Year in review: Atherton looks to the skies and its civic center grounds in 2018


Atherton had to go back to the drawing table after bids for construction of a new civic center complex came in 40 percent higher than expected. Town officials plan to go out for new bids for the project next year.

The town also continued its fight against Surf Air, and its contentious relationship with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District continued.

Civic center

The Atherton City Council rejected bids for the new civic center in June after the lowest bid came in 40 percent higher than expected.

The town had estimated the construction cost for its library, administration, planning and police buildings at $40 million. The low bid from C. Overaa & Co. was nearly $56.4 million. The second bid, from Hensel Phelps, was $68.2 million.

As a result, the town redesigned the project to cut costs by $4.3 million. But the new estimate is now about $48 million to pay for the administrative, library, police and planning division buildings, with town officials acknowledging that the earlier estimate was overly optimistic.

As part of the project, construction workers demolished the library in November to make way for a new library building.

Surf Air

Surf Air, the commuter airline that has been the subject of noise complaints from Peninsula residents, resumed operations at the San Mateo County-owned airport in the fall, after a short hiatus -- but one that residents living under the flight path welcomed.

A startup airline that began using the San Carlos Airport in June 2013, Surf Air offered unlimited flights for a monthly fee and scheduled as many as 45 flights a day in and out of San Carlos.

The airline company suspended flights from San Carlos from the end of June until October. Flights resumed on a limited schedule, but neighbors in Surf Air's flight path continue to be frustrated with the airplane noise.

In 2017, the county hired attorneys to consult on aviation matters relevant to Surf Air's operation out of San Carlos. Ultimately, the attorneys filed a legal document with the federal Department of Transportation, claiming Surf Air is deceptively using another company as a front, and asking for an investigation.

In October, The Almanac broke the news that Surf Air owed the county about $328,372 in business property taxes.

Fire district

Atherton officials clashed with staff and the board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District over what some call an imbalance between what the town's taxpayers contribute to the district and the cost of the district's service to Atherton.

A study commissioned by the town found that the district, which provides services to Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and nearby unincorporated areas of the county, spends less than half its Atherton-generated property tax revenue providing fire services in the town.

A follow-up report from Matrix Consulting said that the town's options to address the issue include separating from the fire district and either providing its own fire service or contracting with another agency, such as the Redwood City Fire Department; or asking the fire district to reallocate some of the revenues back to the town. In September, the fire district board voted to reallocate its property tax revenues only after approval by district voters.

New mayor, vice mayor

Only incumbents Rick DeGolia, Bill Widmer and Mike Lempres filed for the three open City Council seats this year, leading the council to decide not to hold an election.

This is the second consecutive election in which only the incumbents filed. In 2016, incumbents Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest were the only two candidates, and the council also voted to cancel the election and appoint the incumbents to new terms.

In December, council members selected Widmer as the town's new mayor and DeGolia as vice mayor, respectively.

Police sleeping quarters

The town continued to search for quarters for its police officers and dispatchers to sleep between or after 12-hour shifts.

City Manager George Rodericks has looked into options for providing temporary sleeping quarters for police employees.

Many live far from Atherton, and speakers at a City Council meeting said that as many as seven officers and dispatchers were sleeping in two shifts in a house they had been allowed to use in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

But that arrangement, which had been worked out with the Atherton Police Officers Association in 2014, ended in April after new Police Chief Steve McCulley couldn't find affordable living quarters near Atherton for himself and his wife, and they moved into the house.

A shocking loss

The year is ending on a sad note for Atherton residents and town staff who knew former town arborist Kathy Hughes Anderson. The 62-year-old Menlo Park resident was found stabbed to death in her Valparaiso Avenue home on Dec. 12; a suspect has been arrested.

Hughes Anderson worked for the town from 1989 until her 2011 retirement, but she remained in touch and involved. She was well-known and well-liked -- her friend, Valerie Gardner of Atherton, commented after Hughes Anderson's death: "There was a very bottomless amount of love in her."


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4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 30, 2018 at 12:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"..over what some call an imbalance between what the town's taxpayers contribute to the district and the cost of the district's service to Atherton."

Atherton residents pay far more taxes to the Federal government than they pay to the Town.

Atherton residents pay far more taxes to the State government than they pay to the Town.

Atherton residents pay far more taxes to the County government than they pay to the Town.

Atherton residents pay far more taxes to the school districts than they pay to the Town.

Why has the Town Council has never asked any of those entities how much they spend providing services to the residents of the Town?

For example Atherton property owners pay 2.2 times as much property taxes to the County than they do to the Town - what is the cost of the County services that are provided to those Atherton property owners? Has the Town even bothered to ask the County how much they spend on services within the boundaries of the Town?

And 25% of the County’s expenditures are for “public protection”.

Given that Atherton has its own excellent Police Department how much of that County “public protection” is provided to Atherton?

Why doesn’t the Town just petition LAFCO to detach the Town from the County so it can become the Town and County of Atherton?

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2018 at 12:22 am

The taxes Atherton pays the county are less about services for Atherton and more about having to deal with Atherton.

Like this comment
Posted by Funny
a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2018 at 1:28 am

Interesting juxtaposition of issues in one article. Atherton says the fire district is costing too much money. At the same time, they want to give free housing in addition to high salaries, benefits and pensions to the police department. What is the actual guiding principle here?

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

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