PA’s city budget: city income soars; residents shell out more | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |

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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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PA’s city budget: city income soars; residents shell out more

Uploaded: Aug 5, 2019
Most of us simply glaze over charts and numbers, whether it’s the deepening Federal deficit – or an escalating Palo Alto city budget with much higher revenues, fewer city employees than last year – and yet a $6.2 million increase in salaries for the upcoming 12 months.

“What? What? What!” -- those words repeat themselves in that stupid TV commercial where a man sees on his smartphone that a burglar is stealing and then driving away with his car –What! “It’s my job!” the burglar responds. Is this at all relevant to what is happening with Palo Alto's budget?

And I am asking what is happening.

Keep with me on the following numbers – they are important – because either our city is totally overspending, or hiring too many employees, or spending our money to finance their favorite projects.

The city’s general fund, which pays for most city expenses except utilities, is going up from $210.7 million last year to $230.7 million this year, as of July 1 – a 9.5 percent increase, according to the Palo Alto Weekly. Less than a decade ago the city’s annual budget was $140 million. That’s $90 million more than the city now spends.

A large part of that increase is for our employee salaries -- $123.8 million for 2018-19, compared to $97.6 million the previous year -- $26.2 million more this year. BUT – and this is a big WHAT! -- Palo Alto has 113 fewer employees this year. As the Daily Post reported, the city is paying 26.8 percent more on salaries this year.

Back a decade ago, we had about 1,106 employees. Last year we had 1,552 -- 450 more. The city’s population, however, rose less than 10,000 during the decade -- 57,000 to about 65,000 this year.

An equally important point, at the very same time, is that while our city budget is soaring, the city’s Utilities Department (with council approval) has imposed a 5 percent rate increase on our utility charges, effective this past July 1, pushing the average resident’s utility bills to more than $300 a month, or $190 a year.

But wait, there’s more to come in terms of higher utility taxes we residents will have to pay – an anticipated 5 percent in fiscal year 2021 and 2022 (compounded, of course), and 4 percent in each of 2023 and 2024. Therefore, instead of an average $300 a month, the new total will come to $376 a month average, or $4,716 a year, compared to the $3,764 we had been paying. In other words, in five or so years, the average resident will be charged $1,000 more in utilities.

Another major problem – our utilities rates keep rising BUT each year the Utilities Department turns over about $20 million (of the rates we pay) to the city’s general fund. It’s been described to me as a long-time fee, rationalized by acknowledging that since the city created its own Utilities Department and it’s their return-on-investment – through the bills we residents pay.

What have we gotten in terms of public benefits?

What improvements have occurred in town for an extra $90 million this past decade? California Avenue has been improved, as have many streets, street trees have been trimmed, the first floor of City Hall has been renovated, etc. But much is still not done – a Public Safety Building, proposed a decade (or was it two?) ago, has just broken ground; the San Francisquito bridge that contributed to the flood years n 1987 is now a drawing on paper, the El Camino-Embarcadero Road intersection is still clogged up (since 2009), the new bike bridge across 101 has not yet started. But the city’s Transportation Department has hired several new employees to work on this and other problems.

The only thing that may possibly make our city officials try to control these constant rate hikes is for residents to complain loudly. If you care: Write letters, go to council meetings, attend Finance Committee meetings, create a “Control our Budget” movement – and protest. Suggest an outside auditor be hired to sift through the budget, including overruns and overtime salaries. If council members know residents are upset, they may take a look at other sources of funds in their great big budgets – without constantly forking their hands out to us. Even more of a way to prompt them, let them know that if they don’t better control spending, we may not re-elect them. That will scare them.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Ego trip , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 5, 2019 at 5:59 pm

Much of this has to do with the city council- they drag their feet, hire consultants, refuse to Make decisions, allow vocal minorities to control the discussion with unrealistic demands and so on. The bike bridge over 101 turned into a personal ego trip for a former council member ( let's have design contest, we need an iconic bridge , people will know they are passing through palo,alto etc).

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 5, 2019 at 6:46 pm

So much of it has to be down to voters who may be very politically savvy about State and National issues and have absolutely no idea about local politics. I know several people who fall into this category. They are involved in big politics, some even go marching and protesting, but when it comes to local issues they don't pay attention.

I get tired of people telling me they vote for City Council by name recognition rather than actually looking at the various council candidates and seeing their position or even who is paying for their campaigns.

I would like to see much more being done to getting our neighbors and friends all over the city to pay more attention to local issues.

Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 6, 2019 at 1:18 pm

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

Resident -- I agree with you that interest in local issues has diminished. Why? It is a rather sad comment for a town that has there local newspaper, which is more than many cities in this country have. So residents, why do you think this disinterest exists, is you agree that interest has dropped?


