Palo Alto residents should expect to see their trash rates spike by 13 percent this fall to help cover a gaping budget hole in the city's refuse operation.
The rate adjustment would supplement the 6 percent rate increase the City Council approved for residential customers in October. If approved by the council, it would push the residential monthly rate for a mini-can container from $15.90 to $17.90. The rate for the regular 32-gallon trash bin would rise from $32.86 to $37.16 under the new proposal from the Public Works Department.
The rate increases, which the council's Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss Tuesday night, are part of a Public Works plan to close a $3.7 million hole in the city's Refuse Fund. The fund has been struggling financially in recent years as residents increased their recycling efforts and switched from large cans to mini-cans, slashing their bills and creating revenue shortages for the city, which doesn't charge for recycling.
In October, the City Council raised residential rates by 6 percent and commercial rates by 9 percent. These rates are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, but staff has recommended extending them into next year.
In addition to raising rates, Public Works staff is proposing to construct a smaller Recycling Center with more limited hours of operations than the existing center in Byxbee Park. Other cost-cutting measures include freezing a Zero Waste Coordinator position and raising rent for the Utilities Department's use of the Los Altos Treatment Plant site.
The city is also exploring changing its street-sweeping services from weekly to biweekly or monthly, though that change isn't expected to take effect for at least another year and only after a public-outreach process.
The Finance Committee will consider the proposed rate increases at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Conference Room at City Hall.
East Palo Alto school libraries saved
School libraries will be open and computers running in East Palo Alto schools this fall after the Ravenswood City School District narrowly averted layoffs of its entire library and technology staffs.
But the school year will be shorter, classes larger and two of eight campuses will close as the district, serving 3,600 K-8 children in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park, shaved $3.2 million from its approximately $39 million 2011-12 budget.
Ravenswood trustees unanimously approved the budget June 23.
After initially recommending layoffs of district library and technology staff members, Superintendent Maria De La Vega said she was able to preserve all seven positions by cobbling together foundation and grant funding.
But 26 teaching positions will be lost — through attrition — because of the increased class sizes, officials said.
K-3 class sizes will rise from 20 to 25, and fourth- through eighth-grade class sizes will increase from 29 to 31.
Ravenswood trustees particularly struggled with recommended layoffs in the district's maintenance staff, ultimately avoiding a vote on the layoffs. Instead, they asked De La Vega instead to work with local representatives of the California School Employees Association to make reductions in the maintenance department.
Nearly half of Ravenswood's $39 million budget comes from restricted federal and state grants targeted specifically to address things like poverty, special education, school improvement, migrant education and English-language learners.
About 80 percent of Ravenswood students are considered low-income under government guidelines, 61 percent are English language learners and 30 percent each year are new enrollees, according to the Ravenswood Education Foundation.
Land sale connects Skyline, Russian Ridge
In an effort to connect two land preserves and provide the community with greater access to trails and viewing locations, Palo Alto-based Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) sold nearly 100 acres of La Honda-area land to Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) on Tuesday, POST announced.
The 97.5 acres, which stretch along Alpine Road two miles west of Skyline Boulevard, closes the gap between Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and its neighbor, Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve. The land was sold for $3.09 million, the same price POST gave to purchase the property from its private owners last December. Funding was aided by the California Coastal Conservancy, which contributed a $500,000 grant.
Future plans for the land include expanding connections to Mindego Hill and the Mindego Ridge Trail, developing a staging area for viewing Skyline Ridge and creating new parking spaces, according to POST Executive Vice President Walter Moore.