Survey shows scant enthusiasm for infrastructure tax

Palo Altans voters may support a hotel-tax increase, but higher sales tax would be a hard sell

Palo Alto voters might be willing to support a funding measure in November to improve public safety and roads, but most would likely oppose a sales-tax increase, a new survey commissioned by the city indicates.

The survey comes four years after a November 2014 election in which voters approved an increase in the city's hotel-tax rate from 12 percent to 14 percent. That measure was intended to help to pay for a list of infrastructure projects that included a new public-safety building, two garages, two renovated fire stations, a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 and various other bike and park improvements.

Since then, the construction market has heated up, ballooning the city's cost estimates and creating a funding gap of about $56 million in the infrastructure plan -- a hole that the City Council is now trying to fill. Last month, the council's Finance Committee commissioned the new poll to determine which tax increases, if any, would likely win the public's support.

The committee is scheduled to discuss the survey on Tuesday and consider the city's next steps for a potential November ballot.

The new survey suggests the council's options for new funding sources are somewhat limited. While voters indicated a willingness to support an increase in the hotel tax or documentary transfer tax (which is paid during property transfers), they had little appetite for creating a parcel tax or raising the sales tax – ideas that each polled below 40 percent. Hotel and real-estate taxes garnered 63 percent and 51 percent of respondents' support, respectively.

Furthermore, the survey -- conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (also known as FM3 Research), which conducted prior tax-measure polls -- showed that voters are much more likely to support new taxes for improvements to public safety, transportation, parks, and road maintenance than for community amenities such as a new animal shelter, an upgraded Junior Museum and Zoo, enhancements to Byxbee Park or restoration of the historic Roth Building.

The project that received the most support in the survey is "ensuring a modern and stable 911 emergency communications network," which 75 percent of the respondents deemed it as either extremely (35 percent) or very (40 percent) important. Maintenance of streets and roads was second on the list, with 66 percent calling it extremely or very important, while "fixing potholes" and "safe routes for bicyclists and pedestrians" received 61 percent and 53 percent, respectively.

Far fewer respondents showed enthusiasm for providing downtown parking (44 percent), creating a safe pedestrian crossing over U.S. Highway 101 (43 percent), and improving parks, playgrounds and playfields (39 percent).

Even lower on the priority scale were recreational and cultural projects like upgrading the Junior Museum and Zoo (17 percent), upgrading Byxbee Park (10 percent) and restoring the Roth building, which is intended to serve as the future home for the Palo Alto History Museum (10 percent).

When asked about particular taxes, hotel taxes scored particularly well: 61 percent of the respondents said they would support a higher hotel tax (27 percent indicated "strong support" while 34 percent said they "somewhat support" such a measure), while 34 percent said they oppose it (they were evenly split between "somewhat oppose" and "strongly oppose," with 17 percent each).

If the city were to raise its rate from 14 percent to 15 percent, it would have one of the highest transient-occupancy-tax rates in the state, joining Anaheim, the home of Disneyland.

Increasing the real-estate transfer tax was also a relatively popular proposition, with 53 percent indicating support (25 percent "strongly supporting" and 27 percent "somewhat supporting" such a measure) and 40 percent opposing (16 percent "strongly opposing" and 25 percent "somewhat opposing").

By contrast, most respondents were generally sour on a parcel tax and downright opposed to increasing the sales tax. The idea of establishing a flat tax on every Palo Alto parcel won the support of just 40 percent of the respondents and opposition from 55 percent. The option of increasing the sales tax drew 27 percent support (with 8 percent "strongly supporting" and 20 percent "somewhat supporting").

Seventy percent oppose raising the sales tax, with 47 percent saying they "strongly oppose" this option and 23 percent saying they "somewhat oppose" it.

On a positive note, from the council's perspective, the survey indicates that voters are willing, at least in principle, to pay up to $100 per year for infrastructure projects – even if opinions vary widely about the exact taxing mechanisms and projects.

Yet it also points to a broader, and potentially more troubling, trend: Compared with two years ago, fewer residents today have confidence in where the city as a whole is going. When asked, "Would you say that things in Palo Alto are generally headed in the right direction, or do you feel that things are pretty seriously off on the wrong track?" just 43 percent chose "right direction" (down from 61 percent in 2016) and 37 percent said "wrong track" (up from 25 percent in 2016). The remainder said they didn't know.

Survey respondents also gave the city lower grades than in prior years when asked about service levels. While 60 percent still rated the city as "good" (50 percent) or "excellent" (10 percent) when it comes to providing services, the figure is lower than it was in 2016, when 74 percent gave the city the two highest ratings.

Voters also appear to have mixed feelings about the city's budget management, with 47 percent giving the city high grades, down from 64 percent in 2016. Survey respondents gave the city higher ratings when asked about maintenance of infrastructure, with 64 percent giving offering positive reviews. Even that, however, is down from 75 percent in 2016.

In its presentation of the results, FM3 noted that the trend is "common in recent months for Bay Area cities facing increasing challenges like housing costs and traffic congestion."


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106 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2018 at 9:39 am

Palo Alto wasted millions buying a trailer park to benefit the few instead of using it to improve the city for all. I have minimal confidence in our city council in using our tax money wisely.

