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Only the three incumbents file for Atherton election

Council will decide on Aug. 21 whether to hold or cancel election

As of the close of the filing period at 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 10, Atherton had only three candidates for three open City Council seats, so council members will decide at a special meeting on Aug. 21 whether they want to cancel the election and appoint the three incumbents who filed to run or hold the election anyway.

Only incumbents Rick DeGolia, Bill Widmer and Mike Lempres filed for the three seats. If the council votes not to hold the election, it will be the second election in a row in which only the incumbents filed. In 2016, incumbents Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest were the only two candidates, and the council voted to appoint them to their seats.

The Aug. 21 meeting will be at 8 a.m. in the town's council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road.

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 10, 2018 at 11:32 pm

Thats a good thing. All do a good job. Why not run unopposed. Thanks all for your service, but build a new civic center and get your police department out of those bunkers.


7 people like this
Posted by Different View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 11, 2018 at 8:05 am

I have a different view than our friend who live's in Menlo Park.

The Town doesn't need to get $50M further in debt for a new police building. The whole justification of the police department is they're out patrolling the streets to keep Atherton safe, whereas the sheriff would only be coming out in a belated manner for emergencies. I don't necessarily agree with the characterization of the sheriff, but it seems stupid to me to build such a lavish building for people whose job it is to not be in a building during the working hours.

We needed some new voices and ideas on the town council. Debate and elections create sharper representation for citizens. The attitude here seems to be we don't need that, because citizens don't need sharp representation.

I don't think that's ever a good idea.


2 people like this
Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 11, 2018 at 10:17 am

@Different View

So why didn't you run? If civic center downsizing or outsourcing is an issue that a majority of Athertonians strongly favor, you would win or at least generate a robust debate. There's some vocal proponents of outsourcing on town square. I would imagine you could fundraiser from them easily.

There was quite a robust debate 4—6 years ago. After that debate, candidates against outsourcing won.

My sense is there is no outsourcing majority.


6 people like this
Posted by Maybe
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 11, 2018 at 11:39 am

Maybe he or she didn’t want to get harassed by Elizabeth Lewis and her gang? You remember, like she did to Bill Widmer when he hit that city manager job in SoCal? I think he learned his lesson and is keeping is mouth shut now.

Just a thought.


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Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 11, 2018 at 12:46 pm

@Maybe

You really believe that? No one is afraid of Lewis. Look at all the people who opposed Measure A and F. It wasn't a majority, but it was a significant contingent.

Widmer and Lempres definitely are not afraid. They are pushing back on Lewis now that the civic center exceeds original cost projections.

Fear of Lewis is a fiction people use to deflect the fact that a majority don't want to outsource the police.


6 people like this
Posted by Different View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 11, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Election says "My sense is there is no outsourcing majority", but I don't really know if I want to outsource, s/he certainly doesn't know or have any reliable "sense" if there is an outsourcing majority, and if s/he were being truly honest with her/himself, doesn't even know if s/he favors outsourcing, because a necessary predicate for the decision of keeping Atherton's own police department – how much it's going to cost not just this year, but in the foreseeable future – is not being put to anyone who is in a position to thoughtfully respond to this question.

In the other thread on taking debt for the civic center, a question was asked about what the fiscal plan is to service the debt. I haven't seen any response. What is the impact of this debt going to be on Atherton households? As the original poster pointed out, the debt is to build the police building. We have the money for the library.

There is another recent thread about the county grand jury report about how all cities including Atherton have vastly misjudged what pension costs are going to be and how "crushing" (verbatim quote) debt is headed our way.

Why not put the question to voters of whether they favor outsourcing or not, but with the caveat that they are told what keeping the APD is really going to cost them? It could be put in terms of conditions the voters judge for themselves, such as "If the CalPERS rate of return is 4% instead of 7.5%, your household's share of the additional expense per year will be X", with a whole menu list of rates of return.

You would have to agree, Election, that this is a pertinent point in determining the true answer to the outsourcing question, correct? The problem is, that menu is going to list some pretty scary scenarios. Pro and con groups could argue for what the correct scenarios really should be.


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Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 11, 2018 at 8:04 pm

@Different View

You may care a lot, but it doesn't seem too many other people do.

Sure, I would like to know what my fellow citizens think about outsourcing, but not enough to get active about it.

The best way to ensure a debate was to run or find someone in the community to do so.


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Posted by Uncontested
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 12, 2018 at 7:47 am

I think this canceled election is a barometer of Atherton's political environment. Though there is a collection of passionate, engaged voters on these forums, that is not necessarily the case in the voting public -- few of whom keep up with these boards, much less participate.

