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Atherton: NO on Parcel Tax

Original post made by Fiscally responsible, Atherton: West Atherton, on Oct 1, 2009

It's time for residents of Atherton to have a serious discussion about the upcoming parcel tax.

Let me say in advance that I hope the discussion stays limited to the parcel tax and is high brow to avoid deletion of this very important issue.

In my view, residents of Atherton should send a clear message to the city council by voting NO on the parcel tax because they do not spend our money responsibly.

1. THE CITY COUNCIL IS ARROGANT, AND HAS WASTED MILLIONS OF OUR MONEY MAINLY FIGHTING WITH US. That's right. One lawsuit after another has involved spending a cumulative total in the millions for silly issues such as residents moving an urn from one home to another, trying to crush the former finance director (let's not turn this post into a debate about that; suffice it to say, the former chair of the finance committee, Dr. Sam Goodman, stated he felt the Johns firing was a politically motivated witch hunt), not letting residents move into a new home because at the last minute, the building department decided that permits that had long since been issued were a mistake, and others.

To some residents, it's all a joke. Admittedly, some of these lawsuits are so ridiculous that they degenerate into humor. However, if you happened to be the resident being sued over an urn, or prevented from moving into your home, you would feel very aggrieved. Remember, the first mayor of a city, Pericles, said: "if you don't take an interest in politics, politics will take an interest in you."

By voting NO on the parcel tax, you send a message to the Council that residents must be treated respectfully, and perhaps even more importantly, residents' money must be treated respectfully.

2. THE CITY COUNCIL HAS NOT TOLD RESIDENTS THE TRUTH ABOUT THE COST OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT. $750 per household is said to cover this expense, in the interest of "safety" and "keeping home values high".

Vague references to a poorly designed survey from a few years ago, where such survey did not actually analyze the pros, cons and costs, are used to ignore dealing with some very real issues:

a) Existing budget constraints have whittled down the police department so far, that we would have more officers on the street FOR LESS MONEY by contracting with Menlo Park or the Sheriff. Why? It's simple. The overhead for maintaining those departments (management, dispatch, systems, etc.) already exists, so the incremental cost for adding officers for Atherton gets distilled into exactly what we need: officers on patrol.

b) The scare tactics about "safety" and "keeping home values high" are simply excuses to maintain the historical police department. We very successfully contract out for fire service.

c) The costs RESIDENTS AREN'T BEING TOLD ABOUT involve unfunded pension liability commitments to these police officers for their 90% pensions after working for 30 years. If the county pension pool takes a hit in the stock market and cannot cover the 90% pension for a given year, WE MUST STEP IN AS TAXPAYERS AND FUND THE DIFFERENCE, YEAR AFTER YEAR. The projections already exist for what this will cost residents, and it's a lot more than $750 per household per year, but this is not being disclosed in the propaganda for the parcel tax but really MUST BE as the fiscally responsible solution is to cut off the bleeding now by outsourcing so these future liabilities are frozen instead of growing by leaps and bounds.

The only way this outsourcing will take place is to deny the parcel tax. The council members are too friendly with the chief, and the officers giving them special services such as personal mail delivery, to deal with this issue in terms of just the basic financial and other facts instead of leading with personal relationships.

IN CONCLUSION, I believe it will take a crisis to get California's budget and government "fixed" to stop the bleeding in our state wide system, and this crisis will happen sooner or later. The state politicians have done a great job of applying band-aids in the interim to make it seem like everything is really still okay. Atherton is doing the same thing although admittedly on a much smaller scale. Deny the parcel tax to force the city council to operate in a fiscally responsible manner. It will do wonders.

Comments (16)

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Posted by Bob M.
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm

This guy ranks very high on common sense.

