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Facing budget crunch, Palo Alto backs cuts to police, fire services

Original post made on May 12, 2020

Facing an unprecedented budget crisis, members of the Palo Alto City Council approved on Tuesday a series of steep cuts to police and fire services and clashed over whether to delay long-planned infrastructure projects.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 12, 2020, 11:01 PM

Comments (84)

Posted by john
a resident of Barron Park
on May 12, 2020 at 11:28 pm

Since they've decided they must cut actual first responders, the ones who'll arrive to arrest the burglar or perform CPR on you- I think it is important to remember the council's previous approval of $716,000 for one item of modern "art" to adorn the 9 figure police/fire building. This city has the zaniest priorities. Part of living in a bubble I suppose.

Web Link

Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2020 at 1:29 am

Libraries ought not to be cut if only for the reason that they maintain community cohesion and mental health during difficult times. Permanently closing College Terrace library for the sake of saving $167,500 seems really shortsighted and insensitive to the needs of many seniors and children who then must use public transportation to travel 3.5 miles to the next closest library in other parts of Palo Alto.

Posted by ASR
a resident of College Terrace
on May 13, 2020 at 7:18 am

Please continue to operate College Terrace Library three days a week during these tough times with shorter hours.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 7:30 am

Palo Alto has too many chiefs and not enough indians. Getting rid of indians without reducing the number of chiefs makes absolutely no sense.

Quality of life is going to be more important than ever postCovid.

Posted by Caring Citizen
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2020 at 7:57 am

These are challenging times, however residents of Palo Alto who want to feel confident that police and fire will be available to respond in a timely fashion when they call 911 should tell their council members in no uncertain terms that public safety is a priority to them.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 8:01 am

>> After debating infrastructure changes and failing to reach a compromise on eliminating any projects, the council directed staff by a 4-3 vote, with DuBois, Kou and Tanaka dissenting, to make their own recommendations for reducing the capital budget.

Absolutely, completely shameful.

City council needs to stand up and do the rational thing. Defer the damn projects until the city can afford them!

Instead, they are going to cut all the services that residents depend on. Beyond dumb.

Posted by Squeezed Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 8:29 am

How about cutting the $15.5 million dollar bike/pedestrian bridge over 101? Construction started last week, with perfect timing just before the budget deliberations. There is already an existing tunnel, but the City still has decided to build this bridge (they even had a design contest!)

Hard to take the budget proceedings seriously when $170 thousand to keep a well-loved library is a challenge, with volunteers ready to step up, yet this bridge remains on track. We should re-allocate this $15.5 to more worthy, community-serving projects or the General Fund to the extent possible.

Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on May 13, 2020 at 8:47 am


Nice sentiment but no $ attached to it

How many $ would you cut from police and fire?

Posted by Budget Massacre
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 8:50 am

We should eliminate 1/3 of the bloated City Manager's Office. Only then will Mr. Shikada have the credibility he needs to impose a culture of accountability to other departments.

... as if that's going to happen...

Posted by Fairmeadow
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2020 at 8:55 am

Voted for cut police and fire:

Fine, Filseth, Cormack and Kniss

Voted against cut to police and fire:

DuBois, Kou and Tanaka

Remember when you vote!

Posted by govern for the people
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2020 at 9:34 am

It seems that this Council has forgotten that the role of government is to serve the people. The safety of the citizens is first. Therefore, police and fire cuts should be last. Second is taking care of the needs of the most vulnerable - the children and the elderly. Therefore, cuts to libraries and parks and the art center are just before police and fire. The absolute first cut has to be to top management salaries either in the form of eliminating overtime or a straight cut to their salaries. The only study I would consider approving is one that hired an actuary to conduct an analysis of the real cost of these high salaries with pensions. What would someone in the private sector have to earn over a 25 year period to get the same benefits and pension as someone with a defined benefit?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 13, 2020 at 9:42 am

" After debating infrastructure changes and failing to reach a compromise on eliminating any projects, the council directed staff by a 4-3 vote, with DuBois, Kou and Tanaka dissenting, to make their own recommendations for reducing the capital budget."

Anon, they were well on the way to cutting some capital expenditure projects -- the fire statiuon etc. -- until Allison Cormack figured out a way to protect ALL the projects on the board by preventing cap ex funds from being transferred to the General Fund, Then Kniss and Fine quickly jumped to support her proposals protecting Cap Ex funding for those expensive projects that always come in late and over budget just like the Mitchell Park Library which miraculously escaped any cuts in staff and/or hours.

Disgraceful that a city like PA can only find savings by cutting crossing guards and a few librarians! What a charade.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2020 at 9:44 am

Well I guess city structures are more important than vital city services which serve people. The Pedestrian bridge an Public Safety building can wait; public safety services are vital! Next will come cuts to park, libraries and all the other amenities which make Palo Alto the special place it is.

This is insane: buildings over public services? Please remember who spoke up for services when you Vote in November. And who felt buildings were more important than people. Remember it is your tax money at work.

Protest with emails to the city council and city manager: [email protected] and letters to the Editor. It is not enough to post and be outraged online. Thank you

Posted by Budget Massacre
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 10:34 am

The information below is copy / pasted from another commenter on a related article. The City Manager's Office is the motherlode of bloat, while other departments have tons of folks occupying multiple roles or working out of class interminably. This was a publicly stated strategy to "save money" off the backs of hard workers while higher managers coast. [That's the amazing thing about our city bureaucracy ... we have some folks who do all the work, while loafers providing zero value float around amidst them. Sadly, our City Manager's office sets the standard for waste.]

