https://paloaltoonline.com/square/print/2021/05/04/facing-another-bleak-budget-season-council-prepares-for-service-cuts


Town Square

Facing another bleak budget season, council prepares for service cuts

Original post made on May 4, 2021

With the city still reeling from the economic wreckage of the Covid-19 pandemic, Palo Alto's elected leaders launched on Monday the painful and contentious process of cutting the budget.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 4, 2021, 12:33 AM

Comments

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2021 at 6:48 am

Annette is a registered user.

I am drawn to the conclusion that our City Manager does not understand the city he manages; the proposed cuts go after the soul of Palo Alto.

Neighborhoods, youth services such as the Children's Library and the Children's Theater, our parks, our ENTIRE library system, ALL the stations in the PAFD, our restaurants and retail establishments, our safe bikeways are what has defined Palo Alto as a special community for decades. We need a budget that supports those things, not one that erodes them. Cuts that impact those things should be last on the block; look first at consultant fees, capital projects that can be deferred or even eliminated, and any administrative excess that can be trimmed.

And please address the valid issues and concerns raised at last night's CC meeting and the many comments made by Rebecca Eisenberg that impugn this city's fiscal model: too much reliance on TOT and sales tax; no tax on the large businesses that happily HQ in PA.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2021 at 7:16 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Annette says it. These cuts will affect every resident at the soul of our community services. We can wait for road improvements but a toddler can't wait for a library designed just for them, or a budding thespian denied their first role in a play. Childhood is brief and when they lose out on something then it is lost forever.

Get rid of some of the people who do nothing other than write meaningless studies and recommendations as we can easily do without them, but don't wipe out youth services.


Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 4, 2021 at 9:35 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

I strongly support completion of the entire Charleston/Arastradero project and regret the lingering uncertainty about when the final section will be funded. Thanks to Councilmembers Burt, Stone and Tanaka for urging the city manager to seek other ways to avoid uncertain funding for the last section by splitting Phase 3. But if this 4-3 decision means that the council majority have committed themselves to support completing the section from Los Palos Ave. (across from Juana Briones Park) to Alma, I think this could have a good outcome.

Of those in the majority, three came into office as part of a movement that favored keeping two car lanes in both directions for faster traffic flow and discouraged measures to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian usage. One, pointing to missteps in implementing a related project on Ross Road, came into office on a platform of pledging to closely scrutinize the Charleston/Arastradero project to be sure residents were listened to and informed in advance of work to be done. Those are four votes in favor of going ahead to finish the critical work across El Camino and the tracks, including underground utilities and a smooth surface for crossing ECR. The other three agree with that. This means that at least this part of the C/A project can move ahead without significant controversy That'll be a relief.

My expectation is that in similar fashion, there will be agreement to finish the remaining section from Middlefield to San Antonio when the budget situation brightens and public buy-in won't be hampered by the argument that completing the project comes at the expense of programs that make living in Palo Alto special.


Posted by Derek McKennon
a resident of Stanford
on May 4, 2021 at 10:14 am

Derek McKennon is a registered user.

From a municipal budgeting standpoint, doesn't infrastructure and public safety funding trump the more luxury items such as community art programs and children's recreational activities?

The parents can take it upon themselves to provide for these outlets but parents cannot repair roads or respond to police and fire calls.

This whining about cut-backs in non-essential city expenditures says a lot about some residents in Palo Alto.

It's like we want to dine at the French Laundry when all we can actually afford at this time is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Time to get real and adjust to some much-needed austerity measures.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 4, 2021 at 10:28 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Please register for the Budget Town Hall this Thursday evening and submit your comments in advance to [email protected]

Date Time: May 6, 2021 06:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Echoing Annette's comments, it's critical that the city hears from US on our priorities and concerns.

