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$50 million for a police HQ?

Original post made by Mondo on Apr 11, 2007

The city council is proposing to spend $50 million for a
police HQ. That's almost $1000 per resident.

Admittedly, I have no specific expertise with regards to
this issue, but this seems outrageously profligate to me.
Especially given the city government's track record on
gold-plated spending.

Does anyone have access to amounts comparably-sized cities
typically spend on a police HQ?

And I can't believe they're toying with the idea of packaging
the bond measure for this project along with the proposed
library upgrade bond. Don't I remember a failed library bond
a couple of years ago that was rejected due to having other
unrelated spending packaged together?

Comments (56)

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 11, 2007 at 11:11 am

There was a public safety building blue ribbon task force of ctizens from the community who are held in high regard. Some are former elected officials and all are tax payers themselves. They did have expertise to study this matter. They reviewed the situation at length, and then issued their findings and recommendation in a report last Spring. Their work product largely is what the current proposed building is about.

I agree it is a great deal of money, but to suggest that it is "profligate" without having studied the task force's report is ill advised. If you amortize that $1000/resident over 30 years, the annual amount the new building is less than $35/year. Is $3/month per person profligate? It has been over 30 years since the existing police building was constructed, and 30 years is a reasonable time frame over which to evaluate financially a structure such as this.

Mondo does demonstrate in his/her comments one of the challenges the community faces around these matters--there are many dimensions to the question, there are some projects, such as storm drains, that are presenting themselves as they ensue differently than they were presented when put up for a vote, and people get jaded as a result. What any individual chooses to connect or keep focused on around the public safety building and other choices the community must make can lead to very different conversations about just what it is we are being asked to vote on. Such is the nature of the "beast."

I do hope that as these discussions get under way over the next 18-24 months, that we all try as hard as we can to ask questions that lead to clarity, not obfuscation. I am reminded of the lawyer character in the musical "Chicago," Billy Flynn. He gets his clients acquitted by giving the jury the "old razzle dazzle," leaving them confused and unsure just what it is they are dealing with. I am not suggesting Mondo is a Billy Flynn, but we do have some waiting in the wings on this question. And they will be singing soon.

Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2007 at 11:23 am

I have wondered why the new police station couldn't be in the now vacant Aglient building, which is kitty corner from the proposed site. There may be 100 good reasons but I've not heard what they are. I admit to not being up to speed on this issue. Not knowing any better, it seems to be an obvious solution. I'd really to hear the reasons why that wouldn't work. Maybe I missed this info in one of the Weekly articles. If so, I apologize for re-hashing it but I'm still in the dark.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 11, 2007 at 1:35 pm


That "Blue Ribbon Task Force" for the police bonds you cite. Would that be the same kind of Blue Ribbon Task Force that studied the storm drain situation a couple of years ago? That "highly regarded" (by whom?!) body came up with a precise plan to fix the storm drains an at fixed cost that now turns out to be total nonsense.

(The first couple of projects came in at 58% over what the Blue Ribbon guys said. Now maybe we can finish half of the "urgently needed" storm drain projects with the taxes we voted on ourselves at the behest of the Blue Ribbon experts -- if we're lucky.) Yeah, count me among the jaded you mention.

People who think the city establishment isn't handling finances very well aren't obfuscating. They've got lots of very clear examples of the irresponsibility and lack of accountability that's left the city in its current sad situation.

You're usually pretty a pretty reasonable commentator on this site. I'm a little surprised and saddened to see you preemptively labeling those who are skeptical of the current Blue Ribbon study as "razzle-dazzle" obfuscators. Be that as it may. Let the "singing" begin.

Anyone who thinks the poor performance of the Storm Drain Blue Ribbon Task Force is irrelevant to the likelihood that we're being sold a bill of goods by the current one can join in on alternate choruses.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 11, 2007 at 2:33 pm


I think your interpretation of my comments above is off the mark, but I do appreciate your saying that you find me to be reasonable, as was my intent here.

To answer your question, the task force for the public safety building was not the same as those who were involved in developing the proposal for the storm drains. Take a look at their report yourself and draw your own conclusions as to how you regard them. My own opinion is that it was a pretty solid set of folks who worked on this, capable of coming to some informed opinions about the matter. Skepticism as you convey can come from various factors, but I don't believe the credentials of the people on the task force is a source for such skepticism in this instance.

I agree with you that there are many people with concerns about city finances who are not contributing to obfuscation. Count me among them. I also have witnessed plenty of comments from people who in fact do muddy the waters and make it more difficult to truly understand what is going on. Such people come from all points of view on these things: what I was calling for is clarity, regardless of one's opinion. For you to imply that my opinion is that those who express mis-givings about the police building matter are all obfuscating is a mis-representation of what I said.

I suspect we are in "violent agreement" that clarity as the order of the day would serve well all who participate in such forums as this. I seldom find myself disenchanted with comments from people whose opinions differ from mine when they are well-grounded and on point. All too often, I find the polemics to be otherwise, and I really don't like them, whatever side someone takes on an issue.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 11, 2007 at 7:03 pm


I apologize if I've misinterpreted your remarks, but it is quite a departure for you to be making disparaging remarks about the commentators in opposition to you (as opposed to your normal practice sticking to substantive analyses of the comments themselves) - especially when that disparagement takes place before the comments are even made. That practice seems a little defensive to me - which I suppose is understandable given the tenuousness of the position you put forward.

As to tenuousness, let me respond to your remark about the make up of the Blue Ribbon task force. From where I stand, as a very interested outsider to the city establishment, both the storm drain task force and the police station task force are the product of the same flawed process that infects all such public policy decisions in Palo Alto. You've got the same people choosing from among their allies in the establishment in concert with a compliant city staff to load the process in favor of whatever project is coming down the pike.

That is, at first blush to me as an outsider, there ain't a dime's worth of difference between the storm drain pushers and the police station mongers - or the library crazies. Now maybe you're right that the police station guys are better than the storm drain guys (among whom - I think - was Larry Klein - former mayor, current councilmember, and all-around establishment front bencher.) But I don't see any reason to think so.

It's like this: If one thinks the process is flawed (which I definitely do), or rigged (of which I could be convinced), one doesn't need a credentials score-card to scope out the players.

Maybe to you - as a at least quasi-insider - there's something different about the police bond task force that makes it different from the failed storm drain task force. And maybe you think that we voters should rely on the police folks even though the storm drain folks mislead us. But given that both Blue Ribbon groups of establishment pooh-bahs arose from the same fetid process, I think it's up to you to affirmatively demonstrate that.

Until then, I'm still jaded and skeptical of anything that comes out of it.

