It doesn?t pencil out - justify the budget and hiring. | Deep Menlo | Stuart Soffer | Almanac Online |

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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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It doesn?t pencil out - justify the budget and hiring.

Uploaded: Jun 15, 2015
When I was on the planning commission, the Planning Department included at least two contract planners ? for years ? who ably served the city. They also understood the personalities and consequences of change on our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the need to hire additional planners has yet to be substantiated. The city should list all pending projects; identifying their status, zoning, location, size, and the anticipated zoning changes necessary, anticipated application filing dates. The cost of project planners is a cost-recovery item. Applicant fees should recoup all costs. An analysis should have been provided for the projects. They should list the amount of time already spent by staff. That hasn't been recouped.

I hope that one of the three council members who indicated that were satisfied with the plans would bring this back for more pencil work. Oftentimes project applicants try to justify their project constraints and requests with a conclusory and opaque 'it doesn't pencil out.' Perhaps the council should use this phrase Tuesday night.
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Comments

 +   9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jun 15, 2015 at 6:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Excellent points.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Oh joy, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 15, 2015 at 7:04 pm

It was a shame that you and Patty were not reappointed to server a full 8 years on the planning commission, but there is a lesson there. The city should not be afraid to try people out, but get rid of people that don't deliver.

We hope Ray Mueller praises you blog post at Tuesday's meeting.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Whoa Nellie, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jun 15, 2015 at 7:21 pm

I can't tell if "Oh Joy" is being sarcastic or not since the post is so poorly written. However, Ray Mueller is the beacon of hope in a Council that appears to have lost its way. It's about time we have a Council member who supports common sense solutions, responsible development, and fiscal responsibility.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jun 15, 2015 at 10:12 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

Another item to add to the list: the projected value of the project to the city, and the ongoing project costs. Real numbers, please, not Joanne Brion fantasies.

I would also like to see a list of projects whose developers have gotten tired of waiting for MP planners and have gone to another city with faster service. Are there any names at all on that list? I suspect not.

Finally, are there any comparisons between time required for a project to make it through the planning process in MP vs time required in comparable cities?


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Jun 15, 2015 at 11:10 pm

Stu, thanks for describing the issue succinctly. The intellectual laziness of the Council (except Ray Mueller) regarding the budget is just shocking.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by lazy, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 16, 2015 at 8:40 am

Does the budget council member Mueller proposed pencil out?


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Fact Checker, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 16, 2015 at 10:02 am

City Councilmembers don't propose budgets in Menlo Park. The City Manager prepares the budget and the City Council either approves the budget or asks the City Manager to amend it. The City Manager then returns with a new budget.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Measure twice, cut once, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 16, 2015 at 11:57 am

The city staff often has to re-work projects when work (including communication) was not done right the first time which creates additional work for staff. Let's get staff working smarter and with better project management before adding additional headcount. More efficient and effective use of current staff could go a long way.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by bigger picture?, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Jun 18, 2015 at 8:04 am

Developers always complain when they don't get their way. Every city has cumbersome rules. Some cities make things harder than necessary, though. I have heard that developers and home owners think Menlo Park's problems are in the building department, not planning. Apparently Menlo Park has done a poor job documenting its "rules", making it very difficult for staff, contractors, developers, home owners to follow them and making it a frequent problem to need to rework projects.

Soffer's comments are spot on!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 19, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Sorry, I build in Menlo Park. The problem is decidedly NOT in the building department. The problems are in the planning department. The other problem, and it's a big one, are usually the neighbors of a proposed project that want the town to continue to exist in some time warp from the fifties or sixties. Their complaints and demands do more to gum up the process than just about anything else in town.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jun 20, 2015 at 10:59 am

lessons learned is a registered user.

Neighbors can be a problem, but lets not just blame the older residents, okay? I'm getting really tired of the ageism I see constantly on these boards, and since we're all heading in that direction, you may not be so happy when the tables turn. My observation is that sometimes the newer owners -- the people who paid $5mm for their 3/2 that needs work -- are the most opinionated about what others around them want to do or not do with their homes. A little respect goes a long way.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by bigger picture, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Jun 20, 2015 at 4:25 pm

@MV - I have heard directly from several major developers of both commercial and multi-family developers whose projects are up and down the peninsula that Menlo Park's biggest problems are in the building department, including plan checkers there. They don't like MP's Planning department either but say building dept. is where there is a black hole (their words, not mine).


