News

Editorial: Yes on Measure E hotel-tax increase

Measure would help fund priority infrastructure projects

We reluctantly recommend voters support the city of Palo Alto's proposal to raise about $2.5 million a year in new city revenue by increasing the transient-occupancy tax from 14 to 15.5 percent. If it passes with the required simple majority vote, it would be the third increase in the last 11 years and will make Palo Alto's hotel tax the highest in the state.

Raising the cost of an already expensive hotel room by a few dollars is an easy sell to voters. It won't cost residents a dime but will benefit them by providing funds for the city's general fund.

Although there are no restrictions on how the money is used, the commitment being made by the city is that it will be spent on priority infrastructure projects, including the long-sought new public-safety building, renovations to old fire stations and a new parking garage serving the California Avenue area. There is a bit of false marketing of this measure in the official ballot description, which incorrectly implies that the city's 911 system is vulnerable without these new funds and doesn't even mention the public-safety building. Earlier polling showed citing the 911 system and omitting the word "infrastructure" would attract the most voter support — hardly the proper way to craft ballot language.

City staff and the council didn't do their best work on this proposal, and we would have preferred a more honest description and the use of other funding sources with a greater nexus to the infrastructure projects to be funded, such as a business tax or bond measure. But further delay in addressing the accumulated capital projects will only make these necessary projects more expensive.

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Editorial: Yes on Measure E hotel-tax increase

Measure would help fund priority infrastructure projects

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Sep 21, 2018, 6:56 am
Updated: Tue, Sep 25, 2018, 8:47 am

We reluctantly recommend voters support the city of Palo Alto's proposal to raise about $2.5 million a year in new city revenue by increasing the transient-occupancy tax from 14 to 15.5 percent. If it passes with the required simple majority vote, it would be the third increase in the last 11 years and will make Palo Alto's hotel tax the highest in the state.

Raising the cost of an already expensive hotel room by a few dollars is an easy sell to voters. It won't cost residents a dime but will benefit them by providing funds for the city's general fund.

Although there are no restrictions on how the money is used, the commitment being made by the city is that it will be spent on priority infrastructure projects, including the long-sought new public-safety building, renovations to old fire stations and a new parking garage serving the California Avenue area. There is a bit of false marketing of this measure in the official ballot description, which incorrectly implies that the city's 911 system is vulnerable without these new funds and doesn't even mention the public-safety building. Earlier polling showed citing the 911 system and omitting the word "infrastructure" would attract the most voter support — hardly the proper way to craft ballot language.

City staff and the council didn't do their best work on this proposal, and we would have preferred a more honest description and the use of other funding sources with a greater nexus to the infrastructure projects to be funded, such as a business tax or bond measure. But further delay in addressing the accumulated capital projects will only make these necessary projects more expensive.

Related content:

Webcast: Election measures E and F

Comments

No on Measure E
Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2018 at 8:22 am
No on Measure E, Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2018 at 8:22 am
51 people like this

I'll be voting no. Taxing people who don't get to vote is unfair. And it's not right to burden just one sector of the community with high taxes. No other group of residents or businesses pays a 15.5% local surtax and hotel guests don't use more city resources than the tens of thousands of employees who commute daily to work here.


Alvin
Professorville
on Sep 21, 2018 at 8:33 am
Alvin, Professorville
on Sep 21, 2018 at 8:33 am
37 people like this

I'm also voting No not just because, as the commenter above noted, it is wrong to tax people who have no say on this measure and to single out one sector of the economy who use fewer resources, but also because the tax may discourage (at the margin) out of towners from staying in Palo Alto. Hence, the loss of revenue to local businesses. If nothing else, let's stop fabricating excuses to take more from peoples' hard earned income.


john_alderman
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2018 at 9:05 am
john_alderman, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2018 at 9:05 am
7 people like this

The best taxes are those that other people pay.


R. Davis
Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2018 at 10:06 am
R. Davis, Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2018 at 10:06 am
37 people like this

QUOTE: I'll be voting no. Taxing people who don't get to vote is unfair.

