are not onsite 5 days a week. It promotes inefficiency; incompetence and delays.

Mr. City Manager; get rid of the city hall closes every other Friday program.
Lets get everybody working. It's honest work ethic of mighty USA that we need to exhibit. Nothing less.

Regards


24 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2016 at 11:56 am

> The City is already paying down the liability over a 30 year period.
> Mayor Burt was suggesting we allocate at least $1M of ADDITIONAL
> payment each year, like making an extra mortgage payment.

Hopefully, the published budget, or the CAFR, contains a table that demonstrates that the transfer of funds to the pension fund is, in fact, accomplishing the retirement of the liability in 30 years.

As to the additional payments, that’s OK if there is any real benefit. Presumably, the mayor has a spreadsheet that demonstrates that the additional payment will accelerate the end of this 30-year period. Does he have such a spreadsheet?

If the City continues to hire employees, and continues to pay outrageous salaries, certainly this pension liability will grow as a consequence the growth of employee headcount.


30 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 26, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Bike commuter, thanks for explaining what share the city gets when I sell my house.

Tom Dubois, thanks for explaining about the unfunded liabilities. Maybe you could convince the City Manager, the 2 assistant city managers and the rest of the staff that just maybe they should be aware that high tech is a boom and bust cycle and that layoffs are happening right hear in Sillycone Valley and start reining in expenses now?

Maybe we shouldn't be spending $20,000,000 on "bike education and roundabouts" and that the city SHOULD take responsibility for things like its failure to supervise the railroad station track guards and that heads should roll for errors in the business registry.


17 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Another big 2 inch document? Formatted so that it takes up a lot of pages, guaranteeing that few people will read it.
That's the City Manager's pretense of "transparency."
As though thicker documents mean better information. In fact the result is just the opposite. The PR staff is on the job, snowing us with unusable documents.


23 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 26, 2016 at 12:10 pm

PS: In an article about raises for city employees, we were told that PA had to stay competitive with other communities and hence the city was bringing the city manager and others up to scale.

[Portion removed.] I'd like to know what the point of comparison is. [Keene] already makes more than the governor of the state and the president of the US.

[Portion removed.]


19 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Annette is a registered user.

About the pension: what's the real impact of the 30-year effort? Do those payments address only the current level of unfunded liability? Would an additional $1M annual payment even make a dent? A City with our smarts and resources should never have gotten into such a deep hole. I agree with those who are opposed to adding to the expense side of staffing. Frankly, I think it is a luxury for which we disqualified ourselves. When private individuals and companies are in such a bind, they must look at all their expenses and adjust/cut as needed. The City should do the same. Either require Keene to do that or find a CM who will. And re-think other spending and apply the "found" money to the unfunded liability. For instance, build a simple additional bike bridge rather than an iconic expensive one. I also think it is time to ACT on Kniss' proposal and require existing personnel - particularly those who are exempt - to return to working a 40 hour work week every week so that they can build and retain momentum on projects. It is hard to believe that a city our size really needs more personnel. It doesn't take an MBA to know that the more we grow that side of the equation the more the pension and other obligations side also grows. $447 MILLION - that is a number that warrants repeating. We are not a big city yet we owe $447 MILLION in unfunded pension liability. That's nuts. And unacceptable.


37 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2016 at 12:24 pm

I'm sorry, but the idea that Palo Alto needs an "Economic Development Manager" seems absolutely ridiculous. That's all we need around here: more "Economic Development"!


22 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2016 at 12:38 pm

"The "staff report" for this item is a joke..."

That's a very generic statement. Glad you gave specifics.

This is the proven ambush 'em, panic 'em, stampede 'em tactic that staff has used very effectively for decades to herd the city council. We'll see if this council is smart enough to recognize it.


13 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 1:19 pm

Marie is a registered user.

The problem is that the unfunded liability for the pensions is a very soft number that varies every year based on the assumptions used to calculate the liability. It is strongly influenced by how CALPERS investments (although averaged over some number of years to reduce the volatility) so in good years the liability goes up and in bad years it goes down. Also influential is the discount rate, which can also change based on economic conditions. This basically calculates how much money we need now to pay out money in the future. It is highly influenced by calculations of future interest rates, potential inflation, estimated employee raises etc. And what we do know is that these estimates for the future (often 30 years in the future) are not very accurate. And this is all calculated by CALPERS for the entire state. I don't know if they personalize it much for specific cities and towns.

