News

Editorial: Tax measure rushed and ill-advised

Proposed transportation tax on Palo Alto businesses doomed to fail if put on November ballot

Palo Alto City Council members are right to worry about political fall-out from the ever-worsening traffic congestion around town.

But rushing an ill-considered tax measure in front of Palo Alto voters this November, at the same time a county transportation sales-tax measure will appear and without the support of the business community is a fool's errand.

On Monday night, right before it begins its summer break, the City Council will debate a proposal that has little definition other than as a tax on all businesses in Palo Alto designed to raise as much as $6 million a year for undefined transportation measures.

It has been the subject of little outreach within the business community, has no clear goals other than to raise money and is not at all ready for either a council decision or the ballot.

Worse, the item appears on the council agenda with no staff report or any supporting data, in violation of the council's policy of releasing such information on important issues at least 10 days prior to the scheduled meeting. The agenda states that a staff report would be available on Thursday, after the Weekly's press deadline, giving the public just three days before the meeting to digest the material.

This is little more than a rushed and desperate attempt to make it appear to the community that the council is addressing traffic congestion problems in anticipation of a highly competitive City Council election, in which only one incumbent (Liz Kniss) will be running and four seats will be open.

"If we don't solve the (traffic) problem," Mayor Pat Burt said in pushing for the ballot measure, "what's going to be the trend line of the political sentiment of the resident community toward the business community and future development?"

Burt is right, but a tax measure is not a solution to the traffic problem, nor should potential further souring of residents' opinions of new development be the motivation for rushing something to the ballot.

Before being asked to approve a new tax on anyone, the community deserves a clearly articulated plan, with specific goals and a budget that reflects the council's priorities for addressing traffic congestion.

Appropriately, the council has over the last few months been exploring various strategies for alleviating our traffic problems, primarily by looking at incentives to reduce single-occupancy-vehicle commuting.

To explore ways of funding these efforts, the council formed an ad hoc Local Transportation Funding Committee, consisting of Burt, Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilwomen Karen Holman and Liz Kniss, which has been meeting over the last few months. Last week the committee muddled through a discussion that surfaced far more questions than answers. But because of the timing for putting a measure on the November ballot, the committee decided to bring to the full council an entirely unshaped plan for discussion.

As it did with the 2014 ballot measure to increase the city's transient-occupancy tax on hotel guests, the council is looking for ways to raise money without taxing the voters themselves -- a cynical approach to raising revenue some would argue.

But unlike in 2014, when the measure had been carefully developed with a clear purpose of funding high-priority infrastructure projects, such as a new public-safety building, the current effort is half-baked, lacks any commitment to what the revenues will fund, and fails to detail how it would be implemented.

It is even harder to fathom how the city would even begin to implement a tax based on every Palo Alto business' count of full-time equivalent employees, which they will voluntarily report, when it has had so much trouble implementing the simple $50-per-year business registry.

As contemplated, companies with 10 or fewer employees would pay no tax, 11-50 would pay $50 per employee per year and those with more than 50 employees would pay $100 per employee per year. So a 51-employee company would pay $5,100 per year.

This is exactly the type of tax that businesses were told would not happen when the simple registry was established over a year ago and is reminiscent of 2009, when the council put a poorly drafted business-license tax measure on the ballot that was rejected by 59 percent of the voters.

All the same fairness issues raised then will threaten to sink a new tax measure. How would such a tax be enforced? How would law firms be treated? Medical offices? Venture capital firms? Fast food businesses? Hotels? Restaurants? Real estate companies? What about companies whose workforce is made up of independent contractors or varies dramatically in size? And why should local businesses bear the full burden of funding transportation measures when they benefit the entire community?

We don't foreclose the possible adoption of a tax on businesses to fund certain transit improvements, but a November ballot measure is a non-starter, and we urge the council to quickly dispose of this item from its Monday agenda. A rush to "do something" should not be driving city policy.