As an aside, I note that the council, along with Benest, seem to be proceeding almost as if the police station is a done deal - even before we vote on it. So far, they've spent at least $1.6MM on it - about 8% of the (so far) estimated total cost. I notice they also spent $100,000 for something called "education" related to the police station. Maybe it's my jadedness again, but am I wrong to think that the "education" effort will look a lot like a political campaign in favor of the bonds - paid for with public money?

I love Palo Alto, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to trust the guys running it.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 11, 2007 at 11:02 pm

My intent was to convey my wish that when people express a point of view, that it be clear and not cluttered with tangential arguments that quickly lead to distraction, and do very little to help people understand what really matters.

My not so scientific research suggests to me that such tactics are employed more by people who think that spending money of any sort on anything is a bad idea. I contrast such people with others who legitimately express concerns and apprehensions about how our money is being spent, who question the grounds for other spending, and why there seem to be inconsistencies around how this towns fiscal matters compare with similar municipalities. There are some very valid questions that are getting asked, and if they cannot be answered satisfactorily to the people of this community, not a dime more will get the okay to spend on much of anything.

You could be right, maybe there is a flaw in the process by which major infrastructure questions are addressed these days. I am among those who see the storm drain situation as placing a very heavy burden on those who want to raise funds for other infrastructure projects, and I know you have seen me write on this elsewhere.

In my dealings with some of the "crazies (your word)" who have been working on these issues, my experience has been that they have a genuine desire to come up with recommendations that the community can get behind, they are not Robert Moses types. They work hard to understand the issues they have in front of them, deliberate thoughtfully, at times inexorably, but above board. You clearly have a more skeptical view of who these people are, and what their motives may be--you are entitled to that opinion, but I think it is fair to challenge you to describe the types of people you think should be part of such Blue Ribbon groups, or if such groups are part of the flawed process, what and who should be doing this type of work instead.

As for my "tenuous position" I think I have been pretty consistent of late in stating that this community has a worn out infrastructure, which is to be expected after 30 or more years of use and wear. I don't know what you consider tenuous about that, but I do perceive there are some people in the community who still are not even at that point of view yet. To that end, I do believe that we are at a point where some significant capital investments and expenditures must again take place. I have expressed my support for a new Mitchell Library and Community Center as a Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Beyond that, other than agreeing that our police station, roads, and other infrastructure need major work done on them, please tell me what I have said that you believe is tenuous about my point of view.

I guess I have spent enough time consulting and pitching company higher ups that I have my own thoughts about how to build a case for getting things done. If there is any flaw in the political process that I can offer up, it is that building cases for problems such as these seem to fraught with mis-steps. I hope it is better this time.

Posted by Opposed, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2007 at 1:18 am

There are many issues concerning the Police Station that have never been approched or considered:
Why a single location? Palo Alto has been named a potential Terrorist Attack Site!
The owner of the site dosen't want to sell and no price has been established. Maybe it will take years to aquire it? or it will cost $20 million plus the $50 million for the gold plated building.
Move into some existing building. 10% of commercial buildings in Palo Alto are Vacant according to the Merc News.

The cost will double ? by the time it is built.

The playing fields at Page Mill and ElCamino were much more important a few years ago (at that site) than a Police Building.

The task force didn't really like that site but was the only place they could come up with. (the presently proposed site)

Posted by George, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 12, 2007 at 8:59 am

Most comments detailed are based on opinion, not knowledge. All of the questions raised above are answered in the Final Report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. It can be accessed by going to the Official City of Palo Alto Website. On the right side click on Police Bldg. Blue Ribbon Task Force, scroll down to "Reports and Presentations" to June 26, 2006.
The second item is "2006 Material/Presentation Report, BRTF Final Report".

If you really want to know why a site was rejected, or how our building compares with other city's, etc., read the report. It is well researched, done by intelligent, thoughtful citizens who put in many hours of work to reach the conclusions they did.

Posted by Greg, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2007 at 12:19 am

Lets give this proposed building its proper name "Public Safety Building". Why is this so important, because it may be the only building left standing in Palo Alto in an earthquake, and that's the point. State law now requires us to have a Public Safety Building that is built to very specific earthquake standards. Neither our present police building or the former Agilent Offices comply. If we do not build a new Public Safety Building, the State could start fining us for not being in compliance; that is why El Camino Hospital and Stanford Hospital are being rebuilt. The City better have a "Plan B" if this bond measure fails, because one way or another we have to build a state of the art "Public Safety Building", that complies with State mandated regulations.

Posted by Sampson, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2007 at 12:15 pm

Plan B:

Do what other most other cities (all of which must comply with the same State Law) do:

Save money out of general revenues to fund needed infrastructure projects. Seems pretty simple to me: If Mountain View, a city some Palo Altans like to quietly sneer at, can fund their infrastructure needs (like their brand new library and performing arts center) without taxes, why can't we? After all, we have about twice as much revenue per resident to spend as they do already.

And while the Blue Ribbon worthies are telling us it's $50 million today, does the storm drain experience give you any confidence that the real nunber won't turn out to be $75 ot $100 million before all is said and done?

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2007 at 1:36 pm


I wish Palo Alto over the last 30 years had indeed put money away each and every year in anticipation of needing to replace original infrastructure as it aged and became obsolete. Palo Alto, like most cities in California, and many elsewhere in the country, did not do this, for a variety of reasons, and so we now find ourselves with a totally predictable need to address major infrastructure requirements with no lock box reserve fund to help pay for it.

Before the community gets into a discourse around this specific public safety building proposal and what the storm drain cost overages may imply for estimates for any proposed public safety building, I would like to suggest that first the community agree to two basic premises:

1. That our current public safety building/police station (and other major infrastructure) has reached the end of its useful life, due to many factors, and must be replaced or significantly upgraded;

2. That in order to pay for this effort, some form of new financing must be instituted, as there are no monies in reserve available for such purposes.

For some, it may seem like a tedious exercise to get a community consensus first on these two premises. My own point of view is that we need to establish that there is indeed a "problem" (which I fully believe there is) and that we have a certain set of options to pay for solving the problem. But I think many of those who will be asked to vote on this matter understand it very little at this point, and will benefit from starting at the very beginning--problem identification--and from there going through the series of steps that can eventually lead them to evaluate what is proposed specifically and what its implications are for them personally and wallet-wise.

