Palo Alto backs away from service cuts | May 21, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 21, 2021

Palo Alto backs away from service cuts

Bulls edge out bears as City Council splits over budgeting strategies

by Gennady Sheyner

Just two weeks ago, Palo Alto's financial picture was looking grim and the City Council was staring at the prospect of a second consecutive year of budget cuts and service reductions.

On Monday night, however, council members sounded a more optimistic note as they moved to overturn most of budget cuts that City Manager Ed Shikada included in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 — a list that included the closure of three neighborhood libraries, elimination of five police officer positions and reduced support for popular community institutions such as the Palo Alto Art Center and the Children's Theatre. Instead, the council took a decidedly bullish approach Monday as it voted to not only reverse the proposed budget cuts but to also increase funding for nonprofits that provide social services and to boost a project that has been stuck in limbo for over a decade: the restoration of the Roth Building at 300 Homer Ave.

The council agreed to spend more and cut less following a wide-ranging debate that featured a series of 4-3 votes. To avert the cuts, the four members in the council majority opted to use about 60% of the city's $13.7 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act in fiscal year 2022, leaving the remainder for 2023. By the same vote, the council agreed to tap into fees from the Stanford University Medical Center development agreement and impact fees to refurbish the Roth Building, which has long been envisioned as the future home of the Palo Alto Museum.

On both decisions, the council split into two camps: those advocating for more spending in 2022 and those favoring a more conservative approach. The former group, which included Mayor Tom DuBois, Vice Mayor Pat Burt and council members Lydia Kou and Greer Stone, prevailed. It helped their case that city staff had recently increased its revenue projections for the current fiscal year by between $2 million and $3.3 million because of a recent uptick in revenues from sales- and document-transfer tax receipts.

"We started getting positive news," said DuBois, who supported using 60% of the federal stimulus funds in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. "We got more federal funds, we got more tax revenue, more vaccines — to the point where we have a surplus of vaccines, and we saw a really rapid economic growth in the country this last quarter.

"We're still cobbling together a lot of sources, including union concessions, to make this work, but I'm hoping we're getting to a better balance."

In providing its budget recommendations, the council went well beyond the more conservative recommendations of its Finance Committee, which voted last week to recommend a 50-50 split of federal stimulus allocations between this year and next. The two council members who supported the more cautious approach on the Finance Committee — Alison Cormack and Eric Filseth — found themselves in the minority on the full council. Burt, whose attempts to restore more services during the Finance Committee hearings were rebuffed by Cormack and Filseth, found himself part of the council majority, which favored using additional funding from the city's Budget Stabilization Reserve and from federal grants in the coming months.

"Do we need to be ultraconservative? I don't think so," Burt said. "I think we need to be cautious."

Cormack, Filseth and council member Greg Tanaka took a less sanguine view of the city's economic conditions and suggested that more belt-tightening might be in order. Tanaka suggested re-evaluating and possibly reducing the number of managers in the city's organization. Filseth observed that many of the recent revenue sources — including the federal stimulus funds — are one-time deals, while the city's growing expenses are a structural problem that will still need to be addressed.

"It looks like we're going to have a happy year this year because of federal money, but unless we get a bunch more money, we're going to see a significant decline in revenue, but expenses will keep going up," Filseth said.

Cormack agreed and said she wouldn't be comfortable spending more than 50% of the city's allocations in the first year.

"I feel strongly that we have to hold the line and set some of this money aside," Cormack said.

The council similarly split over the renovation of the Roth Building, a $12.3-million project that has been in the planning phase for roughly two decades and that has been plagued chronically by inconsistent council direction and funding shortages.

Rich Green, president of Palo Alto Museum, emphasized Monday that the project is "shovel ready" and that it would bring significant benefits to the community, including meeting spaces, a new bathroom for Heritage Park, space for the city's historic archives and a museum that celebrates the city's past.

"We'd like the council to reconsider the museum's lease on that building so that together we can rehabilitate this amazing building and turn it into a tremendous community asset," Green said.

The council voted 4-3 to direct its Finance Committee to find a way to fund the Roth Building through a combination of Stanford funds and impact fees.

By the same vote, with Cormack, Filseth and Tanaka dissenting, the council also supported including in the city's capital improvement plan the completion of the Charleston-Arastradero streetscape project. At prior meetings, council members had supported splitting the remaining portion of the project into two phases and deferring the second phase to future years.

Much like at prior meetings on the city budget, the council heard from residents who opposed the cuts in Shikada's budget. Some urged the council to restore funding for Children's Theatre or Art Center. Others, including Eileen Kim, called on members to rethink the city's proposal to slash in half the number of crossing guards at local intersections. Kim noted that some of the crossing guards are stationed at multilane streets with considerable traffic, including Alma Street, Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real.