Mine include dropping the costly Fiber-to-The-Home until the city can prove they can offer a more cost-effective solution than the big companies that already know how to provide decent customer service -- something the City is sorely lacking as shown during the recent power outages -- and cutting back its costly and unrealistic Climate/ Sustainability Plan that's been widely discussed here in topics dealing with Diana Diamond's blog and related articles.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2021 at 10:57 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Yes. register for the Budget town Hall. However, I strongly recommend that people submit their comments directly to their elected representatives, NOT Meghan Horrigan, the city manager's publicity manager. You can submit your comments to your City Council representatives here [email protected] .

Our electeds are our key decision-makers. Staff should never put themselves between Council and the people. Staff gets copied on comments sent to this email address, so they will still be in the loop as they should be.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 4, 2021 at 11:01 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Consider Your Options, good point. I'll forward my comments to City Council. Thanks.


Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Community Center
on May 4, 2021 at 11:09 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

If adding fiber is coming at the expense of any of these cuts it should be deferred. Public safety needs to be the city's top priority. I think careful scrutiny should be given to staff salaries and compensation, which has become overly inflated.


Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 4, 2021 at 11:14 am

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

And yet they gave teachers a 2% pay increase for doing hardly any teaching last year. Should have demanded they bite the bullet just like everyone else.


Posted by localmom46
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 4, 2021 at 11:49 am

localmom46 is a registered user.

@What Will They Do Next- school budget does not come from the city budget. They are unrelated.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 4, 2021 at 11:59 am

Annette is a registered user.

Two points: 1) I suspect last year was exceedingly difficult for teachers and 2) Fire Station #2 is the closest to Foothills Preserve. For that reason alone it should be open and staffed at least during fire season.


Posted by Cat Mom Leonorilda
a resident of Barron Park
on May 4, 2021 at 1:22 pm

Cat Mom Leonorilda is a registered user.

Thank you to Annette for voicing concern for what really matters in Palo Alto—services that support education and well-being for youth, most of all. It's time to trim, drastically, huge consultant fees that benefit only the receivers and not the community.


Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 4, 2021 at 3:26 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

Thanks for correcting me localmom46.


Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 4, 2021 at 4:37 pm

Carol Scott is a registered user.

Lots of service cuts, but no talk of revenue generation. Very little in terms of cost control.

Rebecca Eisenberg is correct -- why do we shy away from demanding that large businesses pay for services of any kind. It isn't just a business tax. Fine print in the budget also says that the City will decrease the cost of employee parking permits in the Downtown and Cal Ave areas and presumably in the RPP areas. What? Does the City think that high tech software employees cannot afford to pay even $5 a day to park close to their offices? The restaurant and retail workers will qualify for reduced price permits, so decent fees would not affect them. Doesn't matter where you look, the City defers to business and property owners' interests. The City is apparently suggesting that we sell our children's health and safety for less than $5/day.

The Liz Kniss-led initiative to make large businesses, property owners and large developers the top priority in Palo Alto has affected the City in many negative ways and will continue to do so for years to come. Reliance on things like the hotel tax instead of properly asking businesses to pay for the services they receive is just one issue.

And, by the way, I have never heard anything about the costs the City has incurred in the Uplift Local program and the return on this investment. There may be increased sales tax from restaurants, but you also need to consider the lost tax revenue from other retailers whose businesses have been negatively affected. This hasn't been free. Has it been worth not having a Children's Theater?


Posted by The Voice of Palo Alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2021 at 7:03 pm

The Voice of Palo Alto is a registered user.

“And yet they gave teachers a 2% pay increase for doing hardly any teaching last year. Should have demanded they bite the bullet just like everyone else.”
@ WWTDN
Stop with your anti-teacher/anti-union nonsense.
Teachers worked twice as hard online to keep education going during the deadliest pandemic in a century. As if the pandemic and the school closures were their fault and not the previous administrations fault for letting the disease spread uncontrolled. Did the teachers close the schools or did the Government? The pandemic is the same reason there are now budget cuts being done. Cut it out. Your comments are completely unsupportive. The teachers deserve another raise this year for their efforts. You were so quick to do an anti-teacher comment you didn’t even know it was regarding a different budget that didn’t involve the teachers. How sad. Stop being weird and crabby. Consider yourself corrected by ME.