98 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2018 at 9:59 am

Meanwhile the city seems to have no problem spending millions of dollars on parking garages that primarily benefit millionaire landlords who didn't build enough private parking to begin with. Why do we only get to vote on taxes to support public parks and not on taxes that support private businesses?

35 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2018 at 9:59 am

Once again, the money to buy the trailer park did not come from city coffers and did not in any way compete with inftastructure spending. It went directly to help over 400 existing Palo Alto residents and created an affordable space in perpetuity. Compared to displacing existing residents to build housing for highly paid entry level tech workers making more than a lot of existing residents around them, it was a bargain and the right thing to do. It also happened just blocks from Maybell, with high support, showing how affordable housing can happen here with broad approval when it respects the concerns of residents, such as overdensification, ovedevelopment, and safety.

“the trend is "common in recent months for Bay Area cities facing increasing challenges like housing costs and traffic congestion."”
“Facing increasing challenges”
That is a hilarious way to put it, as if it just happened here by surprise! and not by design of Councilmembers like Kniss, Scharff and former Klein, who are still full steam ahead on the very tactics that caused it in the first place.

If we need $56 M, it’s time to shelve putting planters in the middle of Arastradero, which only compromise safety anyway, since emergency first responders won’t be able to take to those spaces when traffic is bad (as it is virtually all day now). There, found you $14 Million and probably saved a lot of lives.

The City should be very careful about putting things on the ballot that ask residents to pay for essntial services like emergency services that should be the first things the City spends money on. People may answer one way in a survey, but when election season hits, it can backfire as residents ask why the City is paying for those things through an additional tax and paying for what are considered nonessential things from the budget. I’ve seen this happen in other cities, it makes City Hall look really untrustworthy and can affect future proposals.

It may be time to resurrect the business tax, but only for nonretail companies over a certain size in retail areas. It probably won’t raise a lot of money but it would sure solve a lot of other problems. Residents would need to bring that forward, though.

93 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 15, 2018 at 10:44 am

Over-development of high tech office space pushed by city "leaders" such as Liz Kniss, Greg Scharff, Jim Keene, and Hilary Gitelman in support of their developer benefactors is the primary cause of the bulk of our problems.

These business interests should be responsible for the costs of mitigating the problems they created.

90 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2018 at 11:09 am

Ordinary taxpayers are tired of building stuff for corrupt politician to give away to their already wealthy friends in the real-estate industry or exchange for pennies on the dollar in campaign contributions.

78 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2018 at 11:29 am

Palo Alto city budget is $660M. In comparison Mountain View city budget is a little over $200M. Palo Alto has fewer residents, lower density and fewer businesses than Mountain View.

Even subtract 30% of PA budget for running the utilities, PA budget is twice as much as MV budget. Why?

Until there is an answer to this bloated current budget why should tax payer contribute more?

82 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2018 at 12:50 pm

I'm not paying for more bollards to artificially create congestion in the hopes of making driving unbearable for Palo Alto drivers so that we choose to ride bicycles instead.

This isn't "infrastructure", it's an ideological War on Cars which should never be funded by tax dollars.

21 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 15, 2018 at 1:33 pm

The Buena Vista the Waterloo of rent control in California (on the internet). Why am I up in Eugene Oregon placing money in apartment house construction? Because it's dangerous to discuss economics in California let alone do anything about providing housing without being called evil for profiting (a necessity). Why give money to the city council when they'd be booted out of an economics 101 or 102 class for what they've already done? Inclusionary zoning, get out of here. If they're are too many jobs for housing it will arrive - in San Jose. High demand makes Palo Alto a rich persons' city. Mountain View with it's rent control has been literally financially bombed. Who would invest in apartments there unless the project is already in the pipeline? Keep taxes down and develop only what is necessary crowding will keep the numbers down.
George Drysdale land economist but always a social studies teacher

52 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2018 at 1:43 pm

The City has just spent an unprecedented amount of money on Ross Road to supposedly help bicycle commuters, but hasn't even started to do anything about a bridge to replace the tunnel under 101. If this is the way they are prioritizing bike commuting when a busy route is closed half the year then I think they have their priorities wrong.

Infrastructure is important, but I can't see that they have been spending the money they do have wisely. So why should we give them more money when important things like that bike/pedestrian bridge go ignored?

20 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 15, 2018 at 1:55 pm

What a shocker: the tax most supported by the people who live in Palo Alto is the tax that costs the people who live in Palo Alto the least.

I'm not say this is necessarily wrong. To know the answer to that, we'd need to figure out how much direct and indirect financial benefit Palo Alto's hotels bring to the city (since visitors certainly contribute to the local economy) minus the predicted reduction in this benefit by increasing the hotel tax, and compare that to the predicted outcomes of raising other local taxes such as sales tax (which clearly has a higher direct cost to the people who live in Palo Alto).

I'm just saying that this result is not at all surprising because if you ask people who should pay for something, and give them the option to say "someone other than me", thats what they are going to say.

58 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Tax and Waste, Tax and Waste.
This town does it very well..

29 people like this
Posted by crazy train
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 15, 2018 at 4:32 pm

I love this town. Y'all cra cra... We gotta support our town. Need the roads.

