Palo Alto to move ahead with storm-drain election | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto to move ahead with storm-drain election

City Council agrees to form a citizen committee to help craft 2016 measure

Normally out of sight and out of mind, Palo Alto's storm drains will be in the public spotlight in fall 2016 as part of a special election that the City Council agreed to pursue Monday night.

The council voted 8-0, with Pat Burt absent, to support a recommendation from Public Works staff to bring a measure to the city's property owners that will help pay for maintenance and upgrades to the city's storm-drain system.

If voters approve the measure, rates would likely stay somewhere around the current level of about $12.63 a month. If they don't, rates would drop to $4.25 per month, the rate that was in effect in 2005, when voters last approved a storm-drain tax increase. The increase authorized by the 2005 measure is set to expire in 2017, prompting the city to seek a renewal. The 2016 vote would take place through a mail-only election and would only apply to property owners.

Public Works staff stated in a report that "it is critical to begin planning now for the development and placement before property owners of a new measure authorizing updated storm drainage fees."

"Unless a new ballot measure is approved, storm drain maintenance operations will be curtailed and necessary capital improvements will not be made," the report states.

As part of its vote, the council also agreed Monday to appoint a citizen advisory committee that would review the list of projects that would be funded by the tax and help set the new rate before the measure is sent to the voters. This is similar to the process that the council used in 2005, when 58 percent of the voters approved the measure. Monday's discussion was quick and the debate nonexistent. Everyone agreed that storm-drain improvements should be funded.

"It's obviously something we should do and I'm glad we're moving forward on it," said Councilman Greg Scharff, who made the motion to support the staff proposal.

So far, the proposal to renew and possibly raise storm-drain fees hasn't ruffled too many feathers. Not a single member of the public spoke out against it on Monday night. The only public speaker was Hal Mickelson, who sits on the current Storm Drain Oversight Committee and who urged the council to go ahead with the election.

"Infrastructure is not pizzazzy," Mickelson said.

"You're not likely to get a room full of people waiving attractively made signs saying, 'We demand more support for storm-drain infrastructure needs for our city!'" he added, alluding to the just-concluded, well-attended discussion of a proposed Avenidas expansion.

But the infrastructure is nevertheless critical to prevent disaster and warrants investment, he said.

"In order to make sure the storm-drain system continues to meet the city's needs, we have to be able to keep on spending at the level of the $12.63 assessment that is going to sunset in 2017, unless this council chooses to do something about it," Mickelson said. "The city needs to think and act to maintain and enhance appropriate funding for reliable storm-drain systems."

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22 people like this
Posted by Down the Drain
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 20, 2015 at 12:08 pm

We had a one-time storm drain fee but those people need to keep their jobs, plus we like having more staff, so please fork over the dough on an ongoing basis. We're sure you won't mind, ok?

9 people like this
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 20, 2015 at 12:19 pm

Translation into a different language:
Upkeep, repair and upgrading of the storm drain system is not a one-time operation, material and labor costs increase all the time, so we need to keep the level of funding where it is now so the whole thing doesn't fall apart later.

3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Hal Mickelson seems gung-ho on raising taxes on the residents—but when it comes to the business community, he has been very vocal about not supporting raising revenues to pay the higher salaries demanded by City employees--

Chamber blasts Palo Alto's proposed hotel-tax increase:
Web Link

Hal Mickelson, a member of the Chamber's board of directors, told the City Council this week that the organization will be urging voters to oppose the hotel-tax increase, should it appear on November's ballot.

SCHOOLS: Business people oppose developer fees:
Web Link

19 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Another translation:

The city has more tax revenue coming in then we projected, and city council members & the city manager want to spend budget money on their pet projects, like $4 million for big screen TV's & remodeling the city hall lobby, so we will ask for money for storm drains; and if the voters don't give us the money they will be the ones to suffer.

3 people like this
Posted by A neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2015 at 1:55 pm

My street in Barron Park has no storm drains. Can someone clarify , how this fee benefits Barron Park?

3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Issues associated with Barron Park, and Barron Park infrastructure, are based on the history of the Annexation—which occurred about 40 years ago. Here’s a bit of the flavor of this history from the Barron Park Association web-site:

Web Link
Origins – The Association can trace its roots to 1926, when residents organized to stop the excavation of “borrow” pits for construction of the Bayshore Highway (now known as Highway 101). Known as the Barron Park-Maybelle Improvement and Taxpayers Association in the 1950’s – and formed to fight annexation to the city of Palo Alto – the Barron Park Association took on its current name and purpose in 1965, including a change from opposition to support for annexation.

Key Activities of the BPA over the past decades –

1965- 1975 Intense internal discussions in the community about annexation with Palo Alto; the Barron Park had been unincorporated area in Santa Clara County. The BPA worked to have annexation, if voted by residents, to be on the Barron Park community’s terms. An election in 1975 approved annexation, with the City of Palo Alto permanently allowing Barron Park to maintain its semi-rural character.
* * *

There were concerns at the time as to whether annexation would bring sidewalks and gutters to BP. Most of BP residents didn’t want these artifacts of urbanization. Storm drains, no doubt, were not of much interest to these folks, either.

12 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Shame on the City Council for trying to manipulate the outcome and spending taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary special mail-in election.

