News

Palo Alto braces for $30M revenue loss as shutdown drags on

City prepares for service cuts as economy sputters

Palo Alto will consider closing library branches, scrapping its shuttle program and suspending its plan to spur housing production as it deals with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those are some of the options that City Manager Ed Shikada presented the City Council on Monday night as part of a plan to address a revenue shortfall that could top $30 million in fiscal year 2021, which begins on July 1. The list of budget cuts may also include scrapping the Police Department's recently created traffic team, reducing hours at community centers and halting the crossing-guard program.

For the council, the Monday discussion marked the first step in the budget process that promises to be full of tough choices and deep uncertainty. With local hotels nearly empty and many retailers shut down, Palo Alto is seeing its revenues plunge. The proposed budget estimates that general fund taxes will drop by at least $20 million — and likely far more. The magnitude of the cuts will depend to a large degree on factors beyond the city's control: How soon will the shutdown end and how fast can the economy recover?

The proposed $818.9-million budget actually represents a 13% increase from fiscal year 2020. This includes a general fund of $238.8 million, up by 3.5% from the current year. Those numbers, however, are almost certain to be revised downward, staff said.

"Unlike any prior downturn I've dealt with, this is not a situation where you can look to the past to tell the future," Shikada told the council Monday. "The future will really be driven by factors and functions that are yet to be defined."

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Given the uncertainties, the budget process promises to less straight forward this year than in the past, with numerous adjustments made along the way as circumstances change. Shikada wrote in the transmittal letter that the budget "begins what staff expects to be an ongoing conversation and difficult work ahead to plan for the return or recovery period once the shelter in place order is lifted and the impacts of COVID-19 continue to materialize financially."

"It is expected that these deliberations will require resetting expectations and many shared sacrifices moving forward," Shikada wrote.

Shikada told the council that staff will explore three different budget scenarios: one that presumes a relatively rapid recovery from the pandemic; another that considers the shutdown extending through spring; and a third – and most likely – one in which some social distancing measures remain in place through the winter.

Even the first scenario, however, will require the city to make unpopular decisions, council members said. Mayor Adrian Fine said his colleagues "understand that massive changes are occurring on a day-to-day basis, and it seems like each day is different from the one before."

"Next fiscal year will be very tough for Palo Alto," Fine said.

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Councilwoman Alison Cormack also suggested that cuts will be inevitable, given the declining revenues.

"Honestly, it's going to break my heart to not reopen all five of our libraries, but the reality is everyone's heart is going to be broken over this process," Cormack said.

In addition to upending the city's previously rosy economic outlook, the ongoing health crisis also threatens to upend the council's long-term priorities, including housing production and the redesign of rail crossings. Shikada's list of potential cuts includes deferring the Housing Work Plan and halting initiatives to encourage building electrification.

"I do think our annual council priorities probably have gone out the window at this point," Vice Mayor Tom DuBois said.

Staff is also proposing reducing code-enforcement staffing, scaling back application requirements for wireless communication facilities; and reducing the number of projects that undergo architectural reviews. The budget also proposes that the city explore terminating the city's lease of Cubberley Community Center space from the Palo Alto Unified School District or switching to a "shared revenue structure."

"It's going to be difficult when we're actually taking it looking at it," Councilwoman Liz Kniss said. "And whether we're cutting a library or fire station or whether we're cutting some program near and dear to us, it's very tough. This is something the public is going to really weigh in on."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Palo Alto braces for $30M revenue loss as shutdown drags on

City prepares for service cuts as economy sputters

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Apr 21, 2020, 12:21 am

Palo Alto will consider closing library branches, scrapping its shuttle program and suspending its plan to spur housing production as it deals with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those are some of the options that City Manager Ed Shikada presented the City Council on Monday night as part of a plan to address a revenue shortfall that could top $30 million in fiscal year 2021, which begins on July 1. The list of budget cuts may also include scrapping the Police Department's recently created traffic team, reducing hours at community centers and halting the crossing-guard program.

For the council, the Monday discussion marked the first step in the budget process that promises to be full of tough choices and deep uncertainty. With local hotels nearly empty and many retailers shut down, Palo Alto is seeing its revenues plunge. The proposed budget estimates that general fund taxes will drop by at least $20 million — and likely far more. The magnitude of the cuts will depend to a large degree on factors beyond the city's control: How soon will the shutdown end and how fast can the economy recover?

The proposed $818.9-million budget actually represents a 13% increase from fiscal year 2020. This includes a general fund of $238.8 million, up by 3.5% from the current year. Those numbers, however, are almost certain to be revised downward, staff said.

"Unlike any prior downturn I've dealt with, this is not a situation where you can look to the past to tell the future," Shikada told the council Monday. "The future will really be driven by factors and functions that are yet to be defined."