" ...look at the cost of the City Manager's office per 2020 adopted budget (salaries only):

City Manager - $356,000
Assistant to the City Manager - $310,000
Assistant City Manager - $256,000
Deputy City Manager - $214,000
Chief Communications Office - $206,000
Communications Manager - $121,000
Executive Assistant to the City Manager - $102,000
2 Admin Assistants - $178,000
Management Analyst - $85,000

Total salary is $1,830,000; add in benefits, and it's $2,700,000"

Posted by dtnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 10:45 am

I can't figure out how we can cut fire and police but do not cut the managers, admin from the other departments. Makes no sense!!! Not sure what we can do, overturn the city council?

Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on May 13, 2020 at 10:46 am

Police and fire have to be cut, the question is how much. Similarly the city managers office can be cut but it is small potatoes relative to the $40 million that needs to be cut.

Closing College Terrace Library is a silly idea. You won’t save enough there to make it worthwhile. The library needs to change its delivery model. You can’t have people sitting around the library anytime soon, particularly if they are going to touch books. The library has admitted they plan to quarantine books for 72 hours after they are returned, so I don’t see how you can allow people to touch things in the library.

Posted by Voice from the past
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2020 at 10:47 am

Pick one
(1) Police to respond to 911 calls
(2) Fire department to respond to 911
(3) infrastructure to ride a bike over a bridge

Your choice will help the council to choose between concrete and you.

Posted by mickie winkler
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2020 at 10:49 am

Do we really need five (5) PR positions at City Hall

Lisa Caracciolo $131,389 salary, $179,357 salary+benefits
Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, $180,000, $252,000 salary + benefits (benefits est @ 40%)
Catherine Elvert: $155,836 salary, $220,529 salary+benefits
Janine Hartley, $136,449 salary, $185,901 salary+benefits
Janine De La Vega, $125,000 + $175,000 Salary and benefits (benefits set @ 40%)

No staff at city hall eliminated? Guess we know who runs our city.

Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on May 13, 2020 at 10:49 am


What are you saying? On average other departments are taking bigger % hits than police and fire? Why are some of the most highly paid employees (with great pensions) exempt from cuts?

Posted by Be Realistic!
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2020 at 10:53 am

How about salary cuts? We are all suffering and there’s no reason our staff shouldn’t take a small hit as well. Salary cuts preserve jobs and services. Highest salaries should be cut the most. For example, if you did 10% for everyone above $200k, 5% for everyone above $100K, and 1% for almost everyone else...looking at the city manager’s office alone, we would save enough to stop the closure of College Terrace Library. Agree that deferring expensive infrastructure is the way to go. Why are we cutting all the little things that are relatively cheap and that the residents care about most???

Posted by Voice from the past
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2020 at 10:54 am

Unbelievable but not unexpected.

I guess if they need police or fire the citizens can go to the library and check out a book to see how they can handle the emergency. The council feels self help is better than providing the services

Posted by Voice from the past
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2020 at 11:09 am

The reason other Department are having higher cuts to their budget because there is room to cut but Police and Fire the knive is on the bone and cutting into the bone marrow.

Posted by Restructure the fire department
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 11:13 am

They didn't go far enough in restructuring the fire department. Looks like we will still be paying them to sleep, shop and eat on the job. They need to toss out the entire fire model that is antiquated and obsolete and go with a new model to fit today's needs. We need these people (who really do not fight fires much but do EMT work) to be available and awake 24/7 and they should have assigned duties just like any other city employee that keep them busy for their entire shift.

Stop letting them pretend that they are the "saviors" of Palo Alto. Restructuring their very expensive department and saving libraries and crossing guards and summer programs for kids go further to help Palo Alto than overpaid sleeping EMTs.

Posted by dean
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 13, 2020 at 11:24 am

Every for-profit business and non-profit entity I know is (1) cutting high-paid managers' salaries significantly (10-20%); (2) deferring major capital projects; and (3) even adding extra "hazard pay" for lower-compensated essential service workers. Why does our City Council think they are so right to do just the opposite, and that everyone else who run big successful organizations somehow wrong? or do they even pay attention to how the rest of the sensate world is respnding to dramatic cuts in revenue?

Posted by PST
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 13, 2020 at 11:33 am

Delay projects, cut everyone’s salaries taking the highest percent from the highest paid. And let’s move on. Total waste to spend hours hearing about a tiny library with a tiny budget given the scope of the problem. At the very least there should be public discussion and explanation why wage and benefit reduction is off the table already.

Posted by Cc
a resident of University South
on May 13, 2020 at 11:48 am

Wow. Just wow.

Let’s cut the most critical services that we rely on and need.

Instead, let’s do work on bridges and other non essential projects that will cost millions.

I’m born and raised in Palo Alto. I’ve NEVER been so DISAPPOINTED in my city.

Sad days.

Posted by Mark Meyers
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 13, 2020 at 12:09 pm

Hello everyone,
I feel like there is a simple solution. Stop all capitol projects, postpone for after we come through this pandemic. The chief of police and the Chief of the fire department are experts in protecting this community. A new bridge or fire station is the last thing we need. We need our emergency services division to be in place for when the disaster comes, we are ready to respond.
Reduce emergency services is a big mistake. Closing the traffic division when everyone is driving like maniacs, they are usually the first on scene at an incident. Please reconsider the cuts in police and fire. We need them here and available.

Posted by Zayda
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2020 at 12:19 pm

Listen to the Residents
Residents have spoken on where they feel the budgets should be cut.
They clearly voted:
10 to 1 FOR CUTS in Administration salaries and positions.
AGAINST ALL infrastructure projects, except the Animal Shelter.
3 to 1 AGAINST the Hgwy 101 Bike Bridge. It's for the benefit of the Google employees. Let Google pay for it.
3 to 1 AGAINST any cuts in Public Safety (Police and Fire) budgets.
4 to 1 FOR project oversight and code enforcement.
You can see all the results at Web Link
YOU CAN STILL MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD. Fill out the survey. Web Link

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 13, 2020 at 12:20 pm

Absolutely start by cutting all the big capital projects.