If, as I suspect, the liability is calculated based on state-wide conditions, it might be helpful for the city to spend a little money on an actuary to make unofficial but more localized calculations based on local conditions for things like salary projections and medical costs. It would also help to have a little scenario planning - i.e. if the interest rate is this, then the liability will be that. If medical costs grow this much, then it is this. If it grows that much it is that. This could result in a better picture or a worse one, but it would allow better decision making.

I too would like to see the city making more effort to reduce some of the very generous benefits (eg basing one's pension on the average of the last 5 years salary than just the last 1 year), putting more money to reduce the deficit and spending less on bike lanes.

$20M for bikes when we still haven't spent one dime other than planning, on the new public safety building, is ridiculous. Please skip the nice-to-haves until the truly critical needs are met.


28 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 1:27 pm

How about increasing government efficiency? Isn't Silicon Valley being the center of innovation? Can we utilize technologies better instead of adding headcounts?

What was the number of employees the City of Palo Alto had 10 years ago? How much more do we have now? Given the rapid advancement of technologies, smartphone, ipad, cloud computing, etc., it is not unreasonable to expect the growth of government headcounts be much slower than population growth, or no headcount growth at all.

If this is not case I think city council should ask city manager to investigate and see where improvements in efficiency can be made.


27 people like this
Posted by No transparency here!
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Transparency in this city is a joke. The Keene run staff is adept at ignoring citizen's concerns, while coddling developers and consultants. Then they hide behind consultants' reports instead of seeing what is in front of them. Enough!

What is happening at PA Airport? Is Public Works adding airport staff in the new budget? Can't get City Hall to answer any of those questions. Yet they fund a study of jet noise??? No mention of OUR own airport's substantial contribution to airplane noise on the City's "Airpland Noise" page. Only other aircraft, from other airports merit mention by staff. So hypocritical, it is embarrassing!

How did Keene push the PA Airport takeover from SC County? He asked the pilot groups to write a "report" for City Council, who did no further inquiry. No one in City employ nor elected reps asked the rest of Palo Alto residents (likely the 97%) if THEY wanted to prop up PAO and push for expanded operations! They didn't listen to the citizens who caught wind of the transfer and cautioned against it. Certainly the acidity staff never told residents that FAA grants would rob the city and residents of any control of operations at that airport for decades. That pact with the devil was kept very quiet.

Before Airport defenders waste breath listing all the City-funded facilities and programs that don't benefit all residents, let me ask which of those funded endeavors actually cause environmental degradation on par with airport impacts?

The region's politicians came out in droves for the East Palo Alto Cooley Landing Center opening, ooing and ahhing while the PAO planes interrupted the proceedings every 20-40 seconds. PAO was, and continues to be, the elephant in our midst that the City will not acknowledge: the hammering noise impact, leaded fuel emissions, and an unjustifiably large carbon footprint. The high performance planes are heard over adjacent baylands parks and neighborhoods all the way to the foothills--even when they appear as a speck in the sky, they are unbelievably loud and obnoxious. No limits at all are being sought by our city staff or council.

Maybe another helicopter tour company or training school will help the City meet projections that PAO will be self-sustaining by 2017?! "Self-sustaining" that is, with a lot of help from hand-cuffing FAA grants!


33 people like this
Posted by Tell It Like It Is
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2016 at 2:19 pm

I'm speechless.
We have NO leadership in this city.


35 people like this
Posted by Warm fuzzies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2016 at 2:39 pm

Happiness is a *NEW* city manager!


22 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 26, 2016 at 2:46 pm

According to the San Jose Mercury, budget is increasing 11%, forcing the city to spend $4,900,000 of our reserves.

A public hearing and adoption of the budget is planned for a City Council meeting on June 13.

Web Link

...About $128.8 million in infrastructure work includes a new Public Safety Building. Annual increases to salary and benefits amount to $6.9 million.

General fund needs include an array of community services, such as $1 million for Project Safety Net to curb teen suicides. It also reflects utility cost increases, such as $2.3 million in electricity just for streetlights and traffic signals.....

