News

Report urges more funding for Palo Alto nonprofits

City considers changing process for assisting neediest residents

Palo Alto may be best known as the land of high incomes and soaring housing prices, but affluence is far from universal within the city's borders.

According to a new report by the city's Human Relations Commission, the city has its fair share of residents in need -- seniors who depend on subsidized meals at La Comida, recipients who apply for food stamps and disabled people who can't afford to get the medical help they need. And some groups of needy residents are growing. The number of food-stamps recipients, for example, increased by 22 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to the newly released Human Services Needs Assessment.

In addition to surveying the needs of Palo Alto's low-income residents, the report considers ways in which the city can help. In recent years, Palo Alto has provided grants to local nonprofits for providing safety-net services. Last year, the city handed out $1.1 million through what is known as the Human Services Resource Allocation Process. The Human Relations Commission, which relied on focus groups, data research, interviews with stakeholders and responses from 495 survey participants, had estimated that these grants serve about 7,000 people annually.

This year, almost three-fourths of the grant funds went to two nonprofit organizations. Avenidas, which provides a wide range of services for seniors, received $402,224 in 2012, accounting for 36.2 percent of the funds. Palo Alto Community Child Care received $407,491, or 36.7 percent of the total pool. Recipients of the next-largest grants include Adolescent Counseling Services ($87,571), Abilities United ($37,642) and the Downtown Streets Team ($33,666).

The report, which the City Council Finance Committee discussed Tuesday night, argues that the city needs to do more. Its most significant recommendation is a call for the city to increase its spending for grants by about 5 percent a year, until the amount reaches $1.5 million in 2016. But the report also argues that the city needs to change the way it assesses which nonprofits get funding. The wide array of needs and the limited pool of money makes it impossible for the city to allocate funds for new recipients without taking them away from existing ones.

"This zero-sum game is not only disheartening to the agency losing the funds, but it suppresses the desire of potential applicants to apply, knowing that their success will punch a hole somewhere else in the social safety net," the report states. "Our recommendations need to deal with this issue. If they don't, it's not clear to us what else we might propose beyond administrative arrangements that might produce some small synergies that enable existing funds to stretch a little bit further."

The Finance Committee praised the report Tuesday, with Vice Mayor Greg Scharff sharing the commission's frustration about the lack of flexibility in the funding-allocation process.

"You see a need in the community but your hands feel tied because we have previous recipients and we have to cut from those (recipients)," Scharff said.

The committee stopped short of recommending an increase to grant funding, though it directed staff to explore ways for doing so. One possible mechanism is funds from the city's development agreement with Stanford University Medical Center, which allocated $4 million to the city for "community health and safety programs." Stanford offered these funds as part of a broad package of public benefits in exchange for the city's permission to greatly expand Stanford Hospital and Clinics and the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

The committee was more receptive to the report's "alternative recommendation" for modifying the grant process. Under this alternative, the city would reduce grants to all recipients who get more than $10,000 by 3 to 5 percent per year, with the freed funds supporting new programs and agencies.

"Such an arrangement gives agencies lead-time to respond to the series of cuts; and it gives the overall HSRAP program some flexibility to reallocate the freed funds to increasing or emerging needs," the report stated.

The committee unanimously recommended that staff discuss this plan with stakeholders and explore this alternative further. The committee also backed a proposal by Councilman Pat Burt to reach out to Avenidas and see if the city's allocation to the nonprofit group could target low-income seniors rather than the senior community at large.

Ray Bacchetti, who serves on the commission, told the committee Tuesday there's a "disconnect between the haves and the have-nots in Palo Alto." Though the city is wealthier than most in the county, 10.7 percent of the households in Palo Alto have household incomes below $25,000, the report notes. The problem is worse for seniors. One-third of Palo Alto residents older than 75 had incomes of less than $25,000 per year in 2000, according to data from Avenidas, which the Human Services Needs Assessment cites.

"Faltering economic conditions of recent years have only exacerbated these trends," the new report states.

Bacchetti said he spoke to a friend recently and mentioned the large number of residents in the city who have a hard time getting by. The friend asked, "Where are they?"

"I can think of no better operational definition of 'invisible' than that," Bacchetti told the committee, referring to those in need.

Once staff returns with more information, the committee will resume the discussion and forward a recommendation to the full City Council.