A canceled election compromises the basic legitimacy of the democratic system. It challenges the legitimacy of the sitting council's policy decisions. It is the lowest possible level of voter participation.

It's a shame there's no competition for the Atherton council. An election provides an opportunity to educate the voters on important policy issues. How unfortunate a challenger did not see an opportunity to succeed.

A challenger stands a better chance when running in an elections with initiatives or referendums on the ballot about a local issue. There needs to be some sort of community controversy. Though there's much talk of Atherton new buildings here, that issue hasn't converted into a citizen led referendum on the buildings. A challenger who wants to frustrate the status-quo can't leverage the referendum and has to invest time and money to garner interest and develop the controversy.

Getting elected is not free and the incumbents have the advantage. This is even more true when the local election is held concurrent with the national election where propositions and national office candidates get more attention. An apathetic voter will choose the incumbent by default, further frustrating the challenger's ambition.

It all adds up to an unmotivated, disengaged, skeptical voter base at a time when Atherton clearly needs their trust, commitment, and financial participation. What a missed opportunity.


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Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 12, 2018 at 9:59 am

@Uncontested

I agree few Atherton residents keep up with these boards, but I disagree that we're politically disengaged municipally.

Atherton has many official civic committees, such as finance and planning, to independent ones, such as library and ADAPT. There are many volunteers in each.

A challenger stands the best chance when actively engaged in one of these committees for many years, not by posting on these forums.

I say to you if you want change, get involved. It can be an existing organization or a new one you create.

Why do people lament the lack of political change that they themselves could initiate? They always want someone else to do it or make excuses about wrong circumstances.

My alternative interpretation of why there are no council challengers: residents are largely happy with the current council members.

And the people who are unhappy are not unhappy enough to run. 5-10 years ago, residents were unhappy and we had many candidates.


7 people like this
Posted by Different View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 12, 2018 at 10:04 am

We'll see how happy Atherton's residents get if lots of these fiscal predictions come to pass. The parcel tax defeat should have been a big wake-up call that Atherton's residents, will not extremely politically engaged, don't want hard-earned monies wasted.


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Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 12, 2018 at 3:16 pm

That parcel tax vote was defeated with less than a majority. More Atherton residents were in favor than against.

Over two thirds have been voting for the parcel tax regularly for decades to fund the same things it alway funds.

If the projects didn't change, what did?
The town was in much better financial shape than it's ever been. It was producing significant surpluses and keeping spending under control. Voters felt the same projects could be funded without the parcel tax. And they would be right. Some capital projects just would just be delayed a year or more, but they would be funded eventually.


5 people like this
Posted by Different View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 12, 2018 at 4:24 pm

The parcel tax had a bare majority (52%) in an environment in which every member of the town council advocated for it, the Almanac endorsed it, and the town adopted the unprecedented position of removing "no on F" signs from dissident homeowners' lawns.

"If the projects didn't change, what did?" An organized opposition group educated residents about why the parcel tax was a bad idea.

This is not a result you should be citing to show the city council is in touch with what residents want.

The opposition group will continue to educate residents about why this council's fiscal plans are not in their best interests.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 12, 2018 at 4:38 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is a sad commentary that no one from the community stepped forward to challenge the incumbents.

Democracy thrives when there are competitive elections.


Like this comment
Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 12, 2018 at 10:08 pm

Yeah, the F opposition informed everyone the town was in great shape, which council members had been telling the public too. The need for the parcel tax was not critical as it was in past years. The parcel tax would have been better for fiscal security to keep some planned capital projects funded so that they could be done sooner.

Measure F supporters did a lot less campaigning than they did in previous years from what I could tell. The urgency wasn't there.

The fact that Atherton doesn't need a parcel tax anymore is a testament to what great fiscal shape the town is in. Probably a key reason why no one from the opposition group decided to run for council these last two elections.

If the "opposition" believes the council's fiscal plans are not in the residents' best interests, they would have gotten their message out more widely if one of them ran.


6 people like this
Posted by Different View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 12, 2018 at 11:03 pm

Interesting. The loss was actually a "win" since the parcel tax wasn't needed because the council members did such a great job. Hmmm.

Only problem is the same council members committed to not renewing the parcel tax if it wasn't needed the last time the parcel tax came up, yet tried to do it anyway.


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Posted by Fairview neighbor
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 13, 2018 at 12:31 pm

Only three filed? Three weeks ago Jeanne Jensen filed her papers? Did she withdraw? If so, why?