Excuse me. Didn't we already award a $3,000,000 contract to a former employee to fix the traffic light timing? Is this in addition to the $3M or included in it?

And the $1,000,000 to curb teen suicides includes contracts to 2 companies different companies whose employees were accused of crimes.


35 people like this
Posted by Fire Keene
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2016 at 3:05 pm

[Portion removed.] The city has been ruined by too much growth.
The proposed bike blvd plans are poorly designed and not well thought out. And the cost is in excess of $20M. Bike lanes are the obsession of the "elite left."


10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm

The City is loosing employees because of impossible housing situation. The continuing raises don't fix this problem. Affordable housing does. Are we loosing our teachers too?


39 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Apr 26, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Our city government has remade itself into a self-perpetuating boondoggle.

A group of exasperated citizens showed the City Council a not untypical example during Oral Communications last night. The Evergreen Park neighborhood has asked for a permit parking program to defend it against business parkers from Cal Ave and Stanford. Since the city has already implemented an identical arrangement downtown, it only needs to replicate it in EP, right?

Um, no. It seems Evergreen Park needs to undergo two years of city-sponsored touchy-feely, plus sundry hokey-pokey and miscellaneous municipal process, in order to reinvent what has been done elsewhere. In other words, pure makework for staff.

Now here's the kicker. The city cannot afford to undertake this needlessly bloated task at this time.

In our City Hall, any job can, and seemingly will be, inflated beyond the resources available to do it. The solution is (you guessed it): demand more resources.

Never raise the bridge if you can possibly lower the river.


20 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 26, 2016 at 4:40 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@ Tom Dubois

You're one of those brave ones, speaking out online on real issues. Misspent money down a rat hole or toilet...take your pick. We see it all the time for the need of more studies for CC to deal with. How much money has to be spent on consultants and studies before CC can make a decision? If they are really connected and close to their community and constituency, as they claim to be, then they should be able to vote 'up or down' on most of these issues, without outside help from consultants.


36 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2016 at 4:42 pm

The city staff is inventing work for themselves, by making every project more complicated than it needs to be. We'd be better off if we downsized our city government. City Manager Keene is incompetent. And the city council are his enablers.


23 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2016 at 5:06 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Private industry has mostly given up on offering pensions.
Why is the City still offering them?

They can't even make bad decisions all by themselves, they have to hire consultants to help...



4 people like this
Posted by Left Hell for Heaven
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2016 at 6:19 pm

it's amazing how many "experts" there are in palo alto. why do you all stay there? you may be "educated" and make a lot of money, but no one seems happy and the school situation is clearly not healthy. been gone 2 years and it's the best move I've ever made!

via con dios.


1 person likes this
Posted by sbg
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2016 at 9:08 pm

Visitor from Heaven,

You left 2 years ago and still read all the news from hell, or just the ones with "crisis" in them.


8 people like this
Posted by Miss Manage
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2016 at 9:36 pm

This city is a poster child for finances that have been hosed beyond recognition. Meanwhile, neighboring Menlo Park has a $2.1M SURPLUS! How long has it been since you've heard Palo Alto and SURPLUS in the same sentence.

The city council should be hung out to dry (where are you Dick Cheney?).


9 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2016 at 9:51 pm

It might be worth looking at the evening meetings that are intended for neighbors input on either projects or street safety. Many city employees and consultants attend these meetings. I just attended a meeting presented by a developer and there were at least three staff members as well as consultants who just listened to the presentation and the neighbors comments. Does this incur overtime hours? Can one staff member attend and take notes to bring back to the office?

During the traffic meetings there were even more staff members and consultants with only one presenting. It seems like no one can do the job without a group of their team to watch. It seems very inefficient.


17 people like this
Posted by Miss Manage
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2016 at 9:57 pm

Other cities are much more fiscally efficient.

For example, Los Altos Hills has in its charter that it is to be run for the benefit of residents. Their town has a very minimal management staff. Most "real work" is outsourced via competitive bidding, which minimizes all the overly generous pension, retirement, lifelong medical benefits for employees, their families and whomever else.