If you're laid off and/or the market crashes. do you stick with you plans for a pricey kitchen remodel?? Of course not; you cancel it and concentrate on necessities; you DON'T upgrade the kitchen with more pricey goodies.

High time for the city council to start facing reality and stop enriching their contractor buddies who always run late and over budget.

Posted by Duveneck
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2020 at 12:37 pm

On a national level, it has been said current pandemic problems have been attributed to a lack of advance planning and cooperation among various governmental agencies. In Palo Alto, current proposed emergency band-aid measures seem chaotic and diverse. Is the CC considering possible future needs when an emergency strikes? A can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees seems to be part of the current problem.

Posted by Voice from the past
a resident of another community
on May 13, 2020 at 12:47 pm

For $462 a year or $1.26 a day you get a well trained full service Fire department. If you deduct the revenue the Department brings in it would be less.
More then most citizen spend at their local coffee shop a day.

Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on May 13, 2020 at 12:59 pm


If the firemen want to save some of there colleagues, give them the opportunity to cut their salaries by 10%.

That would take care of most of what is being asked of the department.

Everyone one else is pitching in. Firemen shouldn’t be exempt.

Posted by RC
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 13, 2020 at 1:02 pm

When the shelter in place lifts, we will want those emergency services. AB 109, zero cash bail, props 47,57, highest unemployment in years if not history, homelessness, cuts to mental health and on and on will make for higher crime rates.
Cut CIPs, when contracts are up, renegotiate with the budget shortfall in mind to reduce salaries. To try to fix an estimated, aka a guess at this point, 40 mil budget shortfall in 30 days is beyond ludicrous, it’s just plain dumb. This needs to be a conversation with years ahead in mind.

Who will enforce the mask coverings???

Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 13, 2020 at 1:03 pm

Thanks to Mayor Adrian Fine for conducting these meetings! He's patient, polite, and makes sure everyone gets a chance to speak, and that everything is conducted in accordance with Robert's Rules of Order. Our city attorney helps out on that also. I've chaired many committee and council meetings, not city meetings, however. It's a tough job. Whether it should be an amendment, friendly or unfriendly, or a substitute motion? Thank god someone knows! I had one lady who attended my meetings who knew how to table motions...and she did it frequently. I did the best I could to handle those situations. I tuned in a little late on Monday but when I did I heard a familiar voice during the public comments period. I didn't see his face, but there was not question in my mind who was speaking...I remembered his voice. Thanks Pat Burt for still staying involved and offering your wisdom and advice on PA issues.

Posted by CitizenS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2020 at 1:07 pm

Bricks and mortar over human safety makes no sense! Unfortunately, with the economy down, crime will go up. How do fewer police make sense in this situation? 15 minutes versus 7 minutes for ambulance arrival will lead to more deaths. Cutting the city ambulance service will be tragic for some.

Posted by Been Here
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 1:07 pm

So shortsighted. Someone will die of a heart attack because minutes count:

“in 2019, the department's average ambulance response was seven minutes and 19 seconds, while the county ambulance average was 15 minutes and 39 seconds.”

The relatives will sue the city and win millions.

But we’ll have a bike bridge that few use. People are getting mugged on the bike bridge that connects to EPA.

Posted by member
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm

Tree trimming is something the city, could use an external vendors. I've watched the tree trimmers work, if you want to call it that, they are very slow. The city needs to examine every department and see what could be vended out to external vendor. The police department could be incorporated into the Santa Clara county, that is a huge saving, service is about the same.

Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on May 13, 2020 at 1:42 pm

Some of our council members make it a point of pride it seems not to read comments Palo Alto Online such as Liz Kniss.
Unless the comments on this forum are sent as an email to the city council members they can claim not to know how many people disagree with their priorities. Such as saving infrastructure projects at the cost of the services to residents, police and fire in place. Let's hope there isn't an earthquake after they cut police and fire.

Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on May 13, 2020 at 1:50 pm

The council in their discussions speak about 'the parking lot", what are they talking about?

Posted by Independent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 13, 2020 at 2:12 pm

Cut labor costs. Now....

The city staff just threw the police and fire out there so people would say it's too important and so then nothing would get cut. Labor is by far the biggest component of expenditures.

Can't support the $232k avg salary at the City w no revenue.

Can't support the excess staff at the City w no revenue.

Can't support $415 million in unfunded pension liabilities on no revenue.

Cut labor costs. Now.

Posted by YSK
a resident of Community Center
on May 13, 2020 at 2:14 pm

Oh no you don't!

The bridge at Newell works just fine and the last thing anybody needs are more cars barreling down Newell road while kids and the elderly go to the library and ride back-and-forth to Jordan.

You do not take away vital services from the city just to focus on your little pet project that isn't needed or wanted by most people in the area.

Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on May 13, 2020 at 2:20 pm

Having worked on the city budget through goods times and bad, I believe it's critical for the community to understand the severity of the proposed cuts to our city services. If approved, they will severely damage much of what we most value as a community; our public safety, libraries, community centers and services for youth, families, and the elderly.
There is no doubt that we are facing a huge hit to city revenue and that major changes will need to be made. But there are ways to reduce those cuts.
Over the last 10 years, those of us on the council worked hard to build up funding to pay for the largest set of infrastructure investments in decades, mostly by developing a plan to set aside the additional revenue from new hotels, along with the increases to the hotel tax to pay for projects. This year's budget proposes to keep infrastructure spending at all-time record levels while decimating the services that define our community. The infrastructure projects are very important over the longterm, but many of them can be deferred for a couple of years without any significant impacts.
Also, the construction bids on the projects have been coming in at well above estimates and the budget, as is usually the case in a big upturn like we've been experiencing until now. When a steep downturn hits, the bids usually drop below estimates so we are likely to see lower costs for the same projects if we wait a year or two. That's what happened during the Great Recession.
It's understandable that the staff and council don't want to back off from an infrastructure plan that was difficult to develop. But as someone who was at the forefront of that plan, I believe we can and should save more of our city services by simply delaying several capital projects. Tough times and choices lie ahead, but we need to make smart decisions that preserve what we value most.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 3:37 pm

Posted by YSK, a resident of Community Center

>> The bridge at Newell works just fine

We're in basic agreement about projects and services, but--

You may not be aware of it, but the current bridge is a major problem during floods. That is why is actually does need to be replaced. IF we have the money. I'm still not clear what fraction of the bridge replacement budget is state and what is local.