As far as the budget cuts, I disagree with Ed cutting the children’s programs. I would rather have Ed cut his own salary before they cut the wonderful children’s library where the kids can develop a love of reading or the amazing children’s theatre program where our precious little children can express themselves. It’s not your fault Ed but leave the children alone and find a better way! Please step up your efforts on our city council and STOP Ed from doing these nonsense cuts Greer Stone! Thank you in advance.


Posted by No heat
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 5, 2021 at 11:53 am

No heat is a registered user.

We wouldn't need to cut the library, recreational services, or the fire department if we weren't making a multi-million dollar payout on the utility user tax lawsuit, or if we weren't building a new police station.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 5, 2021 at 12:08 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

So where are we on the business tax??? Anyone thought of that before cutting services?

@No heat, relax. The Utility Tax lawsuit is only for one year out of all the years they've overcharged US. Besides, they city evidently considers it well work it to spend OUR money to appeal it while they continue to rake in $20,000,000 of OUR money in annual overcharges.


Posted by No heat
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 5, 2021 at 1:51 pm

No heat is a registered user.

We can't have it both ways - the revenue from that tax lets us sustain the city services we all love. I'd rather have the tax and no refund payments than see the service cuts.


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2021 at 4:13 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

Council members have cited the utilities repayment lawsuit as one of the main reasons for the cuts. The $12 million already ordered to be repayed (although the City is appealing) covers gas rates from 2012, 2016, and 2018. I believe the City is subtracting this from the General Fund in yearly increments of $4 million, so that's $4 million in lost revenue that could have offset cuts to this budget.

Web Link


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2021 at 4:38 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I received a today a letter concerning the completion of the bike path project on Fabian and Charleston. Given the budget shortfalls why are we proceeding with this effort? We have other projects that are more important. How we prioritize projects in this city is really bizarre. And it is the bike projects that get assigned top priority.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2021 at 4:47 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Studies and consultant fees. High salaries and pensions. Legal fees and lawyers.

Don't make this town soulless.


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2021 at 5:08 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

Ah, there are TWO utility repayment court settlements. The 1-year one is for phone customers. What horrible timing. The city desperately needs this money.

Web Link


Posted by Jeremy Erman
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2021 at 5:17 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

As much as I would have liked the $8 million spent on the bike bridge to have defrayed budget cuts, the project was already set up when the pandemic started, and much of it was paid through dedicated funding, so delaying it would not have helped the budget that much. As galling as the price tag is, having permanent pedestrian and bike access across 101 to the Baylands will be a good thing.


Posted by MA midtown
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2021 at 10:12 pm

MA midtown is a registered user.

Palo Alto City Council is reviewing the City Budget over the next few weeks. There are major cuts proposed for youth and children services. Please take a minute to read and sign this petition-
Web Link
Here are two additional ways to participate in the conversation-
1. Please attend and speak at the Budget Town Hall - FY 2021-22 Budget Discussion: Thursday, May 6, at 6 p.m.
Register Here: Web Link
2. Please fill out the survey released by the City (it took me about 5-8 minutes to fill out the survey and currently there are only 28 responses:-please add your voice!):
Web Link
Other upcoming Community Engagement Opportunities for the FY 2021-22 Budget Flyer with details-
Finance Committee Budget Hearings: May 11, 12, 25, all hearings begin at 9 a.m.
Finance Committee Update at City Council: May 17, at 5 p.m.
City Council Budget Adoption: June 21, at 5 p.m.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 5, 2021 at 11:34 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

There may be a good reason only 28 people completed the survey. I tried and this is the error message I got:

" Home / 404...Oops!
404...Oops!

Did you try the new search bar? If you are reaching this page after coming from Google or another search engine, try using our website's search bar."


