In one fell swoop, council approves spending millions. Does the city really care about money? | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |

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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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In one fell swoop, council approves spending millions. Does the city really care about money?

Uploaded: Jun 23, 2020
We all were told that Palo Alto had a $40 million budget deficit and needed to cut all sorts of programs and services to balance the budget. And Monday night council did – members eliminated $41.8 million -- $4.9 million from community services and libraries, $.7.3 million from public safety, $3.26 million from planning and transportation, including the city’s shuttle, and most important of all, got rid of 74 full-time positions.

Normally I would say this is great, because we had way too many on staff, and a budget cleanse is routinely needed to keep all of us in fine financial shape.

BUT!

Just minutes earlier the council unanimously approved millions of dollars on the city’s consent calendar – a routine list of items that are lumped into one voting package. There were 31 items on the calendar (and four more on Tuesday’s agenda) –an unusually large number because City Manager Ed Shikada said this was the last meeting of the 2019-2020 fiscal year – the next one is Aug. 3. While the vote was unanimous, both councilmembers Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka voted no on several measures, and Tom Dubois did on one.

Did they realize how much money they were spending? The consent agenda discussion lasted all of 20 minutes, and included the proposal to lower the Human Relations Commission from seven to five members, a bit about how much salary cuts employees were really occurring (!5 or 8 percent), and a $20 million expenditure to improve the city’s airport, which Mayor Adrian Fine explained that some money is coming from the FAA to handle the costs. But in one fell swoop, the consent agenda was approved.

Look, I know many of us glaze over numbers and budgets and don’t care to read about them because it[s really not interesting, or sexy, or pertain to what we care about. But the money the city is spending comes from us, the taxpayers, and given the economy and the struggle many businesses here are experiencing, I predict our deficit will increase, which may result in our taxes increasing. There’s already talk about putting a city tax increase on the November ballot. Now are you more interested?

I tried to count up the expenditures approved for this coming year in the consent calendar and got to $32,822,000 – but the counting got complicated. Some expenditure items were only for the upcoming year, some were three-year contracts, some were six-year contracts, some amounts were “up to” so I don’t know whether those expenditures will reach the maximum amount allotted, etc.

Strange, isn’t it. Cutting lots of programs and employees at the council meeting and then without much notice approving multi-million-dollar contracts in the consent calendar at the beginning of that very same meeting for things that really haven’t been discussed in public.

So here are just some of the things approved in the consent calendar by our council for fiscal year 2020-21 (edited by me for brevity):
• $300,000 with consultants to develop a sea level rise assessment plan.
• Up to $710,000 in 2020-21 for excess dental/vision employee benefit claims.
• $1 million this year (three 5-year contracts) for electrical engineering consulting services on an as-needed basis. Up to $5 million allocated.
• $1.9 million (plus $100K for change orders) for a power line construction for the Caltrain Facility Relocation Project and Wood Pole Replacement Project. Total not to exceed $2.097 million.
• $1.5 million this year ($6M total for four years with six companies) for “On-Call Inspection and Plan Review Services.” (whatever that encompasses)
• $205,952 for professional services for Wastewater Collection System Management Software.
• Up to $930,230 to Integrated Design 360 for development and support of several programs in the city including sustainability implementation plan, green building program, etc.
• $2,954,031 to O’Grady Paving, Inc. for a street resurfacing program (this comes out of the capital improvement fund). (Which streets are not designated.)
• $13.8 million for the Airport Apron Reconstruction Phase III (capital improvement budget) plus an unspecified budget amendment for next year).
• $480,000 for IT Project Support Services; $350,000 SAP on-call support services. (Part of five-year contracts not to exceed $2.4 million and $1.75 million.
• Three six-year contracts for library materials, print services and media and digital services not to exceed $3.1 million.
And on the June 23 consent agenda:
• $2,733,280 a year for 54 months to rent parts of Cubberley from the school district.
• $2,794,658 for continued and expanding services for connecting Palo Alto Rail Grade Separation.

That’s a lot of dollars.

I’m not saying some of these expenditures aren’t desirable, and some do try to keep things in shape, while some are planning for the future, but is this the time to spend all this money and doing so in one vote for the consent calendar? And then an hour later deciding to cut the budget in ways that hurts a lot of services and programs for residents?

What are our city’s philosophical priorities? Spending money on consultants to aid our city employees? Reducing services? Getting rid of space at Cubberley to save $2.7 million? Closing Children’s Theater and the Palo Alto Art Center? Cutting down on police? And then spending millions approving a consent calendars? This seems duplicitous at worst, or simply lazy thinking, or maybe, just doing whatever the city manager wants the council to do.

