News

Councilman DeGolia: Public money may be needed for new civic center in Atherton

Atherton exploring ways to add revenues to town's coffers

Atherton City Councilman Rick DeGolia said at a Nov. 2 council study session that he thinks it is "inevitable" that the town will have to ask voters to rescind an earlier ballot measure restricting the use of public money for its new civic center because private donations to pay for it are not coming in.

Mr. DeGolia said that he thinks a measure changing that restriction must be put on the ballot next spring.

The study session was part of the council's attempt to follow through on a promise made soon after the town's parcel tax was passed in 2013 to investigate replacing it with other revenue sources such as a business license tax, a utility users tax or a real property transfer tax. The parcel tax, which brings in about $1.86 million a year for the town, expires in mid-2018.

If the voters are asked to approve spending public money on a civic center on a spring ballot, Mr. DeGolia said, the town could add an advisory measure on the various tax alternatives.

Council members heard at the meeting that state law governing the timing of elections means that any new tax measure could not be voted on until November 2018. That could put pressure on the town to put on the November 2017 ballot a renewal of the existing parcel tax to avoid having a six-month period when the town would receive no revenue from that tax or a replacement tax.

City Attorney Bill Conners told the council that the town could structure a parcel tax measure so that the tax would be eliminated if another tax is later approved.

Council members asked City Manager George Rodericks to consider what they might need a consultant to do to explore a business license tax, a utility users tax, or a real property transfer tax for Atherton.

A real property transfer tax, which would be charged when real estate changes hands, could be imposed only if Atherton becomes a charter city, operating under its own charter instead of under general law as it now does. The city had considered becoming a charter city in the past and decided not to pursue it. Becoming a charter city requires voter approval.

Mr. Rodericks said the town will also get more information on three other revenue-raising options:

• Creating benefit assessment districts, which charge the residents of an area of the town for improvements such as drainage or lighting that benefit their area;.

• Charging a higher refuse franchise fee.

• Taking another look at fees paid by those who use Holbrook-Palmer Park.

Comments

7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 7, 2016 at 11:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

On Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 3:35 PM, Peter Carpenter wrote:
Dear Council,
I have watched (and contributed to) the effort to finance the new Town Center.

In my opinion it will not be possible to fund this project from private donations in a reasonable time period.

Therefore, I urge you to consider a bond for this critical infrastructure project. I have no doubt that a ballot measure for such a bond would receive overwhelming support.


Peter


5 people like this
Posted by Yes please
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 7, 2016 at 12:22 pm

I am completely aligned to this proposal. The need is clear and, despite the long review process, I think most agree the final design is a good one. Let's now move as quickly as possible to get it built.


16 people like this
Posted by Hold on
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 7, 2016 at 12:37 pm

First, they have known for A LONG TIME that the private money wouldn't materialize. Yet instead of soliciting public input under the pretense that the public would be paying for it, public input was solicited on the premise that private donations would be footing the bill. That's a bait and switch.

If the public knew they would be called on to pay for this, the grandiose plan would be scaled way, way, way back. We don't need an Atherton taxpayer funded gymnasium for a tiny police department.

Second, DeGolia and Lewis have failed at being able to raise private funds. Perhaps they should step down and let others try before asking the public to pay for their failure.

Sorry if I sound harsh, just calling it like it is.


5 people like this
Posted by Nonsense
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Nov 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm

First, how would one know private funding would not materialize unless one tries? Second, Measure L set the parameters for funding and the Town is forced to operate within it. Third, if you were involved in the process, you would know that the design is essentially the same amount of net square footage currently used by the existing buildings - this was part of reports available online. Fourth, if you had toured the existing facilities you would know that there already is a gym area of 400 square feet - a garage filled with donated equipment and a tactical training area of another 400 square feet for tactical police training (required). Looking at the proposed floor plan for the new PD building it includes 800 Sf of exercise and tactical training. Nothing more than currently used and all of the equipment is donated. Last, DeGolia and Lewis can't actually fundraise - that's one of the reasons Atherton Now was formed. Participating is one thing but hard soliciting money is another altogether fraught with problems. The only failure here is the community voting one way and then leaving the duty to someone else.

Sorry if I sound harsh, just calling it like it is.


3 people like this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 7, 2016 at 2:05 pm

@Hold On

Actually, the civic center committee has been soliciting community input all along this process. They meet every month to discuss project status. They've had several larger community forums to provide status updates and get input. I've attended these forums and they've always been open to input and informative.

