https://paloaltoonline.com/square/print/2022/01/25/should-gas-funds-be-used-to-pay-for-basic-city-services-palo-alto-prepares-to-ask-voters-for-guidance


Town Square

Should gas funds be used to pay for basic city services? Palo Alto prepares to ask voters for guidance

Original post made on Jan 25, 2022

Palo Alto is preparing to ask voters to reaffirm in its historic practice of transferring money from its gas utility to pay for basic city services.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 25, 2022, 9:51 AM

Comments

Posted by peppered
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 25, 2022 at 10:34 am

peppered is a registered user.

Tying city revenues to a major contributor of greenhouse gases is fundamentally flawed and creates a perverse incentive for the City Council.

Transferring gas (or electricity) revenues to the general fund is merely a work around on the tax limits passed by voters via Prop. 13, and should be illegal if it is not already.

The City of Palo Alto needs to do a better job of being more fiscally efficient and operating within a smaller budget. There is just too much waste and inefficiency in this City. Bloated staff with generous healthcare and retirement benefits that most residents do not have.

Right now, it feels like the residents are here to support staff rather than the other way around.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 25, 2022 at 10:54 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"The idea of raising the utilities users tax proved less popular, with 46% of the respondents in the "yes" camp and "36% in the "no" camp. The support is tenuous, however, with only 13% indicating that they would definitely support the measure and 17% saying they would definitely oppose it, according to the survey."

It would be even less popular if the survey worked since many of us want to recover the money the city's been stealing from us for many years and which the judge ordered the city to refund. At last night's city council, speakers noted this problem during public comment.

Instead, the city ignores the judge's findings, makes us pay for their appeal and their non-working survey where you can't update or change your password when you forget it. Nor do they respond to inquiries.

So not only are we still out $12,000,000 the judge ordered the city to repay, the cost of the appeal, the cost of the non-working survey but also $23,000,000 for a fiber-to-the-home system for which it's doubtful the city knows how to manage and/or can compete with AT&T's existing service.

Case in point: Months ago, the city sends out notices to "watch for our technicians checking out the wiring on your street" while ignoring the fact that many neighborhoods have underground wiring, a source of comment on neighborhood boards and individual emails including mine.

It takes them 2 months to respond to the emails. They promise to update the concerned neighborhoods and individuals. We're still waiting.


Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 25, 2022 at 12:44 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

Such a vague article lacking good detail and substantive research. Please line item which recreation programs and library programs Utility general fund transfer moneys pay for. Private property residential home owners especially due to prop 13 has gutted a once thriving coffer for libraries and recreation.

What good is a Biz Tax going to do when so many of the office buildings over 5000 square feet are hollowed out, empty and way underutilized. When are rich Palo Alto residential property owners (Old Palo Alto) going to pony up and buoy the social benefits I.e. library and recreation. Local Crime is on the rise. As fences get higher, people get poorer social, human, educational and recreation so vital to grow and thrive.


Posted by Renter
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2022 at 1:52 am

Renter is a registered user.

I don't understand blaming Prop 13. Everywhere I look I see houses selling for $3M+ and houses being torn down to build ridiculously big houses on ridiculously small lots. Isn't all of this resetting the taxes to much higher numbers than they would have been with Prop 13 and a crazy housing bubble?


Posted by Sherry Smith
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2022 at 2:19 am

Sherry Smith is a registered user.

If approved by voters, the gas-transfer measure would give the council discretion to determine how gas funds would be spent in future years. At the moment, the city's budget includes $1.5 million from gas revenue for 2019.


Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2022 at 10:31 am

S. Underwood is a registered user.

This reminds me so much of the Casti debacle. Run around breaking the rules for years, never apologize, waste lots public funds fighting it, and then have the hutzpah to turn around and ask for permission to do EXACTLY the illegal thing you've been doing for years.

The shamelessness and incompetence of our public officials and city management here is really disappointing.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 27, 2022 at 11:39 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I totally agree with the above poster. This is nuts.

And now as per the front page of today's Daily Post, Mayor Burt and Councilwoman Cormack are considering selling some of the city's water rights to Brisbane for a "massive" office complex there to fund more Palo Alto spending.