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jun 20, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

Planning Department or Building Department?

People tend to conflate the two when expressing frustrations. However, in my personal experience, when probing about an issue that caused disappointment, it was in Building Department operations. Many more people are touched by the Building Department than Planning. The issue probably goes to over the counter plan approvals (not requiring visits to the planning commission) and inspections that occur at various stages of a project. Been through that ourselves in a remodel.

One issue that I can see is inconsistency: an issue on one remodel not raised on another project two doors down. Now, a lot of this is dependent on the level experience of the designers and contractors on a project with MP rules and staff. Some of this depends in changing rules that take affect on Jan 1 of a given year.

And every city has this thrill.

Have a nice weekend.






 +  Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jun 20, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Stu

That the city does NOT use more contractors is the issue (as you pointed out) we need to consider the TCO of employees NOT just their hourly salary. There is NO way a full time employee is justified here, or in MANY other departments in the city.

So I agree, hire when you need them and reduce staff when their task is finished.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jun 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

@My good friend Roy:

True. But they need some metrics.

Someone said that there is turnover amongst contract planners. You can't say one is better in productivity or knowledge merely by being full-time or contract. There can be myriad motivations for someone being under contract. Long ago, one contractor (who lived with her dog in Menlo Park) left to work for a home builder. That move didn't work out and she returned as a contract planner.

Do you recall when Dave Boesch changed the staff structure from 10 - 8 hour days to closing alternate Fridays with 9 longer days? That was done to save electricity. Supposedly. It also occurred to me that closing alternate Fridays could have a negative affect on throughput and customer service. It could be revisited.

Does this schedule model contribute to the need for more planners?


 +   3 people like this
Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jun 20, 2015 at 8:27 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

One ongoing problem for home projects is that the rules are needlessly complicated, separate property owners into two groups (the bigger lots that get very little scrutiny, smaller or odd-shaped lots that get micromanaged). A city manager who was a true leader would point out that this bifurcation is archaic and unnecessary, would move to streamline the rules, would publish guidelines on the website in an easy-to-find location, and thereby add clarity and transparency to the process.

Suddenly, your existing staff could accomplish twice as much work. Problem solved.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 21, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

bigger:

I do work for homeowners in MP and I also happen to do work for developers in MP. With all due respect, we almost NEVER have issues with the building department. The issues all occur pre-permit issuance. Those issues, in my experience, are almost always with planning. The building department is only concerned with code requirements and life safety issues. These are standard and are pretty much the same in every city. Zoning and planning are not, hence the problems are generally generated by planning.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jun 21, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

lessons:

my comment was not a statement regarding age. After all, some of the major drivers behind Measure M were younger people. Younger people that want MP to exist in some kind of time warp where nothing gets built and nothing changes.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Marc Bryman, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jun 22, 2015 at 8:13 am

Well said Stu!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Marc Bryman, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Jun 22, 2015 at 8:13 am

Well said Stu!


 +   2 people like this
Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jun 22, 2015 at 8:31 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

I'm so tired of the anti-family propaganda. Most of us bought homes in this city because we wanted to raise our children in homes with gardens, safe neighborhoods, streets where kids could ride their bikes. Why should our needs be ignored in favor of deep-pocketed developers who just want to make a profit and get out of town? Opposition to development-for-development's-sake has nothing to do with a "time warp" mindset and I have yet to hear anyone ask for a return of the car dealers or the 1950s. What most residents want is a liveable community -- the same thing that people all over the world want. We shouldn't have to constantly struggle to retain the family-friendly environment that we thought we were spending millions of dollars to enjoy.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by bigger picture?, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Jun 23, 2015 at 8:17 am

The city manager has come back with a more balanced budget that cuts services and cuts projects that would benefit residents! The Council needs to make sure he understands that they and he work for our community, not for developers.
He has made zero attempt to do what Stu says he can (and should) -- recoup all costs through development fees. I hope the council puts his feet to the fire. If they don't, their feet should be put to the fire by voters.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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