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Constructive, Informative Debate? Is it out there? Not here...

Original post made by Kathleen Liston, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights, on Nov 3, 2006

As I follow this debate on the various threads it’s clear we have two sides that are not seeing eye to eye and sound bytes and “spin” are controlling the debate as well as anger stemming from various sources. I’m responding to some of the comments which are inappropriate or inaccurate. I am not anonymizing my position as other posters have chosen to do or posting a website posing as a source of information. All of the facts and information I am presenting I found publicly and can be found by any diligent and inquisitive citizen.

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Comments (5)

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Posted by Swimmer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 3, 2006 at 5:12 pm

Nice dissertation, but if you want to live in a community that supports healthy debate on the issues and includes real numbers and options, you've put your money on the wrong horses. If you want continued manipulation and candidates who will sell our city, piecemeal, to the highest bidders, you're on the right train. For the good of Menlo Park, I hope to heaven your candidates don't win.

By the way, the MP community services department prepared the report that compares the finances of different communities. In that report, a recreation coordinator for Palo Alto states that their operating costs are $250k/year with revenues of $300k/year. Palo Alto owns and operates Rinconada and leases five other pools from the school district.

No one says that "privatization" or "for profit" are dirty words, but making a decision to privatize without considering all the options, using real numbers (remember: this is the council that can't figure out whether it's running a deficit or a profit) is doing a disservice to all residents and taxpayers.

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Posted by Swimmer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 3, 2006 at 5:13 pm

My second paragraph, above, refers to the aquatics program. My apologies for the omission.

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Posted by ChildcareWatcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 3, 2006 at 5:42 pm


Two quick points:

1) You are missing something when it comes to the childcare figures. It is due to the fact that the city budget lumps both the Burgess and the Belle Haven childcare programs together. They really shouldn’t do that, but they do. Plus, the figures you cite are just for the pre-school programs (Burgess/Bell Haven combined) and do not include the school-age programs, again Burgess/Belle Haven combined (those figures are listed a couple of pages later in the budget document).

A better way to look at this whole thing is what city staff estimated COULD be saved with privatization of both Burgess programs - $72,000. It’s likely to be less as there are inevitably costs that creep up afterwards that were not anticipated (or hidden) during the process. $72,000 is literally nothing compared to a $30 MILLION city budget overall and doesn’t justify “throwing out the baby with the bath water” which is getting rid of a childcare program beloved by parents to save a few bucks.

2) On the pool side, you are promoting something that is flat out not true – that it was a four-month decision process to privatize the pool and that it was done quickly because of the circumstances. I was watching the council meeting that night when this all happened. At literally the moment that the council was set to vote on hiring city employees for the new pool complex, Ms. Winkler introduced Mr. Sheeper as a “savior.” From that point, it took – as The Almanac reported – exactly one month for a long-term contract to be set up for Mr. Sheeper to run the pool. And Mr. Sheeper is no stranger to Menlo Park pool operations – I read that back when the project to replace the old pool was being developed, he stepped forward with an offer to the city if he was allowed to have his group use the pool. So he knew exactly what was going on with the pool.

So, no, Ms. Liston, it’s all pretty clear that this was all planned out in advance to rush this through as quickly as possible at literally the last possible minute to minimize reasoned discussion.

Now I agree with Ms. Duboc and Ms. Winkler’s opponents that, while Mr. Sheeper should not be thrown out, the deal he got should be recognized as a “sweetheart” deal that should certainly be legitimately considered by voters come Election Day, particularly considering that they (meaning Winkler, Douboc and Mayor Jellins) have placed a Utility Tax on the ballot as well.

Hopefully you are now better informed to make an intelligent decision next Tuesday.

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Posted by Commissioner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 3, 2006 at 8:12 pm

Kathleen, It sounds like you've made a big effort to educate yourself on two important issues, and some information is accurate, some is not, and some is not known.
The chidcare issue: Belle Haven numbers are VERY different than Burgess numbers, but average out to what you report. There is strong community support for continuing to subsidize the Belle Haven childcare programs. Burgess parents have been willing to take tuition increases to keep the program city run and intact, allowing the subsidy to be very minimal (approx $72,000).
Of the 9 childcare task force members in 2006, only one voted to continue privatizing efforts after analyzing the sitaution and considering outside bids: John Boyle.

Swim pool: All six candidates have said that privatization should be "on the table" at all times, but only three (Robinson, Cline, Bressler) want to make sure privatization processes proceed fairly and openly to all parties with a competetive bids, even if it took an extra couple months. Worth it financially in the short and long run. Most likely, in hindsight, they would have awarded the contract to Sheeper anyway because he's probably the best operator and it is good to have fewer pensioned employees on the city payroll, but it still should have gone through a more thoughtful process. The savings numbers quoted by Winker/Duboc/Boyle's campaign are not real numbers ($400,000+). There hasn't been solid calculations done to properly gauge what is the "savings," if any. The numbers were based on the old 50 year old pool, which operated at a very different use level than the current pool does and had different operating costs.

You sound like a very thoughtful person and someone who I'm quite surprised isn't voting for Robinson, Cline and Bressler.
Hopefully you will read more of their own campaign materials and see what they have to say (not just the ugly hit pieces that are coming from all sides--unions, developers, PACs, and each other).

Good luck navigating this and thank you for participating in the process!

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Posted by Patti Fry
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 4, 2006 at 5:42 pm

Kathleen, regarding the pool and "country club" rates: this was a term Tim Sheeper himself used in front of the Council when the summer season was reviewed this fall in retrospect.
I also reviewed the rates of other community pools and sent a letter to the Council regarding the fact that the rates for lap and recreational swim at Burgess are higher than other community pools (see Web Link for the letter with the comparison and references).
The contract definitely could have been crafted better to benefit the community that still is (and will be) paying for the reconstruction of the pool. Why not charge rent? Even Redwood City charged rent (albeit quite modest) but Menlo Park is not. With so many unknowns about the operating costs as well as the popularity of various swim programs, why not at least anticipate a profitable operation and require a share of operating profits? This would still give an incentive to run the center profitably and allow the city to cover the non-operating costs the citizens still pay in addition to the bonds. It would not have taken more time to create a better deal but it would have taken a will to do so.

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