Rising costs strain Palo Alto’s infrastructure goals

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / November 28, 2017

City Council moves ahead with new fire station and bike bridge, despite major questions about latest cost estimates

Palo Alto’s ambitious plan to fix up the city’s aged infrastructure and build a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 is being strained by a sizzling construction market, which is adding millions of dollars to the price of each project and forcing local officials to lower their expectations.

Despite the obstacle, two priority projects on the city’s infrastructure list moved forward Monday night, when the council voted to approve the construction contract to rebuild the 1948 fire station near Rinconada Park and to approve the environmental analysis for the new bike bridge at Adobe Creek.

In each case, council members voiced significant reservations about the cost increases. The budget for the fire station has gone up from $6.7 million, the amount in the city’s 2014 Infrastructure Plan, to about $8.6 million (or $9.5 million, if you factor in the cost of staff salary and benefits).

‘Behind the Headlines’: Palo Alto’s pension problem

Palo Alto Weekly – by Palo Alto Weekly staff / October 13, 2017

Transcript of City Councilman Eric Filseth’s conversation with Weekly journalists

Ever wonder what the real deal is with Palo Alto’s unfunded pension and retiree medical liabilities (from $550 million to maybe even $1 billion)? How is the city going to pay for it?

This interview with City Council Finance Committee Chair Eric Filseth breaks down the problem in a refreshingly clear way. Hear his conversation with Palo Alto Weekly Editor Jocelyn Dong and city hall reporter Gennady Sheyner in this “Behind the Headlines” podcast, or click on the headline to read the transcription.

Fire Department to cut positions as it deals with falling revenue

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / October 9, 2017

With reimbursement from Stanford decreasing, Palo Alto seeks leaner service model

The Palo Alto Fire Department plans to eliminate 11 positions — roughly 10 percent of its workforce — to deal with falling revenues from its contract with Stanford University.

The staffing reduction, which the City Council is set to approve on Oct. 16, would eliminate seven firefighter positions and four apparatus-operator positions. Fire Chief Eric Nickel said the change is expected to save about $1.5 million annually, while maintaining service levels that will allow the department to meet its performance standards.

Police offer signing bonuses of up to $25,000 to attract new officers

Palo Alto Daily Post – by Allison Levitsky / September 13, 2017

Palo Alto police are 12 officers short of the 92 they’re budgeted for, so the department is offering up to $25,000 bonuses for new hires, police said yesterday.

It’s the first time the department has offered hiring bonuses in almost a decade, Lt. James Reifschneider told the Post. The department has had between eight and 12 vacancies for most of the last year.

New budget signals city’s shift on transportation

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner / June 27, 2017

City Council supports sharp hikes to parking rates, more investment in car-less alternatives

Palo Alto fired a salvo Tuesday night in its war against traffic congestion when it approved a budget that dramatically increases the cost of parking in downtown and around California Avenue and invests nearly $500,000 in a new nonprofit charged with shifting drivers to other modes of transportation.

A City’s Moral Impetus

Palo Alto Matters – Guest Commentary by Greer Stone / June 25, 2017

Santa Clara County Human Relations Commissioner, Chairman of the Santa Clara County Justice Review Committee, and former Chair of Palo Alto’s Human Relations Commission

In 2003 the world was a different place. A gallon of gas cost $1.79, a dozen eggs would run you $1.24, and the average price of a home in Palo Alto cost $1,179,000. The world had never heard of Barack Obama, and Donald Trump had not even begun his reality show, let alone his career in politics. Yes, much has changed, but unfortunately, the funding provided by the City of Palo Alto to help the most vulnerable members of our community has not.

City Budget – a view of the forest through the trees

Palo Alto Matters – June 25, 2017

City Council will review and approve Palo Alto’s fiscal year 2018 Budget on June 27, before adjourning for a six week summer recess.

Most City decisions involve trade-offs that affect future opportunities, but in deliberating over specific issues throughout the year, it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees. The city Budget shines light on the intersection of those decisions and their cumulative effect as well as the overarching liabilities that constrain them.

This special Budget edition of Palo Alto Matters draws your attention to big picture questions about where we’re headed, explains the bottom line numbers and points to some specific issues of concern in the alignment of values and strategies.

Is PAUSD the City’s Single Top Revenue Source?

Palo Alto Matters – Guest Commentary by Eric Filseth / June 11, 2017

Palo Alto City Council Member, Finance Committee Chair

Outlandish as it sounds, there’s actually a line of thinking for this.

Sales taxes are many cities’ largest revenue source, and they’re a major contributor in Palo Alto as well: normally about 15% of our General Fund, with the Stanford Shopping Center usually being our largest single contributor, last year about $5.5 million.

But in Palo Alto, our lead revenue source is actually property taxes, at about 20% of our General Fund. Most of our property tax revenue – about 75%, or $30 million for FY2018 – is residential. This is partly because our commercial base stays low (basically loopholes in Prop 13), but mostly because Palo Alto residential property values are high; and residential property values are influenced by school districts.

Palo Alto backs away from business tax

Palo Alto Weekly – by Gennady Sheyner/ May 9, 2017

City Council agrees to revisit proposal in the fall

From expanded shuttles and transit subsidies to new garages and improved grade crossings at the rail tracks, Palo Alto has no shortage of projects on its transportation wish list.

But on Monday night, the City Council abruptly backed away from one proposal that would have paid for some of these projects: a business license tax that the council has been contemplating for well over a year.