51 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2018 at 6:06 pm

Why doesn't the Weekly explain in an editorial why the PA city budget is 2-3x that of local cities?

49 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 15, 2018 at 6:55 pm

Great story on why cities keep increasing taxes while services go to hell.

Web Link

We're going to be paying for Josh Mello's pension (and the rest of the transportation department) after he leaves this city in a bike-fueled Armageddon.

35 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 15, 2018 at 8:06 pm

Just to clarify, the General Fund Budget is $210 million and the Utilities budget is $450 million. Palo Alto is the only city in the state that owns all of its own utilities. Apples to apples comparisons should focus on Genaeral Fund expenses.
Palo Alto residents have long expected and received high services. That does not mean they are all provided with high efficiency, as is the case with most levels of government. Also, the city serves over 100,000 workers and Stanford fire and ambulance services, as well as the resident population, which make benchmarking even more difficult.
The operating and capital budgets are fully available on the city website.

69 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2018 at 9:13 pm

This tax will not be for infrastructure, but be used to pay for pet projects that the city council & city manager want to impress special interest groups, and to fund the $500 million unfunded pension liability.

Same thing happened when the hotel tax was increased four years ago. We didn't get a bike bridge, we didn't get a public safety building which has been talked about for the last 20 years, etc.

21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 15, 2018 at 9:59 pm

The Infrastructure Plan has had its own transparent accounting within the Capital Improvemwnt Plan since 2014. The last hotel tax increase has been allocated to that fund and a new one would do the same. I am not worried about these funds being raided.
However, I hope this poll will cause the council to rethink their bad decision to “go big” on the parking garages. That is the least needed part of the Infrastructure Plan. Whatever the garage sizes, some or all of those expenses should come from the property owners who will benefit from them. That is what has been done in the past and the construction cost escalation means we can’t afford to subsidize developers who are pocketing huge windfall profits from the sustained boom in office rents. Besides, it is the increase in employees in their properties that is driving the parking need and creating most of our traffic congestion.

36 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 16, 2018 at 8:36 am

The city has authorized the Ross Road "improvements" at great expense and is contemplating more "improvements" with no actual vote from the citizens as to how city "improvements" are prioritized within the existing budget.

We all voted on a bridge over 101 way back when. That should be a higher priority then tearing up our roads and marking everything with green paint. Everyone else has bridges over major roads - or tunnels under major roads. This is not a higher education effort to create the bridge. Somehow this city has made creating a bike/walking bridge into a major effort and wasted money on the whole project to date with no results. And how about the city retirement fund? Sorry - you all need to get your priorities straight and let us vote on how city funds are spent - there are base requirements and there are "improvements" that need evaluation by the people paying for it all. And once we approve it then go do it.

25 people like this
Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 16, 2018 at 10:44 am

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

I am not necessarily opposed to additional taxes, but will be if the use if for stupidities such as the Ross Road bicycle disaster project.

30 people like this
Posted by 4th gen Palo Altan
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2018 at 11:02 am

Taxes keep rising, bond measures keep passing and yet the city is still falling apart. The city council is more focused on special interest developers who are given carte blanch to increase the population without consideration to the failing infrastructure. Roads are a mess, construction is tying up traffic and our police department is nowhere to be seen at crucial, dangerous intersections where lives hang in the balance more and more often by red light runners. I, for one, am tired of seeing police cars parked outside of my house under the shade of a tree when the real danger lies on the El Camino corridor. Think of all the revenue that could be generated if the police did their jobs in catching and fining all those red light runners...better for community safety too!

6 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 16, 2018 at 11:07 am

commonsense is a registered user.

For sure PA government is not the most efficient. However, it is not 2 or 3 x other cities. It's roughly the same as Mtn View, a bit over $200k. It is unique in that it provides it's own utilities but that expense is offset by revenue from utilities. Per capita it's about 33% less efficient than Mtn View. More parks and better schools but still a problem.

32 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2018 at 11:25 am

Annette is a registered user.

I rather doubt CC gives much thought to rethinking bad decisions. Heck, some of them give the impression that they endure the weekly Council meeting only b/c they must when they would much prefer to govern without all the bothersome community input. Alas . . .

14 people like this
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 16, 2018 at 1:01 pm

As always, I fully support increasing our taxes, so long as we remove the pretense of using the monies for infrastructure.

We must make sure to pay for government worker pensions, not services. Don't waste it on silly stuff like road repair.

Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 16, 2018 at 1:01 pm

The strategy of Libertarians who are really controlling the Republican party, and
in general the political system is to make taxes regressive to the point that the
burden, that is those who feel the pain are the working people with fixed and
low incomes.

The tax system in this country was always designed to have the load distributed
over the wealthiest Americans, and those involved in large scale business ventures,
for example import-export, international trade. The country used to sustain itself
on tarifs from trade.

Over time there was the income tax, but it was mostly paid by the very wealthy,
and up to the 1960s the highest marginal rates were over 50%. During this time
people had trust and faith in their government and institutions ... for the most part,
knowing that our country has never been perfect.