"These roads are fully covered currently by crossing guards and they make an essential decision in helping parents to decide whether to allow their students to walk or bike to school," Kim said.

TALK ABOUT IT

People are talking about the City Council's budget decisions. Join the conversation on Town Square by going to PaloAltoOnline.com/square.

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2021 at 6:18 am

felix is a registered user.

Great decision about the Museum. Thank you Tom, Pat, Lydia and Greer.


Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on May 18, 2021 at 6:37 am

Neal is a registered user.

"It's important to tell the next generation about our history and without the Palo Alto Museum it's hard to imagine that happening," Green said. "This Roth Building is going to bring a tremendous amount to this community."

I totally disagree with that statement. The City has better things to spend money on.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2021 at 6:51 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Common sense prevails. We have rainy day money for reasons. This is our rainy day.


Posted by James Frick
a resident of Community Center
on May 18, 2021 at 6:56 am

James Frick is a registered user.

Just what does the Roth building refurberation and its subsequent emergence as the Palo Alto History Museum actually bring to this community?

The history behind Stanford and the university carries far more impact as a local historical consideration and the university already has a museum that will make any Roth museum offerings pale by comparison.

Will the allure of a mechanical monkey from the Nut House be enough to draw in future visitors?


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2021 at 7:05 am

Online Name is a registered user.

How ironic to hear Ms. Cormack suddenly become fiscally conservative after her refusal to stop or curtail massive city building projects, her rush to replace the sales tax-generating retailers at Town & County with "medical" offices more lucrative for the landlord and her grandiose vision for Mitchell Park Library where she was so "ashamed" of the old one.


Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2021 at 10:29 am

Carol Scott is a registered user.

I am still waiting for the City to generate some revenue by asking large businesses to shoulder more of the costs they impose on the community. Something at least?


Posted by cr
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2021 at 11:09 am

cr is a registered user.

It was mentioned last night that Alison Cormack is contemplating a parcel tax. Another tax that all residents will pay. I wish any more funding gaps would be addressed by making the city more efficient (it was mentioned that out of 938 employees total, least 211 are people managers. So people managers have only 3 direct reports on average…lots of managers). And if there is still a gap, then follow the lead of other neighboring cities and impose a business tax (large employers only). But not another tax on residents.


Posted by Davis Pemberton
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2021 at 11:27 am

Davis Pemberton is a registered user.

Just spend the gift money from the feds and do something constructive with these resources.

Simple as that.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2021 at 11:28 am

Online Name is a registered user.

NO new parcel taxes without a heft business tax!!! Shame on Ms. Cormack and her anti-resident pandering.

The City Manager's budget "survey" was ludicrous in its transparency when it never offered a clean choice for a business tax without muddying the waters by combining with another utility charge, something "impose a business tax and/OR a new utility charge" which allowed the city to spin the results.

How about first cutting some of the upper level positions at City Hall, eliminating the new $90,000,000+ fiber-to-the-home project etc. before even thinking about a new parcel tax???


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2021 at 1:32 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"Will the allure of a mechanical monkey from the Nut House be enough to draw in future visitors?"

Whatever it takes to lure you in, I suppose. Stanford takes care of Stanford. Period. Palo Alto has its own rich history that not enough people are aware of, as you demonstrate. Why not drop by after the museum opens and see for yourself? And bring a friend.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 18, 2021 at 2:47 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I cannot help but wonder what Staff's initial suggestion for History Museum admission will be. $18? I don't see that this particular spend needs to happen in the next fiscal year. The community has waited until now for this so an extended wait would not be a fatal blow. Cuts to existing programs would have a much more damaging impact. So I say THANK YOU to City Council for taking steps to restore the cuts proposed by Shikada.


Posted by Jeffrey Teague
a resident of Stanford
on May 18, 2021 at 3:26 pm

Jeffrey Teague is a registered user.

I suspect that the mechanical gorilla from Antonio's Nut House will become garage fodder and eventually disposed of accordingly.

A erudite museum curator would be hard pressed to seriously consider something like that of any key historical significance.

Might as well include the horrid outdoor wooden sculpture called 'Friends' that used to grace the lawn bowling park on Embarcadero Road.

And that crappy-looking sculpture on California Avenue...the mangled bike rack and wooden spiral that looks like a grotesque unicorn horn.

For such an upscale community, Palo Alto art commission tastes are somewhat questionable.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2021 at 5:44 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Re my earlier comments about budget cuts, I challenge / dare the City Manager, City Council, PTC commissioners to venture over to NextDoor and read the responses of to a poor soul's quest to reach someone in the Residential Parking Permit group. There must be 100+ responses with OTHER people detailing their lengthy quests to reach ANYONE, comments about the continued failure of the web site, etc.