Given the uncertainties, the budget process promises to less straight forward this year than in the past, with numerous adjustments made along the way as circumstances change. Shikada wrote in the transmittal letter that the budget "begins what staff expects to be an ongoing conversation and difficult work ahead to plan for the return or recovery period once the shelter in place order is lifted and the impacts of COVID-19 continue to materialize financially."

"It is expected that these deliberations will require resetting expectations and many shared sacrifices moving forward," Shikada wrote.

Shikada told the council that staff will explore three different budget scenarios: one that presumes a relatively rapid recovery from the pandemic; another that considers the shutdown extending through spring; and a third – and most likely – one in which some social distancing measures remain in place through the winter.

Even the first scenario, however, will require the city to make unpopular decisions, council members said. Mayor Adrian Fine said his colleagues "understand that massive changes are occurring on a day-to-day basis, and it seems like each day is different from the one before."

"Next fiscal year will be very tough for Palo Alto," Fine said.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack also suggested that cuts will be inevitable, given the declining revenues.

"Honestly, it's going to break my heart to not reopen all five of our libraries, but the reality is everyone's heart is going to be broken over this process," Cormack said.

In addition to upending the city's previously rosy economic outlook, the ongoing health crisis also threatens to upend the council's long-term priorities, including housing production and the redesign of rail crossings. Shikada's list of potential cuts includes deferring the Housing Work Plan and halting initiatives to encourage building electrification.

"I do think our annual council priorities probably have gone out the window at this point," Vice Mayor Tom DuBois said.

Staff is also proposing reducing code-enforcement staffing, scaling back application requirements for wireless communication facilities; and reducing the number of projects that undergo architectural reviews. The budget also proposes that the city explore terminating the city's lease of Cubberley Community Center space from the Palo Alto Unified School District or switching to a "shared revenue structure."

"It's going to be difficult when we're actually taking it looking at it," Councilwoman Liz Kniss said. "And whether we're cutting a library or fire station or whether we're cutting some program near and dear to us, it's very tough. This is something the public is going to really weigh in on."

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

Independent
Esther Clark Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 8:14 am
Independent, Esther Clark Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 8:14 am
106 people like this

What are you going to do right now? Fy2020 revenues are down by how much? Where's the data? How about furloughing workers now to take advantage of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits from the federal government?

Why are unionized public employees' interests coming before those of residents, business, and taxpayers? Especially when the average city unionized public employee's total salary and benefits tops $232,000?

Everyone is poorer now, with businesses trying to stay alive. Other cities are cutting now. How are city's unionized public employees going to share the pain?


Resident
Midtown
on Apr 21, 2020 at 8:53 am
Resident, Midtown
on Apr 21, 2020 at 8:53 am
6 people like this

[Post removed.]


Accounting 101
Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 9:12 am
Accounting 101, Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 9:12 am
76 people like this

This was inevitable given the economic impact of lost tax revenue & non-essential business closures/moratoriums.

All things considered, some City of Palo Alto administrators are GROSSLY overpaid and this fiscal factor (along with their lavish pension benefits package should be scrutinized...resulting in salary + pension reductions.

Accounting per se is a relatively simple concept as there are accounts receivable & accounts payable. Being in the red or black is dependent on sound fiscal management.

The City of Palo Alto is a 'foo-foo' sort of operation & had it not been for this impending fiscal crisis, it wouldn't surprise any tax-paying resident if the city had hired a 'COVID-19 Coordinator' (or consultant) at a ridiculous salary & pension offering.


David Page
Midtown
on Apr 21, 2020 at 9:38 am
David Page, Midtown
on Apr 21, 2020 at 9:38 am
35 people like this

Last night the City Manager and staff told us about having to face difficult budgetary choices. Fortunately, their work so far reflects some thoughtful planning amidst a complicated situation.

At the previous week’s Council meeting, all agreed on the importance of reducing toxic air pollution. In the preliminary plan presented at this week’s meeting, Mr. Shikada managed to combine some cost-cutting measures with actions that also cut pollution at the same time.

For example, the elimination of the (airplane) “travel” budget could, perhaps, save enough money to prevent more than one employee layoff. That’s not millions of dollars, but if it was my job being saved, I’d be appreciative - and the tons of CO2e pollution eliminated, by that one move, may help save the life of a person who has pulmonary problems.

Money for a new downtown parking garage has been taken off the board. Council spoke of other potential ideas, such increased rates for gigantic water-wasters, and an introduction of parking meters.

Most importantly, I commended the Manager, staff, and Council for implementing a tremendously successful program (in response to the cruel covid-19 crisis): more than half of our City employees now are working remotely.

Besides the health-saving reductions in local air pollution, there are several other benefits to the work-from-home arrangement:

Less traffic
Less noise
Less (weather-worsening) atmospheric pollution
Better bicycle safety
Increased worker flexibility re family obligations
Budget savings with rent and/or office utilization
And of course - protection from viral contagion


Working from home CANNOT be done by everybody. Of course, that’s true. But we are all witnessing the benefits, without seeing too many (any?) drawbacks.

