Menlo Park: Frustration surfaces over reliance on consultants


The familiar complaint that Menlo Park would rather study a problem than fix it has come whistling through the city again, with one member of the City Council joining in the chorus of frustrated voices.

The issue surfaced at the June 16 council meeting when longtime resident Cedy Fisher declared, "I am tired of studies," in response to the city's proposal to conduct a $90,000, consultant-led study of parking regulations in the downtown area. "I am really tired of studies," Ms. Fisher said. "This is not the time to have another."

Councilman Andy Cohen agreed, saying the parking study represents what he sees as a growing trend: the city's "failure ... to try solutions before we go out and hire consultants."

Residents and downtown merchants have derided plans for the parking study in e-mails to the City Council and on The Almanac's online forum, saying previous studies on the same issue were unproductive. Some said the city's money would be better spent on a parking structure. Others suggested Menlo Park should commission a study on why it conducts so many studies.

Public Works Director Kent Steffens defended the city's reliance on consultants, saying it doesn't have the manpower or the expertise to conduct a parking study. He argued that the parking situation is more complicated than many think, and noted that the consultant will also analyze whether the city should use parking meters in its plazas.

At the meeting, Councilman John Boyle said he's heard "strong pleas" from merchants to simply change the limit from two to three hours, as Ms. Fisher and Mr. Cohen suggested. But the city needs to analyze the issue, he argued, because it isn't certain that those merchants speak for the larger business community.

Mr. Cohen said the city has bandied about the switch from two to three hours, but never tried it. But Mark Flegel, president of Flegels Fine Furniture, said in an interview that the city did try a three-hour limit in the early 1990s -- and decided against making the switch permanent, largely because employees would bogart the spaces.

The council voted 4-1 to proceed with the study, with Mr. Cohen dissenting.

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Posted by empire building
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jun 24, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Gotta love it. City Manager Rojas from Chino hired to run the ship. Steffens makes excuses for overpaid, "overworked" staff. Check the Daily Post revelations on base salaries for staff. Juniors are making well over $150 per year including benefits.
Goes back to lack of accountability by present council. Robinson and Cline need to get some heat for their free spending ways.
Old saying, the "OPM addiction" (Other Peoples Money) makes politicians free spending addicts manipulated by empire building city staff.

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Posted by Young Boomer
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2009 at 7:39 am

Did the reporter who wrote this story really use the word "bogart" as a verb in a sentence?

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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:04 am

Young boomer --- very interesting point.

Bogart isn't even in the OED (Osford English Dictionary).

From Google you get from the Urban Dictionary.

(slang verb) To keep something all for oneself, thus depriving anyone else of having any. A slang term derived from the last name of famous actor Humphrey Bogart because he often kept a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, seemingly never actually drawing on it or smoking it. Often used with weed or joints but can be applied to anything.

Hard to imagine Mark Flegel using this verb, but it is appropriate.

On the subject, this is a waste of $90K. Something to keep some staff employed I guess. Cohen was right about this one, and Boyle should have supported him.

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Posted by Young Boomer
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2009 at 8:46 am

Actually those who oppose this study on certain grounds are being illogical.

It is NOT a $90k study, it is a $64K study. The PROJECT BUDGET, which includes staff time, is $90k.

Here is the illogic:
1.) You cannot quote a $90k figure and then berate the city for empire building, because implied in the $90k figure is the fact that staff IS DOING THE WORK but using consultants essentially in the capacity of temporary workers. Basically, most of the work is being done by temporary workers not full-time staff.

This is actually a good solution to the problem of reducing the number of full time government workers with salaries and pensions, by leveraging temporary workers, yet the same group who rant about the problem are now ranting about a reasonable solution.

Here's the larger irony.

Downtown public parking, the land, paving, and maintenance costs, including the administrative overhead associated with giving public permits to downtown employees receives among the highest subsizidies made by Menlo Park to private businesses. Its a public giveaway.

The downtown parking assessment district is not full cost recovery and does not cover the costs of all expenses associated with publicly owned and maintained parking. And even if you throw in the anemic sales tax generated by the downtown businesses, its not cost recovery, in part because re-surfacing the lots is very expensive.

Those who berate the city either because there are not enough public spaces or because managing them costs too much, are precisely those who usually argue that ALL services, including Child care, should be full cost recovery, and they are precisely the same people who think the city should privatize service offerings whenever possible.

Except parking apparently.

Translation we want the city to pay both for business employees and customers parking. They are not suggesting that private business pay for more private parking, though there is much private parking in the downtown area.

Only the Church has the integrity to offer to help pay to increase the supply of parking.

Here's the even huger irony.

If there is a shortage of public spaces downtown it is only because business customers are being crowded out by business employees who have all day permits. The businesses are picking their own pockets and blaming the city.

Now those who demand the city reign in full time costs of public employees are criticizing the city for complementing its workforce with temporary help.