Since the 60's and the Cold War and American military adventurism ... that is, the
wholesale change of the nature of the country, and forcing the people to pay and
fight for it, or in the case of the poor, slave for it, that burden has been coming down
on working people, and going lighter on the corporations that run the system, and
the wealthy who man the corporations and write the laws.

As regular people paid more taxes they got less representation, and more programming
from the large corporations, and the tax burden shifted downward, with loud exaggerated
complaints that the rich pay the most tax, and they are over-burdened. But that was
always the way the system was designed to work ... and the rich are hardly over-burdened,

Now, taxes are the only thing we hear as a solution to fixing our country, but the libertarians
are really not about fixing things ... that is why they put sycophants and incompetents
in high office and management.

The government cannot fund itself, The media blames high taxes and the people themselves.
The people, or at least some loud voices that sound like a majority then complain, and
government is captured ... the libertarian dream.

This all really started rolling with Reagan and Thatcher. The Brits caught on to what was
happening when Thatcher went too far and instituted a tax system where everyone paid
the same --- the community charge tax. It was as if everyone in the US just paid $1000
to the US government every year, and that was meant to put a hard limit on government
power and allow the free reign of the rich over the government.

This is where we are heading, though I doubt the Republicans ( really libertarians )
would be stupid enough to go as far as Thatcher. ALTHOUGH ... looking at our Palo
Alto School Real Estate Special Assessment - THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT WE DO HAVE
in that case. A totally regressive tax that benefits those who are very rich and have
big families that live in Palo Alto. The rich are making everyone else pay. What is
that other than slavery. Don't like it, can't afford - move out of Palo Alto and shut up.

We can fix our problems by putting the tax system back to where the Founders designed
it to be, expected it to me, and meant for it to me.

If this tax was fair the question would be, do we add a progressive tax where people
would feel equal pain in carrying the burden of repairing our infrastructure. That
would mean paying higher percentage taxes in proportion to the real estate holdings,
and higher percentage taxes on your income the more you have and the more you
make. It has the added benefit of putting sane incentives for economic and social
behavior in place so that everyone in the country can benefit.

47 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2018 at 2:17 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

I have cheerfully voted to increase my property tax bill to benefit Palo Alto schools, even though I never had a child attend them.

I consider myself a citizen of this community and do some volunteer work.

However, ever since the election of the pro-growth slate on the Palo Alto City Council, I feel quite alienated from them and their decisions. I spoke to a couple of these Young Turks at public events when they were running and was frankly shocked at how shallow they were. We lost a great opportunity when Arthur Keller was not elected.

The Disaster on Ross Road is the last straw. I have been reading many comments on Town Square from ACTUAL BICYCLISTS about how awful and dangerous it is. We got a hare-brained scheme foisted on us in Midtown. I don't see traffic circles north of Oregon.

So I won't be a civic minded person who votes for any expenditures that could be used (wasted) by this current city council.

33 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2018 at 3:05 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Novelera - unless you are a developer or a pro-growther you are not part of the majority's constituency.

Getting elected requires support beyond ones circle of like-minded friends. That's where Shiny Flier campaigns click in. Those are expensive and that's where developer, pac, and tech money comes in. Who can forget the barrage of Mark Berman fliers? There must be a template for those things b/c they are all essentially the same: predictable endorsements, a wholesome photo, and self-serving descriptions of accomplishments. But they generate name recognition and the sad fact is, that works.

24 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2018 at 7:06 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Me 2 - Thank you. The article you shared is staggeringly sobering. Every person in this city - even those who are not particularly worried about their financial future - should read it. And each of us should let our CC know that reducing our unfunded pension liability should be a high priority.

18 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2018 at 7:12 pm

The recent Trump tax reform will significantly lessen the likelihood of new taxes, because they can no longer be used as a write off on federal tax returns. Even our local limo-libs will be less likely to pass Palo Alto taxes, if other U.S. citizens cannot be forced to subsidize them.

24 people like this
Posted by Rex
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 16, 2018 at 9:35 pm

Sorry, I'm not interested in a hotel tax unless there is an Airbnb tax. WTF? Airbnb gets a pass for providing unregulated transient occupancy that impacts neighbors and neighborhoods practically without any recourse, but the hotels that must follow a laundry list of laws regulating transient occupancy, and pay for it, get to pay up, again? No. Besides, as others have pointed out, the city wastes so much money on ridiculous fiscal adventures, Ross Road street furniture being the most recent in the news, and an entourage for the city manager, a long standing fiscal drain with little to show for it. No, no new taxes until the city govt proves it can actually spend it wisely.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 17, 2018 at 7:46 am