Comments

Posted by anon, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 23, 2012 at 9:54 am

Why is the city making charitable donations to nonprofits?

Makes me want to stop giving to certain charities because, after reading this story, I realize that I've already donated through my taxes.

I'd rather have the City Council refund the $1.1 million to us taxpayers and then we could decide which charities to support. But I guess government people like councilman Pat Burt know better how to spend our dollars than us lowly citizens. (How come I'm not surprised that Ray Bacchetti is part of this scheme?)


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 23, 2012 at 10:56 am

How about have a cage match between the non-profits and the city employees with lavish benefits and retirement and see who comes out?

The last thing we need is to become San Francisco, where the poverty pimps have taken over.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm

If you look at the non-profits and what they are doing/providing, you will see that they are providing services that the city would probably provide otherwise. Essentially the city is outsourcing the services...


Posted by Resident and Employee, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Hi Toady and Anon -
Look across the street to find out how your "house rich income poor" neighbor is living.
Where and how are you an example of contributing to your community?

And Toady, the utility employees are some of the most considerate and active members of our community yet work for 8 - 22% below the wage and benefits of surounding cities ...the most glaring inequities are compared to PGE, City of Santa Clara, or East Bay Mud Utility District. And our city of Palo Alto utility employees have been forced to beg for their equitable pay.

Even with that the employees have received further cuts totaling some $8,000 a year on average the past few years ...and still the employees donate generously to Second Harvest and run two food drives a year now to help our communities.

The city cut it's family services referral employee position and gave up that responsibility to the county.

Yes Crescent Park Dad that is how the city provides by funding out side services.- and the services they provide money to are actively working NOT non profits for the purpose of perpetuating an organization, but organizations actively helping to fund EFFECTIVE intervention and support.

There is enough to go around.

I hope the Human Resources Commission considers that for the citizens and the employees.


Posted by Why-Safety-Nets?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm

> If you look at the non-profits and what they are doing/providing,
> you will see that they are providing services that the city would
> probably provide otherwise.

While this is probably true, the question as to why the City would be providing "safety nets" to people stands unanswered.

> Essentially the city is outsourcing the services...

Yes, but how effectively is the money spent. None of the so-called "non-profits" have been ever audited by the City to see just where the money goes, or if it could be spent more effectively.


Posted by Resident and Employee, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Dear Why Safety Nets, The elderly, homeless and poor in our community ARE our responsibility. Yours and mine. Just as are our families and children of this community are..

It is always a marvel to me how those with money or a good support system (family, relatives, friends) may intimate that there may or may not be a need for a safety net.
Frailty of mind or body can occur unexpectedly at any age. The lack of jobs and or generosity helps no one.

In answer to your questions - I suggest it would be more effective for thos interested or commenting here to attend the
City of Palo Alto
HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION
meetings which are held on the second Thursdays of the month.
And to contact it's members.

Web Link

Q: Are you suggesting it is a duplication of services? Most all cities have senior centers.
Are you suggesting the city can get funding elsewhere?

A certain percentage of the elderly in Palo Alto are often isolated, and house rich and income poor. I see the elderly poor in my city work sites and living here in town. I see the elderly middle class and even the rich - often isolated to families who are not prepared to deal with elderly parents.


Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 23, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Many of these non-profits and support groups, especially those catering to senior citizens are quite valuable. Where we need to insure is that our tax payer contributions to these programs are indeed being extended exclusively to Palo Alto residents, with legitimate roots and ties to our community. I have no problem with partially funding these endeavors, but not if Palo Alto simply becomes a resource magnet for our region and beyond.

For example, I wonder how many of the Downtown Streets Team participants have legitimate roots and ties to Palo Alto? Same goes to those using the services of the Opportunity Center, who the city currently allocates a six-figure annual contribution to assist with their operation. How many of those people are Palo Altans? Things are getting tighter and there's only so much public money to go around. I want to make sure that it's being dedicated to our citizens.

These are all legitimate questions especially when the city is facing a difficult financial outlook. We as tax payers should demand that our contributions go directly to our citizens in need, especially to our senior citizens and children. Local tax money allocated for these services should go directly to them. If others are dipping into our well, they need to turn to their own cities or state for assistance. It's apparent from this article that we have a growing number of our own in need. That's where the money needs to stay.


Posted by Employee and Resident, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2012 at 8:09 pm

... "our own?"