Imagine what your life would be like if you were micro managed by citizens who are as illogical as the ones in Menlo Park. City workers in Menlo Park live the private hell of working hard and doing a good job to satisfy ignorant people who openly hate them.

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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:26 am

Well young boomer, you simply don't know what you are talking about.

Employees who use the parking lots, if they can get a permit, pay for that permit (either personally or through a company occupying space in one of the office buildings --- last I checked it was about $450.00 / year)

The availability of parking for employees in the office buildings was guaranteed long ago by the permitting under which the buildings were erected.

If there is anything the current council, and current city manager can be faulted for, it is the expansion of staff over the last couple of years, during which time the City's revenues have been falling. This expansion of staff makes no sense, just as this study makes no sense.

The Church wants to greatly expand its campus --- that is the only reason why they are willing to help pay for a parking structure, and that structure is to be where they want it (Back of Flegel's) and not where it is needed.

You sound like a City worker who is trying to justify the outrageous salaries currently being paid for much of City staff.

Actually, I don't know who you sound like --- you certainly don't know what you are talking about.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:42 am

Staff cut 4.5 positions in this current budget. Let's keep it real. And most of the those hires were police officers, when the city had serious issues in the department in 2006.

Make all the comments you wish, but keep it in the ballpark of accurate.

Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 11:58 am

Those high salaries for government jobs are sickening!

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Posted by GitERdone
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 25, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Don't try to make the problem go away by restricting more on traffic lanes, parking, meters, shortened permitted parking.
We're all tired of feeling "punished" because of traffic and parking.
No more studies... you money wasters have been passing the buck way too long... If you don't feel competant to make decisions, maybe there's someone else who'd like the job.
Remember who you're working for.... we are not the enemy.. this is our neighborhood.

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Posted by church and state
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 2:41 pm

What ever happened to separation of church and state?
You don't allow a church to have an "ownership" right on public property.
If the church is unable to handle the required parking on their own property they should not be allowed to expand - they should build the multi-story lot on their own property (that ought to thrill the neighbors) or look for new property elsewhere for their growing needs.
It is unconscionable to allow a religious organization to influence the government and residential affairs of the city.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 25, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Blatant overreaction in this thread. Ridiculous.

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 3:51 pm

The fees for these studies are unjustified. The number of studies "needed" is excessive. The people who approve these studies should be relieved of their duties as stewards of taxpayer funds.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jun 25, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Look at these new pieces...same old story. Studies for parking and angry people crying out no more studies...

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

I could put up dozens of these. People want parking solved, for free, and right now. Don't you dare study it...

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Posted by Untruth
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 25, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Ok, now that we have some great links to unimportant information, how about calculating all of the dollars spent on studies, and then determining WHAT was actually done with this information??? I have your answer: ZERO. That is the issue, why do a study when everyone knows a decision will never be made, nor was it intended to be made. It's just another political move where our leaders don't have to make a decision to anger voters. THAT is where I struggle, and many other citizens are struggling too.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:30 pm

What can ordinary citizens do to protest these wastes of money?

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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 25, 2009 at 9:47 pm

If objectors to all these studies, would send mail into the City's website

they would get a whole lot more attention, than just posting anonymously here on Town Square. Better is to come to council and speak in public comment.

This parking study is a real stinker; about as bad as they get.

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Posted by Young Boomer
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2009 at 10:12 am

Responding to "Observer"

OBSERVER: "Employees who use the parking lots ... pay for that permit ... about $450.00 / year"

ME: Correct. My point (ignored and unrefuted) is that the permit fees and parking income from the assessment district don't cover the capital, administrative, and maintenance costs of the public lots -- downtown parking on public lots is not full cost recovery, even for employees. It's subsidized.

OBSERVER: "... parking for employees in the office buildings was guaranteed .. by the permitting under which the buildings were erected."

ME: Maybe, but irrelevant. You're talking about "private" parking on "private" land. The city has no jurisdiction over private spaces. The study and the debate are about PUBLIC parking spaces in the public lots.

Ironically, I once met with a prominent downtown merchant who showed me perimeter parking spaces in a semi-underground parking lot that that were behind a private gate. Historically, he said, when the office was approved, the approvals guaranteed that some of those spaces would be public, not private, but the owner quickly privatized them using the gate.

It's not a big deal, but its a small example of historically how public spaces are made private.

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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 27, 2009 at 7:50 am

Young Boomer: No No NO.

I am not talking about "private" parking on "private land"; I am talking about the public parking plazas. You should talk to City staff to get your facts correct.

As for full cost accounting, that you would have to talk to Carol. In general I have been told that the parking lot improvements were / are funded from parking fees and maybe other sources; I'm not quite sure on that.

The just approved parking study should be stopped. Not only is it a stupid exercise, the result of a very few complaints, most of the Chamaber don't support it and the consultant being used is the same group that previously did a terrible job.