QUOTE:...it is wrong to tax people who have no say on this measure and to single out one sector of the economy who use fewer resources,

Count me in on the NO vote. I'm not buying into the 'infra-structure' expense argument.

Palo Alto is starting to remind me of that old 'speed-trap' along Highway 50 near Placerville where speeding tickets were used to finance most of the county's 'infrastructure' expenditures.


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 21, 2018 at 11:28 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 21, 2018 at 11:28 am
34 people like this

I will be voting no. The reasons stated above are good arguments, but my central argument is that the city is spending too much money.

Since 2000, the city has received huge property tax increases as the price of housing has escalated. The city has increased staff enormously, added dubious projects, and failed to save for infrastructure.

It is also true that the population of Palo Alto is not significantly higher than what it was 51 years ago when I arrived here, yet the city's budgets have increased enormously during that time (inflation adjusted).

The city actually wanted to put three different taxes on the ballot but settled on the hotel tax because their expensive consultants told them it was the only one of the three that might pass in an election.

I want to send a message to the city that they need to live with their means and not continue to troll for new sources of tax revenue.



Make It Go Away...
College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2018 at 2:21 pm
Make It Go Away..., College Terrace
on Sep 21, 2018 at 2:21 pm
35 people like this

The Official PACC Theme Song

Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you, nineteen for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don't take it all
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah I'm the taxman

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.

Don't ask me what I want it for
If you don't want to pay some more
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman
And you're working for no one but me.

-George Harrison


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 25, 2018 at 10:53 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2018 at 10:53 am
13 people like this

Remember Mary Poppins? She had a term, "pie crust promises", for promises that are easily made and easily broken. Absent restrictions on how the revenue from this tax can be spent there's no guarantee that it will be spent on key infrastructure projects. That alone is good enough reason for me to vote NO on E, although I do agree with all the reasons others have posted.


I'm voting YES on Measure E
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 11:03 am
I'm voting YES on Measure E, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2018 at 11:03 am
4 people like this

I'm voting YES on Measure E. Hotel rates are up--even as more rooms have been built. Occupancy exceeds 77%. Hotel room users are mostly business visitors who use our public streets during peak hours. The hotels need the public service infrastructure this tax will support. Residents are already paying more than our fair share for infrastructure that local businesses use heavily.

Business travelers will pay a premium to be close to the offices they visit because of Bay Area traffic. Their travel time is worth money.

The Weekly is misinformed on the matter of 911 operations. The city invested in a truck that can maintain basic 911 services if the currently seismically unsound operations center is disabled in an earthquake BUT a truck is a poor substitute for a true operations center. In a large-scale emergency, we will need a true operations center for robust departmentally coordinated response. It sounds like the Weekly needs a tour of our sad, existing 911 center.

We are talking about adding the price of a cup of coffee to a hotel room bill.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2018 at 11:51 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2018 at 11:51 am
6 people like this

Posted by R. Davis, a resident of Crescent Park

>> Palo Alto is starting to remind me of that old 'speed-trap' along Highway 50 near Placerville where speeding tickets were used to finance most of the county's 'infrastructure' expenditures.

True. And that might persuade me to vote "yes". My visitors can't afford to stay here anyway (except at my house). The nearest affordable hotel rooms are near 101 and Mathilda (or further in that direction). So, as long as all the business travelers to downtown are willing to pay, well, let them pay. Maybe eventually they will branch out and build their next office campus in Stockton to save money.


musical
Palo Verde
on Sep 25, 2018 at 1:47 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Sep 25, 2018 at 1:47 pm
2 people like this

>> "We are talking about adding the price of a cup of coffee to a hotel room bill."

More like adding the price of a tenth cup of coffee to the nine we've already added.



Stockton? You Are Joking.
Los Altos
on Sep 25, 2018 at 1:52 pm
Stockton? You Are Joking., Los Altos
on Sep 25, 2018 at 1:52 pm
26 people like this

> So, as long as all the business travelers to downtown are willing to pay, well, let them pay. Maybe eventually they will branch out and build their next office campus in Stockton to save money.