With the City in the lead, and with the cooperation of the private sector, we may, possibly, have reached the 80 x 30 goal of Palo Alto’s sustainability plan - 10 years early - if the City can make this tele-commuting permanent, AND if our local businesses do the same!!!

If we've achieved an 80% reduction in pollution in Palo Alto, and if it's become “normal" to work from home, to attend council meetings remotely, get tutoring lessons via skype or zoom, etc., WHY GO BACK?

Please tell the Council, let’s make these money-saving, pollution-reducing measures permanent!

Thank you,
David Page
Co-Chair of 350SV - Palo Alto team


Accounting 101
Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 9:56 am
Accounting 101, Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 9:56 am
40 people like this

>"At the previous week’s Council meeting, all agreed on the importance of reducing toxic air pollution."

^^^ This is not rocket science. Due to 'stay at home' mandates & restricted outside travel/commuting/shopping, Palo Alto smog & air pollution are already down.


>"Fortunately, their work so far reflects some thoughtful planning amidst a complicated situation...Most importantly, I commended the Manager, staff, and Council for implementing a tremendously successful program (in response to the cruel covid-19 crisis):"

^^^ Brilliant...a global pandemic encourages the City of Palo Alto to utilize 'non-pandemic' common sense. Again, how much are these 'think-tankers' being paid?


>"With the City in the lead,"

^^^Kudos again to the enlightening insights & ongoing efforts of our city administrators as the obvious by-product & repercussions of a pandemic has created & implemented groundwork for their various environmental concerns.

It's very reassuring to learn that they are actually earning those inflated salaries...NOT.


Cut intelligently
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 10:02 am
Cut intelligently, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 10:02 am
50 people like this

Code Enforcement can’t be cut - to do so is neither rational nor intelligent.

As Councilman Filseth said recently - we all know we have too few Code Enforcement Officers. Very true. So we can’t cut any to save money or we shoot ourselves in the foot. We only have three positions including supervisor.

Are we to return to the Wild West and just not enforce - let anyone do anything anywhere - ignore zoning laws, health and safety laws, or whatever? Or is the city council going to formulate intelligent cutbacks elsewhere that won’t create more problems than it solves?

If the latter, then the council must look someplace other than Code Enforcement for solutions.


Sally
Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2020 at 10:19 am
Sally, Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2020 at 10:19 am
73 people like this

Will someone have the guts to look at police, fire, and salaries in the City Manager's Office? Or the fact that we have way too many employees in general for the scope of our city and its services?

We can do this without cutting services. We just need to pay a reasonable number of folks reasonable salaries and pensions.


Employee salary increases
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2020 at 11:06 am
Employee salary increases, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2020 at 11:06 am
74 people like this

It looks like Council is asleep at the wheel.

The city manager proposes to have a 4.3% increase in salary and benefits and to have city expenses go up 13.1% according to page 39 of last night’s budget proposal Web Link

How does this make sense when there is a massive revenue shortfall?


We are here, we are here, we are HERE!
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 11:38 am
We are here, we are here, we are HERE!, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 11:38 am
72 people like this

At what point do they reorient from being subservient to tech whale interests (Fine especially) and start looking at how much better it is for Palo Alto to plan for doing the best for the diversity of Palo Alto residents? It's hard to read about the woes of a downtown gym because that person's business model is based on the complete desolation of the diversity of businesses that used to inhabit our downtowns even through other booms and busts. Small businesses would be much more robust if the City Council had not allowed big tech firms to essentially take over downtown. A monoculture of a few big businesses was always making us vulnerable to any kind of disruption or downturn like this. I don't hear any kind of soul searching in that regard.

I want to see a scenario that puts residents first, and assumes that economic vitality and strength comes from a less trickle-down model. The tech whales don't tend to pay good wages for people in non high-tech areas, and their packing in the tech workers in one place has many, many negative impacts, including economic, on the lives of those people.

Social distancing is likely to be a factor of life for a long time. All scenarios need to begin by accepting that ignoring the downsides to density and continuing on a path to being more like New York is no longer acceptable. It never was acceptable because development policies ignored drought and other major risks in California that would also create sudden disruptions to City funding and economy.

Time to have the hard discussions about a healthier direction for Palo Alto, and it should happen online and involve ALL Palo Altans whose voices have been shut out and devalued as leaders like Fine, Kniss, Wohlbach (former CC), and others whose names we all know, have basically worked for developers and tech whales at the expense of the broader Palo Alto population. Now the residents will suffer the consequences, the tech whales and their workers pretty AWOL (they weren't exactly very civic minded to begin with, why should they start now?)


bigger fish
Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2020 at 11:58 am
bigger fish , Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2020 at 11:58 am
12 people like this

What's the impact on CalPers? Forget about the libraries, with the stock market diving, can Palo Alto afford to do anything other than fund the pensions?