Just asking.

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

 +   9 people like this
Posted by SJO, a resident of another community,
on Jun 23, 2020 at 6:47 pm

Don't let all that anger get in the way of spelling and grammar. Spacing issue in your last petty bullet point.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Anneke, a resident of Professorville,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 8:31 am

Three questions:

1. What are this year's retirement costs for all retired City personnel?
2. What are this year's health benefits' costs for all retired City personnel?
3. Can we somehow ensure that Mr. Benitez court's costs get paid by him, rather than by the City? He was the one who committed the violation. Why should the citizens of Palo Alto pay for his court costs?

The pandemic has shown us that we have and have had years' long issues with the labor unions. It is time to stand up against them and get some strong concessions.


 +   16 people like this
Posted by JTB, a resident of another community,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 9:23 am

What I don't understand is your continued disdain for city employees?! Who do you think makes a city run smoothly and ensure you receive the services you are entitled to as a tax payer?! Good luck, not that the city has been short sighted in it's budget. Enjoy your limited hours at the libraries and minimal service provided at all city facilities. But you make sure to continue to focus on your claim of over paid employees, instead of some other expenditures the city could have eliminated......


 +   16 people like this
Posted by PA Taxpayer, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 9:40 am

Interesting (as well as disturbing) how much the city pays for consultant services.

Are the city engineers and planners incapable of doing the work they were trained and paid for to do?

Are their roles to simply prepare Requests for Proposals (RFP) while leaving the actual work for
the consultants to do?

Along with the exorbitant 'upper management' salaries and benefits package, it's no wonder that working for the city is so desirable.

Where else can one 'farm off' a sizable portion of their work
& still get paid?

Professional coffee drinking and holding repetitive
meetings are not real jobs.




 +   8 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 9:50 am

Part of the problem has to be the duplicity of each City in the county having to have so much admin. Why does Palo Alto have a police chief, and Mountain View have a police chief, and so on? Why does Palo Alto have its chief librarian and Mountain View likewise? Why should these be city services with individual systems rather than county services where each city doesn't have to duplicate the identical administration.

As with other problems in the region, we have too many administrators and too many agencies. Transportation has large numbers of agencies all employing large numbers of administrators and those costs are being duplicated. Likewise with city services.

Streamlining of all these services would save money. Unfortunately there are too many people making huge salaries with job titles that sound much more grand than they really deserve. A police chief or fire chief of a small city can't be compared with a similar chief of a large city such as San Jose or San Francisco, but the prestige of having the title makes it sound better.

We are a medium sized town, do we need that many chiefs? We need the worker bees to do the work, not the paper pushers or those with the fancy titles who earn the big bucks! Sorry, did I say earn, the big bucks, no I should have said get the big buck pay checks for doing very little.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by commonsense, a resident of Professorville,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 10:23 am

commonsense is a registered user.

What is the long term plan to cover the ever increasing pension liability? It's been discussed much but a solution and long term plan are critical. Continuing to kick this can down the road will lead to disaster.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by commonsense, a resident of Professorville,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 10:23 am

commonsense is a registered user.

What is the long term plan to cover the ever increasing pension liability? It's been discussed much but a solution and long term plan are critical. Continuing to kick this can down the road will lead to disaster.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 10:38 am

>> $13.8 million for the Airport Apron Reconstruction Phase III (capital improvement budget) plus an unspecified budget amendment for next year).

This one is especially interesting because it is 1/3 of the total. I'm sure that there is a presentation on this somewhere in the budget webpages, but, anyone know what funding sources go into this and what the amounts are? How much (if any) of the funding comes from the general fund?


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 10:41 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

JTB -- You asked why I complain about employee salaries. Because I think they are overpaid. For a city manager to make $403,000 a year is ridiculously high, compared to all sorts of other government officials -- like judges.

Here is a list from the city's web site of benefits all employees get upon hiring.

MISSING FROM THE LIST IS BECAUSE OF THE 9/40 SYSTEM, ALL EMPLOYEES GET EVERY OTHER FRIDAY OFF -- 26 FRIDAYS A YEAR.

Add that to the following:

"The City of Palo Alto offers its employees a generous benefit package, featuring family medical coverage, retirement, life insurance, plus 12 paid holidays per year.