I am much more aware of goings on with Palo Alto matters these days than I was even 5 years ago. Before that, I was just a dad helping out in Little League, helping my wife get through school, working, and doing a bit at the schools. I try to put myself back to that state of understanding and awareness that I was in several years ago when I think about what the voters in town are asked to consider. Too often, I think a fairly small cadre of people (among which I now count myself) know so much more about a matter than most people that they lose sight of how limited an understanding many smart, well-meaning, but busy and distracted people who live here have of the very same matters.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 13, 2007 at 4:45 pm


"That in order to pay for this effort, some form of new financing must be instituted, as there are no monies in reserve available for such purposes."

Bingo. You hit the nail on the head. But you have a distorted view of the solution. You seem to want new taxes. Previous city tax income was squandered on a bunch of feel good stuff (e.g arts commission, Opportunity Center, etc.), not to mention an anti-development bias by the Council. The chicken have come home to roost. Paul, you need to tell us how the city will pay for a new police station by CUTTING OTHER SPENDING. Until you give us the old college try, I will not be convinced that you, and others in city government, have a grip on reality. No bond issue for police and/or library will pass until we understand that the City is serious.

Posted by Asher Waldfogel, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2007 at 4:57 pm


I like your style and agree there's a pretty big infrastructure backlog.

How do we get a consensus project started?

My biggest worry about the bond items we are currently considering is they'll politically preclude the next ten projects we need to do. Don't forget PAUSD has built up as big a backlog as the CityÖ So it would be great to lay out a twenty year plan.

It would also be great to start a dialog about sources of funding. I'm not a public finance expert, but I can see various ways to generate an additional $20M to $50M per year in revenue to pay for capital projects. At the same time it's completely fair to ask whether every legacy City facility and service is still appropriate, and to do a complete review of City business processes.

I think we could get support for a comprehensive package that includes more political accountability for results, more staff autonomy for means and methods and enough money to actually fund our priorities.

On a related note, it would help build trust if Council Members and City Staff participated directly in the online dialog. I've read the Blue Ribbon Task Force Final Report, and I wish it were a bit more factual. For example, if our existing Police HQ doesn't meet State Code, tell us the code. (The Report is a bit more circumspect, and appears to say that the 1965 building doesn't meet 2007 codes - which is unsurprising) If the building is a recruiting and retention problem, tell us how many officers we've lost due to the building. If the bottom line is that the current building is worn out, just say so; but then it's fair to prioritize building replacement among all the other worn out facilities and infrastructure.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2007 at 7:39 pm


Thanks for your comments. I chose my words carefully about the need for a new source of funding, and I deliberately did not take an advocacy position on taxes or any other specific funding source in what I said above. The statement was composed to lead to a consensus that the money must come from somwhere that will require some trade-offs, there is not a pot of gold waiting in the safe to pay for infrastructure projects.

Cutting spending on other things we currently have is a legitimate potential source of funding, and you appear to be of the opinion that is the way to go. I do believe that you and others who have a similar opinion must get your questions answered around that, or your votes will be against any new infrastructure projects.

I am a volunteer serving on the Parks and Recreation Commission, I have another day job, so with that caveat about my being part of City Hall, I will suggest the following expectations:

1. If spending is cut elsehwere within the City Budget to help fund major infrastructure projects, it will be felt, and there will be people who don't like the cuts. I own a small business, and am faced with choices like this all the time, such is my work life. This may be the choice the City faces, but it will be a difficult pill to swallow for some people should that come about

2. Even with such potential cuts, I believe that there likely still will need to be some other funding sources developed in order to accomplish what is needed in a reasonable time frame.

What the right blend of funding sources should be remains to be seen. As I think about it, I ask myself what do we need to do to maintain and if possible enhance the character of Palo Alto? What am I willing to give up in order to gain in other areas that contribute to that character? What more am I willing to pay to get a character that to me has made Palo Alto more than just another Bay Area bedroom community?

On another string I was involved in some weeks back, the analogy of Motel Six -vs- 4 Seasons -vs-Marriott came up. All are hotels, each offers different levels of service, charges different prices, and people patronize each with a different set of expectations. In all cases, they should be run as efficiently as possible in light of the "offering" they provide. I want to be careful not to take the analogy too far, but I do think it is instructive to keep the analogy in mind as we move forward. And I don't think anybody will support the idea of a hotel that appears to be a Taj Mahal.

Posted by Pete, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2007 at 10:34 pm


Problem is that for some of us it seems like we have Motel 6 amenities at Four Seasons - or maybe Taj Mahal prices.

Some of us doubters also need to be convinced that the city isn't wasting a lot of the money it already has before we'll pony up for more. No need to relist the cornucopia of waste items here: they've been covered in detail on other threads....

You're pretty straightforward, and are to be aplauded for putting your name on posts here - something you don't see often, especially from city (quasi)insiders - or whatever. One thing that you seem to dodge a bit on other threads is employee costs - which are about $100MM of our $128 MM budget. Not that I blame you given the sensitivity of the subject - and the intimidating purple t-shirt gang that showed up at the city council.

But whether through outsourcing, layoffs, renegotiation of outlandish raise and benefit contracts or other similar measures, the issue has to be taken on. Saving 5% on employee costs would more than fund the police station you claim we need.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 14, 2007 at 9:34 am


I appreciate your offering up some thoughts.

As regards whether we are getting a Motel 6 deliverable and paying a 4 Seasons rate, I have had the opportunity to see a number of surveys that poll Palo Alto residents, and that compare services across many cities polling those residents. For the most part, Palo Alto ranks in the upper decile on quality of services. I don't want to fall back on well-conducted surveys and say everything is 4 Seasons quality here, but I do think it would be helpful to understand what contributes to your having your perception. If you provide some specifics that lead to your contention, it might get some abstraction out of the conversation, and lead to some potential concrete outcomes.

I have stated before that I believe that the current employment model Palo Alto (and many other California cities) is unsustaniable actuarily, and we need to come up with a model that works for the next 30 years. As objectives, I would seek a model that pays fairly for the work done and the cost of living here, that attracts and retains high quality employees, and is within the city's financial capacity over a long time horizon. I think I would be stepping way over the line to comment about any specific employee group or cost center that may be under review at the present time.

You appear to be among the voters in the community who are saying--"before I agree to new things being done, I want to be assured that the monies currently available are being put to their best usage, that the city is being run in a fiscally responsible manner. And I have a concern that such may not be the case right now." It is a legitimate position to have, and I believe you are entitled to both ask the question and get some answers. To the extent that I have the ears of certain people in town who are able to develop such answers, I will point out that there are folks like you who do not feel that they have a clear understanding right now, and it can affect how they vote and what they support around infrastructure projects we have under consideration. That's politics, and politics is not a dirty word.

Posted by Greg, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2007 at 11:57 am

The reason Mountain View was able to build a beautiful new library is because they sold some surplus land to finance it. The voters initially turned down a library bond, but they had a "Plan B".