IF money is coming out of the city budget to replace it, then, the city should defer the bridge since the risk to public safety by cutting police and fire would be greater.

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on May 13, 2020 at 3:38 pm

Thank you Pat Burt for being the adult in the room. You speak from experience. I agree it is time to delay some of the infrastructure capital improvements and maintain our services. For example, the bridge over 101 is nonessential at this time. Delay this until the funding returns. The city needs to review the ask of Google and get more than one million for the bridge. We have a tunnel that already provides access to the other side of 101. Regarding the surveys the police, fire and libraries are key priorities. I feel the city manager has rammed this budget schedule and not allowed enough time for council members and the public to carefully examine all of the budget lines in a process that is not correct even in the crisis era that we are in. Three days, with ten-hour meetings, is unconscionable. Even one week would have been better. Yes the high salaried employees need to cut their pay by two percent to show that they share the pain and show solidarity to the community. It would reassure citizens that our city manager can lead by example by doing the right thing.

Posted by Budget Massacre
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 3:49 pm

I'm surprised that the Friends of the Junior Museum aren't going bananas right now. They gave millions and millions of dollars, only to have the city renege on their commitment and say it has run at 100% cost recovery, meaning zero net dollars from City funds.

That Community Services would even suggest this approach is an absolute insult to anyone involved and shockingly clueless leadership from Mr Shikada and Ms O'Kane.

It is also a stern warning to any group interested in partnering with that department in the future.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 13, 2020 at 5:04 pm

Agree 100% with Restructure the fire department. In this day and age, why are we paying for firefighters to sleep, shop, eat and watch tv on the job. There has to be a better fire schedule that would keep them more productive the entire shift time. I’m sure some citizens could come up with ideas to keep them busy or create a better and more productive fire schedule.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2020 at 5:16 pm

This city is a perfect example of mismanagement and an administration that is bloated. Why do the top administrators not agree to a cut? Who needs the Newell bridge or the bike bridge? We have not yet seen the full impact of this lockdown. More hard times are coming, what then?

Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2020 at 5:31 pm

I feel like I've been waiting forever for that darn bike bridge over 101. I'll never forget the city holding a design contest to create an "iconic" bridge and then the same city council rejecting the result "because we want something simple and unpretentious". Sigh. And in the meantime the wise folk in East Palo Alto have managed to build their own fine, simple and entirely usable bike bridge with very little fuss. Sigh some more.

But, rant over, much though I'd like to see the bike bridge, I definitely agree the city ought to postpone work on it for now. It can't be treated like a sacred cow when the city is having to cut police and fire support!

Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2020 at 5:53 pm

Insanity. Police and public safety are literally the only core functions of government, and they're the first things being cut.

Posted by Well said, Pat Burt
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 6:07 pm

Well said, former Council Member Burt. I remember when you and your colleagues worked through the budget during the recession recovery. Smart money management strategies that were implemented then could be revisited now.

I disagree with some of the writers re: the bike/ped bridge. The existing tunnel is is required to be closed much of the year during the dark, wet winter months when regional bike commuters really want to get off busy roads and away from cars. Evening commutes are, literally, killer commutes when we have to share the road with some inattentive drivers who go too fast for weather and light conditions.
The Bay Trails, by contrast, get us away from the busy roads onto safe, beautiful Bay Trails. It's a sweet ride, even when it's wet and chilly.

Further, the city has a lot of funding from VTA for this project that is time constrained. If we want that money, we can't wait.

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 9:45 pm

Nobody on this board wants to cut anything; certainly I don’t. What we have here is a massive revenue shortfall, probably prolonged, and presents constraints almost beyond imagination.

It’s natural to look at deferring xyz capital projects until times are better, and using the money to preserve services. One thing to keep in mind is if we defer $1M of Capital Projects for a year, we save $1M this year; but if we budget $1M more in expenses, that’s $1M this year plus $1M each year ongoing. So they’re different, and balancing them isn’t trivial. And you just have to look at this problem over many years.

I find it really hard to grapple with this stuff without actually crunching some real numbers on it. I’ve got an Excel model that I’ve found helpful. You basically roll your own city budget - start with the City’s base Fiscal Year 21 General Fund budget, and your own macro changes to expenses and infrastructure funding, try different revenue-recovery rates, and see how everything plays out. If anybody wants to try this, send me an email headline “BUDGET MODEL” at [email protected] and I’ll send it to you (hey were a nerdy town, and this situation is going to hurt all of us). Not as good as an on-line Google worksheet, but it’s compact. Completely unofficial of course, and doesn’t answer everything, but I think it’s pretty accurate and lays out some important things really clearly.

Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 10:29 pm

Not sure I am buying the argument that you should not cut capital expenditures because they are only one-time savings. If you are really lucky that one-time saving might be good enough to get you to a better place. If you are not lucky and the downturn is extended you are probably going to have to cut the capital expenditures anyway and wish you had cut them sooner.

Don't capital expenditures have recurring costs associated with the finished structure? Heat, water, lights, security, insurance, grounds maintenance, etc?