Posted by Pied Piper, a resident of Gunn High School,
on Aug 7, 2019 at 10:47 am

Pied Piper is a registered user.

This scam has been going on for decades. The Utilities department is an end run around Prop 13. It's the goose that lays golden eggs for the City Council to feast on. With our money.

Think the salaries are high now? Wait until they turn into spiked pensions -- with lifetime healthcare for retirees and their families -- after 10 years of employment.

The city needs mass layoffs and extensive outsourcing to cure this.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 9, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Posted by Pied Piper, a resident of Gunn High School,, on Aug 7, 2019 at 10:47 am
Pied Piper is a registered user.

>> The city needs mass layoffs and extensive outsourcing to cure this.

It does seem odd, doesn't it, that the city has already had massive layoffs/outsourcing in many of the areas that people might interact with on a day-to-day basis-- e.g. parks swimming pool staff/lifeguards making a few thousand bucks a summer, and other day-to-day services, and yet, staff has increased greatly over the same period. I guess it must take a lot of staff people to facilitate office space development. ;-)

Posted by JCP, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 9, 2019 at 3:25 pm

JCP is a registered user.

Thank you Diana, you are right on point.

Unfortunately, Palo Alto has become a microcosm of much of the same partisanship seen in Washington with extreme self-interest and no compromise.

The Castilleja fiasco is a great example. Neighbors support the school but not their plans for a dangerous garage on Bryant Bike Boulevard that empties into the neighborhood. Castilleja has refused to compromise and instead tries to paint the neighbors are senile.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 10, 2019 at 11:36 am

Before we start writing letters and complaining in CC meetings, let's understand where all the money is going and what all those people are doing all day. Why can't we afford pool lifeguards and traffic enforcement, but, we have many more people on staff, and everything costs a lot more. What are all those people working on? And, to forestall those who think they are doing nothing-- I seriously doubt it. I'll bet they are busy, busy, busy, doing something, for good or for ill. I would like to know if what they are doing benefits -residents- of the city.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 10, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Recently Channel 17/Town Meeting TV! on YouTube began posting
Town Hall Meetings from Burlington Vermont with Bernie Sanders.
Bernie was the 37th Mayor of Burlington, VT from 1981 to 1989.

The first video is from December 3rd 1986
entitled: "Bernie Speaks 1: Intro To the Series and City Issues 12/03/1986"
The link is here: Web Link

This first episode is Bernie Sanders explaining his vision of what a Mayor's
job is. Bernie talks in the manner we have all become accustomed to him
speaking, a bit gruff but focused, honest and with integrity.

I wonder why Palo Alto cannot have a city government with a Mayor who
cares about the residents as a priority, the quality of life as more than just
lip service and a government as open and transparent?

Government by the 1%, of the 1% and for the 1% is what Bernie has been
opposing all his life. Who are Palo Alto's 1% ... and do they even live in our
town or just suck the blood from it?

Posted by Time For PA Tax Reforms, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Aug 11, 2019 at 11:47 am

If the City of Palo Alto can afford to hire a city 'spokesperson' at $180K per year plus CALPERS & other benefits, it is not hurting for money.

There is plenty of money in the city coffers just waiting to be spent and the resident/citizens of PA have absolutely no say in the matter. Get used to it.

With perceived wealth & affluence comes certain priorities for the sake of appearances...lifeguards are low priorities when a municipality can have its own Sara Huckabee Sanders to deflect criticisms & queries by concerned citizens.

And the irony is that the city taxpayers are subsidizing these gate keeping efforts. Hilarious to a certain extent.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 12, 2019 at 11:52 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I am concerned about the hiring of consultants to do jobs that we would normally expect the city staff to do. What is the criteria for the hiring of city staff? There should be a list of qualifications to get the job. Some display of knowledge of the job at hand.

Of total concern was the hiring of consultants to conduct the Cubberely upgrade which ended up producing what they were instructed to produce - a response to fit the opinion of the person who ran the forum.

Too often consultants are paid to produce an opinion that they were hired to produce. If the "consultant' said it is so then it must be so. Despite that fact that the city agencies that are directly involved in the management of the project were disregarded.

I am concerned about the transparency right now of the goings on concerning the sale or lease of land to large corporations - Google, FB, which changes the footprint of PA which then initiates the bangle and jangle of housing for said employees. Also lack of direction from the city manager who should be out front here on these matters.

What we need is a map of PA - where projected upgrades are already approved, those in the approval cycle, And land owned by the city, county, and state which could be turned in to housing that everyone is concerned with. Sone prioritization of issues as to how city resources are to be utilized - printed so everyone can see it.

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