What's at stake
In a special, mail-only advisory election June 6, Atherton voters are asked whether the town of Atherton should supplement private donations with the town's available non-dedicated general funds to build a new civic center.
In 2012, Atherton voters approved Measure L, which said the town should pay for the new civic center with mostly private funds.
Below are opposing views on the June 6 ballot proposal, Measure A.
Yes on Measure A
By Rick DeGolia and Alex Keh. Rick DeGolia is a member of the Atherton City Council. Alex Keh is a member of the Atherton Rail Committee who lives near the Town Center site.
Atherton desperately needs a new Town Center and has needed one for more than 20 years.
Atherton's facilities are deplorable and have reached the end of their useful lives. They include a condemned structure and non-compliant police and emergency facilities. A new Town Center is necessary to deliver essential services to our residents and enable Atherton to hire and retain top- quality staff.
Click here for a resident-created video to see how bad our facilities are.
Atherton's focus has been to fund these new facilities primarily with private donations. A resident organization, Atherton Now, has raised approximately $7 million from generous Atherton residents.
Throughout these fundraising efforts, many residents expressed their belief that public funds should pay for public buildings. Therefore, it is appropriate to use public funds to partner with our private donors.
Atherton's staff estimates that an additional $18 million is needed to build the police and administration facility and complete the significant site work. Measure A will allow Atherton to prudently use non-dedicated, unrestricted and available public funds to supplement the private donations to this project.
For the first time in decades, Atherton has an extremely strong financial position. This should continue as our revenue is mostly based on the property taxes that Atherton residents pay.
The new Town Center has been designed responsibly and thoughtfully with input from hundreds of residents. Many alternatives were carefully evaluated throughout the process.
The new police and administration facility is highly efficient, better organized, code-compliant, and has approximately the same operational square footage as there is in current facilities.
Just think about our employees. They work in crowded, crumbling facilities and trailers that are in horrible condition. We need this project to insure that we can continue to hire and retain high quality staff.
The new Town Center is a one-time capital expense that will reduce our longterm costs. Retrofitting, renovating and maintaining these 30- to 90-year-old dilapidated structures to meet current codes would be far more costly than building the proposed facility.
Atherton''s Town Council unanimously approved a prudent funding plan for the Town Center that requires no new taxes, maintains all current reserves, retains all approved pension liability reductions and capital improvement projects in the pipeline, including important drainage, bike lane and park improvements.
None of these important projects are sacrificed by allocating funds to the Town Center. Any unexpected costs related to the project or otherwise will be openly vetted with the entire community.
Some may question why a new library is included in the Town Center project. The Atherton Library has historically been a part of Atherton''s civic center. The library is a stand-alone project, fully funded with separate library funds.
Building the police and administration facility at the same time as the library maximizes construction efficiencies and reduces the town's portion of the shared site costs and impacts.
The Town Council has unanimously agreed that this Town Center project is the most important capital improvement project for our community. This is why the City Council unanimously agreed to sign the argument in favor of Measure A on the June 6 ballot.
Yes on Measure A has been endorsed by hundreds of Atherton residents, including nine former mayors.
William Grindley, a former planning commissioner and an author of the 2012 Measure L (which required the Town Center to be built primarily with private funds), says: "A decade ago, I finished Atherton's space needs study to replace its inadequate facilities. The situation has worsened and costs have risen: both will continue. Council's proposal is a rational response that will result in a Town Center that Athertonians will be proud of."
This is the most important project Atherton has ever undertaken. It is long overdue. The design phase is now complete and has been paid for with private donations. Now we need to build it.
Please watch your mail for your Measure A ballot and return it by mail or drop it off in the Atherton post office ballot box no later than June 6.
The Yes on Measure A campaign is hosting a public meeting on May 17, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Event Garden at Holbrook Palmer Park. Come learn more about the new Town Center project.
Please vote yes on Measure A and togther let's build this new Town Center with no new taxes.
No on Measure A
By Smith McKeithen and John Ruggeiro. John Ruggeiro is a former vice chair of the Atherton Transportation Committee. Smith McKeithen is an Atherton resident and a retired Silicon Valley executive.
The new Atherton Town Center was formulated and designed on the basis that it would be financed primarily by private donations. Seventy-four percent of Atherton's voters endorsed that concept in Measure L. With this assumption in mind, the proponents of the new Town Center, including the current City Council, green-lighted an extravagant complex, now projected to cost over $50 million.
Unfortunately, Atherton Now raised less than $7 million of its $25 million target. If you or I fell that far short in funding a house purchase or renovation, we'd scrap, delay or radically re-scope the project. But our town's administration and council are pushing full steam ahead to finish the project with no thought of cutting costs.
Recent documents show that this is being accomplished by shifting funds away from needed – already identified (in professional studies commissioned by the town) – capital and operating projects, and making assumptions about refunds from the state that are not guaranteed.
At the same time the council is considering incurring millions in debt by using "certificates of participation," which are bonds by any other name, but are designed to avoid the necessity of getting two-thirds voter approval from us, the taxpayers.
Even though we are far away from a final estimate of the project's costs, and well before putting the project out to bid – which will no doubt come in above projections in today's super-heated construction environment – Measure A would give the town an open checkbook to pay for this project.
The town's latest funding plan reveals that it will finance the project from these sources:
• Current unallocated funds totaling $12.5 million, including general funds in fiscal year 2018 of $8.1 million and capital improvement funds of $4.4 million.
• Expected future funds totaling $14.17 million, including library "surplus" funds in fiscal years 2018-2022 of $6.32 million; anticipated (but "not guaranteed" as noted by the city manager at a recent budget session) ERAF refunds in fiscal years 2018-2021 of $4.1 million; and redirected tax dollars from the general fund in fiscal years 2019-2021 of $3.75 million.
The grand total is $26.67 million.
It is important to note that since more than $14 million of the above is not available now, the facts speak for themselves the town will have to borrow the money (probably without seeking taxpayer approval) to finance the project on the current calendar, using the expectation of future funds to secure some sort of debt instrument.
Remember that all of these funds – call them "unallocated," "anticipated," "refunds" or "surplus" – originate with our property and parcel tax dollars. Also remember that spending these funds for the Town Center will come at the expense of already-identified but, likely purposefully, "not in the pipeline" drainage, street safety and other projects.
The Town Center project will hobble the town's ability to pay for basic services and upkeep for years to come, and/or force us to go into debt.
In 2008 Portola Valley opened its own new town center including not only a new town hall but also a library, community hall, maintenance building, corporate yard and a variety of playing fields. Private donations financed approximately 85 percent of the $20 million project, which the architects reported was completed roughly 7 percent under budget. Portola Valley did not raise taxes or take on any debt.
If Atherton's new Town Center project is to proceed, it is obvious that two things need to happen: the $50 million design should be scaled back to a reasonable size and a reasonable cost; and a new, more community-inclusive fundraising campaign should be initiated that goes beyond the single mailer sent to Atherton residents last fall.
The town needs to readdress the design, which includes overly large spaces; excessive and costly "net zero" energy features that will not only increase construction costs, but also lifetime operational costs; and unnecessarily redesigned streets.
Before we mortgage our future and sacrifice implementing key infrastructure projects, we should step back and ask, "Is this the right approach?" Send a message that you think it is not. Vote no on A.