Unlikely as Stockton tends to lack the pervasive & perceived PA vibe.

Ever been to Tracy & Ripon? No thanks.


Accomodate Your Guests
Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2018 at 5:36 pm
Accomodate Your Guests, Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2018 at 5:36 pm
15 people like this

>>> My visitors can't afford to stay here anyway (except at my house). The nearest affordable hotel rooms are near 101 and Mathilda (or further in that direction). So, as long as all the business travelers to downtown are willing to pay, well, let them pay.


[email protected] Mathilda/Sunnyvale = Motel 6...a spartan layover option but costly at times depending on the midweek business draw. They can run upwards towards $200.00 a night on certain days. Usually they're around $150.00 + taxes (CA/hotel) but as Tom Bodell says, "We'll leave the light on for you."

PA motels/hotels = $350.00 to $900.00 depending on venue & ratings. Not cheap.

An RV or Airstream trailer parked in your driveway (or front lawn) is another way to entertain guests and provide cost-effective lodging for them. If the neighbors complain, just ask them to foot the PA motel/hotel bill.



ChrisC
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 25, 2018 at 7:36 pm
ChrisC, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2018 at 7:36 pm
13 people like this

No no no. It is so wrong to impose additional tax on people visiting our city. There are many, many, people seeking lodging here not paid by their companies and money-strapped academics and students. Pali Alto needs to start spending less and finding new sources of revenue fir their projects, but City Council has no imagination at all.


Chris Gaither
Mayfield
on Sep 25, 2018 at 9:15 pm
Chris Gaither, Mayfield
on Sep 25, 2018 at 9:15 pm
18 people like this

I will be voting NO, and I wish I had money to initiate a HUGE campaign against this measure. Shame on Palo Alto City Council, and the management. What happened to the money from the last increase in 2011? How can you be trusted to allocate this increase in the manner in which you are advertising?


Duveneck
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 9:54 pm
Duveneck, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 25, 2018 at 9:54 pm
2 people like this

Right up there with Seattle. Their hotel tax is 15.6%.


PayForItOurSelves
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Sep 25, 2018 at 10:28 pm
PayForItOurSelves, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2018 at 10:28 pm
4 people like this

Maybe it is time for a local income tax?


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2018 at 9:33 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2018 at 9:33 am
2 people like this

Posted by Stockton? You Are Joking., a resident of Los Altos

>> Unlikely as Stockton tends to lack the pervasive & perceived PA vibe.

>> Ever been to Tracy & Ripon? No thanks.

Stockton and Tracy, sure. Don't think I've ever exited at Ripon. But, assuming it is similar to Tracy, then-- sure, absolutely, create interesting jobs in Stockton, Tracy, and Ripon. Not every interesting job in the entire world should be in Manhattan or the SF-PaloAlto-SanJose corridor. There isn't enough room for 7.7 Billion people. Well, maybe there could be, but, there sure isn't room for 7.7 Billion -cars-.

"Palo Alto? Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."


Back In PA
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2018 at 12:45 pm
Back In PA, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2018 at 12:45 pm
13 people like this

People reside in places like Stockton, Tracy and Ripon (or anywhere in the Central Valley for that matter) because they have to, not because they want to.

When I first got out of college, I was hired by BofA as an Operations Manager trainee. Over 5 years, I lived in Fresno, Merced and Lodi. Ugh.

Despite some alluring & deceptive perceptions (usually from clueless out of state people), there are some real hell-holes in CA...Barstow/Death Valley, Seaside, Richmond + 90% of those rural counties north of Mendocino and past the Sierra foothills where public assistance is actually a key portion of their regional GNP.

Ever been to Clear Lake (Lake County)? Enjoy your stay.

Finally made it back to the SF Bay Area...I'm not any richer but at least there's some intelligent conversation going on around here.


Stuck In Old Lodi Again
Professorville
on Sep 26, 2018 at 5:26 pm
Stuck In Old Lodi Again, Professorville
on Sep 26, 2018 at 5:26 pm
8 people like this

>> Despite some alluring & deceptive perceptions (usually from clueless out of state people), there are some real hell-holes in CA...where public assistance is actually a key portion of their regional GNP.