Palo Alto is unable to sell surplus land because the voters passed an initiative which prevents Council from selling any of Palo Alto's land. In retrospect perhaps the voters of Palo Alto were short sighted. On the other hand who knows what an out of control Council would have sold off to finance a new Public Safety Building.

I'm glad I voted against the storm drains.

Posted by Pete, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 14, 2007 at 12:11 pm


Thanks for your thoughtful response. As the default (whether you want it or not) substitute for the city establishment here, you do a great job.

I have seen the surveys to which you refer, and while there are criticisms one might make (as in all such surveys), perhaps they really do represent majority perception.

Nonetheless, when I look at some surrounding cities - Mountain View comes to mind, and see what they do with much less money than Palo alto, I start thinking that at the very least, we're paying full rack rate when others are getting a discount. I'm sure you've seen the numbers, the various analyses and claims on the matter. They seem fairly persuasive to me - perhaps not to you.

It's hard to disagree with your comment about the unsustainablity of the employment "model" in Palo Alto. It does have to be changed, which is why comments like that from councilmember Cordell cited above by another poster, along with the council's cave-in on the outsourcing issue, are so discouraging. I don't see why it's over the line to say that a "cost center" that is 85% of the budget that has to be addressed. But I understand your reluctance to ruffle the feathers that would have to be plucked if anything sensible is to be done on city costs by commenting on a public forum about it.

Finally, you state my basic position fairly accurately which is a tribute to your honesty and straightforwardness. People who think like me may not be a majority (though I think they would be a majority in a fully educated citizenry). But I bet we're enough to stop the police station unless the city answers the questions you say we're entitled to ask. We'll see if the city really understands this.

Thanks for being a genuine contributor to these discussions. You ougut to be a model for the acceptable decorum here.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2007 at 12:59 pm


I must chuckle about this current debate. We, in Palo Alto, are all about what we want. But the notion that we might be expected to give up something is foreign to us. It won't happen.

I am glad that the fiscal crisis is upon us. It is the only thing that will knock some common sense into us.

Paul, it is my understanding that you were somehow involved in the Mayfield deal (soccer fields, SRP development, housing). That was a great deal, IMO. It cost the City very little, yet both the City and Stanford got a lot. It is the way Palo Alto needs to proceed. It is truly amazing to me that it was pulled off. I think our current Mayor opposed the deal. If it had a global cooling element in it, she might have supported the deal. We need more common sense deals like the Mayfield agreement. Could you tell us more about how it was done?

In the meatime, we are still getting out-of-control demands from the library and police folks. The bond issue will fail.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 14, 2007 at 2:08 pm

To those above who are opposed - or have consistently resisted - the mountain of good information we have about what needs to be done in our city:

We have an infrastructure backlog; it needs to be fixed. Some few say this isn't true. I say back to them: "where's *your* data?".

Service organizations regularly require 80-90% of their line-itemed costs to be allocated to personnel. Some say that we should cut employees, or employee costs. Many of these same citizens want to outsource city labor. I say back to them: "what about the people here - the _vast_ majority - who _like_ what they see in Palo Alto, as shown in the city's own audit?" "What about the _fact_ that shows the _majority_ of citizens agrreing that it would be a good thing to fund failing infrastructure?". "Will you be willing to personally take up the cost and operational _inefficiencies_ of outsourcing?"

All these questions have been asked, yet none have been answered.

Essentially, there is a core group of naysayers in Palo Alto who will do everything that they can to defeat _any_ measure that asks for new monetary obligations from citizens _even if a majority of our citizens say in polls that they _want_ to pay for these things.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Every community has its share of this kind of naysaying citizen. Some try to coddle them, include them in discussions, etc. etc. Of course, naysayers are citizens, too, and they have the right to speak and be heard. But _including_ what they say as any substantial part of a final answer for anything involving community betterment is a waste of time, money, and social happiness. Why? Because naysayers are _most_ extreme (and _vastly_ in the minority) elements in our community. Their "power" lies in thier ability to take advantage of the structural flaw in revenue approvals at the polls (2/3 majority).

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

It's necessary to continue to pick away at the arguments used by the naysayers; it will be good practice come election time. This time, the _majority_ of Palo Altans will get what they want; the days of minority rule are officially over.

Posted by Daniel, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2007 at 3:05 pm

The next thing you know, the blue ribbon people will be repsonsible for the war in Iraq. Palo Alto needs a decent police facility, approve it and build it. It is going to cost money and bonds will facilitate that. It is not about being green, it is about a functional, conforming, and decent place for our police officers to work. You would want the same thing if you spent 60 hours a week at work, working, working out, showering and storing your uniforms and equipemnt. I take it none of you work in an asbestos filled structure with water probelems everytwhere. You will appreciate it when Palo Alto actually has a place to put more than 1 criminal at a time.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 14, 2007 at 3:16 pm


Success has a thousand fathers. I did have a part in what ultimately became the Mayfield agreement, but so did many other people.

I do think there are some important lessons that came out of that effort, too many to enumerate here, but I will tee up a couple. One, if people with specific interests and agendas can meet and work together to develop an objectives that account for their more narrow interests but more importantly look for a solution that accounts for the greater community interest, good things can happen. I perceive that many times people with varying interests meet to try to work something out, but there never is a process that leads them to seeking outcomes that go beyond their more specific agendas. It is hard to get meaningful movement without give and take by all involved in the effort.

Two, no matter what course of action is identified, there will be some consequences that some people will not like, and nobody will get entirely what they want. To this day, there are people who have issues around the Mayfield agreement, and that always will be the case. That does not mean that a poor idea should go through, the msgivings ignored. But, after a certain point, some things never will get resolved completely, and I am afraid there are times when our Palo Alto process has sought perfection instead of progress, and consequently nothing has gotten done. Alma Plaza is a great current example of what I mean.

In that spirit, I consider it progress if some consensus on this forum is achieved that we have a serious problem with our infrastructure, and there is no exisiting source of funds to address the problem, and consequently, we must identify what the alternative sources of funds can be. Two that have been mentioned are cutting the budget in other areas, and issuing a bond or bonds. Each has implications and consequences, as does not funding the problem sufficiently. Just getting to that point in the discussion moves the ball down the sport-turfed field.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2007 at 3:20 pm


"We have an infrastructure backlog; it needs to be fixed."