We will have *two* regular elections in 2016. In June, we will have the primary election, and in November, we will have the general election.

This issue should be voted on one of the regularly scheduled elections. So much for restoring trust.

7 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2015 at 2:49 pm

> Most of BP residents didn't want these artifacts of urbanization. Storm drains, no doubt, were not of much interest to these folks, either.

That's not correct. Barron Park has had several instances of flooding over the years and neighborhood residents have worked on a number of committees and groups to help develop solutions, including adding gutters and storm drains to some streets.

The fact is, exactly $0 has been spent in quadrant of Palo Alto south of Page Mill and west of El Camino from the 2005 tax. The major project funded by the 2005 tax for all of south Palo Alto and south of Page Mill is the Matadero Creek Pump Station Upgrade. But the design work was only started this past summer and it won't be completed until 2017.

So, overall, the tax hasn't had any benefit for south Palo Alto so far. I agree with the importance of funding infrastructure in Palo Alto, but if the City does not want to pay for the improvements out of existing funds and only wants to make upgrades in the north Palo Alto, they should try a different approach. Create a north Palo Alto storm drain improvement district and tax the residents where the improvements will be made.

I'll definitely vote no on this one and encourage my neighbors to do the same.

4 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2015 at 3:32 pm

> Joe: "Most of BP residents did not want these artifacts of urbanization. Storm drains, no doubt, were not of much interest to these folks, either."

Spoken from ignorance (as Bill points out in previous comment).

> Bill of Barron Park: "...The fact is, exactly $0 has been spent in quadrant of Palo Alto south of Page Mill and west of El Camino from the 2005 tax."

That may be technically correct, but is misleading. Because of the dire situation in Barron Park (especially as demonstrated by the 1999 surface flooding), City Hall shuffled priorities to accelerate installing storm drains in Barron Park and thus that work was funded out of other accounts in the expectation that the other work would be funded from the new tax.

Various sections in Barron Park do not have storm drains, but that is not because the City isn't willing to fund them. Rather, it is a matter of gravity -- they are in low lying areas too far removed from any place to send the water too. I was on the Barron Park Association Board (VP and then President) at this time and was heavily involved.

Other areas west of El Camino are beset with the problem that El Camino is the equivalent of a dike. There are a few passages under El Camino (Matadero, Barron, Adobe Creeks), but large sections are too low lying to send their water to those. I do not know the status of this, but it was complicated by El Camino being under State jurisdiction and the experience with enlarging the Matadero Creek underpass in the mid-1990s (there were far more unexpected situations than expected : utilities not where the map said, buried toxics,...)

2 people like this
Posted by Charles
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 20, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Commercial properties pay about 2/3 of Palo Alto storm drain fees, yet residential areas receive most storm drain benefits.

A fair allocation of storm drain fees means those generating storm drain water each pay their fair share.

For residential properties, fees are based on lot size and recently averaged about $12.65 per parcel monthly; 18,000 homeowners pay just 36% of total storm drain fees

For commercial, industrial and multi-family properties, fees are set according to the amount of impervious surface area. Accordingly, about 2,100 commercial-industrial, multi-family, institutional and City-owned properties pay the lion’s share (64%) of storm drain fees.

Last time around, City Council Members provided civic leadership on this issue. The Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, Palo Alto Unified School District, Palo Alto Weekly, the Palo Alto District of Silicon Valley Association of Realtors and major property owners such as Stanford University and Hewlett-Packard all supported the Palo Alto Storm Drain measure. It passed with 58% YES votes.

The storm drain projects enabled by this fee were prioritized and managed well by the City with a citizens Storm Drain Oversight Committee performing admirably for over a decade.

Since the old fee sunsets, the new fee will remain about the same as the old fee. Palo Alto infrastructure is not getting any younger. Storm drains merit your continued support.

1 person likes this
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2015 at 5:23 pm

About 10 years ago a public meeting was called in Barron Park. A city engineer who was in charge of flood control design asked the assembled meeting where more drains were required. The only results I really only know are that my suggestion resulted in the city fixing the flooding in my neighborhood. I thought the city was responsive to my request, and I thank them for it. If other people need help I suggest they be specific on what they need if they expect to get help.

5 people like this
Posted by A Little Late
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2015 at 5:42 pm

It seems like they should have thought about the storm drain issued a year ago.

It is probably too late to get the needed fixes in time for the 2015-2016 El Niño.

9 people like this
Posted by City Finances
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 20, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Dad, I blew my $100 allowance on beer, but I need $20 more for gas to drive to school, which is essential.

Voting against this new tax is really the same as voting against future city hall renovation type money flushes.

Also, how about firing the city's PR chief, who costs us taxpayers about a quarter million dollars per year. Hacking away at the bloat in city hall would obviate the need for this tax with zero effect on anyone's day to day life. When have you ever said to yourself, "I'm glad we have a quarter million dollar PR officer working for us at city hall."

4 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 20, 2015 at 11:00 pm

Really??? We have a PR person getting a quarter million dollars? For what? I just lost my dinner!!! How do we veto, stop, put our feet down on this craziness.

2 people like this
Posted by out of control
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2015 at 8:13 am

How much is the City spending on ridiculous proliferation of traffic signs
all over the City and neighborhoods, sign-clutter growing daily which
is inconsistent with accepted traffic engineering practices? Where is
our City Council?

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