Online Name
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:12 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:12 pm
54 people like this

@Employee Salary Increase, thanks for pointing out the outrage of "the city manager proposes to have a 4.3% increase in salary and benefits and to have city expenses go up 13.1% according to page 39 of last night’s budget proposal Web Link "

How nice, to quote Ms. Kniss, that charity begins at home. OUR homes with no obvious sacrifice from our highly paid "workers" and "managers." Where's THEIR sacrifice?

Totally agree the council remains asleep at the wheel. They pushed for hotels to fatten the city coffers, ignoring the reality that hotel business slows during all kinds of downturns -- economic, tech crash and/or pandemic -- and the need for BMR housing while they destroyed the President Hotel and ousted the long-time residents.

Does PA plan to follow other cities and use all those empty hotel rooms for the homeless and those who can no longer pay their housing costs>

"The proposed budget estimates that general fund taxes will drop by at least $20 million — and likely far more."

Since the city has been running an annual $20,000,000 "surplus" via PA Utilities over-charging us every year for the past several years, they should have built up quite the "surplus" cushion.

"he list of budget cuts may also include scrapping the Police Department's recently created traffic team, reducing hours at community centers and halting the crossing-guard program."

No surprise there but what will our $241,000+ police officers be doing now?

What's the city planning to do to help all the small businesses likely to go bust? What's it doing to save businesses like Summer Winds Nursey?


Pied Piper
Community Center
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:13 pm
Pied Piper, Community Center
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:13 pm
49 people like this

Solutions:

1. Adopt Zero Based Budgeting.
2. Layoff 30-50% of employees.
3. Keep a few supervisors in each department and outsource most "real work".
4. Cut salaries.

Never let a crisis go to waste!

Let's see if the Council has any guts.


Online Name
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:18 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:18 pm
34 people like this

The post by "We are here, we are here, we are HERE" bears repeating.

"At what point do they reorient from being subservient to tech whale interests (Fine especially) and start looking at how much better it is for Palo Alto to plan for doing the best for the diversity of Palo Alto residents? It's hard to read about the woes of a downtown gym because that person's business model is based on the complete desolation of the diversity of businesses that used to inhabit our downtowns even through other booms and busts. Small businesses would be much more robust if the City Council had not allowed big tech firms to essentially take over downtown. A monoculture of a few big businesses was always making us vulnerable to any kind of disruption or downturn like this. I don't hear any kind of soul searching in that regard."

I'd also ask what those big downtown companies are doing to give back to the community? What's the city council doing? Chamber of Commerce? Anything??


Kerry55
Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:25 pm
Kerry55, Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:25 pm
36 people like this

Furlough the workers except police, fire, electrical.....Maybe keep Mitchell Park and Rinconada library open. All other staff need to contribute/cut salaries.


JM
Charleston Meadows
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:59 pm
JM, Charleston Meadows
on Apr 21, 2020 at 12:59 pm
11 people like this

"Drags on" is the keyword.

With effective vaccines expected to take 12-18 months or even longer time to develop, let alone manufacture and distribute, one has to realize that the current lock down might stay for that long. The case rate and death rate won't go back to zero anytime soon until we reached herd immunity. With lock down, we might n0t reach herd immunity before vaccine came out.

It does not really matter whose pay got cut. With the current economy activity level, NONE will be paid soon pretty soon.

Wake up!


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 1:15 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 1:15 pm
36 people like this

Can the council perhaps cut some of the pettiness that is prevalent? How about deciding not to do anything more to promote things like road improvements and street furniture. How about trying to improve things for small businesses rather than shut them down, e.g. Summer Winds nursery. How about putting the needs of residents ahead of those who may want to live here. How about making quality of life in Palo Alto better by making it easier for residents to park in downtown for more than 3 hours on an occasional basis or to buy affordable kids clothes and everyday household needs without going out of town and giving the tax dollars to Mountain View or wherever.

How about just valuing those of us who live here and call the place home rather than worrying about getting more workers into town each day.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 1:35 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 1:35 pm
29 people like this

Posted by Kerry55, a resident of Palo Verde

>> Furlough the workers except police, fire, electrical.....Maybe keep Mitchell Park and Rinconada library open. All other staff need to contribute/cut salaries.

Not as easy as you think to save money. Fire and police are where the big compensation packages are. Look here: Web Link

80+ people in 2018 making over $300K in total compensation. 150+ folks making over $250K. Look at their job titles. BTW, I am not saying I don't like public safety employees. The median full-time city salary+benefits looks to be roughly $180K/year. I'm not seeing many (any?) Lizzy Librarians in there. Mostly fire, then police, then utility folks (paid for out of the utility income). Attorneys, higher-level IT and other managers.

