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Atherton residents may be surveyed about building new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park

Original post made on Jun 16, 2012

Atherton residents will be asked a number of questions about issues in their community -- including whether they want a new library built in the town's only park -- if the City Council approves a proposal on June 20 to conduct a professional survey.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 15, 2012, 5:06 PM

Comments (23)

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Posted by liz
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 16, 2012 at 7:20 am

Widmer as shown real leadership. It is now time for the Town to speak up.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 16, 2012 at 9:43 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The proposed survey will:
1 - cost $18 plus Town staff time
2 - sample only 200 people
3 - use questions decided by an unknown party - and the wording of the questions in any survey usually biases the responses
4 - not have pro and con statements to assist the respondents in understanding the issues on which they are being asked to provide an opinion
5 - will not be binding on the council - which at the same meeting will be approving a budget that includes almost $1 million for work to implement their controversial 3-2 decision to put a new library in Holbrook Palmer Park.

The survey will cost about $100 per respondent. Why not spend the money on a mail ballot election which would include pro and con statements on this issue and that would allow ALL the voters to make this critical decision?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 16, 2012 at 9:43 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

correction 1 - cost $18K plus Town staff time


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Posted by Waste of Money
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

Peter you are right this is a waste of money.

This does not allow "the town to speak up."

It allows the council, with three members already in favor of moving the library to the park, to carefully word a question to be asked on the phone to 200 residents.

Some members on the council want to get rid of the tennis courts. How will that question be worded.

Your solution is much better.

Park and Recreation recommended surveying the entire town as have a more than forty residents that have spoken at council meetings and posted on line.

This is another step to avoid making the majority will of the people a priority.


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Posted by allspeak
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 17, 2012 at 9:50 am

liz states, "Widmer as shown real leadership. It is now time for the Town to speak up."
Liz, can you tell me how much chance I have to "speak up" when the survey will only involve 200 respondents in a town of over 7000 people?
Widmer's newly found "leadership" is because people are speaking up on their own and the council cannot ignore them.
Time to have a ballot vote with both sides of the issue fully explained.


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Posted by Liz
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

allspeak, this survey did not have to be taken. From the Council posting it will be professionally developed and run. The mayor did not need to take this step.

It is surprising that first the request was for a survey. Now no one wants that, they want something else. It goes to show that some people will not be satisfied.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2012 at 10:40 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"It is surprising that first the request was for a survey."

Wrong, I and others have always called for a vote by the citizens ever since the council split 3-2 on this critical long term issue. Surveys are useful before a decision is made and useless thereafter.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2012 at 11:25 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This email was sent to the council more than 6 months ago:


From: Peter Carpenter <peterfcarpenter@me.com>
Subject: Library location
Date: November 11, 2011 4:30:02 PM PST
To: William Widmer <billwidmer4atherton@gmail.com>, Theresa DellaSanta <tdellasanta@ci.atherton.ca.us>, Elizabeth Lewis <lizlew08@gmail.com>, James Dobbie <jdobbie@ci.atherton.ca.us>, Jerry Carlson <jcarlson@ci.atherton.ca.us>, kathy mckeithen <kmckeithen@ci.atherton.ca.us>, John Danielson <jdanielson@ci.atherton.ca.us>, William Conners <bslawstuff@yahoo.com>

Dear Council,
I note the discussions regarding the location of a new library. This issue is and will become even more divisive and more personal if it continues to be dealt with by the Council. Therefore, I recommend that the Council place this issue in its simplest form before the electorate for their decision.


Respectfully,


Peter Carpenter


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

And when a council member kindly responded and suggested a survey I replied as follows:


From: Peter Carpenter
Subject: Re: Library location
Date: November 11, 2011 5:43:48 PM PST
To:

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I would only add that polls, however conducted, lack the legitimacy of the ballot box.
If a poll is done I believe that, whatever the result, the 'losing' side will challenge the process rather than accept the result. That is much less likely if we rely on the ballot box.

Peter


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Posted by math major
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Assuming that Atherton really has 2330 households and that every household has a single viewpoint, then a survey with unbiased yes/no questions and a 3% margin of error (+ or -) and 95% confidence level would require a sample size of approximately 732 respondents.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Thanks math major - "a sample size of approximately 732 respondents." and that, at $100/person surveyed, would cost over $70k/ It would be much more cost effective to have a mail only ballot that would have virtually no margin of error and 100% confidence.


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Posted by smoke & mirror
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Peter is right, this will lead to more problems. Widmer's move is in response to the recent letter writing campaign requesting he approve a town wide vote or survey with both sides getting to write why their position is correct. This offer is a distraction.

With this proposal the council will have to accpet responsibility for drafting the questions to be asked over the phone. This will cause more problems.

If Widmer called a special meeting, at least 150 would turn out and everyone would see and hear the opinions and results. Which would probably be like the November meeting when 75% of the room of 50-70 people opposed the library in the park. The cost to do that would be $200.00- $2000.00.

Ask the question and either have everyone raise their hand or have electronic key pads for people to respond privately. Do it at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, holds 480 people.


Next Point:
How do you select the survey question?