Palo Alto has its infamous utility so the City Council can bypass Prop 13 to increase taxes. The city is run as a social experiment rather than the model of efficiency. Our bloated city staff fill up their schedule by training employees of other cities. (Guess the other cities need training on how to rip off their residents.)

This is not going to change overnight. And not through the bloated bureaucracy or the City Council which is only too glad to distribute other people's money.

The only way it's going to change is by revolution:

1. Get on the ballot that the city has to cut its budget by 10% per year until it gets spending under control.

2. No more Fridays off. That was a cheap trick used by city management to win over employees.

3. End overly generous benefits.

4. Eliminate staff. Outsource all "real work" to private enterprises. Keep only a few managers who ensure that outsourcing is done efficiently.

5. Hire a city manager who lives and breathes fiscal responsibility (what a concept!).

We just need a small slate of committed individuals to run on this platform and nail this stuff next election. That should lead to a lot of cash to fix potholes at a third of the current cost.


18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 10:39 pm

Could get rid of the PR people that work for the Manager. They have other titles, not PR but that is what they do. Fairly recent hires.
They publish stuff like "Our Palo Alto News" with lots of happy pictures and PR for the city.
And get rid of the pseudo-community meetings run by staff. And the make believe "Summit" meetings, designed to support his plans. With free food.


11 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:45 am

"Wondering" asked about the evening meetings about traffic that are dominated by staff and consultants; "resident" talks about pr and the pseudo-community meetings that are merely political theater designed to support staff's plan.

Both comments go to the heart of our frustration. We spend a fortune on "community outreach consultants" from outside our community who can't even get notices about the meetings to residents who are actually affected.

Maybe Tom Dubois and others can tell us how much money the city spends on failed community "outreach" consultants, preparing for and staffing these meetings and the happy-talk bulletins. Creating 3-d models and zowie PowerPoint presentations aren't cheap.

Let's put a dollar figure on this political theater if we're going to eat up $5,000,000 of our cash reserves.

I've mentioned the 70 of us who showed up to protest the bike route on Middlefield at very short notice ONLY because one of our UNPAID neighbors went door-to-door with a flyer. People in other neighborhoods have also complained they were never notified about their neighborhood bike meetings.

Obviously our FREE efforts got better results than the costly consultants.

People have repeatedly complained their comments at meetings were rudely ignored and dismissed by city staff even though their 'survey" of parked cars and other specifics were flat out wrong.

How can Palo Alto deal with traffic if it can't even count parked cars or get a business database working??? What's happening with school buses to cut congestion? Do they cost $20,000.000?

Yet here we are: with a $20,000,000 budget allocation for bike lanes and "bike education."

People complain about how often bikes are stolen and how their complaints are ignored by the police. But instead of hiring police responsible for bike thefts, the city wants an economic development manager to create more congestion and gridlock.

How much does our new Car Pool Program whereby we the taxpayers PAY carpooling commuters -- including city employees -- to come INTO the city while they preach at us to get our of OUR cars? What's the combined cost of BOTH programs?

It's totally absurd.
--------

A public hearing and adoption of the budget is planned for a City Council meeting on June 13. Let's all be there.

Let's all write to the City Council and let them hear our frustration.



10 people like this
Posted by Phil
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2016 at 6:40 am

Time to let go the Stanford fire service. If they think they can do it better and cheaper, let them. I bet what they pay Palo Alto is close to what Palo Alto paids in salaries, medical, pensions, equipment maintenance, etc. Most likely a wash.


10 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2016 at 11:37 am

Thank you "Online name" for your comments: "Maybe Tom Dubois and others can tell us how much money the city spends on failed community "outreach" consultants, preparing for and staffing these meetings and the happy-talk bulletins. Creating 3-d models and zowie PowerPoint presentations aren't cheap."

At the Safe Route to School meeting for Terman and Gunn there were several traffic consultants. There were maps placed around the room for citizens to mark up with our suggestions. I asked one of the consultants if they knew of the recent sign changes that had occurred on El Camino that forced a "no turn on red" on Arastradero to encourage cars to turn on red onto Maybell. He said "No". I him if they had read the history from the the previous Safe Route to School study that had taken place for the reopening of Terman (year long study). He said "No". I then asked the staff if they had read the previous study and they said "No". At that point I realized that I knew more than any of the staff or traffic consultants about the issues. Did we pay for a nice big shredder to use once the consultants work is done? To have studies done with street information,limitations,access, etc and not keep that work but then pay another consultant to redo all of that work is such a waste of all of our time and energy. Having to educate the staff and the consultants when they are already conducting outreach meetings is embarrassing.


