Town Square

Palo Alto eyes 2014 for infrastructure repairs

Original post made on May 22, 2012

Palo Alto's quest toward a 2014 ballot measure officially kicked off Monday night when the City Council approved a process for determining which infrastructure projects the measure should pay for.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 12:10 PM


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm

We must now allow our city leaders and elected officials to come to the public trough seeking yet another tax increase to pay for these vital and essential needs which they have failed to plan for. These priority needs in infrastructure and public safety have been identified and on the table for well over decade. They have and continue to spend on a myriad of non-essential pursuits, fluff expenditures, and niche projects.

Our city officials sorely lack the the leadership and courage to follow through with sound financial priorities and planning. They are seemingly incapable of saying no to the special interest groups and vocal minorities on these spending issues. And after these many years of irresponsible and frivolous spending what do they do? Why nothing less than return to the tax payers asking for more money. Absolutely unreal.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2012 at 1:04 pm

No, No, No.

Until our city management starts saving money at the top, starts misusing city funds and stops funding childrens theatre and similar, then there is no way that we the Palo Alto public should be funding their frivolous spending schemes.

Our city management must realise that we are already paying our taxes to support infrastructure. We are already paying huge amounts for city services, utilities, library bonds, school bonds, and our pockets are not bottomless. We know that we can't afford to pay more for basics without having to give up some of the luxuries. The city management must give up some luxuries to pay for basics.

We can't afford bread so don't plan to spend on cake.

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Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 23, 2012 at 10:44 am

So sad that we are placing the Council's lack of self-discipline on the back of future generations.

I will avoid repetition of past posts about prioritizing spending and making room for infrastructure in the budget. We are now being asked for a bond and increased taxes for the accumulation of "deferred maintenance."

This failure falls squarely on the backs of the City Council members over the last 20 years. Shame on you Liz Kniss. Shame on you Larry Klein, etc. ... and now some of those same names want to be re-elected.

Each year there are great Mayor selection ceremonies where everyone congratulates everyone on doing such a great job, but the fact remains, THE JOB IS NOT GETTING DONE.

There is no currency in saying "I told you so" but...

Got accountability. It is time for a new expectation.


Timothy Gray

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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2012 at 10:51 am

Very well said, Timothy. And you are so right about the self-congratulatory, back slapping extravaganza called the Mayor election ceremonies.
Part of the problem is the vanilla elections we have. Candidates all say the same thing--how wownderful Palo Alto is and how great a job they will do if elected. Candidates are not allowed to question other candidates qualifications and credentials--that is considered a "personal attack".
Then, when elected, they kowtow to special interest groups (i.e. the PACT crowd) and refuse to make tough decisions, all the while frittering away our money.
How Larry Klein gets elected and elected and elected over and over again is beyond me. Karen Holman is totally unsuited to be on the council and her fellow members are not doing that great a job either. Now Liz Kniss wants to get back on board because she feels that she is owed an elected office.

We need a smaller city council and a publicly elected mayor that will be responsible for what goes on--not just a ceremonial figurehead that plays mayor for a year.

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Posted by tired_of_it
a resident of Downtown North
on May 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

Residents are paying for the very generous benefits of city employees, and now we are going to borrow to pay for the maintenance of our streets and other infrastructure projects. Money is being wasted and there is no one accountable. The City Council should find a way out of the employee benefit and pensions mess that previous councils got us in before asking as to borrow more money.

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Posted by Don
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I will vote NO on a bond measure unless the feel good projects are reduced or eliminated? Each new idea seems to cost at least a million dollars which benefit a few but is paid for by all. I agree with Marrol on his postings.

Spend our tax dollars on "catch up" or "keep up" up as the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission (IBRC) so diligently determined was necessary. They spent 13 months and several thousands of hours on researching City needs. I doubt if the Council digs as deeply into the problems and can match that.

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Posted by Optimist
a resident of Ventura
on May 23, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Geez guys, can't believe you are so negative. We have a mayor right now that has brought infrastructure up as a major initiative. We have a city manager that courageously negotiates with unions to bring spending under control. I think our city is doing an AWESOME job of undoing the financial mistakes of the past. If the city council says it needs more time to plan for funding to address the huge infrastructure problems, then I think they are right on track. If you think you can do better than that, then run for City Council!

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 23, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Optimist, the current city management's apparent solution to the infrastructure/public safety void is to propose another bond measure and tax increase. That is not addressing the problem in my opinion. The problem will be solved when the out of control spending on frivolous, non-essential projects and services are either eliminated or significantly reduced. These supposed problem solvers have not demonstrated the ability to say no to the special interest and niche groups. We have to spend less on the wants, and use that money on the needs. There is a huge difference between the two, and they just don't get it.

On the current Palo Alto Online page alone the city management laments the fiscal crisis we're in, and how they plan on proposing a tax increase to cover the 40 million dollar plus projected cost of our vital infrastructure needs. In the very next article, the same city management approves going ahead with a half million dollar expenditure for an environmental change to the art center and main library. This serves as a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about. There is a difference between what we want and what we need. Like I said, they just don't get it.

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Posted by Idiots Unite!
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on May 23, 2012 at 9:29 pm

The exact same tax measure was proposed several years ago. Different politicians all claimed how progressive they were in recommending that "new taxes" were needed, forgetting that we already have millions stashed away in reserve funds for infrastructure repair. Where did this money disappear to? Just using the yearly salary and benefit package of the city manager we could fill every pothole in every street in Palo Alto. The Keene and Klein Circus marches on. Idiots Unite!