Palo Alto 's issues are not one of money - this is the richest area of the country, top 3 or 4.
There needs to be less of a sense of "I've got mine" and more compassion in this town.

Many of the elderly are too proud or frankly frightened to ask for help at a certain point.

Yes there is a great disparity between the very wealthy and the elderly poor and homeless,
We choose our priorities.
We can choose to open our eyes.


Posted by Why-Safety-Nets?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 24, 2012 at 7:29 am

> The elderly, homeless and poor in our community ARE
> our responsibility. Yours and mine. Just as are our families
> and children of this community are..

No these people are not our responsibility, any more than the "elderly, homeless and poor" in any other community, or country, are our responsibility. People have a responsibility for themselves. They have a responsibility to plan for their futures. People should not come to expect someone else will do for them-- because its convenient, or because others happen to have access to greater financial resources than they do.

It's one thing for the City to recognize that some older people might not have quite the income that they did when they were younger, and set the cost of fees based on income and age—but to claim that anyone who walks into town is now the responsibility of the municipal government and all of the residents is simply insane.

Society should set the bar high for everyone—so that over time, this pernicious cycle of dependency can be broken. Today, with forty-seven percent of the country on food stamps, we are at a dangerous point—where half the country seems to believe that the other half should feed them. This is in no way good for these people, or their children.

For starters—Palo Alto should shut down the Human Rights Commission, as it nothing but a tool for a handful of very perverted people, whose efforts can only lead to greater dependency on government, and less personal responsibility by those who could easily fend for themselves—if they realized that that was a necessity for living.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2012 at 9:04 am

We don't give enough, yes there is seniors that are house rich and income poor. Prop. 13 at least helped, but did you ever think that Palo Alto is home for many seniors.


Posted by Stanford funds?, a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jun 24, 2012 at 11:29 am

So what WILL happen to the $4 million "offer" from Stanford which is earmarked for these exact purposes? Why rob from Peter to pay Paul when this source is available? As a recipient of one of these fantastic, very much needed services, I know they are already giving our family support we cannot do without. They go above and beyond to provide what we cannot afford. We are your neighbors. We give to the community, work hard, study hard. We deserve to live here just as much as you do.


Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 24, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Yes Employee and Resident, our own. As in public money that is generated through a local tax should be invested within our own community, to our residents. I have no issue with providing a safety net to seniors and children who are at risk. I just don't want those funds being distributed to those who don't live in Palo Alto and contribute to our tax base.

As for your assertion that Palo Alto's issue is not one of money then I beg to differ. Our city has faced a significant budget deficit for many years running. We do not have the public funds allocated to pay for vital civic needs that exist in infrastructure and public safety. We are in the midst of an unprecedented financial challenge, so please, don't tell us that money isn't an issue.

For all these reasons we need to be wise and insure that the public funds that are allocated for social service programs are spent within our own community. We cannot be the keepers of our entire region. If people living outside of Palo Alto require these services, then they need to seek those out in their own cities. There are also many state programs that Palo Alto tax money is allocated to. Our tax money goes to these state programs in part because we need to preserve what's left for those requiring assistance locally.

So let me ask this question. Does Palo Alto Online or anyone else with credible knowledge know how many people using our senior services, child care programs, Downtown Streets Team, Abilities United, Opportunity Center, and Adolescent Counseling are not residents of Palo Alto or have community roots and ties?

I ask because this article makes it abundantly clear that the need for these services is increasing in Palo Alto. If the demands are higher, then I feel it's important to allocate what funds are available to those living in Palo Alto. As a local tax payer I support these programs and acknowledge their need and value. I would expect however that these services are extended only to Palo Alto residents, precisely back to where the revenue is being generated. If not, then I would seriously have to question why we are extending these local funds outside of our city.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm

From the Avenidas site "Avenidas serves the San Francisco Bay Area mid-Peninsula communities of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Stanford, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside, and Mountain View. " Their financial docs only show contributions from Palo Alto, no other Cities. Web Link

Palo Alto Community Child Care operates the Kids Clubs at the elementary schools so it primarily serves Palo Alto residents.


Posted by Employee and Neighbor, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Our own? Is us all.

Palo Alto non profits that perform should not have to go begging.

We have the money. Look at the other article on Palo Alto on line - right here. And rationalize why we cannot help the elderly and homeless?