Like this comment
Posted by Quid Pro
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 1, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Dear Fiscal thankyou for your well stated remarks, especially the rare acknowledgement about hanging the finance director out to dry. I must say that I was almost impressed when the town made that expensive but unfortunantely only half hearted effort to enforce the building code for the fist time in over a decade. [Portion removed] I'm frustrated with the same few developers who continue to try to litigate the town into submission because of the precedence set by the council of caving in every time. It's a waste of everyones time and everyones money for the council to Pretend to take a stand on anything an then equivocate.
I have always loved our Police Dept--but over the last few years I have become so regularly disappointed, and in some cases shocked, that I am now actually alittle afraid of them.
I say send a message to the council by denying the parcel tax --but for me the message is to stand up to this litigation from the developers or they will never stop bleeding the town dry--why would they? It works every time.

Like this comment
Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 2, 2009 at 9:17 am

That post by Edgar seems truly deserving of deletion. I wrote only the text of this article I do live in Atherton. If the Almanac contacts me, I'll prove it. I'm assuming the above post is all part of the ongoing tactics of the Atherton government to claim there's only one person dissenting, and his name is John Johns (and doesn't even live here). Not true.

Like this comment
Posted by
editor of The Almanac
on Oct 2, 2009 at 9:39 am

I deleted the post. Discuss the topic. Don't go after other posters.

Like this comment
Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 2, 2009 at 10:00 am

Thank you. Let's get back to the following actual points:

1. There is actually substantial linkage between the two issues (1. spending money irresponsibly, particularly on lawsuits, and 2. the police department costs spiraling out of control). To wit, there are several current lawsuits relating to the police department (Pilar Buckley, a former cop suing the department, and the Johns lawsuit can be deemed to be highly related to the police).

2. Aside from ignoring the pension costs in the "it's only $750 year" argument for the police (and the Almanac has a good article on that general issue in San Mateo County elsewhere ont he site), let's realize that if we outsourced the police, and saved the $750/year, and saved the very expensive unfunded pension liabilities that will involve costs much higher than $750/year per resident (how about actually disclosing the projections, Mr. Gruber?), Atherton wouldn't need a brand-new expensive building if the police were outsourced. That would save additional millions.

3. Everyone needs to realize that the Atherton council and city manager know just getting the $750/year is pushing their luck right now, but it isn't enough. The plan? Raise fees on everything for the first time I can remember instead of just saying "we need $850/year now" (or something like that). This ill-advised plan to pass more costs on to residents was put on temporary hold at the last council meeting after a lawsuit was threatened. The Almanac really should report on that particular issue of increased fees and lawsuits over them.

DISCLOSURE, FULL DISCLOSURE of all the costs, present and future, for what Atherton is trying to do, is needed. FULL DISCLOSURE of the cops' pensions and what it will cost us instead of just mantras of "only $750/year" and "97% satisfaction surveys". I encourage the Almanac to report on this disclosure issue as the press is the only way it will actually get in the light of day.

Like this comment
Posted by Forrest
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 2, 2009 at 10:29 am

Actually, it was the urn owners who sued the town, not the other way around.

Like this comment
Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 2, 2009 at 10:33 am

Just read this:

Web Link

Article starts with: "Burlingame, Millbrae and San Mateo are part of a group of central San Mateo County cities that are informally discussing the merger of their police departments in order to save money and hopefully keep the same number of officers on the street, officials said Thursday."

Like this comment
Posted by S ... T
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2009 at 10:34 am

Just how much has the PD gotten from the parcel tax over the years?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 2, 2009 at 11:50 pm

If you really want to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local government then get involved. Attend Council and Fire Board meetings, join the Atherton Civic Interest League, serve on a Grand Jury, run for office. But don't sit on the sidelines and simply complain or lobby to defeat a parcel tax which is critical to the continued operation of the Town government. In a democracy we get exactly the kind of government that we deserve.

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 4, 2009 at 10:32 pm

As one who served the Audit Committee I disagree with the notion put forth by Peter Carpenter that the parcel tax is critical to Atherton Town Government.

Mr. Carpenter, it appears, has bought into the kind of fear mongering that has run rampant for years.

In my view the loss of the Parcel Tax would be a healthy wake up call for the Town.

I also disagree with the suggestion that making posts such as that by Fiscally Responsible is unworthy of praise.

I assert that the reverse is true. Fiscally Responsible has written posts that are well reasoned and thoroughly researched.

