Town Square

Bill of Particulars

Original post made by Candle Lighter on Oct 31, 2009

I do not support the existing parcel tax, and believe it will fail. However, I would rather light a candle than curse the Town of Atherton's darkness. Here is a list of reforms that, if implemented, will win my support for a revised parcel tax next spring:

1. Leverage the enormous talent we have in Atherton from the legal and business worlds (founders of major law firms, CEOs, retired judges) to form an emergency legal committee to both settle all existing litigation and decide whether new conflicts proceed to litigation or get resolved according to guidelines set by this committee. We can't trust the opinion of the city attorney because they simply make too much money when litigation occurs, and a reasonable view is that the resulting legal mess is simply that process in action.

2. Commission a study from an unbiased, professional consultant to determine whether Atherton can afford the existing police department or outsourcing/combining with Menlo Park, Redwood City, or the Sheriff makes sense. The results of the study will be sent to residents, and residents will vote on the issue of outsourcing or the status quo at that time. Note this is an issue study, not an opinion survey.

3. In the meantime, a new civilian police oversight board of residents will be established to investigate and resolve, in conjunction with the Chief of Police, any issues in the police department related to human resources and community relations. The chairperson of this board will be the civilian Police Commissioner of Atherton, and will jointly make recommendations to the entire committee with the Police Chief. The committee will have final word.

4. Any raise for the city manager or any individual reporting to the city manager, in excess of 10% above the annual cost of living as measured by the consumer price index, will be submitted to a vote of the residents of Atherton.

5. Any conflict with a resident of Atherton regarding zoning, improvements, urns, etc. will proceed to mediation that the Town of Atherton will pay for. This will be far cheaper than lawsuits, and mediation has a very high success rate. Any conflict with an employee of the Town of Atherton may be referred to similar mediation by the legal committee recommended in item #1.

6. The Town of Atherton will hire a retired judge from either Santa Clara or San Mateo County to supervise composition of these committees (and consultants for the survey) and make appointments based on the recommendations of residents, staff and council members. S/he will have the final word on composition of these committees and consultants and will retain supervision over the committees. This must be done to avoid stacking these committees with people who will pursue pre-defined agendas.

7. A new parcel tax will be calculated next spring based on the cost savings of #1, #2 and #4, and submitted to the residents of the Town of Atherton for approval.


Posted by Thinking, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 31, 2009 at 1:23 pm

That's some good thinking the town should look into. I feel these ideas may work. That way were not just tossing money at the problem we would be trying to fix it. GOOD IDEAS

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 31, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Great input! How can we actually make them happen?

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 31, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Oh good!!!!! I'm not the person who wrote the above, but when I read it one of my first thoughts was that we need someone like Peter on board for this--of coarse the ACIL would have been nice too--but soon we will have both with Mr. Carpenter as the the new pres.
I think I know who candel light is and they are not going away anytime soon so that you will have a chance to brain storm some of this togeather.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 31, 2009 at 2:54 pm

To build on Candle Lighter's superb suggestions I have created a Google Group:

Renew Atherton

Mission: A citizen based group to provide a new focus on the challenges which the Town of Atherton faces and to propose solutions to those challenges. This will be a working group, not a debating forum or a political activity group. The group's recommendations will be publicly posted.

To Join:
Web Link

Welcoming Message:
Welcome to Renew Atherton. Active participation by knowledgeable individuals is crucial to our success. Please indicate your areas of interest and personal expertise. Please do not sign up unless your are prepared to work to improve our community.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 31, 2009 at 2:56 pm

Candle Lighter - let me know if you would like to be a group owner - it is your idea!!

Posted by Just Me, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 31, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Peter I am not good on a computer. I clicked on the sight, and didn't know what to do from there. Please explain in baby steps.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 31, 2009 at 3:48 pm

If you want to join the group the web site should offer you the option of "Join Group". If it does not, then send me an email at and I will have the group send you an invitation.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 31, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Here is the official Google answer re how to join a group:
You can subscribe to a group through our web interface or via email. To subscribe to a group through our web interface, simply log in to your Google Account and visit the group of your choice. Then click the "Join this group" link on the right-hand side of the page under "About this group." To subscribe to a group via email, send an email to [Groupname] For example, if you wanted to join a group called google-friends, you'd send an email to

Note: for restricted-membership groups, the group owner will need to approve your subscription request before you can join.

Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 31, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I actually thought of this one a few days ago but forgot to write it down in the post:

8. Rescind the raise to J. Gruber. Instead, he will be eligible for an equivalent bonus (I believe the differential in base salary was $15K) after one year if specific milestones are met. An obvious milestone could be a reduction in litigation.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 1, 2009 at 7:21 am

I want to know what Candel Lighter thinks about the Google Group move after taking some time to think about it. I have been trying to put my finger on what it is that is still worrying me about all the other wise FABULOUS imput on this thread. I think I'm afraid that if you move off the Town Square site, that our local press will go back (quite happily) to not having their finger exactly on the pulse in Atherton. I'm interested in ways to insure the best function of the 4th estate. There is something reassuring in knowing the press has to at least read Atherton's tea leaves in monitoring this forum. Seems to me that all the "thinking out loud" and various imput is best kept all in one spot to create and maximize community.
Talk to me about this.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 1, 2009 at 7:30 am

The Town Forum is a good way of sharing ideas - but not many people read it.The Forum does not work well as a means of dialogue and discussion.