I would like to see a breakdown by department. I have to tell you that fire and police are going to be huge. (And, looking at all the police, I have to wonder why a lot of them can't be assigned to traffic enforcement? That is the biggest police problem we have in this town.)


resident
Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2020 at 1:39 pm
resident, Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2020 at 1:39 pm
49 people like this

The employee chart put together by the city shows 22.4% of employees are managers. That means a manager has, on average, about 4 reports. That is a terrible span of control and would never happen at a large corporation. Most companies have at least 10 people given cost. You can see the average cost per employee (salary and benefits) is $232k/year. That is just the AVERAGE...a LOT for a public servant.

Here is a good summary of span of control:

Web Link

The problem at the city is, as Greg Tanaka pointed out, they are too top heavy (and expensive) given this poor span of control.

Until this key HR problem is fixed, the city will just cut key outsourced services (e.g., crossing guards) and continue to pay all the layers of in-house management. And, once they run out of resident services to cut, then the next idea will be a tax increase. Oh, and don't forget about that minor pension problem that needs to be paid someday.


Where is City Council?
Charleston Gardens
on Apr 21, 2020 at 1:46 pm
Where is City Council?, Charleston Gardens
on Apr 21, 2020 at 1:46 pm
36 people like this

So last week City Council voted to maintain employee salaries at 100% despite revenue collapse. And at yesterday's city council they spent 90 minutes as the first agenda item deciding the parameters for how to give $500k away to businesses in the form of grants.

After taking care of employees and businesses, they finally started the discussion about how to deal with the tens of millions of dollars of revenue loss, pointing to resident services that will need to be cut and possibly tax increases (eg., natural gas tax for residents who don't convert to all electricity now was cited as an idea).

What's wrong with this picture? Where is the leadership from city council (advocating for residents)?


rita vrhel
Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:10 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:10 pm
41 people like this

I have long been critical of the way Palo Altan taxpayer money is spent.

Everything must be "world class". $970,000.00 for art for the new Fire Station on Newell seemed ridiculous then and even more so now. Yes,I Know it comes from the Art Fund, but really!

Cutting the thread slim but so necessary Code Enforcement Dept. is not the answer.

Putting a temporary hold on all planned City construction projects, including the over HWY. 101 bridge and the new Police and Safety Buildings are a good start. Cutting all but essential road and traffic mitigation projects is another.

I think of the money spent,no wasted, on the Ross Rd traffic improvement project was over 9 million dollars. And the results were widely panned.

Fire all Consultants working on long term Development Projects like the North Ventura (Fry's site)Plan: they are not listening to any of the resident's input anyway.

And yes, look at employee salaries; freezes, not raises, are in order.

I suppose a balanced budget could never be considered?

Lastly, what happened to the 29 million $ surplus from last year?

This economic downturn offers a great opportunity to reconsider priorities and conduct a serious line by line review of each Department's budget.

Have all levied fines been collected? Are Developers or home owners paying the total "staff" cost of their projects?

It also offers the opportunity to see what "tasks" could be completed by Volunteers. It will be interesting to see how the City Council handles having to live within our means.


Becky Sanders
Ventura
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:11 pm
Becky Sanders, Ventura
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:11 pm
37 people like this

Oh boy this is so tough on us residents. What is a city but the people that live here? Our employees are super important, but it does seem a little odd ball that while three people in my immediate family have been laid off or furloughed that our city isn't considering making some kind of cuts to the payroll. If people are furloughed they can still receive unemployment benefits and retain their medical coverage, right? Seems like a good option to get through this crisis.

I agree we will all have to tighten our belts. I'd hate to see code enforcement cut. I mean CE struggles to cover a fraction of the reported violations. To further cut seems really problematic to me, especially over here in Ventura where all kinds of mischief takes place with bizarre businesses with blocked up windows on ECR. Lord knows what is going on in there. So please don't cut CE.

Also I know it's not all about Ventura but I'd hate to see funding for Boulware Park take a hit. We've been waiting for improvements as we watch other city park's get makeovers.

I'll always want residents to come first in the city. I guess that's the bottom line for me.

Thank you Palo Alto Online for keeping us informed! I hope everyone will consider becoming paid subscribers to keep our local paper going, regardless of where you fall on all these important matters.


Help small business
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:12 pm
Help small business , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:12 pm
10 people like this

Laying off staff and closing libraries is a good start.
Once this is over the city will also need to help small businesses. Put an end to the cities bloated and drawn out approval process. Also the city needs to put an end to the interfering and anti - everything "neighborhood activists" who's goal is to stifle the ability of a new business to get started ( "the business is a quarter of a space under parked. The building is 2 inches too high etc.).


rsmithjr
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:19 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:19 pm
23 people like this

The city should do what businesses do when they find their operation is financially unsustainable. Basically cut costs and reaffirm support for their customers.