Participation in a Governmental 457 Deferred Compensation Plan
Fully paid employee and dependent Dental Plan
Fully paid employee and dependent Vision Plan
Fully paid Life and AD&D insurance equal to annual salary
Flat Rate City paid medical contribution which may allow employees to select a fully paid health plan
Fully paid Life Insurance equal to one-times annual salary
Voluntary Supplemental Life Insurance
Long Term Disability plan
12 annual paid holidays
Two to five weeks vacation annually depending on years of service per MOA
96 hours annual sick leave
Direct Deposit
Flexible Spending Account for Healthcare and Childcare expenses
Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS)

2% at 60 formula for Classic Employees
One-year final compensation for 2% at 60 employees
2% at 62 formula for New CalPers Members
Three-year final compensation for 2% at 62 employees only
Retiree Medical benefits for employee and dependents after 10 years of service."


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 10:44 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Common sense --

I am not sure wha the long-term plan is, if there is one. Council member Eric Filseth has been working on this.

The amounts the city gives to CalPERS each year has increased, but we still owe more than $800K -- which is about four times greater than our annual general fund.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by ALB, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 2:46 pm

ALB is a registered user.

I am chagrined that the council would not stand up to the city manager and defer the nonessential pedestrian and cyclist bridge over 101 Capital Improvement Project amongst OTHERS. Do we live in a country club with golf course, airport, and zoo to name just a few luxurious items? Were are the priorities of the council? Many think it is to enable developers.

The council not only ignored the constituents but also a budget expert, the former Mayor and council member, Pat Burt, who argued for funding to save safety and critical services.

The council employs fear-based thinking save for Lydia Kou. The others tremble and remain boxed in by the city manager and attorney. They claim that they are afraid of Lanferman, the attorney par excellence for DEVELOPERS. The council works for the public. They need to engage other lawyers outside of the city to get counsel and not fear one attorney who BTW is in litigation with the city of Palo Alto.

These are sad days for the constituents of Palo Alto when we are not represented by courageous council members. Lydia Kou is not afraid and is an ethical public servant.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Ken Horowitz, a resident of University South,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 4:42 pm

My take on the City Council is they are too eager to put items on the consent calendar indiscriminately.
They rely too much on the City Manager's decisions because they are a “tired" bunch.
Let's replace all of them (those eligible for re-election) in this year's election.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 24, 2020 at 11:27 pm

Posted by Ken Horowitz, a resident of University South,

>>City Council [...] rely too much on the City Manager's decisions because they are a “tired" bunch.

*Some* of PACC.

> Let's replace all of them (those eligible for re-election) in this year's election.

No, let's not. Time and again, Lydia Kou has stood up and challenged city manager's staff recommendations and voted thoughtfully. Adrian Fine, on the other hand, rubber stamps whatever he is told to. "All of them" are not the same at all.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Carol, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Jun 25, 2020 at 3:22 pm

I am with Anon. Lydia Kuo works extremely hard, is always prepared, represents the citizens of Palo Alto (and not just the business community), and shows courage in the face of nastiness from other members, e.g., Mayor. Fine and Council Member Kniss. I see their eyes roll, and it is not becoming of them.

I'm voting for Council member Kuo. She is the only one who is running for re-election that I trust not to be in the pocket of developers and other business interests. She is the only one that consistently pushes the City Manager to include residents as a 'stakeholder' in decisions. The City Manager is out of control, and most council members hide behind his disdain for residents.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of University South,
on Jun 25, 2020 at 10:22 pm

• $13.8 million for the Airport Apron Reconstruction Phase III (capital improvement budget) plus an unspecified budget amendment for next year).

Why? The city promised us the airport would make money for the city. Only the naysayers thought it would cost us money.

And how long until that apron area is under water at king tide, then at spring tide, then at high tide, then at low tide, then at neap tide?


 +   4 people like this
Posted by SJO, a resident of another community,
on Jun 26, 2020 at 6:44 am

In your response to "Common sense" on 6/24/20 at 10:44am:

1. The word "what" is missing the "t" at the end.
2. Please fact check your "$800K" reference. Seems low to be "four times greater than our annual general fund."

I know the decades criticism and gas lighting have made you a better writer than this. I rooting for you to make your angry points with the writing skills of the journalist you've always wanted to be.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tom Halstrom, a resident of Martens-Carmelita,
on Jun 29, 2020 at 11:22 am

Resident:

Mountain View and Palo Alto could certainly become part of the County library system, use County Fire, and even contract with the County Sheriff for law enforcement. Many smaller cities do just that because it's much cheaper, even though the level of service, in some cases, may not be as good.

The Santa Clara County Library System is excellent, with longer hours, a larger collection, and more services than a library in a smaller city can provide, though each branch does require its own librarian and staff.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by C, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jun 30, 2020 at 11:08 am

Thanks for the blog. Glad someone's watching these people.

If anyone wants to justify the council's expenditures, write an article for PA online.


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