I grew up in a time in CA when we had a middle-class in all races. Tom Bradley was the mayor of LA for over 20 years - the LAX International terminal is named after him. Willie Brown was the head of the CA assembly then mayor of SF. These two individuals followed the proscribed path to success - do well in school, and proceed to college and thoughtful, well-crafted careers. Trouble started when the state decided with the fed gov to close the high number of military bases in the state. Note that the military and government contractors are Equal Opportunity Employers that allowed all races to proceed based on ability to lead. People proceeded based on skill - not color. So the state closed most of the bases and guess what - those properties are filled with PCB's and dangerous chemicals which disallow the building of homes. So someone got that wrong. Then manufacturing took a hit - so now you have moved the economic base for a high number of residents out of the state. And shut down the space programs and you have moved a number of highly educated engineers out of the state and out of work that they were trained to do. The whole economic base of the state has shifted, whole potential areas of employment eliminated from the state scene, and you have a governor touting what a great economy we have. Not so when you look at the pension problems that you now have no economy to support and a collapsing infrastructure. So you have hype and reality. It is the opinion section of the paper VS the Associated Press downloads in the paper. AP is the correct choice in the reality check. This whole regional area is deeply affected by the transition in the economic picture and each city needs to recognize the how and why we need better control of our resources. That includes focusing what resources we have to the best result. We need to demand that from our state, county, and city. AS to building on areas next to transit most of that land is owned by the city, county, state, or major transit organizations like the RR's. Go get them first.

32 people like this
Posted by Weekly
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 17, 2018 at 9:11 am

How did a business tax poll?

Seems to be a glaring omission. I’d favor a tax based on the size of business. The largest companies in the area Google, Facebook, Apple, and Palintir are doing little to address the severe impacts they are placing on our infrastructure and housing. These companies need to pay their fair share instead of shirking their civic duty to their community stakeholders.

Council needs to hear how voters think about a business tax. Why was there no information?

18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 17, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Much of the CA economy is based on the FANG economy - FB, Alphabet, Google, Amazon, etc. These companies are heavily dependent on imported labor which is procured through companies set up for that purpose. It is noted that these companies have huge amounts of cash stored offshore so the "benefit" derived from their presence is touted on their bottom line vs how much in taxes they provide to their state economies. Any statements as to the ranking of our economy is a bunch of cheerleaders who are trying to sell a project. There is no reality to what everyone is selling. Any attempts to try and get more money in bond funds show that issue - how can we have such great companies and such a rotten infrastructure? CA cannot manage itself and its resources and throwing more money at it will not help.

18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 17, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

resident makes some excellent points above. There have been several articles recently where the FANG companies have refused to comment on the burdens their "feverish" hiring places on the local communities and/or how they shift burdens to the rest of us while they profit from the $60,000 foreign contract workers and what a huge burden it would be for them to tolerate an increase to $90K for the same foreign contract workers.

Given the savings, they should certainly pick up the $20 million (or whatever) costs for the bike bridge that's primarily benefits them.

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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2018 at 3:09 pm

It shouldn't be the job of employers to dictate housing policy. You don't want that. As I've mentioned before, our healthcare mess has roots in employer-paid healthcare insurance that started in the early 20th century as a means to attract prospective employees.

That being said, you better believe the so-called "FANG" companies want more housing. Google's developments in Mountain View and Diridon Station include housing as part of the project. Apple is not blocking Vallco redevelopment in Cupertino (that's entirely NIMBY-led). No FANG company is telling Brisbane to develop office space instead of housing.

All the scaled down development of housing remains in the hands of city policy and residents. Stop blaming companies. You need to look in the mirror to see why housing is so screwed up here.

26 people like this
Posted by Stop the unneccessary bike "improvements"
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Stop the unneccessary bike "improvements" is a registered user.

Instead of spending money on bike improvements that are for the most part not necessary and cause more issues than they solve, lets simply pave the street so bikes don't ride over a patchwork of metal plates and uneven pavement. What I have seen with the bike and pedestrian improvements is:

Middlefield Road - the buttons the keep people from passing are actually adding to the safety, but Middlefield is not and probably won't be a bike route. Bryant and Newell are well used, parallel routes to Middlefield. People on Middlefield generally ride on the sidewalk (often going against traffic) not in the bike lane. The two way bike lanes in front of Jordan often have cars driving down them. And buses are too wide for the lanes in many sections.

N. California - The re-striping of the bike lane from Middlefield to Alma means that 2 cars can not pass safely in opposite directions, evidenced by the fact that there is no longer a middle line dividing the traffic painted on the pavement. The wider bike lane makes the car portions too narrow.

Ross Road -I watched a parent run into one of the strange jut out pieces of road furniture while trying to guide their little one who was on the bike behind her. The mom was fine, the child road onto the sidewalk which is what most of the kids do. This was just a really weird expenditure.

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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2018 at 4:07 pm

"How did a business tax poll?"

A "business tax" already exists.

It's called local employees paying their state income tax.

And sales tax when they buy things.

And property tax when they buy property (and pay 100x more than people who have owned their own property for decades).

31 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 17, 2018 at 4:15 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

If the housing situation is screwed up here, it was screwed up by companies who insist on staying here and bring in an endless stream of employees who can't find housing. These companies have two choices:move elsewhere or provide housing for the people they hire. They should also pay all the costs of infrastructure improvement if they decide to stay here. Not one nickel for infrastructure tax.

27 people like this
Posted by Concerned Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2018 at 5:37 pm

New poll funded by the city revealed that Palo Altans won't support new taxes to fund infrastructure and a new police station.

Also, a growing number of Palo Altans feel the city is on the wrong track. Only 43% of those surveyed think the city is headed in the right direction compared to 61% in 2016.

Only 60% think the city is doing a good job in providing services, down from 74% in 2016.