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Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Far too often city councils, state legislatures, and Congress, put their words in action before good sound thought. They normally fear they will be seen as a body of inaction if they don't do something even if it is wrong. Later they will attempt to correct the problems caused by their bad rule, ordnance or law, in a hurry, and make the situation worse.

Recommendation is to take the time to create a rule, ordnance, or law that will take care of the situation that it was intended to take care of without creating other problems. Vet it with reviews and thoroughly review residents concerns, before putting it up for the voters.

Time may be a concern for the impatient, but good use of it prevents problems.

.



11 people like this
Posted by Designed to fail
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 24, 2016 at 12:39 pm

It's not ill-considered, it's carefully designed to fail. Who would expect Pat Burt, Greg Scharff and Liz Kniss to propose a workable tax on business?

These are the core supporters of big office building construction, and reduced parking requirements. They consistently vote for big development, and now expect them to propose a workable tax on business to ameliorate the traffic problems they created?
When it fails they can say, "We tried!" Cynical and experienced politicians, skilled at fooling the public.

The only missing cast members in this comedy are Berman and Wolbach. Maybe they'll vote to pass it. Oh how we tried! The joke is on us.


5 people like this
Posted by mutt
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 24, 2016 at 1:54 pm

I'll favor this if the money can be used to skip the golf course changes and instead use that land to build the much-needed approach to the Dumbarton Bridge.


4 people like this
Posted by NoWay
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Build a southern approach to the Dumbarton to make it easier for more cars to cross more easily?
NOT ON YOUR LIFE!


22 people like this
Posted by tax on businesses
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 24, 2016 at 9:17 pm

My understanding was that this was a tax on businesses, based on number of employees, not on individuals, to fund measures to mitigate traffic. Palo Alto votes should not have difficulty voting for such a tax.


16 people like this
Posted by incentives
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2016 at 7:45 pm

It might be helpful if the legislation included incentives (reduced tax rates) for businesses that encourage their employees to take public transportation, bike, walk, or carpool. Stanford does an excellent job with its commute club, Caltrain and bus passes for employees and grad students.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 26, 2016 at 5:48 pm

If it's up early on the agenda, just get thru it quickly, mayor, limit discussion, so it can be killed quickly, and then move on to the more important issues, and there are quite a few, as you well know. Thanks!


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2016 at 6:15 pm

"Stanford does an excellent job with its commute club, Caltrain and bus passes for employees and grad students."

Stanford simply (cynically?) kicks its employees'cars off campus by severely limiting the available parking spaces and charging huge fees for them. Many Stanford employees cope my driving to Palo Alto, parking for free on residential streets, and walking to the Marguerite buses. Eventually Stanford will need to run those buses deep into Crescent Park, Professorville, Old Palo Alto, Midtown, and beyond to round up its workforce.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Stanford simply (cynically?) kicks its employees'cars off campus by severely limiting the available parking spaces and charging huge fees for them."

Perhaps you would find a little bit of research to be helpful:

Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by deliberate
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 26, 2016 at 7:20 pm

Stanford, like Cal, discourages faculty, staff, and grad students from driving to campus by severely limiting and charging a premium for parking. Stanford (unlike Cal) goes one step further by making alternative transportation options more palatable by i.e. providing free CalTrain and bus passes. IMO this is a responsible and ecologically sound approach that larger Palo Alto businesses would be wise to emulate.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 26, 2016 at 7:29 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Revenue from the Stanford parking fees also pays for all the parking structures, the bike paths and the Marguerite Shuttle which serves a much larger community than just Stanford.

"Free" parking is an illusion. Any scarce resource which is free will be mis-allocated and the price will be the time and effort to find a parking space - or not as the case may well be.

Palo Alto would be wise to follow Stanford's lead from over 40 years ago.