2 people like this
Posted by Mell
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 13, 2018 at 12:39 pm

If they really cared about the towns financial future they would outsource as many things as possible. Outsource the police and let the county absorb the pensions. Same goes for public works.


Like this comment
Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 13, 2018 at 5:49 pm

@Different View

The parcel tax was needed to keep currently planned town capital improvements and maintenance on track. It was not needed to maintain current operational levels. In previous parcel tax votes, operations would have been severely affected if there was a loss.

When the parcel tax ended, the council cut back on the pace of capital and maintenance improvements.

A "need" still exists. Maintenance and capital costs are less urgent, but need to be addressed some time. Just like owning a home, it can be better to perform proactive improvements and replacements rather than wait until something breaks.


4 people like this
Posted by Different View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 13, 2018 at 6:18 pm

"The parcel tax was needed to keep currently planned town capital improvements and maintenance on track."

One inference that can be made from its defeat is that the town's voters do not agree with the current state of planning capital improvements, such as the over-the-top town center. Improvements, and their extent, are subjective. That would tend to suggest Atherton's residents DO NOT want debt taken out for this town council's plans.


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Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 13, 2018 at 11:12 pm

If residents didn't agree with the civic center plans, they wouldn't have supported Measure A June last year with over 60% of the vote.

And parcel tax money can't be used to pay for the civic center. Measure A specifically allows non dedicated general funds. It kept in place the prohibition of using parcel tax funds.

The Measure F opposition never mentioned the civic center once in the ballot materials that went to every Atherton voter.

The council members are in much better tune with what residents want than you or me. I'm sure they have a good feel if residents are ok with debt or not.


4 people like this
Posted by Different View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 14, 2018 at 8:19 am

"If residents didn't agree with the civic center plans, they wouldn't have supported Measure A June last year with over 60% of the vote."

Residents' support of the civic center will vary and has varied based on the cost and who is going to pay for it.

"I'm sure they have a good feel if residents are ok with debt or not."

As others have pointed out, if they think their feel is so good they don't have to ask them via a vote (it's not and never is, for any people and any situation), a referendum is going to prevent them from moving forward.


Like this comment
Posted by Uncontested
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 14, 2018 at 10:03 am

Of course taxpayer support will vary based on cost. That is hardly surprising.

There were different visions for this project. One extreme was outsourcing the cops and having the remaining staff in trailers. The other is a showcase for green technologies. There is a middle ground, but that will likely cost more than anyone thought because of the competitive construction market. More money than the town has and they will need to borrow.

They are paying for the sins of past councils which did not put money away for the new buildings.

Bottom line, the controversy surrounding that seeking of middle-ground was not sufficient enough to bring out a challenger for the council seats. Perhaps it will at the next election, but we are married to these council members for another term.


Like this comment
Posted by Elections
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 14, 2018 at 12:02 pm

It's not just cost, but value. Atherton homes cost a lot, more than any in the local area or even in all of country.

Yet, we all bought here. We paid more because the value was commensurate with the high price.


5 people like this
Posted by Different view
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 14, 2018 at 12:06 pm

"We paid more because the value was commensurate with the high price."

Sure,. That's why our residents need to define what money they're willing to pay for their perceived value THROUGH A VOTE on the debt, not through council members who are emotionally invested in the project deciding for them.


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 14, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Having three Council members who will have not stood the test of an election since 2014 will weaken the Council's mandate as it attempts to represent the community on difficult issues like incurring debt.


15 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 14, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I note that Lewis and Wiest were appointed to the Council in 2016 because of the absence of any challengers.

As of Dec 2018 NONE of the current council members will be serving based on a vote of the citizens.


Like this comment
Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 14, 2018 at 5:52 pm

@DV

If you feel strongly about the debt issue, put a citizen's initiative on the ballot. You can lead the campaign. No one is stopping you.


3 people like this
Posted by Different View
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 15, 2018 at 10:33 am

I will definitely participate in that effort, and same to you, Election. If you feel strongly the unelected council members should decide that our residents should be encumbered with a lot of debt on their own, start your own referendum where the voters delegate that decision to the unelected council.


Like this comment
Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 15, 2018 at 4:07 pm

You will participate, but not lead. Ok, I get the hint.

I'm not against debt per se. It depends on the debt amount, what it finances, and expected net revenues to pay it off.

Almost all local government buildings require borrowing unless the government entity hit the Prop 13 lottery and has been grandfathered a large percentage of property tax revenue.

My key criterion is value.