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 10:42 pm

Not saying you wouldn't do it, just that it may not deliver as much relief as you might expect, and it really takes a multi-year horizon. These numbers are so big it's hard to imagine anything unaffected, including Capital projects for many years.

Posted by Sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 11:57 pm

Can someone please tell me how many people will use the 101 bike bridge? It's $23 million for how many people to use it? Our city is a population of 66,666. How many people would use this bridge? People are already getting mugged on the pedestrian bridge to EPA so no one uses it.

How can you rip the PAPD officers away from us? They serve our entire city and do it well. Our safety is of the utmost importance, especially because of the unemployment level due to the COVID lockdown. Lawsuit predicted. The 911 dispatch center is underground in a basement, the entire PAPD building is decrepit. We need to take care of those who take care of us in our time of need.

And if someone is having a heart attack, every minute counts. An ambulance from Santa Clara takes at minimum, 15 minutes, could be more! A Palo Alto ambulance would take 7 minutes. Someone is going to sue the city for their death and then the city will pay millions of dollars.

Where is the common sense? This is an outrage! Axe the bike bridge, our lives are more important than a bike bridge! City Council should consider the future lawsuits before they axe our right to safety.

Posted by jlanders
a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2020 at 1:27 am

Eric Filseth,

Your priorities doesn't make sense to me. A large chunk of the City's infrastructure plan gets funded by future TOT (transit occupancy tax) revenue in the form of COPs (certificates of participation). The City is taking on more than $100 million in debt to fund big ticket infrastructure items. Payments are due over the next few decades. Even if the City were able to secure rock bottom financing rates, TOT hotel tax revenue is far from assured. When the hotel revenue doesn't cover the payments over the next few years, the City will have to cover the revenue shortfall itself putting further pressure on the City's budget. Your approach is lighting a fuse to a debt bomb that's likely to explode.

As you are aware, corporate budgets are more like financial plans that may or may not be achieved. However, a municipal budget and its expenditures carry legal authority. The authority extends to the management of the level of City services. This is why the problem of funding the Palo Alto Police Department in the current budget framework is so incredibly difficult. The PAPD is slated to loose 30 full time positions, 15 of which are currently filled. Chief Jonsen believes that, over the next year, attrition within the Department would cover 15 filled positions. Eric, you need to focus on preserving PAPD's personnel pipeline that, according to the Chief, takes 2 years to fill. This is a critical public safety function that, without a doubt, affects everyone in Palo Alto.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 14, 2020 at 6:30 am

"Despite the revenue drop, staff is proposing to move ahead with the major projects on the council's priority list, . . ."

The above says it all: the wrong group is running this city. Staff works at CC's direction, not the other way around. At least that's how it is supposed to work. And what's with the tiresome "we can't do that" comments we so often hear from City Management? If high-level employees in the private sector took that approach to demanding jobs I doubt they'd have those jobs for long.

Many of the above posters, notably Dean, Online Name, Mickie Winkler and Mark Meyers have stated well what should be done, but I think Anon captured best the sentiment of the Community:

"City council needs to stand up and do the rational thing. Defer the damn projects until the city can afford them! "

Posted by Mayor Votes YES
a resident of Barron Park
on May 14, 2020 at 9:15 am

Fine voted YES on this.

"A 'fine' choice for Palo Alto" indeed. More like "a fine choice for a drastic uptick in property crime and possibly violent crime following SIP."

Posted by Chris Robell
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2020 at 9:16 am


I think ANY capital improvement project not already started should be shelved so important resident services are not cut (including public safety).

It is vital that you make your voice heard to City Council. Online here is unlikely to be read.

Please convey your thoughts to all of city council by sending an email to:

[email protected]

(Note: Rita had wrong email above).

Posted by Cut Pickle Ball
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 14, 2020 at 9:24 am

wasteful use of resources

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on May 14, 2020 at 9:56 am

I keep seeing enormously high salaries, and health and pension benefits for our City staff.

It would be useful for Palo Alto citizens to understand:

1. How many present employees there are on the city payroll.
2. How many former employees there are on the city budget.
3. How many specific job functions there are on the City staff.
4. By individual job function, what the average salary is and what the total cost is.
5. By individual job function, what the health benefits and costs are, and what the total costs are.
6. By individual job function, what the average pension liability is, and what the total costs will be.

Then, by individual job function, what we are paying for health benefits and pension costs of former employees, and what the total costs are for all former City employees who are retired.

I have worked for computer companies my whole life, and I always believed that City staff employees were earning less than the private industry in lieu of better job security. I do not believe that at all anymore.

We, as citizens of Palo Alto, have the right to know this information, and I feel that Palo Alto citizens would be amazed and shocked about the expensive nature of our City staff. This could be a basis for future decisions and the cost of those decisions.

Posted by CC
a resident of Professorville
on May 14, 2020 at 12:52 pm

Residents attend council meetings to effect change, not to defend the status quo. They do not represent me, a member of the city’s silent majority.

The lockdown has been quiet. We’ve seen less traffic and perhaps less crime. This is not a trend that will last.

We see an unprecedented economic depression looming, but we can’t imagine its effects. Many in Palo Alto and more in surrounding cities will be desperate trying to pay rent, buy food, and care for family. And who are we? An enclave of Tesla-driving, biz-class seating, fresh-food eating, empathizing, complacent souls. We are not street smart. We count on our police.

So please do not dismantle the police and fire departments. We cannot assume life will continue as it has since the lockdown.

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on May 14, 2020 at 2:32 pm

I would also like to know:

1. At what average age do Palo Alto policemen and firemen retire? I have noticed people retiring early in their fifties (not at 67) with an excellent pension and then start working again for another community.
2. How many PA policemen and firemen have retired on disability and what % of their salaries will they continue to get as long as they Iive?
3. How much has Palo Alto paid and does Palo Alto pay for "cash outs" of numerous unused sick and vacation time accumulated over many years? Do these payouts apply to the employees' latest salaries?

