Editorial: Atherton parcel tax a political football | July 31, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - July 31, 2013

Editorial: Atherton parcel tax a political football

Every four years Atherton ties itself in knots when first discussing, and then voting on, whether to renew the $750 parcel tax, which is one way the city makes up for having almost no income from sales tax.

The town has no commercial zoning, so Atherton residents should have learned by now that some expenses, like an extremely expensive police force, could not be funded without the parcel tax. And truth be told, given the assessments of most Atherton homes in today's overheated real estate market, many residents consider the $750 a year a bargain.

So when the City Council met to discuss renewing the tax and putting it before voters this November, it was not considered a controversial item. The council had to like the $1.86 million that the tax would raise for police services and public works, and during a July 17 meeting, agreed to put the issue before voters in November, when a replacement for departing council member Jerry Carlson will be selected. But there was a catch: The parcel tax rates agreed to that night would hit the Menlo Circus Club with a 150 percent increase, while rates for all other properties would remain the same. There was no advance notice to the Circus Club that its annual tax bill could shoot up from $10,000 to $25,000.

After failing to muster support from fellow council members to impose a flat tax on every parcel, including smaller lots, member Jim Dobbie suggested an increase for the Circus Club. When the council was ready to vote, Bill Widmer moved to increase the club's tax, convincing Mayor Elizabeth Lewis and member Cary Wiest to support the increase. After Circus Club supporters and other residents cried foul after the meeting, Ms. Lewis called for reconsideration, so there will be another vote on the tax at an Aug. 7 study session.

Given that the council must act before Aug. 9 to get something on the November ballot, which takes away the opportunity to hold a public hearing on the proposed increase, we strongly urge the council to back off and approve ballot language that will renew the current tax assessments. It simply is not fair or good policy to impose a 150 percent tax increase for the Circus Club without discussion and without notice to the club, when no other properties are facing an increase.

Passage or defeat of the parcel tax also will have a bearing on whether the town can continue to support the police department, whose officers are negotiating a new contract this year. If the tax is defeated, it would severely crimp the town's budget and its ability to fund police officer compensation at the current level, let alone a pay increase.

Mayor Lewis and Mr. Wiest, who were actively endorsed by the police officers association in the last election, almost certainly will move to drop the tax increase on the Circus Club to avoid having club members work against its passage. The big question is whether three of the four council members can agree to drop the Circus Club assessment. If neither Mr. Widmer nor Mr. Dobbie changes his mind, the parcel tax will go on the ballot with a $15,000 increase for the Circus Club in place. If the club's members rebel and work to defeat the tax, Atherton could find itself missing $1.86 million over the next four years.


Posted by Hubris, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 31, 2013 at 5:26 am

It would appear that Bill Widmer and Jim Dobbie got Hubris.

Hubris means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Posted by Point of view, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 31, 2013 at 7:07 am

If you believe that Atherton cops are entitled to their current compensation scheme of the town making the employee pension contribution, in addition to the employer pension contribution, for them, you might think that.

Are there any other cities doing that for their cops?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 31, 2013 at 9:01 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" If the club's members rebel and work to defeat the tax,"

I am not a MMC member but I will vote NO on any parcel tax which is not applied in a reasonable and fair manner. Increasing one parcel's tax by 150% without notice and without the opportunity for public comment is neither reasonable or fair.

There are also fundamental questions about the parcel tax itself which the council failed to address that are quite troubling. The parcel tax has become an addiction for Atherton and far too little thought has been given to simply living within the very generous revenue stream of property taxes created by very expensive new construction and very expensive sales of existing homes.

Posted by hubris, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 1, 2013 at 5:45 am

Understanding the parcel tax.

Web Link

Posted by The Gambler, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 7, 2013 at 6:55 am

From the Council Packet:

"To hear the item tonight, the City Council must approve the motion to reconsider. If that motion passes, the parcel tax renewal item listed under Public Hearings will be heard this evening as if nothing had been approved at the July 17 meeting. If the issue is considered this evening and fails passage by a ¾ majority of the Council, the parcel tax renewal will not be on the November 2013 ballot. As an ordinance, in order to pass it requires a ¾ vote of the Council – a minimum of 3 aye votes."

Web Link

What are the scenarios?

a) No majority to reconsider. What they voted for last time stays in place, with at 150% increase to the Circus Club.

b) A majority to reconsider, but no majority on whether to pass a new parcel tax measure in any form.

With two Council members against the parcel tax, what are the odds that it will boil down to the second scenario?

