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just say no to the Atherton Parcel Tax

Original post made by jim carney, Atherton: West of Alameda, on Sep 5, 2009

I was at the regular city council meeting last month.

I observed Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis say she would not approve the financials for last year.

If Lewis cannot trust the town with how it spends its money, I see no reason to burden myself with an additional tax.

Comments (16)

Posted by Fiscally Responsible
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 5, 2009 at 10:11 pm

It's utterly irresponsible for the Town Council and Town Manager to ask residents for additional taxes when they're spending millions on lawsuits. Unless residents send a strong message that Atherton needs to be more fiscally responsible, this behavior will just persist and get worse (and in fact, despite the council saying "they heard us" and will reign in the litigation, the fees have skyrocketed since then). The way to send this message is to deny the parcel tax.

Posted by Dr. NO
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2009 at 12:31 am

But if Charles can't get hold of the library money --both he and Elizabeth are going to need the parcel tax dollars to continue to pay out their construction buddy's endless law suits. Actually --their both on thin enough ice that maybe we should just all pitch in and try to think of the Parcel Tax as the "Save Charles" Legal defence fund--Atherton's number one priority.

Posted by dwight dively
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 6, 2009 at 9:36 pm

If the parcel tax fails, it will mean stormy skies on the horizon for Atherton.

Here is the silver lining.

The town will have to look seriously at outsourcing its police department and the Town will most certainly feel the need to spend less on lawyers.

Posted by merlin zimmerly
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 6, 2009 at 11:57 pm

It has occurred to me that the events of the past 24 months shold have given the City Council plenty of reason to question its own stewardship of the Town.

The fact that the City Council authorized the placement of the parcel tax on the ballot and the expenditure of public funds on a thinly disguised PR campaign is an indication that the introspection was very brief and superficial if it happened at all.

So the question of if not now, when will the Council take a long look in the mirror has an easy answer, probably not ever.

Posted by meredith webster
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 7, 2009 at 10:32 am

I have lived in this town for 40 years.

Never have I observed behavior on the council that was so divisive, dysfunctional, irresoponsivle and arrogant.

To vote yes on the parcel tax woud be reward bad behavior.

Instead I say vote yes on a recall of all five members of the city council.

Posted by Tom Croft
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 7, 2009 at 6:25 pm

As a 45 year Atherton home owner, I have found police service to be poor to ineffective. The parcel tax seems mainly to support this numerous police force. I always vote no on the parcel tax but scary words from Atherton before each vote make "yes" win. Soon our City Council worries about how to spend all that money. Vote NO, NO, NO

Posted by Ned Hanlan
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 7, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I couldn't help but respond to some of the earlier comments. While it appears this forum is mostly for venting, I thought I'd try a few more facts and a little less hyperbole.

It is true that Council Member Lewis declined to approve the financials at the last Council meeting - however it was for a relatively simple reason. As she stated at the meeting, she was not a Council Member for a good portion of the year (she took her position in 12/08 and the financials covered 07/07 to 06/08) and felt uncomfortable weighing in on financials prior to her membership on the council.

As to spending "millions on lawsuits" I'm not sure where "Fiscally Responsible" is getting his/her information. This is certainly not borne out by the town's financial statements. It also does not appear that litigation costs are "skyrocketing" at least if one is relying on the financial statements for support.

As to the parcel tax, of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What must be kept in mind, however, is that the parcel tax raised approximately $1.7 million for the town's operations - if the parcel tax goes, so must $1.7 million of expenditures. Your choices are basically drastic cuts to either the police or public works or a combination of the two, there is just not enough costs in the general government or building department line items to dent the revenue hit. Contracting out the police department could save money only with service level reductions and according to the latest survey of Athertonians, an Atherton police department was almost universally supported.

Of course, if you truly wish to make a difference (rather than just rant), then run for Council. While I may not agree with everything every Council member believes or does, I respect them for putting themselves on the line. Why not channel the energy you spend venting into something constructive and positive for the town.

Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 7, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Ned, I did check the financial statements. Atherton's legal budget has continued to rise. The most recent request was for $500,000 for the next year (and if history is any guide, that will certainly be exceded mid-year). In Foster City, more than four times the size of Atherton, the legal budget is $200,000. This is through a quick internet search. I would expect other similar statistics from other cities on the peninsula. If you're saying Atherton's legal budget/situation is "normal", that is certainly a minority view.

I also disagree that eliminating the police force would entail service level reductions. A lot of the police budget is spent on overhead that is a fixed cost whether the department is ten officers or one hundred (e.g., dispatch, a chief, a lieutenant, etc.). If we went to the sheriff, we could actually get more officers on patrol for less money. They might not pick up people's mail when they're on vacation, but the last time I checked, the post office will do a mail hold.