Finally, I found a couples of stories in Palo Alto Online from a number of years back talking about Palo Alto paying for disability of its officers and its firemen:

Web Link

And also about payments to retired employees with regard to "cash outs."

Web Link

How much has changed since then? I believe we deserve to know.

Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on May 14, 2020 at 2:51 pm

Following-up on my comments above and some by other posters, here’s some background on the funding for our Infrastructure Plan and how it can inform how deep of cuts need to be made to critical city services.
Mayor Fine claimed recently that we are being hit harder in revenue reductions than other cities, like Redwood City, because we now rely more on hotel taxes (TOT) and that we would have more stable income from property taxes if we had embraced more high-density development in recent years. While our losses are greater than many cities, the facts don’t support this claim. Palo Alto actually has much higher total revenue and revenue per capita than Redwood City and we even have higher property taxes per resident which allows our city to provide valued services. Indeed, the biggest increases in our tax base in recent years (around $25 million) have come from more hotels and higher hotel tax rates. This success came from recognizing that hotel income was one of the few ways, other than a business tax, that the city could significantly increase its revenue to pay for the big infrastructure backlog that had accumulated over decades. In recent years, the city has been able to make big increases in our infrastructure spending with all-time record investments scheduled for this year and next. Many of us worked long and hard to enable this plan.
But we have now seen a crash in hotel and other taxes. The plan by city staff, and supported by much of the city council, is to keep the pedal to the metal on new civic buildings and other big infrastructure expenses while drastically cutting the public safety and community services that are at the core of our community. When the revenue stream for infrastructure has crashed, shouldn’t we instead reduce the pace of that plan rather than continue to fund it by transferring diminished revenue from the General Fund that is needed to pay for services?
The balanced alternative is to just defer several of the big infrastructure projects for two years until we have a modest recovery in city income. There will still be difficult cuts to our operating budget, but those cuts will be more manageable and similar to what other cities must do in these difficult times.
It makes little sense to plow full steam ahead on important, but not urgent infrastructure investments while stripping away so much of what makes our community what it is.
I’d be glad to try to answer any budget related questions to the best of my understanding.

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on May 14, 2020 at 2:52 pm


I think you’re asking exactly the right question, though I don’t see the COP’s as the central issue; as long as the City doesn’t actually default, the COP’s basically just shift the same expense around in time. But the annual funding for them is truly the core. We don’t get official figures for a few months, but it’s clear the TOT at the moment is basically gone. A lot of hotels are closed, and those that are open are at maybe 10% of normal. Until that recovers, the annual PSB cost would indeed come out of other revenues in the General Fund.

That’s why it’s so important to plan this holistically over time. Even if things recovery quickly, they’ll probably never come back to where they would have been without the pandemic. That means at least some of the shortfall is permanent. Lord I wish it weren’t so, but it is what it is. So your “decades” horizon isn’t just hyperbole. That’s the brutal arithmetic of this thing, and why nobody should feel comfortable (interesting word, for this time) with any of this without a serious pass at projecting out real numbers on it. It’s not quite as simple as

- Revenue/yr – Services/yr – Capital/yr = 0

integrated to infinity, but that’s the core (and the “/yr” is crucial). Having spent some serious time over that, I personally am comfortable the Math works long-term on the proposed budget, including the TOT and the COP’s you’re talking about, and the City won’t go broke. We still have revenue, we just need to use it really, really deliberately. But don’t take my word for it – try it yourself, and find something we missed (!)

Obviously having the Math work isn’t the entirety of the problem. In the end that’s just a technical exercise. The really hard part is balancing the above in the least bad way possible for the people in our community. None of this is Boolean; the best-guess importance of the bike bridge vs the best-guess impact of those cuts in Police (just about my personal least favorite of all of this) … this is the real nightmare.

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2020 at 3:08 pm

Er, that’s

Revenue/yr – Services/yr – Capital/yr = 0

Without the extraneous “-“ sign.

Your concern here is correct. Pension costs are the single fastest growing element driving up the “Services/yr” component above, especially the plans with the lowest retirement ages. This has been the case for a number of years, but the current situation really exposes it in a way that maybe wasn’t so obvious in good times. It is one of the most challenging parts of the arithmetic side of this problem, especially looking out long term.

@Pat Burt is correct; on a per capita basis, Palo Alto’s property taxes are also higher than Mountain View’s, Santa Clara's, and every other City in Silicon Valley except for Menlo Park.

Posted by Sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2020 at 3:58 pm

@Anneke: Please don't start insulting our PAPD and PAFD employees, they have stressful, physical jobs and we need them. A friend's brother is a police officer and says that off shift, the brother sleeps like no other human being, it's such an intense job. Police officers do retire earlier than the rest of society, but they have rigorous jobs and some aren't able to live until retirement. How would you like to go to your office and wonder if you will live to return home that night? Stressful?

The City Manager, Ed Shikada, earned $403,729 in 2019, not including pension and health benefits, according to a chart on city's website. He has a desk and publicity job, it's much easier than being a policeman whose life is at risk every day. City Council should look into the city administration packages for cutting costs, but I suppose there are politics involved there.

@Pat Burt, please put some spacing between your thoughts, we are not all attorneys, many people will not read your posting.

Posted by The Main Question
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 14, 2020 at 4:18 pm

Your spreadsheet sounds like it has a lot of good data, but can you focus on the question so many of us are asking? Why are you moving ahead with huge cuts to public safety and all of our community services rather than just slowing down a bunch of the infrastructure projects for a couple of years?