Steps

1. Determine targets for cost savings.
1. Review operations: Are their parts of the operations that can be cut without damaging customers or marketing?
2. Review facilities for cost savings.
3. Review salaries and staff costs in detail.
4. Find cuts. This can be done with each department having a target for the number of positions. Overall salary cuts and costs of benefits cuts should also be considered.
5. Affirm to everyone that this is not about cutting what we do for our customers. The objective is to do as much or more for the community but with less money being expended.

This is not an unusual process to have to go through. We have all seen businesses do this successfully.


Resident
Meadow Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:25 pm
Resident, Meadow Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:25 pm
16 people like this

Ending the road safety police is a bad idea. We need at least one person in this role for our safety. If rules are enforced, this would generate revenue for the city, enough to at least offset one person’s salary.


Curious
Midtown
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:36 pm
Curious, Midtown
on Apr 21, 2020 at 2:36 pm
3 people like this

How does deferring the Housing Work Plan save money? Yes, staff needs to review these but last I checked there was a state housing crisis that a virus has only exacerbated. Suppose the state housing measures will be implemented instead.


palo
Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 3:10 pm
palo, Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2020 at 3:10 pm
14 people like this

$30 million? , rounding error to the tech billionaires who have lived here for decades


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 3:12 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 3:12 pm
2 people like this

Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> Basically cut costs and reaffirm support for their customers.

Sounds so simple:

>> 4. Find cuts. This can be done with each department having a target for the number of positions. Overall salary cuts and costs of benefits cuts should also be considered.

Very tough to do under current law. Laying people off is much easier.

>> 5. The objective is to do as much or more for the community but with less money being expended.

Sounds so easy. But, a Reduction in Force under existing rules will very surely cut services.

>> This is not an unusual process to have to go through. We have all seen businesses do this successfully.

Sure, but, sometimes the result is extremely negative and pointless. Take the cuts that HP went through. Some people got rich, but, not shareholders or average employees. More often than not, these restructuring efforts result in a reduction of service/quality to the public, and, money in the bank for the 1%. And, it doesn't map well to public service anyway-- I don't think the business world has the answer for what we need. IMHO, Palo Alto is too top heavy, and, some jobs are paying too much, but, cutting costs will be very tough. Because it's not, you know, that we don't need firemen to put out fires when we need them. It will not be easy to fix this.


What Will They Do Next
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2020 at 3:49 pm
What Will They Do Next, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2020 at 3:49 pm
22 people like this

Begin by laying off unnecessary staff (there's a lot). That's what unemployment benefits are for. Cut salaries 20% across the board and freeze them until this blows over, and it will. Businesses all over the country are doing this to survive. Government, not so much.....anyone expect differently?


vlad
Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2020 at 4:01 pm
vlad, Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2020 at 4:01 pm
28 people like this

"Laying off staff and closing libraries is a good start." how repulsive, why dont we just go back to the stone-age, who needs book right?

Just what Putin wants.



Help small business
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 4:27 pm
Help small business , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 4:27 pm
14 people like this

Yes, vlad, close some of the libraries. We can make due with the main library for a while. Mountain view, Los Alto do quite well with 1 library. The city has excess staff. Time to let some go. Also need to figure out a way to control our out of control police department, so that we do not have to pay all those settlements.


pares
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 4:28 pm
pares, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 4:28 pm
17 people like this

Reducing Code Enforcement is wrong, they don't have enough staff and enforcement power as it is. On our street we have had a house that is sometimes as full as 18 -20 adults, coming and going. Code Enforcement would come out and cite violations, but a year later, back to same or almost same. Many cars on the street -- now this house has about 12 adults of all ages. How can they shelter in place? Not possible. City leaders seem to want to do away with R-1 zoning and they are allowing these violations by not really enforcing a reasonable occupancy level in a R-1 zone. More Code Enforcement is needed.


DTN
Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2020 at 4:35 pm
DTN, Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2020 at 4:35 pm
10 people like this

"Staff is also proposing reducing code-enforcement staffing, scaling back application requirements for wireless communication facilities; and reducing the number of projects that undergo architectural reviews."

'Never let a good crisis go to waste, eh?' The specific proposal to scale back 'application requirements for wireless communication facilities' smell a bit fishy and looks like an attempt to fall in line with a current policy direction from a generally consumer-unfriendly FCC Chair and bypass input from residents in these matters. Tsk, tsk...


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 5:02 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 5:02 pm
18 people like this

>> City leaders seem to want to do away with R-1 zoning

Fine absolutely wants to do away with R1 zoning, maybe also Tanaka and Kniss. The others don't.


Novelera
Midtown
on Apr 21, 2020 at 6:38 pm
Novelera, Midtown
on Apr 21, 2020 at 6:38 pm
31 people like this

Long, long ago I remember a tech downturn. Someone bragged to me about Hewlett-Packard cutting salaries across the board by 20% from the top down. And this enabled them to not lay anyone off. Has anyone considered that for the City of Palo Alto as a savings measure?