Web Link

The national theme for "I've got mine" Plutocracy helps no one - and depletes our culture.
Personally I believe in providing meaningful work for the elderly and homeless - even part time in a few hours to help them connect and be vital. It is thinking about engaging all people as human beings and providing a platform for quality of life.

What have you done lately for your community and your neighbor?


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 24, 2012 at 3:57 pm

So, "Employee and Neighbor," what have YOU done lately? Outside of holier-than-thou postings on an Internet site, I don't see any reason why a random, anonymous poster has the right be so self-righteous.

Let's see your 2011 tax return to see how much you contributed. Then you can tell us how much better you are.

Having lived in San Francisco for many years before moving to Palo Alto, the last thing we need to do is bring that part of San Francisco down here. Poverty pimps who don't even live in San Francisco are benefitting from the largess of a knee-jerk liberal renter population voting to soak property-owners up there. A budget larger than many states, and yet they're still running huge deficits.

And it's not a model we need to duplicate down here.


Posted by VoxPop, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm

@toady: So you're saying only property owners should be able to vote?

Why is that?


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm

@VoxPop Nope. Never said that and thanks for trying really hard to throw in a red herring.

Just saying that a surfeit of renters who have no stake in the future of the city screws everything up. But that's San Francisco's fault. It's an unintended consequence of San Francisco's politics and policies.


Posted by Employee and NeighborResident, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2012 at 1:49 am

Toady,,,Lets expand on some presumably shared ideals ... and you have given me pause for thought,

My family for many years have held "social welfare" employment: My grandfather and uncle were postal service workers, My grandfather became a postal worker only after the depression forced the loss of the family business and after his service in the US military.. My sister and brother were in the military. Currently my sister works for a US government subcontractor in Iraq.

We are all interconnected across and regardless of "political boundaries" and it requires the acknowledgement that we are part of a changing world economy and that plutocracy will not solve our issues.

Back to the local...we have 48 ? Real estate agents in Menlo Park and Palo Alto that are the top earners in the nation. Is Palo Alto poor?

Anyone responding on this platform assumably would not earn enough to be more than a speck on a financial radar for the 1%,

How does that work? IF the US citizens fight amongst themselves - they will not realize that the 1% obscenely skims off the top and no longer feels an obligation to pay a middle class wage or contribute to a balanced economy.


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

@Employee and NeighborResident

Let's look at facts.

Top 1% pays 36.73% of income tax (AGI: $343,927)
Top 5% pays 58.66% of income tax ($154,643)
Top 10% pays 70.47% of income tax ($112,124)

(that pretty much covers the "rich" Palo Altans)

Source: Web Link (for 2009)

So, my question to you - what in the world are you talking about? Who's "skimming" off whom?


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 25, 2012 at 11:31 am

Apparently the rich feel an obligation to pay more than a middle class wage to Realtors.


Posted by Wrong, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm

The city needs to get its' fiscal house in order before it donates its' (lack of) funds to nonprofits.


Posted by Jon, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 26, 2012 at 8:36 am

There is a very sour strain in these comments. When people are having a hard time, it is good that citizens join together to help, and the city is a wonderful agency to provide the avenue for help. Well, I guess that I am just a bleeding heart liberal softie, probably the result of my atheistic upbringing and proclivities. I was not raised on Ay Rand (godless). By the way, if you can, send a few bucks to Second Harvest.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2012 at 8:49 am

If the City would like to more fully supported these very worthy charities - why not make it easy for people to donate directly to them? It would be easy to host a link on the City website (or the weekly could do it) to allow residents to donate directly.

I'd also like to see the charities ask the surrounding towns that are also served by their services for the same support that Palo Alto gives them.


Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 26, 2012 at 11:55 am

I'm all for providing a safety net in providing for these services. This article makes it abundantly clear that Palo Alto has an increasing demand for these services. No surprise considering the difficult and challenging financial times we're in.

The only expectation I would have is that considering this increased demand, that any public funds derived from a local tax should be allocated to our own residents. I don't mind contributing to these causes, even in the form of a private donation, but our local dollars absolutely need to be aside for our own residents. A portion of our state and federal taxes are already being spent for social services outside of our city. I would hope and expect that our local dollars go directly to our own citizens.