This while we're in the middle of an historic drought where we're constantly lectured to conserve and threatened with fines for using too much water. This while Palo Alto is STILL the only city without a business tax because politicians won't alienate their deep-pocketed backers. This while more offices will fuel the jobs/housing imbalance which will raise the housing targets even more. This while the Bay Area is already required to absorb another 1,000,000 more residents all of whom use water ...

Did they forget the city's been ordered to repay us for utility "overcharges" while we're stuck funding the city's appeal and while they try to link the business tax to MORE utility rate hikes??

Where are the calls for fiscal responsibility? Where are the calls to rein in the police so we don't have to pay millions of dollars in damages? Where are the calls to save $23,000,000 on fiber-to-the-home when there's NO evidence the city can effectively -- or technically -- compete with AT&T et al.

As said above, there's Casti debacle and the Town & Country "medical-research" debacle that would have deprived the city of sales tax revenue...


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2022 at 4:09 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Note the comment above - selling PA water rights. Are you all nuts? We are being tasked to add more housing/people. That is more showers, toilets, dishwashers, etc. You cannot add more people who are using water and sit around talking about selling water rights. We are getting all kinds of notifications concerning the use of water. Just stop it. As to the gas tax. How about using it for the libraries and other city services. How about you re-pave El Camino. It is a wreck. How do people on bikes even use it? It is bad enough for cars. [Portion removed.]


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 27, 2022 at 11:39 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@ Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, yup. Absolutely nuts.

Discussing this in more depth with knowledgeable folks, I learned that the sale and advocating for the sales are both very likely illegal. The regulations are very complex and there are all types of special tax categories. Ir's also illegal for city representatives to advocate for this sale.

I hope local media take the time to interview / consult with lawyers to grasp fully all the complexities and technicalities surrounding this.

My first sentence above is slightly wrong. I should have said that this is Ms Cormack's brainstorm and that Mayor Burt is considering her proposal.

Odd that she wants more money but didn't mind depriving PA of the Town & Country sales tax revenue when she pushed to allow the landlord to convert Town & Country to medical-retail right before the pandemic ended without even bothering to define what medical/retail is.

Fortunately, others prevailed and anyone can see how packed T&C is now and hence how counter-productive the conversion would have been.


Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2022 at 11:05 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

There is a trail of these type of "ideas" from the council representative. They all involve the resources that the taxpayers of this city have invested in. While I am not a big user of T&C I do recognize that on game days this is a treasured resource for everyone, and the PAHS students enjoy going there. It is amazing how the taxpayers of this city are an inconvenience to some of the PACC members.

Back to the need for the city to publish a list of priorities as to how our budget is applied. Water is at the top of list right now - we are getting continual notifications for the city, county, and state concerning the availability of WATER.
Water is in part a county-controlled issue. Brisbane is in San Mateo County which is managing their usage, availability to provide, and future growth in specific areas to provide water.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2022 at 7:24 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Headline Question: Should gas funds be used to pay for basic city services?

Answer: NO.

Does anyone else ever read the local news and say, HUH? WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?


Posted by Moctod
a resident of University South
on Jan 29, 2022 at 10:36 am

Moctod is a registered user.

The article mentions, "While the court confirmed that the city's transfers from its electric utility to the general fund are legal, it took issue with the gas transfers." I believe that the judge gave our city a pass on the over-charges for electricity because it was going into a fund to pay $13,000,000 for new "smart meters" and another $1,500,000 for yet one more contractor to bill our users. Once the installation of these new meters is completed in 2025 the city will switch from a relatively low-priced two tiered billing system to one that changes by the day and hour and attempts to push you into using power when the grid prices are lowest - from late at night to the early morning. The stated reason is energy conservation, but the result will be a doubling of most residential electric bills and thus a windfall of funds for the city. That is why they are asking for premission to make these transfers now, before the rates hit the ceiling.
Oh, and do not forget that the current plan is to also stop residential gas service in 2025. Regarding electric service, please keep in mind that you can, by paying a small fee, opt out of the new metering system and save yourself a significant amount of money each month. I called the city to ask how to do this, and the person with whom I spoke had not been informed that this option was required by the California Public Utilities Commission. I expect that the option will be buried somewhere in the city's web site and written in the smallest of fonts.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 29, 2022 at 5:59 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Thanks. I didn't realize gas would be phased out by 2025 nor did I realize you could opt out of the smart electric metering. Roughly how much would one save on a $150 monthly electric bill?