If you have questions about the cost, I'm sure DeGolia, Lewis, or the city manager would be willing to answer your questions. I would encourage you to reach out to them to address your concerns.

In my mind, the town made a good faith effort raising the funds privately to follow the will of the voters. It's fair to go back to the voters and ask whether some of the funds can come from public money. Maybe the voters will say no to using public money. I don't know, but it's the city council's duty to provide the community that choice once they've exhausted fundraising options.

I'm in favor of using some public money to fund a new civic center.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 7, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I find it paradoxical that we are one of the wealthiest communities in the Nation and that we would be unwilling to pay for our own essential infrastructure. The current Police Station is a disgrace and there can be no excuse for the residents not paying to replace it.


6 people like this
Posted by Hold on
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 7, 2016 at 3:45 pm

@Nonsense, I'm not interested in training centers, old equipment in a garage, whether new equipment will be donated or not…

Will it be cheaper to construct a new town center without a gym for the cops? Yes or no?

Yes, it will. It's as simple as that. And if we go down the list of the fifty or more tradeoffs like that (e.g., do there need to be palatial offices for Rodericks and the police chief?) and resolve EACH ONE IN FAVOR OF THE TAXPAYER, millions upon millions will come off the total bill for this boondoggle.

> First, how would one know private funding would not materialize unless one tries?

You mean DeGolia realized the private funds weren't coming yesterday?

No, you and I and everyone all know that any competent person would have known this a long time ago. They've been fund raising for years.

They deliberately waited until after the design was done to publicly make this admission.

No need to continue debating here. There will be large-scale organized resistance to any measure to use public money or increase taxes to get this done. You can count on it. Check out what recently happened in Los Altos when a similar thing was attempted.


2 people like this
Posted by shaking my head, I admit
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 7, 2016 at 4:56 pm

When this building was proposed to begin with, I paused at the expenditure, even the need, for a new beautiful building for a town of how many? when there are so many other needs around us? Atherton can fund this itself, as it determined it to be a priority. For the record, I will vote against any bill that asks me to help fund this building with my tax money. In fact, I will actively campaign against it. A town of 7,000 with a median household income of 250k, the highest in the nation, needing a spectacular town hall that it turns out it can't pay for....oh well. Use the old one. I want to give my money to teachers who need supplies in Redwood City. Seniors who can't afford to live here, anyone who can't afford to live her, the roads, etc etc etc.


12 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Nov 7, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Train Fan is a registered user.

1: I've been a long-time supporter of a new town center. I agree the current conditions are unacceptable. I'm not talking aesthetics; sorry, no sympathy from me. This is about the safety of the people that serve this community, not just police officers, but staff and visitors as well. The buildings ARE NOT SAFE.

The first response from Atherton first responders should not be digging THEMSELVES out of the buildings holding the first responders.


2: That said, the town will need to pick: renew the existing parcel tax at no more than the existing amount, OR request a GO bond. There is no way both will pass. Personally, GO bonds are specifically designed to address a need such as this one.


Parcel tax OR GO bond. Not both.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 7, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It would have been much smarter for the Council to have put a bond measure on the ballot this year rather than now being forced to overlap a bond issue with the parcel tax renewal. But that is history.

In fact a parcel tax is for current operating expenses and a bond measure is specifically for capital improvements - both should be judged on their own merits and separately.


Like this comment
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Nov 7, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Train Fan is a registered user.

"a parcel tax is for current operating expenses and a bond measure is specifically for capital improvements"

Understood. However, some of the recent projects the Town has undertaken (wisely, I might add)...in particular the Marsh Rd channel...could have all been funded by a GO bond, but funding from the parcel tax was used instead.

The town is now able to fund operating expenses through property taxes, based on prior meetings I attended sometime last year. I understand that the parcel tax provides the town some financial flexibility, but flexibility leads to excess and waste.

If voters were to approve both an extension of the parcel tax AND a go bond, it will be a tremendous waste of taxpayer money, in my opinion.


The town can accomplish everything it needs to do with the already existing library funds and a GO bond. It doesn't need a renewal of the parcel tax.

If the town tries to have a GO bond OR renew the existing parcel tax, I will vote for it.

If the town tries to have a GO bond AND parcel tax, I will vote NO on both.