4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2016 at 11:50 am

> Palo Alto has its infamous utility so the City Council can bypass
> Prop 13 to increase taxes.

The Utility was started in the early 1900s, long before Prop 13 came along.

The City can not raise the basic property tax rates, but additional taxes that are based on property assessments can be passed with voter approval.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:24 pm

Wondering, the city would have been better off paying you instead of the consultants for your expertise like our neighbor should have been paid for writing, printing and hand-delivering the flyers about our bike meeting.

Joe, true but the Utility Dept. can keep adding charges, fees and taxes to our already high bills and then funnel that money into the General Fund which has quite the surplus. Check your cable and cell phone bills for use fees going to PA Utilities.

Remember the compost bins? We couldn't refuse them or return them for a refund; instead you had people protesting by swapping out bigger waste cans for smaller ones to save the $20. How much has the city spent on "compost education" ads, statement stuffers, seminars and staff time dealing with questions and complaints?

For years people have asked to suspend utility service during vacation since it's a tip-off to burglars plus an added expense. And we keep getting ignored.


FREE COMMUNITY OUTREACH MESSAGE: Come to the June 13 City Council budget meeting. Tell your friends and neighbors.


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:30 pm

"We spend a fortune on "community outreach consultants" from outside our community who can't even get notices about the meetings to residents who are actually affected."

They're being considerate of your time. Thank them.

They know those "outreach" circuses are only for show, City staff will do what city staff wants whatever the affected parties say. The purpose of the meeting is to let staff tell the council that they did public outreach which, of course, is tacitly represented as favorable to the staff proposals.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:33 pm

> but the Utility Dept. can keep adding charges, fees and taxes to
> our already high bills and then funnel that money into the General Fund
> which has quite the surplus. Check your cable and cell phone bills for
> use fees going to PA Utilities.

Some of the add-on costs (in terms of charges, fees and taxes) were approved by the voters over the years. Specific additional costs should be identified in order to understand what the poster is talking about.

The underlying issue is that given a 50-year timeline, say, there are a lot of costs associated with running a utility. It's a shame that the utility here in Palo Alto is not more transparent in terms of its costs and revenues, it does provide a lot of information to the Utility Advisory Commission--information which generally is available to the public.

Sadly, it takes a lot of time to read and digest this sort of information. One might wish that council members would do more to help the public understand these issues. Unfortunately, the public has never demanded that so of transparency from the people it elects to the council.


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Do council members read Diana Diamond?

Did the voters bring this to the candidates in the last election?

Will the voters bring this to the candidates in the next election?


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Other excessive spending by the City Manager:

$4.5 Million for the first floor renovation, City Hall.
$250,000 for computer-generated screens with moving pictures for lobby
$1,060,830 Million for asphalt (Nov 6,2014)
Street "art" that asks pedestrians questions
Signs, signs, signs. oops, now called "Way Finding" so it costs more.


7 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 28, 2016 at 7:38 am

Every time over the past 10 years that I've dealt with City of Palo Alto staff, they begin by saying how overworked they are, yada yada, and conclude by saying they'll get around to the task in due course.

It's telling that it has also been the case that every time I've tried to work the relevant issue with staff on a Friday, they have the day off.


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Posted by lmao
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 28, 2016 at 10:28 am

Amazing that you all think something will change. It keeps getting worse. The super rich can afford to cover the cost/waste of the city. The retired and those in the "middle" will have problems no matter what happens. You all want union labor and "cheap" housing for public employees. Quit complaining and pay the pipers in the city gov or move on.


2 people like this
Posted by Edwin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2016 at 9:20 pm

There were no complaints from Keane and his entourage when they pushed through generous pay raises for themselves a few weeks ago. This week it's like an epiphany to them, WTF! Pay raises cost money, and ... that money comes from the budget. It is obscene that those who benefit the most from city income, are those that also disburse it.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Los Altos Hills

on Sep 25, 2017 at 11:35 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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

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