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 24, 2012 at 8:05 am

The planning process here in Palo Alto can be characterized as somewhere between “fragmented” and “none existent”. It suffers from a City Administration that does not have much in the way of an effective Information Technology “backbone”, little/no use of simulation software that would provide much better “best guess” estimations of how land use/zoning changes would affect our town, in terms of new population, public sector revenue generation and traffic. The City government is firmly bogged down in a paper-centric view of the world, rather than one that has a forward looking view—couched in the use of cost-reducing technologies.

The City did recently go through an exercise to review its “infrastructure”. Unfortunately, it turned the job over to a group of people that had no expertise in asset management, information technology, or even basic analytical skills, it would seem. Rather than approaching the problem by creating a complete inventory of City assets, it seemed to be very selective in its vision of what “infrastructure” might be, focusing on a few high visibility targets, and ignoring the rest. As a result, we don’t have an adequate inventory of the City’s assets, and don’t really know what the cost of maintaining the City’s assets is, or will be, in the future.

To make matters worse, this group took a very myopic view (in my opinion) and did not consider alternatives to the current service delivery models. It seem to simply see things in terms of “business as usual” in the coming years, without any thought as to how services might be delivers on timelines ten, twenty, thirty years out. That failure to consider alternatives renders this exercise to be of limited value, I think. The data they collect, and presented, is valid. Their conclusions, on the other hand, not so much.

There are many alternatives to the current “vision” that is being set before us. The links below point to two lists of ideas that have been submitted to the City Council recently that offer an alternative vision to the current service delivery model of people-centric, paper-centric, murky asset management, that characterizes the current City government:

Ideas Submitted to the Palo Alto City Council About The Use of Technology:

Web Link

Web Link

The costs of running “Palo Alto” in the coming years is staggering. The current “infrastructure” needs, using bond financing, probably comes to $2B (estimated). In all likelihood, this number is understated. The City/PAUSD’s recent announcement to use the Cubberley site for three new schools probably adds $300M-$500M to the future capital costs projected for the schools, and $30M-$50M for the PAUSD operating budget. The City’s continued operation of the golf course, and its plan to operate the Palo Alto airport diverts about $1B in land to two small groups—about three-quarters of which are not Palo Alto residents.

Adding the revenues/expenditures of the PAUSD/City together, we are looking at $3B-$4B every decade. When the future “infrastructure” costs are considered, this number only grows. Our “leaders” tell us that this is still not “enough”—but they don’t seem to have any interest in telling us how much is “enough”. All we ever hear from these people is “more, more”.

It is becoming clear that small municipal units like Palo Alto can not afford themselves. One obvious path is to “regionalize”, either by merging municipalities, or at least to merge functions (like HR, IT, Police and Fire, Public Works). The savings that can be achieved would pay for much of this infrastructure, as well as the shifts in the service delivery models that have certain initial costs, as well as maintenance costs.

How to get from “here to there” becomes a challenge that will take a new generation of “leaders”. It also will require some “undoing” of a number of laws that bind the hands of city governments/school districts, where the use of labor is concerned. All-in-all, we are looking at something akin to rewriting the DNA of a living organism, expecting it to transform before our eyes, almost immediately, with no ill effects. A pretty unachievable goal, most would believe. Perhaps. But we do have the skill set within our grasp. The only question is: “do we have the intelligence to do the right thing, and change course?”

Voting down any Council initiated Bond measures that are not coupled with significant changes to the current service delivery model, is the only way for the voters to be heard. Otherwise, it will be “business as usual” for decades to come in this town.

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Posted by Michael
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2012 at 8:42 am

Once again, they ask for more taxes while they flush our already high tax burden down the toilet paying exorbitant salaries and benefits to the city bureaucracy. We can't afford infrastructure because our city payroll is littered with 200K+ firefighters, 100K admins, and streetsweepers that cost the taxpayers 100K per year. Letting the private sector handle the work the bureaucracy currently does would save tens of millions.

Click the payroll link below and have a look at what your tax dollars are paying for:

Web Link

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Posted by Respect
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Yes the city management is over paid....but have you looked at wages of median comparison cities and counties?
Where is the affordable housing for teachers, police, utility employees and fire?
Do you work without social security or 401K?
Were you able to buy a home because you earn over 200,000 as a family
or you bought in before the 90's?

Why can't we afford ....
We can't afford infrastructure because top city management and prior city councils politically chose not to provide for upkeep for some 20 years.
We can't afford basic services because our basic services include
-a zoo,
-wonderful parks,
-recreation centers,
-multiple libraries,
--an art center
and we do not charge enough for those services or we are over serviced.

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Posted by Michael
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm

"Yes the city management is over paid....but have you looked at wages of median comparison cities and counties?"

It does not matter if other cities, counties, and other poorly run public entities pay the same bloated wages as Palo Alto. What matters is what the market dictates the value of the job to be. We should not pay $100K to employ a streetsweeper (plus more in the future when the inevitable pension shortfall occurs) just because Menlo Park does the same, when the private sector will fill that position for 50K. The taxpayers of Palo Alto shouldn't be stuck getting 1/2 market value for what we pay for.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

They city council may lack financial sense, but they sure have plenty of chutzpah.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 25, 2012 at 9:48 pm

I'm not certain what "chutzpah" means, but if it has anything to do with being irresponsible and out of touch, then yes, they have plenty of that.