I wasn't "coming Google or another search engine" m-- just following the link above -- but tried searching the city's much-touted new web site with whatever search engine it uses and and only found an item about a 2020 budget survey. Other pointers appreciated.


Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 6, 2021 at 2:49 am

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

As I said in the meeting (all meetings), Palo Alto's budget woes are not caused by too much spending. Yes, Ed Shikada and Molly Stump are overpaid, but that is not the biggest driver of our deficit.

What is moving the needle is on the Revenue side. Why is Palo Alto operating on a deficit while cities like Redwood City and Mountain View have a surplus? It is NOT because those cities spend less than us -- on the contrary. It is because every other city leverages revenue streams that are more sustainable and strong than hotel tax and sales tax. Palo Alto's reliance on TOT and sales always has been ludicrous.

Here is what all peer cities are doing, that Palo Alto is not:

1. Large company business tax. Given that the state, county, and Palo Alto all have been in a state of emergency since March, 2020, Palo Alto City Council has had the opportunity to put an Emergency Large Company Business on the ballot for 14 months. It has not. Every business tax presented to voters in nearby cities in the past year have been passed with voter approval of approx. 75-80% and zero opposition from the businesses to be taxed. Tax measures in other cities generate between $30 million and $1.2 billion annually. This money has been reinvested into communities, e.g. for small businesses and infrastructure. Palo Alto CC refuses.

2. Code enforcement. Every other city has a department that enforces code violations by commercial developers and levies fines. Palo Alto's municipal code provides for fines of $500 per violation per day. But Palo Alto CC defunded and dismantled the office of enforcement -- **even though it was revenue-positive**.

3. State funding. The state of CA gave away $850 to cities for affordable housing projects in 2020 but PA refused to apply. This year the State is giving away $1.5 billion. It's called the HomeKey project. Recently there was a large mental health grant that Palo Alto refused to apply for. PACC refuses to take free money.

They are ruining Palo Alto.


Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 6, 2021 at 8:43 am

Paly Grad is a registered user.

Mtn. View business tax:

Web Link


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 6, 2021 at 9:15 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Re why there's no business tax, a witty friend said, "Because PA still operates under the Kniss Doctrine" -- everything for businesses, developers and business-friendly lobbyists, the rest of us not so much,


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2021 at 9:21 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Add to this the article posted today about the $18 admission/entrance fee to the new Childrens Zoo.

As they say, "Palo Alto has lost the plot".


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 6, 2021 at 10:54 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I looked at the cities blog on how it advertises itself. Primary was the Children's Theatre and Zoo. Secondary was the SU campus and it's events. A city makes a choice on what it's outstanding locations are for visitors. If the Children's Theater is on the list then fund it. That is an identified tourist attraction for visitors as well as a whole educational environment for our children.

Are bike paths on the list? NO The South Palo Alto Bikeway Project - Alma, East Meadow, Fabien Way from Charleston to West Bayshore. That is a lot of road work - big bucks. Needed now? NO
Our priorities are out of whack.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2021 at 2:24 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

to Resident 1--I'm sure the many people who have been hit by speeding cars on that road would disagree with you. Maybe you don't ride a bike or have never been hit by a car, so you cannot relate to the problem. However, street safety for all community residents, to my mind, should be a top priority for the city.

On the Charleston-Arastradero approach to the El Camino Real seven-lane state highway crossing, the bike lanes completely disappear, forcing people on bikes to merge with traffic or ride on the sidewalk where they bother people who walk. Even very skilled, experienced bicyclists have difficulty at this intersection. Drivers, on the other hand are presently provided THREE full auto lanes in the each direction (auto lanes are much wider than a bike lane, I might add). This is a school commute route. It would help if thoughtful adult drivers could support sharing some of the road real estate with people who are too young to drive and people who choose zero emissions, foot-powered commutes.