Not surprised the staff wasn't well-informed. They sure couldn't explain the water surcharges and discussions were a comedy of errors years ago. Think of how well they'll do with customer service for fiber-to-the-home. AT&T must be shaking.

Helpful water tip learned on NextDoor, NOT from staff during these lengthy discussions: The COUNTY offers an excellent Waterwise Survey where they come out and do a detailed analysis of where you're using water, where you can conserve, what rebates are available etc. complete with a comprehensive personalized report along with recommended tradespeople that qualified for rebate work.

Having just opened my latest bill, they're sure making money on gas while they can. We tried to figure out how it could be so high and then noticed all the charges for distribution, transportation and a other categories besides actual usage. Then we wondered if our recent gas leak, disconnection, reconnection and then a delay of several days in restarting our meter might have triggered the jump.

But based on previous experiences with PAU customer service, we figured life was too short to bother. Think of how well they'll do with customer service for the new $23,000,000 fiber-to-the-home service. AT&T must be shaking.


Posted by Moctod
a resident of University South
on Jan 29, 2022 at 7:43 pm

Moctod is a registered user.

Hi Online Name:

My personal experience with a change to a "smart meter" with PG&E, was that our electric bill tripled (that was with gas heating, stoves and water) in a large home. By timing electric usage to the lower cost times we were never able to get the bill below double the rate we were paying before the new meter went in.

The cut-off of natural gas to Palo Alto residents is in the pipeline approved by the City Council, but will need formal approval-which failed in Menlo Park due to the reaction of the residents to the huge cost of buying new appliances. Look at the minutes of the first meetings of the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP) ad hoc committe, which is recommending that action. Our new Mayor is on that committee.

Good luck to all.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 29, 2022 at 8:50 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I frankly hope it fails here in PA, too, because I'm not dying to replace the wonderful old gravity flow furnace and remove all its "arms" going into the rooms and then redo the basement ceiling. Nor am I eager to replace the gas clothes dryer which has lasted forever and seems wonderfully efficient.

When my great old washer needed one small part which wasn't made any moreand had to be replaced, I joked with the salesman that I hoped the new one lasted 35+ years, too. No way, he said, because manufacturers are no longer required to make/stock replacement parts for longer than 7 years plus other reasons.

So more built-in obsolescence, more non-biodegradable trash etc.


Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2022 at 11:43 am

Annette is a registered user.

Fully agree with Online Name and especially like that the landfill issue has been introduced. Like Online Name, we have a washer and dryer that are very old. And they work beautifully. I dread ever having to replace either b/c of the absurd-by-design short life expectancy of new appliances. Why aren't environmentalists and groups like S-PAC focusing on waste like that and demanding that our various levels of legislators do something useful like requiring manufacturers to build and sell appliances that will last at least 20 years?

I also resent that any City Council anywhere thinks it would be acceptable to arbitrarily shut off any utility. This does not equate to being anti-science, not willing to contribute to the lowering of GHG emissions, etc. But c'mon, take a wholistic look at a household's utility story. Palo Altans are good soldiers in the war against GHG. Tesla is the de-facto official car of Palo Alto, followed closely by Prius. And lots of us minimize our driving by cycling, walking, ride-sharing, etc. It's time to focus more on the BIG contributors to the problem rather than demanding more and more from already-dedicated individual consumers and small businesses. It's also time to not create more problems in our attempt to remedy something. The creation of mountains of landfill, as noted by Online Name, is a perfect example of an unintended consequence - aka problem - of requiring households to switch entirely from electric to gas.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 30, 2022 at 12:29 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Annette, good points. Re "doing something about big contributors" I'm still waiting for CA to stop Nestle (Arrowhead brand), BlueTiton etc from continuing to steal and sell hundreds of millions of gallons of CA water.