I have lived in Palo Alto for over 30 years. Palo Alto has, over that period, ALWAYS ignored infrastructure in order to create new obligations that are fanciful. If the City was more squared away and focused on the non-boutique stuff like sewers, streets, sidewalks, police, fire, parks...we would not be in our current predicament. Some, like yourself, believe that confiscatory taxation is the answer. I would call that misanthropic. A truly optimistic view of humanity believes that men and women are capable of responsible decisions. We have had a long history of irresponsible behavior in this City. The only way to get it straightened out is to restrict the funds available to the Council.

The one big exception is the Mayfield deal. Someone was thinking outside the box. The kids and adults are now playing sports on that old empty lot, the SRP has new development going, and housing will develop down the line. It cost the City very little. Our current mayor was absent without leave on that one.

Why should we Palo Alto citizens take seriously claims by the current Council that we need more taxes? There is more focus on global warming than there is on potholes. I say fix the potholes...then I will begin to take them more seriously.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2007 at 3:49 pm


There was proposal, a couple of years ago, to close the Downtown branch library and build a new police station on that site. The City owns the property. The outcry from the library contigent was loud enough to scare off the Council. Just one more example of how a practical solution gets shot down in this town.

The library proponents that I know are not interested in compromise, if it means cutting a branch library. They are true believers. In the age of the Internet, they should be willing give a little...but no, it is just more of "we want". It is not rational to support their bond package. Real leadership by the Council would have driven the decision to put a new police station across the street at the branch library. Yes, it would have cost money, but people like me would have taken such a serious decision by the Council as an indication that it was willing to stand up against boutique special interests.

The current proposed bond issue is an indication that Palo Alto is NOT serious about infrastructure investment.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2007 at 3:57 pm

Just some comments on surveys, which have been mentioned here.

An article in the San Jose Mercury says, ". . . Palo Altans are a happy bunch, pleased to live in their pricey, comfy city . . . with 93 percent rating life in Palo Alto excellent or good." Full article at: Web Link

- The 93% is based on the response to only ONE question in the survey: How do you rate PA as a place to live? Responses to that single question:
51% excellent, 43% good, 5% fair, 1% poor. So there's the 93% positive. The average is 82.

The Quality of Life Rating section in the survey actually comprises SIX questions. In addition to the one above, there are these five:

How do you rate your neighborhood as a place to live?
40% excellent, 50% good, 8% fair, 2% poor. Average = 76

How do you rate Palo Alto as a place to raise children?
46% excellent, 46% good, 6% fair, 2% poor. Average = 79

How do you rate Palo Alto as a place to work? (I wonder how many residents actually work here.)
39% excellent, 45% good, 13% fair, 3% poor. Average = 73

How do you rate Palo Alto as a place to retire?
27% excellent, 41% good, 20% fair, 12% poor. Average = 61

How do you rate the overall quality of life in Palo Alto?
41% excellent, 50% good, 7% fair, 1% poor. Average = 77

- The Public Trust section comprises 4 questions:

I receive good value for the city taxes I pay:
31% strongly agree, 43% somewhat agree, 14% neither agree nor disagree, 7% somewhat disagree, 5% strongly disagree. Average = 72

I am pleased with the overall direction the city is taking:
21% strongly agree, 41% somewhat agree, 20% neither agree nor disagree, 13% somewhat disagree, 5% strongly disagree. Average = 65

The city government welcomes citizen involvement:
31% strongly agree, 42% somewhat agree, 17% neither agree nor disagree, 6% somewhat disagree, 3% strongly disagree. Average = 73

The city listens to its citizens:
20% strongly agree, 39% somewhat agree, 23% neither agree nor disagree, 13% somewhat disagree, 6% strongly disagree. Average = 72

You can get the complete city survey results from the auditor's office. It's got some good info, e.g., where the general fund dollars go and per capita spending. And some interesting data on staffing: General Fund employee benefits has gone up 96% over the last 5 years, and benefits rate has gone up 26%. Yes, staff has dropped, but only by 3%.

There's also a nice little chart of employees per 1,000 residents, which shows in graphic form what we all know: Palo Alto has far more employees/1,000 residents than neighboring cities.

BTW, 1200 surveys were mailed, but only 495 people responded.

Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 14, 2007 at 4:02 pm

It is unfathomable to me that soccer fields were built at El Camino and Page Mill this past year instead of putting the new public safety building there when the need for it was known at the time. Access to that main corner site is SO much better than to the proposed site. Even if a public safety building weren't in the picture it seemed to me a questionable use of such prime commercial real estate. A public safety facility is obviously so much more important and serves the entire community whereas these fields take up prime space and benefit relatively few. I say re-purpose that location for the police station. It's ridiculous to put a soccer field ahead of a public safety facility in the city's priority list but that's exactly what happened. Go Figure!

Someone remarked about the anti-development stance of the city government. This made me wonder if we were living in the same town! I would say the exact opposite...that they have been far too pro-development, primarily with housing, which keeps getting packed in tighter and tighter and higher and higher, spoiling the character of our town and creating great demand on resources. Yet I never hear anyone ask WHY we must keep growing and shoving more and more people into Palo Alto. Why can't we just say "We're full up! Go some where else!"

I've lived here since 1970. My disenchantment with the way this city is run started on February 3, 1998 when we were abandoned in water up to our waists and continues to this day. Fiasco after fiasco, poor decision after poor decision, bad priority after bad is unrelenting. Everything here used to be top-notch. Now everything is crumbling. I used to be so proud of this city but that pride is certainly tarnished now, and this latest fiasco with the location of the public safety building only underscores my frustration with the city government. No one in Palo Alto should be turning up their noses at Mountain View as they have markedly improved their city while Palo Alto has gone in the opposite direction. It's makes me very angry. It's disgraceful, inexcusable and very sad.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 14, 2007 at 4:17 pm

Michael says: " have lived in Palo Alto for over 30 years. Palo Alto has, over that period, ALWAYS ignored infrastructure in order to create new obligations that are fanciful."

Michael, as you've ben here for 30 years, you have been a direct recipient og the benefits of Prop 13. You've enjoyed the benefits of infrastructure that you _inherited_ - - and now you're complaining because it's time to make it sustainable for future generations? Somehow, yours doesn't seem like a very kosher argument.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 14, 2007 at 4:18 pm

pat, looks like people are pretty much happy to me - what's your beef?

Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2007 at 5:07 pm


No you have it completely backward. Palo Alto has gone after boutique causes SINCE Prop. 13. It has nobody to blame but itself.

Posted by 14k/yr, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 14, 2007 at 5:37 pm


Exactly how was the city going to build a police station on the Stanford owned land at El Camino and Page Mill? I guess the city could have used eminent domain and paid Stanford the fair market value of the land (plus the probable cost of litigation). That's not a bargain. I don't see any legitimacy to your complaint about the soccer field.