The Fabian-to-San Antonio segment is really bad. The pavement is practically rubble, the bike lanes disappear at Fabian and don't resume until you hit the Mountain View border. The bike lane narrows as you round the blind curve in the road on the eastbound Fabian approach. Again, very challenging, even for very experienced riders, to merge with auto traffic in these high volume areas.

Middlefield/Charle is one of the more dangerous intersections in the city for people who walk and bike. The collision counts there should make us all ashamed. Again, this is a school route. Can we all please take a moment to consider this more carefully? More than half of all PAUSD students walk or bike to school. They deserve a safe route.

I drive, too; but I still think that we need a street system that enables people of all ages nd abilities to walk and bike safely. Not everyone can drive. Some people don't want to. Their safety and freedom to move about matters too.


Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on May 8, 2021 at 12:02 pm

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

I bet the writers here and PA residents in general would be more willing to accept cuts to favorite programs if general overhead - i.e., our expensive city staff - would also be pared. I haven't seen a proposals for that. Coupled with R. Eisenberg's suggestion for more sustainable income sources and we might be able to have both cops and kids' programs.


Posted by Richard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 8, 2021 at 1:34 pm

Richard is a registered user.

Maybe if we had police ticket all the runners of red lights they'd make up the shortfall. Of course that's an exaggeration, but just another general safety issue that gets no attention while some other staff get paid; for what? Making bad decisions and losing the plot, to coin a phrase. :)


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2021 at 4:05 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Speaking of police giving out tickets, how many vehicles were ticketed under Ms. Kniss's anti-idling regulation and how much money flowed into the city coffer$?

I used to joke cops just needed to follow all the double-parked, idling delivery vans and we could balance the budget and eradicate the unfunded pension liabilities.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 8, 2021 at 5:57 pm

Annette is a registered user.

I wish the "like" button was still active as I would "like" the comment by Bill Bucy.

As for the telephone refund and the utility tax eventual refund, the timing is indeed lousy. I'd go along with the option of forfeiting the refund in exchange for retaining specific services, particularly if we can direct the funds, but for one wrinkle: does that achieve the purpose of the City learning a needed lesson: STOP the practices that lead to costly lawsuits. Talk about a waste of time and money!

We have a robust City Staff and we are told again and again that the salaries paid are justified b/c we hire the best. Why, then, do we still rely heavily on costly consultants? And why do residents have to pay as much attention as we do to what is being decided at City Hall? This should not be as necessary as it is. FWIW, I appreciate that there are people like Rebecca Eisenberg in our community who pay close attention and speak up with reasonable suggestions.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 8, 2021 at 6:14 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Good points. Instead of "forfeiting the refund" how about deferring /postponing it in return for restoring the cut services WITH the condition that the City never again engages in the practices that result in these costly lawsuits. If they do, stiff penalties would apply PLUS interest accruing from the date WE deferred /postponed payment.

In return for OUR generosity, the City will reduce its use of consultants, engage in better/smarter management practices -- ie considering price elasticity for the Junior Museum when imposing fees, use CURRENT population figures when producing Traffic Management Demand rather than 20-yr-old numbers -- AND immediately impose a big business tax.

Additionally, no more offices that displace sales-tax-generating retail, cause more congestion, up our housing targets etc.

Finally, bring to a vote the Climate/Sustainability Plan and Fiber-to-the-Home plans that are costly, will require hiring MORE consultants. At least table then until the city gets its finances in order.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 10, 2021 at 3:18 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

If you have not paid attention there will be major building on Fabien - that is construction equipment and heavy machinery. The SSL location has been bought up by the same company that is buying up any and all land in PA. I am sure with their own agenda the old buildings will be torn down and replaced. And there are plans for the apartment complex on the corner of Charleston and Fabien. With all of the disruption and heavy equipment why would the city spend time and money on a bike path that is going to get trashed in the process. That should be a budget item in the later years after the construction business on Fabien is completed. Any street planning has to e done in context of what else is happening in that same location. Stove-piping projects is not good planning.