13 people like this
Posted by Stanford advertisements
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 26, 2016 at 9:06 pm

Stanford continues to grow and grow, without limit.
They advertise for patients with full page ads in several newspapers, and on the radio on KQED.FM, and on tv Channel 4 and on Channel 9.
Those are just the places I happen to see. Probably much more advertising than that. Millions of dollars advertising for new patients, then they come to the city council displaying sick babies, and cry, we need more space. Professional showbiz.
Something very dishonest about that scenario.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 26, 2016 at 9:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"then they come to the city council displaying sick babies, and cry, we need more space."

And would you rather have the babies die????

How incredibly fortunate we are to have a world class medical facility within minutes of where we live.

Please consider the alternative.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2016 at 8:05 am

I recently had cause to use the Stanford ER facilities. I was pretty shocked that the norm appeared to be patients on gurneys sitting in a corridor not just waiting for treatment but being treated by physicians. I say it again, this was in the corridor, both sides of the corridor, just leaving a narrow path in the middle for people and equipment to pass. From what I overheard, there were also tents outside the ER facility taking up the slack.

As a result of a medical emergency that occurred within a 5 mile radius, this is the first class facilities I witnessed. It is obvious to me that Stanford can't cope with the population expansion in the area. I am now very much in favor of any increase in size and other improvements to the hospital because they seem to be totally inadequate for the size of the area it covers - from the point of view of their regular hospital services.


12 people like this
Posted by World Class My ---
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2016 at 3:25 pm

World Class My --- is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

Some world class hospital. DO NOT confuse Stanford Hospital, which sucks at patient care, with Packard, which IS a world class children's hospital. Even my daughter, when she had her first child, was SHOCKED by the drop inn care quality between Packard, where she gave birth, and Stanford, where she received aftercare.


3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2016 at 4:21 pm

[Portion removed.]

Re Stanford parking, I did the research personally, watching parking lot after parking lot disappear under the ever-metastasizing Stanford Edifice Complex, the institution of the A B C price/privilege parking heirarchy, and the acquisition of the original Marguerite bus, followed by the second, then a third, then a memo to staff advising them to utilize the new free onto-campus shuttle buses instead of parking on campus (hint hint).


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 27, 2016 at 4:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The link provided was to a 284 page study that led to Stanford's current policies:

"Recommended Parking and Transportation Policies
for Stanford University"

Tons of research was involved in and cited in the report.

Why are you so resistant to facts?


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2016 at 4:34 pm

"The link provided was to a 284 page study that led to Stanford's current policies:"

No, it is to a site that invites me to install an unknown piece of software, in the classic phishing site manner. [Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 27, 2016 at 4:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

You accessed the wrong site.

Here is what is at the link that I provided:

Peter Carpenter wants to share the file Recommended Parking and Transportation Policies for StanFord University_p284.pdf with you.


Post your email and I will send you the file.


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2016 at 5:38 pm

"You accessed the wrong site."

It's the site reached by tapping your link. So...

"Post your email and I will send you the file."

Uu-uh. Email attachments are an infamous malware entry route. Besides, what could the report say that those of us actually experiencing the process right on campus did not see with our own eyes? Rationalizations, perhaps, but who needs those?


10 people like this
Posted by Stanford advertisements
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 27, 2016 at 6:13 pm

From your snarky response, Mr Carpenter, it is apparent that you missed the point of my message.

My message pointed out the MILLIONS of dollars the hospital is spending on ADVERTISING not on health care. Perhaps fewer babies would die if those millions were spent on reducing the cost of medical care, not on full page ads in the newspapers and expensive ads on TV and radio.

From the huge amount of money spent on advertising over a long period of time I infer that the hospital has underutilized space. Or underutilized staff.

Whatever the reason, they have huge sums to spend, NOT on patient care.

Another real possibility could be that they are keeping the media in their good graces, preemptively muting any criticism of their unending expansion plans. This suggestion is not out of line given their history of manipulation.
You may recall they planted their PR head into our Planning Department. He was hired to be a Manager by then Planning Director Steve Emslie. The scandal was quite public.