It's time to wipe the slate clean and vote out all of the current city council up for re-election and get "Spend all my money on feel good projects" Jim Keane fired.

Ross road is just one of the many blunders this council keeps shoving down our throats with no input from the voters who elected them. Hundreds have signed a petition to remove the hazards on the street. First Baptist Church is up for consideration as a "community center" with up to 500 car visits per day and operating until 10 PM weekdays and 11 PM weekends with groups of up to 120 at any given event. And by the way, they only have 8 parking spots on the property and would be in violation of residential zoning codes by allowing medical practices to operate from the facility (which they now do illegally), something the editors of Palo Alto Online favor and the planning commissioners recommended with a 5-2 vote in favor.

Your neighborhoods are being threatened every day by this bunch. If we let them continue to disregard the character of our neighborhoods, we'll have high density housing surrounding us everywhere. Let them know by writing each one of them to oppose this crazy idea, and that their jobs are on the line if they allow this to go through.

Enough is enough. The majority of voters are fed up.

12 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 18, 2018 at 3:01 pm

>> A "business tax" already exists.
>> It's called local employees paying their state income tax.

Removing taxes on corporations and dumping it on people is another
way for people to be more burdened. Meanwhile corporations to overseas
with their profits, paying no taxes, and burden the working class, while their
capital gains special treatments are enlarged every legislative session.

That is just another way for business to put the hatred of taxes and government
into the hearts of workers who are gas-lighted into giving up the only say they
have in anything, their government and their vote, because they are focused
only on taxes.

I wrote above about where that will lead, ie Margaret Thatcher's community tax,
and the reason she was kicked out and hated in Britain to this day. America has
never woken up to what Reagan was all about.

The fear of taxes comes from the disproportionate and non-progressive nature of
what our tax system has become, not taxes themselves. Taxes build our country.
If we did not have taxes and government we would truly have the anarchy some
seem to think will deliver a capitalist paradise. We are in danger of losing the best
parts of capitalism due to the capture of government and regulation in the very
name of capitalism. A real mind-F*** that has worked since Reagan.

7 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:03 pm

@CrescantParkAnon and others,

I have no principled objection to taxes and would gladly pay more under the following conditions.

1. FAIRNESS: The taxation system must be "fair".
2. GOOD USES: The monies raised should be used for good purposes.
3. EFFICIENT: There should be a minimum amount of waste and inefficiency by the government, and the governmental processes should be reasonable.

Unhappily, none of these criteria are met. Our city government certainly needs to work on efficiency.

16 people like this
Posted by Ceci Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:17 pm

Ceci Kettendorf is a registered user.

I am asking this of anyone who understands the why of this:

Atherton and Los Altos remain lovely bedroom communities with little stress on their schools, roads, parking, retail. They do not seem to be going through the angst about the building of housing or infrastructure repair or misuse of tax money that Palo Alto is experiencing.
Do those cities not allow the building of offices and therefore are not required by the state to build the Wilton projects that we will begin to see? How do those cities remain on even keel? I don't understand the bigger picture, if someone could explain it to me.

Annette is so orrect that money puts our officials in office, as their costly campaigns were funded by developers. In contrast, Arthur Keller ran his campaign on a shoestring with about 12 helpers. However, he only lost by 800 or so votes, so I have hope!

I predict COOLBLOCK will return as another million dollar boondoggle that the council will sneak through and waste money on, (since it is a pet project of the city manager.)

Would one or two of you run next time? I will help you with your campaign. Save my contact info.
CeCi Kettendorf

8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 18, 2018 at 5:50 pm

>> @CrescantParkAnon and others,
>> I have no principled objection to taxes and would gladly pay more under the following conditions.
>> 1. FAIRNESS: The taxation system must be "fair".

Robert Smith, that is exactly what I was pointing out. A parcel tax on everyone's home in Palo Alto regardless of value is absolutely abhorrent and no tax in the US was meant to be of this nature. The Brits rioted after Margaret Thatcher did this ...

Poll tax riots - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia :

The poll tax riots were a series of riots in British towns and cities during protests against the poll tax (officially known as the "Community Charge"), introduced by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The largest protest occurred in central London on Saturday, 31 March 1990, shortly before the tax was due to come into force in England and Wales.

This is not that well explained in Wikipedia, but it is in the new book on tax reform "A Fine Mess" by T. R. Reid.

It is something that was never even touched on or mentioned in the American media at all, while at the same time it has been cleverly instituted in many areas, as the overall progressivity of the American tax system has turned regressive. Imagine trying to fund the American government by charging every American the same amount of tax, something that Conservatives have wet-dreams about if they could do it.

Fairness can be defined many different ways, but when you hear progressive taxes being demonized in the media constantly, and the cost of taxes going up on average middle class people who idle investors, corporations and certain politically influential groups like CEOs, Hedge fund managers, and even certain individuals getting tax breaks you can be sure that however many thumbs-ups and likes you see in social media, it is unfair.

"A Fine Mess" by T. R. Reid is a really critical book for Americans to read and understand. The extent of the tax corruption in the country is such that the whole definition of money should be re-thought out.

11 people like this
Posted by Ceci Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 18, 2018 at 8:53 pm

Ceci Kettendorf is a registered user.


