Critical utilities-department positions go unfilled | March 1, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 1, 2019

Critical utilities-department positions go unfilled

City of Palo Alto Utilities struggles with employee recruitment, retention

by Gennady Sheyner

Hampered by sky-high housing costs and a tight labor market, Palo Alto is struggling to fill critical positions in the Utilities Department, a challenge that city leaders expect will get steeper after an expected wave of retirements in December.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

8 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2019 at 8:18 pm

The recently departed City Manager has intentionally left quite a few departments unsustainably understaffed to obscure the real budget situation. Many of these 'interims' are bump-ups with big holes beneath them.


15 people like this
Posted by Simple Solution
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 28, 2019 at 8:17 am

Simple solution...build a housing unit at Municipal Services & have shift assignments like the fire department. X amount of hours on - X amount of hours off.
Lodging & shared kitchen facilities provided.

24 hour around the clock municipal service.


15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 28, 2019 at 10:48 am

Annette is a registered user.

Such staffing is part of infrastructure. And Palo Alto's is here described as CRITICAL and UNFILLED. That's a bad combination if ever there was one.

At what point will our 4-3 City Council stop making the housing deficit worse and pause on commercial development?


3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2019 at 1:26 pm

Judith Schwartz is wrong that increased salaries won’t solve the problem. That’s exactly what the City must do to attract new employees with the much reduced pension offer. It is a no-brainer to be at least at market rate for the utilities business. Utilities employee compensation (salaries, benefits, pensions) is paid by ratepayers, not taxpayers. And, particularly in the electric utility, at least 85% of the revenues are paid by non-residential customers. And, Palo Alto’s electric rates are MUCH lower than PG&E’s.


5 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2019 at 1:37 pm

This article is merely setting the stage for more utility rate increases, of which there have been too many in the past years. Maybe its time to recruit some ex PG&E employees. There will be some available fairly soon.


8 people like this
Posted by I had enough
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 28, 2019 at 2:07 pm

New normal what a joke. As a former employee of the City of Palo Alto. I’ve heard this a few times lately. Ask anyone who is rank and file they will tell you their manager or director is the issue. They are under staffed over worked and underpaid the city stepped up to take care of all the firefighters and police withnice new contracts. But anyone who is in Seiu forget it they won’t even give COLA to it’s workers. For one of the richest cities in America they sure treat there employees terribly.


8 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 28, 2019 at 2:32 pm

In the years we've lived in Palo Alto, I have to say that the our interactions with the members of the City's Utility Department have been excellent. It's bad when the power goes out, a sewer lateral backs up or there's a leak on the water line. But the utility staff are always knowledgeable, helpful and hardworking.

This staffing problem needs be addressed by the executives in City Hall. Hope they can figure it out. Soon.


4 people like this
Posted by E.Preston
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Feb 28, 2019 at 2:53 pm

Love the utilities dept. and every employee I've dealt with over 60 years. Always helpful, courteous, innovative with problem-solving, accommodating, personal and professional. Staff have helped me save money, time and are always eager to find solutions. Over the years I've happily written to thank and laud their efforts. We're lucky ducks in P.A. to have such a responsive group who even answer the phone!


8 people like this
Posted by The Commuter
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2019 at 3:49 pm

i commute from outer Sacto via 680 to Palo Alto. 3.5 hours each way = 7 hours commute time + 9 hours at work = 16 hours involved Monday>Friday.

This leaves approximately 8 hours at home...1 hour for dinner + 2 hours misc. time & about 5 hours of sleep before having to get up. No breakfast just coffee & a cigarette before embarking on another morning commute.

Wife is seeking a divorce citing that I am only home on the weekends & not fulfilling parental responsibilities. She will get house & child custody...I will get the payments & bills.

Looking to buy a used RV & will park it on a PA street somewhere. Just started drinking but still have a regular full-time job in PA.

Or I may skip out all together & head for Nevada or Barstow, CA.