For this we pay good money? And have to waste OUR time fighting to keep "community services" we value?!

Accountability and responsibility would be special. How much was spent on the new web site the City Manager is proudly bragging about? Did ANYONE bother to test its features? Evidently not. No more than they tested the City Manager's survey.


Posted by Laura Bajuk
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2021 at 8:40 pm

Laura Bajuk is a registered user.

"The history behind Stanford and the university carries far more impact as a local historical consideration and the university already has a museum that will make any Roth museum offerings pale by comparison."

Yes, and no, James - indeed Stanford has a fascinating history and is the reason Palo Alto is the way it is. They have terrific art collections, but no history museum. (My PA-born husband still mourns the move of the locomotive to Sacramento RR Museum.)

That's why Stanford and the Museum are partnering, and why it's endorsed by the Stanford Historical Society, Palo Alto-Stanford Heritage and Stanford Special Collections & University Archives, among other community groups. And we're working with professors like Dr. Clayborne Carson, Dr. David M. Kennedy, and Gordon H. Chang, Professor of American History and Sr. Assoc. Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Plus more Stanford folks on our advisory board and among our donors. But UC grads and other non-Cardinal alums will also find their history here, because Palo Alto has been drawing people from around the country and the world for generations.

We're working together to honor all voices, and share the stories of the Palo Alto-Stanford community. And with 30 years of local history museum management under my belt, you can trust that we'll meet the standards this community - MY community - deserves.

Learn more at www.paloaltomuseum.org.

Laura Bajuk, E.D., Palo Alto Museum




Posted by Laura Bajuk
a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2021 at 8:47 pm

Laura Bajuk is a registered user.

PS: to Annette: the City agreement we've had stipulates free admission.


Posted by tmp
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2021 at 11:35 pm

tmp is a registered user.

It makes no sense to fund ongoing operations and people with one time money from the Fed. Cuts will just have to happen later once the money is spent. I side with the more cautious group who only wanted to spend half of the federal grant.

Further the Roth building should be fixed up but then the city should rent out at least half of the building to pay for the renovations. The history museum groups has proved that they are totally inept since they couldn't get their act together in 20 years to refurbish and open the museum. The city should not just fix up the building and give it to them for free. We the taxpayers deserve to get a return on fixing up the building.

And again no new park space, no new open space just more buildings, more people, more stuff that adds to global warming with no respite for the people who have to live here. Buying park land is a one time investment that will be there for the residents forever. I guess it isn't splashy enough to get city council people interested. The just want to hire more people and pass out money so they can get reelected.

So shortsighted and it may come back to bite them but like most politicians they just spend the money as fast as they can with no thought to the future and what taxpayers will have to pay.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 19, 2021 at 3:26 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

YEAH - look at what PA has stated as their "places to visit" on the city web pages. Children's Theatre, Library with children's section, that is where some money needs to go.


Posted by Cherjo
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2021 at 10:30 am

Cherjo is a registered user.

Thank you CC for beginning restoration of our Historic Roth Building. I strongly agree with Carol Scott idea as how to help fund it. When the Medical Center was replaced by two townhome/condo complexes, the contract stated their “Public Benefit” for the honor of being awarded the contracts would be restoring the Roth Building to become a City Museum. Unfortunately OUR Public Benefit was “excused” in later negotiations. Then the CC ignored it. Our city has a long rich history important to this state here on our peninsula and this museum will richly benefit our community as well as our surrounding local communities. A terrific children’s educational school field trip is just One. Visual learning is necessary. I don’t not understand the alarming posts I read as the CC has a very clear understanding of the challenges from the public they face when concidering raising parcel taxes. I am so very happy for this good news. Thank you again CC.


Posted by Butch Logan
a resident of Mountain View
on May 20, 2021 at 11:01 am

Butch Logan is a registered user.

Will they bring the steam locomotive back from Sacto to the Roth Building or possibly house a non-descript Southern Pacific diesel locomotive to show the importance of PA as a key rail-link from San Jose to San Francisco for both commuters and gravel/freight trains?

And what about the Ohlones? The Stanford Museum pays tribute to their earlier occupation and even has an Egyptian mummy to expand its global acknowledgment of ancient history.

Will the mechanical gorilla from Antonio's Nut House be viewed by future museum visitors in the same light?


Posted by cr
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2021 at 11:23 am

cr is a registered user.

What about this for a win-win idea. Why not just give whatever money we have allocated for the Roth building and directed towards Antonio‘s not house. My guess is there are many hundreds more people Who would visit the nuthouse versus a museum. You could put some of the interesting artifacts in the back of the nuthouse. And use the Roth building for affordable housing instead


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