Posted by CC
a resident of Professorville
on May 14, 2020 at 5:02 pm

Those who demand libraries, tree trimming, etc. assume the level of security in our city will be the same as always. The decision process should be framed as a choice between a preferred service vs. the assumed basic calm streets ensured by police protection.

The pandemic + economic depression will stress our city and we will be vulnerable. Do not take our safety as a given.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2020 at 5:37 pm

Posted by Sigh, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> @Anneke: Please don't start insulting our PAPD and PAFD employees

It is frustrating to read your reply, Sigh. It isn't "insulting" anyone to understand how much public employees are compensated, the process of how they are compensated, and why they are compensated as they are. I've looked through the lists of salaries and compensation and they are very difficult to understand. It isn't an "insult" to ask why there are so many employees making over $300K/year, and, what their pension cost to the city is.

Any public employee making that much money should assume that the process will be scrutinized.

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on May 14, 2020 at 6:35 pm

@The Main

Sorry for the long post which follows. That question has been and continues to be under debate. The current budget iteration cuts about $18 million in Capital spend from the General Fund Infrastructure Transfer in FY21. But I don’t know that the discussion is done on this topic.

I don’t have a simple answer for “why haven’t we chosen yet to defer the Bike Bridge yet?” Well actually, that one’s already broken ground, so maybe it’s not a good example. The Downtown Garage … that’s already part of the $18 million cut, so maybe it’s not a good example either.

But I’d say first of all, we have to decide whether we think the economy will come roaring back V-shaped and we’ll have lots of money in the future to spend. If so, then deferring projects a couple years until that happens makes a lot of sense; Happy Times are on the way, and we don’t have to worry about tradeoffs between Capital spend and Services spend, because we can have both. Every single one of us on this message board is praying for that scenario.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that’s not the case: that we’re headed for a permanent revenue shortfall, and there will be growth in the future but modest, and we’re looking at a true reset. If so, then the economics become a bigger factor, because at the end of the day I assume we’re all talking about less Capital spend to enable more Services spend, and the tradeoff matters.

Now we have to start thinking about the timescale differences and the “$1 of Capital is $1 this year, but $1 of Services is $1 every year” issue. As @jlanders above has also pointed out, we’re looking at potentially long timeframes here. Suppose we defer (for example) the Fire Station 4 rebuild one year. That would save $1.7M in FY21. However, if we spend the $1.7M on Services in FY21, we’re going to want those Services again in FY22, which means another $1.7M. Yet to start the Fire Station, we still need a new $1.7M. Where does that $1.7M come from? Hopefully Revenues increased. But Expenses did too (the unions understandably will want their raises). So it needs to be a significant revenue increase, faster than Expenses. In the V-shaped recovery model that’s no concern, but in the slow-recovery model it is. Now, if we CANCEL the Fire Station 4 project it’s a different story – the $1.7M is ours to spend as we please. So deferral vs cancellation (or perpetual deferral) makes a big difference.

My point, buried somewhere in all this, is in the slow-recovery model we need to count the beans carefully and take a multi-years view, and recognize there’s not a $1:$1 match between Capital cut and Services spend. And be deliberate about whether we’re deferring things, or cancelling them.

I think in a perfect world we’d go back to:

Revenues/yr – Services Expenses/yr – Capital Transfers/yr = 0

and have a deliberate, steady-state, per-year Capital reduction plan where we’ve worked out the impacts for years to come. Revenues/yr has taken a big hit, so Services/yr and Capital Transfer/yr must follow. And with a working budget for Capital Transfer Reduction/yr, see how some of these deferments and cancellations would fit in. With spreadsheets, because this is tricky off the top of your head. That would be kind of a top-down approach, and if we did that in parallel with the bottom-up “what projects can we do without for now” view we’d be armed for whatever revenue scenario lies ahead. And if we get the V-shaped recovery we’ll have good options.

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on May 14, 2020 at 6:45 pm


Here is a link to average current employee compensation data by major category:

Web Link

A compensation table is on page 63 of this report. For example, the average Firefighter earns $312,767 in salary and benefits. The average Police officer earns $315,312 per year in salary and benefits. The average SEIU member earns $177,605 in salary and benefits.

Pension: the City has two pension plans: one for Public Safety (Fire/EMS and Police), and one for Miscellaneous (all other departments). Employees earn a pension based on their years of service and their final salary. The Public Safety Plan has 3 tiers:

Tier 1 (~70% of employees):
Retirement eligibility at age 50.
Pension /yr = 3% of final salary for each year with the department.

Tier 2 (<10% of employees)
Retirement eligibility at age 55; Pension /yr = 3% of final salary

Tier 3 (~20% of employees):
Retirement eligibility at age 57; Pension /yr = 2.7% of final salary

For example, a Tier 1 employee who starts with the city at age 25, retires at age 53, and has a final salary of $175K (many benefits do not apply to the pension calculation), would earn a pension of $147K per year.

A Tier 3 employee who starts with the City at age 25, retires at age 58, and has a final salary of $175K, would earn a pension of $156K per year.

Miscellaneous also has a 3-Tier plan with somewhat less-beneficial plans. The Tier 3 Miscellaneous Plan also caps the amount of final salary considered in the pension calculation, this year between $140K and $150K (it rises with CPI).

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on May 14, 2020 at 6:54 pm

Er, those should be "3.0% of final salary FOR EACH YEAR OF SERVICE"

So if you worked 28 years for the City, your pension is 3.0% * 28 = 84% of your final salary.

Sorry for the mistype.

Posted by Sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2020 at 6:55 pm

@Eric: So Google is paying $1 million but Palo Alto is paying $23 million for this bridge that not even 100 employees will use? And since it "already broke ground" it cannot be deferred? What kind of logic is that? Sketch of plans: Web Link Who is really going to take their child to walk on that bridge and overlook the greenery, as pictured? Of our 66,666 Palo Alto population, who is going to use that bridge?