I too have traveled through some of these places. Politically they tend to be very red and there is oftentimes a predominant population of undereducated white trash (e.g. decrepit trailer parks, hidden meth labs, rusted RVs and litter all over the place).



Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2018 at 11:23 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2018 at 11:23 am
6 people like this

Posted by Stuck In Old Lodi Again, a resident of Professorville

>> there is oftentimes a predominant population of undereducated white trash

Ouch!

Another way to consider what you are alluding to is that modern internet technology and videoconferencing, make it more useful and possible to live and work in many beautiful places. I would include Clear Lake as one of those beautiful places. I fail to see why everyone in the world has to work in a few highly concentrated places when there are so many more affordable places to live and work. Back in the day, HP developed a system of satellite campuses that worked very well. Why, now, with vastly improved communications technology, does everyone have to sit in Palo Alto to work?


In PA to Stay
Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2018 at 12:34 pm
In PA to Stay, Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2018 at 12:34 pm
4 people like this

>Why, now, with vastly improved communications technology, does everyone have to sit in Palo Alto to work?

For various activities outside of the work environment (e.g. fine dining, proximity to SF, concert venues, high-end shopping accessibility etc.).

You're not going to get that living in Hickville after your work day is over.
Besides, as another poster alluded there's not a whole lot to talk about with the locals in these more secluded regions.

Ongoing debates over Budweiser vs Coors or Ford vs Chevy's & the POTUS' MAGA vision will get old after awhile.


Appalled
Greenmeadow
on Oct 16, 2018 at 11:52 am
Appalled, Greenmeadow
on Oct 16, 2018 at 11:52 am
5 people like this

What in the world is going on! An article about Measure E can trigger such petty responses. Are we so quick to sit in judgement of others? It is beyond my understanding how an important topic can twist off to offensive comments insulting public servants, community leaders, local organizations and ridiculing our fellow citizens. I'm reminded of Ghandi - Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.
So now...back to Measure E?


Not Appalled At All
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2018 at 2:26 pm
Not Appalled At All, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2018 at 2:26 pm
14 people like this

> So now...back to Measure E?

OK. I'm voting NO.

Entrusting the PACC with additional tax revenue is like entrusting a four-year old to exercise some discretion with Halloween candy.


Yes on hotel squeeze
Green Acres
on Oct 29, 2018 at 6:55 am
Yes on hotel squeeze, Green Acres
on Oct 29, 2018 at 6:55 am
Like this comment

The city definitely needs to watch its budget. However, the ‘pet’ project namely the animal shelter upgrade is worth funding .
The hotels will find ways to stay competitive despite the increased hotel tax.
If you had to pay $5 to secure $100,it would be a no brainer.
In the short term, the Palo Alto room rates (including the new tax increase) will stay competitive with nearby hotels in other cities as the Palo Alto hotels may resort to their own flexibility to absorb the tax increase themselves in order not to lose too much business to their competitors. The hotels will not admit it and they will not like it. The hotels can take a slightly smaller cut , give some increased amount to the city and keep the rest of a lucrative cash flow. If they really could not absorb the tax increase, they would sell and leave.
In the long term we cannot keep raising the tax and should be more vigilant about the budget and be thrifty. If the tax increase really diverts hotel traffic to neighboring cities, fewer hotels will be interested in operating in Palo Alto in the future.. that is a longer term issue.


Kenny
University South
on Oct 29, 2018 at 8:21 am
Kenny, University South
on Oct 29, 2018 at 8:21 am
6 people like this

I am voting No. Palo Alto does not lack revenue, it lacks efficiency.


more transparency please
South of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2018 at 7:54 pm
more transparency please, South of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2018 at 7:54 pm
Like this comment

This could be a good measure, but it is unclear where exactly the money will be spent and why. It is also unclear whether there will be a periodic review of expenditures associated with the increase.

In general, I’m in favor of better stuff, but I’d like to understand whether better is actually needed.


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