Palo Alto's ticking time bomb | July 13, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - July 13, 2012

Palo Alto's ticking time bomb

Employee pensions are helping fuel fiscal crisis

by Gennady Sheyner

In 2007, the year Warren Buffett famously described public pensions as a time bomb with a long fuse, Palo Alto officials decided to add a little gunpowder to the city's benefits package.

This story contains 3194 words.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Lynn Krug
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Pensions and contributions validated. Much love to you all. I am happy to live in and work for Palo Alto. I adore my neighbors. I work very hard for my job and my family

And to reinforce the article. I am NOT currently a union leader for the employees.

I spoke in the employee capacity based on a detailed business wage and benefit comparative analysis developed from the WGWW Utility Engineering and Operations Department employees wage and benefits packages.

The report gave comparison to local civic wage and benefits and comparative industries.
The report showed that the employees of the Enterprise fund in Utilities Operations and Engineering were underpaid by 8 - 20% for their full wage and benefit package compared to an average wage and benefit package. These jobs include: Utility Pipe Fitters, Project Engineers, Engineers, Associate Engineers, Utility Field Service Workers, Electrical Linemen, Electrical Engineers, and Water Gas Waste Water Engineering Field Inspectors.

Let's talk about some of what was omitted from this article:

The City of Palo Alto run a Utility Operations and Engineering Department for Water, Gas, Sewer Fiber etc. The city Public Works runs a Water Quality Treatment Plant. These are Enterprise fund operations not General Fund.

Omitted from this article are the facts that Palo Alto Utility Operations and Engineering employees are paid 8-20% less than median for their entire wage and benefit package.
Not less than highest wage and benefits - They are paid 8-20% less than the approximately the AVERAGE. That works out to a 15 - 25% overall loss in wage and benefits. Is the city or this newspaper telling you that?

- All those great 24 hour City of Palo Alto WGWW Utility service guys who drive to your residence to give supreme service ...(unlike PGE) are paid 20% below PGE.

- The on call service electrical linemen and pipe fitters for repairs of electric and water gas waste water emergencies? They are paid wage and benefit package 10 - 20% below PGE.

- The utility estimators make 25% less than East Bay Municipal Utility District.

- Inspection staff for Utility Engineering gets paid 14-18% less than average locally (not the top wage 14 - 18% below the average).

When I say I am "exhausted"... this article omits the actual supporting facts presented with my comments to city council to WHY I would be exhausted?:

Utilities Operations and Engineering are taking in more housing and development projects for remodels and project developments than ever before in our history. That means we are getting permits, more taxes in the future, and tens of thousands of dollars for utilities per property. And more work than we are staffed for.

In my comments to city council:
I am a City of palo Alto Water Gas Wastewater Engineering Field Inspector on the Stanford Children's Hospital job for City of Palo Alto Utilities Engineering - my working that position is saving the city and/or Stanford $1,000,000. over 5 years. Normally a sole full time Chief inspector at minimally 200,000+ a year would have been assigned to that project but I have been entrusted with my experience to handle the project. Also - I have 6 other development projects that I inspect concurrently. My duties have extended far into other job descriptions for engineering coordination, which I do willingly - I enjoy my job and working for the city. Each of my co workers has to be able to substitute in for me with equal qualifications and work load.

That is an outrageous work load and a huge savings for the city. ... Where is my claim of $1,000,000 financial savings mentioned in this article? And that is just one employee.
What about others? On the Water CIP for HDPE pipe the engineering inspection staff saved the city at the very least $100,000. by their initial plan review. That comes from having experienced and responsible staffing.

Mentioned on June 25 in my communication to City Council:
For WGWW Engineering Field Inspection staffing -Per Management: IT TAKES A MINIMUM OF 5 YEARS TO CROSS TRAIN " to learn the profession of three main utilities while working for the City of Palo Alto - No other city utility has as many diverse responsibilities for multiple utilities. Palo Alto has electric, water, gas, sewer, storm, fiber, etc. My co-workers Field inspection and I all come with a minimum of 10 years prior engineering and construction experience. To be a Utility Inspector you must know the implementation, engineering, and documentation for water gas and sewer, and be able to answer and deliver to citizens, contractors, owners, management, and coordinating departments.

We have already lost experienced inspection and all other types of staffing due to cuts and driving people out who wish to retain their healthcare.
Who will be left to adequately perform the work, mentor, and train?

The attacks on employees in the media have driven out many of our best and brightest.

This article refers to arbitration...
And on binding arbitration - citizens won nothing. Arbitration was portrayed by the city management as "undemocratic" ? In reality arbitration would force the city to reveal it's side of accounting and for the employee group to do the same.
The FACTS would have to be analyzed. Facts aren't necessarily political drivers.

Without ballooning controversy how can you politically drive an issue, or create an audience for your paper? Or an enraged constituency for your city?

Much like the facts that were omitted in reporting my commentary to city council.

Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm

@Lynn Krug:
Let's talk about what else was omitted from this article: Palo Alto's SKY HIGH water and sewer rates. Very clever strategy by the Utilities Department. People can make their own electricity (via solar) but it's pretty hard for them to lay a pipeline or dig a well to get their own water. So go steady on the electric rates but sock it to em on the water and sewer.

We have some of the highest water rates in the country. Even compared to others in the Hetch Hetchy system.

Why do Palo Altans have to pay these extravagant rates? Just to enrich the utilities department? Also, it's well known that Utilities DOES contribute to the general fund. That's a perversion of (the voter approved) Prop. 13.

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