Correct me if I am incorrect, but wasn't Measure A, the parcel tax for the school district, an example of what you are describing?, As I recall, every parcel in Palo Alto is paying the same amount, around $800 annually, regardless of the value or size of the property.

7 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 18, 2018 at 9:52 pm

Ceci Kettendorf - exactly
Normal working people, if there are any left in Palo Alto are subsidizing the children of multi-millionaires to go to Palo Alto public schools. Fix the tax system, fix the incentives, fix the city, state, country and maybe the world.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:03 pm

^ Clearly the parents of today's schoolchildren all bought their homes in the 1970s. Nobody buying more recently could afford children.

6 people like this
Posted by hp
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 18, 2018 at 10:14 pm

Property taxes to fund schools should be progressive—that is, the greater the valuation of the property, the higher the trustee should pay. Unfortunately, with a flat parcel tax, those with lower income (whom are less likely to have kids) end up subsidizing richer wealthier peoples' kids' education.

If we in Palo Alto think of ourselves as 'leaders of social change', and yet fail to deal with such problems as this, we are but fools.

6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 19, 2018 at 7:19 am

There appears to be a lack of understanding as to how the tax base of the state and federal government is funded.
1. FANG companies have a big number on the stock exchange which our congressional people translate into the world's 6th biggest economy. However they do not contribute to the tax base for a number of reasons - one being the hiring of H1B people who do not work directly for the company - they work for a supplier foreign based resource company. That translates to no SSN supported taxes and in company no State Disability Taxes - also shown on your paycheck for American employed people.
2. Recent front page articles in the SFC highlight a individual who came over as a illegal. She had a job in Mexico but paid a Coyote $3-4,000 to get her here based on the promise of a "Better Life". Since she works 6 days a week that does not translate as a better life but the Coyote has a great life at $3-4K per person. Any guesses as to how that $3-4K is divvied up? I suspect that our LA congressional people get a cut and want that to continue. The economy in Coyote world is great with no tax base to the state.
3. Our farmers have side-tracked the requirement to get farm worker visas so they are off the hook to pay into the health care and tax base for those workers.
4. Our state and local congressional "leaders" fully understand how this works and hope that they can guilt everyone into buying into this as a "value". The Santa Clara County is contributing to this mess by supporting this then asking wage earners to support it to fund local projects.
5. If you do not understand how taxes are funded then start asking questions to the city, county, state and your local SCV "cheerleaders" as to what they are doing to address this as they pursue higher taxes for the CA wage earners.
6. People who have worked in major industries have seen companies moved to Mexico under NAFTA - further erosion of the tax base for any location where this happens.
People who work in "government" paid jobs are dependent on the tax base to fund their job. So they are promoting more taxes. People in industry have paychecks that show how their salaries are reduced by taxes - both federal and state and can see that as it happens.

4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 19, 2018 at 10:54 am

We are missing the low-hanging fruit of a local income tax, as permitted in several states other than California. Could Palo Alto's jobs-housing imbalance become a profitable strategy? We're gleeful at taxing visitors through the TOT. Let's lobby to get more direct taxes from everyone who works in town. If they make money here, they can't complain that we want some of it.

8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 19, 2018 at 11:00 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Decades ago -- as far back as the 1980s -- New York City taxed non-resident commuters into the city. As a matter of routine, people from NJ, CT and upstate used to schedule several non-NYC meetings a week to avoid the commuter tax.

It ain't rocket science.

13 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2018 at 11:16 am

Reading these comments, it sounds that many who live here are fed up with how this city council has evolved. Now that we need some infrastucture $$$- people are disgusted and fed up with how this city has been run - little fiefdoms and we are tired of paying for it.

To those on the council that thought they could do this survey and we would jump all over it. You have overplayed your cards, now get to work for the city - not your self/developers. You made your bed, wake up and rethink how your are managing our overcrowded, congested, very expensive city. I encourage you to listen carefully, very carefully.

7 people like this
Posted by Rey T
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:02 pm

@musical and @Online Name, you make some very good points. What if we go one further and directly address the causes of our current excruciating jobs-housing imbalance? We all know what the causes are.

Cause 1: city governments permitting (and even inviting) far more office development than our small cities can accommodate, resulting in an enormous imbalance of workers and residents.

Solution: punish the imbalance. Make each city pay a fine or tax on the excess workers i.e. on the number of workers less the number of residents. Distribute the money to cities with more residents than workers to fund affordable housing for low-income residents in those cities (no subsidizing wealthy residents of Atherton et al).

Cause 2: foreign nationals buying up our land as investment. This needs to stop for so many reasons. Our country belongs to us citizens. Why on earth are foreigners allowed to buy it up?

Solution: ban real estate purchase by non-citizens (maybe allow it for green card holders)

8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:28 pm

> Why on earth are foreigners allowed to buy it up?

For the same reason the Republicans are so rabid to see Social Security become
private investment accounts - economic elites business as usual rip off.

Here, foreign buyers bid up the prices of real estate which is good for developers,
landlords, commercial properties, and realtors. Money is the only thing that
matters anymore, which is understandable, everyone wants to make money, and
have their properties increase in value, but it has gotten to the frenzy stage where
things are unsustainable, and it is hurting the city.

