News - August 25, 2010

Menlo Park roundup: City may seek bids for contract to operate Burgess pool center

The Menlo Park City Council faces three items of note when it meets Tuesday, Aug. 24, after a summer recess:

• The council will consider seeking bids for the contract to operate the Burgess pool center. The current contract, held by Team Sheeper, expires May 2011.

• The council will review Menlo Park's response to the San Mateo County grand jury report that criticized the city's red-light cameras on several points, including how far warning signs are posted from the intersections with cameras.

• The council will fill two seats on the Environmental Quality Commission from a pool of three applicants, namely, Jean Baronas, Kathy Schrenk and Roger Thompson. The new commissioners will serve until April 2014.

Debate over ballot measure argument

Menlo Park City Council candidate Chuck Bernstein inspired a look at how ballot measure arguments get written last week when he challenged the accuracy of a rebuttal argument supporting the proposed Bohannon Gateway office/hotel project. The argument will be included in the voter information publication that the county sends to all registered voters.

Turns out the only way to revise a ballot measure argument is to get a court injunction, according to City Clerk Margaret Roberts after consultation with the city attorney's office.

Mr. Bernstein said a court challenge would cost him at least $10,000, according to estimates from local attorneys. He said he can't afford to risk his family's welfare on a quest that would cost at least half as much as his council campaign.

It's puzzling as to when the public has a chance to ask for corrections of factual errors, since by the time the arguments are made available, the deadline for making revisions without requiring a court order has passed.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rich Cline and Councilmember Kelly Fergusson, who helped write the pro-Gateway argument, flatly disagreed that any factual errors existed. But Mr. Cline said that if they did, he would be willing to correct them.

Mr. Bernstein submitted a letter to the City Council on Aug. 23 asking them to allow the city attorney to correct the language describing how the Gateway project would benefit Menlo Park schools. If the council agrees, he said, he hopes the correction could be made with requiring a court injunction.

He wants one sentence reworded in the rebuttal to indicate that the project will not generate $600,000 for schools in Menlo Park; Mr. Bernstein maintains that the money will instead go to either the Redwood City School District or Sequoia Union High School District.

Go to (case-sensitive) to see the city's elections website and the arguments and rebuttals for both the Gateway and pension ballot measures.

Cohen attacks fellow council members

In the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 18, Menlo Park Councilman Andy Cohen e-mailed a copy of a handwritten letter on city stationery to a list of recipients, including The Almanac, that asked, "What is ethical for politicians and consultants in their respective roles?

Two days later, Mr. Cohen told The Almanac the letter had been sent to the media by mistake. Others copied on the distribution list include several residents and former council members known for taking public stances on controversial issues.

The letter appeared to slam two of Mr. Cohen's fellow council members, with the most pointed remarks directed at Kelly Fergusson. He made passing reference to Heyward Robinson and ex-Mayor Gail Slocum, along with Ms. Fergusson, as "not all that different from consultants who sell their professionalism for money."

When asked for a response, Ms. Fergusson said: "That's a tough one. Those are some dark thoughts."

As for Mr. Robinson, he appeared to take the letter in stride, saying that he and Mr. Cohen mostly approach issues from a similar set of values.

"But there are going to be issues where we don't see things the same way. Menlo Gateway is one of these," Mr. Robinson said. "Even though Andy had expressed support for Gateway and I had expressed concerns over its impacts, he ended up at 'no' and I ended up at 'yes.' I respect his vote and I hope that he would respect mine."

He urged the council to remain focused and put aside disagreements.

Mr. Cohen explained that he occasionally loses his temper when observing "politicians, bureaucrats, and consultants all in a feeding frenzy at the public trough."


Posted by Paul Collacchi, a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Bernstein is correct. Cline and Fergusson are incorrect. The city's rebuttal to arguments against the project asserts the following:

FACT: Menlo Gateway is projected to net Menlo Park $1.4M annually and another $600,000 annually for schools in Menlo Park.

The "fact" is incorrect. The $600,000 for schools goes to the Sequoia High School District not "schools in Menlo Park."

The authoritative facts are here, see slide 4. Web Link

Revised School District Analysis
• Project is located in Sequoia Union High School District ("SUHSD") and the Redwood City Elementary District ("RCED")
• SUHSD is a "Basic Aid" District:
• Most revenues come from local property taxes
• District would realize an annual net fiscal benefit of $611,000 from Project
• RCED is a "Revenue Limit" District:
• Receives substantial support from State
• As local property tax revenues increase, state aid decreases
• District would not realize any net fiscal impact from the Project.

Posted by Paul Collacchi, a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2010 at 3:44 pm

The Sequoia Union High School District serves students in nine cities, including Menlo Park. It has an annual operating budget of about $100M. Web Link

The $600k in increased property taxes represents about .6%, and some small portion might of that surely rub off on M-A, the Menlo Park High School in nearby Atherton, but the assertion is factually incorrect, and probably represents a rushed attempt to twist a fact to give the appearance of benefiting local schools where there is almost no benefit.

Information being distributed by the developer (David Bohannon) distorts this even more, because the Bohannon hype includes property tax money being generated for the Redwood City Elementary School district, but because that district is a revenue limit district it must give back state money, dollar for dollar, for every dollar of new property tax it receives. So it gets no net benefit at all.

Finally, the Almanac seems unable to say anything factual about this either, turning an issue of fact, which school distict(s) benefit how much from future estimated property taxes, into a he-said, she-said story in which nobody gets it quite right.

That both Cline and Fergusson would assert that there is no inaccuracy, is troubling. They were both present in the meeting where the financial consultant tells them these facts.

Would really hurt so much to say they got it wrong?

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