June 11, 2017 Newsletter


Big league politics undermine community solutions

On a national and even global scale, enmities are fueled around the clock by extreme partisan politics, social media bullying and “fake news.” We’re all up in arms about it.  But even as we rally to resist, those same tools of division are intensifying conflict and blocking compromise here at home. Distorted battle lines, name-calling and oversimplification of complex challenges are demonizing local interests, dividing our community and impeding balanced and sustainable solutions.

Public deliberation of hard questions by our City Council is replaced with avoidance, partisan positioning, or empty gestures. Even already brokered compromises are discarded in political power plays. More broadly, with the local rise of the YIMBY (or “Yes in My Backyard”) Movement and their false choice of “yes” or “no,” progressive, smart, good-hearted people are lumped together as objectionable, uncaring, selfish, even evil. Facebook, Twitter and on-line forums team with antagonism, alienating activists, volunteers and neighbors of all stripes who might otherwise be allies in confronting many of Palo Alto’s challenges….

Read on…

Is PAUSD the City’s single top revenue source?

Guest Commentary by Eric Filseth – Palo Alto City Council Member


FY2018 budget

Source:  FY2018 Proposed Operating Budget, May 2017 (General Fund)

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 percent of our General Fund. Most of our property tax revenue – about 75 percent, 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….

Read on…

Get Up To Speed

Comprehensive Plan review wraps up as Council turns attention to specifics

Critical rail corridor issues, code enforcement, sustainability, and the future of parks and recreation line up for City Council’s scrutiny and attention. As Council moves beyond the contentious land use debates of the Comprehensive Plan Update, the study and planning around these important issues offer an opportunity to build public confidence in the City’s dedication to managing growth and its impacts.

Meanwhile, regional transportation and transportation management efforts face new challenges and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wraps up its review of proposals to reduce airplane noise. Residents air objections to Castilleja’s school expansion and two new Marriott hotels in south Palo Alto, and the Planning and Transportation Commission will offer feedback on a controversial high density housing project proposed for the parking lot at Page Mill and El Camino.

Comprehensive Plan Update enters final stages. Will the city evaluate its impact on school enrollment?


crowded classroomAs City Council wraps up its review of the Comprehensive Plan Update on June 12, it will consider the governance and Implementation chapters of the Plan and vote to refer the entire document to the Planning and Transportation Commission for a 90 day review before Council adoption.

A key question still on the table for June 12, is whether the Plan will direct the city to assess school enrollment impacts likely to result from City action. A longstanding policy and program to that effect was deleted from the comprehensive Plan Update. Councilmembers Fine and Wolbach opposed evaluating school impacts in land use planning for fear it would block development.

Trying to strike a balance between competing views on council, staff has clarified that under State law, school impacts cannot be a basis for blocking developments, but also watered down the original language in a proposed substitute (see staff report, page 7).

The substitute calls for coordination with PAUSD on land use/school issues, but excludes any reference to assessment, evaluation or analysis, begging the question of how they can effectively coordinate in the absence of underlying analysis.

Transportation moves into the spotlight with new focus on rail corridors; consideration of toll-lanes on 101; and regional enforcement of required transportation demand management.


caltrainThe Caltrain Electrification Project is back on track, but Caltrain faces new funding challenges in the face of a reduced annual budget commitment from the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). Meanwhile, Palo Alto held a well-attended community workshop to get the public up to speed on local rail corridor concerns (see materials here). With gate-closed times at rail crossing expected to triple by 2025, traffic impacts will likely be severe, making grade separation at key crossing a high priority.

On the traffic front, transit officials are considering widening Highway 101 and adding toll-lanes in San Mateo County. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is cracking down on companies that fail to register or provide required transit benefits to their employees. 172 Palo Alto employers that are required to participate in the Bay Area commuter program have not registered, including large employers like VMWare, Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital and Palantir Technologies.

Parks Master Plan nears final review


PROSTCouncil members enthusiastically praised the final draft of the Parks Master Plan at a May 22 City council/Parks and Recreation Commission joint study session. But the question remains, “If approved, how do these projects come to life?” The initial public reaction to the press coverage of this meeting was dismay at the prospect that more taxes  would be required to make the recommended improvements to our parks and recreation system. Not quite correct.

The plan covers short-term and long-term projects over the next 15 years. Many of the enhancements requested by citizens will be rolled out seamlessly in routine scheduled upgrades for each park every few years. These upgrades are funded substantially out of the normal operating budget and with prioritized Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs). Some new items in the Master Plan that scored high with residents, like dog parks and restrooms, will be covered from the above funding sources as well.

But when the subject turns to items like a potential new swimming pool (with only one now in the city) or gym (the City currently owns none), or renovating Cubberley, the required funding is challenging. Public/private partnerships are high on the list of financing options. For the biggest projects a bond measure is another option.

Which projects merit substantial new citizen investment will ultimately be up to the citizens. If residents want the big ticket items (and several years of concerted outreach says they do) the community will have to rally around desired projects ad work hands-on to fund them in an appropriate way.