Now I see they've sold their brands to hedge funds to avoid scrutiny while STILL taking millions MORE gallons than previously allowed and suing CA to stop it from undermining their business. Got enforcement??

"From 2018-2020 alone, Nestlé stole 173 million more gallons than it was permitted to do. Even as average Californians face restrictions amid the state’s second dry year in a row, BlueTriton is drawing upwards of 25 times as much water as is legal. The permit costs a pittance and allows the company to resell the public’s water under its Arrowhead brand for a huge profit."

Here's a few of many citations

Web Link

Web Link

But sure, keep telling US to conserve, keep raising OUR rates because we don't use enough water and hence violated PAU's contractual purchase obligations, keep threatening US with $500 fines if WE rinse off our cars/driveways and keep encouraging our neighbors to report us if we do.


Posted by StephenM
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2022 at 9:23 pm

StephenM is a registered user.

Moctod: I am curious as to where EXACTLY the shutoff of gas by 2025 is described. So, please give the source in the city's documents for your statement since it does not seem to match what is described in the city's sustainability plan. For example, the in the 2021 SCAP document (Web Link the section on energy states as a goal: "Reduce GHG emissions from the direct use of natural gas in Palo Alto’s building sector by at least 60% below 1990 levels by 2030 (or 50% below 2018 levels)." 50% relative to 2018 doesn't sound much like a 100% reduction. Is the shutoff plan buried somewhere else?


Posted by Moctod
a resident of University South
on Jan 30, 2022 at 10:56 pm

Moctod is a registered user.

Hi Stephen:

I watched the committee proceedings and 2025 was the date mentioned several times. Ibelieve you can do the same.

Here is one quote from the plan which is posted and mentions the elimination of natural gas from most homes ny 2030. They say "most "as the consultant and city staff said it woud more difficult to cut gas to apartments and condos:


SUSTAINABILITY AND CLIMATE ACTION PLAN GOALS
Reduce GHG emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2030
Reduce GHG emissions from the direct use of natural gas in Palo Alto’s building sector by at least 60% below 1990 levels by 2030 (or 50% below 2018 levels) by:
a. Electrifying most single-family appliances
b. Electrifying most non-residential rooftop packaged HVAC units
c. Reducing gas use in major facilities by at least 20%
d. Seeking additional opportunities for commercial and multi-family electrification

The link you provide does not work, at least for me at this time.

The operating phrase is a. Electrifying most single-family appliances", which equals a major move to make residents change from gas.

Here is one draft of the plan:

Web Link

Also see "spectrum of tools' here;

Web Link
action-plan-updated-potential-goals-and-key-actions-draft.pdf

Watch the first three committee zoom meetings. There is little diversity of opinion that we should eliminate natural gas asap.


Posted by StephenM
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2022 at 9:12 pm

StephenM is a registered user.

Moctod: I slightly corrupted the web address when I copied it. This should work:
Web Link


Posted by Moctod
a resident of University South
on Feb 1, 2022 at 10:13 pm

Moctod is a registered user.

Stephen:

OK, so do you accept that the goal of the Sustainability and Action Climate Ad Hoc Committee is to force all Palo Alto residents in single family homes to convert all of our natural gas appliences to electric , at no doubt at a very high initial and monthly cost?

Beyond watching the committee's zoom and postings, just look at the PA website I posted to you;

SUSTAINABILITY AND CLIMATE ACTION PLAN GOALS
Reduce GHG emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2030
Reduce GHG emissions from the direct use of natural gas in Palo Alto’s building sector by at least 60% below 1990 levels by 2030 (or 50% below 2018 levels) by:
a. Electrifying most single-family appliances

Thake a look at "a"; if you plan on having most single-family residents converting gas appliences by 2030, when do you think Palo Alto will start that very comples process of requirements? The answer is 2025, when the new "smart' electric meters will switch to huge electric rate increases. This will be a huge increase in funding for our city, perhaps enough to pay off all of those unfunded retirement debts.

Do not worry about the costs to our residents or the fact that any action by Palo Alto with natural gas will be a drop in the ocean of carbon omissions. We will have a significant increase in smug, that will keep us all warm in winter when we shiver in our all electric homes.

Good luck to us all.