Hiking Menlo Park hotel tax? Voters to decide


Voters will be asked to consider raising the hotel-occupancy tax in Menlo Park from 10 percent to 12 percent after the City Council last night (July 20) decided it was a reasonable way to raise revenue in the face of the city's fast-rising employee costs.

Council members struggled with the question, voicing concerns that the economic climate makes this a risky time to raise costs for business owners. But after citing the city's budget realities, the council voted 4-1 to send the proposed increase to the Nov. 2 ballot. Councilman Andy Cohen opposed the action.

Before the vote, Mike Casey, managing director of the Rosewood Sand Hill Resort, warned the council that boosting the tax, which hotels, motels and inns must charge occupants, would take away the competitive advantage his hotel has over facilities in Palo Alto and San Francisco in attracting non-business customers. That's because Palo Alto and other nearby cities have set their hotel tax at 12 percent, and San Francisco at 15 percent.

"Raising it is a risk," he said, not only to hotels but to other Menlo Park businesses that benefit from the trade the hotels bring to town.

The Rosewood and the Stanford Park hotel contribute about 85 percent of all hotel tax -- or transit-occupancy tax -- revenue, according to a staff report.

Councilman John Boyle expressed misgivings about raising the tax, but said he'd be willing to compromise on an increase to 11 percent. But Councilman Heyward Robinson and others cited the city's need to raise revenue because of growing costs, especially for police compensation.

Mayor Rich Cline spoke forcefully in favor of raising the tax to 12 percent, and moved that the council ask voters to approve the increase, which would be effective January 2012.

Mr. Cohen said he opposed the move because the city needs to do better in reducing costs.

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Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 21, 2010 at 11:58 am

Ha, raise taxes! What a concept. Good luck with that one. Gotta keep the unions happy.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm

This is a Council that won't even consider outsourcing police services, which could save $7 million every year, or do anything else to reduce costs.

Need more more - just raise taxes.


Like this comment
Posted by Go Andy!
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 21, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Andy Cohen drives me nuts on some issues, but this issue he is dead right. I have been watching this council night in, and night out, and there is never a hardcore discussion on costs related to employees, other than the hotly debated pension issue. I have heard that our city has far too many employee related costs versus other cities it's size, so why don't we talk about the scaling back?? That's what most companies do when their numbers are not aligned, we won't even have the discussion! Thanks once again Rich Cline for wanting to increase taxes versus having the discussion. I think it was you again that didn't want to even discuss outsourcing our police force. We need to discuss these type costs!!!

Like this comment
Posted by It's politics
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 21, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Note: Richard Cline -- who spoke so enthusiastically about raising this tax -- is running for re-election. He does NOT want to upset the employee unions. Thus, he will NEVER talk about lowering employee costs through outsourching, lower pensions, etc. This would get him in trouble with the unions, who he will need to get re-elected as he has NOTHING else going for him. What's his record? El Camino all "fixed"? What about those new play fields he and his "running mate" Heyward Robinson promised us four years ago. Aren't they the ones who have drawn down our budget reserves by more than $10 M since they got into office? Aren't they the ones who instituted the never-ending downtown "visioning" process that, surprise!, will not be ready until AFTER the elections. Whew, they missed having to make THAT decision, didn't they?

I've had enough. We need some REAL leadership in this town.

Like this comment
Posted by Ranch Gal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Brilliant idea as usual. RAISE TAXES during a recession when travel is way down anyway. Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner here in the Menlo Park City Council Pork Trough contest.

Never reduce costs, just soak the traveler a bit more. HA!

Like this comment
Posted by Good Grief
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 21, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Raising hotel tax seems just plain mean. It's the wrong time to hamper hotel business. GIve our motels and hotels the fighting edge against the surrounding towns. Why bite the hand that feeds us. Raise the Utility tax for residents and businesses. The more communication gadgets one has, the more one can afford them and an increased tax.

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Posted by Shocked
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Can this council make even one decision? Why have an election? Let's just have the city manager put all the big issues on the ballot. Do we need to go through another campaign season with all the phony promises and brochures with photos of happy families riding bicycles. The staff, if it doesn't have the council to please, can easily come up with ideas and have the city manager make decisions. The rest can go on the ballot.

Last night's decision to put an increase of the hotel tax on the ballot may be the nail in the coffin for these 2 incumbents. Who else can throw their hat into this year's race?

Like this comment
Posted by Nice try
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 21, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Shocked, learn the law- it HAS to go on the ballot because it's a tax increase. Thank Prop 13 and all that fun.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 21, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Shocked states:"it HAS to go on the ballot because it's a tax increase"

Wrong, if the Council had the good sense to not seek a tax increase then there would be nothing to put on the ballot.

Like this comment
Posted by Don't see a problem...
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 21, 2010 at 10:11 pm

The Council's 4:1 bipartisan vote did the responsible thing here to look out for our City: Consider:
(1) Neighboring Cities generally have already moved to a 12% hotel occupancy tax to help deal with budget constraints, so we are actually behind the times in doing this.
(2) The Council already unanimously voted to impose on the unions, in ways that also save money for the City in both the shorter term and going for a two-tier 2 at 60 for longer term savings too, and they have clamped down on non-police pay.
(3) Some on this list are so quick to off handedly say "just switch to the County Sheriff to save money. That would need to be really carefully vetted -- I have heard bad things in terms of response times from people in unincorporated Menlo Park whose public safety needs are through an already overburdened Sheriff's department. Even the Pension Measure anti-union crazies own initiative carved out the police from their efforts. C'mon -- good police services are a major element in our high property values.
(4) This approach provides for continued community based police services, but doesn't raise taxes on Menlo Park residents (They DIDN'T raise the UUT!)
Rather, this approach focuses on out of towners for whom the difference between a 10% and a 12% hotel tax is, realistically, likely to be lost at the bottom of their bill and there is absolutely no evidence that this element of the bill would determine where hardly any of them will stay.)
All of you all who rail about fiscal responsibility -- here you see one aspect of the Council doing just that. That combined with passing Gateway, and imposing on the unions.

Like this comment
Posted by Let's be Grown Ups
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 23, 2010 at 11:34 am

"This approach provides for continued community based police services, but doesn't raise taxes on Menlo Park residents (They DIDN'T raise the UUT!)"

I'd rather pay more than ask visitors to our city to pick up the bill for our libraries, parks, shuttle busses and pool.

Is Menlo Park such a hot destination for travelers that we shouldn't offer a lower occupancy tax? I say help out the local motels and hotels. One hand washes the other.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Let's be Grown Ups -

You should know that raising taxes are always a good idea... unless they impact you.

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

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