By the way, in case you didn't notice, the logic of Prop 13 is to create development that generates sales taxes and higher property taxes, regardless of the effect on the community.

Some genius should have noticed that Palo Alto was built out when Prop 13 was passed. Most of the neighboring cities had excess land and lacked the financial blackholes generated by long term land owners.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 14, 2007 at 6:27 pm

To blame Proposition 13 for the infrastructure deficiencies in Palo Alto is bizarre beyond belief. Palo Alto is overflowing money compared to almost any other city in Palo Alto. We spend twice as much per resident as Mountain View, for example.

The primary source of Palo Alto's money gusher is the city owned Utility Department, which has been used by successive councils as a gigantic slush fund as they transfer unrelated government functions into "utilities" to avoid the spending strictures of Prop 13, and such funds out to be used on the spending frills and thrills we in Palo Alto have become used to.

We've got plenty of money - we just haven't spent it on infrastructure, as others have pointed out.

Proposition 13 may be inequitable, and may have lots of other deleterious effects. But Proposition 13 is NOT responsible for our infrastructure deficits. Government irresponsibility is.

Posted by George, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 14, 2007 at 9:16 pm

Thank you Paul Losch for your reasoned and thoughtful comments. They are a breath of fresh air compared to others on many of the blogs.

And thank you Asher Waldfogel for your contribution and that you read the BRTF Report - few have. However I am puzzled by some of your comments. The Report covers the short comings of the present facility in detail beginning with the "Executive Summary" on page 2. The existing building is not just "worn out"; it is inadequate to do the job the police are tasked to do. Refer to page 4 where "The Need for a New or Renovated Building" is described in detail. Referenced is a 1998 eport by Ekona Architecture and Planning which identified "numerous deficiencies with the current police facility". Refer to this report for "faiure to comform to current State legal standards and state and local building codes".

One state code requires that hospital and other public safety buildings must remain functional during emergencies and withstand a magnitude 8.0 quake. As you know, all hospitals are being modified to meet this standard. Palo Alto emergency personnel must be able to survive this type of disaster in order to go to the assistance of us residents. In the most severe cases, this will not happen with the present facility.

Several writers have suggested the "city" face up to its fiscal responsibilites. We are the city and its government and therefore part of the problems and solutions. Attend council meetings and speak out. Write e-mails to the staff and council members. Volunteer and serve on a commission as Paul Losch has done. Until you do, your complaints and cries for change cannot be heard and acted upon.

Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 14, 2007 at 11:45 pm


I saw that on the BRTF report that the current soccer field site had been on the list of sites being considered for the new public safety facility. I didn't put it on that list so evidently someone else thought it was worthy of consideration at one time.

I didn't mention taxes or Prop13. I didn't get into financing issues at all so I don't know to whom you are speaking. Nevertheless, I opposed Prop13 and voted against it even though doing so was against my own financial best interest. I certainly have benefited from it but I have never thought it was the right or smart thing to do for the "greater good". I think the state has suffered a great deal and many ills can be blamed on the effects of Prop13. BUT, we must remember that the entire state of California is dealing with the negative effects of this law, not just Palo Alto.

Incidentally, one aspect of Prop13 that may get overlooked is that it makes it difficult to move within California, especially when people are retired and on a fixed income. One can end up paying the same or more per month, despite getting less house with a smaller mortgage, because of the relative increase in property tax. Now that we are thinking of downsizing or moving to a less crowded location we are faced with this personal downside of Prop13.

Just for the record, I generally vote FOR measures which are intended to maintain and upgrade our infrastructure. I don't mind paying my fair share of taxes but I'd like to see them spent more wisely.

Sadly, I am no more confident of an adequate response in an emergency if there is a sparkling new public safety facility than I am now with the old inadequate facility, unless the new one can be made SNAFU-proof.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2007 at 9:24 am

Maybe the officers could work from home and just telecommute! There would be no need to build a new Police Building. Think of the cost savings, all we would need is fiber optic lines from Palo Alto to the officer's homes so they could monitor activity in and around Palo Alto.

If this works we could replace the officer's with drones and then use the money to buy a new teleminder phone system that would alert citizens of areas of town to avoid.

Posted by Just Kidding, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 15, 2007 at 11:30 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Dave, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 15, 2007 at 3:30 pm

I hate to harp and harp on the same thing, but once more Prop 13 is a total red herring when applied to the infrastructure in Palo Alto. Palo Alto's problem is that it has, despite drowning in funds, failed to deal with infrastructure needs on an ongoing basis.

It's important to point this out, because if we haven't defined the problem correctly, we're unlikely to get to a good solution. That is if we blame a lack of revenue as a result of Prop 13 for our problems, we've pointed ourselves at one particular "solution": more revenue.

But if the real problem is lack of spending discipline on non-infrastructure items in the budget, more revenue alone isn't going to be an optimal long term solution.

A lot of us think the problem is that very lack of fiscal discipline. And whatever the problems with Prop 13 may be, bring it up in discussions of Palo Alto's infrastructure problems really seems like an unnecessary distraction to us - and falls on deaf ears.

Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2007 at 4:20 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Vaclav, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2007 at 10:36 am

Public safety is our number one priority. The building is 50 years old. It needs to be replaced.

Posted by Asher Waldfogel, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2007 at 10:49 am


Thanks for the response. Specific information to back up claims from the BRTF are helpful.

That said, I reviewed the City Manager's 1998 summary of the Ekona report - which cites code problems but doesn't name them. The BRTF Final Report on page 5 cites lack of compliance with "upgraded building standards". The 1990 State Code 8870.50 which provides State funding for public safety seismic retrofits and the State Code (Sections 130000 through 130070) which mandate seismic performance for hospitals. I still can't find a citation of a specific code the current building doesn't meet.

I'm not using this as an argument against a new building. I'm using it as an example where we can win support for a new building by being as direct and factual as possible about what the issues are.

I also noted that the 1998 City Manager's report describes a funding mechanism (called COPS) that's structurally a 20 year mortgage rather than a bond. However the Council adopted a policy later that year that new buildings will only be funded by General Obligation bonds. The cited drawback of COPS funding was that it cuts into operating revenue, which some of the commentators on this list might think is a feature!

I'm tapped out on this investigation. Who can get a list of Cal State Codes (citing chapter and section) that the current police building doesn't meet?

Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2007 at 11:03 am


Yes, public safety should be a top priority. But it is clear that it is not in Palo Alto. If it was a top priority, various councils would have budgeted for a replacement police building. Instead these councils found so many others 'causes' that were more important to them.