With all the development and new construction and houses, how is it that we still
have tax shortfalls? Something is not adding up, and the "journalism" in this town,
such as it is, is run by extreme conservative media companies that get their
revenue from and mostly support development of any sort. Palo Alto needs
some real ironclad processes that force transparency and citizen involvement in
our city.

In the case of social security the rush of money into the market will bid everything
up temporarily, and those savvy Wall St. folks ...

.... you know the Wall St. speculators that raise the prices of drugs so high that
people cannot afford them and the same ones whose 2013 bonuses, not
counting regular pay and commissions, were twice what all the minimum
wage workers in the country made the whole year ...

.... will figure out a way to suck that extra over-valued capitalization out of the
market, and charge fees for doing it too, and then complain that they cannot stop
the next meltdown we have and that how in the long run everyone will be better off
having to suffer. In the long run everyone will be dead.

Man, the average people have no idea how bad they are getting ripped off.

It probably makes sense to have limits on foreign purchase of real estate in the
US or some way to insert reciprocity to countries so we can buy their real estate
as well. How to do it reasonably is the question.

8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 19, 2018 at 2:01 pm

Many of the points made above are more specific to CA than other states. We have gone down the rabbit hole here and can't get out. Companies that are headquartered here need to set up additional locations in the valleys to cut the commutes and let younger people buy homes. Industry of a technical nature does not have to be located in one area. Start pushing to make that happen.

10 people like this
Posted by Ceci Kettendorf
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 19, 2018 at 3:04 pm

Ceci Kettendorf is a registered user.

Would those of you, more savvy than I, explain to me the why of the following:

Why are Atherton and Los Altos not experiencing the same pain as Palo Alto concerning the building of housing, the worker/resident imbalance, the infrastructure funding, the traffic tsunami, school over-enrollment, on and on. Why do those cities remain charming bedroom communities?

Is it because they did not allow the building of offices to the degree we have?

Help me see the big picture.

6 people like this
Posted by Rey T
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 19, 2018 at 3:11 pm

> Is it because they did not allow the building of offices to the degree we have?

@Ceci, you have hit the nail smack on the head.

8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 19, 2018 at 6:08 pm

Ceci Kettendorf - I'd put it something like this ...

Palo Alto is the most exploitable area closest to Stanford, so we get the focus
of the developers and real estate speculators that mostly live in those other
cities. They are close enough and have enough people dangling at the end
of strings like puppets in Palo Alto, including a couple overly censoring bloggers
I've noticed, and Palo Alto because of Stanford and its above average schools
( subsidized for rich people by a very regressive parcel tax ) is a draw for those
not quite rich enough to live in Atherton or Los Altos.

They don't really care about what happens to Palo Alto, which explains why
a whole host of changes have been made to rig the system that seem to
dump more costs on Palo Alto and remove services as well.

15 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2018 at 10:13 pm

The City Council doesn’t care what the residents of PA want. The council is a little clique and the residents pay the bills.
It infuriates me at council meetings when the council begrudgingly allows the residents to speak for 3 minutes on an issue that is to be decided upon later in the evening. The council sits and barely listens to the residents ideas and concerns. After resident comments are concluded, the council pulls out their pre written notes with their pre decided decisions. Residents waste their breath and time by bothering to speak at council meetings. City Hall doesn’t listen to the will of the people.

12 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 20, 2018 at 7:42 am

> City Hall doesn’t listen to the will of the people.

A great quote I heard a while back is that "A society is democratic to the extent that its citizens play a meaningful role in managing public affairs." Substitute "residents" for citizens and this suggests Palo Alto representative democracy is a joke.

As I said, Palo Alto, and to some extent Mtn. View are the playgrounds for Stanford and the developers and big-shots that live in adjacent cities. The services are outsources to God knows who. Employees are not customer/resident-centric and apparently not paid to be. Services keep getting more expensive while being cut or diminished, or higher levels that residents use are being set as the base level to giveaway guaranteed profits to City contractors.

Our one central "newspaper" the Palo Alto Online has on staff two aged old white men who run pro-development blogs like Captain Blighs for years if not decades, and no one can get a contrarian word in edgewise without being insulted, brutally edited or outright deleted, and with all the claim that California is so Liberal, Palo Alto is like a right-wing totalitarian tyranny these days. Right-leaning comments are made in the Town Square Forum and immediately within minutes get multiple likes apparently from readers who are just waiting to click "Like" but who never comment themselves.

Palo Alto should change its name from Tall Tree to Potential Lumber Profits.

6 people like this
Posted by Rey T
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 20, 2018 at 8:13 am

"is a draw for those
not quite rich enough to live in Atherton or Los Altos."

Thanks for pointing this out, @Crescent. Notice also that while Atherton has always been an exclusive upscale enclave, Los Altos has deliberately and consciously converted itself into one. In earlier decades, Los Altos was a draw for people not quite rich enough to live in Palo Alto or Menlo Park.

Los Altos made the conversion by, as @Ceci was wondering, consistently blocking attempts to add big-box stores (during their boom decades) and office parks while Palo Alto, Mountain View and others were busy declaring "we're a business city, not a residential city".

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

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