Who needs this crap?



15 people like this
Posted by heading to the desert too
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2019 at 7:22 pm

^^^^man you're wasting 35-40 years of rat-race life just so you can die at 60-65 of hypertension & you won't even get to collect social security.

i'd quit that job & split for the desert. leave the wife & kids behind (unless the children are your own). if they're yours, send some cash every month.

the rv sounds cool. why pay rent when you can simply move to another parking spot.
i got a friend who lives in an old airstream trailer out in barstow. he quit his job in high-tech & just hangs out there...smoking a little weed & enjoying a few beers throughout the day. no worries, no mortgage, no rent...just some groceries.

i'm gonna do the same. i commute from tracy to sunnyvale & it's killing me. fortunately i'm single like my buddy in barstow (although there are a couple of women who say i'm the father of their kids...no proof though).

another thought...maybe i should have stayed in the navy. they take care of you there & you don't get shot at. food, clothing, shelter, medical/dental all provided.

a big mistake joining the ranks of the working underclass. no rewards, just more hassles.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2019 at 1:47 pm

"This staffing problem needs be addressed by the executives in City Hall. Hope they can figure it out. Soon."

Amen. It needs also to be emphatically and meaningfully addressed by the city council with whatever little authority they possess. Our next round of "affordable" housing must be dedicated to critical workers like utilities. Why do we buy houses for our city managers, but not for the staff that do the vital useful work?


2 people like this
Posted by Get Out Of There... Pronto.
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 2, 2019 at 1:00 pm

"...man you're wasting 35-40 years of rat-race life just so you can die at 60-65 of hypertension & you won't even get to collect social security."

"i'd quit that job & split for the desert. leave the wife & kids behind (unless the children are your own). if they're yours, send some cash every month."

I agree. Get out while the going is still manageable. If the children are yours then send some money every month or so to help out with the child=rearing expenses...if they are not your children, send nothing as you owe them nothing.




6 people like this
Posted by Work in Palo Alto/Live in Bakersfield
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2019 at 3:20 pm

I work in Palo Alto but it is too expensive a city for my family & myself to reside.

As a result, I spend my weekday off-hours in a beige-colored RV that I purchased used for about $4500 cash...you may have seen it on ECR among the others.

On Friday, I simply leave it parked there & hop a connector flight from SJ airport to Bakersfield. It's not cheap...about $375 one-way but if I book in advance I can usually get a price break.

I don't particularly care for Bakersfield but my wife's family still resides there & I can stomach a weekend in Kern County.

But for 5 days a week I get to live, work & dine in Palo Alto...Flea Street Cafe in west Menlo park is one of my favorite 'diners' & I can usually catch a ride to there.

The funny thing is...because of my somewhat disheveled appearance, I will occasionally be gifted with handout cash from a sympathetic stranger, usually a five to twenty dollar bill and they never see the Rolex beneath my sleeve.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2019 at 5:36 pm

City of Palo Alto should share utilities with Menlo Park and Mountain View. Oh, we have our own special,scheme.
Anyway, many small school districts could merge and save on costly labor/pension expenses. Econmy of scale should work for some local government services. We are overwhelmed with high costs.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 2, 2019 at 5:41 pm

"Marshall said the city has a $4.5 million, three-year contract in place with a contractor to do the work that formerly required a crew of three to four city employees."

4.5 million dollars ÷ by three years = 1.5 million dollars. Divide that by four personal which equals $375,000 per year, per person. I know there is overhead; Bucket trucks, insurance ect.... But really?


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2019 at 9:14 pm

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> Anyway, many small school districts could merge and save on costly labor/pension expenses. Econmy of scale should work for some local government services. We are overwhelmed with high costs.

I find it extremely unlikely that consolidation of this kind will reduce cost. Bigger units always mean higher salaries for the folks at the top. I am certain that this is true in education; very likely, in utility services as well.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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