6 people like this
Posted by Different view
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 15, 2018 at 10:55 pm

"It depends on the debt amount, what it finances, and expected net revenues to pay it off."

We agree that this is essential information that must be provided for any of us to make an informed decision. In particular, what the plan is to pay it off without raising taxes (or with raising taxes). Residents deserve to know. Where's the plan?

"My key criterion is value."

I respect your right to determine your own subjective price/value tradeoff on anything, this town center being one example. Where we apparently diverge is that I believe enough twists and turns have played out in this town center that it is very cloudy as to what residents are willing to do, especially since we need that plan I mentioned above. Take the vote and let the chips fall where they may, but ONLY AFTER THE DETAILED PLAN is provided. No sweeping anything under any rugs.

"Almost all local government buildings require borrowing unless…"

I'm not opposed to borrowing as an occasional cash flow management device, but am opposed to it as a way of life to live above one's means. The fact other communities take on debt they can't afford to pay back, pay their public servants a lot more than they can afford to wind up paying per CalPERS, etc., does not mean Atherton should do the same. There are plenty of well-managed public agencies not taking on debt also. For example, the fire district Atherton is in the midst of trying to draw into a brawl. Remember, Atherton already has huge debt due to unfunded public safety pension liabilities, debt that is project to grow dramatically, and become in the Almanac's words, "crushing", based on wildly optimistic investment rate of return projections at CalPERS.

What's the total proposed debt for this town center (existing and new)? How is it going to be paid off? How much of the debt is going to wind up having to fall on the shoulders of Atherton residents? Honestly, why would anyone expect a decision should be made without these disclosures to the residents, and without asking the residents if they are willing to shoulder this burden?


Like this comment
Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 16, 2018 at 10:53 am

New taxes require a vote. Debt does not. Atherton produces considerable revenue over operating expenses. That revenue can be used to pay off any debt. And that net revenue is rising every year. That's how civic center debt will be paid off.

Atherton has been able to drop its parcel tax and still is in excellent financial shape. Measure F opponents made this claim.

Borrowing to pay for capital improvements that can be paid back with net revenue is living within one's means. The average American does this when buying a house.

You may not be aware, but the fire district won the Prop 13 lottery. It does not need debt because it happened to have a large percentage of property revenue pie in the 1970s. Those percentages were frozen into law after Prop 13. As times change, locals may want to change the allocation to favor schools, municipalities, or other special districts. But they can't unless state law changes.

The definition of well managed is not how much debt an organization needs. It's what service levels does it provide with the money it's given. It is a measure of efficiency.

I think you are way too focused on the debt question. As long as the debt is manageable and the value gained is considerable, then I'm fine with with taking debt.

The answer to your questions should come out during the council discussions.


3 people like this
Posted by Different view
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 16, 2018 at 11:06 am

"As long as the debt is manageable and the value gained is considerable, then I'm fine with with taking debt."

"Mangeable" is subjective. "Value" and "considerable" are subjective. You may be fine with it. As I said, you're entitled to your view. Let's see what the rest of our residents think. Do you care about that?

You seem like you don't want that to happen, that this should all be done at the council level. That is wrong. The only reason people who support this civic center don't want to ask the residents about the debt is because they are afraid of what the answer will be.


Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Aug 16, 2018 at 11:09 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

You may be interested in knowing that the Menlo Park Fire Protection District carries about $12 million in debt for certificates of participation, better known as COP's, (and which do not require voter approval) issued in late 2009. The fire district's annual payment on this debt is close to $1 million.
See page 103 of this year's adopted fire district budget for more information here: Web Link .


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 16, 2018 at 2:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I think that the new Town Center, as designed for the last RFP, should be built but I would add a much needed and curiously omitted new communications tower.

After December the Atherton Council will consist solely of individuals who have been appointed to their position by only four people - the other Council members. I do not believe that, as such, they have a mandate from the voters to incur long term debt without voter approval.

Therefore, I think that the voters should be asked to approve a construction bond for this project.

However, because of severe shortage in the construction industry due to the massive developments and the significant loss of homes to fires it will be difficult to even get firms to bid on this project.


Like this comment
Posted by Election
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 16, 2018 at 2:16 pm

@Barbara

Thanks for the info. I didn't know that. I don't believe the fire district presented the COP authorization on a ballot for voter approval.

@DV

We had a vote with Measure A. No one promised no debt if Measure A passed. Debt was always a possibility. Construction costs were estimates and future tax revenue were projections.

If you feel another vote is needed, then put a measure on the ballot. You don't need my approval to proceed.


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

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