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 14, 2020 at 7:07 pm

Worst idea ever. What compels someone to reduce your safety people. Try reducing the city hall staff.

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on May 14, 2020 at 7:12 pm

It's much less than that, because at least $10M is coming from County, State and federal grants in addition to Google's $1M. I don't believe it can practically be "deferred" because the grant money would then disappear. It could be stopped and scrapped.

Posted by Frankie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2020 at 10:43 pm

As usual, the city managers office that has added position after position to its payroll escapes the cuts. While police and fire are again asked to make reductions when time after time they have been reduced to the bone. Public safety should be a priority! Not the step child of the budget as always. How is it departments like the city attorneys office and city managers office continue to grow grow grow budget year after budget year but essential services always get cut? It’s getting old and anyone who’s had their eyes open the last 20 years can see what’s happening.
The city council should be looking 20,25,30 years of annual reports and actually see what departments in the city have seen runaway growth and positions added and reduced. It would be an eye opener.

Posted by Zach
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 14, 2020 at 11:05 pm

I suggest we start by terminating Zach Perron. He makes over $350,000/year in salary/benefits and he dropped the N-word on a subordinate! [Portion removed.]

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on May 15, 2020 at 7:46 am

Eric: Thank you for all the calculations. You are exposing the facts, which are critically important for any budget predictions.

I am not bashing the policemen and firemen; however, understanding the whole City's cost for present and former employees must make us realize that these expenses are just not sustainable.

I have worked in the computer industry for 43 years, made a good salary, but never made $300K, and certainly do not receive a pension of $150K per year.

I would like to ask the question: outside the city personnel, WHO DOES?

Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2020 at 8:40 am


The bike bridge should be stopped and scrapped. The state and county are also looking at huge deficits and should not be spending millions on a bike bridge either.

Palo Alto needs to be a responsible citizen of the broader community and not just waste money because it comes from the state or county. The idea that money that comes from the state or county is free is a false economy. Palo Alto residents pay state and county taxes.

The current underpass is serviceable most of the year and would be serviceable year round if the city would let people use it at their own risk when the underpass has a little water in it.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2020 at 4:44 pm

Posted by Eric Filseth, a resident of Downtown North:

>> Here is a link to average current employee compensation data by major category:

Thank you for posting here and explaining some of the rationale.

I have several issues with the discussion. First, I think we need *more* policing, not less. I honestly don't understand why, with the number of police we have on staff, we don't have visible traffic enforcement. Everywhere I walk in residential neighborhoods, I see drivers speeding, tailgating, not stopping at stop signs, turning right on red without stopping, blowing past bicyclists in dangerous ways, etc. What would it take to get a grip on traffic?

BUT, I just can't understand the current pay levels of public safety employees. According to a few quick Google searches, the median salary around here is < $110K, and the median household income is around $150K (estimates vary, need new census, etc.). That is with a population where ~80% of adults have at least a bachelor's degree. I have trouble squaring that with this:

>> the average Firefighter earns $312,767 in salary and benefits. The average Police officer earns $315,312 per year in salary and benefits.

The other issue, of course, is new project construction starts. It seems obvious to me that if the income streams set up to support "Capital spend" infrastructure projects dried up, we have to defer new projects until that stream returns.

Oh, and about "the unions understandably will want their raises" -- I can understand somebody making $60K a year wanting a raise. Someone making $300K a year ought to keep their voice down for a while -- we have the highest unemployment since the Great Depression at the moment...

Posted by carlito waysmann
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2020 at 3:01 pm

Expected approach of this city's "progressive" government, sacrifice the Palo Alto residents instead of firing personnel , cutting down extravagant salaries and benefits/pensions.
Times are going to get tougher and though measures needs to be taken , instead they are taking the easy way out.

The priority of this City Council and its Mayor should be to look after the well being and interests of the Palo Altan taxpayers NOT after the interests of the workforce, as the later have their Unions to look after them.

You can see it coming, a new parcel or sales tax to support our Libraries, Police and Fire , all in the name of keeping most of the city workers jobs and benefits safe.

Lovingly to be "progressive".

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2020 at 11:05 am

We have elections coming up in the future. And all of those PACC members who are planning to use their current position as a stepping stone to a higher elected office then think again. We are all going to know how everyone votes so think hard about how you will respond when you put the big money in front of the interests of taxpayers in this city. City bloat in these times is not an opportunity to reduce the very services that we depend on when there is trouble, or we need the benefits of community services. Keeping employees on board when we have reduced services is a sign of trouble.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2020 at 1:49 pm

Some clear answers as to why they won't cancel the big ticket cap expenditure projects would be special now and before the election.

Let's also have a list of who's consulting on and delivering those projects, whether they've had previous city contracts and for which projects and to whom they regularly make political contributions. Extra credit for tracking the overlap between the projects here and those in San Jose, esp. where the San Jose politicians have contributed to PA political campaigns.

Posted by Sigh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2020 at 5:20 pm

@Eric Filseth: So the bike bridge would still cost the City of Palo taxpayers $10 or $11 million? For how many people to use it? Google got off easy, paying $1 million. "It could be stopped and scrapped." Yes, please!

@Zach: Captain Perron is not a racist, it was a one-off. I think he was reciting rap music where the rappers call themselves and others by that name, it wasn't used in a racist sentiment. It's a stressful job being a police officer, most people could not do it, we can all agree on that. He is an outstanding detective and police officer, a Stanford and Palo Alto High graduate, we are fortunate that he is on our force. He cares about our community more than anyone appreciates. PAPD does an outstanding job of catching criminals with very little information. Meanwhile, the liberals are allowing sex predators and felons to be released from prison and on the streets to reoffend. That's okay with you? Which offense is worse? Accidental misspeak or ruining a child for life?

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