Posted by hubris, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 7, 2013 at 9:25 am

The Town of Ross has a parcel tax that is a flat rate of $950 be it a parcel for a residence or other use. Ross is like Atherton in that they have no sales tax revenue. It would seem that this is the way Atherton should go to avoid future lawsuits over a split tax roll or schedule based on parcel size. Given the recent California Supreme Court decision relating to the Alameda School District Parcel tax it seems Atherton is asking for nothing but trouble proposing the present (as paased or ammended for MCC)version. Better to delay the Parcel Tax measure to get it right for a spring ballot measure.
Here is the ballot description used in the approved Ross Parcel Tax:
Web Link

Posted by You can say that again, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 7, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Hubris is so right. How dare Jim Dobbie or Bill Widmer not want Atherton taxpayers to pay more than they need to or should, in terms of a so-called parcel tax, so Atherton police officers can be overpaid? We need the parcel tax for that reason.

How dare Jim Dobbie or Bill Widmer think that a country club with hundreds of guests, staff, and visitors coming in and out every day, occupying 20 acres of land, pay about 20 times the parcel tax of a 1-acre home in Atherton. That's ridiculous!

Plus, most Circus Club members are strong supporters of the Atherton police department. They should pay less because of that, not more. Better to force the handful of disgruntled Atherton residents, the 1% who don't support the police department, pay for it.

Posted by The Process, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 8, 2013 at 4:59 am

THE MCC members should pass the Parcel Tax and elect someone to the council who will not vote to levy the full amount.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 8, 2013 at 5:56 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The council voted last night to return to the old parcel tax schedule.

Posted by grizzledoldtimer, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 8, 2013 at 10:45 am

Pick up a copy of today's PA daily post. The cover story is on alleged racial profiling by the APD. Yes, this is what your increased taxes are supporting. Does APD have any oversight?

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 8, 2013 at 10:55 am

The Post story is based on totally erroneous data; the complete data set shows no such discrimination.

Posted by You can say that again, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

My sense is that most supporters of the APD/APOA/parcel tax view the racial profiling as an effective tool to fight crime, and as a general plus of having an Atherton-operated police department.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 8, 2013 at 11:26 am

This was unusually poor reporting by the Post. They could have easily obtained the complete data set from Chief Flint b

Posted by Correlation, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 8, 2013 at 11:32 am

Although I agree with You Can Say That Again's comment, having read the article I would agree with Peter that it's possible this is a "correlation implying causality" argument which is not the case (though correlation doesn't mean no causality either). It makes sense that most drivers without licenses would not be Atherton residents and probably illegal immigrants. On the other hand, it does raise the question of why so many Hispanic drivers without licenses are being stopped in the first place (lack of license is only something that can be discerned after the stop), and though the article didn't get into this, it lends credence to the compiler's concern.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 8, 2013 at 11:44 am

The complete data set shows no profiling in the total stops and many tickets issued to Atherton residents.

Posted by Correlation, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 8, 2013 at 12:01 pm

If the complete data does not establish that the *underlying* reason the Hispanic drivers were stopped is not skewed by race (and the argument you seem to be advancing, the one Lt. Wade mentioned in the article, is not the same; there is a subtle but absolutely critically important difference...the overall numbers mask this), then I would strongly disagree with you. The "complete data set" may not provide enough information to make this distinction.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Correlation - look at the complete data set and quit speculating.

Posted by frightenedbyatherton, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 8, 2013 at 5:52 pm

The below comments were posted today on Valleywag. For those of you who continually defend the Atherton PD, you must be supportive of the below gestapo tactics. By continually supporting the APD you are condoning their continual illegal harassment. Some day some civil rights lawyer will file a class action against the city of Atherton and that will be worse than your cries over unfunded pensions.
"I drive an older Civic and my girlfriend drives a really beat up old Civic. We would get followed home down El Camino and Fair Oaks basically every day. To the point that the police learned that our Civics actually belonged in that Atherton block and then stopped following us after a few months. I had friends come over in expensive cars and hang out and not a single one was followed. I asked them specifically to keep an eye on if they were followed because the profiling was so blatant with me. The expensive cars were never followed.

when jogging in Atherton, I'd sometimes not make it home before dusk, and on multiple occasions I had a police car follow me, shining lights in my face to make sure I'm "someone" that belongs in Atherton.

I got pulled over in Atherton. I was driving a filthy 15 year old Toyota I'd bought for $800. The cop said he'd only pulled me over because "dirty cars are often stolen." I didn't get a ticket since I hadn't done anything wrong, but I really don't think he had reasonable suspicion for that stop. I'm not Hispanic, but he was basically profiling me for driving a poor person's car."

At this time the Atherton Police Department is no longer posting public data.

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