For that reason I urge Mr. Carpenter to do his own homework, then formulate an informed opinion, instead of parroting the party line.

Like this comment
Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 4, 2009 at 11:20 pm

I don't want praise. On the other hand, the lack of any coherent rebuttal to my points speaks volumes. Rather than anyone from the Atherton government saying something is inaccurate about my analysis (e.g., stating that there is no unfunded pension liability, $750/year is the true long-term cost of maintaining the police department, etc.), first I am attacked for not being a resident (which was totally untrue), and now am told that if I want to express a divergent view, I should try to join the city council. Well, there are 7000 residents and each of us is entitled to an opinion without being one of the five members of the council (akin to "love it our leave it" slogans).

Again, is anyone prepared to say something is not true about the analysis of the parcel tax and unfunded pension liabilities? As Cicero said, if you have nothing coherent to reply, attack the messenger…

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 5, 2009 at 7:30 am

Let me be clearer on my challenge: What have Fiscally Responsible and Common Sense done to actually help solve the problems which they feel the Town has? How many Council meetings have they attended? How often have they spoken at Council meetings? Have they run for Council? Have they voted for Council members in past elections?

as I said - In a democracy we get exactly the kind of government that we deserve. Writing comments in the Town Forum is not a particularly effective way to achieve change.

Like this comment
Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 5, 2009 at 10:01 am

You may be correct in that writing comments on this forum is not as effective as running for a seat on the council, but it's certainly better than doing nothing. Over the weekend I received my Athertonian, and this issue is nothing more than a glossy advertisement for the parcel tax. The Town of Atherton should be accurately posting both points of view so residents can make informed decisions. As of now, it's merely propaganda.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 5, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Peter ii's clear that after this next year as ACIL president you will be running for Town Council. This will great for the town if #1 you can unseat Charles Marsala forever in the process--and #2 you promise NOT to turn out to have the same tragic flaws as Allen Carlson who like yourself was bold, extremely bright, civic minded, and yet so used to feeling like the smartest guy in the room that hubris alone, ruined for all of us, all of his potential leadership skills.
Please don't imagine or declare that posters on this forum have not had enough civic involvement to participate--In our town -ANY candid disscusion is too rare already- please don't discourage either heated discourse or anonymity--the town needs some way to purge and heel. I look forward to seeing your own regular attendence at council meetings--I don't recall seeing you at more that just a few in the last several years although I don't often stay all the way through myself anymore--I am most of all really glad that you care enough to comment.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 6, 2009 at 2:20 am

Anon states "Peter ii's clear that after this next year as ACIL president you will be running for Town Council."

Let me be clear, I will NEVER again run for public office. After more than 20 years of public service, including over 8 years of elected service, I have done my share. My tenure as President of ACIL will be spent trying to raise the level of citizen participation and civil dialogue in the affairs of our community.

Like this comment
Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

More evidence that Peninsula municipalities (other than Atherton) continue to recognize the realities of running police departments in the era of 90% pensions. Why can't Atherton? Is it because our finances are so much better than theirs? Hardly!

Web Link

BURLINGAME — Police Chief Jack Van Etten announced Monday he will retire in December after serving 5½ years as the city's ninth police chief.

As it turns out, he may be the last.

Van Etten, 57, said he will step down after serving 36 years with the department, starting as an officer and rising through the ranks before being sworn in as chief in May 2004. He said he wants to spend more time with his family and may work part-time as a private investigator.

City Manager Jim Nantell said the city will not launch a search to replace him until officials determine whether the city's Police Department will merge with departments from nearby cities to save money. City leaders are discussing whether to create a three-city police department with Millbrae and San Mateo or form a two-city consolidation with Hillsborough.

Nantell said he hopes the City Council will hire a consultant within the next few months to research the mergers, specifically to determine the costs and service levels of any potential consolidation. The cities involved would then recruit together for a shared chief. If the merger idea collapses, Burlingame officials would launch a search to simply replace Van Etten, Nantell said.

For his part, Van Etten said the issue of joint police operations needs to be investigated. He remembers forecasting as a college student in the early 1970s that various San Mateo County police departments would merge before the end of his career

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