Posted by scott winfeld
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 7, 2009 at 7:45 pm

On eight consecutive occasions I have voted yes on the Parcelt Tax. However, the recent scandals in the police department have made me reconsider.

I still believe that voting yes or no on the parcel tax is simple business decision. However, I no longer believe the $750 extra per household is a good deal.

I have friends who live in Woodside and Portola Valley. They speak very highly of the services provided by the Sheriff, including how promptly they respond to calls for service.

These two communities spend a fraction of what Atherton does.

Posted by ted zaner
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 7, 2009 at 9:32 pm

My understanding is that Elizabeth Lewis didn\'t abstain from approving the audited financials, she voted no and in doing so had some harsh words for the Finance Department.

To criticize the Town\'s handling of its finances and then turn around and support the parcel tax seems a bit irrational.

Perhaps Ms. Lewis can account for her words and deeds at next month\'s council meeting.

Posted by Ned Hanlan
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 7, 2009 at 10:08 pm

Dear Fiscally Responsible. I did not say that Atherton's legal budget is "normal", I was responding to your statement that the town was spending "millions on lawsuits", which I do not think is correct.

On the parcel tax/police issue: If you want to contract out the police function to the sheriff, then I think that is what you should be agitating for, not necessarily the defeat of the parcel tax. If you use the parcel tax as a proxy for the police you may end very unhappy - with the town police staying and significant reductions everywhere else. I believe the town took a survey a couple of years ago and got significant if not overwhelming support to keep the town police. This sentiment could have changed but if it has not, defeat of the parcel tax will not necessarily cause the sheriff to come to town. It may be that the town is too small to be able to swing its own police force - goodness knows it is having trouble housing them properly. I think the pros and cons of the town police is a significant issue that the town should be discussing but I see it as separate from (although not unrelated to) the parcel tax. In addition, the decision to contract out, is, I suspect, irreversible - once you do so it would be almost impossible to rebuild your own force and as a result, good or bad, you are likely tied to the sheriff for the duration. That includes to a great extent the current and future costs of providing such services.

Posted by Fiscally Responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 7, 2009 at 11:53 pm


The cumulative spending on all the lawsuits has been in the millions. You can check the financial statements. I'm counting the urn lawsuit, the lawsuit to prevent the people from moving into their house on the hill after the building department approved their plans, the John Johns lawsuit, the lawsuits over the teams playing on the fields, and now the Pilar Buckley lawsuit, etc.

The only way the police department can continue to exist (without drawing down the reserve funds, which will run out in a year or two if that happens) is with the parcel tax. If opposing it is tantamount to agitating for the disbanding of the police department, then it is also true that approving it is tantamount for upholding the existence of the police department. Ok?

The survey from a few years ago simply asked residents if they were satisfied with the Atherton police department. The department provides good service, and most residents are unaware of the shenanigans and lawsuits involving the police. Had a different question been asked, such as: "Here is the cost of providing the police department each year. You are being taxed at least $750 per year for this. If we moved to the sheriff's department, the cost savings would be ____. We would have ____ fewer/more officers on patrol [the answer is clearly more for less money since there's no overhead involved]. However, less "special services" such as ... would be provided. Given these facts, should we continue having an independent police department, or outsource to the sheriff?", perhaps the result would be something that could be heralded as a referendum to continue with an independent police department (or not).

Posted by niel tanaguchi
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 8, 2009 at 9:14 pm

I think the title of this post should be just say no to a bloated police department.

I have grown weary of hearing how our men in women in blue put their lives on the line to protect and serve us. The truth of the matter is that there are many more jobs far more hazardous.

In fact grocery store clerks working the midnight shift have a mortality rate that is orders of magnitude higher than those so called heroes in law enforcement. However, you don't see your 7-11 cashier taking home a 90% pension after thirty years.

To heck with going with the sheriff, I say privatize our police force.

Posted by unintended consequences
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm

In recent years, the bulk of parcel tax revenues have gone toward road repair, drainage and other infrastructure projects.

I'd think there's a pretty good possibility of the police department suffering some cuts, but not being eliminated, and the infrastructure of the town taking a massive hit instead.

Posted by Kelly G
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 9, 2009 at 4:51 pm

What inrastructure?? Do you mean the fancy new police headquarters we wouldn't need anymore without them here??
Remember- according to Public Works-- the roads get worn out by the construction trucks more than anything else which is supposed to be what the "Road Impact Fee" was about--a users fee to the builders making money here.
When you think about it --with no police station taking up space anymore- there just might be room to fit the trailer depts back into Ashfield Admin. Maybe our little old brick fixer upper makes more and more CENTS right now.

Posted by richard buckley
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 11, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Alan Carlson used to say there was a perception amongst some that Atherton was a parcel tax junkie.

It appears as though perception has become a reality, no matter what the public relations consultant hired by the Town would have you believe.

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