At least one Councilman got the message. Now all we have to do is to get 2 others to abandon this non-sense.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 27, 2009 at 10:03 am

We need to send a message to the City Council that we will not accept anymore analysis paralysis. The best way to do that is to vote for some fresh blood in the 2010 election. John Boyle has been performing well and should be re-elected. But Heyward Robinson and Richard Cline, who or part of the lets do nothing cabal, should be put out to pasture.

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Posted by Young Boomer
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2009 at 11:06 am

OBSERVER: "The availability of parking for employees in the office buildings was guaranteed long ago by the permitting under which the buildings were erected."

What Observer may be saying is that FOR THE PURPOSE OF THE PLANNING APPROVAL PROCESS for projects on downtown parcels in the "parking assessment district", building projects may count toward their parking requirement some of number of "public" or on-street spots covered by the assessment district in addition to on-site private parking.

Yes, that is true. But counting public slots in planning approvals is a different matter than doling out parking permits to use them.

There is a fixed number of "employee" slots that are apportioned to each parcel in the assessment district. Only these are "guaranteed." The permitting by no means "guarantees" that each office in the district get a permit for each employee, no matter how many employees. They are only guaranteed a share of the fixed number of employee slots. No more than that.

What has happened over the years is that businesses have requested that the number of employee permits be increased way above the number of parking spots guaranteed to the district. These requests are usually granted by the city, but they are at the discretion of the city, and they have increased the number of public spots used for employee parking far above the minimum guaranteed by membership in the parking assessment district.

This is what I said and meant. At the businesses request, the number of (discretionary) employee permits granted by the city continues to increase, and therefore, employee parking is crowding out customer parking.

Read here Web Link

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Posted by Young Boomer
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2009 at 11:26 am

As far as subsidies made from the General Fund to the Parking fund, read this (pp3&4): Web Link

ISSUE: the transfer of certain costs to other funds and the service impacts this causes.

The three funds proposed to absorb certain General Fund expenditures different than in years prior are the Downtown Parking Permits Fund…

At its budget workshop on May 13, City Council asked that staff provide more details on shifts of operating expenses between funds. One specific question is related to the proposal to shift some operating expenses between the General Fund and the City’s Downtown Parking Permit Fund.

… The City has eight parking plazas totaling 394,000 square feet. Estimated long-term renovation costs for the plazas range between $270,000 and $320,000 per year in 2003 dollars, depending on the extent of renovations. …

Revenues into the Downtown Parking Permit Fund are estimated at $328,800 per year in fiscal year 2003-04. This approximates the estimated long-term capital improvement needs, but falls well short of funding both operating expenses and long-term capital improvements. …

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Posted by Young Boomer
a resident of another community
on Jun 27, 2009 at 11:36 am

Now that it's clear that the downtown parking plaza's are subsidized by public money and do not enjoy full cost recovery from fees and tax assessment, its particular coincidentally that Hank Lawrence, the troll, has joined this thread.

Hank has been particularly outspoken about full cost recovery when it comes to child care. I fully expect Hank, as committed as he is to full cost recovery, to ride herd on downtown parking with the same zeal as he did on child care.

By the way the city has spent multiple millions on resurfacing the plazas, and the resurfacing is completely consistent with the designs and actions laid out in a yet another consultant report called CENTER CITY DESIGN.

So Menlo Park does follow through on consultant reports after all, and it has squandered millions in public subsidies for parking for business customers and employees.

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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 27, 2009 at 11:54 am

Young Boomer:

Just what expenses do you know about are for operating expenses of the plazas. What are these costs you seem to think are there and are of such importance.

I only have so much time to debate this issue with you, but for sure there for years and years has been a shortage of parking permits for office tenants. If the number has been increased, it certainly was tried to be done in such a way that the retain customers would not be affected; ie if there are normally vacancies in the lots then why not let a few more permitted spaces be allotted.

There is a downtown parking problem, the worst problem being being the lot behind Left Bank / Walgreens etc. Why a parking study would determine that a structure was needed in back of Flegels is a mystery, most likely a study done to try and convince the public this was an appropriate spot, because the Church was at that time willing to partially fund a structure, if that was the chosen spot.

Let me jst add this commemt about what Hank Lawrence writes:

Anyone, who thinks Boyle has done a good job as councilman is living in a fog. He has done nothing except to obstruct, drag out council meetings and do his best to delay and try to embarrass the other council members. I'm quite sure when he ran, expected to be in the majority with DuBoc and Winkler, who were swept away by the citizens, who were incensed by the policies they were trying to impose. Its pretty convincing when incumbents get thrown out of office and thrown out by large majorities.

Amazing that DuBoc still lives in a world in which she thinks the public is embracing her views.

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Posted by Confusedby Hank
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 27, 2009 at 11:57 am

Hank, according to the article only Cohen voted against the "analysis paralysis", Boyle voted for it, yet your praise Boyle. Explain this.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda

on Sep 28, 2017 at 2:31 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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