I want to thank Palo Alto Mom for her response to an earlier question I posed regarding who and where these contributions are going to. It seems as though Avenidas Senior Services caters to a wider community platform, and I would hope and assume that all the other participating cities are contributing their fair share. Mom's link only lists what the city of Palo Alto contributes. Does Palo Alto Online or anyone else out there know what the other cities contributions.

I'll also repeat a related question I asked earlier. Of these other services that are mentioned in this article, how many actual Palo Alto residents, or even a percentage, are using and taking advantage of the resources. That would include any child care programs, Downtown Streets Team, Opportunity Center, Abilities United, and Adolescent Counseling. Again, I have no issue with contributing to these services and acknowledge their value, but only if the local tax dollars are serving our own citizens.

If this local public money is in large part serving those living outside of Palo Alto then I would seriously have to question that investment. Our contribution to those requiring assistance outside of Palo Alto is already paid in the form of allocated state and federal taxes. Local city taxes absolutely have to be set aside for people residing in Palo Alto. We cannot be the keepers of our entire region.

So, I once again respectfully appeal to Palo Alto Online or anyone else with credible knowledge to answer this question.


Posted by Employee and Neighbor, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Why not call Avenidas directly and ask what percentage of people do they serve that are "our own"?

And if you are serious about this and still unable to get your answwer go to the Human Relations Commission and ask them directly at their meeting or via e-mail.

For reference to the organizations that may be serving individuals besides "our own" ...here from the PA Weeklty article:
AVENIDAS , which provides a wide range of services for seniors,
PALO ALTO CHILD CARE
ADOLESCENT COUNSELING SERVICES
ABILITIES UNITED
DOWNTOWN STREETS TEAM
And you can easily google them, make contact,and donate directly now.


Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Thank you for the suggestion Neighbor, and yes, my family has donated for many years through several faith based organizations. I too would encourage others to make charitable, private donations whenever possible. There is definitely a need.

However, when it comes to the issue of how public money is being spent that is a different matter entirely. I'm a bit surprised that Palo Alto Online hasn't been more proactive in reporting these statistics because I believe it's highly relevant to this article. That's all.

Common sense dictates that revenue that is generated through a local tax should be extended exclusively to those living within that community. This is especially true when resources are thin and the demands are high. As a tax payer we are already allocating funds to serve those outside of our city through state and federal programs and services. If the demands from our citizens is indeed increasing, as stated in this article, then we need to insure that our local resources are focusing within our community.

Again, we cannot take on the responsibility of providing a safety net to neighboring cities and counties. We've already paid state and federal taxes to cover our fair share of that responsibility. This is paramount during these difficult financial times that we're in. Our city is still coping with annual budget deficits. We have critical needs in infrastructure and public safety that remain unfunded. Sorry, but we need to hold our city leaders and elected officials accountable for where they allocate local tax dollars, including the non-profits.


Posted by Menlo Park Senior, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 27, 2012 at 12:37 am

Let's be reasonable here; Palo Alto isn't an island. The entire SF Peninsula is just a number of towns of varying sizes all run together with no noticeable borders between. Let's just take a quick look at my situation; I came to Stanford over 50 years ago and have lived in Palo Alto or Menlo Park the majority of the time since my graduation. I live considerably closer to downtown Palo Alto than to downtown Menlo Park. I shop in Palo Alto, go out to dinner at Palo Alto's restaurants, watch movies and plays at Palo Alto Theaters. I believe this means I pay taxes in (and to) Palo Alto.

Avenidas is much closer to me than Little House and offers programs of more interest to me. I pay yearly dues to Avenidis and also pay for some classes there. Surprisingly I even make charitable donations to Avenidas. I'm sure that there are other people who don't live in Palo Alto who work or attend church there and who attend Avenidas events. Am I supposed to feel like a freeloader out to get something for nothing for nothing from the overburdened Palo Alto taxpayers?


Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

It was pointed out to us by an earlier contributor to this discussion Menlo Park Senior that Avenidas is indeed set up to serve a wider section of our region, Menlo Park included. So no, in the case of Avenidas I do not have an issue with those living outside of Palo Alto utilizing that resource. However, I would hope and expect that the city of Menlo Park, and all of the other cities participating in the program also pay their fair share. That's what I was hoping Palo Alto Online could do a little more work on and answer these type of questions. Again, it's highly relevant to the overall nature and discussion of this article.


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