Help small business
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 7:20 pm
Help small business , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 7:20 pm
21 people like this

Novelra- the city manager should take a 50% pay cut


Recall the entire city council
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 7:31 pm
Recall the entire city council, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2020 at 7:31 pm
37 people like this

"The proposed $818.9-million budget"...insanity.

Unfunded pension plan ($450+ million)..more insanity.

No layoffs...additional insanity.

Pay raises in 2021. Completely insane.

Recall the entire city council.

This post will probably be removed for speaking the truth in our PC world.


Chief
University South
on Apr 21, 2020 at 8:13 pm
Chief , University South
on Apr 21, 2020 at 8:13 pm
11 people like this

Brown outs for fire station 2 & 6. They are too close together to begin with.


JR
Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2020 at 8:15 pm
JR, Palo Verde
on Apr 21, 2020 at 8:15 pm
12 people like this

Traffic enforcement should be a profit center, not a cost. Ticket drivers $200 for each MPH over the speed limit on Middlefield, Embarcadero, Alma and watch revenue problems disappear. STOP the scofflaw speeders.


Online nsme
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2020 at 11:12 pm
Online nsme, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2020 at 11:12 pm
7 people like this

Fire 'em all! Let god sort 'em out.


chris
University South
on Apr 22, 2020 at 12:20 am
chris, University South
on Apr 22, 2020 at 12:20 am
19 people like this

The city needs to immediately and temporarily cut all salaries by 15%. Don‘’t have interminable debates. Just do it the Old HP Way.

If somebody objects, lay them off. They are not team players. Let them find another job in this job market. Restore the salaries if the revenues come back. If the revenues are still way down in a year, then reevaluate.

In addition, close down some marginal programs entirely, but don’t cut basic services. Is it really smart to close a library building. Maybe cut a few hours, because some non-team players leave.

Postpone the new police building until we see how fast the revenue comes back.


Chris
University South
on Apr 22, 2020 at 1:09 am
Chris, University South
on Apr 22, 2020 at 1:09 am
23 people like this

The City of LA is requiring workers to take 26 furlough days over the next fiscal year, equivalent to a 10% pay cut.


Get lean
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2020 at 3:24 am
Get lean, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2020 at 3:24 am
15 people like this

What is the budget for the libraries?
-This is a service that benefits a broad demographic...
-Libraries are important for neighborhoods. Are kids going to bike across town to go to the one remaining library?
-How much do librarians get paid relative to the folks in city hall?
--I'll bet it is a lot less than the bureaucrats in city hall.

What is the budget for the utilities department?
-do we save money by having our own utility department with employees who get pensions?
-What is wrong with PG&E servicing Palo Alto?
-Is the difference between the total amount of our utility bills and the total amount that PG&E would charge us greater than the amount that the utility department, with all of the rolling equipment (leases), employees, pension obligations, ...?

What is the budget for pouring new concrete because the trees have disrupted the sidewalk?
-at a certain point we should cut down the trees and planting new ones instead of replacing sidewalks

What is the budget for the capital improvement projects for the next 5 years?
-which projects are critical?
-which can be cut?

Zero based budget
-Don't spend what you don't have.

We are entering a whole new reality. The govt. can't stop the COVID19 pandemic. They will reopen the states but there not the necessary testing capacity or contact tracing in place. The conservatives are pushing for reopening too soon. We are big trouble.

While we think that Palo Alto can't become Stockton of Flint, Michigan the reality is that there is not unlimited money to fund a $800+ million city budget and Palo Alto is going bankrupt. The citizens of the city are going to get hit with more taxes. Cut the budget and reduce the liabilities.

Cut the city managers pay.
-They did not do their job. The city's budget is out of control. Why should they be rewarded?

Get rid of the excess middle managers.

Get rid of the "luxuries" and their associated departments.

Get lean.

Reduce the burn rate.


Where are the other council members???
Green Acres
on Apr 22, 2020 at 9:42 am
Where are the other council members???, Green Acres
on Apr 22, 2020 at 9:42 am
35 people like this

Why are all the Council Members except for Tanaka not pushing back on this excess? While I disagree with Tanaka on development, I’m thankful that he is willing to stick his neck out and ask the hard questions. The other politicians seems more interested in getting elected and helping city employees instead of the voters they are supposed to serve.

Why are they spending our money sprucing up an empty council chamber and buying solar calculators that are freely available on the web? Why are we the only city giving over 3 months of paid leave? Why do we need over 1000 employees while other cities our size have less than 500? I’m a doctor and my pay has been cut by 30% so why are City employees getting a raise?

Why aren’t the other council members looking out for our interest?


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2020 at 11:20 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2020 at 11:20 am
5 people like this

Posted by Recall the entire city council

>> "The proposed $818.9-million budget"...insanity.

What do you think the budget should be? Where is your budget proposal?