It is ironic, to me, that a combined bond issue (police building and libraries) is being proposed. A new police building could be built on the Downtown branch library site on land that the City already owns. This would solve two problems at once: A necessary trimming and consolidation of libraries in the age of the Internet, and a new police building located downtown, where it is most needed.

This bond issue is so typical of Palo Alto avoiding tough choices. We have always preferred to just tax someone, especially business and property owners, to solve our problems. Now it is on us (citizens) to make sober choices. My choice is to vote no. I will vote yes once I can clearly see that we are becoming responsible.

Tear down the Downtown library and build a new police station at that site.

Posted by Sammy, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2007 at 12:30 pm

Michael is right: the council can demonstrate that public safety is a top priority by treating it as such - and funding it first. If a public safety building is really urgent, why wait for the uncertain bond election for it. Cut spending on other - non "highest priority" items NOW. Start the urgently needed highest priority public safety building right away. Then have the election about those "lower priority" things they cut.

(Don't expect to see outsourcing, union wages and benefits, or staffing cuts on the ballot any time soon.)

Posted by Sammy, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2007 at 12:42 pm

Asher, you're right. The city has gotten into the habit of being other than "direct and factual". I don't know why the code information you mention isn't in the Blue Ribbon report. Maybe they thought they'd avoid the critics that way (if for example, the deficiencies were solvable by doing something besides building an expensive new building). Of course, maybe the omission was totally innocent -- but given the track record of the city, it's not unreasonable that some have suspicions the city is hiding something.

I wonder if more of the raw information relied upon by the Blue ribbon Storm Drain committee had been put before the public clearly if we'd have avoided that fiasco because some sharp-eyed citizen saw something that the committee did not.

You're right about some considering the city to use general funds for the police station a "feature". Right now, the attitude seems to be 'let's spend all of our money on goodies for the staff and pet projects of special interest groups and when we need money for real municipal purposes, we'll tell the voters they have to come up with some extra for us."

Forcing the city to budget like normal people and organizations might instill some very urgently needed discipline into the process.

Posted by Vaclav, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2007 at 3:29 pm

Citizens want libraries and police building; polls say so. why do you try to stop this? Mr. Waldfogel does not appreciate litigation risk. Is he an attorney? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Asher Waldfogel, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2007 at 3:46 pm


I don't see conspiracies in the City. My position is that we have a lot of catching up to do on our infrastructure and I'd love to see a framework to do it.

And I think community support for all of this will be much more resolute when the factual basis for liabilities and risks is presented.

Posted by Forum Reader, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 16, 2007 at 4:39 pm

If Michael who lives in Midtown is right that the police building should be built on property the city already owns, the Downtown Library location isn't the best choice. Too small. Since there is an enormous amount of building in the south part of town the PD should be near them. The Mitchell Park branch would be a better site. Now that the Children's Library is almost done, it will take care of the complaints which come mostly from parents. People who use Mitchell Park complain all the time, if they have to wait for a book you'd think western civilization was being threatened. And teaching their kids to speak softly and not run around in a library is beyond their capability.
So tear it down, solve two problems, by building a handsome police building on the site.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2007 at 10:27 pm

Forum Reader completely misunderstands the situation at Mitchell. Perhaps s/he can tell us how the current Mitchell will handle the increased population in S. Palo Alto, including what will almost surely be a re-conversion of Cubberly to another school site (right down the road from Mitchell)

Mr. Waldfogel has not considered the costs of _not_ doing these infratsructure builds. Instead, he wants the city to do MORE diligence on top of that diligence that has already been done. Only in Palo Alto do we take polls to determine whether or not to build a worn out Public Safety Building. Perhaps Mr. Waldfogel would like to accept the risks associated with not building this new structure. Will you take that bet, Mr. Waldfogel?

In fact, if we don't build a new pulic safety building, and we find ourselves challenged, or sued, for the improper maintenance of evidence, and other legally mandated tasks, the very people here who are creating FUD and more delay will be the very ones who cry out about how "inefficient" our city government is.

Palo Alto is going to _pass up_ this kind of citizen. The latter belong to a pst age, one where Palo Alto had no regional or other challengers. Perhaps the naysayers should begin to think about opportunity, instead of playing defense.

About that bet, Mr. Waldfogel; I'm mwaiting to hear whether you'll ante up.

Posted by Asher Waldfogel, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2007 at 8:36 am


I hope the Police are not currently mishandling evidence. Do you know they are?

To be fair, it's the Council that's chosen to take the liability risk by placing a building hostage to a bond vote.

More to the point, I'm not arguing against the building. I'm not even arguing for more study. I'm just asking for the factual basis behind claims the Blue Ribbon Task Force has already made. I completely agree with your point that it shouldn't take years of debate to build something in this City. I think part of our process problem is that we don't make very persuasive arguments for urgency. Why else would this particular issue have already taken 22 years?

The best way to move forward rapidly is to provide factual analysis of the current situation. If the building violates State Law, say which ones. If evidence handling is subpar, tell us what cases we've lost because of evidence handling problems and what the near-term plan is to fix it. If recruiting is a problem, tell us how many candidates we've lost. If emergency services in a disaster is the issue, tell us the staffing plan based on our out-of-town employees. These seem to be top level arguments for the building; if they are not then let's move to the next batch we can factually support. If the bottom line is the current building is serviceable but worn out; just say so.

What's the bet over?

Posted by Dave, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 17, 2007 at 1:46 pm


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] If the factual basis for some of the projects our city "leaders" foist upon us were made clear, we could avoid discussions of them degenerating into good guys vs. bad guys debates, where fealty to the prevailing orthodoxy becomes the touchstone of political respectability.

In the process, perhaps a factual debate would help avoid debacles like the storm drain tax, which like the public safety building was vetted by a "Blue Ribbon Committee".

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 17, 2007 at 2:54 pm


One thing I am really concerned about it how we can gather a set of people who can credibly present a case for things to happen in this town. As you know, I am disturbed with how far off the mark the storm drain forecasts are. Clearly, something is not right with the forecasts that we voters were aked to buy into in that case, which were developed by a collection of community members and city staff. People who by most appearances would seem to know what they are doing and are conversant with the matters they have been tasked to address.

This has given rise for some, such as you and Chris, among others, to take a skeptical going in position about other groups in town who are assembled to evaluate an important matter and present some findings and recommendations around them. I tend to stay away from pro forma opinions one way or the other about things in Palo Alto, but I truly am hard pressed to know what it would take to improve upon the quality of the people overall who have been involved in developing proposals around storm drains, libraries, and public safety buildings, inter alia.

That said, there clearly is something that is not right when a forecast for a multi-million dollar captial program is off forecast by nearly 60% only two years into it. But is it the people who have been asked to be part of the task force that is the reason for such a disparity? Or are there other factors that are contibuting toward it?