Like this comment
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Nov 7, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Train Fan is a registered user.

"forced to overlap a bond issue with the parcel tax renewal."

If they need a 1-year floater to get construction started before a GO bond kicked in, they can put a 1-year parcel tax on the ballot.

Problem solved.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 7, 2016 at 7:58 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

" I will actively campaign against it. A town of 7,000 with a median household income of 250k, the highest in the nation, needing a spectacular town hall that it turns out it can't pay for....oh well. Use the old one."

As I've said before, the hell with the "staff" after all they're just the "staff."

Seriously Athertonions, do you not see the optics of these comments? The "staff" can work in crappy buildings because, after all, they're just "staff."

You people make me sick.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 7, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Hopefully DeGolia will break the unwritten rule that Atherton Council members do not engage in dialogue on this Forum and give us his insights on this issue and also respond to the questions that have been raised by other posters.

Being an elected official means that you have the responsibility to engage in public dialogue.


2 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 7, 2016 at 11:05 pm

I would be in favor of voting to rescind the previous ballot measure.

I've been following the civic center project closely. I would characterize the current building plans as functional and efficient. Originally, they did start out as more elaborate with underground police parking and moving the corporation yard. But the civic center committee and council have been diligent in paring down costs as much as possible.

The public outreach and design process has been transparent and open. In fact, I've made a number of suggestions to the building plans, which they have adopted.

If the council decides to use public money, I have no doubt they'll have outreach events to explain everything and craft a proposal based on community input.

That will be the opportunity for @Peter, @Train Fan, and @Hold On to get all their concerns addressed.


4 people like this
Posted by Atherton Voter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 8, 2016 at 7:22 am

Peter Carpenter comments, "I find it paradoxical that we are one of the wealthiest communities in the Nation and that we would be unwilling to pay for our own essential infrastructure. The current Police Station is a disgrace and there can be no excuse for the residents not paying to replace it."
I very seldom agree with Peter but agree totally with this comment.
It is time for this project to be started along with the library. Forget the green stuff and get on with it. The Council has taken so long that most residents are not interested in the endless process and the fundraiser have lost the private donation momentum.Just propose a bond measure. It will pass easily and also put a parcel tax on the next ballot. It too will pass. Council do not delay with more studies and staff reports.


6 people like this
Posted by Hold on
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 8, 2016 at 10:54 am

Totally agree with "Atherton Voter". Go for a bond AND the parcel tax. Would make it the easiest to defeat. You're totally overestimating the generosity of the Atherton electorate as you should have concluded from the failed private donation drive.


3 people like this
Posted by Rick DeGolia
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 9, 2016 at 5:32 pm

I don't usually comment on these blogs for several reasons, but I would like to address one comment (and I apologize for the length of this one):
@Atherton Voter: "The Council has taken so long that most residents are not interested in the endless process and the fundraiser have lost the private donation momentum.Just propose a bond measure."

The length of this process does seem tedious, but this is the design process. The Council hired one of the best architectural firms available and they have been working very hard every week for almost 18 months ago. What takes so long is the public process of working design, and especially cost containment, through staff, a citizens committee and then the Council. We have been committed to extensive public outreach at every step of the way. This takes time. We have also required at least one (and now possibly two) significant design modifications to reduce cost.

This has been a totally cost-focused project. The design is functional and efficient. I believe that it is as good as it can be within the cost constraints. We will build a civic center: police station, admin facilities and library for the cost of 2-3 houses that you see going up every month. We are also moving roads to make this a people, not automobile, centric town center. The allegations of this being excessive are made by posters that have an agenda, rather than information. They haven't been involved in the process.

The fundraising has been going on simultaneously through Atherton Now, a private group, and neither the Council or staff can lead. While Atherton Now has raised more than $6m and paid for most of the design, they don't have all of the construction funds. They believe that they will raise at least $4m more. It would have been best to put a reconsideration of Measure L before the voters in this November general election, but to be fair to Measure L, we had to give every opportunity to Atherton Now to raise all of the funds. Consequently, we agreed not to consider supplemental public funding until 2017. The purpose wasn't to wait for the design to be complete. It was to give Atherton Now at least 6 months with actual images to raise the funds (they didn't have the preliminary design until June 2016).