"Mr./Mrs. Atherton, the town currently has $5,000,000 in reserves that have to be spent library related expenses. The current library is seismically unsafe and near the potential High Speed Rail tracks. Would you favor moving it to the park and adding a community center?

or

"Mr/Mrs Atherton, although there is a large library in Menlo Park and ebooks are quickly taking over, the county has approached Atherton to double the size of its current library and move it to the park to accomodate the needs of Fair Oaks and parts of Menlo Park. To do so will require tearing down the main house or removing the tennis courts. The main house currently contributes to $90,000 in rental income and is often used for community meetings. The tennis courts were donated to the town by residents.

Atherton currently has a $5,000,000 surplus in its library reserves. Would you approve spending $2,000,000 of this fund to expand the current library where is stands and spend the rest by .......?

Do you see the problem with this method? What style to you choose?


The next issue becomes is how is Widmer even able to get this on the agenda, as his idea? Could Lewis or Carlson have requested this as an agenda item? No. There is a procedure, for getting an item on the agenda. It is proposed at one meeting by a council member and voted on by the full council, needing a majority for it to become an agenda item.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION
ARTICLE 1 DECLARATION OF RIGHTS


SEC. 3. (a) The people have the right to instruct their
representatives, petition government for redress of grievances, and
assemble freely to consult for the common good.


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Posted by Tom Croft
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm

At a meeting with a dozen of us last Wednesday, the mayor said 2 things that were surprises to me. 1. Atherton owns 2 pieces of property but HPPark is largest. 2. as a passing thought, the entire town might be moved into the park later. Didn't Olive Holbrook-Palmer donate that land to be a park? Does Atherton own it now? Won't Felton Gables organize & rise up to resist this? On a related matter, tennis courts were donated, & players paid $ that the town kept and spent. Can the town destroy these contributed courts in a contributed park simply because the library has money and the town does not?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Didn't Olive Holbrook-Palmer donate that land to be a park?
Yes, but the Town has chosen to interpret very broadly the grant language that restricts the use of the land to park purposes. If a court determines that the Town has violated the terms of the grant then the entire Park reverts to Stanford University.

" Does Atherton own it now"
Yes, subject to the above mentioned grant restrictions.


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Posted by allspeak
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 18, 2012 at 4:22 pm

From the Town of Atherton website. Answers to Jerry Carlsons questions about the library building in the Park DEIR.
A very unsatisfactory response and mostly gibberish

Web Link


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 18, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The most important part of the response is the one that is repeated a dozen times:

"as mutually agreed by the Library JPA and the city council."

Do the citizens of Atherton want this new facility to be subject to the control of an outside, unelected body over which we have no control?


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Posted by waste of money
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm

The San Mateo Library JPA is elected. It consists of one council member from each of the cities in San Mateo County that opted to be part of the JPA. Menlo Park and Redwood City do not belong.

With the annual surplus Atherton runs $700,000 per year, Carlson is on the right track and Atherton should consider pulling out. Portola Valley and Woodside both run small surpluses. Those three cities are considered "Donor Cities".

Those in favor of the library in the Park, tend to say the JPA controls the money.

For the last decade the annual library surplus was transferred to Atherton to keep. That amount is over $5,000,000.00

McKeithen, representing Atherton, just voted at the JPA in May for the JPA to keep the money. Before her vote, there was no discussion at an Atherton City Council meeting.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The San Mateo Library JPA is elected."

Wrong. The JPA consists of elected and appointed officials but we, the citizens of Atherton, did not select or elect the Atherton representative on the JPA. JPAs are not accountable to anyone as was demonstrated by the trash collection debacle.


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Posted by math ph.d.
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 19, 2012 at 9:16 am

There are lots of issues here, but the bottom line is charging $18,000 to do this survey is a total waste of money.

732 households are really not required if the opponents to the library in the park are correct (there is overwhelming opposition to it). Surveying 200 will yield a margin of error of +/- 6.6% (assuming households are evenly split; if this is a bad assumption, the margin of error would get smaller, not larger). If the survey results yield something within that margin of error (e.g., 52% against library in the park, 48% for it), it will be statistically insignificant, but I think the purpose of this survey is to test whether there is significant opposition to it (something a lot more than 52/48, 53/47, etc.). A 6.6% margin of error should be okay for this, since it would be meaningful for splits like 57/43 and higher.

The real problem is not all 200 households responding. What happens? How is it coded? Do they move on to another household to get the 200? (Big mistake...corrupts the sample with people with an agenda). That's why the larger sample size is required.

I do find it fascinating that many of the people who heralded the similarly flawed police survey from several years back are (correctly) opposed to this survey.

It is throwing $18,000 away. A better result would be obtained in a far cheaper way by simply mailing a postage paid return envelope to each household with a simple survey: (1) I am strongly in favor of moving the library to the park, (2) I am strongly opposed to moving the library to the park, (3) I do not have a strong feeling either way, and coding any missing surveys as (3). (It is critically important to keep track of category #3; just surveying people with strong opinions will become a self-fulfilling survey either way).


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Posted by waste of money
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Peter,

The residents of Atherton did elect Kathy McKeithen to the city council. In 2010 as Mayor she appointed herself to the JPA. Since then she has been reappointed by Mayors Dobbie and Widmer.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Correct - the voters do not elect JPA members and voters have no control over the JPA - except to decide to remove the Town from the JPA by a ballot measure.


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Posted by waste of money
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm

The problem with these surveys is that the council majority approves the final draft of the questions.

If the council majority wants to move the library to the park, will the question cover all the disadvangates to moving the library to the park or will it focus on the benefits? Probably neither side will be satisified. The only way is to let both sides write there reasons why and send out a mailer.




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