>> Unfunded pension plan ($450+ million)..more insanity.

You have a proposal for making sure pensions are correctly accounted for?

>> No layoffs...additional insanity.

What is your proposal? I assume that you want fire and police protection to continue?

>> Pay raises in 2021. Completely insane.

Let's see your proposal.

>> Recall the entire city council.

Why?

>> This post will probably be removed for speaking the truth in our PC world.

The "truth" is, that you haven't actually proposed anything concrete. If you think the budget should be restructured, then, let's see it-- department by department.


Santiago
College Terrace
on Apr 22, 2020 at 7:28 pm
Santiago, College Terrace
on Apr 22, 2020 at 7:28 pm
34 people like this

To start, all future work with future union contracts should be on 401k. To keep using calpers is the very definition of insanity. Calpers was 70% funded after the biggest bull market run in history.

The unions will undoubtedly balk at this, and cite the California rule precedent that future formulas can never be changed. If this happens, and agreement can't be reached, the city simply needs to cut or outsource every position that it can, starting with the obvious like our six-figure "public relations" officer, arborist, deputy city managers, etc. I think the mathematical threat of our new fiscal reality, coupled with the prospect of losing a job in what will soon be the worst job market in history, might make the unions finally lower themselves to taking 401ks like the rest of the peons in the real world.

Step one is always stop digging.


Chris
University South
on Apr 22, 2020 at 8:02 pm
Chris, University South
on Apr 22, 2020 at 8:02 pm
25 people like this

Because of the state of emergency, the city has the leverage. The city can lay people off. If the unions don’t want layoffs, they can agree to exit Calpers. We don’t know how much money PA will get from the Feds, the city may have to file bankruptcy. That would allow them to get out of unsustainable contracts.


Lee
Stanford
on Apr 24, 2020 at 7:21 pm
Lee, Stanford
on Apr 24, 2020 at 7:21 pm
14 people like this

20% pay cut for all city employees. Stanford just did it!


Wrong
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2020 at 7:43 pm
Wrong, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2020 at 7:43 pm
8 people like this

Lee- actually they didn't. That was stanford health care that cut salaries, not Stanford. Different entity.


Wrong
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2020 at 8:17 am
Wrong, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2020 at 8:17 am
8 people like this

JR- maybe you should check the facts stanford university and stanford health care are 2 separate entities.


Michael
Gunn High School
on Apr 27, 2020 at 9:33 pm
Michael , Gunn High School
on Apr 27, 2020 at 9:33 pm
8 people like this

Palo Alto libraries already operate on a relatively lean budget compared with many peer municipalities and deliver a high return on investment. Library usage goes up during economic downturns and the public library serves as part of the social infrastructure that will help many less fortunate recover by giving them access to the Internet and other workforce development services. Slashing library services and the tiny % of the city budget they represent would be penny wise and pound foolish.


Oliver Stephens
Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 27, 2020 at 11:30 pm
Oliver Stephens, Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 27, 2020 at 11:30 pm
7 people like this

Thank god we're shutting down plans to spur housing production. Palo Alto is overcrowded and polluted, and we do not need more housing. There are many people who want Palo Alto to remain a nice and low-density place to live, we don't want to become NYC.


Sally
Downtown North
on Apr 28, 2020 at 9:32 am
Sally, Downtown North
on Apr 28, 2020 at 9:32 am
16 people like this

Is there any chance this council is nuanced enough to cut smart? With wise and bold management, downturns like this can be an opportunity to shed off massive loads bureaucratic chaff and build a leaner, meaner machine.

Cuts to community programs (not just "must have" services) should be avoided whenever possible. One can take opportunities like this to force departments in to doing more with less. Every department will say, "Cut one penny, and your favorite things disappear!" Council needs to call out that nonsense, and get into the weeds to manage the cuts with care and nuance. The council should not and cannot trust the CMO or the departments themselves with this job. Council cannot just okay whichever two of the proposals are in front of them from each department.

City Council -- Please don't try to do this by cutting loads of programs that cost $40k each. Look for the sick elephants, even when it's hard and personnel may be implicated.

Reductions of this sort should entail massive restructuring, not a massive butchery job. Are we bold and nuanced enough to cut smart?


chris
University South
on Apr 28, 2020 at 12:51 pm
chris, University South
on Apr 28, 2020 at 12:51 pm
6 people like this

The city council needs to balance short-term cuts versus long-term cuts.

Some programs that are marginal should be cut entirely.

To get thorough the severe revenue downtown over the first 6 months of next fiscal year, do rolling furloughs of say 3 days per month. Keep the vast majority of the workforce in place until there is more visibility in the fiscal situation.

The CC has to publicly admit that they are currently clueless as to how much of a bailout they will get from the Feds, the state, and the county. Use the rolling furloughs to buy time until there is more clarity on the bailouts and the severity of the downturn in tax revenue.


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