As Palo Alto prepares to join the recent wave of cities that have adopted a business tax, transportation is emerging as the highest priority for how the revenues would be used, with public shuttles and safer rail crossings at the top of the City Council's priority list.
The city is moving toward placing a revenue measure on the November 2020 ballot. But even though the City Council generally supports the creation of a new revenue source, members have not yet decided what the new tax would look like.
The council's Finance Committee on Tuesday night began to narrow its menu of options for the new measure, recommending that the city officially cut from consideration a tax based on gross revenues.
Rather, the committee agreed that the city should base its new business tax on either square footage, like Cupertino, or on employee count, the most common method in the region and one used in Mountain View, San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, according to a report from the city's consultant, Matrix Consulting Group.
Councilwoman Alison Cormack, a member of the Finance Committee, made the case for employee count, noting that this method has the most direct link to transportation.
"We have a major transportation problem and everyone else has a business tax and we don't have one," Cormack said during the lengthy discussion.
In addition to transportation, the council considered affordable housing and further infrastructure improvements as possible targets for business-tax funds. But while a percentage of the business-tax proceeds may still go to affordable housing, the committee agreed that the city should consider other funding sources for infrastructure projects.
Palo Alto joins call for change at VTA
Palo Alto this week endorsed a scathing report calling for governance changes at the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority, though the city has yet to determine what changes it wants to see.
The City Council unanimously approved on Monday a letter that represents the city's official response to a recent report released in June from that Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury. The report concluded that the VTA's operating performance has been deteriorating over the past decade and that its governance structure is deeply flawed. The agency's board of directors, the report found, suffers from "a lack of experience, continuity and leadership" and is dominated by representatives from San Jose and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
The Palo Alto City Council, which for years has complained about being marginalized at the regional body, overwhelmingly endorsed this assessment.
"As a major employment center and sales tax generator at the edge of VTA's service territory, Palo Alto has historically been unrepresented in VTA policy decision in ways that do not serve the traveling public," the letter signed by Mayor Eric Filseth states. How representation relates to communities of interest with shared permanent transportation issues, such as Caltrain and High Speed Rail interests may also be a consideration.
The grand jury also recommended that the county or another VTA agency propose legislation that would change the governance structure of the VTA, which is set in the California Public Utilities Code. Potential changes that could be considered include increasing a directors' term of service (from the current two-year terms), adding term limits or allowing the appointment of directors who are not elected officials.
Free lunch, dinner program ends
The Breaking Bread lunch and dinner service has been a staple in Palo Alto, providing free meals at local churches to homeless and other needy residents for decades. The nonprofit organization LifeMoves, which has been operating the program for the past five years, announced earlier this month that it would no longer be serving lunch and dinner, deciding instead to serve breakfast at the Opportunity Services Center.
"We looked at ways we could make the program more impactul and we saw that there was a real gap around breakfast," LifeMoves CEO Bruce Ives told the Weekly in a recent interview, adding that the decision to switch to breakfast was made in an effort to "fill a void."
Ives said that the organization received support from program stakeholders including the city, volunteers and the faith-based community before moving forward with the change. He also noted that adding breakfast to the pre-existing meal services wouldn't have been a feasible option due to a limited capacity of staff and volunteers.
In a statement issued this week, LifeMoves announced that homeless and low-income residents who participate in the breakfast program will have access to the additional services that the Opportunity Services Center provides, including emergency rental and utility assistance, health care, case management and free clothing.
The new breakfast program will be offered Monday through Friday from 8:30-10:30 a.m.