I am not an attorney, but I know from my jury service and my limited understanding of trial law that the credibility and expertise of witnesses are an important part of discovery and deciding on legal matters.

We are facing several pretty serious decisions around Palo Alto's infrsatructure right now. There are plenty of issues that swirl around each and every one one of them. It is one thing to debate a specific proposal and how it will be paid for, it is another to call into question the veracity of the people that have studied the issue and assembled their recommendation.

There does appear to be some critiquing around what specific content was or was not included in the Public Safety document. Perfectly fine to put forward such a crititique, but again that is different than calling into question the group assembled to do the hard work that led up to it.

So what is it? The people who are putting time into these proposals or something else? If the people who step up to do this thankless job are not cutting the mustard, who should be asked to do it? I am not asking this question to be provocative, I really am hard pressed to understand how we can be sure that the groups assembled for this work are not a part of the issue, but instead they present the issue to the community, so the merits or lack thereof are the heart of the conversation.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2007 at 3:47 pm


The issue is true leadership! I am not talking about process. I am not accusing anyone on the council of being not nice. I am looking for at least ONE of the council to BE not nice! Somebody needs to have the balls to take on the library consituency head on.

We have too many branch libraries. The former head of libraries identified the problem, then the council took a dive, when they got a little heat. She had balls...the council did not. She was forced out. The problem has not changed, we still have too many branch libraries.

The rational solution for the police builiding is to close the branch library acorss the street from the current police building. Then dig a parking structure and built a multi-story building on top of it.

Paul, you need to stop arguing process and dodging the hard decisions. Please just tell me (us?) what is wrong with what I just said. Cut to the chase.

Posted by Dave, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 17, 2007 at 7:11 pm


I've got an idea for improving the process. How about one person on the next Blue Ribbon Committee who isn't part of the city establishment?

I don't question the honesty, veracity, or the diligence of anyone on the Blue Ribbon Committee. But I do question their independence and ability to think differently about the city and its problems than anyone else among the usual suspects who sit on the various boards and commissions and their collaborators.

You want some suggestions? How about Wayne Martin or Pat Marriott, or any of the others who regularly present thoughtful critiques of the city - but don't buy into the conventional wisdom about its problems?

Sorry, but from where I sit, the process seems not exactly "rigged" perhaps, but certainly not open to fresh ideas either.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 18, 2007 at 9:38 am


Thanks for your response to my question about how groups that develop recommendations for the City can be put together. I am not familiar with how the "task forces" are assembled, I do know that library commissioners and the likes of me on Parks and Recreation are chosen from a pool of people who apply for appointment. Without coming up or commenting on any specific names or people, it may well be that an active effort to come up with people who are not viewed as "the usual suspects" is in order.

Michael, I will not go there with putting the public safety building at the Forest Library site, that is not what we have at hand to decide. Depending on where things end up, that issue may be fodder for discussion at a future point.

I do agree with you that our city leadership can not "punt" on these matters. There are some tough trade-offs that must be made. Here is a bit of my thinking--we should support a new library/community center at Mitchell, and we should support getting a new pubic safety building. We must make some significant changes in our operating budget in order to partially fund both these initiatives and our existing infrastructure, and we should also develop some other funding source--bonds, parcel tax, maybe something else--to partially fund these. We should develop a 20 year revenue strategy, and any funds above and beyond a certain baseline that are generated are put into a lock box fund to cover future infrastructure requirements, whether it is existing or new things.

I am not running for City Council, I bought 2 1/2 years ago a small business that I am working very hard to make successful, and that is my responsibility to my family. But, if there are people who run on that sort of platform, they will get my attention.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2007 at 12:06 pm


City leadership already punted on the issue, that is why we are facing a combined library/police bond issue. Once this beast is defeated, we will need to get back to reality.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 18, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Two years ago another Blue Ribbon panel, that looks remarkably like the Public Safety Blue Ribbon Committee at issue here, told us that certain storm drain projects were essential and urgently needed. Passing a tax to address these essential needs was absolutely the responsible thing to do. So we gave them their tax.

Paul has rightly noted the fact that the Blue Ribbon experts were off by almost 60% on their estimates of the cost of the storm drain repairs in less than two years - calling into question the competence, if not the integrity of the process that yielded the estimates..

What I haven't seen talked about is the reaction to the bad news about the storm drain from city officials. Apparently one of the options being considered for addressing the funding shortfall is to just cancel some of the storm drain projects -- projects that they told us were "essential" and urgent only two years ago.

To me that begs this question: If they really were "essential" must-do projects, how can we just forgo them now when they've run out of money? Isn't that irresponsible? Or is the real truth that they weren't all that essential in the first place? I guess they were mere "optionals" that some on the staff wanted, but that we really can do without if we have to.

And if, as now seems the case, that the Storm Drain Blue Ribbon panel was sorta fibbing (or at least grossly misleading) when they told us that we absolutely had to have the entire list of projects covered by the storm drain tax, what are we to believe about what we're being told by the current Public Safety Blue Ribbon guys?

Is this just another bill of goods being proffered to a gullible public by the establishment so they can have a pet project of somebody on the staff?

Posted by george, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 18, 2007 at 8:21 pm

The Storm Drain Committee originally wanted to suggest a bond issue of >$60 Million that would cover all the needed storm drain repairs and upgrades. They decided from a practical/political standpoint that the citizens would not fund such a large bond issue. (Certainly this was right when one considers the negative reactions to similar amounts proposed for the Public Safety Building and the Mitchell Park Library.) It was felt that doing it incrementally with a sunset provision and an oversight committee would allay the fears of many. It worked. The greatly reduced bond issue was passed.

What they did not foresee was the very large increase in the cost of gasoline and construction materials - the latter partially caused by the rise in gasoline prices. To suggest that the committee was imcompetent is grossly unfair. They and many others simply did not foresee the inflation in construction costs, nor did anyone I know.

The money funded is not enough for the original work proposed. So priorities have been set to fund what is possible with the money available.

Posted by Petey, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2007 at 11:55 pm

Yep, george,"it worked. They told us we were going to get a certain list of projects for a certain amount of money, and we bought their line. From their point of view, "it worked."

There are plenty of ways to protect against cost increases in construction costs for projects that are to be built over a long period of time such as completion bonds. 58% is a ridiculous amount of mis-estimation of costs. Somebody goofed.

You still don't answer Chris's complaint as to why things that were necessary when they were campaigning for the tax, now aren't so necessary. And more to his point, you don't say a thing about how we are to protect ourselves against the exact same thing happening with the police station.

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