The Google group is intended to facilitate the creation and refinement of new ideas which can then be disseminated in many ways, including the Forum.

Posted by Colleen Anderson, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 1, 2009 at 8:46 am

I love the Google Idea. The Almanac keeps deleting, or locking posts. Thanks to Peter our town will have a place to brain storm, tell the truth, and work on our town together without worrying about being deleted.

Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 1, 2009 at 9:48 am

There are benefits I see to both the Almanac groups as well as the google groups. Deletion of posts has been annoying, and frankly very disturbing (in a philosophical way) on the Almanac, but it does allow people to stay anonymous for valid reasons. I do know that various people who have spoken out have been subject to retaliation. I am still mulling over whether I can join the google group at this time.

Anyway, these ideas are what occurred to me and can be discussed here, there, or anywhere. I'm sure people part of the Atherton establishment will come up with reasons each one cannot be implemented that, at least on a cursory level (and perhaps only on a cursory level), pass the smell test.

For some reasons I do not quite understand, the city council in Atherton has been impotent, and enormous leverage and power have been given to the city manager and city attorney. In the case of the city attorney, I believe we have a competent attorney now, but one who is a business person first. Hey, I've done consulting work and it would be difficult as well for me to have told a client they really didn't need my services for particular issues. As for the city manager (and assistant city manager), no comment.

Posted by Candle Lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 1, 2009 at 9:55 am

(sorry, this got cut off)

If I would have run my business the same way the Town of Atherton is run, I wouldn't have had a business. Leaders (in Atherton's case, the council members who are elected) need to have some courage to do what they think is right. The latest, insane, issue that is heading to litigation now (I have nothing to do with it) are new policies that few realize, that specify that if you want to remodel your house, expensive drainage systems need to be installed, the resident must agree to indemnify the Town of Atherton against lawsuits, allow Atherton employees to enter your home at any time for inspections, modify at your expense the systems whenever Atherton deems they should be, etc.

Peter, as someone with some measure of influence in the Town of Atherton, I would suggest you start from my eight suggestions and see if there's any way to employ #5 for this issue right now. If that bears fruit, perhaps more people will be willing to consider the other seven.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I'm from Woodside and really enjoyed and appreciated the first post.

A quick point about your police department - it is VERY expensive. In Woodside, we contract with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office for our police service. That way, we don't have to pay for a 24 hour a day dispatcher, radio maintenance, an office/jail, all of the supervisors and chiefs, and, of course, police car maintenance.

The San Mateo County Sheriff supplies us with two full time patrol units and, when necessary, the Sheriff can literally flood our area with numerous support staff in minutes.

It's not cheap, but it's cheaper than what Atherton does.

I wish you guys lots of success. Light that candle and take back your city.

Posted by Tuesday Voter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 2, 2009 at 7:31 pm

The BIG thing to remember right now is to vote NO on the parcel Tax Tuesday! That message was successfully sent to Headquarters a few years ago and resulted in marked improvement in existing city management. We need to do this again! I'm very heartened by the intelligent and realistic comments throughout this discussion. Once we get the City's attention by refusing their money-grab, we're well on our way to the wise improvements suggested by Candle Lighter, et al. I think it's important to be able to maintain anonymity in these discussions so whatever continuation evolves, let's maintain that. People will speak more freely under that protective curtain.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 2, 2009 at 9:25 pm

I have enjoyed this candle-lit fare discussion of the town and don't want to change the tone but while the thread is still active I have a request for futher illumination on a subject that involves both system efficiency and cost savings. I believe for the very first time, the previos council hired an assitant for previos town manager Jim Robinson just as all the litigation started and he became hesitant/ cautious/paralized trying to accomadate a split council. Then the real mess started--with too many chefs stiring the same pot an truely uglyl mess began to boil over. How has it become such an automatic tradition that we assume our current city manager should even deserve or require his own assistant ( for an additional 150,000) when we just had such a big lesson that this is a likely a recipe for endless disaster. Should it be considered part of his pay package to have someone helping him to do his job?? It's a tiny town, it should be a fairly simple job, and we just got into alot of trouble when we just tried multiple managers. Why can't Mr. Gruber do his job all by himself now that he has shaken hands with absolutly everyone. Having one person in charge will not only save the salary but force more simple streamlined managment--clearer and easier for staff and for residents.

Posted by moth to the flame, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 2, 2009 at 9:47 pm

In the choice of Ms. Wilkerson as assistant city mananger, the council could not have found a better embodyment of those qualities brought to bare by both Ms. Wendy Prostman and Ms. Lois English--than if they had been temporarily sane.

Posted by Candle lighter, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 2, 2009 at 9:58 pm

An assistant city manager in Atherton making $150,000 per year, and in particular the particular individual in question, is really one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. I think Jerry Gruber justified it by sliding some positions around, but hiring this person for $150,000 per year in a year of a parcel tax, deficits, and economic crises, along with the Gruber raise, was truly amazing. I hear she's truly beloved by the staff...

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm

This thread was started by Candlelighter. While it was started last October, it is very much of the moment.
All posters take a moment to review your notes. Pop Quiz on Friday