Not to mention they hired a former Palo Alto Mayor/lawyer to head their development department. They have a history of aggressive manipulation. Not an admirable record.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 27, 2016 at 6:31 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"My message pointed out the MILLIONS of dollars the hospital is spending on ADVERTISING not on health care."

Interesting assertion - do you have any facts to back it up?


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 27, 2016 at 6:32 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Besides, what could the report say that those of us actually experiencing the process right on campus did not see with our own eyes? Rationalizations, perhaps, but who needs those?"

I can lead either end of the horse to water but cannot make it eat or drink or..?


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 27, 2016 at 6:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is a Stanford daily link to the report IF anyone is interested in the facts regarding how and why Stanford dramatically changed its approach to parking and transportation over 40 years ago:

Web Link#


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 27, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For those with a fear of links here is a summary of the 1975! Stanford report:

"SUMMARY
Based upon a review of prior Stanford studies on parking and transportation, a series of eight public meetings throoghout the Stanford community, a survey of current parking and transportation practices at more than 46 universities in the United States and Canada, and a survey of current practices, values, and preferences of a randomly selected sample of the campus community, this report has been prepared to recommend new parking and transportation policies for Stanford University. The report represents one individual's specific recommendations; the endorsement of various constituent groups and/or committees was intentionally not solicited prior to its submission. Given the broad constituency input that took place during the preparation of the report, I hope the recommendations will be found acceptable in large part by the community. The report recommends: 1. That Stanford establish a parking and transportation policy giving first priority in planning, design, regulations, and expenditures to facilitation of pedestrian and bicycle travel; second priority to group transit; and the lowest priority to private motor vehicle travel. 2. The establishment of a parking and transportation trust fund to utilize all parking revenues for the improvement of facilities for all modes of transportation, with preferences to expenditures and support of nonautomobile modes. 3. Mandatory registration of all vehicles at no charge. 4. That the campus be divided into parking
zones: a Free Zone, a Residence Zone, an Academic Zone, and a Vehicle Exclusion Zone. 5. Vehicle registration alone is required for use of the Free Zone. 6. Parking in the Residence and Academic Zones would involve an annual fee and a parking permit. 7. Priority for applying for parking stickers for the Academic Zone descends from faculty to staff to students. 8. That all visitor parking be paid for at the time of use by meters or in paid lots. 9. That responsibility for administering the parking and transportation system be assigned to the Vice-President for Business and Finance. 10. That day-to-day operations be controlled fey the Director of Public Safety. 11. That a parking and transportation committee be appointed to serve as a consultative body for the implementation of the recommendations of this report and the continued refinement and improvement of the system. 12. That an aggressive program be undertaken to plan and develop alternative modes of transportation for the campus, primarily for intra-campus circulation, utilizing the resources of the parking and transportation funds. "


5 people like this
Posted by Stanford advertisements
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 27, 2016 at 9:42 pm

For an estimate of the medical advertising budget I suggest you count the number of full page advertisements in a weekly paper, and multiply by the cost of a full page ad. Then multiply by about 40 or 50 weeks. That should give you a rough idea about ONE set of ads.
Then do the same for the Daily.
Call Channel 4 for the cost of a TV ad in prime time, daily.
That should give you a rough estimate of the lowest dollar amount they spend on advertising, not patient care.
If you don't read the newspapers, or these calculations are too complicated for you, sorry I can't help. They do require imagination and ability to estimate, which are perhaps too sophisticated for someone who only believes in URLs.

You did not respond to the substantive assertions in my message. I do have URLs for them.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2016 at 11:13 pm

"I can lead either end of the horse to water but cannot make it eat or drink or..?"

OK, you can't work with horses. Ain't that a real crupper. Don't move to Woodside.

But let's stick to the thread topic. Stanford did what it did about on-campus parking knowing full well what it was doing. No amount of verbiage or malware can change that. I was there, you know.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton

on Jun 28, 2016 at 6:48 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.


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