The only reason that I made the comment about public funding that was the basis for this article is because the Council is considering revenue alternatives to replace the Parcel Tax (which is up for renewal next year). We discussed several alternatives and want resident input on those alternatives. In the course of that discussion, I said that if we have a special vote to reconsider Measure L this Spring, then at that time we could consider an advisory vote on the revenue alternatives. For the record, I believe that if Atherton Now can raise a few million more dollars, then it is possible that we can avoid any new tax or bond and finance the remaining cost of the civic center from the current general fund and a leverage of future surplus (assuming renewal of the Parcel Tax or a dollar-for-dollar replacement of the Parcel Tax).

No one wants more property tax. I believe it's possible to avoid additional tax or a bond, but we do need some more donations. I wish someone would step up to name the new road or the reconstructed Town Hall (which will be part of the library) or to finance making this the first Zero Net Energy civic center in California. That would be a huge accomplishment that would greatly reduce our operating costs and make this a very attractive facility, which we need to retain and recruit excellent staff and police. Our design is excellent.


16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 10, 2016 at 7:09 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I now see that "a donor" is dictating design changes.

As an Atherton resident I would be stunned if one of the wealthiest communities in the nation would not be willing to pass a bond issue to pay for upgrading its own critical infrastructure. The current strategy of both relying on donors to fund this project and also allowing those donors to constrain the design is shortsighted and penurious. The design should be driven by the needs/functional programming and not by the depth of the donors' pockets.

Let's do this very long term project right - not on the cheap - and build something that will last for 50 years and that we will be proud of.


5 people like this
Posted by Hold on
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 10, 2016 at 1:39 pm

Rick DeGolia: I truly respect your act of coming on the board here to address the disagreement, but do not appreciate your characterization of that disagreement as coming from "posters that have an agenda, rather than information. They haven't been involved in the process."

That's a cop-out, and you know it. We're not involved in the workings of the U.S. government, but since it affects us, we are both entitled to form an opinion and vote that opinion without being accused of having an agenda. You should walk that statement back.

Again, Portola Valley got private donations for their town center. They had the same issues of designing it before/after donations being requested/received. I would urge you to take an honest look of why it didn't work out in Atherton. Hint: it has to do with the amount of taxation and parcel tax already in place. You may remember the council promised to abate the tax if it wasn't needed, but then redefined what "needed" meant when those circumstances came to pass.

Peter Carpenter: the wealth of this community is a red herring in the situation. There's a limit to how much people are going to be taxed to pay for government services. Usually people who have worked hard to accumulate wealth are more careful how it's spent because of how hard they had to work for it.


Like this comment
Posted by Rick DeGolia
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 11, 2016 at 12:17 am

Hold On:

You are right. It's a bit of a cop out. My statement was based on an assumption which may be wrong. It's easy to be defensive on these issues and the right answer is to inquire and not to just assume. I think that the lack of success in Atherton is complicated. I don't think it is because of greater taxes. Portola Valley did succeed, and we are all taxed approximately 1% of assessed value. I think that there is still room for success. There is certainly the ability within Atherton to succeed if the outreach can connect to those with the philanthropic willingness, but it has been hard to achieve. I've heard from many people that they'd rather fund this publicly. Atherton Now has had only six months with the images, but there is a lot of pressure to move on because we will be ready to go to construction documents in a few months. I do believe that this effort has educated people about how deplorable the current facilities are. The new design is essentially the same square footage as the old for police and admin but substitutes new buildings for a combination of very old buildings and trailers that are falling apart. I am committed to continue to reach out and continue to seek private funding.


1 person likes this
Posted by Brent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2016 at 6:32 am

From what I understand, building permit revenues are one source of funding for the civic center project. Perhaps for this reason, the building dept is giving permits to any and all comers, with multiple permits being issued for any given project, extending construction time well past the deadlines. I don't know if it's because they're swamped, or the inspectors aren't paying attention, but many of the rules designed to protect trees and people living in the neighborhood are not being enforced.


4 people like this
Posted by Jim
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 11, 2016 at 8:16 am

Rick, you mean you know the identity of everyone who posted negative comments and liked them? That's impressive.

We have the same property tax rate as Portola Valley, but they don't have a parcel tax. I agree that is unlikely to explain the entirety of why donations succeeded there but failed here. If you ask me, it has something to do with the divisiveness of the town here, partly (though not very seriously; there are more serious examples) embodied in your comment about agendas.

It's not very different from the ridicule heaped on possible Trump supporters by Hillary and the media, and look at what happened there.


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

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